The project deals with the working and living conditions of waste pickers, as well as causal dynamics.
Photo credit: Ali SALTAN
“What has been marketed as the ‘underbellies of Beyoğlu’ is much like what you see in this video. The subconscious and the waste of İstiklal Street,” says one of the videos at istanbulunartigi.tumblr.com, the Tumblr page of the video and photography installation project, “surplus of istanbul.” The page is updated regularly with videos on the waste pickers in Istanbul, redefining waste and what it connotes.
Having started in one of the centers of the city, Beyoğlu, the series of videos will lead the visitors to the periphery, Ümraniye, to the home of one of the city’s largest garbage dumps, which killed many two decades ago after a landfill gas explosion. The project is the latest from Artıkişler Kolektifi, a video platform founded in 2007 by individuals and collectives who have been working on video and other visual arts to collect, exhibit, screen and redistribute their works on a common platform.
“There is no specific system in how Artıkişler works,” said Alper Şen, one of the founding members of Artıkişler Kolektifi, and one of the names behind the “surplus of istanbul.” Collaboration and support are the key words defining how they work. There is no hierarchy here, and no capital letters in their name or their work. “The political and aesthetic nature of the work is a top priority. The production process is what we call ‘an independent production process,’ and each one is unique to its own.”
In the manifesto, simply titled “whose waste?” at the website artikisler.net, Artıkişler Kolektifi renounces any definition that would pigeonhole their work into a category like “alternative.” “The primary aim of Artıkişler is to consider and accept any critical and artistic product as typical, instead of labeling it as ‘alternative,’” it said. “The main goal is to help directors, producers and artists to create their works from an independent point of view and construct the conditions of the artistic production.”
Their earliest work is 2007’s documentary “scavengers from hakkari to ankara.” “The time when we met the waste pickers in Ankara’s Kızılay in 2001 was a time of revelation,” said Şen. “A revelation that led us to reassess how we perceive and see our environment, or just simply our streets, and re-question many things about ourselves.” The award-winning documentary tells the story of hundreds of people who were forced to migrate from their village in Ördekli (Kotranis) in the eastern province of Hakkari in 1994, and have been picking waste in the garbage dumps of Ankara ever since.
“Each day, more than one kilos of waste are generated per person in Istanbul. Around 20,000 tons of waste are produced by the people of this city,” begins the introduction on the Tumblr page of the “surplus of istanbul” project. “In a never-ending cycle, processed material is turned into raw material, raw material is turned into processed material. All the while, the urban citizen unintentionally leaves his mark on the city.”
“surplus of istanbul” is supported by the Sivil Düşün EU Program, a program launched by the Delegation of the European Union to Turkey to provide support to NGOs, civil collaborations, networks, platforms and activists that work in rights-based activities. The project deals with the working and living conditions of waste pickers, as well as the causal dynamics, such as migration and unemployment, leading them to undertake this economic activity.
“If we think of Istanbul as a condensed version of Turkey and all that it includes, we can think of the waste of this city as the objects, situations, ideas and people left behind by the country,” said Şen. The social documentary photography and video project, together with the research on informal waste-management system, hopes to challenge “center-periphery relations,” exemplified by Beyoğlu as “the center of culture and entertainment of Istanbul,” and Ümraniye as “the periphery of the city.”
What is their definition of waste? “The simplest meaning is what we have left behind or what we think has lost its foreseeable function,” said Şen. “However, if we solely think of waste as the garbage we leave on our street, we won’t be able to hear what the word is whispering to us. One of the reasons why we are doing this work is to be able to compare the relative values of the waste on the street and a house that is about to be demolished.”
That’s why gentrification is a central theme in the works of Artıkişler Kolektifi. “When the waste that consists of the buildings and streets are up for recycling, the people in those buildings left to live in appalling conditions are rendered less valuable than those buildings.” That’s a major question the group has been asking in their work. Artıkişler Kolektifi is hoping to continue with their work, which is set to raise questions among viewers and followers. Or in Şen’s words, “We want to produce together, in collaboration, trying to understand the political and cultural codes of plurality, not getting bigger but reaching wider.”