6 Nisan 2008 Pazar

Europe Hear Us!@Schloss Solitude

Yazar Dietrich Heißenbüttel'in sergi için yazdığı metin;

Taking the wind out of one’s sails

The Istanbul designer Vahit Tuna in residence at the Solitude Academy near Stuttgart

‘Künstler!’ (‘artists!’) – a triangular warning sign next to the bar that keeps traffic out of the Solitude district marks a double contrast. People from the industrial town of Stuttgart, home of Mercedes and Porsche, like to come to the small late baroque castle in the midst of the wood, enjoying the calm far away from traffic and the splendid view over the landscape below.

But the timeless peace of this well preserved monument is being disturbed every now and then by the temporary interventions of the artists in residence at the Solitude Academy founded in 1989 by Jean Baptiste Joly. Since then, 60 artists of every genre from all over the world are chosen every year and a half to take a break from their everyday preocccupations in a place appropriately called Solitude. Evidently they can’t, so they’re trying to disturb the artificial peace with the means of the artist. One of them is the Istanbul designer Vahit Tuna, whose warning sign in fact steals the thunder of the eventual conservative weekender who might feel offended by any signs of contemporary art practice disturbing his nostalgic view of the seemingly perfect place.

During the first part of his sojourn at Solitude, Tuna has presented two video-installations that, in a similiar way, are confronting the spectator with his own expectations. Europe hear us! was the title written on the invitation to the exhibition, and in fact, expecting to see the work of a Turkish artist, one might think he was trying to draw attention to the marginal position of Turkish art or Turkey in general in it’s problematic relationship to Europe. Justly so because central Europe, and Germany in particular as a country with many Turkish immigrants pays little attention to the culture of the biggest minority living within its borders. Nonetheless, Tuna’s work of the same title is a mirror-game, not so much trying to capture the attention of Europeans but reflecting the narcissist need of Turkish people to do so.

In a small video sequence, Tuna dresses up as a hooligan chanting a slogan often to be heard in Turkey during games of the national football team: „Europe hear us/ hear the march of the Turks/ ain’t no way you can handle them/ beware, beware of them, you european faggots!“ But instead of a crowd, you see only one man, disguised by a piece of cloth over his mouth, and instead of a stadium worthy of a world championship you see a small, poor arena in need of repair, and a flame that reminds as much of Olympia as of racist arson. At the end of the long, winding corridor where the video is being presented, a photo is hanging on the wall, already published in the catalogue of Manifesta 3 in Ljubljana, showing a player in Turkish national dress performing an overhead kick. Although instead of a football he is kicking at a basketball. Once the mistake is discovered, the weight of the ball makes itself felt and the acrobatic move turns into a ridiculous jump, giving a picture, if you want, of a useless effort to impress with the wrong means.

What’s wrong with trying to be a champion? Not the competition in itself, but the feverish outcry of triumph every time Turks reach for the highest ranks be that only in a beauty contest or in a hit parade, like when Azra Akin was elected Miss World in Nigeria or when Sertab Erener won the Grand Prix d’Eurovision in Riga. If the slogan addresses Europe, this is only the sign of a deeply rooted inferiority complex, a need to belong while knowing to be excluded, a wish to be strong while knowing that one is weak. For centuries, Turkey has been the principal enemy of the West, until industrialization abruptly swept away the former military balance. Europeanization and nationalism were the means chosen by Atatürk to overcome the following decline, but in spite of its strong military forces, Turkey is still miles away from european living standards today. And even though millions of Turkish people are living by now in the heart of the continent, even the grandchildren of the immigrants are still being perceived as others. This is what Tuna’s second installation examines in a remarkable, provocative way.

There are not many ways to fight stereotypes. Edward Said himself has been criticized that by reconstructing the historical precedents of orientalism he rather fell in the same old trap of drawing an inalterable line of divide between orient and occident, and often those who don’t want to be stigmatized by stereotype images end up looking at themselves as being different: oriental, negro, primitive, whatever the stereotype is. Irony often seems to be the only way to deal with this ironic situation, for example when young, second and third generation Turks in Germany refer to themselves as Kanaks. Tuna goes one step further by breaking the rules of representation.
The sound of gurgling water, a real toilet and a small video screen above it displaying a naked arse: this is all the beholder sees when entering the room. By looking closer, one may detect a small pipe, arranged within the WC, as is very common in Turkey. But such a combination of loo and bidet was impossible to find in a german store, as Tuna recounts. So instead of importing it from Turkey like some people did who he met in Stuttgart, he chose to ‚build‘ it himself using a bigger pipe in order to draw attention to it. At a first glance, there is little else to be seen, so one tends to admire the seemingly unchanging picture on the screen, waiting to see something happen. In the end it does: in a short counter-shot, an eye is peeping through a hole.

If in the beginning the beholder, grown up with Duchamp, may be only slightly irritated, trying to find out, what exactly this answer of a non-european artist to the famous icon of modern art might mean, he will now feel trapped. If at first he may try to detect the otherness of the device, he is now being confronted with his own voyeuristic image, looking at a naked bum and a toilet, a place where even an emperor has to go to on foot as a german proverb says.

Looking around, the visitor will detect one more thing, seemingly more appropriate for an exhibition, but in a strange place: A frame is bent around a lower corner of the room, containing not a picture but a text. No comment, anyway, on the objects in the centre of the room, but an excerpt taken taken from the book of another Solitude-fellow, the Hungarian author Peter Zilahy: In his dictionary-novel The Last Window Giraffe, Zilahy takes a deep look through the cracks in post-communist, eastern european reality, discovering a world that is neither the one he was brought up with nor the convenient western order that has replaced it. Be that as it may, the section chosen by Tuna operates another displacement: Going way back into history, it concentrates on a place that is at once familiar and far away, conjuring up past and present and, though neither situated in Hungary nor Turkey, stands for a common experience in the history of both countries.

‘Weissenburg’, that’s how the city is called here, sounds very familiar to german ears. In fact there are several places on the German map answering to that name: a town in lower Bavaria, another two in Switzerland and in the French region of Alsace, known by now under the name of Wissembourg. Moreover, it is the name of more than one medieval stronghold, meaning white castle, which is indeed the literal translation of the serbian name of Beograd. 16th century Belgrade was a point where two empires met, and to introduce that theme, the text first quotes lake Balaton which, right in the middle of Hungary, provided a natural border between the Habsburg and the Ottoman territories. The people of the former medieval kingdom, Zilahy says, were now living in two vast empires that expanded as far as Mexico on the one side and the Indian ocean on the other.

Back to Belgrade, two historical characters are being introduced: One is Mehmed Sokolovic Pasha, presented as the greatest of all Serbs which is referred to as a joke of history, since Serbian nationalism keeps on drawing upon the myth of being defenders of christian civilization. Sokolovic was born in Bosnia, delivered to Istanbul when he was young and later became a general of the Ottoman empire, victorious in the battles of Temesvár and Szigetvár. The other figure, Giovanni Kapistran, was determined to become a christian martyr. After earning a doubtful reputation by persecuting Jews he turned against the muslims and in fact took a leading role in a decisive battle, though to his grief he was not killed in action. Instead he died on the battlefield of bleeding hemorrhoids, and the cause of his canonisation was delayed after Hungary had been torn in two.
Any relation between the intestinal malaise of the 16th century christian hero and the toilet-bidet in the exposition? Maybe a little anus hygiene would have eased the destiny of the fierce warrior, but that’s certainly not the point here. All sorts of parallels can be drawn between now and then, the meeting of east and west, Belgrade being once more a battlefield where a western empire keeps fighting the forces of evil. But none of them will lead to to a stable image of Turkish, Hungarian or Serbian, western and eastern identity. All essentialist constructions of East and West are in many ways over-determined, as is demonstrated already by the divergent destinies of the two Serbian warriors. Turkey today is not the antagonist of the west anymore, but rather divided from within by eastern traditions and western orientation. Western hegemony has no counterpart any more, and in fact, everything Zilahy so aptly does in his brilliant novel is to deconstruct the rhetoric of the former eastern rival – and any other kind of rhetorics past or present.

With the title of his exhibition, the video still, the framed text, Tuna draws the visitor into considerations about same and the other, Europe and Turkey, East and West. Not to confirm or contradict any pre-conceived image, but to open up a space in between and show that the schemes of collective identification are never up to the intricate ways of reality.

Dietrich Heißenbüttel

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