Q: The art market booms. Art has arrived in the entertainment industry. At the same time the art work seems to be in an isolated situation. Does a curator nowadays still have the possibility to really say something, to communicate what a work of art is about?
ÖD: This question was also raised during the workshop I just participated at the berlin biennial. Chuz Martinez from the Frankfurter Kunstverein pointed out that we need a new, as she said, “architecture of interpretation”. If we look at the documenta for example, the curators really tried to say something, to make a statement. However abstract their motifs were, it showed again that we need new means of interpretation. The tools we have in mind are obviously not working anymore.
Q: How could art help politics?
ÖD: We have a big silent majority which is not represented in the process of decision making, as most decisions are made by an elite.
Q: Is the contemporary art scene in any way aware of this problem of lack of communication? If you look at documenta XII and the sort of isolated notion of the “migration of forms”, there was a huge lack of those “translation techniques” in their curatorial practice. Do you think that there is a real chance to establish a different approach right now?
ÖD: Yes, one realizes a certain urgency in terms of a new terminology. We are currently all looking at the 60ies, 70ies, and we are all discussing the legacy of modernism, but unfortunately – and I am not talking about the documenta but in general – it currently all ends up in only giving quotations. Look at the press bulletins, look at e-flux: there should be a statistics made that would show the big number of quotations that is used and how they are actually related or not related to the conceptual framework and choice of the artists. This discourse has become somewhat ornamental, something like a faked discourse. At the workshop at the berlin biennial we as well talked about this problem.
Q: Yes, and what do they quote? Why became modernism the key obsession of the art system, why for example this immense sort of monument deconstruction in the Berlin National Gallery at the berlin biennal? Elena Filipovic and Adam Szymczyk had all the tools on curatorial matter to do something. Their situation was privileged. Their toolbox was well sorted. A perfect situation for a perfect run. And then, as a sort of a collaboration between the artists and the curators, they are using these tools only to deconstruct modernism...
ÖD: I think we keep going back to certain topics and quotations because of the lack of new terminologies. But then how can we start to develop them? We may speculate that this deconstruction may mark the end of modernism oriented exhibitions. Because the curators look after the question of ‘form’, the deconstruction happens through a fundamental modernist aesthetics problematics. The techniques of deconstruction have been shaped in the form of a series of aesthetical fluctuations, not trying to find a way out really or providing answers. This may sometimes be quite ambiguous for people like me, though I appreciate the labour in the background, who thinks that today is the time for making statements and taking positions, not escaping from them.
Q: Do you think that modernism, as a reference for a certain type of democratic, of utopian ideas, is still the right address for the questions of today? I did like some of these references in former exhibitions when it was in a more intimidate style – but here, it more seemed to be something as an obsession to connect all these contemporary questions with modernism and its ideology.
ÖD: My experience here is different, maybe because of my cultural context, but in terms of thinking and producing, as an individual I still am confronted with all these contradictions coming from Turkish modernism. So maybe these references are much more obvious to me. I come from a country where there is a so called “democracy”, where the republic is something like eighty years old, where this so called “modernism” is developing itself through a reconstruction of memory, in which a certain Western art history or modernist aesthetic legacy was not build within but brought to. The situation is then that the image was always there before the discourse. So “modernism” is once an ephemeral thing, but then, it as well makes people stop and not act, certain histories of modernism are blocking people.
Q: This is then another translation problem: One has to intermediate the relevance, not just the form.
ÖD: Yes and it is very relevant for me. All the problems we are experiencing at the moment, secularization, polarization, are coming from there. I try to position myself here. Nowadays, I can touch urgently to some topics, but that is also because I am part of a younger generation of curators. I can work in a field that didn’t exist 20 years ago – some people worked over the art scene in Istanbul very hard to initiate so that people today can act and work much more connected with an extended mobility. And it is now much more possible to develop alternative projects and positions. And that is also something I learned from the workshop at the berlin biennial: In my view, institutions can not provide different models anymore, so for my generation, everybody tries to work as independent as possible. Institutional experience is still very relevant and important but only as something to learn, to learn what is theoretically and practically going on inside after reading theories of institutional critique and then to break it. That is why I went to work for Generali Foundation and will go to Dia Foundation next year.
Q: Are then those workshops for curators, as the one you just visited still needed?
ÖD: It was very important to see what is happening worldwide. It confirmed my belief, that important discussions are not from Europe but from the margins, from Jakarta, Cape Town, Alexandria. Interesting projects are all initiated by people from outside of ‘Western Europe’, for example from Maria Hlavajova from Slovakia who is now working as the artistic director of bak in Utrecht. The European network is very good but when you look at it, there is a certain spectacle going on. There are still important discussions but if you are not in this network you can pose different questions to those discussions. You can as well experience this in Berlin, the discussion round I was listening to in some gallery yesterday was so flat, meaning eurocentristic and exoticizing. Berlin is important as it brings people together, but we still have to see how it will develop. It has become one of those cities of the “spectacle”. The urgent productions come from the margins, even in Europe itself there are those margins, from people who work in Cape Town, Jakarta, in alternative platforms and with different techniques.
Q: Concerning this urge for a change in curatorial practice and a new awareness for translation needs, can you refer to examples, where a first step is taken to explore new strategies and techniques?
ÖD: One example is “LiminalSpaces”, a joint project by the Palestinian Association of Contemporary Art, the Israelian Digital Art Lab in Holon and the Berlin University of the Arts. For this project, the director of Digital Art Lab, Galit Eilat, brought together artists, curators, researchers, and focused not only on the occupation in Palestine but also in Israel itself and tried to search for moments of transparency in a situation of heavy enmity, which is there in Israel at the moment. What I find interesting is that sort of collective work, to mix people together who have a different background. It is not only my opinion, there are a lot of people who were very excited by the development of the researching group. Another interesting project is “Be[com]ing Dutch”, curated by Charles Esche at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. Living in the Netherlands now for almost two months, I think it is important to think about the ways of thinking and belonging that are defined by a society, this refers also to assimilation, integration. In the Netherlands, you simply cannot live without becoming Dutch. Another project I can refer to is a lecture series project on the “post-secular” by Maria Hlavajova at bak. It examines critically to some of the concepts relating to emancipation and rationality that are foundational to secular projects, with its diverse genealogies in the West, in Europe and the US, and Asia, meaning in India and China, and especially within the contemporary art scene. And hearing Chus Martinez I realized that she is much more interested in developing unexpected uses of theory in contemporary curating. I cannot talk about certain curators, I am probably more interested in a certain methodology being used, in working together as collectively as possible, working with people and groups from very different backgrounds, to open up the information exchange as much as possible.