The Lasting Pond is one of five commissioned works as part of CLIMAVORE: Seasons Made to Drift, an exhibition and public program at SALT BEYOĞLU, that explores how to eat as humans change the climate.
Water Buffalo have been raised in Turkey for a long time, having migrated from India in the 7th century. The northern region of Istanbul is surrounded by water meadows - the site of water buffalo herding for hundreds of years. Knowledge brought by Bulgarian buffalo herders who migrated to the area in Ottoman times boosted the presence of wetland habitats and the use of buffalo milk as an essential ingredient in freshly made kaymak (clotted cream) and sütlaç (rice pudding) for people in Istanbul.
In 1915, coal mining was developed in these wetlands surrounding the city, with the opening of the Ağaçlı and Çiftalan mines. They supplied electricity to Istanbul until 1996, when pollution from these enterprises was deemed inexcusable, leading to many mines to be shut down. In the debris of the old coal mines, Buffalo found salvage in the flooded pits, using them as wallows as they roamed through the landscape, encouraging water meadows to form. Once a peat and lignite mining landscape, this haven for buffalos and migratory birds became an important bird migration flyway and a key place for bird-buffalo-human interactions.
Water buffalos like bathing in muddy water. Once applied on the skin, the mud dries out in the sun, cracks and falls, naturally removing any parasites. The buffalo wallows in the outskirts of Istanbul are essential to their survival, but also to the protection of wetlands from new transportation infrastructure. Since 2013, the region has seen a number of hyper-scale constructions, such as the 3rd bridge, the 3rd airport, and the plans for the new ‘Canal Istanbul’.
Located in the lands of the Buffalo, these megaprojects have recently boosted land reclassification, shifting the area from rural to urban, draining the wetlands into futuristic real estate. The region is fast becoming a mega highway of infrastructural crossroads, whilst the wetlands are drained and the Buffalo left at risk. Construction of this scale will cause irreversible damage to their habitat, and the air, water and soil of the territory as a whole.
Historic wetlands alike, the buffalo wallows and their herding routes are more and more encroached by recent urban infrastructure. Following conversations with buffalo herders in the area, the project uses buffalo milk to rethink the future of the area. In response to a season of wetland draining, a buffalo wallow has been dug along the river in the outskirts of Istanbul. The extracted clay has been used to make 1,000 sütlaç pots in collaboration with potter and archaeologist Başak Gökalsın, which will be used to promote buffalo herding in the city through and after the exhibition.
The very few buffalo milk shops remaining in Istanbul have also engaged in the process, putting sütlaç at the forefront of a reconnection with the muddy waters around the city. The project is also collaborating with Mutfak Sanatları Akademisi [Kitchen Arts Academy] to introduce buffalo milk into the Academy's curriculum as an ingredient that connects the city with its surrounding environments. In collaboration with artist Serkan Taycan, a new addition of the mapping project Between Two Seas has been issued, charting the network of wallows that can be visited independently.