Volume 1: Introducing Open Heart

Dear Family and Friends,

Merhaba, and I hope that you are well. I am very excited to write to you with updates from my art and life :) For many of you, it’s been far too long since we’ve been in touch and I am happy about the opportunity to reconnect with you :)

When I started thinking about writing this email, my intention was to simply share news of my recent exhibition and upcoming projects with people who had purchased my art — a group of souls, for whom I am forever grateful, and will cherish forever. But like most things that I start, I discovered that the deeper I went, the more I had to say and the more I wanted to open up.

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

These are some of my stories, watered with blood, tears, and laughter. Teşekkür ederim for reading and to all of you for your support, friendship, and love.


In Pursuit of Letting Go

Over the past few years I have had a lot of experiences that felt like I was polishing myself with very rough sandpaper. I first began sanding at a Garrison Institute retreat designed to cultivate emotional balance led by Alan Wallace and Eve Ekman. I continued my Dharma learning at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado with The Four Immeasurablesretreat also led by Alan Wallace. The Tibetan Buddhist teachings spoke to my heart and put words to the feelings I had, which I couldn’t properly explain before. Dharma helped me sand off my outer layers and I invited both freedom and vulnerability. Being vulnerable has made me emotionally stronger and I am transforming from being consistently inconsistent to being consistently consistent. I am grateful for the blessings of both pain and joy and, for me, Dharma has opened my heart for the possibility of emotional and spiritual cleansing. And I discovered a new inner well of bliss in a 200F (93C) sauna.

“Bathing is best enjoyed in a place where you feel safe enough to put aside your social roles, relax your body armor, and open your psyche to the moment” — Leonard Koren, Undesigning the Bath

After graduate school, I made my first trip to New York City to explore the city. I was only supposed to stay for a week, but I fell in love with the energy, architecture, and culture. On some great local advice I stumbled into the Russian and Turkish Baths (“the banya”) and instantly realized I was creating a ritual. The harmonious mixtures of hot and cold, steam and water served to really optimize the mind-body connection. It was in the banya, covered in sweat, that I’ve met the most interesting people of my life. Professional athletes, hasidic rabbis, writers, healers, fellow artists, and some “regulars” that had been visiting the same saunas and steam rooms every week for over 50 years. More on this later …

Living in NYC was its own kind of rough sandpaper, especially the cold winters. No matter how much time I spent at the banya, my heart never could fully thaw out in NYC. So I went home to Turkey for the summer of 2018 for one of my exhibitions and it was there I decided to move back to San Francisco. Even though I had lived there for three years during graduate school, this time was different.

Belly of the Beast

As an artist, I have always believed I was not meant to do real work. But my economic reality drove me to find a job assembling bouquets in a flower factory. It was brutal and humbling work. I woke up every morning at 5am and rode my bike in the dark and cold to work in a big and cruel warehouse trying to make things that are “pretty”. I turned my focus inward and listened to a dozen book recordings including James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, Richard Wright’s Native Son, and Patti Smith’s Just Kids and M-Train. I felt like Patti, especially during her early years working in the basement of a bookshop, struggling to find food. Her protopunk song “Piss Factory” hit really close to home. I finally had enough after a mandatory 13 hour shift the night of Thanksgiving, when one of my colleagues refused to turn down the volume of his cheap, awful pop music. USA can be an unforgiving place if you are unfortunate. I was defeated and I was cold down to my soul. I needed to soak and sweat at a banya.

“I’m gonna be so big I’m gonna be a big star and I will never return,
Never return, no, never return, to burn out in this piss factory
And I will travel light.”

from “Piss Factory” by Patti Smith

Fahrenheit 200

Archimedes Banya is located in a dystopian bayside neighborhood on the outskirts of San Francisco. The building is a wacky combination of brutalist Soviet architecture and 20th century San Francisco pastel and sits next to an old naval facility that used to decommission nuclear ships. The area feels forgotten, but I immediately embraced the weirdness of it all. The saunas are hot and I felt my soul begin to thaw as I observed a larger-than-life employee giving a strong platza to another man. They spoke Russian to each other and even though I don’t speak the language, I felt comfort. When I left the banya, I saw the platza master getting into his car, so I walked up to him and told him I want to work here. He told me to email the manager and inquire about an opening, so I did. The next time I went to the banya I was hired.

The banya is a place of many extremes, not just temperatures. Archimedes invites a wide spectrum of people. Clothing is optional and guests of all shapes, sizes, colors, and orientations mingle in a large open bath hall and float in and out of saunas and steam rooms, hot and cold pools. For a typical spa-goer, the banya probably feels like a place to unwind. But for the regulars and for the people who work there, the banya is an outlet for humans that have decidedly lived many lives.

The working conditions are intense: the Russian oven makes steam that feels like a dragon’s breath and the cold plunge (40F / 5C) is like a thousand tiny needles all over your skin. I coach people to take control over their breath because the shock of hot and cold can make you high. I once had a client faint and fall on me after a platza and the cold plunge often induces audible gasps from even the biggest and toughest-looking guests. I love challenging myself at the banya, not just physically, but also emotionally. During a platza, I make contact with people using a venik (a bouquet of branches and leaves, typically oak or birch) and circulate steam to heat and detoxify the body. Many of my clients have never had a platza before and describe the experience as life-altering. Some people have very intimate emotional experiences and I am very grateful to be part of their healing process. Some have unwelcomed sensual responses, an unfortunate byproduct of an environment that welcomes people of all kinds to be unguarded. Some fall asleep, some talk, some become ticklish, some fall in love. Some just smile.

For me banya is a not a part time job, it is an experience of another world that straddles the sensory spectrum from dystopia to utopia.

“The experience of extreme opposite temperatures back-to-back — hot to cold, or cold to hot — is particularly revelatory. Traversing thermal extremes with others also has a positive social bonding effect.” — Leonard Koren, Undesigning the Bath

Many Awakenings

I worked at Archimedes from December 2018 until May 2019 when I went back to Turkey to see family and prepare for my exhibition later in the summer. I windsurfed, painted, swam, and cleansed by the sea, as I can really only do in my hometown. In Turkey, we have hammams, and many of my best friends are from the NYC and SF banyas so I rarely am distant from bathing community and culture.

My latest exhibition was hosted at Art Shop Galeri in Alaçatı on a hot night in July. Awakening of the Myths is a series of watercolor and ink paintings that draw inspiration from the mythologies and sculptures of Ancient Middle Eastern and Greek civilizations. I have always been deeply influenced by my ancestry and my artistic exploration has recently been enhanced spiritually by examining life through my family constellation and scientifically by spitting into a tube and getting my DNA. For Awakening of the Myths, I travelled through the past to animate my ancestors with a contemporary and revitalized vision. My aspiration was to create a space in which the stories and the spirit of my roots can come back to life. I hope I did that. In exhibiting Awakening of the Myths and through the emotional and spiritual cleansing of the past few years, I feel reborn and reawakened like a phoenix.

“There is an enormous joy and satisfaction in doing what you really want to do and are best fitted to do. When it all comes together like that, it gives you a wonderful sense of well-being and satisfaction knowing that you have been doing what you were intended to do for this lifetime.” ― Tenzin Palmo (for more on Tenzin, watch this video)

At the end of the summer, I returned to SF to explore California and think about what’s next in life and art. I love road trips and have seen much of the Pacific coastline in USA. In a few hours drive, I can touch some of the tallest trees in the world in desolate redwood forests that are just a few miles up the road from heritage cannabis farms that have been harvesting sun-grown organic weed for decades. I went to Death Valley, which is like being on a different planet. We arrived during a windstorm so strong it was throwing rocks and shattering the windows of many unfortunate rental cars. Sunrises with one thousand suns in the sky at the same time.  The pastel colors. The softest sand. Painting by the crater. So surreal…

I also picked up right where I left off at Archimedes. It is still as intense as ever, but I am less shocked when I witness the extremes. Because of this newfound perspective, I have been able to center myself and open up space for my creative energy and I have a ton of new ideas flowing. I am excited to share that I am working on a new media and print project on bathing culture in ancient and modern times. My plan is to publish a series of works beginning 2020, that explores the intersection of art, humanity, architecture, spirituality, design, and soaking. To me, soaking is healing, celebrating, cleansing and relaxing all at once.

I can’t wait to see where this goes and hope you will join me for the ride :)


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