Merve Ünsal: Your production cannot be differentiated from the act of collecting in many respects in your works where you assemble photographs, and in a broader sense images, from different sources. Can you talk about how you transform the act of collecting as an artist?
Metehan Özcan: I am interested in the visualization of technical know-how or a fictional story and the transformation of this into a method of learning. Publications which served as sources of information for our generation (textbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, periodicals such as newspapers-magazines and even calendars), clarifying or obfuscating many things we were curious about, with definitions and illustrations, have become nearly dysfunctional today. Objects, identities and different states of existence. For example, Elele magazine had published birth photographs in its first issue, featuring uncensored and explicit images depicting the moment of birth (the magazine, which was published under the management of Çetin Emeç, positioned itself as “the magazine of young parents from the wedding table to pregnancy, and children from the cradle to puberty.”) Other examples that spring to mind at once: “What-How-Why Series”, providing answers to existentialist questions, reminiscent of elementary school social studies lessons; Home/Decoration magazines, exposing other homes and other lives to us; “The Encyclopedia of My Wife & Me”, in which we examined body diagrams; porn magazines which we found while secretly rummaging through drawers at our house, displaying the same bodies in a much different sense; and Chef Necip’s cookbook, flaunting photographs of dead animals prepared for eating. These photographs and images, printed before the wide scale rise of digital media and the consequent proliferation of images, served as “references” that were viewed time and again, due to their relative scarcity and durability. Looking at an atlas before learning how to read and write was different from looking at the same atlas at elementary school or junior high school. As time passes, not only does one change, but also borders and our relationship with objects and places do not remain the same.
In 2010, at the Vacuum exhibition, I displayed abandoned indoor spaces and objects in conjunction with each other. The first works from the Illustrated Information series that I shared at the Editions exhibition held at the Elipsis Gallery last year were comprised of spatial triptychs. Suffice to say, my first attempts for this exhibition started with the question of “what would happen if I were to communicate with the photographs I collected in time instead of simply saving them?”
I was printing images I took or found, at the same dimensions, and establishing different juxtapositions, and I was creating stories without an author by dissolving myself in them. However, I then noticed that I was behaving very restrictive in terms of form. So, I started to look for ways of combining and mixing images on pages that already had photographs printed on them. I set aside this project after a few unsuccessful attempts, but it was reignited as a result of our dialog with Orhan Cem Çetin and his series, Openers, displayed as part of his Reality Terror exhibition. (Çetin printed photographs of houses with shuttered windows he took in the South East on pages containing militarist texts.).
The pages I have printed photographs on and displayed at this exhibition are from reference books published between 1930-1960, the heyday of the Modernist design approach. At times they include projects with a specific designer, and at others different anonymous indoor projects (Architect’s House, Photographer’s Studio or Guest Room, etc). When I transfer daily objects, randomly collected portraits and photographs of spaces I took onto these idealized statements and representations, purity is shattered and the resulting confusion brings about new subjectivities.
M.Ü: In all your works at the exhibition, even though the drive to collect and the drive to compile merge with each other, it is possible to classify the works into groups. Both in terms of source materials and the state they come into existence. Can you expand on the methods and differences in your works after the Illustrated Encyclopedia?
M.Ö: The starting point of the exhibition is the Illustrated Information series displayed in Editions in 2012, after which the exhibition was named after. I had produced works that were comprised of objects and spaces with reference to the way a child who does not know the alphabet makes sense of the unfamiliar series of letters in an encyclopedia, a method that is contrast to the method of alphabetic juxtaposition. This was followed by the A series for which I printed photographs I collected or took, on book pages containing spatial representations and architectural projects. The resulting confusion, that is not knowing which images were already printed on the page beforehand and which images were added afterwards, is a deliberate decision. The B series, which I have produced by juxtaposing experiences about the contradiction of indoors-outdoors with representations and personal photographs, was composed of multi-fragments overlapping on each other. Finally the C series, comprised of 78 equidistantly placed photographs, were representations of space I took as if I was returning to my initial starting point. This series included frames of public spaces ingrained in the collective memory, such as schools, hospitals, banks, mass housing, etc. Although there is a tight layout here, there is fragmentation instead of adjacency. Many frames depicting the same space are scattered around. Various derivatives of the houses built by the Cooperative of Central Bank Houses in Ankara, the abandoned state of the Noyan Apartment in Erenköy and the empty space formed in its place after its demolition; filled and empty states of the Youth Park whose memory was refreshed with the water; the expunged murals of the Greek Elementary School which were painted over for the Design Biennial with white paint; the mansion of Edouard Huguenin who started working as the Assistant Director of Baghdad Railroads in 1908 and the Haydarpaşa Terminal which was his workplace that he commuted to every morning. Their annihilation impacts not only personal memories but also collective norms and meanings. Such a large-scale demolition makes me feel like it is a shame to pronounce the names of these buildings and to mythologize them in this interview. For example, the silos next to the Haydarpaşa Terminal are as important for me as the terminal itself. And what is this nostalgia for that is experienced before the actual demolition?