Review: The Land Across The Blind, Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Galeri Manâ
The Land Across The Blind, Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Exhibition view, Galeri Manâ, May 20–June 28, 2014.
The below review was published in Modern Painters, September 2014.
The feeling of submersion is immediate. A large sculpture dominates the gallery’s ground floor—an oversize cast-iron balcony that seems to have sunk at the bottom, tilted on its side. A thick marine rope extends from the outside to the center of the space where the balcony has landed. The end of the rope meets a heavy chain buried in a small hole dug in the floor (one of Büyüktaşçıyan’s earlier site-specific works), which evokes the old cistern just beneath the renovated 19th-century building. More than a symbol, the rope physically connects the interior and exterior, to the building’s history.
Büyüktaşçıyan’s minimal display also features blue filters applied on the windows—a straightforward allusion to the idea of submersion—and a triptych hung from the ceiling as if it were floating. Each panel comprises a grid of black-and-white Xeroxed photographs dating from the 1930s of the city’s Byzantine-era water sources (cisterns, fountains and wells). The artist intervenes with a blue marker, depicting water in the images that overflows from the structures, sometimes submerging them. This work goes beyond a narrowly institutional site-specific gesture, engaging in a personal investigation of the city’s past.
The image of the balcony reappears in a variety of delicate forms. Abstracted balconies (mostly one- or two-legged sculptures) sit on ceramic wheels, suggesting the sense of looking and wandering. In a series of small-scale pencil drawings, the balconies twist through or flee the confines of the space. But the wooden shelves on which they sit—small replicas of balconies—regrettably risk repetition.
Dominating two floors, the creaking sound of two wooden docks rocking in uneven rhythm gives an eerie feeling. Set in the middle of the second floor, the docks sit on worn-out, low-slung tables that join the domestic with the unfamiliar. Although fragile and uncanny, the dock sculptures connote departure as well as the idea of connectedness from a safe distance. In this show, Büyüktaşçıyan estranges mundane objects and turns them into alluring tools of observation. Here the sculptures toy with both individual and collective memories in search of ways to remember, interpret, and eventually own the past.
10:15 am • 3 September 2014
Published in Modern Painters, July/August, 2014.
5:53 am • 1 July 2014
Aşağıdaki metin, İlkay Baliç’in editörlüğünü yaptığı Aslı Çavuşoğlu: Taşlar Konuşuyor'da (İstanbul: ARTER, 2013) yayımlanmıştır. İngilizce’den Türkçe’ye çeviri: Nazım Dikbaş.
Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Taşlar Konuşuyor, ”27”, 2013. Demir ve cam, 8 x 11 x 23,5 cm. Fotoğraf: Hadiye Cangökçe.
Aslı Çavuşoğlu’nun hikâye anlatan nesnelere özel bir düşkünlüğü var. “Cepheye Çarpan Kelimeler” (2011) isimli performansında New York’ta bir şehir turu düzenlemiş, ünlü binaların cephelerini yorumlamak için kadim bir fal sistemini kullanmıştı.  Geçen yıl yayımlanan monografisinde yer alan bir söyleşide, “Bu kadarcık bilgiden yola çıkarak cephelerin falına bakmayı nereye kadar götürebiliriz, bunu merak ettim,”  demişti. Bu yapıt bir “geriye dönük kehanetlerde”  bulunma alıştırmasıydı ve hazır bilginin sınırları çerçevesinde mümkün olmayacak bir anlatı biçimi veya algı oluşturuyordu. Bu tur aracılığıyla sanatçı, insanların soyutlanmış, çağrışımsal parçaları anlatılar oluşturacak şekilde nasıl bağdaştırdıklarına ve bunlara inanmak için kendilerini nasıl şartlandırdıklarına yönelik ilgisini bir kez daha göstermişti.
Bir sanat fuarında çektiği polisiye bir dram olan “Üç Perdelik Cinayet” (2012) başlıklı işinde ise nesnelerin nasıl birer dekor veya kanıt konumundan sanat yapıtlarına dönüştüğü fikriyle gerçekleştirdiği deneyi daha da ileri götürerek bu nesnelerin hakikate dair bulunabilecekleri iddiaları keşfe girişmişti.  Bu iki iş de insanların nesnelerle ilgili ve nesneler hakkında anlatıları nasıl kurduklarını veya bozduklarını inceliyor. “Taşlar Konuşuyor” da kendini bu mesele üzerine inşa ediyor ve nesneler üzerine kurulu sergilerin –sadece biçimsel açıdan değil, sergilenen her ne ise onunla ilgili anlam üreten araçlar da olarak– nasıl işlediğini sorguluyor.
“Taşlar Konuşuyor” yeni bir “bütün” yaratmak için eksik olanı tümleme fikrini sorunsallaştıran bir sergi. Sergi Türkiye’nin çeşitli yerlerindeki kazı alanlarında bulunan 71 arkeolojik eserden yola çıkıyor. Bu eserlerin ortak özelliği, “eksik” ya da estetik açıdan “niteliksiz” görüldükleri için müzelerde sergilenmeye değer bulunmamaları; Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı bu nesneleri “etütlük eserler” olarak sınıflandırıyor.  Sanatçı önce seçtiği ve şu anda İstanbul Üniversitesi’ndeki çalışma dolaplarında muhafaza edilen bu nesnelerin orijinal malzemelerini kullanarak birer kopyasını üretiyor. Daha sonra bu kopyaları başka malzemelerle tamamlayarak yeni “bütünler” oluşturuyor, son olarak da bu yeni “bütünleri” sergi mekânına yerleştirmek üzere keyfi bir teşhir mantığı geliştiriyor.
Kopyalama eylemi bu “etütlük eserleri” yeni bir bağlama yerleştirmenin ilk adımı. Sergi, kamusal alanda gösterilmeye değer seçili nesneleri sergileyerek müzelerin resmi amaçlarını taklit ediyor, ancak sergideki nesneler, çoğunlukla “değersiz taklit” olarak görülen kopyalardan ibaret. Bu jestin amacının tarihyazımı tarafından gözden çıkarılmış eserlere yeni bir hayat kazandırmak olduğu düşünülebilir. Veya sanatçının, kopyalanmış eserleri sergi alanına yerleştirerek, yani onları sergilenmeye değer göstererek tarihsel değer kazandırmaya çalıştığı iddia edilebilir. Ancak sanatçının asıl ilgilendiği konu, sunum ve yerleştirme yoluyla gerçekleşen anlam üretimi. Müzecilik bilimi tarafından teşhir edilmeye değer görülmeyen arkeolojik bir eser ne zaman sadece geçmişe dair bir belgeye dönüşür? Aslı Çavuşoğlu bu soruyla oynuyor ve yeni, soyut biçimlerin birer parçası olarak sunduğu kopyaların okunuşunu dönüştürüyor.
Soyutlama bu serginin kilit kavramsal stratejilerinden biri. “Etütlük eserlerin” kopyaları yeni malzemelerle birleştirilerek gündelik nesnelere herhangi bir göndermede bulunmayan beklenmedik biçim ve çağrışımlar oluşturuyorlar. Sanatçı burada yepyeni bir şey yaratmıyor; konusunu da saklama gereği duymuyor. Orijinal “etütlük eserlere” imada bulunan bu heykelsi nesneler, taşıdıkları tarihsel yüke dair bazı göndermelerini de muhafaza ediyorlar. Bu yüzden, soyut ve somut, yani temsili olan arasındaki gerilimi ortaya çıkaran bu eyleme “soyutlamaya yakın” bir jest demek uygun düşebilir. Dolayısıyla sergilenen nesnelerin sürekli bir dikkat ve performatif yorumlarla değerlendirilmesi gerekiyor.
Herhangi bir görünür sergileme mantığının olmaması da bu tür yorumları davet ediyor. Nesneler 1’den 71’e kadar numaralanmış olmalarına rağmen tema, kronoloji, bölge veya malzeme gibi niteliklere dayalı geleneksel müze teşhir biçimlerini reddediyorlar. Bir serginin, sunulan nesnelerin az ya da çok tanımlandığı bir yapı içerisinde varolduğu ve anlamın ancak ilişkisel bir farklar sistemi içerisinde evrildiği iddia edilebilir. Ancak “Taşlar Konuşuyor”da nesneler önceden belirlenmiş bir sırayı takip etmediklerinden birbirleriyle ancak geçici ilişkiler kuruyorlar. Dolayısıyla sergi, belirli bir ilişkisel sistemin hiçbir zaman tam olarak kurulamayacağını ileri sürüyor.
İzleyicinin bu kadar kırılgan, ele gelmeyen bir sergileme içinde nesnelere anlam yüklemesi kolay değil. Peki eğer bu heykelsi nesneler verili anlatılara direniyorsa, bir özdüşünüm kapasitesi taşıdıkları söylenebilir mi? Diğer bir deyişle, bu nesneler özerkliklerini ilan edebiliyor mu? Bu da belki bu nesnelerin bağımsız birer hayat sürme potansiyeli taşıdıkları anlamına geliyor. Sanatçının bu nesneleri ayna, kahve fincanı veya tarot destesi gibi kehanet veya fal gereçlerine benzetmesi boşuna değil: Yeni okumalar kurmaya açıklar ve çok az bilgi taşıyan bir yorum sistemine tabiler.
Bu noktada serginin başlığına geri dönmek uygun düşecek. “Taşlar Konuşuyor”, nesnelerin kendilerini yorumlayacak başkalarına ihtiyaç duymadıklarını, kendi hikâyelerini anlatabildiklerini ima ediyor. Başlık, Freud’un 1896 tarihli ilk psikanaliz yazılarından birinde anıların psikanalistle konuşmasını taşların arkeologlarla konuşmasına benzettiği arkeolojik bir analojiye, “Taşlar Konuşur”a göndermede bulunuyor.  Ancak burada, başlıkta kullanılan şimdiki zaman kipi mekâna özgülüğü akla getiriyor, sergideki nesneleri birbirleriyle konuşma biçimlerine göre kimliklendiriyor ve birliktelikleri aracılığıyla anlam kazandıklarını söylüyor.
Sergi, “taşları” konuşturarak aynı zamanda bir nesnenin parçalarını biraraya getiren arkeolog veya zaman içerisinde süreklilik taşıyan bir anlatı inşa eden arkeoloji müzesi gibi –ki ikisi de “tam” nesneleri “eksik” nesnelere tercih eder– yeni bir bütünün yaratılmasını öneriyor. Bu bağlamda, sanatçının Cumhuriyet’in ilk yıllarında Ankara’da kurulan Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi’nden ilham alması şaşırtıcı değil. Sanatçı, tarihsel hafızanın korunması için oluşturulmuş kurumsal bir alan olan müzenin koleksiyonundaki nesneleri çerçeveleyerek –tarihsel kökenleri ilişkilendiren ve ulus-devletin sınırlarını bu ülkenin kolektif hafızasının sınırlarıyla eşitleyen ortak bir coğrafi alan fikrini kullanarak– anlam üretme biçimlerinden hareket ediyor. Kapalı bir mekân içerisinde sergilenen nesneler arasında bir süreklilik, bir anlatı, bir yakınlıklar zinciri olduğu illüzyonunu yaratarak arkeolojik sergileri sadece biçim değil birer anlatı makinesi olarak da okuyuşumuzu sorguluyor. Bu da, kurumsallaşmış kültürel özcülük bir yana, “evrimsel, çizgisel ve belirlenimci”  bir tarih modeline başvurmadan geçmişi nasıl sahiplenebileceğimiz sorusunu doğuruyor.
Geçmiş hakkında hikâyeler anlatan nesneler fikri bana, Çavuşoğlu ile bu sergi hakkında yaptığımız konuşmalar sırasında hep aklıma gelen bir sunumu hatırlattı. “Taşlar Konuşuyor” sergisi için çalışmaya başladığımız dönemde akademisyen Johann Pillai’ın Beyrut’ta Home Works isimli forumda yaptığı bir sunuma katılmıştım. “Kayıp Mozaik Duvar: Unutmanın Bir Tarihine Doğru” başlıklı bu konuşmada Pillai, Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu’nun 1958 Brüksel Dünya Fuarı için tasarladığı ve bugün büyük oranda kaybolmuş veya imha edilmiş olan ünlü mozaik duvar hakkındaki kapsamlı araştırmasını anlattı.  Kıbrıs’ta yakın zamanda bulunan küçük mozaik parçalarından bahsetti; bu parçaların bazıları özel bir mülkün bahçesinde bulunmuş. Ev sahibi Pillai’ın bir sanat yapıtının kayıp bir parçası olduğunu söylediği parçayı ödünç almasına izin vermemiş; kadın bunun bir azizin mezarının bir parçası olduğuna ve ailesini manevi güçleriyle koruduğuna inanıyormuş. Pillai, bu noktada şu soruyu sordu: “Arşivler, sergiler, sanat yapıtları ve anıtlar hafızayla ilgili anlatıların içine çekilmeye direnebilir mi?” Bu örnekte de mozaik duvarın kendi tarihi değiştirilmiş veya, daha doğru bir ifadeyle, katmanlandırılmış; kırık parçalar yerelliğin, günlük hayatın bir parçası haline gelmiş.
Pillai’ın sorusu, bu serginin sorduğu soruya paralel: Eğer tarihyazımının resmi anlatılarında “eksiksiz” arkeolojik eserler hüküm sürüyorsa, dışlanmış, bozulmuş, parçalara ayrılmış nesneler ne tür hikâyeler anlatabilir? “Taşlar Konuşuyor” geçmişi ve şimdiki zamanı anlamada maddenin önceliğini tekrar teyit ediyor, ama madde ve tarihsel gerçeklik arasında olduğu varsayılan ilişkiyi dikkate almıyor. İşte bu yüzden sanatçı, eninde sonunda onlar adına hikâyeler anlatacak veya daha doğrusu “geçmişe yönelik kehanetlerde” bulunacak, kendileri yorumlayacak ve kendilerine aracılık edecek insanlara ihtiyaç duyacaklarını bilerek bu nesnelere bir ses yüklüyor. İzleyici de, işte bu kehanetler aracılığıyla, bu nesnelerin geçmişle ilişkisini yeniden inşa etmede merkezi bir konum üstleniyor.
 “Cepheye Çarpan Kelimeler” New York görsel sanatlar performans bienali Performa11 çerçevesinde, SAHA Derneği ve Moon and Stars Projesi desteğiyle ve Defne Ayas küratörlüğünde gerçekleştirildi.
 İz Öztat ve Süreyyya Evren (yay. haz.), Aslı Çavuşoğlu: Merkür Geriliyor (İstanbul: Art-Ist, 2012), s. 81.
 Thomas Huxley’den alıntılayan: Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum [Müzenin Doğuşu] (Londra; New York: Routledge, 1995), s. 177–179.
 “Üç Perdelik Cinayet”, Frieze Vakfı ve Delfina Vakfı’nın misafir sanatçı programı işbirliğinde Frieze Projeleri 2012 için üretilmiştir.
 Bkz. http:/teftis.kulturturizm.gov.tr/TR,14606/korunmasi-gerekli-tasinir-kultur-ve-tabiat-varliklarini-.html. Erişim: Eylül 2013.
 Freud’un makalesinin başlığı “Histerinin Etiyolojisi” (1896). Bkz. Diane O’Donoghue, “Negotiations of Surface: Archaeology within the Early Strata of Psychoanalysis [Yüzey Müzakereleri: Psikanalizin Erken Dönem Katmanlarında Arkeoloji”, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (2004 Yaz), s. 653–71.
 Aslı Gür, “Üç Boyutlu Öyküler: Türkiyeli Ziyaretçilerin Gözünden Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi ve Temsil Ettiği Ulusal Kimlik”, Türkiye’nin Toplumsal Hafızası içinde, yay. haz. Esra Özyürek (İstanbul: İletişim, 2001).
 Bkz. Johann Pillai, Bedri Rahmi – The Lost Mosaic Wall: from Expo ’58 to Cyprus [Bedri Rahmi - Kayıp Mozaik Duvar: Expo ‘58’den Kıbrıs’a] (Nicosia: Sidestreets Educational and Cultural Initiatives, 2010).
4:31 pm • 21 November 2013
The Stones Talk
The below text was published in Aslı Çavuşoğlu: The Stones Talk (İstanbul: ARTER, 2013) edited by İlkay Baliç.
Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Taşlar Konuşuyor, "27", 2013. Iron and glass, 8 x 11 x 23.5 cm. Photo: Hadiye Cangökçe.
Aslı Çavuşoğlu has a penchant for objects that tell stories. In her performance “Words Dash Against the Façade” (2011) she conducted a walking tour in New York City, using an ancient fortune-telling system to interpret landmark buildings’ façades.  “I was curious about how far one could go in interpreting façades based on such little information,”  she said in a conversation last year. This was an exercise to make “retrospective prophecies” —a narrative form or an apprehension that would not be possible in the realm of immediate knowledge. Through this tour, the artist reiterated her interest in how people mesh abstracted, associative fragments to produce narratives, and how they condition themselves to believe in them.
With her video project “Murder in Three Acts” (2012)—a crime drama she recorded at an art fair—she experimented further with the idea of how objects are transformed from props or evidence into works of art and explored the claims to truth that such objects might be capable of making.  Both of these works look at how people choreograph or distort narratives for and about objects. “The Stones Talk” builds on this idea and questions how object-laden exhibitions function—not simply in formal terms but also as tools that generate meaning for whatever is on display.
“The Stones Talk” problematises the idea of completing the incomplete to create a new “whole”. The exhibition departs from 71 archaeological artefacts that were discovered in different excavation sites in Turkey. These objects are deemed either “incomplete” or aesthetically “insignificant” and thus unworthy of display in museums; the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey classifies them as “items worth study”.  First, the artist produces replicas of the selected artefacts, which are currently kept in study cabinets at Istanbul University, using original materials. She then complements the replicas with other materials to create new “wholes” and finally builds an arbitrary logic of display to install them in the exhibition space.
The act of replicating is the first step into the reincorporation of the “items worth study” into a new context. The exhibition mimics formal museum goals as it displays selected objects worthy of being made public, yet includes the replicas of archaeological artefacts that are often considered “worthless fakes”. One could think that this gesture aims to resurrect objects that are discarded by historiography. Or, it could grant historical value to the duplicated artefacts by putting them in the domain of the exhibition, making them worthy of display. But the artist is rather interested in the production of meaning by means of selection, display, and installation. When is an archaeological artefact not considered museological, when does it simply become a document of the past? Toying with this question, Çavuşoğlu transforms the reading of the duplicates as she presents them as part of new, abstract forms.
Abstraction is a key conceptual strategy in the exhibition. The replicas of the “items worth study” are combined with new materials, forming unexpected shapes and associations that are free from references to everyday objects. Here, the artist does not create something entirely new; nor does she hide her subject matter. Hinting at the original “items worth study”, the sculptural objects retain some references to their historical baggage. This is why it might be apt to call this gesture a “near-abstraction”, as it creates tension between the abstract and the concrete or representational. The objects on display thus demand constant attention and performative interpretations.
The lack of any apparent logic of display also calls for such interpretations. Although each item is numbered from 1 to 71, the exhibition rejects conventional museum display formats based on themes, chronologies, regions, or material qualities. One could argue that exhibitions exist in a structure where the displayed objects are more or less defined, which suggests that meaning can only evolve in a relational system of differences. In “The Stones Talk”, however, objects can only have a temporary relationship with one another, as they don’t follow any prescribed sequences. The exhibition hence suggests that a specific relational system can never be completely constituted.
It’s not easy for the viewer to assign meanings to objects in such a fragile, elusive display. If the sculptural objects are resistant to given narratives, do they have the capacity for self-reflection? That is to say, do they become autonomous? This is perhaps to suggest that the objects can potentially take on a life of their own. There is a good reason why the artist likens them to tools of divination or fortune-telling, such as mirrors, coffee cups, or tarot cards: they are capable of inspiring new readings, and are subject to an interpretation system that bears little information.
This is a good point to consider the exhibition title. “The Stones Talk” implies that objects do not seek interpreters as they have the agency to tell stories themselves. The sentence refers to an archaeological analogy Freud mentioned in one of his first psychoanalytic papers in 1896,  where he likens stones that speak to archaeologists to memories talking to psychoanalysts. “The” Stones Talk, however, connotes site-specificity, identifying the objects in the exhibition in the way in which they speak to each other, gaining meaning through being together. Making the “stones” talk, the exhibition also suggests the creation of a new whole, akin to an archaeologist who reassembles the fragments of an artefact or to an archaeology museum that builds a continuous narrative in time—both favour the “complete” objects or stories over “incomplete” ones.
It is not surprising that the artist is inspired by the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations established in Ankara in the early years of the Republic. She departs from the ways in which the museum, as an institutionalised space for memory, produces meaning by framing the objects in its collection—it uses the idea of a shared territory that links historical roots and equates the boundaries of the nation-state with the boundaries of the collective memory in this country. By creating the illusion that there is continuity, a narrative, a chain of affinities between the objects on display in a confined space, the artist challenges the way in which we read archaeological exhibitions not just as forms but as narrative machineries. This raises the question of how to claim the past without an “evolutionary, linear, and deterministic”  model of history, let alone institutionalised cultural essentialism.
The idea of objects that tell stories about the past takes me back to a presentation that resonated with me during our discussions with Çavuşoğlu about this exhibition. Around the time we started working on “The Stones Talk”, I attended the scholar Johann Pillai’s presentation at Home Works in Beirut. In his talk, titled “The Lost Mosaic Wall: Towards a History of Forgetting,” Pillai spoke about his extensive investigation into Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu’s famous mosaic wall built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair, which remains largely lost or destroyed.  Pillai spoke of the small mosaic pieces recently found in Cyprus, a piece of which was kept in a private garden. The owner of the house did not let him borrow the piece that he introduced as the lost part of an artwork; she believed it was a part of a saint’s grave and protected her family with its spiritual powers. Here Pillai asked: “Can archives, exhibitions, artworks, and monuments resist absorption into memorial narratives, and instead express fragmentation and forgetting?” In this example, the particular history of the mosaic wall has been altered or rather layered, as the broken pieces have become embedded in the vernacular, becoming a part of people’s daily lives.
Pillai’s question runs parallel to that of this exhibition: if “complete” archaeological artefacts dominate official narratives in historiography, what kinds of stories could excluded, altered or fragmented objects tell? “The Stones Talk” reaffirms the primacy of material’s ability to grasp the past and the present, and yet disregards the assumed relationship between matter and historical truth. This is why the artist endows objects with a voice, knowing that they will eventually need people to interpret and mediate them, to tell stories on their behalf or even make “retrospective prophecies”. It is through these prophecies that the viewer assumes a central position in reconstructing their relationship to the past.
 “Words Dash Against the Façade” was commissioned by the visual art performance biennial Performa11 in New York City, curated by Defne Ayas and realised with the generous support of SAHA and Moon and Stars Projects.
 İz Öztat and Süreyyya Evren, eds., Aslı Çavuşoğlu: Mercury in Retrograde (İstanbul: Art-Ist, 2012), p. 81.
 Thomas Huxley quoted in Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics (London; New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 177–179.
 “Murder in Three Acts” was commissioned and produced by Frieze Projects 2012 in partnership with Delfina Foundation’s artist-in-residency program.
 See http:/teftis.kulturturizm.gov.tr/TR,14606/korunmasi-gerekli-tasinir-kultur-ve-tabiat- varliklarini-.html. Accessed September 2013.
 Freud’s paper is titled “The Aetiology of Hysteria” (1896). See Diane O’Donoghue, “Negotiations of Surface: Archaeology within the Early Strata of Psychoanalysis” in Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (Summer 2004), pp. 653–71.
 See Aslı Gür, “Stories in Three Dimensions: Narratives of Nation and the Anatolian Civilizations Museum” in Politics of Public Memory in Turkey, ed. Esra Özyürek (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2007).
 See Johann Pillai, Bedri Rahmi – The Lost Mosaic Wall: from Expo ’58 to Cyprus (Nicosia: Sidestreets Educational and Cultural Initiatives, 2010).
4:09 pm • 21 November 2013 • 1 note
Ready or not, here I come: On the methods of invisibility in Burak Delier’s works
The below text was published in Burak Delier: Displacing Silence (Istanbul: Revolver Verlag & art-ist, 2013)
Burak Delier, We Will Win (photos, hats, t-shits, overalls, posters, video), Taipei Biennial, 2008
Artistic research is “a work in pregross,”  as thinker Sarat Maharaj puts it. Using James Joyce’s word twister,  Maharaj describes what artistic research escapes: the idea of betterment, improvement, or fulfillment. Artistic research as such defies the method fever, goes against the grain, and stays away from routine forms of evaluation, affirming that it’s never possible to secure determined results. As “pregross” implies, artists who pursue such practice can gracefully get stuck in a never-ending preparatory stage.
Burak Delier toys with this very idea. In his works, he appropriates conventional methods of developing and presenting research, with the perception that the data can answer posed questions and contribute to a better understanding of the object of the research—be it an artwork, a biennial, or an institution. Furthermore, Delier increasingly shies away from the position of an outside observer, leaving the result-oriented approach suspended. His works “We Will Win Survey” (2010), “Art Facts” (2012), and “Collector’s Wish” (2012) are examples of this approach, also showing that in artistic production, the very act of withdrawal can turn into a form of subversion.
How can artists possibly review their own work? This question is essential to Delier’s “We Will Win Survey,” commissioned by the 7th Taipei Biennial in 2010, where he conducted a survey to assess the work he produced for the same institution in 2008. This site-specific intervention is a large-scale banner, “We Will Win,” that was placed in a village in Taiwan with the help of the locals who were involved in a land dispute with real-estate developers. Back in the museum space, Delier created an installation to document his intervention, using a video, photographs, posters, along with hats and t-shirts that carried the name “Counter-Attack”—an ad-hoc organization he founded to carry out the intervention in the first place. Such presentation might suggest that Delier, in particular, sought feedback about his work and the agency of the biennial on local issues in general. In 2010, though, he produced his new work “We Will Win Survey,” creating a formal structure to evaluate his own artwork.
For the “We Will Win Survey,” Delier borrowed from market research techniques. He divided the survey into two parts: first, investigating the reception of art in general, and second, analyzing the impact of his previous project. He devised four target groups, including managers, artists/curators, audience, and staff/interns. As a result, 52% of the participants said that “beauty” and “novelty” constituted the most important characteristic of art. The 76% liked Delier’s intervention in the village, but only the 9% perceived it as a work of art, whereas for the 56%, it was simply a political action. These results seem to lead the audience to think that it might be possible to set qualitative criteria to evaluate the impact of an artistic intervention, yet Delier reversed that expectation with the way he presented data at the biennial.
At the exhibition space, “We Will Win Survey” was mediated through a publication, charts, and images that reflected the survey results. Delier mimicked the aesthetics of the previous installation of “Counter-Attack” by using walls painted in gray and yellow, furthering the kind of a corporate visual identity he wanted to establish in 2008. The formal language of the presentation implied an aspiration for determined analysis and results, yet also helped Delier to camouflage his own agency in the work. He thus alienated himself from the exhibited survey results, and thereby implied that anyone, even a company, could execute the project, if given instructions. Yet the work still provided an aesthetic encounter with the collected data—something Delier reconsidered in “Art Facts,” another project based on the survey format.
“Art Facts” is presented as a research project that aims to measure the institutional performance of SALT, the Istanbul-based not-for-profit that focuses on contemporary art and visual culture. For “Art Facts,” Delier, with the help of pollsters, conducted a series of surveys, seeking to locate SALT in an array of opinions, ideals, and expectations about art institutions, private funding, and criticality. He adopted some of the questions that he posed in the Taipei survey, such as “What do you think is the most important characteristic of a work of art?”, and also scrutinized the specifics of the local scene: “Would a discussion about socially controversial investments potentially linked to Garanti Bank be compromised if it took place at SALT?” Yet this time, Delier chose another method to introduce the results to the audience, disguising his agency in a more obvious manner.
For “Art Facts,” Delier hired a research and consultant professional to present the survey results to the representatives of the Research and Programs, Marketing and Management departments of Garanti Kültür Inc.—SALT’s legal entity—and broadcasted the meeting to a larger public within the institution’s building. What distinguish “Art Facts” from “We Will Win Survey” are mainly two principles. First, the survey results are not simply presented but rather discussed and evaluated by and within the institution. Second, the artist uses a professional to present and comment on the data he gathers. He thereby adds another layer to hide his agency as he refrains from creating an aesthetic encounter with the data.
Here, Delier goes back and forth between the educated, systematic “know-how” and “no-how” that refers to a non-discursive, indeterminate, fluid modality.  On the one hand, he applies the grammar and the tools of market research to collect data, and thereby claims knowledge and expertise to develop and conduct the survey and to get the results in an efficient manner. On the other hand, he invites a professional to replace him to deliver and interpret the data collected through the surveys, and thus presents himself as a simple facilitator in the process, which suggests that he is after something larger than the survey results or their mediation.
This is precisely where Delier’s proposition becomes visible: “Criticism is only possible in an area where absolute judgment is delayed,”  as he puts it. Artists, Delier suggests, don’t necessarily have to intervene in institutions, structures, norms or values in order to engage in a somewhat critical discourse around a subject of scrutiny, in this case SALT. Thus, the questions of how the institution is made public—through the act of opening doors, the transparency towards responsibilities and related programming, or rather the art scene claiming responsibility for shaping the institution. In posing these questions in an indirect manner, Delier suggests that artistic agency only becomes stronger if it is engaged in close observation, which becomes a recurring tactic in other works as well, most notably “Collector’s Wish” that he created for his one-person exhibition in 2012 at Pilot.
If “Art Facts” disguises artistic agency, “Collector’s Wish” seems to almost erase it. In this work, Delier invites collector Saruhan Doğan to conceive the idea for an artwork, records their conversations, and finally executes the work to be displayed in the gallery space. The first sentence in the edited video unravels the so-called tamed position of the artist: “Could you tell me exactly what you want me to do, Saruhan Bey?” But, the work proves that this is not simply compliance or cynicism. By the act of granting his own agency to the collector, Delier opens up a space for discussion on labor, capital, and creativity. How does capital influence the conditions for the production and distribution of contemporary art? In an art scene that is driven by private support, what kind of a competency profile do artists have to build up? Such heated discussions are then developed not through the visibility of the artist himself, but rather his performative act that does not result in a predetermined position or critique. Delier suggests a form, a structure to ask a set of pertinent and timely questions, yet without formulated answers.
In his practice, Delier wears many hats at any point in time. He becomes the mediator, the pollster, and the novice craftsman who delivers the order. He often smuggles in and toys with the methods and the systematic rigor of social sciences, and finally does not want the viewer to reach clear-cut results or arguments. The messiness comes from the ways in which he presents his tools to his audience. He plays hide-and-seek, and sometimes pretends as if he’s even leaving the game. But he never does. In this approach, Delier confidently opposes the often-idealized figure of the outspoken artist who antagonizes and intervenes in beliefs, systems, or structures, in order to criticize and change them. For me, he does something more. He reminds me that artistic research and practice are not about rigid statements or blunt criticisms, but rather about a continuous effort to observe and engage in open-ended discussions. “A work in pregross,” it is.
 Sarat Maharaj, “‘Unfinishable Sketch of an “Unknown Object in 4D”: Scenes of Artistic Research’ in Annette W. Balkema and Henk Slager (eds), Artistic Research (Amsterdam /New York: Lier & Boog, 2004), 40.
 See James Joyce, Finnergans Wake, 1939.
 Sarat Maharaj, “Know-how and No-How: stopgap notes on ‘method’ in visual art as knowledge production”, Art & Research: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods, Vol 2. No. 2, Spring 2009.
 Burak Delier, We Will Win Survey /Counter Attack, Taipei Biennale 2010, Taipei 2010.
3:25 pm • 21 November 2013
How to Think Contemporary Curating?
The below text was published in RES Art World / World Art, İstanbul, August 2013.
Terry Smith, Thinking Contemporary Curating (New York: Independent Curators International, 2012)
In 2011, Phaidon published ‘Defining Contemporary Art: 25 Years in 200 pivotal artworks’, a publication that adopts an unconventional approach in dealing with recent art history. The premise of the book is to invite eight established curators (1) to select and write about key artworks from 1986 onwards. This editorial selection poses a pressing question: Did curators move beyond exhibition making and become the leading tastemakers in writing recent art history? If so, what makes curatorial thinking distinctive? Art historian Terry Smith poses these questions in his recent book, ‘Thinking Contemporary Curating’ where he, as a single author, attempts to answer these lofty questions. Smith’s essayistic writing format gives a good overview of the curatorial projects in the last forty years. However, it fails to discuss local specificities.
I began formulating my ideas about local specificities when I got enrolled in a curatorial studies program in the US in 2008. First, two years of graduate studies taught me that curatorial programs are far from vocational schools. They rather make students exponentially more confused about what the curatorial is or can potentially be. Yet they aim to recognize and contest the existing curatorial prerogatives. This is also what motivated me to be persistent in articulating what I, as a practitioner, expect or rather demand from newly built curatorial models, especially in countries like Turkey, where both the art market and the need for new institutions are exponentially growing. Here, it becomes crucial to articulate the local specificities to conceive or experiment with curatorial models, and ask: why is this model relevant here and now? This question was something that I had in mind while reading Smith’s book about the cross-country overview of curatorial models.
How does an art historian trace the currency of curatorial practice and thinking? My most immediate concern about Smith’s book is the method of listing somehow related examples in order to build an argument or to build a general idea of curatorial formats. In the chapter “Shifting the Exhibitionary Complex,” for instance, Smith discusses the plethora of sites of exhibitions, starting with the most established ones, such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Louvre Museum, and the British Museum. ‘[A]t the other end of the spectrum,’ (2) he positions The Artist’s Institute in New York, Oda Projesi in Istanbul, Networking and Initiatives in Culture and Arts in Yangon, as well as the Waffle Shop in Pittsburgh – all on the same page, or to be more precise, in the same paragraph. Being more familiar with the first two initiatives and yet only reading a short description for each, I ask myself what these examples contribute to the author’s argument, and whether they are easily replaceable.
The list of the above initiatives shows that the format and the infrastructure for exhibitions are constantly in flux in a wide range of geographies. Clearly, they all share the urgency to reshuffle and rethink about the existing models and create the new ones that respond to the changing needs of artists and other practitioners. What does it mean though to list them one after another, arguably turning them into mere illustrations of a larger argument about the diversity of the exhibitionary models? What does it mean to only write that The Artist Institute has ‘a slowly changing program of exhibitions of just one work of art at a time,’ (3) or Oda Projesi is ‘a collective formed by three women artists, staged thirty community art projects in their apartment and the courtyard of a building in the Galata section of Istanbul, continuing their work since then in more mobile and virtual formats, as well as pursuing projects in the Kreuzberg section of Berlin’? (4) What do these sentences say if the reader is not familiar with how these initiatives have specifically evolved or shrunk in response to their locale, and how they have contributed to the discussion? What does the act of listing mean when there is no discussion of the history of these initiatives? What good is the mapping exercise for, especially if done by an art historian?
Giving examples in the form of a list becomes even more troubling when Smith argues for the need to tackle underrepresented histories. In an Artinfo interview, he proclaims: ‘I devote a whole chapter in the book to feminist exhibitions, and shows of work from Africa, Central Europe, and South America since the 1990s – all of which really are adding in forgotten or repressed histories, showing contemporaneous currents in past art, and asking about how they might be relevant today.’ In the chapter ‘Artists as Curators/Curators as Artists,’ Smith presents ‘turning points of similar significance for art in South America’ (page 108), following a discussion of the projects by Marcel Broodthaers, Claes Oldensburg, and Andy Warhol – all reimagining ways to make exhibitions. Here, Smith briefly presents, in half a page, the Itinerary of 1968, a group of artists who made interventions in public spaces in Argentina, as well as Domingos de Criação (Creation Sundays), a series of experimental projects between a number of artists and the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in the early 1970s. Yet it might be risky to provide factual information without contextualizing it in the locale.
On the one hand, these very short introductions – that are supported with footnotes for further reading – can hardly question the relevancy of these initiatives both at the time of their action and today. The danger is then to caricaturize the repressed or uncanonized histories. On the other, I’m also curious about my strong reaction against this writing format. I might be victim of self- provincialization as a curator and writer living in Istanbul. Yet, I still have the urge to rethink my expectations from an art historian. What if the act of listing becomes a way to assess historical significance, to identify and yet not discuss concerns, techniques, and meanings that shape artistic and curatorial production? What does such a selection serve to?
Smith’s method reminds me of a 2007 publication titled ‘The User’s Manual: Contemporary Art in Turkey 1986–2006’, edited by artist Halil Altındere and writer Süreyyya Evren, which brings together multiple authors to comment on artistic production in this time period. The publication also features seventy-eight artists: it provides a selection of their artworks and very simple information on their place and date of birth. No artist’s statements, no comments on the works. Short and simple, maybe a bit lazy. In the preface, though, editors write about the difficulty of dealing with uncanonized histories: ‘Is this an anthology? A history book? A selection? Or, as the title announces with a tinge of irony, basically a user’s manual?’ (5) This would be a way to caricaturize Smith’s decision of using examples from various geographies. And this suggests that the attempt to historicize curatorial thinking is not less problematic than the writing of sidelined art histories.
To my mind, an inspirational book that deals with underrepresented histories from the curatorial perspective is ‘Making Art Global (Part 1): The Third Havana Biennial 1989’ (2011). The inaugural publication of Afterall’s ‘Exhibition Histories’ brings together texts from the period and the newly commissioned ones, heavily draws on the archival material, and discusses how only one exhibition was able to provoke heated discussions and alter the way we think about art and its mediation. In contrast to ‘Defining Contemporary Art’, this publication does not present an art history through only the curatorial thinking. It does not seek to distinguish what is specific about the curatorial approach, but rather to research further the analysis of the exhibition as a medium, and more importantly how art was, has been, and is made public.
Terry Smith’s ‘Thinking Contemporary Curating’ is an individualized take on what is distinctive about curatorial thinking – a field that has moved beyond the confines of the museum and has been professionalized only in the last forty years (notably starting with Harald Szeemann, the first itinerant curator who developed an ongoing curatorial practice separate from the programmatic functions of an institution). It is clear that Smith is not interested in grand narratives or chronologies, but rather in exploring the common threads that identify the changes in this field. Making a survey perhaps requires an author to simply give examples, without treating them as case studies, yet I think this approach can only achieve a little. In order to understand the specific changes in curatorial thinking, it is crucial to discuss the specific ways in which art is produced, distributed, mediated, interpreted, and localized. This is precisely how, I believe, art historians could start exploring what makes curatorial thinking distinctive.
(1) See Daniel Birnbaum, Connie Butler, Suzanne Cotter, Bice Curiger, Okwui Enwezor, Massimiliano Gioni, Bob Nickas, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, ‘Defining Contemporary Art: 25 Years in 200 Pivotal Artworks’, Phaidon, London, 2011.
(2) Terry Smith, ‘Thinking Contemporary Curating’, Independent Curators International, New York, 2012).
(5) Halil Altındere, Süreyyya Evren (eds.), ‘User’s Manual: Contemporary Art in Turkey 1986–2006’, Art-ist, Istanbul, and Revolver Archiv für Aktuelle Kunst, Berlin, 2007), p. 1.
10:44 am • 21 November 2013
Review: Meriç Algün Ringborg at Galeri NON
The below text was published in the December 2013 issue of Modern Painters.
Meriç Algün Ringborg, “The Apparent Author,” 2013 (installation view). Photo by Serkan Taycan.
In “The Apparent Author,” the artist tells stories by borrowing fragments of found text from a single source. The exhibition begins with the photograph of an Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus,hinting at the artist’s raw material. She extracts sample sentences from the book to create three new narratives that take different forms in the gallery space: a sculptural object, a sound piece, and a wall vinyl. The first is a novel that looks fragile in its thin-legged wooden display unit; the second, read by a monotone female voice that dominates the gallery, muses on the act of writing the novel itself; and the last describes the exhibition by using short, free verses. Algün Ringborg thus creates an author who not only writes a new work of fiction but also talks about its background and presentation.
The obsessive nature of archiving is also apparent in On Writing, 2013, in which the artist builds a shelf of tightly packed blank mock-up books of the same size. Organized alphabetically, the books bear the titles of guides for amateurs, such as 500 Ways to Be a Better Writer, Becoming a Writer, and How to Write—pointing at both the DIY craft of writing and the anxiety of bettering it. Although the compilation does not suggest resolution, its display gives a sense of completeness, similar to that which the three narratives suggest at first glance.
Placed at the far ends of the gallery, two monitors enhance the sense of open-endedness. Sitting next to identical office plants, the looping videos show repetitious acts of spinning a pen and tying and untying a knot. Throughout the show, the artist’s organizational systems seem to obscure her agency as her texts, stripped of personal or cultural references, construct made-up subjectivities. The clinical exhibition design further builds a sense of distance, helping the artist blur the boundaries of identity, authorship, biography, and history.
11:32 am • 12 November 2013
Firing Up, Fading Out: Reflections on the 13th Istanbul Biennial
The below article was published on Nafas art magazine in October 2013.
"The streets have never been this ready for contemporary art before," a colleague told me in a conversation in July. This was the time when the 13th Istanbul Biennial team was discussing whether or not they should stop pursuing projects outdoors. In the end, it was after the violent and deadly crackdown of the Gezi protests that reclaimed a public park in Istanbul, and the curator Fulya Erdemci was asking from the beginning how it would be possible to have multiple publics come and act together, as the conceptual framework mused on the idea of "publicness."
The biennial eventually withdrew from the streets and went indoors, occupying five venues, including the Antrepo, the waterfront warehouse that has been the mainstay venue for the biennial for a number of years; the Galata Greek Primary School; the nonprofits ARTER and SALT Beyoglu; as well as 5533, an artist-run space in the city. Erdemci stated that she did not want to legitimize the authorities that have been responsible for the police aggression during the protests. In press interviews, she insisted that it is the people’s own voices that should be heard on the street. But this argument has not been convincing for many, to say the least.
There has been a number of criticisms that targeted the biennial for expanding into the two privately owned exhibition spaces, SALT and ARTER, because of their connections to the strongest business conglomerates in the country. But mostly it was the decision of going indoors that has been fiercely talked about—allegedly resulting in losing connection with the “outside.” This approach is precisely what suggests that the apprehension of “publicness” remains on a formalist level.
Who is still convinced that art and publicness only come together in an urban, architectural space? Is this combination possible only when passersby run into artworks on the street, or could it possibly entice the viewer to think what “public” might actually be, regardless of its location? I have a rather naïve understanding of what public is, which is all about engaging, embracing and “owning.” And I continue to question whether criticizing and protesting an artwork or an institution means to “own” them. That’s why it’s relevant to think about what has been different with the protests against the biennial this year.
It was in 2007 when the criticisms of the biennial found a place in the press. The dean of the faculty of fine arts of a public university reacted against the curator Hou Hanru’s text where he argued that the Kemalist project favored a top-down model of modernization in Turkey. Her text condemned Hou for making a “deliberate statement that goes beyond ignorance.”  The public protests against the next editions came from different ideological backgrounds and they were surely much sharper.
When the curatorial collective WHW made a full-fledged political statement about their approach to art—giving references to the venerated figure Bertolt Brecht—they received a strong wave of protests that reacted against the beginning of the 10-year sponsorship of the Koç Holding, one of the biggest industrial and financial corporations in the country. Despite the different levels of anger, the protestors had a common ground: They found the WHW’s politically charged effort contradictory and insincere, following the argument that the financial structures of the biennials eventually form their aesthetics and politics.
The reactions against the sponsorship issues are still ongoing. But this year, there was a different type of protest against the biennial team. On May 10th, the Public Programs held the “Public Capital” event at the business suite of an upscale hotel—afterwards I learned that the artists who did a performance lecture that day had requested this particular venue.  A group of activists performed a “silent” protest that suggested—if I dare to caricaturize it—that the biennial was part of the gentrification problems in the city mainly because of the particular sponsorship.
The performers were carried outside—not so gently, and the curator went to the police, making charges against an artist, accusing him with personal harassment. In response, the protest letter that was made public in early June had a wide range of signatories, including about 180 artists, curators, writers, and arts professionals of different backgrounds and ideologies.  They condemned the “authoritative, judgmental and uncommunicative attitude” of the biennial towards “different voices.” This should have been a wake up call, as this time it was the wider art scene that was raising its voice against the attitudes and the structural issues within the Istanbul Biennial as an institution. 
In a talk in late September, the co-curator of the public program Andrea Phillips commented specifically on this protest.  She emphasized the urgency to rethink about the conceptualization of the publics through high-profile, biannual art events. How do we not reassert the basic division of the makers and the recipients of the intellectual production, she asked. How does an art institution—regardless of its funders or sponsors—create structures through which it can resolve that division? And eventually, can the group exhibition format be effective enough to deal with this problem?
Over the summer, there was a growing expectation that Erdemci would undertake a big, radical curatorial gesture to respond to the present condition in Turkey. The expectation was not necessarily about the selection of artworks but rather about the possible structural decisions requiring unexpected models. It is perhaps unfair to seek for a big curatorial gesture that would be executed in about two months. And there are certainly great works on display that didn’t readily react to the Gezi protests but thought with and around them. Yet the question remains: How could the format of the group exhibition respond to what we feel and experience today in Istanbul?
It seems that the biennial’s rhythm and model will not be able to keep up with the present unless there is a different level of engagement with the public—a bottom-up programming that continues after the bi-annual events is only one of the possible options.  It will be increasingly difficult to embrace the Istanbul Biennial if we are left with detached group exhibitions that will be eventually coupled with protests that fire up during the events and fade out afterwards. The consequences of holding on to the learned formats and positions could greatly harm this structure. The Istanbul Biennial has greatly changed the art scene in the city since 1987. I only wish it will stay relevant.
- The crisis of Kemalizm at the Biennial, Hurriyet, September 26, 2007
- You can read about the performance lecture here.
- You can read the protest letter here.
- You can read Andrea Phillips and Fulya Erdemci’s statement on the protests on the Public Program eventshere.
- This talk was part of the Curatorial Seminar meetings organized by the Independent Curators International, supported by SAHA.
- The outstanding examples include the Networks of Dispossession, and Serkan Taycan’s Between Two Seas.
- The ICI Curatorial Seminar participants discussed the Liverpool Biennial as a case study with the artistic director Sally Tallant.
9:04 am • 23 October 2013
Modern Painters, September 2013 issue.
8:01 am • 30 August 2013
Owners, Custodians and So-called Futile Claims
The text below was published in “Encounters in Critical and Contemporary Art 1990s to Date: Turkey”, Open Systems, Issue 2, Aslı Çetinkaya, Merve Ünsal, eds., 2013. Available here.
Last year, curator and writer Ceren Erdem invited me to write a text on private museums in the new hubs of the contemporary art world for ArteEast Quaterly, a publication that aims to reshape the vernacular of this field around the Middle East. This commission came out of our conversations about what kind of a role we, as practitioners, can possibly play in shaping the new infrastructures in our locales. Ceren’s task as the guest editor of “ANEW: Retelling the Stories of the Past and the Future” was to inquire into the ideas of memory, amnesia, and subjectivity in the post-1989 world where there has been a rising need for new strategies and questions to replace decaying categories and narratives.
To respond to Ceren’s invitation, I departed from an editorial project I had pursued in 2010, “How to Begin: Envisioning the Impact of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi” where I, along with five writers, posed the question of whether the new museums in the Middle East are merely symbolic capital—or could they possibly offer new structural support? The flamboyant public relations strategies aside, I argued that emerging museum collections do have the potential to reshape recent contested histories that are yet to be canonized. In places where there are very few established collections from the last century, the new museums have the ability to tackle the idea of so-called ‘belatedness’ compared to the Western art history canons, which would reveal the emancipatory potential of non-canonized histories. That could be an opportunity to reframe shared visual histories—only possible if there’s an ongoing negotiation about what makes these museums “public.”
This is certainly an urgent question in places like Turkey where all the contemporary and modern art museums are privately initiated and run (the state’s only museum of painting and sculpture remains closed). Publicness can be defined as the act of opening the doors of a collection to the public, or it can refer to the ideals of the institution’s transparency and accountability towards the public. Yet the sine qua non of going public depends on concerned people claiming ownership of public heritage and holding institutions, including privately owned ones, accountable for rightful and ethical ownership, care, accessibility, and responsible deaccession. That would mean to take an active part in ongoing conversations about institutional collection building, a process that many private organizations are currently caught up in.
In early February this year, public trust in a private modern and contemporary art museum was violated, as a private university in Istanbul decided to sell parts of its museum’s collection at an auction, without contacting the artists or the donors—let alone having their consent. Opened in 2007, Istanbul Bilgi University’s santralistanbul collection included around 150 works by notable artists such as Yüksel Arslan, Sarkis Zabunyan, Nil Yalter, Nejad Melih Devrim, among many others. The online petitions requested that the around 60 works prepared for the auction—either acquired by or donated to the museum—stay in the public domain. The goal was to develop an ethical debate and an informed public opinion about the museum’s arbitrary decision to remove a significant part of its holdings and hence betray its custodial responsibilities. At the end of the day, what does the ownership of an artwork mean when it’s part of a museum collection? What constitutes the thin line between owners and custodians of such artworks?
Given the growing hype to open private collections to the public, it’s not difficult to expect that similar examples of hasty decisions of deaccession will follow in the coming years. As the interest in going public grows, the basic protocols and regulations for deaccession in private museums and corporate collections of modern and contemporary art remain lacking. Commenting on the Bilgi’s decision of auctiong off a big chunk of the santralistanbul collection, the co-founder of santralistanbul Oğuz Özerden said to a newspaper: “The thing I don’t get is… When we bought these works, we got them registered in the museum inventory as belonging to the public domain. And actually they got inspected annually. But I guess they got approval to sell the works.” In the following days, the auction house published a document on their website, issued by Istanbul’s Culture and Tourism Directorate, stating that there is no legal obstacle to sell the aforementioned works at the auction.
Such an approval is not surprising as the Turkish laws abide museums to have an inventory only if the collected objects are legally deemed as cultural heritage, i.e. older than 100 years. The purposes and criteria of deaccessioning in modern and contemporary art museums in Turkey are not laid out on paper, and there is no legal framework that states that deaccessioning is “only justified to improve the quality or composition of the collection.” This loophole takes me back to my previous point: when the legal framework is not strong enough, the conversations should continue on the level of ethical codes that need to be constantly reviewed and updated.
It was also not surprising that the petitions and protests against the university’s decision to go to the auction were dismissed as hue and cry. Harsh criticisms targeted artists for not demanding sale contracts that would protect their works from such a sale in the first place. The contract issue is symptomatic of the current situation in Turkey where living artists are eager to have faith in prospective contemporary art museums—a rapidly growing field that now attempts to historicize the recent artistic productions—and don’t necessarily foresee the second sales or the dissolution of collections that are currently developing. The santralistanbul incident clearly shows that sales contracts constitute a major role in reconfiguring artists’ rights towards their own works that are entrusted to art museums. But the yet-to-be-improved state of the contracts are far from being able to clear up museums’ responsibilities towards artworks.
Some critics argued that the works were better off in private hands, since they were not taken good care of in the museum’s storage; also, the public wouldn’t be able to access the works easily as the museum has also scaled down its exhibition spaces despite the claims that it was not shut down. The pragmatist argument, however, turns a blind eye to what the museum should have done given its most essential premise and promise—that is to find ways to provide good custodianship and keep the collection in the public realm, by donating the artworks to other institutional collections rather than liquidating them to create funds for the university.
Some artists told me they believed that the energy that was poured into this debate could be better used to initiate small-scale projects that create breathing air pockets for similar discussions—dealing with the large-scale institutions was a battle already lost. But I’m confident that there’s pressing need to keep track of private art museums, not because of the naïve belief that mentalities and/or policies would change overnight, but because today, there is an urgency to remind all art institutions that ownership of artworks comes with a responsibility to artists, artworks, and the general public. And that would be possible only if we claim public ownership of our own recent history, and thus of contemporary art museum collections, be it state or private initiatives.
12:24 am • 18 August 2013
Modern Painters, June issue, 2013.
7:16 pm • 25 June 2013
CA2M Madrid’deki ‘Halil Altındere’ Sergisi Üzerine
Aşağıdaki yazı 22 Nisan 2013 tarihli Radikal gazetesinde yayımlanmıştır.
Sol: Halil Altındere, “René”, 2011. Tuval üzerine yağlıboya, 180x120cm. Sağ: Halil Altındere, “Vasıf”, 2012. Tuval üzerine yağlıboya, 180x120cm.
Madrid’deki dev müzelerle karşılaştırıldığında, mütevazı ölçeği ve politika-sanat ilişkisini sorgulayan programıyla bilinen CA2M Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, bugünlerde Halil Altındere’nin tek kişilik sergisine ev sahipliği yapıyor. 1990 ortalarına uzanan seçkide, Altındere’nin yalnızca görsel sanat işleriyle değil, aynı zamanda yayıncı, editör ve küratör olarak öne çıkması tercih edilmiş. Sergi, bütünlüklü, pürüzsüz bir retrospektif sunmaktan ziyade, “Çok yönlü bir sanatçı üretimi mekâna nasıl taşınabilir?” sorusuyla ilgileniyor; izleyici ise tek kişilik sergi formatından beklentilerini gözden geçirmeye davet ediliyor.
Ferran Barenblit küratörlüğünde hazırlanan, farklı boyutlardaki birkaç odaya yayılmış serginin en görünür bölümlerinden bir tanesi, Altındere’nin yaptığı dergi, kitap ve sergilere ayrılmış. Bunlar arasında, 1999-2008 arasında aktif olan art-ist dergisi ile 2008’de başlayan, aralarında Ahmet Öğüt, Bashir Borlakov, Can Altay, Şener Özmen ve Aslı Çavuşoğlu gibi güncel sanat üretimleri üzerine kitap basılmamış sanatçıların çift dilli monograf serisi yer alıyor. Altındere’nin Süreyyya Evren’le beraber editörlüğünü üstlendiği “Kullanma Kılavuzu: Türkiye’de Güncel Sanat 1986-2006” (2007) ve “101 Yapıt: Türkiye Güncel Sanatının 40 Yılı” (2011) başlıklı katalog-kitaplar da bu sunumun parçası.
Gösterilen yayın seçkisi Altındere’nin son on beş senedir dert edindiği konuların altını çiziyor. Sergilenen kitaplar ve dergilerle vakit geçiren izleyicinin buradan iki temel soruyla ayrıldığını söylemek mümkün: Güncel sanat geçmişteki üretimlerden nasıl farklılaşıyor? Ve bunu yaparken hangi hafızaları siliyor, yeni bellekleri nasıl yaratıyor? Güncel sanatta kurumsallaşmanın hızla arttığı senelerde basılan ‘Kullanım Kılavuzu’ öne çıkan bir örnek. Bu yayın, yazılı tarih konusunda öncü olma iddiası taşımadan bahsettiğim soruları dillendirirken, aynı zamanda antoloji ve tarih kitabı formatlarını nazikçe ti’ye alıyor.
Sanatçı, sergi kataloğu için Vasıf Kortun’la yaptığı söyleşide, art-ist’in editörlüğünü üstlendiği on sene ve dergi kapandıwktan sonraki üç sene içinde ürettiği iş sayısının yaklaşık aynı olduğunu söylemiş. Başka bir deyişle, 2000’lerin başındaki sanatsal üretimi son yıllara göre çok daha seyrek. Ancak bu dalgalanma, Altındere’nin sanatından fedakârlık yaptığı anlamına gelmiyor; tersine, pratiğinin bu farklı üretim biçimlerinin bütünü olduğuna işaret ediyor. Yayınlarının serginin kuytu bir köşesinde değil, neredeyse merkezinde yer alması ve buradaki duvara iliştirilmiş, sanatçı Burak Arıkan’ın “Halil Altındere’nin Sergilerine Katılan Sanatçıların Ağ Haritası”na yapılan vurgu da bunun bir göstergesi.
Yayınlar ve ağ haritasının karşısında, odanın diğer tarafındaki duvarda ise, Altındere’nin üretiminde etkili olan iki ismin hiperrealist yağlıboya portreleri görülüyor: ‘René’ (2011) ve ‘Vasıf’ (2012). Yan yana sergilenen bu iki iş, yalnızca sanatçıya destek çıkan, ilk uluslararası sergilerinden beri beraber çalıştığı René Block ve Vasıf Kortun’a homage olarak okunmamalı. Sonuçta resimler Altındere’nin sanatçı olarak sürekli müzakere ettiği, iktidar sahibi olan iki ismi temsil ediyor. 120’e 180 cm boyutundaki görkemli tuvallerin izleyiciyi geride durmaya teşvik etmesi de bunun bir parçası. Dolayısıyla resimler hem bir saygı ilişkisini, hem de sanatçı-iktidar arasındaki çekişmeyi izleyiciye hissettiriyor.
Madrid’deki sergi Altındere’yi hem Türkiye’deki güncel sanatın dönüşümüne tanıklık eden bir üretici hem de bir ‘elebaşı’ olarak konumlamakta. Ahu Antmen 2007’deki bir yazısında, sanatçının 2000’li yıllarda yaptığı sergi ve yayınlardan bahsederken ‘Halil Altındere fenomeni’ ifadesini kullanmıştı. CA2M sergisi, bu süreci sergi ortamına taşımayı başarıyor; farklı rollere bürünen, benzer sanatsal tavırları örgütleyen sanatçı Halil Altındere bir ‘persona’ olarak hafızalara yerleşiyor. Sergi, 3 Haziran’a kadar sürecek.
9:45 am • 22 April 2013 • 1 note
In Conversation with Pippo Ciorra
The Turkish version of the below text was published on artfulliving.com.tr on March 29th, 2013.
MAXXI, May 30, SCecchetti
ÖE: My first question is about the mission of the MAXXI National Museum of the 21st Century Arts. The museum is composed of MAXXI Art and MAXXI Architecture, the latter being the first national museum of architecture in Italy, conceived and initiated by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities in 1998. I’m curious if the initial mission was more geared toward the cultural context in Italy, and how it has changed or evolved since the late 1990s.
PC: I have to say that I was not working for the Ministry in 1998. I was a freelance writer, a critic, a professor, and an architect. I used to collaborate with the newly founded office dedicated to the promotion of contemporary architecture and art (DARC) for exhibitions and research. In fact, when DARC launched the design competition for the MAXXI (then called CAC), I entered the competition with some friends, and we were even selected as finalists.
But yes, I was aware of the policies and tasks of the museum when the collection building started. In the field of architecture, it was clear from the beginning that the museum would collect works from both Italian and international architects in the postwar era—both active and inactive. The collection was primarily focused on Italian architecture from 50s and 80s, and contemporary production from foreign architects. In the beginning, the museum aimed to acquire complete (or full sections of) archives, especially for Italian masters, and then started to make partial acquisitions. The museum was still a direct branch of the Ministry. Later on, during the construction of Zaha’s building, the institution took the name MAXXI, and started to adjust its tasks and focuses. What became clear was that it was difficult to make a clear distinction between ‘Italian’ and ‘foreign.’ It also became evident that exhibitions and site-specific installations could potentially help develop the 21st century collection. The building was completed in 2009, the museum opened in 2010, and the Fondazione MAXXI was founded, and I was appointed as a curator. And we decided to link exhibition making to collection building so that they could feed each other.
ÖE: During these years, how has the cultural scene changed in Italy in terms of small-scale art and architecture nonprofits and larger institutions like museums? I would like to ask how the MAXXI has adapted itself according to the changing urgencies of the day.
PC: Zaha’s MAXXI is the result of the late nineties approach to museums and the ‘Bilbao effect’. In this period, architecture was seen as an international language and a sort of a deluxe cultural surplus to be traded in every corner of the planet. Certain things have changed since then. Especially in the Western world, we are starting to be get tired of the ‘archistar archistyle’. Also, we are afflicted with economic and ecologic problems that don’t allow us to continue with Norman’s and Zaha’s monuments. We need to scout new ideas, new tendencies, new modalities of the relationship between architecture and the world.
In the museum, this means more attention to architectural activism and also design approaches that are in the grey area between architecture, art, installation, and performance. The MAXXI can be a perfect stage for such experimentation for several reasons: this institution hosts both art and architecture, and it enjoys an abundance of open and public space where artists and architects can perform. So we have conducted transdisciplinary experiments, and continue to seek new connections between society and creative culture, carrying a sensitivity towards social, political, and environmental issues.
ÖE: The MAXXI has two separate collections—MAXXI Art and MAXXI Architecture. Would you consider of merging these two, or do you think they should stay separately?
PC: I work as a curator in the museum, I work on the exhibition program with a renewable two-year contract. This means I’m not part of the permanent staff, and have no responsibility to establish long term policies for the collections. I only try to interpret and them in my exhibitions and other programs. So I can only give you my personal opinion.
I don’t think the MAXXI has been designed for a mixed collection of art and architecture. I personally would love to work in a museum that does not make a separation between different art forms (I can maybe think of Louisiana in Denmark). I suppose it will take some time before we are ready for this at the MAXXI in particular, or in large-scale public institutions in Italy in general. But of course I am working towards this.
ÖE: Since the Bilbao Effect, large-scale museum architecture has been widely celebrated and heavily criticized at the same time. How do you think that MAXXI’s architecture serve the museum? And what are the challenges you have faced, if there are any?
PC: To be honest, I am not very patient with the question of whether signature museums are good for displaying art or architecture. I think the search for the perfect, neutral space to be entirely left to the liberty and authority of the artist does not exist. That is to say, the ‘white box’ does not exist. Every white box has an entrance (and sometimes a way out); it sometimes has the wrong dimensions; it could freeze works of art. Perhaps the white box exists in Valery’s concept of the ‘casier’, but it hardly happens in real life. Zaha’s and Frank’s buildings along with all the buildings of this wide, global, modern and postmodern family are not more complicated than the Louvre with hundreds of meters long galleries, or the Altes Museum, or the beloved abandoned industrial sites. They simply lack memory, and this has to be replaced by ideas, curatorial integrity, bravery, and readiness to leave the artists the maximum possible freedom.
MAXXI, March 2011. Photo: Paolo Quadrini
ÖE: In terms of adapting to the gallery/museum space, do you think architecture-related projects are more flexible than art projects?
PC: For an architecture curator, it is of course easier to deal with an authorial space, because he or she often has to work with less ‘auratic’ materials, and thereby enjoys more freedom to design a path to engage the work and the architecture of the space. But this is possible in art exhibitions as well, if there is good dialogue with the artist, the sensibility to the space, and the acknowledgment that the museum today is a space for production, not simply for exhibitions. I am convinced that the distance between the display of art and architecture is getting increasingly smaller, as the difference between art and architecture blurs.
ÖE: Could you talk about how your interest in revitalizing abandoned structures and recycling public heritage feed into the programming you create at the museum? And how do you conceive and open up the museum as a public space?
PC: The idea of recycling as a design strategy has been an important thread in my work for the last 15-20 years. It has to do with conceptual design, parasite design, and also with the ongoing problem about millions of square meters of abandoned buildings that require us to investigate innovative design approaches. The strategy of recycling has been always present in my work as an urban scholar, a design professor, and a writer. To me, in the museum space, it becomes a spatial and aesthetic tool for architects who work on environmental consciousness; and a tactic in using the public space of the MAXXI with 1:1 installations. A good example would be the project by the German collective raumlaborberlin—part of the exhibition RE-CYCLE: Strategies for Architecture, City and Planet last year. In this work, they exclusively used materials coming from disposal, and involved students and citizens in the building process. In this way, the open space of the museum was made public on three levels: as an extension of the exhibition space of a public institution, as a sample of fabrication that is ecologically correct, and as a political statement involving students and citizens.
ÖE: The MAXXI is a national museum, partially supported by public funds, and you sometimes receive private sponsorship for exhibitions. How do you reconcile these two funding bodies and their expectations?
PC: Italy has a solid tradition of public museums. Most of the big institutions are owned and managed by the state. Only in the last years have the institutions started to seek for other funding strategies due to the changes in economy. When the public ‘Museo MAXXI’ became a ‘Fondazione’, we thought we could be an example of a public-private partnership in cultural institutions (Fondazione is still owned by the state but acts as a private body). The ideal scenario—and we somehow feel close to—is a fifty-fifty participation. This strengthens the museum, and allows the state a role of guarantor for the freedom, integrity, and the quality of the cultural production at the museum.
I’m now working with a major oil company for the production of the ‘Energy’ exhibition. The museum and the public body behind it secure my freedom for investigating the topic, regardless of the sponsor’s interests. I don’t know if this is the only possible way, but I also think we have to test and investigate it, especially in a country like Italy that is overpopulated with cultural institutions and activities.
4:33 am • 2 April 2013
Hale Tenger ile Söyleşi
Aşağıdaki söyleşi XOXO The Mag’in Şubat 2013 sayısında yayınlanmıştır.
Ocak ayının yeni yıl gündemini üstlenmesinin rehavetinden kurtulup 2012’nin hesaplaşmalarından kalan yükleri bıraktığımızda 2013’ün ilk günleriydi. Türkiye’nin sanat ortamının kaydını tutmaya devam ettiğimiz bölüm için iki kart açtık. Kartlar Hale Tenger ve Özge Ersoy’u gösteriyordu. Türkiye sanatını ayakta tutan kaç sütun var bilmiyoruz ama eğer öyle sütunlar varsa birinin başında kesinlikle Hale Tenger bekliyordur. Hale Tenger’in karşısına oturan küratör Özge Ersoy da bu vesileyle sanatsal üretime adanmış bir hayatı konuşmak için bu ay XOXO The Mag’e davet edildi. Sanatçının atölyesinde XOXO The Mag için buluşan ikili Tenger’in ülke siyasetinin kilit noktalarına denk düşen üretiminden, disiplinlerarasılıktan öğrenilenlerden, tekrarın ve sanatçı imzasına dönüşen işlerin sıkıcılığına kadar giden bir konuşma yapıyorlar. Bu karşılaşmadan kalan kıvılcımlar daha sönmemişken sizinle paylaşıyoruz. —Dinçer Şirin
Özge Ersoy: Uluslararası Ruhsal Travma Toplantısı’ndan kalan isim kartınız gözüme ilişti. Etkinliğe konuşmacı olarak mı katıldınız?
Hale Tenger: Geçen gün Nazım Dikbaş’ın moderatörlüğünü yaptığı bir panele konuşmacı olarak katıldım. Türkiye Psikiyatri Derneği, Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı, Türkiye Psikologlar Derneği, Türk Tabipler Birliği, Norveç Tabipler Birliği gibi farklı kuruluşlar tarafından düzenlenen, “Toplumsal Travma; Sonuçları ve Baş Etme” başlıklı, uluslararası, peş peşe oturumlarda farklı sunumların yapıldığı bir toplantıydı bu. Katıldığım oturumda Memed Erdener ve Ömer Türkeş de vardı ve başlığı “Toplumsal Travmaya Bakış: Sanatsal İfadenin Sıkıştığı, Takıldığı, Durduğu Anlar” idi. Ben kendi üretimim üzerinden yaşadıklarımı anlattım. Nasıl işler yaptığımdan, sanat üretimim yüzünden ne zaman, ne şekilde baskıya uğradığımdan bahsettim.
ÖE: Bu tür toplantılarda sanatçıların farklı disiplinlerde çalışan kişiler için işlerini açıklaması, görseli analiz etmesi, çözümlemesi beklenebiliyor. Böyle bir baskı hissediyor musunuz?
HT: Hayır, hiç öyle hissetmedim. Daha önce de sanat harici grupların içinde sanatçı olarak konuştum. Sadece sanat perspektifi yerine değişik açılardan ama gene sanat üzerinden bir takım meseleleri tartışıyor ve sunuyorsunuz. Böylece farklı disiplinlerden gelen kişilerin birbirinden birçok şey öğrenebildiği bir ortam oluşuyor. Alınan eğitimler ve düşünme sistemleri çok farklı olabilir. Bu da farklı dil ve ifadeleri içeriyor doğal olarak. Ama sonuçta ifade edilenin paylaşıldığı farklı bir erişim modeli ortaya çıkıyor. Bence alışılmışın dışına çıkmak “sadece kendi alanında” derinlemesine çalışan bütün taraflar için iyi oluyor. Örneğin bir sosyologla konuşurken diller farklılaşıyor ve başka kapılar açılıyor. Akademik dil ile sanatçıların kullandığı dil etkileşime girdiği zaman farklı, derinlikli ve etkileyici bir iletişim ortaya çıkabiliyor. Görsel sanatlar alanında, bu katmanlar üzerine derinlikli okuma yapan ve size yeni kapılar açan metinler bulmak pek kolay olmuyor.
ÖE: Ahu Antmen’in işleriniz hakkında yazdığı ‘İçerdeki Yabancı’ kitabı güzel istisnalardan bence.
HT: Disiplinle çalıştığınızda, donanımınız da yeterli ise bu tür metinler ortaya çıkıyor. Uzun bir dönem zaman ve emek harcayınca, etraflıca düşünüp bağlantılar kurabilince mümkün oluyor bu tür yayınlar. Tekdüze, kavramlar ve isimlerin kuru kuru sıralandığı metinler bol derecede var.
ÖE: 1990’larda yaptığınız yerleştirmeleriniz hakkındaki fikirlerimi Antmen’in kitabına borçluyum aslında. Bu işler size sunulan mekana özgü cevaplar mı, yoksa var olan fikirlerinizi mekana göre şekillendirmeyi mi tercih ediyorsunuz?
HT: Bir davet üzerine yeni bir iş üretme sürecine girdiğimde önüme konmuş o mekanı, mekanın içinde bulunduğu şehri, ülkeyi düşünüyorum tabii ki. Ama bu bağlamları düşünmek ille de şart değil. Var olan bir işin, farklı yer ve zamanlarda sergilenişi söz konusu olduğunda kimi eser hiçbir anlam farklılığına uğramıyor. Mesela ‘Strange Fruit’ (2009) enstalasyonu İstanbul’dan sonra şimdi Paris’te sergileniyor ve arada bir farklılık yok. Diğer yandan ‘Sınırlar/Sınırlar’ (1999) videosu İstanbul’da başka, Kassel’de başka, Küba’da, Gwangju’da sergilendiğinde farklı ya da ek anlamlar kazanabiliyor. İşin kendi bütünlüğü dışında, bulunduğu yer ve zamana göre farklı okunabilmesi mümkün sonuçta.
ÖE: İşlerinizi yan yana koysanız, ortak bir biçimsel yaklaşımın veya hassasiyetin olduğunu söyler miydiniz?
HT: Doğruyu söylemek gerekirse işlerimin yan yanalığı üzerine pek düşünmedim. Ortak noktaları aynı kişi tarafından yapılmış olmaları sadece. 1990 yılında ilk sergimi açtığımda kendinden menkul objeler, duvar üstü enstalasyonlar, nispeten az aykırı bulunabilecek heykeller göstermiştim. Benden epey yaşlı bir sanatçı önce beni tebrik ettikten sonra, “Zamanla bir üslup birliği oluşacaktır tabii” deyince, ben de “Umarım olmaz!” demiştim. Bu kadar net bir tavrım var. Birisi bakıp da “Aa, bu Hale Tenger işi!” desin istemedim hiçbir zaman. Benim için tekrar, benzerlik ve aynılık çok sıkıcı. 90lı yıllarda ‘Sometimes You See/Sometimes You Don’t’ (1995) adlı işimi üretirken bir önceki yıldan ‘Kalp Ağrısı’ (1994) ve ‘Kant’ın Portresi’nde (1994) kullandığım boks eldivenleri, fan ve dikenli yastığın bir araya geldiğini fark ettiğimde endişelenmiştim, çünkü böyle bir malzeme tekrarı ilk defa oluyordu!
ÖE: 1990’lardaki işlerinize uzanan bir serginiz olsa, izleyiciler bu yan yanalığa, tanınabilir görsel bir dilin yaratılmamış olmasına nasıl tepki verirlerdi, onu merak ediyorum doğrusu.
HT: Yakın zamanda, kısa bir süre için, işlerime geniş perspektiften bakışı gerektiren bir çalışma süreci oldu. Çok farklı zamanlarda ve ülkelerde yapılmış çok sayıda yerleştirmenin bir araya gelebilmesi için onca işin arasında konu, mekan, ses, ışık dengelerini yaratıcı ve titiz bir dille oluşturmak gerekiyor. Mesela domestik ve ışığı kontrollü mekanlar içinde yer alan o kadar çok iş yapmışım ki, ben de o süreç içinde farkına vardım! İşlerimi yan yana düşünmek tabii ki ilginç olurdu. Özellikle mekan kurgularının deneyimlenmesi açısından ortaya nasıl benzerlikler, farklılıklar çıkacağı bugüne kadar düşünmediğim merak uyandırıcı bir konu.
ÖE: Bahsettiğiniz kurgular çoğu zaman titizlikle hazırlanmış bir düzene sahip. Buna ters düşen, düzensizliğin öne çıktığı ‘Devren Satılık’ (1997) yerleştirmeniz sizin için farklı bir yerde duruyor mu? Düzen aramadan istifleme eylemini Susurluk Davası’na tepkiniz üzerinden okumak doğru mu?
HT: Devren Satılık oldukça tepkisel bir işti tabii ki. Ama birdenbire ve ilk defa ortaya çıkmış bir tepki değil bu. ‘Sikimden Aşşa Kasımpaşa Ekolü’ (1990) ve ‘Böyle Tanıdıklarım Var II’ de (1994) tepkisel çalışmalar. Bugünlerde biraz daha rahat konuşuyoruz ama 1990’ların başında faili meçhuller, darbeler gibi konular neredeyse tabu iken –hala nasıl bir cesaretle ürettiğime şaştığım– bu işler o zamanların olaylarına ve suskunluğuna karşı tepki olarak ortaya çıkmıştı. Susurluk Kazası olduğunda Galeri Nev’deki sergim için başka bir iş hazırlıyordum. Ancak kazanın ortaya çıkardığı manzara karşısında, yaptığım iş bana steril geldi. Susurluk Kazası ve ortaya çıkardığı manzara bende kusma hissi uyandırmıştı. Sonuçta stüdyomu galeriye taşıdım. Atölyemin galeriye kusması olarak tarif ediyordum bu yerleştirmeyi.
ÖE: İşleriniz üzerine yapılan okumalara geri dönmek istiyorum. Aklıma Manifesta’da gösterilen ‘Kesit’ (1996) isimli işiniz geliyor. Bu video yerleştirmesinde göç, vize ve yolculuk kavramlarına değiniyorsunuz. Aslında kısıtlanmış şekilde hareket etmeye çalışanlar sadece bireyler değil, aynı zamanda sanat işleri. Sanat işlerinin dolaşımında ve tarihselleşmesinde de benzer bir içeride-dışarıda olma ikilemi yaşanıyor. İşlerinizin tarihselleşmesi konusuna siz ne kadar müdahil olmak istiyorsunuz?
HT: Tarihselleşme açısından, işlerim kategorize edilmesin, bağımsız kalsın diye düşünebilirsiniz ama ne yaparsanız yapın, er ya da geç birileri sizi belli sınıflandırmalara tabi tutacaktır. Düşünce sistemimiz, dilimiz bunun üzerine kurulu. Ancak tarih kimsenin tekelinde değil. Bunu kendinden menkul bir müstakillik taşır anlamında söylemiyorum; sürekli değişkenlikler içeren, akışkan bir yapısı olduğunun altını çizmek için söylüyorum. Bir bakarsınız belli bir dönem dolaşım ve kayıt içinde yer almış olanın on yıl sonra adı anılmaz olmuştur, ya da on yıllar sonra belli bir dönem dolaşım ve görünür bir kayıt içinde yer almamış bir isim yeni gibi keşfedilir. İnsanlık tarihi yazılı belgelere geçtiğinden beri benzer bir durum var. Ulaşılabilir olanları -ki buna sözlü aktarımı da dahil etmek gerekir- yeniden ve yeniden okuyoruz.
ÖE: Üretiminizin kalıcılığını kontrol etmekle ilgilenmemeniz aklıma ‘Dancing Queen’ (2005) işinizi getirdi. Çoğu yerleştirmenizde izleyici ancak mekan içine girdiği zaman işi deneyimleyebiliyor; kurgu bu şekilde. ‘Dancing Queen’in karşısında duran kişi ise, işi heykel olarak düşünüp ona uzaktan bakabilir veya altına girip işi aktive edebilir. İşin nasıl deneyimleneceğine dair kararı bu defa izleyiciye mi bırakıyorsunuz?
HT: Aslında işlerin nasıl deneyimleneceği zaten hep izleyiciye kalmış durumda. ‘Dancing Queen’ ne tam bir heykel, ne de tam bir enstalasyon. Sadece uzaktan bakarsanız bir heykel, altına girip müzik çalmaya başlayınca dans ederseniz, sizinle birlikte bir enstalasyon. ‘Pasarea Maiastra/Aphonia’ (1990) adlı işimi düşündürüyor bana. Adını Romanya folklöründe tılsımlı gücü olduğuna inanılan bir kuştan ve ses kaybı/yitimi anlamında afoniden alıyor. Kaidesi ise Brancusi’nin son derece elegan kuşlarına atıfla, gene Brancusi’nin yaptığı bir kaidenin replikası. Brancusi’nin kuşlarının aksine bu garip kuşun gagası gövdesinden büyük, tek ayağı var o da ters yöne doğru. ‘Pasarea Maiastra/Aphonia’ kategorik olarak “ucubelik” üzerine kurulu bir iş –“ucube” lafının şimdilerde çağrıştırdığı anlamlarla hiç alakası olmadan– yani insanlığın, varlığın ucubeliği üzerine. ‘Dancing Queen’ de aynen öyle benim için. Altına giren kişi inanılmaz bir dünyayla karşılaşıyor; yüzlerce ampul-aynada narsisistik bir şekilde kendini sonsuz sayıda çoğalmış olarak görüyor ve bir süreliğine de olsa o dünyanın yıldızı oluyor. Ama aynı zamanda çok enayi bir atmosfer bu, çünkü ancak belinize kadar sarıp sarmalıyor sizi!
1980 darbesi sonrası inanılmaz baskı altında bir dönemden geçildi malum. 1990’lara da uzanan bu atmosferde biraz rahatlama, ferahlama anlamında benim “sosyal hava boşlukları” (social airpocket) olarak adlandırdığım alanlar yarattı bireyler toplum içinde. ‘Dancing Queen’ benim için bu sosyal hava boşluklarını ifade ediyor. Yaşamda umut ve eğlence de bulmak lazım. Ağlaşmayı çok seven, asabi bir toplumuz ve eğlenmeyi hakikaten beceremiyoruz.
ÖE: Geçen sene verdiğiniz bir söyleşide önceki dönemlerde yaptığınız işlerin daha karamsar olduğunu, son zamanlarda ise hem farkındalık üzerine düşündüğünüzü hem de durumları olumlu yönleriyle de ele almaya çalıştığınızı söylemiştiniz.
HT: Evet, aslında doğru, ilk dönemlerdeki işlerim sözünü daha sert ve bir defada söylerken, takip eden süreçte daha katmanlı bir yapıya büründü. Ardından da, son dönemlerde daha şiirsel bir dile kaydı, ‘Beyrut’ (2005-2007) ve ‘Balloons on the Sea’ (2011) video enstalasyonu gibi. Olumsuza, olumluyu göz ardı etmeden bakabilme gayreti diyebiliriz belki. Ama her zaman değil! Örneğin Ocak’ta Arter’de açılacak sergi için hazırladığım ‘Böyle Tanıdıklarım Var III’ adlı işimde 6-7 Eylül olaylarından başlayarak faili meçhul cinayetlere, Cumartesi annelerine, katliamlara, açılan mezarlara, işkenceye vb. dair yüzlerce görsel kullanıyorum.
11:47 am • 26 February 2013
On Collecting Small Gestures: Merve Ünsal
The below text was published in the first issue of Mental Space, edited by Elmas Deniz. Mental Space is the supplement of the 131st issue of Sanat Dünyamız magazine (Nov-Dec 2012).
“If you are going to write on an artist’s practice, make sure you listen to them, but do not listen to everything they say. Be confident in your own voice,” said a mentor. How can you trust your own voice, if you are writing on an artist whom you know very intimately? What could I possibly say on someone whose mind I have admiringly tried to analyze, someone I co-authored articles, produced projects with, and someone who has always been on my side as my thinking developed, shifted over the years? I’m beginning this article with and through my curiosity on these very questions, as well as a huge reservation.
My close friend Merve (Ünsal) stopped using her camera three years ago, after having studied photography, and started collecting, organizing, and collaging found images and texts. These days, she explores the relationship between the text and the image using the medium of performance. Merve’s artistic production is scarce, and “underproduction” is only one of the ideas she deals with in her work. Maybe this scarcity is why many people know Merve as a writer, an editor, or a translator rather than as an artist. She takes advantage of this situation herself; it helps that her practice has various facets when it comes to interrogating, even stomping on her own artistic oeuvre. Here I’ll use three art works—namely New York Times Photographs, Try, and Production—to delineate her work as an artist and mark the breaking points in the process of her long-term interrogation.
New York Times Photographs (2009) is the first project I discussed with Merve. In this work, she digitally superimposes photographs under the same headline from the newspaper’s website to produce a new image. It is difficult to delineate the clichéd news photographs in these images, impossible to comprehend the news without referring to the title. For example, looking closely at “Between War and Peace,” one can discern United Nations jeeps, masked black children, and a barren landscape—details that the visual does not reveal at first glance. Here, Merve weakens figurative representation as she abstracts the found images. She thereby does the reverse of what a photojournalist would do. The latter freezes a momentous experience as he or she presses the shutter, while Merve liberates news-worthy moments as she squeezes them into one image.
The images Merve creates in this project disintegrate the idiosyncrasies of the photograph as they serve as neither witnesses nor evidence. The work thus questions the two meanings of rhetoric produced between the represented/photographed and the means of representation/photograph. The first is to give away information, to make visible the invisible information, to relay it to the masses. The second is to provoke, to react, and to persuade. Merve negates both rhetoric forces by piling the images together, though this negation does not solely suggest a distanced critical attitude. With this series, Merve starts a personal interrogation as she opens up her photography-based practice, the vulnerability of which is imminent in her collection of other people’s production to make her own work.
Try (2009), the second project in this article, is a personal compilation of texts that Merve read on the general concept of “imprisonment.”3 What connect the writings in this online archive are tags such as power, surveillance, security, solitary confinement, and control, among others. Here, newspaper articles are next to poems, book excerpts next to academic articles. For example, the “evidence” tag directs the viewer/reader to articles that seem independent of each other, juxtaposing a newspaper column by a journalist from Turkey titled “Ergenekon Really Confuses Me,” a newspaper editorial discussing the law that renegotiates the military courts’ position, and the case study that legitimized American police to stop and search “suspicious” cars. For the relationship between the texts is formed using a single concept/tag, Try becomes a personal, perhaps a naïve mapping exercise. However, in Try, Merve does not aim to make a major proposition, but rather a modest gesture: she does not abandon images; instead, she searches for a new medium in her practice.
Merve’s approach to words as images is the most crucial point of the search that I’m talking about. This is closely related to the distinction that writer, curator and professor Sarat Maharaj makes between “visual thinking” and “thinking through visuals.”4 The former is a way of thinking that departs from the image by employing open-ended, perhaps “loose” set of associations. This style follows the formula of and+ and+ and+ … and does not exhibit an interest in forming connections amongst new relationships. The latter is a form of thinking based on a systematic structure not dissimilar to syntax as it aims to analyze and deconstruct the image. In Try, concepts/tags pertain to many different texts that are not necessarily connected to each other, recalling the and+ and+ and+ … sequence. The relationships between these texts are weak, and this is exactly what enables the formation of new connections. Such an attitude and handling of words are also apparent in Merve’s most recent work where she uses her own texts as her material.
The last work that I’m going to talk about in this article, Production (2011-2012), is founded on three articles that Merve authored herself. The project starts with a lecture-performance that she did at the Banff Centre in Canada, followed by a text published on m-est.org, the second stop, and concluded with a one-night exhibition at PiST/// in Istanbul. Respectively, “On/For Production” is on the artist’s self-enclosure, “Underproduction” is on not producing enough, and “On Specificity” is on the relationship formed between language and production of visual art. There is a feeling that dominates all these texts: entrapment and being stuck. Merve discusses the triangle of “production-work-attitude” that encloses the artist in her second text, which recalls her discussion of the dining room guests who cannot leave the house even though the doors are open, as described in Luis Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel (1962), mentioned in the first text. In both cases, being enclosed and entrapped is not physically imposed, but this feeling is quite palpable; in other words, it is not triggered by external elements, but is rather created internally. This feeling is precisely what pushes the artist into her interrogation, which is both insecure and disturbing. Then, the question becomes: as a producer, is it possible to escape this “triangle”?
The answer to this question was revealed during the workshop in October this year, in which the presentation of “On Specificity” in an exhibition space was discussed. Organized by artists Didem Özbek and Osman Bozkurt, in collaboration with New York-based exhibition designer Jeremy Johnston, the workshop was formulated around the topics of designing and making an exhibition, and the participants—all workers in the arts field—attempted to translate the text from English to Turkish. Merve chose to not intervene in the translation process, somehow giving up her authorship. However, the group questioned the employed procedure, interrogating the text’s relationship with the space, that appeared somehow weak. This attitude shook the artist’s withdrawn position and influences the display format of the text in Merve’s one-night exhibition at PiST///.
The first of the two videos in the exhibition shows a fatigued Merve behind a table, reading her text out loud right after the workshop. Merve documents her text by recording it on video. As she translates it paragraph by paragraph, she uses the various options for some of the concepts discussed during the workshop. Merve thus complicates the clean, flowing language in the English version of the text through the various possibilities of meaning, translations, and options. This process points to the production of a field of negotiation between the words that seemed to be set in the original text. The idea of open-endedness and the lack of specificity relate this work to the second video work in the show.
The second video is constituent of a projection of “On Specificity” on a wall. And only when Merve enters the frame does the viewer realize the projection is more than a still image. Every seven minutes (the amount of time that takes her to read her text) Merve walks in to the image and adds “un” to the title of the text, negating “specificity.” Both videos then interrogate this very notion, first by using translation as a tool, and second by simply intervening with a red pen.
Looking at the second work, the viewer sees the words posing: they are captured on camera as if they expect not only being read but also being looked at. The camera that Merve has been distant to for a while then becomes a crucial element of the work, as it not only documents the text but also reproduces it. The work thus reveals an inherent duality that produces performativity: a) essentially, the text is a “written image”, b) the text recorded on camera is not only an object of pictorial value, but continues to exist as a legible text. In other words, the form and function of text and image become permeable as the former transforms into the latter, and vice versa. This is precisely how Merve employs text as a medium of visual art, not dissimilar to painting or photography.
My perspective on Merve’s work changes constantly. I first read New York Times Photographs as a reserved criticism of the power of photography; I later realized that the work was a vital milestone in the artist’s self-interrogation. I saw Try as an escape from images. I considered the feeling of being stuck, pervasive in Production, to reveal Merve’s doubts about her own practice. Only when I watched the videos at her recent exhibition did I realize that all of these works constitute breaking points in her practice. The works that I open up for discussion in this text can be considered small gestures, but what’s most important to me is the proposition Merve makes through collecting these gestures: artistic production is not solely images; on the contrary, it is about the negotiation of the gap between the image and the thing that the image describes, points to, and deals with.
11:44 am • 26 February 2013