Project 6: Millie Chen and Arzu Ozkal

Millie Chen and Arzu Ozkal’s Silk Road Song Book Project is a collaborative reflection on the ways lyric and score are crafted to embody and elevate shared aspirations among communities living along or originally from the so-called and Orientalized Silk Road region. Minerva Projects is honored to publish under its imprint Minerva Press this experimental iteration of a creative output that harnesses optimism in service to longstanding resistance movements across this culturally and politically vital region.
Many contend that songs have the capacity to channel sorrow and rage into social cohesion and action. Chen and Ozkal have focused their research and alliance building among songwriters, some freely able to express their concerns in song, others who are constrained by oppressive regimes, and others forced to leave in order to recall what was passed down to them through communal, ancestral exchange. Chen and Ozkal’s research led them to track aural threads along a complex system of Eurasian trade routes from Istanbul to Xi’an. They have met and interviewed using audio and video songwriters there as well as songwriters in the Americas and Europe who are from the Silk Road region but for political reasons cannot return: Building a complex network of artists. With the communities connected to this route, Chen and Ozkal harness music and song in ways radical conservators might address a mangled ancient map. The land reigns supreme as the unifying common denominator people from different ethnicities, tribes, religions, and classes know, remember, mourn. With their project they create a third space, where the stories through songs from the Silk Road are set together as a mechanism for noting what remains shared among people living in the region and those in the diaspora. These lands have always been contested, desired, an occupied by a long list of imperial powers. Across time and in this case truly space, populations rooted along this artery have through song recorded and transmitted visions of nature, community, ritual, spirituality and tradition.
The power of this project lies in these artists’ capacity to articulate and blend vantage points. They apply a process of close looking as the means and ways of composition and writing, thinking about nostalgia / memory / distance, alongside the complex processes of othering our own. Conceptions of place, landscape, and song are put forth in this book through visual experiment drawing on both medieval songbooks and contemporary conceptual scoring practices. The Minerva Press book containing lyrics and song notes, research and travel records, and the stories of participants, is one element of their much larger multi-media project.
ARZU OZKAL is a Turkish-born interdisciplinary artist, designer, and researcher whose work focus on design’s role in looking for forms of creative and critical outcomes through participation and collaboration.
Ozkal is a founding member of Home Affairs, an interdisciplinary art collective focusing on creative projects about a range of issues impacting women’s lives. Since 2011, they have been working together with women from Turkey, Europe, and USA to design platforms of social exchange. Ozkal co-edited with Dr. Claudia Pederson, Gün: Women’s Networks, a project investigating informal networks and their extension into digital media with the aim of gaining understanding of the sociocultural conditions impacting women’s participation in contemporary culture (2013).
Ozkal’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in Athens, Istanbul, Barcelona, Ghent, Amsterdam, Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, and beyond. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Photoworks Magazine UK, Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism and the forth-coming book, Collaboration in Design Education by Bloomsbury Academic.
MILLIE CHEN’S visual, audio and performative works are intended to interrupt habits of viewing. Materials, tools and methodologies are contingent on the needs of the moment, but at the core of all her projects are social inquiry and the use of sensory modes of perception in the generation of knowledge. Chen’s artwork has been shown across North and South America, East Asia and Europe at venues and festivals including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, The Power Plant, Toronto, Centre Culturel Canadien, Paris, Centro Nacional des las Artes, Mexico City, The Contemporary Austin, Shanghai Expo, Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, Toronto Nuit Blanche, and FILE-Rio: Electronic Language International Festival, Rio de Janeiro. Her work is in several public collections including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, University of Colorado Art Museum, Art Bank of Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Pacific Railway, and Toronto Transit Commission, and she has produced a number of permanent public art commissions. Her most recent award is a Humanities Institute Faculty Research Fellowship from the University at Buffalo. Her writing has appeared in publications in the U.K., Canada, the U.S. and China. Chen is a Professor in the Department of Art, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Date: March 31, 2020
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