Deferring the habitual

The visions of eight Turkish artists, featuring in an exhibition in Seoul, portray a multifaceted reality that strays from the usual canons of their national identity. Text Pelin Uran.

The artists discussed on these pages were all born or currently reside in Turkey, and have been brought together for an upcoming exhibition in Seoul. However, although they originate from the same nation, their work neither forms a whole nor constitutes a unified and meaningful context. Rather, it distorts expectations by not clinging to the idea of national identity. What the artists have in common is that their approach to art communicates different insights or communicates insights differently. An artistic intervention can be political by modifying the visible – the ways of perceiving and expressing it (see Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, New York 2004) – and in this sense their work aims not only to reveal the palpable and visible political aspects, but also the more subtle and invisible ones.

Taking man’s relationship with architecture and nature, industrialisation, modernity and the discontents of modernity as his point of departure, Emre Hüner utilises drawing, animation and video as his medium. His critique of modernity is preoccupied with the linear progression of history. An array of source material is drawn from the Internet, found photographs and books. Panoptikon, 2005, an 11-minute video animation, consists of an archive of objects drawn separately on paper and brought together in a digital environment by applying two-dimensional animation techniques. When images unfold with little linear logic in a dream-like association, the viewer is invited to study the socalled developments of rationalist modern society, thus also the evolution of modern science, the modern military machine or the aesthetics of modern architecture. Panoptikon’s rich and cryptic imagery and visual texture are inspired by Ottoman miniatures and medieval anatomical drawings as well as the work of experimental filmmakers. The work borrows its title from Michel Foucault’s appropriation of a model prison to describe the theory of surveillance in modern society.

While Hüner focuses on the discontents of modernity, Ali Kazma’s video works monitor man’s need for order. This need, as reproduced in the artist’s work, can be found in manual labour as well as in the arts and sciences. The juxtaposition of creative labour with unskilled manual labour reconfigures the practices. Obstructions, 2005-2008, is an ongoing video series in which the artist films diverse sites of production, creation, repairs and maintenance, such as a household goods factory, a clockmaker’s workshop and an artist’s studio. Kazma foregrounds the need for order by obsessively following a process, and in doing so resembles the meticulous observation of process typically displayed by 1960s’ conceptual artists. In Kazma’s work this is transformed into the aesthetical analysis of labour: formal aspects direct the content. An everyday household object and the excessive effort involved in its production is made explicit in Kazma’s videos. The different combinations of the videos, such as the household goods factory with the clockmaker’s workshop, unveil a set of different meanings.

Banu Cennetoglu’s interest in uncertainty and the ambiguity of images leads her to photograph spaces that are relatively transitory and unstable, and to question the potential of their inherent uncertainty. The sense of ambiguity is amplified by the installations themselves: because the viewer cannot grasp them in their totality, the viewing experience is automatically made more conscious. Are there any palm trees in Grozny?, 2005, is a series of photographs in video format set in locations that include a beach club, the Turkish State Railways Recreation Camp and an army barracks. The piece records uncertain and ambiguous developments solely by observing this very peculiar juxtaposition. The effect of surveillance predominates since most of the photographs are taken from a distance. There is a latent restlessness because everything looks quite normal. Cennetoglu introduces a subtle but deep sense of tension into the video by collecting and editing her material without prioritising any of the sites.

Asli Cavusoglu’s work, on the other hand, explores the disinformation that is merged into the information of everyday life. The fictitious sphere she creates becomes a critical playground for investigating commonly accepted notions surrounding the fast circulation of information. Using humour as a key strategy in much of her work, she blurs the line between fiction and fact, favouring fiction as a more imaginative and creative way to encourage thinking about her subject matter. Steve, Macy, Gabriel, Michael, Donna, Ally and the Others, 2006, is an installation consisting of 48 images borrowed from a databank normally used for printing and advertising. She classifies these images into three categories: beauty and health, business, and relationships. After re-painting these generic images, Cavusoglu juxtaposes them with bizarre individual stories that bear no relation to their original premise. The work deconstructs images that have long been instrumental in seducing consumers with simple solutions of eternal beauty, youth and success, and questions their usual associations.

Disinformation in everyday life is also an interest of Isil Egrikavuk, who recently graduated in performing arts. Her practice is based on deconstructing, questioning and reconstructing information linguistically and visually on an everyday basis via performance, video and writing. She also blurs the border between fiction and reality. Snapshot, 2007, for instance, was a performative project which investigated reality, the reporting of reality and thus the making of history. The artist turned a Chicago gallery into a newsroom where selected headlines from the US press were removed from their proper historical and geographical context and re-situated. The audience was asked to choose a headline and complete the news story for themselves, being as fictional as they liked. The collected stories were then read by two real-life Chicago anchors. The project aimed to challenge the reporting methods of the mainstream media and “democratise” the reporting function through audience participation.

Egrikavuk’s performative gestures are closely related to the work of artist collective Ha za vu zu. Here, the artists craft their mode of expression by constructing situations with individuals and groups of individuals with whom they forge convivial relations – much in the way of situational aesthetics. The interdisciplinary nature of their practice is not only revealed in their oscillation between performance, music and video; it also extends to these collaborative situations, which necessarily demand they constantly switch roles between the creator, director and performer, thereby constantly negotiating power relationships. In the performance Our Teeth Will Be Snow White, 2007, fragmented words and sentences were projected onto a collage of media images. The sound of the deconstructed words was used to prioritise the basic act of communication, liquidating the discursive element of language. Orchestrated by Ha za vu zu, the performances were highly rehearsed, leaving no room for improvisation. There was thus an incongruity between the cacophonic, quasi-connotative, accessible sounds and exclamations, and the amount of preparation involved in the performances.

All art begins with a critique: a critique of the self, the self as a reflection of society. In this context, Asli Sungu’s video works are a subtle comment on the projected expectations of others on the individual. In order to reflect on this weighty burden, the artist starts from the inner self. She is usually the protagonist of her videos, for which she braves disappointing experiences. Her double video installation Just Like Mother, Just Like Father, 2006, illustrates her parents’ projections of their desires of how she should be. The artist asks both parents, individually, to dress her, make her up and do her hair as they would wish. The disparity between the artist’s own style and the two different styles chosen by her parents is striking. By highlighting the projected expectations within a family milieu, she comments on diverse projections on the individual in the social context.

Investigations into socio-behavioural patterns are also a recurring feature of Nasan Tur’s works, which utilise photography, video, installations, performance and interventions. Tur’s interventions, which he or other protagonists perform, concentrate on planned but unusual acts. They usually take place in a public space and need the viewer’s active participation to generate meaning. His work can be seen as a proposition to imagine and realise the implausible, when the daily routine of things becomes interrupted or expanded endlessly. Backpacks, 2007, is a work composed of several backpacks, each filled with tools appropriate for public speaking, cooking, demonstrations, sabotage and for fans as the artist classifies them. Tur puts the materials at the audience’s disposal and allows them to decide by themselves how to use the backpacks. While the packs stand as objects in the exhibition space, it is their utilisation by the audience that brings them to life.
Asli Cavusoglu, <i>Steve,
Macy, Gabriel, Michael,
Donna, Ally and the
Others</i>, 2006
Asli Cavusoglu, Steve, Macy, Gabriel, Michael, Donna, Ally and the Others, 2006
Asli Cavusoglu,<i> In
Patagonia after Bruce
Chatwin</i>, 2008
Asli Cavusoglu, In Patagonia after Bruce Chatwin, 2008
Asli Sungu,
<i>Just like mother, just
Like father</i>, 2006
Asli Sungu, Just like mother, just Like father, 2006
Ali Kazma, <i>Obstructions:
Rolling Mills</i>,
Ali Kazma, Obstructions: Rolling Mills, 2007
Ali Kazma,
<i>Obstructions: Household
Goods Factory</i>,
Ali Kazma, Obstructions: Household Goods Factory, 2008
Egrikavuk, <i>Snapshot</i>,
Isil Egrikavuk, Snapshot, 2007
Emre Hüner,
<i>Panoptikon</i>, 2005
Emre Hüner, Panoptikon, 2005
Banu Cennetoglu, <i>Scary Asian Men</i>,
Banu Cennetoglu, Scary Asian Men, 2005
Za vu Zu, exhibition in
Lokaal 01, 2008 (Lokaal
01, Antwerp, Belgium
Ha Za vu Zu, exhibition in Lokaal 01, 2008 (Lokaal 01, Antwerp, Belgium
Banu Cennetoglu, <i>Are there any
palm tres in grozny?</i>,
Banu Cennetoglu, Are there any palm tres in grozny?, 2005
Ha Za Vu Zu,
<i>Our Teeth Will Be
Snow White</i>, 2007 (10th
International Istanbul
Ha Za Vu Zu, Our Teeth Will Be Snow White, 2007 (10th International Istanbul Biennial)
Ha Za vu Zu, <i>Dog Choir</i>,
2007 (Karsi Sanat Gallery,
Ha Za vu Zu, Dog Choir, 2007 (Karsi Sanat Gallery, Istanbul)

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