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Encounters in Critical and Contemporary Art 1990s to date: Turkey

Editors: Aslı Çetinkaya and Merve Ünsal

It can be widely agreed upon that contemporary art in Turkey which gained a significant momentum in early 1990s has a relatively established structure now, with its institutions and a growing market. However, it is also often said that the political and social vein which shaped many practices and senses of community and collaboration seem to have left the contemporary art scene with the growing institutionalization. The texts brought together here, which have diverse perspectives on the issues of then and now, might be understood as suggesting a critical review of the trajectory of contemporary art in Turkey for the past 20 years.

As is the case with any kind of temporal and spatial demarcations, attempting to map the coordinates of the 90s art in Turkey poses issues of narrating affinities, relationships, proximities, interactions, repulsions and the impossibility of forming a neat history. This issue of Open Systems begins by acknowledging the impossibility of a deductive reasoning in talking about a place whose very contemporaneity is marked by disruptions. Embracing this discontinuity, the authors included in this issue look at subjects of interest that reveal a collation of pursuits, a horizontal synergy that seems to have been at the core of the 90s. Furthermore, they provide us with different ways and perspectives of dealing with issues of historicization; Texts by the artists Burak Delier and Elmas Deniz seem to go into a debate and both present historical and critical look at the period; Delier offers a definition for what he means when he talks about a certain period in history and groups major changes in modes of production and circulation as well as in relationships, which took place since the early 90s. Deniz, with a more subjective account of the early 2000s, invites us to note and discuss a certain trend of instrumentalization in art. Sezgin Boynik’s re-reading of works by H. Alptekin – one of the key or distinctive figures of contemporary art whose comprehensive archive is now a subject of research and display itself – and A. Öğüt is based on his speculative argument of ‘social surrealism’. In another lengthy version of this art philosophical text, Boynik develops his thesis of social surrealism and takes a different route by declaring to leave the cognitive means provided by sociology and turning to conceptual methodologies immanent in art itself. There he poses the questions which also add an important dimension to our attempt for a retrospective discussion: ‘If art is a transformation (deconstruction) of certain social ad hoc dynamics, can we still talk about the validity of art after these dynamics lose their effect? And with a quotation from Marx, ‘Why does art still have a meaning even when the social dynamics conditioning art are lost and gone?’

İlhan Ozan and Berin Gölönü’s texts are about instances when and where the archive and documentation – of art and architecture - presented themselves recently as central artistic subject and practice for institutions and artists. Gölönü writes about an architectural research exhibit, which goes beyond this professional field to look for hints about the relationship of Turkey’s modernization and the manipulation of natural resources via transforming the geography. Ozan focuses on an exhibition titled ‘It Was A Time Of Conversation’ which showcased documents of three group exhibitions from the mid 90s which all represent a particular characteristic of a new approach to curatorial practice and exhibition making. And perhaps departing or connecting to this Özge Ersoy’s text focuses on a specific case which illustrates what sort of dispositions institutions should be cautious about when dealing with a past that is yet to be written.

A Sense or a Condition?

As an interesting exit reference and in order to suggest a ground for further discussions, we may briefly turn to Lars Bang Larsen’s text ‘Long Nineties’ ( Although, not included in this issue of Open Systems, the argument of the text seems to somehow resonate with issues being raised by the texts mentioned above and perhaps suggests a potential response or poses a question or defines a certain parallel dynamic for those who often express a sense of resentment and confusion about the rapid institutionalization following a brief period of ‘unbounded criticality and productivity’ until early 2000s. Bang Larsen points to two defining traits of the decade ‘that has yet to end’; first, art taking a ‘social turn’; in terms of practices – participatory, collective etc. – and subjects, secondly changes in arts markets and modes of circulation, which also meant an energetic socialization surrounding all levels of involvement. The author argues that, indeed the social as the constituent theme of the decades to follow was the appropriate condition for rapid institutionalization of the field. He reiterates the Foucault’s description of neo-liberalism as ‘sociological government: in this model, the realms of the social and cultural – rather than the economy – are mobilized for competition and commerce.’ Then one might argue that the works and practices that strive for a connectedness with the social which were increasingly prevalent after 90s and the prominence of art’s infrastructure, media and social activity are not contradictory aspects but perhaps rather structurally interconnected formations.

supported by

ERSTE Foundation
Stadt Wien - Kulturabteilung MA 7
SAHA - supporting contemporary art from Turkey
MA 7 - Interkulturelle und Internationale Aktivitäten
Stadt Wien - Film, Kino, Neue Medien

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