The other side of the glass/the opposite city

 “Derrida seeks to show us that we never quite are or

can be at home in the world.

We are always threatened by the uncanniness of what is canny;

we are always in exile even from ourselves.

We may long and dream of being at home in our world,

 to find a “proper” center, but we never achieve

this form of presence or self-presence.”[1]

In this video I try to explore the uncanny area of the urban courtyards. Courtyards, despite their glorious name, today, are voids behind the buildings as ordered by the urban planning legislation. There are similar places in almost every modern city and their variations depend to the age of the buildings and to the social class of their surrounding inhabitants.

The possession status is uncertain, in other words they don’t belong neither to the residents of the buildings nor the state. Usually are been used by the inhabitants of the ground floors if they have some kind of access. Stairs, kitchen, bathroom, and rarely bedroom windows and balconies face these seemingly useless, functionless spaces. Sometimes there are some trees that by chance have grown there but most of the times these voids are full of garbage and clothes that escaped from a nearby drying laundry.

Courtyards are silent and hidden. They are usually stuck between higher buildings and the natural light comes -depending on their orientation -from certain angles at certain hours transforming these areas.

The difficulty of access especially for the residence of the upper flats of the surrounding buildings provide the courtyards with a mysterious character, and most of the times courtyards allow only a limited view from a window that hardly changes with the time and the weather conditions.

Courtyards have some inhabitants too: domestic animals of the city, mostly street cats that can access every place, mice and rats, insects, and of course pigeons and other urban birds.

Courtyards most of the times are “the property of laundry,” since they provide the safest and most comfortable place for drying the wet clean clothes. The everyday routine of laundry gives some interesting change to this monotone view and a sensitive and a little bit voyeur viewer can trace many aspects about his/her neighbors.

In this video there is a courtyard at the edges of the Talimhane neighborhood nearby Tarlabasi in the city of Istanbul.  The area of Tarlabasi today is somehow a legendary area. Based near to the Taksim Square -the most touristic and crowded part of Istanbul – the area consists an “island” that is seemingly forgotten in time. Formerly it was a residential area mostly inhabited by Greek minority.  Eventually after September 6 – 7th events that accelerated the departure of Greeks, the area left almost abandoned with an uncertain possession status as the owners were not there anymore.  Gradually and predominantly due to emigration the houses were occupied in many waves of emigrants that seek a refuge or simply a better future in the city.

Today on the brink of the final gentrification of the area under a massive urban transformation plan by the Municipality, the neighborhood is inhabited mostly by Kurdish emigrants from Southern Eastern Turkey and the Romans.

Despite the fact that the houses, typical urban middle class residences from early 20th Century, still resist to time, most of them are in a very bad condition, lacking the basic hygiene and safety.  The blocks are very narrowly built.

The buildings with their facade ornamentation that reflect the minority bourgeoisie in decadence now hide an outsider population inside that tries to survive.

Living as a foreigner in this marginal and weird neighborhood means to become two times outsider. Beginning from the first time I was attracted by the behind views of the windows at the backyards and in the making of this video I tried to create my own Mythology[2] using the senses and emotions that this weird area raised into me. Here, I mean that the certain view always gives to a place its character something that is completely subjective. The composition the light and the intentions of the creator is extracting from the chaos of reality a certain image that immediately has a story to say.[3]

Based on the Derridean idea of the secret thread in our most intimate moments and places I started to seek places and corners of the house that create this kind of excitement. Especially the holes and unsuccessful maintenance attracted my interest.

Psychoanalytically, these places are immediately connected with taboos and the female reproduction organs. Exactly the same are considered dirty unspoken and create a kind of anxiety.

Then I concentrated to the courtyard world adapting a kind of voyeur style. There the buildings end lines that attached one to other the clothes and the old objects create a mosaic of colors and textures without any order. The reflection of the angled light at the windows glasses multiplies this chaos. Sometimes a cat or a bird passes while increasing the confusion at this silent world that is full of meanings.

If one considers the windows of a building, facing the streets, the outside world with its outspoken noisy mess as the opening of the building to the public, the courtyards are exactly the opposite: silent, hidden, empty, and without importance. Again the senses are gendered and that the courtyard is definitely female. Not only that is been used mostly by the housewives but because of its very characteristics.

Courtyards are the opposite of the city. What is powerful here is what the city is considered to be weak.

As another Alice in the Wonderland metaphor, on the other side of the glass[4] everything is inverted.  The silence via the noise, the hidden via the exposed… The layers of different filters and obstacles make this sense more vivid.

Camera has a masculine role that penetrates into this world that is not for show. There is a kind of voyeurism at its wandering around the objects and sometimes at a woman that checking her clothes and trying to hide something under packs of things. Courtyards are humble and infamous exactly as the opposite world there is no glorious past no history and no renaissance exactly as no woman ever was a part of it.

Here the centre[5] is the periphery and as it is obvious that the centre is void and the peripheral concrete courtyard is a metaphorical reveal of our most secret fears and anxiety.

Trying to gaze as much as possible with a calm and observant eye I tried to make a draft sketch of a motion of insecurity inside the most intimate spaces: our houses, ourselves.

[1] Serious Play: The Ethical-Political Horizon of Derrida, R.J. Bernstein

[2] (1957) Mythologies, Seuil:Paris

[3] Georg Simmel, The landscape (Το τοπιο, Αθήνα 2006)

[4] Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), Lewis Caroll

[5] Serious Play: The Ethical-Political Horizon of Derrida, R.J. Bernstein

Maria Sarri 2011

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