Although the last sentence is evident from the very beginning of the article, it’s always rather difficult to write the first sentence; as it is rather difficult to finish a “work of art”…
One of the most serious problems of the area she dwelled in was the contamination of Kurbağalıdere, which affects all of our five senses. Meanwhile, the theme of the most extensive cultural event of Istanbul, Istanbul Biennial was “Salt Water”. It was not a coincidence to hang a snow-white curtain on the river for Özgül Arslan, who has been creating works through the view from the core of life for many years. Arslan was one of those lucky ones who had the chance to understand the adventure of different plants by touching and smelling them in her childhood, also utilizing the abstractive dancing of clouds in her games when she happened to look upwards, at the sky. She has been sharing this explicandum called art, which is (must be) the most brilliant reflection of her inner world, bringing spectators along, as she focused on sense-making in the world.
It would be beneficial to touch upon her adventure in a general manner. The installation she put in Anemas dungeons in 1997 was an attempt to suggest a current experience of those old time dungeons rather than a call for salvation. The artist is responsible for her own perception, on the other hand, it’s our choice to become partners with her or not.
Having made this call as a student of fine arts, Arslan succeeded in transforming her expression into a silent scream through her performances, installations and paintings. Along with this ongoing sound which does not disturb you at first hearing, the silent scream creates a space where it first draws attention and allows the listener go beyond hearing. This expression could be used to describe all works by Arslan; not calling by shouting, not arousing by disturbing, original and interesting.
We had better progress and focus on the relationship the artist has established with the “curtain”.
The curtain is a medium adopted by the artist both in her paintings and 3D productions. Her preference to make use of this medium, which conveys her expression through different methods while harboring the contradiction of covering/exposing. This both makes her work easier in terms of strengthening the
illusion, making the use of a daily object instrumental within the scope of artistic creation. The metaphor of “curtain” encountered in her paintings serves as a bridge between inner-outer worlds. The curtain used in spatial arrangements fulfills the primary function of the object while transforming into a canvas at the same time. All the works of art have a common point: the real-life counterpart of the illusion created by art, the ability of the person to relate with the outside world by half-opening the curtain as they please.
We had better focus on the relationship between the part and the whole. Human beings have polluted the world, they are a part of the nature and the nature reacted to this pollution. This is not a side-effect, this is a reaction. As long as the system commands to consume, human beings drift away from production, as one of their therapies would be shopping. For that matter, the world reserves a considerable amount of waste. As nature finds no way out in the flow of these waste streams, it struggles against them like the human body struggles against germs.
Kurbağalıdere is an example to the situation stated above. It gives up in the face of the human waste overflow, is polluted and cannot transform itself. As a result, “water” has to send the pollution it was exposed back to the habitat of people. People living in this habitat are punished together with their congeners. At this point, an artistic touch, this dilemma of being exposed/exposure pops up along with an aesthetic addition. Özgül Arslan does not cover the river, just draws a white curtain over it. In this way, clean/dirty, life/death, time/timelessness, various possibilities regarding the spatial perception unfold. Designed by Arslan as a parallel event of Istanbul Biennial (2015), this installation makes a strong reference to the theme of the biennial. The artist supports the conceptual framework of the biennial by using this river where the “Salt Water” turns into loam.Besides this, the installation will invite the passers-by -who are not the traditional art audience-to comprehend its gist until it “decomposes” (it was possible to follow the effects of these decomposition sequences on social media).
Besides involving contrasts such as “inside-out” or “covering-opening”, the installation “Exposure” should be interpreted in terms of its containing physical features of the area. The artist summarized the problem as follows while fictionalizing the installation: “The methods of getting rid of the trash and waste of humanity and making them invisible have determined the existential form of the civilization. However, this effort to get rid of or make invisible have become more and more difficult as a consequence of the development of civilization, urbanization and the need for more living space. The stuff that was made invisible has not vanished, ‘modern world human beings’ have been subjected to living together with their waste and trash instead. Although the unwelcome ‘human waste’ was a usual phenomenon in daily life in Medieval Europe (human waste flowing on the streets, chamberpots being poured out into the streets from the windows, the source of inspiration for high-heel shoes etc.) modernity has did its best to make this ‘excess’ invisible. Lavatories and sewer pipes have been designed to send the waste to faraway seas, fundamentally to ‘absence’ by flushing the toilet.” This design has not succeeded in reaching to fruition since the “faraway seas” got closer, the world shrinked, we ran out of natural habitats and as a result, this design became limited to the idea of saving the ‘moment’. As well as bearing the influence of all other works, “Exposed” takes the content to a higher level: “everything imposed, unsolicited, obligatory accelerates the pollution and decomposition.” This installation was realized in 2015, when the river was not reclaimed yet, therefore all the semantic layers make reference to that period.
Özgül Arslan documented what is “Exposed” with photos and videos for two months. During this period of documentation, the best idea ever to happen to an installation came up: the exhibition of the process. The two of the phenomena most needed by the contemporary audience to transform the artistic production into a different and new one were referred: information and mind. The silent scream of the artist was listened to carefully by focusing on the aim of the installation. The “moment” is acquired when you take a closer look at the situation “exposed” being transformed into “Aesthetical Interference”. The interference by the artist to the river and its outcomes constitute the content of this exhibition. Interference points to the existence of a secondary power besides including a compelling attitude, as well as associating with improvement. Interference is the difference between the damaged and the corrupted. Any organism on its own is tete-a-tete with its will power of decomposure. Whereas the one destroyed by an outer interference is under the domination of that second power. The duality between natural/unnatural comes into the picture at this stage. Interference involves a moment of decision-making, it depends on the choice of the individual to focus on either the solution or the problem at this point.
When it starts with a lower case, “art” provides solution-oriented answers while “ART” in capitals directs the questions. They both include some aesthetics (even if in reverse). Kazimir Malevich asks the following question in his manifest: “If the artist does not a have a different vision of the universe, if he/she does not have a distinctive vision (because what he/she sees does not resemble what the others see), what is creation then? “Aesthetical Interference” gives an answer to this question he asked in 1915. This is what Arslan does to the human waste which returns to the human beings: aesthetical interference to the exposed.
Anti-Christo State of Civilization
The public installation titled “Exposure” by Özgül Arslan, which she “exposed” on Kurbağalıdere at Fenerbahçe in Kadıköy district, the residential area of relatively bohemian bourgeoisie of the megacity Istanbul with 18 million population, was a surfacing experience that took place in “parallel” with the geographic-ecological-political 15th International Istanbul Biennial with the theme “Salt Water”. The biennial was curated by Carolyn Christov – Bakargiev and organized by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts.
It was a phenomenon of ‘surfacing’ and rendering transcendental afterwards.
The clean, lacy, womanly, maternal and hopeful ‘curtain’ physically pushed with all its delicacy by Arslan created a feeling of organic ‘aesthetical cream’ layer as a natural consequence of making yogurt in a way inclined to become mouldy.
However, this a posteriori liaison of the ‘installation’ with the public space was hurtful.
The arrogance of the so-called civilized ‘accumulation’ underlying the artist’s intervention to the titular nature inwardly intensified as the project’s pit of hell disguised itself in a kind of subconscious. The heavenly, ethereal optimism generated by the defenseless and wind-loving curtain somehow disguised us, the ‘frogs’ of this tainted time river, as miserable ‘hybrid’ creatures. The swearing created by kindness confronted us as the most prominent element of visual violence in the project.
Similarly, meters of clothes with enlightening, transcendence and yellow of love scattered around the world and adorned with civilization ‘legacies’ by Christo, symbolic winding-clothes somehow intellectually communicated with Özgül Arslan’s installation. It is convenient to coin the word ‘Anti-Christo’ and pronounce it here in order to be able to describe the maliciousness of the scene created by Arslan. The work makes itself more visible when the installation is interpreted in terms of the French philosopher and contemporary photograph artist Jean Baudrillard’s texts. In his essay titled “Prophylaxis and Virulence“, published in the book “The Transparency of Evil” (Editions Gallimard, 1990), Baudrillard states that:
“…It is true in a sense that nothing really disgusts us any more. In our eclectic culture, which embraces the debris of all others in a promiscuous confusion, nothing is unacceptable. But for this very reason disgust is nevertheless on the increase – the desire to spew out this promiscuity, this indifference to everything no matter how bad, this viscous adherence of opposites. To the extent that this happens, what is on the increase is disgust over the lack of disgust. An allergic temptation to reject everything en bloc: to refuse all the gentle brain-washing, the soft-sold overfeeding, the tolerance, the pressure to embrace synergy and consensus.
All the talk of immunity, antibodies, grafting and rejection should not surprise anyone. In periods of scarcity, absorption and assimilation are the orders of the day. In periods of abundance, rejection and expulsion are the chief concerns. Today, generalized communication and surplus information threaten to overwhelm all human defences. Symbolic space, the mental state of judgement, has no protection whatsoever. Not only am I unable to decide whether something is beautiful or not, original or not, but the biological organism itself is at a loss to know what is good for it and what is not. In such circumstances everything becomes a bad object, and the only primitive defence is abreaction or rejection.”
This time “Exposure” experiences its own reincarnation in an “Operation Room”, backstitched to a hospital -with bona fides and the demand for mutual transformation- located in an art gallery. The work leaves us in the lap of a secondary extremism, cleanliness, perfection, so-called health -earthly product of arrogance-, a kind of life ‘norm’ transformed into a meta.
From this aspect, the inside out intervention to the work by the curator of the exhibition, art critic and academician Seda Yavuz inevitably directs us to some questions asked by Baudrillard in 2005.
Baudrillard emphasizes in the essay titled “Images Where There Is Nothing To See” in his book “Conspiracy of Art” where he problematizes the “New Art Order and Aesthetics”:
“The same must be torn from the same. Each image must take away from the reality of the world, something must disappear from each image, but one must not give in to the temptation of annihilation, of definitive entropy, the disappearance must remain active: that is the secret of art and seduction.”
‘Exposure’ is a case which confronts the autopsied civilization with its own self through its image.
Probably thanks to its being hygienic, in this land of ‘parallel’ universe and conspiracies, it makes us contemplate on the fact that ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ originally derived from each other in the first place.