Temporary Dwellings consists of seven archival board panels on which the artist has recorded the details of the lives of immigrant communities in Istanbul, Paris and New York. Using drawing, text and collage (of detritus gathered from her time spent in these cities) she merges a sociological approach with a poetic and critical gaze. The seven panels are accompanied by six videos that consist of documentary interviews with the inhabitants of these locations. The work was made over a three-year period between 1974 and 1977.
The seven panels are devoted to different neighbourhoods in the three cities of Paris (two panels), Istanbul (two panels) and New York (three panels). Each neighbourhood is characterised by its immigrant communities which are, respectively, Turkish, Kurdish and Puerto Rican. Each of the seven panels is structured in the same way, with five rows of information in a basic grid layout. At the top of each is script that is hand drawn in the style of sign painting, which states the date and precise location of the study. All of the text is in French, because Yalter moved to France from Turkey in 1965. Beneath the text are four alternating rows of Polaroid photographs and collaged elements. The Polaroids depict interiors and exteriors, domestic details and architectural materials, while the collaged elements include found materials such as fragments of building materials, part of a broken record and a crushed Coca-Cola can, as well as technically precise drawings of the observed context. The drawn and collaged elements are identified using the same style of handwriting as the title texts.
For the Parisian panels Yalter observed the neighbourhoods of Nanterre and Aubervilliers, both on the outskirts of the city and characterised at that time by their immigrant populations. Yalter was one of the first artists to examine the living and working conditions of these communities, turning their existence into a politicised issue while also maintaining a non-intrusive stance by working closely with the occupants to depict their situation. While the accompanying videos document the working conditions of her subjects, the collaged panels tell a more poetic story of their existence – from the worn bed clothing to the blank television screen that Yalter captures both in drawing and on Polaroid.
Yalter’s panels from Istanbul are based on her time in the Bulbul Deresi area of the city and her images and drawings concentrate mainly on the poorly built structures and building materials that characterise the street. Pasting brick, cement and the painted surface of the walls onto the panels, Yalter executes a study of the living situation of the inhabitants. Similarly for the Puerto Rican neighbourhoods in New York’s Brooklyn and Harlem, Yalter concentrates on the graffiti, murals and empty lots and architecture of the surroundings. A record of its time as well as a prescient examination of the socio-political situation for immigrant communities, Yalter’s work is also notable for its comparison and linking of the global nature of immigration and the related issues that accompany it, especially working and living conditions.
Temporary Dwellings relates to other projects by Yalter from this time, some undertaken with the American sociologist Judy Blum, including La Roquette, Prison de Femmes 1974, a study in video, photography and drawing of the Parisian ‘arrondissements’ (boroughs) and their immigrant occupants. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Yalter’s work pioneered a sociological and conceptual approach to ethnic, identity, migratory and class issues using documentary video, drawing, and photography in combination with first hand research into the statistical and material issues of immigrant communities. She has focused in particular on the living conditions and the political and economic exile of communities in Turkey, France, the United States, Portugal, Algeria and Chile.
Fabienne Dumont, ‘On Nil Yalter’s work on Memory, Migrants and Workers in 1970s–1980s France’, N.Paradoxa, vol.26, 2010, pp.52–8.
Derya Yücel, Fragments of Memory, March 2011, http://www.nilyalter.com/texts/12/n-l-yalter-fragments-of-memory-by-derya.html, accessed 22 November 2011.