Deniz Ünal

26th Sep 2019

1. Hi Deniz, thanks so much for participating - we hope you’re enjoying the coffee! Can you give us an introduction to your practice, interests and experiences?

Thank you for inviting me to take part (+ thanks Grace!) and thanks for the coffee – it’s tasty. Intros to my practice etc. freak me out as I don’t like summaries or I don’t like tidy summaries so I’m hoping this interview will operate as an intro somewhat.

2. Can you talk to us about your working processes, what are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I’m working on creating a character or “persona” (as I like to call it) for a film by Zoe Williams. For her film, I play one of the Veronica characters and I was asked to talk or act out a fantasy which will come to life when we find this magic bottle she has made. I chose to create a new “persona”, a kind of snake woman, a type of archetype of a seductress.

Many years ago, (a long long time ago) I worked as a belly dancer and I was scared and excited by the way the audience looked at my body + my movements and the way I looked back at them in the process – it can be quite a sexual dance + fun! Anyway, I also like that it’s kind of naff (can’t think of a better word for it). So the snake woman will do a snake dance for the audience to watch and for her to watch them. This is my fantasy. I’m also into the idea of the portrayal of the ‘exotic’ and its construction.

3. Do you have a studio at the moment? If so, how important is it to your practice that you are embedded in studio life?


4. Can you tell us about Mothers at Turf Projects? A collaborative project between mothers and their children, it sounds like a unique premise for an exhibition and we’d love to hear more!

Mothers was a group show initiated by Bronte Dow + Dyveke Bredsdorff a collaboration between mothers + their children. I had previously worked with my mum on a video called Rolls (mum cleaning video) in 2012.

(10/05/2019 Sorry I took a mega break from writing – a couple of months + I’m back now, I got mega busy doing the above things!)

In the video Rolls, I followed my mother and her cleaning company to properties that needed to be cleaned in between tenancies. Together we played games and role plays which were filmed alongside filming her cleaning with an idea to occupy the space for misuse and question/ highlight domestic labour.

So for the MOTHERS SHOW we wanted to add to this work by making 2 new things. The first a video of my mum swimming and exercising in the sea in Turkey where we holiday most summers, filmed only underwater. I wanted to show her in a state of leisure and show a place where we are both happy and carefree together. I cherish those moments. I wanted to give visibility to her, as someone who looks like her is not that visible in art + culture. The second work we made was a performance in the Whitgift shopping centre (the gallery is situated in the centre). The intention was to follow up on some of the ideas from the first video Rolls in terms of occupying space in a different way from their intention.

5. Your website takes us through to an excerpt from Characters of Control, can you tell us more about this work, the reading group, the role-play workshop and the performance that accompanies it?

CHARACTERS OF CONTROL aims to build up a vocabulary of movement + interactions on the overlapping themes of control, desire, power and intimacy (at least I wrote something along these lines for the last press release!). The performances connected desires I had related to these themes + ways of interacting with people + then translated that into a set of actions + gestures that we rehearsed + workshopped and shared as an improvised performance along the parameters. The original performance expanded that to a reading group of Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed + Sara Kanes Complete Works – reading as a way to expand on these themes. Also Role Play Workshop, Yes! Thinking about different types of Role Play, Roles we play etc. also in relation to BDSM practices. At the most recent version of CHARACTERS OF CONTROL (Soft toys edition) at Kunstraum in London, I was inspired by the role soft toys play in our development as children (as outlined by Winnicott) also I was inspired by a costume the drag queen Kimchi wore to make a GIANT teddy bear PROP/COSTUME to be present in the performance + then worn to transform myself into a giant teddy which was fun!

This is what my teddy looks a bit like - this one seems to have more human features (see riso).

6. Who, where or what has you excited at the moment? Who, where or what is causing you concern at the moment?

Too many things in the world are concerning right now! Dunno where to start!!! My friends + the art they make excites me.

7. You have an extensive selection of video works on your vimeo, most of them performative. Can you talk about your use of video and performance within video versus the development of live outcomes? Do you develop performance works specifically with filming in mind?

Urgh need to redo my website, and pay vimeo to get my vids back!

8. Are there any books or authors that you find yourself coming back to time and time again, if so who are they, what are they and why?

A few yes – I keep coming back to Octavia Butler’s Sci-fi writing – especially Blood Child and Other Stories – collection of short stories, because it's so amazing and I can’t think of what else to say about that right now. Kathy Acker’s writing, I got quite obsessed with it for a while, especially one article she wrote in ‘97 entitled The Gift of Disease, where she writes about her journey rejecting chemotherapy for breast cancer and following a path of alternative medicine, of course it’s very sad to have the knowledge that soon after writing she died of breast cancer. I found it helpful in dealing or understanding with perceptions of illness and having control over one’s own body and decisions you can make. Another great book around this subject is Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor. Another writer I love is Audre Lorde, her essay The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power is helping me to embrace female erotic power in my life.

10. If you had unlimited access to resources and funding, is there a piece or project that you would like to realise?

I’m finding it hard to imagine limitless funding or resources but if I had some more funding in the short term I would like to make a film with a loose premise of it being a road trip movie set in Turkey. It would flip between narrative + doc, personal + fictional and have something to do with the diasporic identity. Revisiting places like Nemrut for sunset + sunrise + Kappadokia/ Cappadocia along the way.


Deniz Ünal is a person based in London. You can find her on or @denizurinal on instagram