Biriken is formed by Okan Urun and Melis Tezkan in 2006 in Istanbul with the aim of conceiving stage performances, installations and videos. The Turkish word “biriken” meaning “piled up” says a lot about their functioning: a shared creative process in which they use both their mutual and individual accumulations. Exploiting their diverse backgrounds —theater-acting, visual communication and aesthetics—, they collaborate in a symbiotic way to produce works where the codes are incessantly blurred.
Biriken’s work deals with today’s reality, whether it’s daily, social or conceptual. Throughout their performances, the political is in the critical attitude of the body moving back and forth between the character and the performer, the intimate and the social. Degeneration, discordance, physical waste and low-tech appearance technology are some of the layers employed to highlight the ambiguous constitution of the present. From their originals texts, there are some reoccurring patterns such as: identity games, local-global and self-space relationship and fragile subjects which are challenged by incessant change.
The new project of “Biriken” is inspired by Chekhov and Suvorin’s eponymous plays, Tatyana Repina. Chekhov wrote his play as a follow-up for Suvorin’s. Suvorin was inspired by Evlalia Kadmina who committed suicide on stage in 1881. Biriken, traces Tatyana’s suicide act, in between reality and fiction, and her turnabout. The journey reveals what is left in the past while the play questions the wounds made by time and the feeling of disintegration caused by efforts for adapting the world in a transformation.
How did the Biriken project come about?
Biriken was the result of our time-withstanding friendship and our thoughts and passions evolving into a protest. In 2006, Biriken allowed for our creative need, through various modes of art, to become a reality.
What were your aims when establishing Biriken?
We can’t say that we had a clear aim at the beginning. We wanted to work together and create a certain performance entitled, ‘Şimdi Bizim Evin Yerinde Çukur Var (2006).’ While we were working on this project we were already imagining the next step, and found ourselves in a lasting and artistic union. At this point, we were only certain about not wanting to limit ourselves to only one discipline, even with our past of strictly theater based work.
How many projects have you completed so far?
We have five staged works: ’Şimdi Bizim Evin Yerinde Çukur Var (2006)’, ‘Yakındoğu’da İhanet (2008)’, ‘Yala Ama Yutma! (2010)’, ‘Beraberce Ölmek (2012)’ and ‘Tatyana (2014).’ We also have a project entitled ‘People As Places As People,’ which, from 2007-2009, displayed various video, installation, performance pieces, and even internet art in different venues and at different times. We have also been completing videos either independently or in conjunction with our theater pieces since 2006 (‘Tina,’ Sexual’ etc.). We also have a staged reading entitled Macadamia, Nut, Brittle from 2013.
Can you talk a little about ‘Tatyana,’ which is currently being staged?
‘Tatyana,’ is our modern interpretation of ‘Tatyana Repina’ by Anton Chekhov and Aleksey Suvorin. It premiered during the 19th Istanbul Theater Festival, and it continues this season at the Talimhane Theater in Şişli every Tuesday. The play focuses on a protagonist and all the characters that surround her. A woman drowning in a world of money, greed, and cruelty. Tatyana’s suicidal thoughts affect two distinct sections of time and we watch as the masks begin to fall.
How did you choose the actors?
We had been planning to work with Meral Çetinkaya (in the role of Tatyana) for a long time and this play was just the right project. The actors who play the characters, which have been preserved from the original in our adaptation, are especially important. In scenes where the written is not center stage, the actor’s energy and creativity are essential. Defne Halman, Mehmet Bilge Aslan, Fırat Çelik, Kanbolat Görkem Arslan, Yelda Baskın, Pınar Göktaş, and Ahmet Yaşar are all actors with fruitful careers. When we brought them all together, the world we imagined in our minds and the their overall harmony was entirely ideal.
Will there be another play this season?
Yes, ‘Ormanlardan Hemen Önceki Gece’ by French writer Bernard-Marie Koltès will be staged this season. For a long time this script has been very special to us and when we met with Rıza Kocaoğlu, we were finally able to stage it. It’s a one person play, and Rıza acting it out got us very excited.
Which theater and performance groups do you avidly follow?
We love to follow American director Jay Scheib. In the past few years we’ve found Finnish video artist Markus Öhrn’s theater work ‘Love Story’ to be very exciting and hope to see his future works. We can also mention cult directors Robert Lepage or Rodrigo Garcia.
Is there a performance/theater festival you dream of joining? What is the ‘mecca’ of this profession, so to speak?
If we speak of a ‘mecca,’ it would most certainly be Avignon. We would also love to return to the Under The Radar Festivali in New York where we staged ‘Yala Ama Yutma!’ and which is curated by Mark Russell, one of the best art directors. We’d also love to take part in Festival TransAmériques, which takes place in Montreal annually, and Exit in Paris.
Who are your latest inspirations?
We admire young photographer Jan Marten and French writer and performance artist Chloé Delaume. From the contemporary artists, Jeff Wall’s photography, Gülten Akın’s poems, and Vüs’at O. Bener’s stories have always been an inspiration for us.
You are an independent theater company. Are there sponsors who aid you both financially and logistically?
We have had sponsors since the conception of Biriken. We’ve worked with the French Cultural Center since the beginning. Our ‘Yala Ama Yutma!’ and ‘Beraberce Ölmek’ plays were produced through the iDANS festival. For these projects, the Jardin d’Europe, which uses European Union funds, was also among our producers. SALT Galata opened its doors for our rehearsals of ‘Tatyana,’ and gave us technical assistance. Galata Perform is also very important because they have always offered us a working space. ‘Tatyana’ is the first play where we searched for sponsors. Costumes were sponsored by FABRİKA, decoration by ERSA Mobilya, transportation by TRS Lines, and accommodation by the Armada Otel.
You met in Paris and you both have strong connections to it. Can you tell us some of your favorite places?
We shared a house in the 15th arrondissement. We’d soothe our souls frequently in the Parc André Citroën and made Bistrot Linois our personal cafeteria. But we also have to remember Dalida in the 18th arrondissement, biking to Canal Saint-Martin and having a coffee at Chez Prune, wandering the exhibitions at Palais de Tokyo, dancing at Udo, the streets behind Odéon, and partying until dawn at Rosa Bonheur, opened up by the team from Pulp.