Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Searching for Another Country- Exhibition publication text

Searching for Another Country

“Love is another country he didn’t know”
James Baldwin
“… Ontologies of the present demand archaeologies of future, not forecasts of the past.”
Frederic Jameson
I am a 31 year old woman, born in Ankara Turkey. I have been developing myself as curator and writer in the field of contemporary arts. I work and travel in different European countries such as Sweden, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. I did field trips to Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Qatar to connect to the region Turkey has always wanted to belong to. Additionally, I worked at a well-known art institution in New York to acquire more institutional capabilities. And now I am here in Stuttgart having received a Rave scholarship to realize the first Kulturtransfers project at ifa.
I was inspired to make such an introduction having listened to Beatriz Colomina’s lecture recently held in Akademie Schloss Solitude’s “Design of the (In-)Human conference” on the topic of the “Post-Human Architect”. Colomina took the audience on a tour with Le Corbusier travelling around on the plane seated in his regular window seat numbered 5; she read some of his notes regarding the architecture of the aeroplane, the way he connected himself with the world and how this model of thinking opened the way global architects work today developing different projects worldwide. Le Corbusier’s attitude in relating himself to the world is very colonial on the one hand. However, on the other hand it defines the way not only architects but also many cultural producers work today. After the talk a friend reminded me of a status update I made on Facebook one day, “I fly therefore I am”. Precarious we may be, that’s how we work today as part of networks; we fly, we skype, we get our worldly updates online, we make status updates on Facebook, we tweet, we write, read and comment in the blogosphere.
We seem to be so connected to each other and to everywhere, so why do we still need cultures to be transferred and exchanged in our global world? A prolific writer and lecturer working on multiculturalism among many other things, Kenan Malik, says the separation of cultures, the production of difference become even more of a mass product than an expensive Starbucks latte in global times. Does contemporary art have an educational mission here in the process of transfer and exchange? In this state, can we really work as artists, curators, writers without being read through our identities, our backgrounds, where we come from? We are all involved in this process of difference production in the cultural field.
To see culture production as separate from politics is naive. The affinities have become even stronger as the potential of culture in the accumulation of global capital is discovered. The examples range from the proliferation of biennials around the world promoted by city administrators and bureaucrats to European Cultural Capital projects and to the construction of the island of Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi hosting the new Guggenheim and Louvre museums. For some theorists, globalization is more a narrative than a reality that organizes not only our history but also our contemporary life. As a clear and coherent process, it is ideology. For this reason, the above mentioned questions cannot be answered without touching on the issues of contemporary, globalization ideology, the critiques of multiculturalism, the production of difference as an ideological tool.
In an article written as reaction to the discussion of accepting sheriat as a viable law form for Muslim people in Britain, Kenan Malik wittily clarifies a large picture of the difference discourse led by multiculturalists. While saying humans as culture bearing creatures they are to view as social, transformative beings; humans having to bear a particular culture disavows such a transformative capacity: “It implies that every human being is so shaped by a particular culture that to change or undermine that culture would be to undermine the very dignity of that individual.” He argues that multiculturalism becomes no less than old-fashioned than racism in this respect.
Malik’s view presents one side of the picture while a very recent referendum in Switzerland banning the constructions of minarets clarifies another. 57 percent is a victory for the rightist Swiss People’s Party and another small religious party who proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets to the constitution that guarantees the freedom of religion. An article in the New York Times says “The result came after a controversial campaign that played aggressively on the same fears of Muslim immigration and the spread of Islamic values that already resonate in other European countries.” One of the aggressive strategies used by SPP was an interactive computer game called „Minarett-Attack”.
The result of the referendum is not a surprise but a continuation of different cases we have heard around Europe recently. Things flow in circulation, but it seems that new divisions are created. Populism has been moving on a dangerous track. Every now and then we come across a new articulation of fundamentalism and nationalism developed as a reaction to the fluidity of the globe. Minorities, immigrants become targets of psychological and physical violence around the globe. In Europe, many integration policies still depend on the fact that people to be integrated are different. The multiculturalist valorization of difference seems to be concerned exclusively about different ethnic and cultural values; but in the end it leads to thinking of human groups in fixed terms. Where the production of difference becomes an ideological tool, we become more and more divided. Differences do not lie side-by-side waiting to be inspected by us, says art theorist Terry Smith and adds “Their interaction is a major work of the world on us and us on the world. We are, all of us, thoroughly embedded inside these processes. Too many of them are violently bent on the erasure of the other.” Though we can make historical explanations about whys and hows of present, none of us seem to be certain about what future brings.
Alongside this – one among many – picture of the actualities of contemporary times which resists totalizations; as well as Édouard Glissant’s poetic reading of contemporary culture – which is cross-cultural, creolized and hybrid – recreating itself everyday as a “flood convergence publishing itself in the guise of the commonplace.” Though considered as a safe playground by some, the refracted field of contemporary art, the act of presenting the present in Boris Groys’ words, can be considered as one of those commonplaces where different interpretations intersect. Thus, it certainly has a role in intensifying our awareness of the present; that is reminding us how the present is more than now, it has a past and a future. It can be a tool for reading against the grain; seeing the layers of collective memory, how some social defense mechanisms are kept activated, how there is always more beneath the visible. On the other hand many contemporary art works stimulate us to re-imagine differences and their convergences.
Another Country has come out of the desire to thicken awareness of the present and to trigger re-imagining the current issues. The exhibition aims to present a selection of works and research material that shed varied light on the production and perception of difference in the context portrayed above. The title comes from a well-known James Baldwin novel narrating the intensity of personal relationships his characters experience through the prejudices of race and gender. The characters in Another Country want to survive searching for love and they realize their borders, their biases about the other they care about violently.
In the context of the exhibition which proposes a fresh and modest assembly of maps, research material, photographs, drawings and installations, “another country” becomes an imagined place of change we don’t dare to find at the state of facing our own controversial limitations and frictions. It works like Foucault’s heterotopia, a spatial potentiality crossing the line between concreteness and illusion. Calling an exhibition on cultural transfers Another Country in a state institution like ifa – whose primary mission is developing relations with foreign cultures – implies that it should be read as a clear wish; a wish to dream other possibilities than we experience now in the context of rising frictions among groups and their values. It should not be forgotten that the German translation of Baldwin’s novel is Andere Welt; that places a touch of universality and generalization within the concept. For me a statement such as “another country” defines how the existing models of the current world (dis-) order have stopped working today. Maybe they never worked but we wanted to deceive ourselves.
Mapmaking has become a vital practice of alternative thinking on contemporary issues. Ashley Hunt’s A World Map IN WHICH WE SEE shows double movement of globalization that redraws borders in order to free up the movement of capital while restricting the movement of persons. Wherever Hunt is invited to perform A World Map, he calls for volunteering activists, artists and students to create the map together as a collaborative process. With no end and no beginning, the map works like a conceptual structure that reveals the machinery of globalization almost in a dizzying way. It functions differently with every context it appears in. For Another Country, it provides a base argument of the world we are talking about by which the complex contemporaneity discussed above is nourished. In Hunt’s words “the map does not plot out geography or place, but instead, maps concepts and ideas, placing them into relationships, proximities and contradictions, connected by flows, frictions and forces.”
Sacred Interiors and Profane Buildings is a recent piece of research by Matilde Cassani inspired by the dilemmas of Europe in relating herself to her non-Christian immigrants. She mapped out the sacred places of Muslims, Singhs and Buddhists in Barcelona, which mostly occupy unexpected and inconspicuous locations such as empty, unused shops or garage extensions. These spaces are transformed according to the needs of the community performing its religious duties inside. Cassani’s research maps out one of the important frictions in European countries that on the surface seem to tolerate the differences but in actuality leaving no space for differences to appear in their usual order. Furthermore, she points out the survival instincts of global communities. Sacred Interiors and Profane Buildings manifest the ridiculousness of the mentality of „Minarett-Attack” in Europe today.
How identities are performed in masses is one of Köken Ergun’s major interest areas. He documents not only an official celebration of the Republic in Istanbul but also a gathering in Ramallah commemorating Yasser Arafat. The specific forms of these performances are framed in his work not openly as expected but on the contrary preserving their almost mystical quality. One of his last works WEDDING is the product of a long research process that can be called a type of embedded aesthetic journalism, during which the artist followed weddings taking place in the Turkish community living in Berlin. Named after one of the biggest Turkish community neighborhoods in Berlin, this three-channel video installation treats each devotedly performed procedure recorded over a good period of time diachronically. The work shows how regular habits of identity construction become a matter of community building in terms of preservation and survival not unlike what is observed in Cassani’s research.
I first watched Jumana Manna’s ambivalently strong work The Song of Ascents in an exhibition titled Overlapping Voices in Vienna organized by Friedemann Derschmidt and Karin Schneider bringing the works of Palestinian and Israeli artists. The work consists of five Palestinians singing together in a disharmonic choir, The Song of Ascents, (in Hebrew, ‘Shir Hama’a lot’, in Arabic ‘Nasheed Al Muraqi’), the words of Psalm 126 from the Old Testament. Sung to the centuries-old Jewish tune, the Hebrew lyrics are replaced by the words of the Arabic translation. I didn’t know the meaning of this song for the Christians, it has been adopted as a popular song for the vision of world peace, the coming of the day of redemption. And I also learned how the Jewish interpretation has received a strong Zionist connotation, of return to the land of Zion, i.e. Israel. This Arabic version is a hybridized one where decades of accumulated frictions converge. The work makes us look again at where we stand in relation to the whole conflict. How to read this provocative song? Are performing Palestinians against the blue sky with camera beneath their feet singing for their dream of deliverance from ongoing oppression to communicate their unheard calls to Israeli state by a tune that Israelis are attached to? Or can it be a song of acceptance? Jumana Manna points out the complexity of the situation, which is totalized by two sides in their different ways.
Javier Hinojosa creates his new topography through his artistic research material, the photos he shoots all around the world he travels in: Mexico City, Berlin, Istanbul, Durban, and his sketches. He traces how objects, concepts, edifices repeat themselves again and again arbitrarily in different urban contexts. Nourished by strange constructions, illogical architectural juxtapositions, constructing materials, Hinojosa makes his own sculptural installations. For the first time, he has agreed to display this studio material in the form of an installation. Left over carry boxes, cement bags, unfinished steel constructions, piled up cement blocks in the corner of a busy street appear in a state of multiplicity; they are some of those generally disregarded similar peculiarities and connect different parts of the world in their idiosyncratic logic. Most of the time, it is impossible to say which image comes from where. These connected dots reveal new geographies existing in the limited geography recognized, they hint very subtly at the logic of globalization Ashley Hunt refers to in his A World Map.
Rulers (2007-09) adds the time dimension of the edgy geography of Another Country creating the dimensions of time-space. As a musician and artist who studied architecture at the same time, Cevdet Erek is very keen on creating his own variation of forms moving between visual and audio. Rational patterns of sound, sketch and design actually come together in instinctive assemblies decided by Erek’s multifaceted sensitivities. Rulers series developed by the artist to measure/interpret personal timelines. It consists of four different pieces varied from each other; Father’s Timeline where the artist’s father is invited to make a sketch of his lifeline, Ruler I the first prototype Erek produced in Arabic, departing from his father’s drawing, from 1974 to 2007 when he was working at Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, Ruler 0-Now which can be used to interpret one’s life from 0 to now or any temporal happenings and the latest one Ruler Coup showing the three military coup d’etats in the lifeline of Turkish Republic. His mind criss-crosses the forms of linearity, the measure of time, the rhythm and the form of the Arabic alphabet. Erek, therefore, invites the audience, on that exclusive spot, to improvise their interpretations of life experiences in a different logic.
In the framework of Another Country, Dubravka Sekulić, who defines herself as an architect-researcher, considering architecture as cultural practice that can motivate and guide changes in future, will create a socio-cultural chart of post World War II nationalisms in Europe through using Eurovision Song Contest as a database. Still a phenomenon in Turkey, ESC is a spectacle platform of populist nationalism in Europe, countries supporting their friends according to their latest situation. The story behind this chart or map comes from Sekulic’s research on analogue technologies and standardization of television in defining the borders of Europe. To give an idea about this work in progress project, here is a historical quotation from Sekulic’s sketch material: “Cross national broadcast was technically really difficult and there was no interest as the first thing to be broadcast ever was a flower exposition and it was the only thing that was broadcast until in 1955 Marcel Bezençon, Swiss person working for EBU got on idea of organising Eurovision Song Contest. Singing competition in which every national broadcaster from Europe would have a contestant, the competition would be broadcast in all participating countries and jury would vote for winner. The simple concept modeled after Italian San Remo competition, was to become the longest broadcast annual event and one with the highest rating.”
Arriving to the final point of this text, I would like to go back to one of the previous questions I asked in the beginning. Is it possible to work in contemporary art without being read through our identities, our backgrounds, where we come from? Every now and then there is another exhibition based on ‘curious’ nationalities and regions; art from China, art from Middle East, art from Eastern Europe. And the structures of the art world affect each other; for example the young contemporary art fair of Istanbul makes a special section for Middle Eastern and Eastern European after the regional focus of the latest Biennial. In the overall dis-order of the world today, we cannot help seeing that the nation state structures are becoming more like company structures, making nationalities look like nothing more than brands. The precarious mobility of the artists and curators, writers who live and work outside their homelands for various reasons are already mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this text. The fundamental problem is not the identities but the way multicultural discourse and its variations cherish it as static, non-changing and non-transformative belonging to a certain culture. The horizon of readings produced from this angle, in the institutional and non-institutional contexts, define and limit the contemporary potential of art work. In this context, for the art and culture producers, self-orientalization a term which can be used for the one who, gazing at oneself from the gazer’s point of view and identifies with it, is always dangerous so to be trapped by the readings of certain identities; that is not using them as frictional sources in thinking and producing in the commonplaces of multitudes. Understanding the sense of multitudes would show us that the real is nothing other than the intersection of different interpretations. Then difference would not separate but liberate.
1) Kenan Malik, Mistaken identity, New Humanist, July / August 2008, retrieved from http://www.kenanmalik.com/top/essays.html on 29th Nov 2009.
2) ibid.
3) New York Times, 1st December 2009 edition
4) Terry Smith, Introduction: The Contemporaneity Question, Antinomies of Art and Culture, ed. Smith, Enwezor et al, Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2008, p. 10-11.
5) Quoted by Okwui Enwezor, The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art in a Permanent State of Transition, Antinomies of Art and Culture, ed. Smith, Enwezor et al, Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2008, p. 207.
6) Ashley Hunt, A World Map: In Which We See, An Atlas of Radical Cartography, ed. Mogel and Bhagat, Los Angeles: Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press, 2007, p. 145
7) Paolo Virno, Three Remarks Regarding the Multitude’s Subjectivity and Its Aesthetic Component, Under Pressure: Pictures, Subjects, and the New Spirit of Capitalism, New York: Sternberg Press, 2008, p. 32.

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