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A Century of Centuries gathers an unfolding sequence of solo artistic positions shown in dialogue, formed in response to transformative moments, traumatic experiences and social transitions of the past that continue to resonate in and shape the present. The artists were chosen for bodies of production, or major video works that explore the lasting effects of key periods and events within the longer trajectory of time they inhabit.
Expressing the multifaceted and repetitious nature of history, the exhibition hosts the first spatial presentation of Didem Pekün's essayistic video diary Of dice and men (2011 ongoing). Punctuated by significant and occasionally recurring moments — some that are of purely subjective consequence and others that exist as shared, mediated markers in time – the piece exposes the fluctuating rhythms of everyday life. A throw of the dice acts as a metaphor through which to think of individual existence, where the patterns of daily experience are indeterminable. The action also affirms a sense of urgency and awareness of how history is a perpetual repetition but with paradoxical variations. Pekün's location at the time of each diary entry provokes very different verbal reactions and often amplifies the trauma of not being present at definitive moments, reinstating the way that history too easily accumulates with or without us.
This interdependence between personal and external effects is probed in Chto Delat?'s film-performance installation, The Excluded. In a Moment of Danger (2014), which opens on a scene where individuals interact with the deluge of information of social networks and the web. The film develops to incorporate a study of the protagonists' relative positions to various intimate and universally acknowledged events in space and time, moving on to examinations of moments in history from which they believe there is no return. The artist collective state: "we now stand on the threshold of a senseless and despicable war; what remains of public space is disappearing before our eyes; and we have no levers of political influence. The Russian government brazenly declares a state of emergency, and society answers with full support. Meanwhile there are practically no forces capable of even reflecting upon this danger, let alone resisting it. The situation recalls a nightmare in which one’s habitual reality begins unraveling at the seams. What we thought impossible yesterday is met with enthusiasm today. What kind of art is possible now? Or is it altogether impossible?"
A similarly aligned set of considerations have inspired the specially commissioned performance work Trailer (2015), which takes place three times a week within the space of the exhibition. This series of lecture performances, conceived and performed by dance artists Erinç Aslanboğa, Natalie Heller and Bahar Temiz, looks into notions of personal and collective memory by gathering elements from the past and reorganizing them in a performative frame. The lectures investigate the possibility of creating a space where one can navigate between past, present and future, fiction and reality, and by extension experience their simultaneous occurrence.
Other included artistic positions look further back in time, linking ancient history to the present. Two of Maha Maamoun's videos interrogate the legacy of the pyramids. In Domestic Tourism II (2009) a broad selection of scenes from Egyptian cinema, spanning a period of around 60 years, show the pyramids as a backdrop. The film looks at the various ways the pyramids have been re-appropriated from the timelessness of the touristic postcard, and re-inscribed into the complex and dynamic narratives of the city they bear witness to. Maamoun expands her study into the condition of a society that hastily visits and consumes mediated history in the work Night Visitor: The Night of Counting the Years (2011), which revisits footage recorded and uploaded on YouTube by the many men and women who broke into Egyptian State Security buildings on March 5, 2011. This site, of what it was hoped would be past injustices, stands bare for a brief moment before the searching eyes of those it has afflicted and continues to affect.
Also reflecting upon ancient narratives, a new site-specific commission by Hera Büyüktaşçıyan threads traumas and mythologies, which date from the mediation and timeless potential of Noah's act of building the Ark, through more recent histories of upheaval. The title of her newly commissioned work Destroy your house, build up a boat, save life (2015) is a quotation taken from the "Story of the Flood" found on "The Epic of Atrahasis," a Babylonian cuneiform tablet. The description of this imaginary boat, also known as "Noah’s Ark," becomes an instrument for Büyüktaşçıyan to connect land and sea, life and death, loss and perseverance, past and future, known and unknown. The boat also acts as a metaphor for the rescue and preservation of belongings, as well as fragments of memory, that are gathered up and taken from one context to another in the event of traumatic upheaval, exile, deportation and other forms of societal breakdown. Büyüktaşçıyan’s work appropriates a ceiling painting originally made for the domestic dwellings of the Siniossoglou Apartment (now SALT Beyoğlu). The suggestive landscape is collated across rolled carpets, their material reality and form referring to the act of packing up but at the same time suggesting that with only a carpet one can lay the foundations for a home.
Shown in the same space is the compilation of works as if nothing has ever been said before us, (2007-2015) by Dilek Winchester. The title is an abbreviation of a sentence from Oğuz Atay’s novel, Tutunamayanlar which reads "We are knocking on your doors with an emotion and arrogance unparalleled in world history and without fear of seeming like those who are conceited and behave as if nothing has ever been said before them." Winchester transcribes this phonetically in Turkish, but with letters from five alphabets: Armenian, Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, which were used by the multi-lingual population of the Ottoman Empire up until the Alphabet Reform enforced the use of the Latin alphabet in 1928.
A new addition to Winchester’s work on language is Negative Epiphany (2015), a series of black prints made by over exposing paper to sunlight today, but developed using old printing techniques, and shown alongside cameras that date from the period 1900-1915. The prints stand in as shadows of photographs that have been shot, but cannot be shown here today.
Several artists explore subjective readings of history from different perspectives, and in particular the effects of national tensions, border divisions and failed diplomacy. The Goodness Regime is a film written and directed collaboratively by artists Jumana Manna and Sille Storihle. With the help of a cast of children, the film investigates the foundations of the ideology and self-image of modern Norway – from the Crusades, via the adventures of Fridtjof Nansen and the trauma of wartime occupation, to the diplomatic theater of the Oslo Peace Accords. Shot in Norway and Palestine, the film combines the children’s performances with archive sound recordings (including US President Bill Clinton speaking at the signing of the Oslo Accords, and Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik’s New Year address to the Norwegian people in 2000) and new documentary footage filmed on location.
Shilpa Gupta’s installation Untitled (2013-2014) investigates the enclaves, locally known as chhitmahal, where chhit means a fragment—that which is part of a whole, but not integrated into it—pockets of India within Bangladesh, and pockets of Bangladesh within India. For those who live in one country surrounded by another country, walking in a straight line over a few kilometers, or sometimes even a few hundred meters, over invisible borders in any direction makes them illegal. The absence of any identity card means the denial of basic civic rights and services, making subterfuge a way of life in the enclaves, as it is for many others, who live on the edge of nationally determined borders.
On the first floor the major multi-media installation eser (2014-2015) by Judith Raum responds to historical research material dating back to the German Empire's engagement in the Anatolian and Baghdad Railways beginning in 1889. Raum developed this research through diverse ways of dealing artistically with archival material. Along with found photographs and documents, eser comprises textiles, sculptures and paintings produced following observations made on location in Turkey. Raum’s work suggests that gestures and rhetorics of power and domination are the consequences of an economic principle that did not end with the colonial era and in fact persist today.
Kapwani Kiwanga’s response to the largest uprising on the African continent during the Maji Maji War of 1905 - 1907 in ...rumours Maji was a lie (2014) also refers to German-occupation but this time in East Africa. A pillar of shelving anchors a compendium of objects and references that revolve around notions of belief and explore how history is extrapolated and mediated over time. Included is a video of reworked extracts from the first feature length 3D color film based on the Tsavo maneaters — legendary lions, which entered local legend for their attacks on people during the construction of a colonial railway.
The last work to be encountered in the exhibition is Yasemin Ozcan’s threehundredone (2008). Among other regulations, Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which took effect in 2005 with moderate amendments since, makes it a crime to insult the Turkish Nation or Government Institutions. The article restricts freedom of thought and expression and has been applied frequently with several high profile court cases of note. These include the prosecution of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007 who was subsequently assassinated. Özcan responded to this tragic event by producing a necklace, adorned with the numbers 301. It is exhibited alongside a two-channel video that also hints at the speed of commodification and the woman’s role in today’s society. The necklace makes a striking, yet contentious statement — one that carries with it not only questions that persist regarding Article 301 and its impact, but also our relationship to issues of freedom of expression in general.
Associate Director of Programs and Research at SALT, Istanbul, Turkey.
A Century of Centuries
10 March - 24 May 2015
Jumana Manna & Sille Storihle
Erinç Aslanboğa, Natalie Heller & Bahar Temiz
Curator: November Paynter
Associate Director of Research
and Programs, SALT