Nancy Popp, a Los Angeles public artist and interventionist invited me to her gorilla performance at a very busy intersection in the Nişantaşı district of Istanbul on Thursday. It was on the border of upper middle class and lower middle class neighborhoods. We waited around until she felt the time was right and then Popp jumped up and started to climb a light pole. She struggled for several minutes not being able to get past an obstacle, then passersby offered her help, a hand, a shoulder, a back, until she finally got up. We were worried that the police would try to stop her, but they did not arrive until after she had already climbed to the top and drew a large crowd, including a Channel D camera man who happened to be in the area for another breaking story. When she came down after approximately 5-10 minutes they interviewed her (not sure it made the news yet) and then the police arrived and detained her. They were concerned that she was trying to kill herself, so they ended up taking her to the police station to make a statement. I guess the real artwork, for me, was the engagement of a conversation with the Police about forms of expression in the public sphere and how un-permitted events such as this one, capture the moment in unexpected ways. Of course, if she had tried to get a permit, it would have never happen. As I understand, it was explained to the Police on the ride to the station by an interpreter that this was the artists' response to so many cars and people in the city, that her desire to be free from the congestion was her motivation, not to die.
While we were waiting for the police to discharge Popp, her private camera crew and assistants, students of Kocaeli University, and I walked from the performance site down to Taskim Square to meet her there. She returned with a copy of the Police Report, which will now become a part of the work, a documentation, which she signed along with the Police Chief. My reward for going was that we had made plans earlier to go to a Hamam that Nancy knew about through a friend. Built in 1454 for a Sultan, we washed off with silver bowls, laid on a large heated marble platform, then were taken to a private room where they scrubbed our bodies and washed us with Turkish soap and towels, including a brief massage. Felt like I was six years old again having my Aunt Betty bathe me! Left CLEAN and feeling recharged. Since hitting the ground running when I arrived in Istanbul last week, this was a nice way to end a productive trip.