Makers of New York: Ezgi Ucar

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Our Maker VISTA member, Karim Willens, was recently invited to participate in a three-day making seminar at the Dreamyard Institute in the Bronx, NY. There, he heard from and met some amazing makers and was inspired to interview a few of them as part of a “Makers of New York” series. In this post, Karim interviews Ezgi Ucar, a sound artist, creative technologist, and multimedia designer. Ezgi has exhibited and performed her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, SXSW Interactive, and Parsons School of Design, among other museums. 

Ezgi Ucar is inspired by everyday life and uses her culture as a springboard to inspire her making. As you read through this interview, consider how you might encourage youth in your learning environment to find inspiration in their own everyday lives and unique cultural backgrounds.

Please note that this interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Turkey in Istanbul.

How was it growing up in Turkey?

It was good and bad in some ways. I love Istanbul, but as a woman living in Turkey, it is not the best, especially now.

What were your influences in Turkey that led to what you are doing today?

There are a lot of makers in Turkey. Most of them are women like housewives, for example, that stay at home all day. They knit, they make embroidery, they make stuff for their home, they make tablecloths, cushion covers. And they are actually makers, but nobody calls them makers because that is not a part of the culture. There are a lot of secret makers. Here, it is more celebrated to be a maker. People actually try to present themselves as makers. I actually was influenced, especially for my thesis project, Eclipse, by Turkish culture. Today, we have some shaman influences in Turkish culture because shamanism was part of the old Turkish tradition. I was really interested in this so I decided to create some work around Shamanism. This then led me to work on the Eclipse Project, which is based on a shaman story of the solar eclipse.

Eclipse is an interactive dance costume that Ezgi made. The costume creates its own visual and sonic environment in response to the dancer’s movement. The way it uses light and sound is based on a Shaman Eclipse.

Can you share an example of shamanism that you’ve seen in your life?

There are certain stories or elements in our culture, such as the evil eye or the eye bead, which are taken from shamanism. We have the evil eye as a symbol for protection, so you wear the evil eye on your body so that you will be protected against people who could be jealous of you or who are your enemies. Or like reading coffee cups — that’s a really interesting thing that everybody does in Turkey. You just drink coffee and then you do a coffee cup reading to see the future. So stuff like that made me really interested in shamanism and I started working on some projects to celebrate it.

How did some of your earliest memories involve making?

Actually, I was always a maker. Since I was very little in kindergarten, I was making things when I went out for dinner with my parents and their friends. It would be very late so I would be bored as a little kid on the table. I would start making some little small people or small animals from the stuff that I found on the table, such as toothpicks or anything that I could find. I would start playing with those things by myself. I always loved to draw and paint and I was always known for that within my family and school. I always knew that I was an artist or was going to be an artist. The thing that changed was the medium that I used. Instead of just painting, I was sculpting and so I’m using all of these talents together and adding more to my skill set, which is getting bigger and bigger.

Was there anyone that inspired you as a maker?

My parents definitely did influence me because they are both into art. My father plays the piano and my mom draws very well. My grandma on my father’s side actually taught me how to sew and make dresses for my dolls by myself. This was a shared experience because my grandma would always be there to help me out and teach me how to make it.

Where do you find your drive and motivation to continue to inspire yourself?

My motivation comes trying to figure out new things, not to make a specific thing. I have certain ideas in my mind and I start testing. I make prototype 1 and prototype 2, and then I figure out a better idea while making it. I think the motivation behind this is to create new ideas by creating physical forms, and then of course learning and making new things. I am always inspired by daily stuff that I see and that I find interesting. I don’t necessarily try to find solutions to a specific problem but I just want to express and investigate something I’m interested in. I can say that all my work is personal, even if it could speak to a bigger audience or at the end be used by a bigger audience. I am always driven by personal interest. I want everyone to find something different about themselves in what I create not specifically give a message that would be the same for everyone. Everyone should have a certain feeling that they take out of it. It does not necessarily have to be a specific message. It doesn’t have to be good or bad just something that they will feel not necessarily think but they would feel.

How important is making to you in this day in age?

parsonsparis-MFA-DT-workshop5I think it is important that everyone makes. I love making because I love experimenting with the field that I’m interested in. Every time I experiment, for example, I see a material and I think that it would be cool to use in one of my projects. I feel like a scientist that came up with a new amazing invention even if it is a known fact that this specific material works this way. It is new for me and I made it myself with my hands, so I have a personal connection to whatever it is. It makes you feel very connected to whatever you are doing. It is hard to be brave enough to start something from scratch and use some type of skill that you have no idea how to use because it is always easier to use whatever you have in your skill set. But as a maker, I think someone who defines themselves as a maker should be open to new ideas and technologies because the world is changing everyday and we should be able to change with it.

What most interests you about your work?

The thing I’m most interested in having is multi-sensory experiences of the world, so probably a multi-sensory artist. I try to integrate different forms of art and different mediums. It all comes down to our senses and how we feel the world, that is why I want people to experience my artwork in a multi-sensory way. My aim in whatever art that I’m making is to have people engage in some way and to be interactive. I want them to want to interact with whatever I’m making and these are all experiments. I don’t actually know if people will feel connected to them or not, or even if I will feel connected to them.

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What type of reactions to the things you have made encourage you? 

I think the most encouraging thing is the change of their facial expression, the way they act after they have interacted with it. Then the least encouraging is when they just take a look and just go away without even touching it or trying to figure out what it is. It is always good that people are interested but it is even better when they continue to interact with it.

A lot of the work you do has to do with non-verbal communication. Tell me more.

Well, we are always communicating with facial expressions without even knowing it. We can also start communicating with other senses such as smell and taste. I don’t know if they are as easy manipulated as talking but those are interesting ways to think of communication. We already talk to each other as people and I think the objects we create do not necessarily have to have human qualities to be interactive. I think these objects can have their own way of communicating with the user and the user can have their own way of communicating with them. It makes them more personal and interesting.

What type of work are you trying to get into?

I am starting to work a new project as an artist-in-residency. I will be focusing on multi-sensory interactions on a wearable garment. I really want people to be able to feel their environment in a  deeper way using different senses. I will start choosing what type of materials I will be using and start experimenting with different methodologies. I’m working in wearable technology as a prototyper, researcher and creative technologist. I think this is a great path for me because I’m able to experiment with different ideas and bring them to life.

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