Birhan Erkutlu and Tuğba Günal moved into the forests of Antalya to get away from it all. They wanted a natural, peaceful life free of capitalism, consumer culture, social media, the internet, even electricity. Fate had other plans.
Fourteen years on, the two artists are now figureheads of a campaign to protect rivers and trees from a cascade of hydropower plants. Their tweets and Facebook posts attract hundreds of thousands of followers. They use drones to expose wrongdoing. And they have overcome threats, warning shots and a hostile political culture to lobby successfully for the creation of a new protected area.
“We have become guardians here without intending to,” says Erkutlu. “But now we see how many others are doing this around the world. It has opened our minds. Maybe our problems are small compared to the Amazon and elsewhere. But it is the same threats, the same courts.”
The Turkish couple’s high-tech activism is accidental. The artists have known each other from their teens. They left wealthy neighbourhoods of Istanbul in 2004 and built a home in the Alakir Valley without electricity, telephones or internet. The goal was to explore the possibilities of an alternative lifestyle; to escape rather than confront consumer culture.