In Conversation with Setareh Fatehi

Setareh is a choreographer.
Born in Tehran, Iran. Living in Amsterdam and Tehran. Locked down in Amsterdam.

‘I thought about the effort that it takes to remember/make ruya as opposed to imagining disasters and catastrophes… I thought about the priority that undesirable things has in my thoughts, as in I have to picture them before picturing something more hopeful…’

I’ve been introduced to Setareh by a very dear friend of mine who is her roommate now. She performed in A Corner in the Wolrd Festival 2 in 2016 with her piece Bodiless Heads #1 Simulacrum which gave me my first glimpse into her creative universe after connecting with her swiftly as a person. Her work is very much about the body as presence, about the machineries of image making and the histories of seeing and imagining. Our correspondence has been a rough terrain with challanges, gaps and rugged surfaces and has read like a poem to me. We made some edits to the text, a process through which, I feel, we created a piece of work together -about seeing, revealing, imagening, being,. About wordswordswords, in a world where bodies are omnipresent.

This correspondence took place between Fatih Gençkal and Setareh Fatehi from May 14 to October 20, 2020.

From: Fatih Genckal
To: Setareh Fatehi

Sent: Thursday, 14 May 2020 17:19

Dear Setareh,
I want to start an interview experiment. I will ask you one question everyday and you will have 24 hours to respond to it. Then I will ask the next question based on your answers or my curiosities. You can also ask me questions in your answers and interview me in a way. It will be like a conversation.

If you answer quickly, I can ask the next question right away, so we don’t have to wait 24 hours . It can turn into texting each other too. Or not.

Please feel free to write as you are speaking. Leave sentences unfinished, grammatically wrong etc if you feel like it. Think of this as a stream of consciousness writing. You don’t need to think much to find the right or most comprehensive answer. Follow the spark the question starts in you .

So here is the first question:
What do you see happening with you and around you since the beginning of home confinement?

Setareh Fatehi 23 May 2020 09:26
there has been so many phases as we are entering the third months of home isolation in amsterdam. I also feel like that I have started that mental isolation at least from february when my flight to tehran got cancelled, due to “security reasons” after the shut down of the ukrainian airplane in Tehran) :(. Right after that cancellation Covid 19 became official and the borders got closed.

what do I see happening : it is hard for me to make it clear even in my head about what is happening. Right now I feel very lost, more lost that I have ever been. I have had time to reflect back on my life and the choices that I have made and at the moment I’m just seeing the downside of all of them. not a good place to be.

I think my life was very much getting a🖤🖤🖤 rhythm and meaning by living i👀n both Tehran and Amsterdam and 💥alternating between these two cities. The fact that I was no👻t able to make and my life in Tehran got taken 💫from me is very much disorienting.

what else is happening to me:
I see the quietness and calmness that appeared in the city life around me and how it affected the return of more birds.
I enjoy not being in airports and airplanes.
I also enjoy spending alot more time with my flatmates and at home. having time to cook and clean. but I wish all of that was not overlayered with the worries that the pandemic brings up.

I have two parents who are living in Tehran. They are healthy and careful but also in a volnurable age. I am carrying the fear of the moment that they get sick and both of their children are faraway from them.💓💘

there is so much to say Fatih. maybe I stop here to see where will your next question take us.

PS: I didn’t do any editing on this. I write it as if I’m talking to you and it might not be sth that I share with the rest of the world. let me know if you are going to use this in another context;)

Fatih Gençkal 23 May 2020 17:18
What was it about the rhythm of living in two cities that was meaningful for you that you got disoriented when you can’t?

P.S. About the sharing of this content: I am doing a series with a number of people to be published on A Corner in the World website with as little edits as possible to reveal the ongoing personal conversations spanning over weeks. I will share the whole correspondence with you to confirm before sharing. Let me know if this is fine with you or if you have concerns.


Fatih Gençkal 18 Jun 2020 20:43
My rather direct second question seemed to not work. I will continue the conversation after our video call the other day.

It’s been over a month since I sent my first email and things are quite different now. There is no more lockdown. On one hand, it feels like a distant memory, one whose ghost is still with us. Or shadow.

Right now, I am watching from my balcony a group of crows harassing a seagull double their size. A Turkish flag waves behind on a construction crane. Today, I sold 3 boxes of books and a few records laying around for months which makes me feel content. I also bought a bike helmet and lock for the bike I bought last week. The weather is still not too hot, which I enjoy, especially at this time of the day. Coming of the summer would normally be taking a break from everything and going into a bit of isolation for me. But this time, we are already past that, I feel. Which is weird. People seem to have gone back to their busy lives, the many whatsapp groups are much more silent. The pace of these email conversations are way slower.

I saw a survey on a British newspaper asking people about which jobs they feel are essential now and which not. Artists were on top of the unessential list by far. First I felt bad having been speaking and thinking about why and how art matters with many people. And then I laughed cynically about my self-righteousness. Finally I said to myself: why am I caring about such a statistic?

We had our first guests at home last night. No touching, hugging etc. It was nice. I don’t know what we know more about the coronavirus now than 2-3 weeks ago that we are going back to business as usual as possible. But we are. Human frailty maybe . Or humans need to be with others. I will maybe go to İstanbul next week to see my parents, my sister and her -now 2 months old- baby, as well as the 2 year old one. Can I restrain myself from touching them? We will see.

Will you go back to Tehran? Planning at least? How are your parents?

Setareh Fatehi 21 Jun 2020 14:24
Hey Fatih
our video call was so nice. to see you, a bit of your house, the library, the desk, the cup in your hand which kept on bringing questions, what’s in it?Coffee? Tea?is it hot? how big is this cup? those kind of questions that you don’t even realise that they are in the back of your head and you are not really looking for an answer for them either.

I am happy that we are picking up the conversation and bringing it to a “track” that works for us.

you talked about the lockdown..i was thinking about it just today or maybe it was yesterday, that what did we call a lockdown? did it ever happen in amsterdam? Or in tehran? I know istanbul had all these weekend curfews  and even yesterday there was another one. so what did you mean when you said there’s no lockdown anymore! we had almost 30 people on our rooftop yesterday for my flatmate’s birthday. it felt too much to me at some point. I hate feeling that way. I wonder if  my social anxiety got legitimized by this fear of spreading the virus. and I wonder if I can afford being more isolated in this world that I am living now.

you talked about pace. slower pace. I don’t know about everyone but I got slow not because of going back to the “busy life”. I’m not busy. not as busy as i think (thought) i should be. I got slower cause I got more and more confused about what I do in relation to every social encounter around me, be it my work, friends, relationship… I got time to question and at times I got frustrated not knowing how to answer them. I don’t know if that’s the reason that I got slower but could be. Too much precarity makes me paused 😴. keep telling myself, pause is good, life was too fast, but something doesn’t rest well in me.

even my thought of going to tehran is different. not that i doubt that i need to go there, be there, live there, but more doubting about, what will I be there? what should I be doing there? who should I be working with? work not as a job but as a process of thinking, creating etc..

2020 was dark, not that the years before were very bright when i think about the situation in Iran, but the end of 2019, with all the darkness that got amplified by US sanction a🙇nd continued to be a bloodbath of lots of innocent people i🙇🙇🙇🙇🙇🙇n protests and funerals and in tha💧💧t airplane😥. i had a lot to understand , or be traumatized by before COVID kicked in,  as did many of my friends and family.

oof took me so long to write this last paragraph and it came out just sad and lost in between my other words, which tells alot about how it exists in my head.

my parents are fine. they are holding it together. they’ve been quite careful and followed the lockdown protocols. I miss them.

I see my mom every week in an online dance workshop that I do for the mothers of my friends and a few friends of theirs. we have amazing times. it’s already been 2 months.

I told you about my all over the place plans, thinking of moving to istanbul and continue my research there, or to go back to tehran and see what i can do there. you need to be there for things to happen. that’s what they say. I have lots of ideas but they are getting scary as none of them has found a place to land.

i’m so melancholic today
and i talked too much

Fatih Gençkal 27 Jun 2020 12:50
Dear, I read your email the moment you sent it. Then I let it sit and read it again today. I heard it totally different this time, as if I hear it for the first time. When I said the pace of the interviews got slower, I meant this maybe. I read it in such a haste then as I was in the middle of many other things -new Covid-19 emergency funding applications mostly- and I realized I didn’t really hear what you were saying. It took me almost a week to slow down again.

What do I mean by lockdown? I ask this question a lot. There were official curfews in the weekends here but other than that we were pretty much free actually. The thing was socializing spaces were closed, cafes, bars, restaurants etc. People worked from home. So most people were confined at home. Going out felt weird. I really started feeling anxious after about 10 minutes in the supermarket. Even though the virus situation probably is quite the same now, if not worse, we are back out. I sometimes think to myself: what is this? Or what was that a month ago? Maybe it’s a very new virus and we need time to properly understand it and distanced and cautioned ‘normal’ is just another phase in it. And the confinement was necessary primarily to keep the health system functioning and for people to understand that we all need to take some measures. I saw a bus driver yesterday, stopping at a red light. He was really tired with the heat and all and he rested his elbows on the steering wheel and rubbed his hands all over his face. I look at this guy and it feels like a movie scene. I have a diagonal perspective from behind and close up on the contours of his face and his fingers against a lowering sun over the sea behind. A very dramatic scene. Or is this a thriller?

This question echoes in me: What will I be there? I’ve always flirted with the idea of moving back abroad since I got back from my studies in New York in 2010. Last year I moved to İzmir, a smaller town, from İstanbul, my hometown. And lately I’ve been flirting more with the idea of moving away from the city into the countryside. In each move and idea of the move haunts me the question: what will i be there? Just this morning I was writing in my journal about how I need to think more about this question and have AIMS in life! Thinking now, I feel I don’t really try to be anything in İzmir, although I have a lot of options . Something in me resists this idea no matter how much my mind needs it. I feel bad for it usually. Still, it’s usually the people who need for you to be something, I think. Hence my anxiety when people ask me what I do for a living. Maybe it’s good practice to articulate things for yourself. A new environment can help reset in this sense. Articulate, and then re-articulate and then pause etc.

Do you want to talk about the amplified darkness you are talking about in Iran? I don’t intend to be a reporter here. I’ve felt that my Iranian friends have not been very eager to speak in more than general ways about it. And I am really curious how you have related to it. Maybe there are things I can relate to as well . Here, I find myself quite detached from politics and direct political action lately. On another level, though, I am really really interested in transforming my life to reflect my politics and act in this way.

Last but not least, tell me more about the mother’s dance club! Pleeeeease =)

P.S. The cup was filled with coffee. Having been a tea person all my life, I am a coffee drinker now. How cool is that?

Setareh Fatehi 20 Jul 2020 12:26
dear dear
o dear
yes and no

is coffee cool actually?
and is cool Hot?

what will u be there?
what is i here?
can i be something?

does what relate to a thing?
isn’t u a💩lready something?

so maybe “what” is about the effect? a change? something that can change through i or u being here or there.

the point now for me is the distance
the distance between the experience of spaces. It’s not about touch, it is about somehow feeling the same space, the walls, the temperature, the light, the sounds, the air quality and maybe the touch- of the things in the same space-

the explicit thought about the amplified sadness
ends up in some numbers in my head : 200 deaths everyday! in the country of 80 million, is that a lot or not?
for me even one is too many… 1200, 176, 1, 12000,…..

i want to keep it short this time
but it might become long at the end
let’s see

i have never felt this lost
there are things that i want to do
there are things that i think i can do
but survival is nowhere inside of them

so i’m dealing with death, which is not about my body dying
but about the things dying, the dreams, the thoughts, the potentials
it feels like even in the level of atoms around me, things are all up in the air,
keep on asking themselves, what am i here? am i here? am i not here? can i chose either? or can’t i chose neither?

what is this state?

and in the mids of this
every Teusday at 14:00 Tehran time
we gather, with mothers of my best friends and their friends
we put on a song and dance
and i bring in an exercise
everyday a different way or a different question
i explain, they hear me,
we try to make a sense of it
but it actually doesn’t matter
what matters is the gathering
what matters is the dance we do
what matters is the bodies being felt, being touched, by the soft eyes of the other, by the memories, by the rhythm
or maybe that also does not matter
and it does not matter what matters:] and there I hit the bottom of my nihilism :)))))


we have a lot of fun
every Tuesday,
which keeps me up for few hours after and then i start drowning again

but not this week
after almost 3 months of no planning and living day by day
I have planned this week
a loose schedule and I want to stick to it
it’s nice to start the week with this email to you
thank you for keeping the game alive

and let’s talk soon
the plan of moving to istanbul for 3 months is getting real:@@@)


Fatih Gençkal 22 Jul 2020 16:21
Dear, I read your message a few times again when I sat down to write back, this time because I was totally sucked into rage and despair yesterday. The dead body of a young woman, who was missing for the last few days was found in a forest yesterday. She was killed by her ex-boyfriend. The guy was captured and confessed the murder. You know, I don’t know how many of these instances we have witnessed in this country in the last few years. The same pattern of ‘news.’ I was devastated.

This came at a time when the government has declared intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convension for the prevention of violence against women and domestic violence.

This came at a time when just a few days ago a trans woman was attacked and threatened by a waiter at a famous chain-restaurant during the day and the guy was just released by the police.

This came at a time when Netflix was pressured to cancel a show it was producing in Turkey because it had a gay character in it.

And also at a time when Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, the frescos were taken out and one university professor said how can u have a picture of a prostitute in a mosque?

I am ashamed and sick of the chauvinist machismo and patriarchal male solidarity and the infinite impunity for all this that is in the blood of this country!

I was also ashamed of my rage as I witnessed the murderer guy being almost lynched in social media by people who were also outraged, like me. A circle of rage that probably feeds each other as a lot of the rage had also a patriarchal tone! I felt helpless, my stomach up in my mouth.

So it’s been a difficult day.

Then this morning my wife sent me this little video of Abbas Kiarostami. I cried. Then another friend sent me a message saying she was feeling so sick about everything. Then I sent her the video. And she was uplifted, too, it made her day, she said.

This somehow echoed for me the dance you do with the women in Tehran.

Now I sit down, drink my tea and think: what a beautiful word that we share: rûya!

Setareh Fatehi 19 Aug 2020 17:01
yesterday was hard to go through. after doing everything i could do, cycling around the lake, practicing Turkish, having the dance session with The Mothers, having a “work” meeting with a friend, I was shocked that it is still 5 pm and I have at least 7 more hours until bedtime. I was nervous and bored and and and
I laid down on my bed and started to think about my Ruya(s).
does it mean the same in turkish? dream (not as what you see when you sleep but more as wishes in the past or for the future)
I started thinking of the ruyayi رویایی  situations that i could imagine and made myself finding ways to get close to that..
everything is stuck so badly..but in my head things can be loose and go to very different directions..
I thought about the effort that it takes to remember/make ruya as opposed to imagining disasters and catastrophes..
I thought about the priority that undesirable things has in my thoughts, as in I have to picture them before picturing something more hopeful..
is it then the priority that fear can have over desire? I think I don’t come out as the most courageous person but I also think I’ve never advocated for fear..

I want to keep on dreaming, and take steps towards them, even though those steps are small and even though those dreams can disappear after a few steps..
but at the moment I am still here, and there’s a lot to discover here, in this stillness, where all those potentialities of Ruya are existing and not existing at the same time..

one exercise that we did with mothers yesterday was to pick a song that we like and know how to sing, sing it very slowly (slower than its known rhythm) and move with it as fast as we can. it is fun, try it, if you haven’t (even if you have).

take care

Fatih Gençkal 26 Aug 2020 16:26
I don’t want to let this rest too long.
I received 2 letters of departure today. One is from a person at Salt, a great gallery we worked with for some of our events. We worked closely with her. She says she is going to move to Salzburg to continue there. She thanks us for the great time she had.
The second letter just came from Claire, our 3rd partner at A Corner in the World. After taking a few months off, she decided that she needs to move on, that it was one of the hardest decisions of her life. She didn’t say what she is going to do yet. I’m sure we’ll speak in the following days. Some of her words really touched me and confirmed that this indeed is indeed the end of a period. Don’t I see it?

I spoke to my neighbor the other day and she said she was going to move to the Netherlands with her husband to establish a business and live there benefiting from a special treaty between Turkey and the EU. They were supposed to go in April but then Covid came. Cansu and I looked at each other and said to ourselves: Why not? Speaking to my colleague about this I found myself saying: ‘I am sure we can do the things we want to do in Turkey and abroad much easier if we lived abroad.’

I feel a little bit scared. That could be a time to push through, to act, I guess.
Do at least one thing a day that scares you.
Did you do anything today?

Setareh Fatehi 14 Oct 2020 17:49
Just read all of our conversations from the first email in this series.
I wanna write about:

difference between sadness and darkness
macho culture
a garden that I miss
no love no sex no rock and role
lose everything
down everyone
“depression” as a word
amnesia as a habit

I’ll pick one tomorrow and write
Feel free to reply to this tonight or wait for my next email

hope you are well

Fatih Gençkal 15 Oct 2020 14:18
Go dear.
I have a lot to say.
Yet little time to say now. Ah!
I’ll wait in anticipation for your words.
Words, words, words…
I love them these days
Composing mine
in my mind

Setareh Fatehi 16 Oct 2020 13:04
I finally found my office:)
At least for the coming days
it’s called smyrna

I went to check out if I can work in SALT, just because you mentioned it and also Shahrzad told me about it.
It was too official for my mood. Stone walls, castle-like building, with mega security at the entrance. I went in. Only the cafe was open. I found the bathroom. Pee(d) and left.

now i am in smyrna
it’s like a second hand shop full of old couches and random wooden chairs. I’m sitting next to a cat. She’s busy cleaning herself since I arrived.

obviously I’m not gonna choose one topic from the words I have written last time, just because I can not stick to my plans these days or maybe I have no energy to choose.
my dream of last night: There was a cat, a black cat with a red leash. I actually met this cat yesterday in Sanatkarlar(صنعتگران) park. I’ll attach her photo here. in my dream, she was a bureaucrat. I needed her help to figure out something in relation to the Gemeente (Netherland’s municipality). but the cat would not really come to my arm. then I saw her child which was also a black cat. tried to catch him (by the back of her neck) and he scratched me and I let go.
I woke up with a headache.

I missed out on an event that was online on Wednesday. I only realised today that I forgot. All these things that one can attend online while your body literally doesn’t need to move away from the lap top, are so confusing.

It’s been a super hard summer and I didn’t make it easier for myself. I wonder if I actually could or if I actually didn’t. I’ve never felt this before, that my Body is not needed anywhere. like it doesn’t need to be touched by anyone in anyway. like the fact that even if I was closer to my parents I still should have kept distance and same goes with my friends. there’s a bit of exaggeration in t😋his feeling but it doesn’t feel too unrealistic to me. It is weird.

I wasn’t a social media person (like zero post on instagram kind of person). I’m not necessarily proud of it and I do constantly think of changing that but still haven’t find a way that makes sense to me. so since this whole shebang and since my body can not really move and be in different spaces and meet people, I also got deleted from my friends’ online gatherings since I am nowhere to be seen. maybe it’s time to do sth about it.

this cat is still cleaning herself. we have this expression in farsi as if its her wedding bath:))

when I wrote that list of words in the last email, I thought I might add one sentence in front of each of them. But I think that c💘💨💅😤😳an wait.


how are we gonna find an end? should we at all:))?

Fatih Gençkal 20 Oct 2020 14:34
Smyrna is Greek for İzmir. I know that cafe. Salt means pure or only in Turkish.

It feels like the season is full on in İstanbul. There is the Film Festival going on and the Theater Festival program is just announced. You will realize that both are IKSV events. Istanbul culture and arts foundation. Are you feeling the vibe?

After two crazy weeks of work, performances, organizations and of course zoom meetings, Cansu and I are in home quarantine now! Someone in her office got Covid-19 and she has to go in a 14 day quarantine at home and me with her. (Her test got negative, thank god.) When we had the news on Thursday that her colleague got Covid-19, our immediate reaction was this: we will get tested in the morning, have the test results in the afternoon (hopefully negative) and then go perform in the evening for the performance program that I had been preparing for. Then some officials called her to say that she cannot leave home for 14 days and the test could only be done after the 4th day of contact (Saturday). So long the performances on Friday and Saturday! 🙂 Apparently 65 households in our neighborhood were in quarantine and 2 got Covid-19 positive. I felt stupid to think this would be so easy. I realized how in my mind, I want to maintain my busy life senselessly and feel that it will not happen to me because I take precautions. There is a reality that you live and when some other reality strikes, it stops you in your tracks. Now, 5th day at home, I remember the dreams, the realizations, the attempts to live differently when pandemic first broke and feel like a fool.

I don’t remember what I was thinking when I said I have a lot to say in my last email. So far the story is you were in Amsterdam, not in a particularly good mood, you wanted to go to İstanbul, I was in İzmir, not in a particularly good mood and wanting to go to the countryside, seaside or Amsterdam or something. In the meantime, in the background, some weird things were going on all around the world but particularly around here. Now you are in İstanbul, I am in İzmir. I wanted to go to İstanbul next week to visit my parents and friends and hopefully meet you but now I am in quarantine. Then, at the end the girl has a new beginning in a new city and the boy is stranded. Maybe it’s enough of a story. It leaves the end to the imagination of the audience.

And interestingly, we now have a shared google doc to play around the story and make it more interesting:

How cool is that?

Conversations is produced by A Corner in the World, 2020
It is realized with the support of The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

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