10 Minutes with Sena Başöz

Sena Başöz is an artist and filmmaker living and working in Istanbul. She received her BA in Economics from Boğaziçi University in 2002 and MFA from Bard College in Film and Video in 2010. Her recent exhibitions include her solo show On Lightness at DEPO Istanbul, Studio Bosporus at Hamburger Bahnhof, Quiet Dialogue at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum, Sharjah Biennial Offsite Exhibition: Bahar, Istanbul and a duo exhibition at Memphis Gallery-Linz (with Lisa Truttman). Her films have been screened at Cannes Film Festival, Crossing Europe, Jihlava IDFF, Gran Paradiso and many other festivals. She participated in artist residencies at Cité Internationale des Arts Paris, Atelierhaus Salzamt Linz and Delfina Foundation, London. Sena Başöz’s artwork deals with healing processes after cases of trauma focusing on care and the ways nature self-regenerates creating a balance in the long run.

Huma Kabakcı talks to Sena Başöz about her transition to performance from a finance background, her influences, her current, past residencies and more.

You received your BA in Economics from Boğaziçi and later on graduated with a MFA in Film & Video from Bard College, can you talk a bit about your journey of transition to video and performance art? 

As far as I can remember, I always wanted to be an artist and make art – a painter, to be precise. However, as I was growing up, the openness that enabled my art making scared me. I decided to keep it as a private matter; thought I could make art for my own and be happy like that. I grew up in Denizli, a small secluded town, where there was a lack of exposure to art and role models. Above all, Turkey is already a volatile place to exist in, I wanted to secure myself. In the end, as soon as I started studying Economics at Boğaziçi University, I found myself in painting and sculpture studios, joining a fine art club and art history classes. I was lucky that Boğaziçi University provided all that. Although I finally found the courage internally to pursue art as my career, I could not take the U-turn required to change my life path upon my graduation. It was like a car crash. I did not know where to start, what to do. I was sleeping at my friends’ couches for a while. So, I found a finance job in the end to stay above the water. I was really miserable until I started making my first videos in the business plaza I was working at. I went and bought a camera just for this. It was like my visual diary. They are performative videos depicting my fish out of water status in that corporate environment. Those videos were my application portfolio to Bard MFA. 

Forough (2018)
Dijital Print on vellum paper, industrial fans
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of Sena Başöz

What has influenced your work the most? 

My father was a surgeon. From 2-3 years of age onwards, I used to go with him to his private practice and watch small operations he carried out on people. I don’t know how pedagogically correct it really is, but I always had a great time. I guess this experience influenced my work the most.

The general theme of my work is healing. While I was working in the business plaza, I was holding on to the transformative healing power of expression. Later on, I investigated agents and tools of care and healing through my work.I have a nurse alter ego that surfaced in this period. My works after 2014 emphasize healing after trauma. The organism’s self-repair and the balance nature obtains in the long run constitute the backbone of my narrative. I have been focusing on subjects such as death, regeneration, renewal and liberation in my work.

In my father’s private practice, I saw the body as a mapped territory that also had its own uncontrollable wilderness. Some patients kept coming back for dressing of their wounds. Burns, cuts and infected bits healed as tissues regenerated with time. It amazed me. I grew this firm belief in regeneration. Source of internal pain and discomfort could be taken out. We examined it sitting in a metal bowl before it was sent to a pathology lab. Sometimes it had a foul smell. There was resolution and lightness after this externalization.

There were green operation cloths that covered everything else but the wound. It was a collage. There were body parts in jars filled with formaldehyde on shelves. Colorful Creams, layers of gauze and tinctures… I now realize I captured my visual and conceptual library during this time.

I last met you during your residency at Delfina Foundation supported by SAHA, can you talk a bit about your research there and your future work for the Block Universe commission? 

In January and February this year at Delfina Foundation, I was doing research for my future work Slalom for Block Universe.

I see building an archive as a form of care and activating an archive through creating narrations from it as a form of regeneration creating a continuity between the dead and the living. Activating an archive is a very meticulous work and is very time consuming, we don’t have much time left. I am interested in the potential scenarios of the end. I believe the world as we know it is about to end. Slalom is a performance piece on how to slow down skillfully to activate an institutional archive in this fast-paced life. There are endless possibilities of potential narratives that an archive holds. Whilst the piece investigates the potentiality of endless routes that can be taken and their relationship to future, it sees our relationship with time at the moment as akin to skiing downhill in full speed as the name of the piece suggests.

Slalom was supposed to take place in May 2020 but is now postponed. The” lack of remaining” time aspect of the piece became a very real thought for me with the pandemic. 

Sketch for in progress performance piece Slalom (2020-21)
Watercolor and charcoal on paper, 40×30 cm
Courtesy of Sena Başöz

What does diversity mean to you? 

Diversity means to be able to breathe in an environment for me. It means having enough space for all to manifest themselves authentically without having to hold back or pretend. I feel comfortable in diverse environments. When each one of us is comfortable, we are all comfortable. Diversity is realizing and respecting this real connection between “the different, the non-similar, the other”. 

What do you love to do in your free time? 

I love meeting my friends and to have loving, nurturing conversations; mutual storytelling. I could not have them as much as I would have wanted this year. Online meetings are an alternative but meeting face to face is the best. I love doing yoga and reading books. I like reading literature. It always inspires me. 

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently I am doing a residency at lotsremark project in Basel. The project I am working on is actually a continuation of my research on archives that started at Delfina Foundation. As I mentioned, the pandemic intensified my interest in the scenarios of the end of the world. Here I took the river Rhine as a metaphor for a one directional turbulent flux. I question the conditions of preserving an archive in the face of the flux. I focus on what the city keeps and what flows through without being archived at the same time. I conduct interviews with archivists and with immigrants from Turkey. I am making an installation and a new video piece that I will show in my solo show Ars Oblivionis  here, which opens on 31st October. The exhibition will also have a publication in the coming months.