Yanköşe, supported by Kahve Dünyası, is a not-for-profit project and was launched in 2017. Each year, two artists are invited to produce a public artwork. The project has thus far hosted four different projects. We have conducted the below interview so that our readers can get acquainted with these projects and with Vahit Tuna’s Untitled, currently on view. Tuna’s work focuses on femicide in Turkey
Translation from Turkish: Merve Ünsal
☕️ 17 minutes reading
Vahit Tuna, Untitled, Installation view, 2019
The Yanköşe project is located next to the Kabataş branch of Kahve Dünyası, approximately taking over 260 square meters of vertical space—it is a public space art project, a kind of exhibition practice rarely encountered in Turkey. The project is supported by Kahve Dünyası and is not for profit, each year hosting two artists since 2017. Taking advantage of the busy location of Meclis-i Mebusan Avenue, No. 85, the opportunity for an unexpected dialogue creates an intersection for thoughts, leaving a deep impact on viewers. The project has hosted four installations so far: Nermin Er’s installation A Single Room, Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt’s SeparatelyTogether made up of letters, numbers, punctuation marks, Prayer for Rain by SO?, founded by Sevince Bayrak and Oral Göktaş, and Vahit Tuna’s Untitled.
1- Nermin Er, A Single Room, Photo: Flufoto
2- Özlem Günyol ve Mustafa Kunt, SepareteTogether, Photo: Flufoto
3- SO? Mimarlık, Prayer for rain, Photo: Flufoto
4- Vahit Tuna, Untitled, Photo: Flufoto
Although a specific canon has not been formed for the content, all of the artists invited to this project have produced works that meticulously relate to the city. It is possible to relate this to both the volume of the project and the site being open to pedestrian and vehicle traffic, transcending the neighborhood scale to make an impact on an urban scale. The first of these public works with such a strong presence was selected from three proposed projects by curator Fulya Erdemci, arts writer Evrim Altuğ, designer Bülent Erkmen, Board Director of the Altınmarka Group Companies, Detay Gıda CEO Dilara Altınkılıç Kutmangil. Nermin Er’s 120 bird houses were assembled using non-chemical means and which were finished using the least harmful paints. The installation also included a sound recording and was presented September 2017-March 2018 as the weather got colder and the birds sought a place for shelter. Using the orderliness of the at times dystopic social housing projects, the work also provided a space of contemplation, pushing the agenda on common sheltering needs. It would be important to highlight that the bird houses were repurposed after the installation came down. Yanköşe hosted Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt’s SeparatelyTogether in its second rendition. The installation, on display between March 2018 and October 2018, was a testimony to an abstract chaos. The duo is based in Frankfurt and have been working together for years, tracing the boundaries of collective belonging by looking at national identities and cultural codes. With this project, they looked at written language graphically, deconstructing the current constitution of the Republic of Turkey, a gesture through which the text loses its meaning. When seen from afar, the work visually resembles an accumulation of axises. From upclose, the work reveals its text-based nature, but the content is still unclear—a fresh, unexpected reading of our social contract. For the third rendition of the project, which took place between November 21, 2018 and March 29, 2019, Yanköşe exhibited SO? Mimarlık’s Prayer for Rain—SO? Mimarlık was founded by Sevince Bayrak and Oral Göktaş. The studio’s cross-disciplinary attitude can be traced back to the Sky Viewing Station, which they realized for the New Architecture Programme at the MoMA/PS1 in 2013. As the Sky Viewing Station took the movement of the water on the Bosphorus as its departure point, Prayer for Rain uses rain’s movement. As the site where it is installed is not acclimated, vulnerable to all environmental circumstances, the design was based on an ability to transform itself with rain—just like the city itself that becomes paralyzed with rain and which surrenders to street vendors who sell cheap umbrellas. Prayer for Rain emphasizes our need for architects who embrace nature rather than try to tame it.
The fourth edition of Yanköşe is Vahit Tuna’s work, composed of 440 black women’s shoes, pointing to the rapidly increasing rates of femicide in Turkey. Untitled has been controversial since the exhibition opened; we asked Tuna the things we were curious about in regards to this work.
As the tradition of monuments of heroes, glorifying national ideas from the 19th century continue, albeit partially, since the late 20th century, efforts towards a critical practice of commemoration has also been ongoing, in particular through conceptual installations. The shoe is an object of grieving that artists and not-for-profit organizations frequently employ. Its contexts range from genocide and femicide—wide-ranging and sensitive social topics—to bridge suicides—arguably a more private matter. Was your decision to use high-heel shoes to symbolize women related to this vocabulary and perhaps the ability to relate to and communicate quickly with this already-existing knowledge?
Shoes are used often in art outside of the situations that you mentioned. It is obvious that artists like certain objects more than they like others. In our part of the world, there is the tradition of placing the shoes of the deceased outside the door. There are beliefs based on the shoes being repurposed by those in need or that the deceased will leave the house and put on these shoes again, superstitions. The metaphor of the shoes in itself is a most liberating and simple tool, very primitive. It is a thin line between the earth and the sky. In the Untitled installation, through this symmetrical, direct, non-organic installation, depicting a picture of the murderer is being attempted, or in other words, a picture of the man, the patriarchal order. A picture placed on the wall through me of what those in power often try to draw onto the women. The picture of a sexist and reductionist “gaze.” This is also a picture of what the official ideologies try to domesticate and to make kitch that which is systematic and monotypical.
The metaphor of the shoes in itself is a most liberating and simple tool, very primitive.
On the other hand, the high-heel shoes is an image that art frequently refers back to. It has often been written about and depicted visually. Ranging from Murathan Mungan to Dali, from Ömer Seyfettin to Warhol. Within the lofty dress code of the republican modernism, imposed on the public space, it is a prehistoric object that best represents secularism. But it can also keep us within this primitiveness and provoke us to discuss. I think that its psycho-sociological impact is more than any other pair of shoes. It points to both physical difficulties and psycho-sexist repressions. Thus, the shoes that are a part of the installation Untitled trigger a phenomenological reading process for the viewer. In the re-depiction of violence, weapons, knives, machine guns have transformed into visualities that are no longer disturbing, but this type of shoes can appear more fatal than all of those guns. At this exact point, the installation reveals how the repressive psychoneurotic weapons of those in power can be disgusting once again. We should also be asking ourselves: Is the number 440 that points to the number of women killed in 2018, accurate? Does the state, which we see as an entity working with statistics and which we also see as a source of reassurance share real numbers? Also, why does Turkey, one of the first signatories of the Istanbul Accord, fail to apply it? Why do men get reductions on their sentences if they wear a suit or a tie to the trial? Are all these prehistoric codes still valid? Why do men murder so as to not pay alimony and why do women’s demands for divorce feel like a humiliation to men, provoking them to murder the women? Of course, these questions can only be answered by the aforementioned entities. We are experiencing a time when social violence is at its peak, as well as individuals’ acquiring weapons.
A further criticism of the Untitled installation is that it was made by a heterosexual man. This is a sexist perspective, but it could be deemed valuable for its potential to encourage discussions. I hope that other male artists also read this discussion. It is necessary to also say that we cannot speak of subjects or concepts that are divided up between artists, which make me think that those who criticize me are not close to the arts. Do they mean to say this: Only activists can join protests on the street. Or that the Kurdish problem belongs to the Kurds only? When a work relating to the street is addressed with: “It should be brought down immediately” or “You are going to pay!”, my hair stands on end; I’m reminded of the dictating voice of those in power. Perhaps we could say that this is exactly why we don’t encounter this kind of work in the public space. Those in power care about creating walls/streets that support their claim and to repress others.
This reminds us how works in the public space were destroyed before. My name on the Untitled installation is a tombstone. The title of the work was recreated as a tombstone and this marble caption produces tension with the work. It is the death of the “other” of the artist. We could refer here to Anselm Kiefer’s work from 1969, Heroic Symbols (1969-1975). The artist was photographed, posing with the Nazi salute in different regions of Europe. He was provoking the viewer with the question of “Is he a Nazi?” The same question was being demanded of the viewer through the artist. It would not be easy for us to comprehend this work on a simple plane and it was also not easy back then. As Barthes articulated, the references of myths were made blurry through direct readings, but when one goes deeper into these references, it is possible to recognize what belongs to the culture. This would encourage viewers to reinterpret the tools of ideology through semiology.
Vahit Tuna, Armut, 1997, Postcard
You often confront entities of power in your work. How should one interpret Untitled in the context of your previous works?
In the first few years of my artistic practice, I had recreated Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain as a photograph of a pear in 1997, signed “R.Mutt” (Armut, 1997). This was a response to those who piss into the monolithic, patriarchal aura and the art historic context of the urinal. At the end of the day, you can’t piss onto a pear standing up or you would miss it completely or why would you even want to do that? Recently, a controversial claim that the idea for the Fountain did not belong to Duchamp, but to a Futurist woman called Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven emerged. Perhaps it would be necessary to reinterpret a century-old patriarchal structure. Years before these discussions, in 2008, I had placed a small refrigerator in a remote and dark part of my solo exhibition, Exercise, at Hafriyat Karaköy. Inside the refrigerator was my work, As an Suggestion: Turkish Contemporary Artists Sperm Bank. There were sperms of “actors” that were prominent in contemporary artistic practice, marked by their initials—the work was produced by using white starch and water. It was a comedy of errors. Why would anyone want to reproduce them or to multiply them? If you saw the circumstances of preservation, you’d run away. This installation that addressed identity politics was a way of questioning the sexism inherent in artistic power.
Vahit Tuna, As an Suggestion: Turkish Contemporary Artists Sperm Bank., 2008, Installation (Photo: Harun Yasin)
Another criticism directed to this work was that the work was “untitled” and why it did not include the names of the women. Do women not have names?
Women do have names and you can access the names of the women who died through the Anıt Sayaç* or We are going to stop femicide** platforms. The name of the work is Untitled, which could be referring to the social/individual memories. The name Emine Bulut has been engraved in our minds, probably because of the visibility of the violence there. But nobody remembers the name of Tuba Erkol, who was murdered right after Bulut. There are people who are not aware of the 440 women who were killed by men last year. I believe that it is important to see the “femicide” by standing in front of this wall.
Vahit Tuna, Exercise exhibition, Hafriyat Karaköy, Untitled, 2008, Installation (Photo: Harun Yasin)
Sound plays an important role in your works. Why is this work silent? You had made a work based on another femicide incident, Silent House, which was also silent. Is that an attitude of grieving? Or is it a reference to the silence on this issue?
I don’t care to use sound with all my works. It is also about how we view sound—while I think it is a silent work, others might be hearing sounds. Or let me put it this way: Do you hear a sound at the Untitled installation? Are we deaf? Memory Table: Silent House is a work I showed at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien in 2017 as part of the exhibition Muscle Memory. I produced three tables covered with glass based on three incidents of femicide, filling the display cases of these tables with objects, clothes that we think belong to the women and a photograph in the last table that was anonymized using iron dust.
From the exhibition text: “She asked me, ‘Hatice is not responding, what should I do?’ She said that the sound of the phone was coming from inside, but that Hatice was not responding. I told her that she should call the police and not go inside on her own. We told her that if Hatice was not responding, something bad might have happened and that she should not go inside. She called her yesterday too. Hatice said, ‘I’m upset, can you come over?’ She was working, so she said she’d stop by in the evening. She went over in the evening, but Hatice did not answer the door and when she didn’t respond in the morning, she got worried.’ This works belongs to Vahit Tuna’s series of works since 2011, Memory Table, and is based on a newspaper clipping. The artist asks the viewers, “What happened to Hatice?”, pointing to the increased rates of femicide in Turkey, the concealed-revealed memories and shared subconscious notions.”
This murder from 2016 was never solved. If the viewer is curious about this piece of information, one could search for this text online and find out the answer. The silence in everything is perhaps death itself.
How effective do you think art is in terms of developing effective solutions for violence against women? Untitled is exhibited at an interactive site. What kinds of reactions has it received thus far? There was news of one pair of shoes being removed. How do you interpret this action?
I don’t know what function art would serve and I don’t think art has the goal of serving. Art is not a form of criticism. Art does not necessarily bring everyone together nor does it reassure everyone by giving them high grades. I’m not equipped to hold the pulse of the street, but I can share my observations on social media—the work has been shared on social media especially outside of Turkey. These kinds of shares can help people pay attention to those who are not aware of “femicide”. I care about this. The shoes that have been removed are sporadic. Since I’m using real shoes as ready-mades, it makes sense that there would be people who take away the shoes. This reveals the differences/vulnerabilities that shift between the inside and the outside.
Do you think artists should be didactic? What is your position on the age-old controversy since Kant of “art for art”?
Producing art for me is a tool of “healing” because the work that emerges can be a means of healing for me and the viewers, who then ask me new questions. The relationship between these three things is an ongoing flow that goes to and from the object.
Do you think publicness is a problem in our country? What do you think about the artworks that are produced in public spaces?
If you could exemplify contemporary artworks in the public space in Turkey, I could perhaps state my opinion. Are there any examples of contemporary “conceptual” installations in the public space in Turkey? Are there any works outside of the dinosaurs or the thematic “sculpture-likes” at the entrance of towns, referring to local, regional references such as apricots, olives, simit, oxcarts, rifles, ammunition?
View of Yanköşe from Meclis-i Mebusan Street, Photo: Flufoto