Installation Mattering of a Productive Mythology

DATE October  2020
The Büyük Menderes Graben cuts through the ridges that characterize the Aegean coast of Turkey, forming a pathway on the horizontal plane. The graben guides the flows of air and wetness between the sea and the inland areas and creates the ideal climatic conditions for the olive and fig trees the region is known for. These trees have been the centre around which a particular mythology has been weaved which roots the present of this geography to a faraway history by defining it as the ancient land of olive and figs. This mythology has widely shaped this landscape and its inhabitants and, consequently, fig and olive production is the primary source of income for the local population today. However, the Büyük Menderes Graben is a space of connection not only on the horizontal plane. The vertical dynamics beneath the surface that produced this geography allow for the heat and the wetness of the deep subsurface to seep through the cracks in the ground and rest close to the surface, forming an intimate relationship between these spaces. Today, this vertical confluence is being instrumentalized to produce geothermal energy. Bolstered by the discourse around sustainability and national energy, this fast paced development is constructing another mythology for this geography. This mythological shift is not merely discursive; it is a destructive material erasure, a violent replacement that functions simultaneously in the past, the present and the future.

The internationally funded exploration and mapping that began in the 60s redefined the Büyük Menderes Graben as the primary geothermal field of Turkey. Today this geography, riddled by over three hundred boreholes, provides deep subsurface heat to over forty geothermal energy plants, which, due to deliberate inaction and lack of regulations by the authorities, dump geothermal fluids into the surface environment. The resulting toxicity manifests itself in slow time with micro-scale material transformations and is made visible today by rotten figs and acres of dead olive and fig trees. Recent studies show toxic levels of boron in the groundwater, the streams and the fig leaves of the region. This environmental violence has triggered a powerful and organized resistance led by local women and olive and fig growers who resort to legal action, evidence collection and protests as forms of resistance. However, the qualities that characterize this violence contrast the spatiotemporal logics of the established platforms and tools which the resistance is forced to use or navigate. Constructed on the spectacular eventfulness of the fast fleeting present, media outlets, legal processes and traditional scientific studies are inadequate in registering the distributed micro-scale events that slowly spread this environmental devastation across time, space and bodies. Thus, regardless of the intention, their use contributes to the operations of the violent mythological shift in the graben.

This practice based research project investigates the legal and techno-scientific instruments that were used to materialize this mythological shift and explores the tools utilized by the local resistance. With support from the women of Kızılcaköy, the olive and fig growers and their lawyer, platforms that are built on an alternative system of spatiotemporal organization are developed to bring visibility to the materially, temporally and spatially concealed operations of this slow violence. These platforms not only contribute to the local resistance in the Büyük Menderes Graben but also provide a framework for the move towards a different mode of engagement with the environment.

The event-dial is an exploration into an alternative mode of organizing events and materials which contrasts one that's constructed on linear time. The event-dial utilizes a radial temporal structure which draws the past, the present and the future closer together and, thus, focuses our attention to the relationships that emerge in  slow time, giving visibility to the agents and encounters that slow violence conceals.
Plots of Friction reveal the transformation of the function of the Büyük Menders Graben for the state and the consequent shift in its definition from the land of olive and figs to a geothermal energy field. The resulting friction between these two myths is not only a discursive transformation but also a material conflict which governs this landscape today.