Walker has exhibited widely in the US, and at 27 (she’s now 44) became the youngest person ever to receive the prestigious MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grant” scholarship. But she has also caused controversy. Exhibitions of her work often provoke strong feelings: staff at a library in Newark, New Jersey, recently reacted with outrage when one of her drawings was displayed there, prompting the head librarian to cover it up. And back when she received the MacArthur grant, she was lambasted by several older African-American artists, including Betye Saar and Howardena Pindell. “There were two strains of criticism,” Walker says. “One was about the work, and who was looking at it, and me feeding into the viewing audience’s preconceived ideas about black people. And the other was that I was just some highfalutin so-and-so.”
Kara Walker is an African American artist who works across many media, exploring controversial themes of race, gender, sexuality, and violence. She is best known for her appropriation of the silhouette, which she has used in room-sized installations, sculptures, and smaller works on paper.
In her installations, film, wall texts, and drawings, Kara Walker uses imagery that seems, at first, old fashioned and quite charming – thus the title of her Slavery! Slavery! Presenting a GRAND and LIFE LIKE Panaromic Journey İnto Picturesque Southern Slavery or “Life at ‘Ol’ Virginny’s Hole’ (Sketches From Plantation Life).” See the Peculiar Institution as Never Before! All Cut from Black Paper by the Able Hand of Kara Elizabeth Walker, an Emancipated Negress and a Leader in Her Cause (1997).
Adapting vignettes of working life and leisure from Eastman Johnson’s 1859 painting Old Kentucky Home – Negro Life at the South, this 85-foot-wide mural is laced with acts oppressive and erotic,showing the labor and sexual economies of the antebellum South to be two sides of the same human coin. Of her favorite technique, Walker says: “The silhouette says a lot with very little information,but that’s also what the stereotype does. So l saw the silhouette and the stereotype as linked.” Her work is dedicated to no-holds-barred attack upon stereotypes, including those that would constrain the aggressiveness of black Americans in the name of avoiding conformity to those very stereotypes. It has, as a result, been extremely controversial, not least among other African-American artists”
Kara Walker is an artist painting dramatic murals that attempt to make permanent the most striking clichés regarding black children, poets and reckless slaves in the age of slavery. Her female figures especially are depicted in poses that are sexually degrading and disturbing. Walker presents these stories as cut-out shadow pictures that intentionally reference their inspirations such the Mother Goose illustrations or the shadow portraits of the Victorian era. This format preference by the artist creates a specific kind of disconnection between the nasty content of the pictures and the form of presentation that has good associations. With discordant carelessness, Walker presents scenes that depict lynching, beating and rape. For example in Dance de la Nubienne Nouveaux (1998) a young slave girl dives into a witch’s cauldron with the enthusiasm of a circus performer. Other works emphasize sexual clichés such as a very big African man or an African woman with huge thighs. Still, these pictures imply a childish admiration towards chaos, anarchy and obscenity; instead of reflecting terror or anger. It’s a world in which all the obstacles towards a desired civilized act are removed; left behind are only the repulsive and the most degrading instincts. As an Afro-American herself, Walker is free to develop these pictures to a point no other white artist can. In her hands, clichés full of hatred turn into fertile fields that help evaluate the ways with which pictures can become means of control.
Walker’s works imply that the Afro-American body is a prisoner of systems of oppression. Also working on this subject, Lorna Simpson had first become renowned in the 1980s with her works that combined short texts with intentionally flattened photographs of black women. These “anti-portraits” showed only the backs of people and were usually presented as a series. The texts accompanying the pictures pointed out the invisibility of black women in American society by intentionally not telling us anything about the woman in the picture; and as such weren’t much more informing than sayings or widespread clichés such as “as black as coal” or “as beautiful as a picture”. In the work Guarded Conditions (1989), a series of pictures repeating the image of a black woman whose hands are tied behind her back were accompanied by the texts “sex attacks” and “skin attacks” that pointed out the double weakness of Afro-American women. In her later works, Simpson focused on body details in connection with the experiences of African Americans. She came up with quite clinical definitions regarding black hair, which had influenced a surprisingly wide range of academic literature as it’s a symbol of status in Afro-American identity. Her other works take the female body as their subject matter by focusing on objects such as high-heeled shoes. The emphasis here is on the skillful tricks utilized by women in the name of womanliness. Sometimes the body disappears entirely and appears only in mysterious passages and street scenes, as if to denote its absence. The body returns with videos such as Corridor (1993) which was filmed in both a room from the 17th century and a modernist house. This two-channel projection presents a narrative based on two young black women dressed in the clothes of two different periods, doing routine housework in accordance with the era they’re living in. When the two time periods are considered together, the emphasis is on how the models of behavior concerning gender don’t change even though the periods change.
Walker is at her most provocative when interrogating the stereotyping that defined race relations in the antebellum south, and still exists today. The largest room in her show is lined with “wall samplers”: the cut-out silhouettes that show figures engaged in violent or exaggerated acts: a man bending down to fellate an oversized phallus; a woman in a wide-skirted dress holding a severed head. The effect is to make us question not only the cultural representations of black people (there is, as Walker points out, a whiff of “minstrels and blackface” about some of the figures) but also our assumptions about how skin color defines anyone’s physical characteristics and behavior.
Walker sees a direct line between the racist historical attitudes she examines in her work and current events. She took a road trip last year with her daughter from Brooklyn, where she lives, to the southern states. They visited diners where the heads of old white men turned to give them “the 20-second stare”. They swam in a motel pool, watching the other (white) bathers suddenly vanish; Walker heard a small girl say to her father: “I thought there were no niggers here.”
Then there is the rise of the Tea Party movement, and the distasteful obsession with Barack Obama’s skin color. “There’s so much suspicion around having a biracial president,” she says, “around Obama’s presence on the world stage – the fact that the Tea Party gets coverage as anything other than a fringe group. There’s nothing Obama can say or do as a black man that they’re [willing] to hear.”
Walker is by now used to viewers being discomfited not only by the fact that her work dares to speak openly about race and identity, but that it may even be making fun of such viewers. “It makes people queasy,” she says. “And I like that queasy feeling.”
Art / Architecture. Two names. Without a doubt, names make it possible for us to talk about the phenomena in the world. Phenomena can not exist within the field of possibility of language and thought, unless they’re represented by certain names and concepts. On the other hand, as the aforementioned concepts turn into categories with clear boundaries and turn into objects, they begin to gain a presence free of the plurality of the phenomena they represent and become independent indicators. In this respect, they can sometimes easily beinstrumentalised by the dominant power structure. Moreover, the represented phenomena is also subjected to the effects of the power structure that the representations themselves are a part of, and thus their field of existence changes. We could say that this is the case with the two fields that we call Art and Architecture.
It wouldn’t be wrong to point out that art for a long time –especially here– has been considered a field of production that belongs to a higher culture. The fact that the products of this field –which are considered somewhat insignificant by those who don’t see themselves among the higher culture, unless these products have missions or pragmatical purposes,– are called “works of art” is maybe both a sign and a trigger of this situation. In this era, a “work of art” makes the boundaries between itself and the world in which it exists clearer, therefore turning itself into an object; physically as well as culturally and mentally. The relationship between this object and space is founded on a kind of independent “container”; a Platonic understanding of space in which works of art are objects within this space. From the beginning a work of art is pictured with the assumption of such a relation to space; and space is imagined as a neutral background that doesn’t interfere with that object as much as possible, leaving it alone, letting it be. As a matter of fact, this situation is considered normal to such an extent that anything that doesn’t comply with this rule brings to mind the question “is the space getting ahead of the object?”. This question turns into a cliché as it’s repeated, and becomes one of the obstacles against rethinking the relationship between space and art work.
Considering the current situation, even calling art products just “works” instead of “works of art” seems to take the halo regarding the higher culture off the head of this field, even if a little. Art works of today are produced off a rich plurality that feeds on every kind of form, language and mental state. To blur the boundaries instead of making them sharper has become an attitude that’s emulated. Without a doubt, it’s not possible to consider this plurality completely positive. In this era of over production in which quantity as well as qualitative differentiation has increased, it becomes relatively hard to analyze, make sense of and relate to works, each of which has its own unique language. On the other hand, the field of art has become a market of merchandise in which speculative values are increasing consistently. Works are gaining recognition and even meaning according to their economical value in addition to –and maybe rather than– their artistic value. Still, this world of plurality has potential concerning rethinking the relationship between space and art product.
Presently it can be stated that the field of architecture shares in some ways a similar fate with the field of art. It’s obvious that the intense over-production in architecture as it does in art, is transforming our living spaces radically. Architecture has turned into a kind of business that produces real estate, directed mostly within the dynamics of consumer culture. It’s quite hard to stumble upon an example that possesses a statement, a sensibility, a deepened mentality, apart from the aim of profit. And once the rare examples that mind these qualities are superficially glorified, they may share the same fate with “bad” architecture, becoming just an image and losing their spatial values.
Space itself isn’t like Architecture. It resists turning into an image. The Arabic root of the Turkish word for Space (Mekân) is “kawn”, which means “to exist”. Space exists inside the state of man “being on earth”. It’s not an image, but an experience, a feeling that is hard to put into words… Each person exists within the same space with his own presence. He makes the space exist through that presence, experiences it, relates to it. Settles down on it, becomes a part, makes it a part of himself. When space is pictured this way, maybe its at the point closest to Art. The point in which both finally emerge as an aesthetic creation of man, and gain a meaning in the world of each single person.
Well then, in what kind of a union can art and architecture, or rather “work” and “space” be imagined? How can they relate to one another? Instead of answering these questions, let’s talk about two recent distinct experiments.
AkbankSanat, The Contemporary Artists Exhibition
The first is the “exhibition design” of the Contemporary Artists Exhibition that is to be opened in the AkbankSanat building on Istiklal street, 22nd May, 2013. The selection is the result of a contest. There’s no common concept or theme. Works aren’t brought together in order to relate to one another. What they have in common is that they’ve been selected by a jury and that they’re synchronous. They comprise various media: videos, objects, graphics, photographs… What’s expected from the architect is a space in which these works will synchronously take place.
The designed space aims to create a new cosmos that creates a feeling of togetherness, while actually allowing each work to exist in its own singular world. As it attempts to do that, it behaves differently from a usual gallery space with white walls; which is speculated to be the most neutral and recessive form of space that shows the work “as it is”. Here the works are placed in a space that is eager to relate to them. This cosmic space is installed in the AkbankSanat building as an object that doesn’t belong there, that has its own inner space. The moment you walk in, the space changes its color. The dominant orthogonal structure of the outside world gives way to an oblique structure created by a space that sometimes comes toward you, sometimes withdraws, turns into a ramp or a shell, collapses, sometimes ascends, appears as though it can make a new move every moment. From the instant the space houses the works, it begins to relate to them through its own interpretation. The works place themselves according to their forms, subjects, themes; and they shape the space. The space widens with respect to the viewing distance required by each work. It shrinks with regard to their sizes. It takes form “according to” each single work. It becomes specific. It seems as if the space and the works combine. They become the parts of a unity. On the other hand, the space helps each work in creating their own world. Rather than being a neutral exhibition space hosting different works every time, it behaves like a home to the works it unites with – to such an extent that, some works which would be expected to be docile and keep within their own limits in a neutral space, don’t hesitate to spread to the space, stick to it, intertwine their own boundaries with that of the space.
The 1st Istanbul Design Biennial, Musibet Exhibition
“Musibet” (Evil) exhibition which is one of the two main exhibitions of the first Istanbul Design Biennial organized in 2012, is installed in the temporary exhibition space on the ground floor of Istanbul Modern. The exhibition hosts 31 works that are based on the situations that arise in the city as a result of the hasty transformation in and around Istanbul.
This is a “space” rather than an exhibition. A self-contained existence. The moment somebody steps in, it closes its majestic door with an abrupt noise and slowly pulls the visitor in, detaching him from the place he came from. Here exist two separate states, which compete with one another, even though they exist together. The first is a very long corridor, with an unknown ending. Narrow, cramped, suffocating and dark. From time to time ominous sounds emanate from the depths, making one uneasy. A feeling of dreary… As though the concept of evil (musibet) that gave name to the exhibition is concentrated here, as if it became a physical object. In each room along the corridor, works that make visible the various forms of evil can be seen. What the works have in common is that they’re all offering a perspective, rather than a solution. Therefore, the works don’t consist of architectural projects or designs. They look more like the forms of artistic representation.
Unlike the expectation, the passage-like rooms of this dark labyrinth or rather this “prison”, aren’t dark at all. Each room, when entered, starts to “speak”. What’s told in these rooms illuminate the uncanniness outside. To understand and to tell… Because one can relate insomuch as he understands. It’s only possible to share, think about, move, correct or knock down, just to the extent of what one can tell. Each work inside forms such a language. They tell, ask, point out, reveal, express an opinion and look from the opposite side. Maybe that’s why they don’t let you enter the room easily. They scuffle. It’s only possible to enter the room with the help of two or three moves, wriggling as if coming out of a hole. But once we enter, we’re in the field of language. We can rest here and listen to what it has to tell.
There’s one last secret to this space: it’s neither a prison, nor the talkers are prisoners. Each room, through the things it tells, opens its door to another place. But it’s not the door itself that is opened, it’s rather its presence. And it’s not in this space, but somewhere else in time… In the mind of the viewer. And separate doors for each viewer…
In contrast to traditional art forms, installation art is an art form that does not contain an object of art independent of its environment, that is created for a specific space, that utilizes and explores the qualities of that space and that fundamentally requires the participation of the viewer. Installation could be realized in enclosed as well as open spaces. With its roots going as far back as conceptual art and even the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters in the beginning of the 20th century, installation, or installation art, is a hybrid style in contemporary art that is aided by architecture, performance and various other disciplines of visual art. As an art form that accentuates the stages of exhibition and presentation in its practice, installation is clearly defined and accepted in the 1970s and still remains amongst the most commonly practiced forms of art.
Roots: From Duchamp to Schwitters
With the first ready-made objects that he created, Marcel Duchamp was questioning the aesthetic competence that Western art has cultivated over centuries and the significance of the Genius that creates that aesthetic competence while paving the way for a new language in art that acquires meaning through the context of thought alone. As Rıfat Şahiner (2008: 35) points out; “When Marcel Duchamp first presented his Pissoir in 1917, an industrial object with a mechanical form that was used every day, it created a scandal. In his act Duchamp was not aiming at creating a new artistic value. Perhaps he wanted to make everyone an artist, but what he really wanted was to destroy the sacredness of ‘art’ that has attained a near religious value. If the industry has the power and technique to implement ‘mimesis’1 better than him, then there was no longer the artist who was perceived as a ‘genius’ because he depicts the divine image in the most convincing way.”
During that time, with an ingenious inspiration, Duchamp came up with the found objects that were going to have a highly significant place in contemporary art. Thus, the 1913 “Bicycle Wheel” (model, Museum of Modern Art, New York) was nothing more than an ordinary bicycle wheel. The 1914 piece “Pharmacy” was again created by adding two figures resembling medicine bottles to a print of a winter landscape. It took almost 40 years to appreciate that ready-made objects were not only there to ridicule the extreme significance-laden works of art, but bear a positive value of their own. With the emergence of ready-made objects, contemporary art was transformed into a synthesis of creativity and criticism. As Hasan Bülent Kahraman (2005) points out: “The repeated use of concepts like memory, individuality, identity, belonging in 20th century created the foundation of the current practices in art and the New York pop movement. In short, in 20th century, to put it in a general way, the father of art that was not on canvas, was Duchamp… Western art progresses in two major directions. The existential reality of man, his ‘dark’ side is examined in works produced in one of these directions. Generally speaking, the accumulation of Renaissance painting and the works deliberating on the ‘human condition’ are in this direction. The other domain develops towards the ontology of the work of art. Questions like; what is art, where does the reality of the artwork begin, in short, investigations and questioning of the relationship between art and philosophy remain within the boundaries of this domain. Perhaps one of the main issues of every era and every artist is to provide viable answers to these questions.”
Duchamp sent one of the most famous ready-made objects, a porcelain urinal by the Mott Works company in New York, in 1917 signed ‘R. Mutt’, to an exhibition. Although the exhibition was open to all, the organizing committee could not afford to exhibit this piece; this ready-made object was held at exhibition space but not shown to the public. The existence of this piece was recorded by a photograph taken by a friend of Duchamp, photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. From the title selected for this object (Fountain) and from its position we understand that the intention of this piece was altered. Another significant transformation that Duchamp was intending was the relationship between the artist/art object/public. Instead of choosing a certain material based on a motivation or an instinct and giving it a meaning through the use of creativity and mastery the artist was just selecting an object. And as Duchamp emphasizes, he was selecting this object randomly. This object was not a new and unique article but an ordinary, mass produced object. The only thing that was new about this object was the new location provided by the artist and the transformation of meaning brought about by an allusion (the signature of the artist or any other addition could have contributed towards this end as well; the painterly signature ‘R. Mutt’ had provided this ordinary, cold piece with a certain characteristic). Thus, the viewer was deprived of a satisfaction that he thought he could expect from art, and instead of the customary choice of embracing or disapproving a work of art the viewer was forced to question whether the exhibit is a work of art or not. With this, the contribution of the artist – if it could be called a contribution – was reduced to the least possible extent and the viewer was confronted with the problem of the loss of all sorts of cultural values. And Duchamp was going to maintain this intellectual pressure on art a great deal further.
This intellectual pressure was also a revolt against the social context of Western art which was considered to be aesthetically founded on bourgeoisie. In the same period the devastating effects of World War I would result in the emergence of many other Avant-garde movements, nihilist movements such as the Dadaists2 would exhibit a parallel stance to the field of discourse of Duchamp. This literally suggests a new artistic language. On the other hand, German painter and graphic artist Schwitters seeks to combine different artistic movements in his works. He was writing poetry alongside his collages, and producing typographic and architectural pieces. Recruited in the army in 1917, Schwitters was employed in the offices before becoming a workshop painter in an iron factory. In the same year he broke off from the academic style and turned to abstract painting. During this period, he produced the art work that was a mixture of expressionist and futurist tendencies, titled Abstraktion Nr.11 (Die Gewalten) (Abstract Painting No.11, 1917). In close contact with Herwarth Walden gallery and its magazine Der Sturm (The Storm), Schwitters produced his first collages during the winter months of 1918/19. He chose the title MERZpicture for one of these works. He cut out this word from an advertisement of the KOMMERZ-UND PRIVAT BANK (Trade and Finance Bank). Confiscated during the Third Reich, and since then missing, this picture was an example symbolizing the aim of Schwitters. He aimed at lightening up the overload of content in art and to reduce it to an impetus of pure composition. In doing so, he persistently divorced himself from traditional oil painting. “I take any material whatsoever if the picture demands it.” So, in Thirty-One (1920), he used the daily ads pages of a newspaper, the lid of a can, round cardboard discs and pieces of fabric. Without considering himself a Dadaist, Schwitters was close friends with the representatives of the Dada Groups in Zurich (Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp) and Berlin (Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höck). When he made public posters for the anthem-like love poem called Ode to Anna BIum, written with words, sounds and associations that was formed like a theatre play, in 1919, he caused a sensation. Inspired by a writing on the fence around a construction site, he called this work MERZpoem.
Schwitters started designing advertisements and booklets, during early 1920s. Alongside classical portraits and landscapes he secured his livelihood with these works. These were also responding to his desire to establishing a relationship between “all the objects in the world” with MERZart. Unlike most of the artists belonging to the Berlin Dada Group, Schwitters was not interested in politics, which led to a growing alienation between them and became apparent in their art, too. Influenced by Theo van Doesburg and his “Stijl” theory, Schwitters gave up his colorful Dada montages that he was producing until then, and started producing constructivist compositions. His artworks like MERZpicture 1922 are characterized by strict vertically and horizontally classified lining up (regional lining up) of surfaces.
Around the same period, Schwitters produced reliefs like Die Breile Schnurchel (1923) that indicated his Dadaist roots. At that time Schwitters began working on the MERZbau (MERZ construction) aimed as a symbol of his total artwork which was later destroyed during World War II. Schwitters transformed the interior of his house into a walk-in sculpture with a wide variety of objects he placed inside. He called the central space, Kathedrale des erotischen Elends (KdeE) (Cathedral of Erotic Poverty). These were the pioneers in the art of installation.
Although the terms of assemblage3 and environment were used by artists in the United States and Europe of 1960s for the materials brought together in a specific space, the term installation was only used with reference to the way works were exhibited, for example, in defining how and in what order the paintings were hung on the walls. In time, through an emerging awareness of the gallery space and a realization that artworks could not be observed/experienced independent of the space in which they stand, the way in which works are placed and the space itself started to gain significance. Installation art shares the same origins with the Assemblages and Happenings in the early 1960s. At that time, the term “environment” was used to describe the tableaux of funk artist Ed Kienholz, Pop artists George Segal, Claes Oldenburg and Tom Wesselmann’s habitable assemblages, as well as the happenings of Allan Kaprow, Jim Dine, Red Grooms and others. These environments were merging with the space around them, and in a clear negation of traditional artistic practice the viewers were contained in the works of art. These works with an expansive and inclusive nature, were considered not as guardians of a fixed meaning, but as catalysts for new ideas.
This kind of art based on fluidity and provocation became instantly popular: since 1960s installation was developed by various artists in different ways. The trend was certainly not limited to a single country. In 1958 the Nouveau Réaliste artist Yves Klein exhibited an empty gallery space in Paris, with the title, Le Vide (Emptiness): the response came from another Nouveau Réaliste artist Arman two years later, who filled the same gallery with rubbish and called it Le Plein (Full). The “Environments, Situations, Spaces” exhibition in 1961, at Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, was another show in those early days with its subject matter focusing on what shall be considered installation art.
The idea of ‘the work of art as environment’ in 1960s, brought about the expectation that the viewer not only looks at a work of art, but lives in it as he lives in the world, and at times even becomes part of it. One of the key people in this field is Robert Smithson. He has come up with a distinction between sites (a specific location at a larger space) and non-sites (the representation of a site in a gallery through photographs, maps, and a variety of materials and documents). This distinction was important, because although land-artists such as Smithson, Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, James Turrel, Walter de Maria and others worked outside the gallery space, their works ended up depending on the framework of the system provided by the gallery. Installation soon expanded widely to cover a diverse range of artworks. Temporary works such as Christo and Jeanne Claude’s famous packages are examples of this diversity. An early work of Christo’s, Rideau de Fer (Iron Curtain), was made in response to the Berlin Wall erected in 1961, and revealed the accurate power of installation art. On the night of June 27th, 1962, 240 brightly colored barrels were transformed into a barricade shutting down Rue Visconti. This was a stunningly beautiful visual action and a strong political demonstration. On the other hand installations were often prepared for specific exhibitions. Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely and Finnish artist Per Olof Ultvedt’s enormous installation Hon (“female pronoun” in Swedish) for the Moderna Muset in Stockholm, in 1966, is an example. The giant pregnant woman reclining on the ground between whose legs the viewers wandered, featured a movie theatre, a bar, a lovers’ corner and an entertainment park complete with hosts welcoming the visitors.
Since the 1970s, commercial galleries and alternative spaces all around the world supported the art of installation. Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, Royal Academy of Art in London and other major museums hosted exhibitions on the art of installation. Today, alongside everyday objects and natural materials, video, sound, performance, computers and the internet are also utilized in installations. Initially, a radical form of making art, installation was fully recognized by museums and galleries since the early 1980s, and became the dominant art form in the late 20th century, a position which it still maintains. Artists making video or sound art or those pursuing a conceptual path, such as Gabriel Orozco and Juan Munoz were designing installations too. These could be artworks, such as the autobiographical works of Tracey Emin who is well known in Turkey, or works like Christian Boltanski, Sophie Calle and Ilya Kabakov’s that bring to mind the imaginary lives of others. And again, could involve interventions to architectural spaces like Gordon Matta-Clark does to buildings. In 1990, a museum dedicated to installations was established in London.
Installations could be site-specific, as well as made for various different venues. Maurizio Cattelan’s La Nona Ora (the ninth hour) was first conceived for a museum exhibition in Basel, and when it was set up again next year for the “Apocalypse” at the Royal Academy of Art in London it was still equally effective. The “humor”, the “pathos” and the ambiguous uncertainty of the life-size wax figure, the torn ceiling, the red carpet and the velvet ropes were bringing up the same issues (blindness of faith, the nature of miracles and the glory and power of religion and the arts) and ensuring a new installation. Darren Almond’s Shelter in the same exhibition was pointing at another actual place: Auschwitz. The sculpture-like reproductions of the actual bus stops outside the prison camps were going to be installed at the same place after the original works were moved to another exhibition in Berlin at the end of the show. The transportation of these materials was a powerful reminder of the continuity of the routine of everyday life outside that place where one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century were witnessed.
Installation has proved to be a genre full of potential for activist artists such as Robert Gober, Mona Hatoum and Barbara Kruger. Kruger’s installation at Mary Bone Gallery in New York, in 1991, was covering the walls, the ceiling and the floor with texts and images about the violence against women and minorities, besieging the viewers and urging them to scream and shout.
During 1980s and 1990s installation artists were inclined towards mixing different media and styles in the same work. At first sight these works seemed to be made up of detached pieces although there was a principal theme that brought them together. Canadian Claude Simard had collected the elements of figurative paintings, sculptures, objects and performances in a single show. Composing exhibitions that are worthy of Duchamp in that they are not limited by a single media or a style, Simard utilized any means necessary while working on his projects founded on his own memory, identity, autobiography and history; and in the article titled “The Web of Memory” in 1996 he was stating that:
“…while I personally would be happy to expunge my childhood memories, with all their traumas, my childhood will simply not go away. And to some extent my art is a series of devices I construct to appease a rather spoiled inner child…”
During the 2000s, installation has continued to be an effective means of expression both in Turkey and throughout the rest of the world in line with the new realities of a multi-centered globe. It is reaching large audiences especially in effective organization, such as the Biennials of Venice and Istanbul. Born in Istanbul and living in Paris, Sarkis is considered to be one of the most important installation artists in Turkey and in the World and he continues producing contemporary works.
In the beginning of 21st century, the art of installation has gained a stable position as one of the main genres of producing works of art. In fact, as the practice of installation evolves, its flexibility and the diversity of the work it covers has transformed it from being a specific term into a generic one. This hybrid genre deals with contemporary issues utilizing unlimited methods and materials, and endless layers of thought, expressed within a spatial limitation. In this respect, the artist who has to deal with the infinite freedom of expression on the one hand, and the specific reality of the restricted space on the other is somewhat forced to be sincere. Thus, installation could be considered to be one of the most effective forms of art that exist in our age.
Arter, where I took shelter from Istiklal Street’s huddled and noisy state, is hosting a silent looking exhibition, housing wildest of storms inside: “Envy, Enmity, Embarrasment.”
Curated by Emre Baykal, the exhibition features works of Selim Birsel, Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, CANAN, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Merve Ertufan & Johanna Adebäck, Nilbar Güreş, Berat Işık, Şener Özmen, Yusuf Sevinçli, Erdem Taşdelen, Hale Tenger and Mahir Yavuz.
One of the most sensational pieces seem to be deliberately placed at the entrance of Arter. “I know people like this III – Boyle Tanidiklarim Var III” by Hale Tenger, so to speak displays a radiogram of entire Turkey. And within this labyrinth, serving as an archival passage, we find; the murdered journalists, events of September 6th-7th, Saturday Mothers and many more stains of Turkey’s story… Dated from recent to past, you end up buried in the depths of history. As this happens, though, you remember less and perhaps the overall effect loses its strength.
Two poles entwined from the ground to the ceiling follow the tremor you feel at the end of this labyrinth. This piece, the “Bayragindan Kacan Direk – The Pole that ran away from its Flag” is by Şener Özmen. It is a question with no answer – why these two flagless poles are entwined. Although you get the feeling of a friendly hug at the start, the work also resembles two enemies burning with enmitiy.
The photography exhibition “Put” by Yusuf Sevinçli also has an interesting side. We see photographs of vandalized statues and monuments found in public sphere. It of course seems as an attempt to documentation at start, yet the artist’s real intent is to cause reactions to this act.
Another work by Hera Büyüktaşcıyan upstairs is “Ada-The Island”. A carpet, a chair and a mound under the carpet. The light on the carpet and the nostalgic appearance of the chair takes the viewer through a travel in time. The mound is, on the other hand, both interesting and perhaps frightening.
One of the most interesting pieces in the exhibition is by CANAN. When the words “Enmity” and “Disgrace” are used, we immediately think of a duality. We see these dualities and their reflections/replications in works of CANAN in the exhibition. “Yalvaririm Bana Asktan Soz Etme – I Beg You, do not Speak of Love” placed in a room by itself, displays porn posters from titles of 70’s. In the middle of the room, inside a white sphere there sits a bathrobe. Movie stars of the time ornament the walls. Some already passed away and some left the country. In another piece by CANAN, “Seffaf Oda – Transparent Room” we see a female body, subjected to violence. It is undeniable that these two evoke solidarity, through female body.
As part of the Komet exhibition series for November, “They Left Without Me!” will be on display between Nov 1, 2011 and Dec 17, 2011 at ALAN Istanbul.
High resolution photographs and video work are brought together as in this installation that takes shape completely depending on the features of the venue itself. The images and videos that are created on a level that corresponds to the artist’s previous work as well as current events invite the audience along with Komet to a counterproductive process of transmission. This creates a common aura of experience that is composed of both the artist’s personal backstory and artistic existence, as well as the cultural, social and political subsconscious that he is a part of.
The relationship between the attractive nature of Komet’s provocative, childish and humorous aura and the condensed features of the multilayered subtext of the exhibition can be better understood over time. “They Left Without Me!” especially offers an opportunity to the younger audience to understand Komet’s unique place in contemporary art.
‘I know no more heart-rending reading than Shakespeare: what must a man have suffered to have such a need of being a Hanswurst!
Friedrich Nietzsche (Ecce Homo)
“Who are you?”
“I–I hardly know, sir, just at present–at least I know who I was when I got up this morning,
but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
The Komet exhibition series present us with the opportunity to develop a better mindset on the multifaceted artistic creations and events that took place in the artist’s life since the 1960s. The exhibition series have a unique mechanism unto themselves, and this displays features in the same vein as the works being exhibited. These mechanisms can be seen differently in all the venues, as they are shapen after the structural, administrational and social features of each venue individually, and on the other hand the relationships between them are further emphasized as they correlate to Komet’s past and present artistic productions. This anti-static setting, (such as fireworks going off simultaneously) in the city with openings that follow each other throughout the month of November is a true celebration of the artist’s situationist attitude, which is a quality inherited from his days in Paris.
The primary aspect of Komet and his art is that it is hard to pin down. Because it is tricky to the mind of the viewer and as you try to understand how his mind works, you also realize that you are walking on thin ice. From canvases to photographs, objects and videos, the artist makes use of different mediums and aims to establish a good relationship between himself and his audience, at times humorous, but always with a stern grip on reality. This is done through himself, or his view, and proves to be inviting on the surface, but deepens in terms of meaning quite rapidly, proving to be an arduous process of interactivity in truth.
But what is the reason for this? At this point we come to terms with the necessity that one has to accept this as part of Komet’s own existence and his artistic stance. Komet materializes this concept by letting this moniker take the place of his own name, which is in fact Gürkan Coşkun. Rather than being a person, Komet is an artistic entity that has become one with himself, immersed within. From that point of view, the creations and the man exhibit more than one form of existence, breaking into pieces and multiplying. It might be more useful to try and understand this through Lacan’s theorems. Lacan dismisses the subject as a person and states that it is impossible for one to be a whole and static subject. The subject has a void by nature and it can only be filled with fantasy. In that sense, the Thing that cannot be voiced through language is in actuality the inpermeable core of the Truth. At this very point, the makings that find a place for themselves within language through symbolism, also become an open expression of the impossibility of the subject itself. This is where the uniquie strategy and genius of Komet come in: “Komet”. This is where the modern individual, having failed to make a static existence replaces this failure with an artistic form of existence that goes beyond this notion of impossibility.
This provocative, humorous and chilish existence is only possible in the privileged space that is given to artists in our modern times. It isn’t hard to fathom the libidinal energy that this performance requires. Komet’s art first and foremost exhibits the social, political and communal background that he has, as well as all the suppressed and silenced sides of his personal experiences, and pays a visit to these concepts again. This of course is rooted in desire. It is this desire that places a 70 year old artist within the firing lines of communal antagonism and inner confrontations of the arts. This position necessitates a dense interactivity between Komet and his audience. And what comes out is true aesthetics in the relational sense.