Without Hintersinn

—Benjamin Fellmann

Without Hintersinn

By Benjamin Fellmann

SLAG Gallery is proud to present Without Hintersinn , a three artists show as an official parallel event for 11th International Istanbul Biennial . Bilsar , Istanbul, is generously sponsoring the exhibition by providing the venue, Bilsar building in Istanbul.

Without Hintersinn assembles three striking artistic positions in different forms and media, summing up to a dialogic contention in questioning human perception of society and art. Exploring mechanisms of opening up aesthetic levels towards an inclusion of subtle criticism, the works by Turkish artist Serkan Ozkaya and two Romanian artists Dumitru Gorzo and Mircea Suciu are carried by subversive tactics of influential display, taking a critical viewer into account. What connects them and at the same time distinguishes them from more common forms of discerning art works – perhaps even from a precedent generation of artists in terms of distinct political confrontation – is their conjunctive refusal of using critical notion as a facile inclusion in their art work’s bodies. Rather, their interplay lays open an outstanding exploration of personal and social consciousness as subversive implication in the multiple layers of aesthetic contention. In such, both the works and emerging societal concerns are allowed to respectively develop substantive eligibility and let their consolidation take effects on their own in the viewer’s perception. Picking up a direct reference on this year’s Istanbul Biennial notion of Bertolt Brecht’s question raised in the Threepenny Opera’s second finale, “What keeps mankind alive?”, the exhibition follows his path into subtle layers of revived ascertained criticism. The Brecht-given answer reads: “Only thereby lives mankind that it profoundly is able to forget that mankind it still is”. Recent developments around the world have witnessed fundamental changes, leading to a renewed challenging awareness of social and economic formations. Transcending the question to the art world, a spreading consensus suggests that crises may permit a more critically analyzing of socio-political significance of artistic creation. That, however, in itself is not more than self-referential. In the present context, Brechtian ironic demur expands to a more substantial guideline:

In his exploration of propagandesque depictions used in building of nationalistic identities, New York-based Dumitru Gorzo entails a view on how pictures figurate in societal contexts of socio-political awareness. Here, he positions historical images idolizing Romanian achievements in armed insurrections, in reference to the tense long-lasted Romanian-Turkish relations. He conceived the present works during his this-year’s summer sojourn in Bucharest, specifically for the display in the context of this-year’s Istanbul Biennial. Departing from the linkage between the two countries Romania and Turkey, he thus draws upon eligibilities of different historic self-conceptions standing next to each other in varying perspectives on the same facts. His works allow a provocatively direct encounter of the potentiality for intentional guidance of information in social reflections on history, gaining even more strength when it comes to emphasize on their display’s institutionalization. In exceeding the boundaries of such factual notion, Gorzo takes advantage of questioning the powerful mechanisms of pictorial display in the virtual layers of art’s very own body. His present works assimilate examples of historical paintings portraying one-sided categories in public perception as instruments towards ideological nationalism, whereas in re-working them he leads their resurrection towards a sublime cognition of eerie grotesqueness in the viewer’s own experience.

Since the Ottoman Empire extended over vast parts of South-Eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages, and from the very first steps towards a united Romanian empire, Romanian historiography can be read as a continuous hagiography of “defense from the Turks”. Born in Ieud, Maramures, in 1975, Gorzo thus draws upon the backcloth of his home country’s self-perception as a nation and its self-consciousness, being from their very beginnings linked to a unifying concept of the Ottoman enemy. The gentle force majeure of his works lies in their unfolding as both subjects and objects in the process of conjuring up timeless aesthetic mechanics throughout societies and art in the course of history: Originating in historical paintings, they reveal their persistent pictorial power in disclosing not only the double-edged ambiguity of political account in visual display, but moreover questioning the dualism between contemporary institutional art discourse and conceptually charged artistic work. In insisting on the exigency of a fine, but lasting need for differentiation, Gorzo calls his viewer’s attention to the notion that “What is art capable of doing?” remains the persistent question at hand, rather than “What can art carry out?”.

In taking on history paintings in the tradition of “The Defeat of the Turks” as e.g. in Theodor Aman’s depiction of the famous Calugareni Battle, Gorzo tracks down the only truth about visual ingenuity persisting from past to today in processes of re-imagination and re-outline: That a closer appraisal of pictorial narratives gives view to their guidance by power over intentional display, rather than to scarcely ever objective sceneries. Notion of national heroes will undergo a similar process, as does the “Haidouk Radu Anghel” where Gorzo dismantles his portrait from his home grounds. Romanticized in folk narration as Romanian guerilla fighters against Ottoman oppressors, the common view of hajduks in Ottoman perception will have been that of terrorists. Whereas under Ceaucescu’s communist dictatorship heroic Romanian narratives have been cast into exuberant historic films, there is certainly no need to solely concentrate on schemes looming in recent history to consider such appliance alarming. Just as distant the historic depictions Gorzo draws upon in the presented works, the closer appear numerous examples for the adoption of historical identification potential, experiencing a renewal as narrative commodity in today’s media societies.

The actual brisance of such disparity displayed against a historic background lies in the fact that the fine line between ‘hero’ and ‘terrorist’, ‘war’ and ‘independence’, ‘territory’ and ‘unity’ has lost nothing of its topicality. In channeling the view from general towards a narrowed historical embodiment, Gorzo draws attention towards the powerful socio-political mechanics carried out in processes of envisioning self-perception defined in accordance to so-felt cultural differences. What he reveals in his works is nothing less than the notion of art as part of culture becoming a powerful means in itself when charged with patriotic and political conceptualizations, in the process of mutual reinforcement carrying away with each other towards merging into a substrate for nationalistic ideologies. All works displayed in the show emanate from acrylic on canvases treated with a mix of clay and horse manure. As such, the image carrier itself becomes a specialized intermediary of the aesthetic implications, rooting in the experimental process in which Gorzo prepares the ground for a seductive rapprochement of painting to sculpture: “Sculpture is closer to painting than tragedy to comedy”, he references Plato’s Symposium with a twinkle in his eye, giving way to the irony of fate’s implications which is not to be missed where two-dimensional nationalistic depictions expand into sculpted depths: In founding his works on a mix of clay and horse manure, he pointedly reflects on the bucolic matrix which at all times has been both nutrient and essence to pan-European examples of nationalistic image culture, following the mechanisms of prospects spreading into societal spaces.

Mircea Suciu , who currently lives and works in Bucharest, fathoms consequences of social systems detaching each other in history’s course. Being a painter, his exceptional project for this year’s Biennial traces the marks of inner conditions leaving their imprint on their bearer’s outside in photographs which in their making are subjected to the ways of painting. The present photographs draw on various stadiums of a person caught in upstream processes of cleaning, washing, sweeping and mopping away with the concomitant implications of a now-deserted space of action. “A Constant Feeling of Guilt” is the title Suciu gave to this series of work. Though both the title and their appearance’s interplay draw upon the impression of a serial matrix against the background of visual exploration, this semblance is not to be mistaken for a narrative asset. His present photographs carry on the deep-rooted scenic concern of his recent works on canvas, and thus reveal the strength of a self-chosen medial extrapolation, whereas neglecting an intention for joint products of reproductive appendages. Each of these digital prints has been conceived by Suciu in every single detail, thus subjected to ways in accordance to his personal approaches in painting. In departing from exact decisions on posture and composition, clothing and arrangement, he balances the overall pictorial impression to his very own appropriation of the medium photography itself. In leaving only the pressing of the button to an actually hired photographer, the process of transferring the image to the photographic template gains his non-reversible personal handwrite where the actual execution of taking the shot expands into his artistic arm. None of these pictures has undergone a postproduction in terms of digital revision. In maintaining a last distance to the medium, Suciu thus demonstrates an outstanding example of ensuring that the painter remains master of the situation of visual deployment, rather than giving in to terms of “Loss of Aura” in today’s plethora of mass-produced pictures which Walter Benjamin complainingly foresaw in 1936: Each of these photographs is assured to maintain its uniqueness according to their pictorial nature, as printed in a single 1/1 edition.

Born in 1978, Mircea Suciu has constantly been driven by the search for iconic pictorial characters in revealing thoughtful viewings on the errors of our century. In his recent paintings, he challenges feelings of personal involvement thriving on in the course of culture and society systems experiencing downfalls and renewal in different shaping. The present photographs perpetuate his portrayals of single characters reminiscent of different times and social backgrounds, thus becoming sub-agents of sustained reflection on societal conditions penetrating into personal charge. Suciu’s works presented in this exhibition have to be seen in direct line with his pictorial oeuvre, where he treads the same path so to speak in photography as he set out in painting. Against the setting of striking tableaus such as “Ignorant” (2008), powerfully representative of the observations he undertakes in subtly trapping meanings of personal liability in gestures of refusal, his present works unfold their force as essential to advancing the pursuit of such concern. Given the all-too human feature of refusal towards personal comprehension, the face-to-face involvement with well-known exercises of cleaning depicted in these photographs lets their executor figurate as attorney in facts of processes leading from gestures to action; converting fending off into redirection; transforming disavowal into counteraction. The performer’s diverging appearance as clothed in a way both reminiscent of cleaning personnel and butchers whilst accurately dressed underneath elicits a compelling solidarity of the viewer with the portrayed person, summing up to a notice of identifying one’s self with him rather than just drawing upon an impression of ‘the guy next door’.

Suciu complements the display at hand with an accompanying 9:00’’ film titled “Tabula Rasa”. A single hand filmed in constantly tracing and forcefully re-erasing a black charcoal line on a single white paper sheet recalls the recurrent action of human attempts in drawing borderlines. The film vividly reminds of both artistic and societal implications emerging where attempts to establish lasting evidence are swept away in the course of subsequent operations. The actual character of filmic retakes summons sequences rooting in the medial mechanics rather than carrying away with film as medium of story-telling. “It’s a control to repetition, not a narration”, says Suciu in reflection of means emphasizing the outline at hand: That vicious circles emerge by mutual reinforcement of experience and experimentation , dissatisfaction in the light of non-functionality pushing further their respective boundaries. The constant attempts for renewal embedded in this work against the background sounds of an ongoing course of the world unfold their powerful poetical puissance towards an expansion into metaphorical validity. Where the wish to get rid of persistent circumstances becomes unbearable in an inner state of mind, the iconic character of undertakings of cleaning as depicted in the photographs will transact into extinction. What persists is a blank page carrying the constantly renewed traces of unwritten markings, interlining their intrinsic message: Never to give in to a merely ostensive ultimate truth, since perfection would mean standstill.

Istanbul-based Serkan Özkaya widens the display with his room-aspirating installation “A Sudden Gust of Wind”. The installation shows a vast spreading of white, undescribed paper sheets suspended in open space, each carefully arranged in concordance with the overall given nature of a fragile interaction. The singularity of such display lies both in the ephemeral and persistent: Where the scenery prepares to celebrate the volatile beauty of a rare, but all-too short unveiling of gracefulness, it simultaneously seems to draw a deep breath to maintain the instant from getting lost while fading into remembrance. It indeed may be the interplay of both surprise in jest and challenging thoughtful insistency that characterize Serkan Özkaya at the best: Against the background of a far-ranging experience of exhibiting his work, Özkaya has constantly followed a forceful artistic development whilst never losing sight of the austerity with which he pursues his conceptual approaches – always maintaining a glistening, unmistakable fun in playfully taking his viewers with him to witness momentous evocations of visual vehemence.

His work presented in this show questions determinants of appropriation of space and time in a frozen motion of white and undescribed paper sheets. The depiction of a bundle of white pages carried by an invisible stream of air recalls the former order of a stack of paper waiting for appliance, now windswept and twirling. Drawing upon a picture recalling familiar impressions of visual experience, the installation mounts to a realization of envisioning the essence of moments which are outmost short in their lasting. His exploration thus clearly figures as representative of deep-felt personal attempts to hold on to mementos in the process of realizing the touching uniqueness of outstanding occurrences. What Özkaya unfolds in sending out these messengers of letters without words, of untold stories and undrawn imagery is the poignant outlook on moments in which one rests entirely with one’s self. Whereas Mircea Suciu’s film “Tabula Rasa” shows the constant re-trying of tracing a straight line on white paper’s mind as a blank slate, thus revealing the constant struggle for elaborate findings staying out of reach, Serkan Özkaya compels the viewer’s perception to face a steadfast example of perfection, indeed only to be attained in standstill. With its restlessness showing in soft moving of breezes, the visual notion is thus carried along a “Sudden Gust of Wind” towards a revelation of universal significance. Having at all times been way too far out of the scope of what human society considers to be of general importance, the utmost truth lies founded where it may easily be overseen: In the hidden, subtle, unhoped-for moments of sensing what makes us feel at home in living. The enigmatic force of such notion derives from the subtle irony rooting in Özkaya’s artful approach to the conceptual outline, pointing towards the viewer’s retrieved desire for esprit in a growing awareness that to cherish the instant is integral to a satisfying raison d’être.

In disclosing aesthetic mechanisms, Serkan Özkaya’s very own interest lies in the summing up of visual undertakings and their procedural ways towards a subversive overall picture. “A Sudden Gust of Wind” forcefully values contemplative gain, whereas at the same time it strikingly reminds of the exigencies occurring where paper tigers and empty phrases dissolve into hot air. In such, the overall impression powerfully pulls on associations of recommencements, yet both orderly and as farrago. Albeit history’s pages continuously wait to be lettered, too many chances of leading the tide to new grounds fly by in every instant, abandoned in the flow of time. Extending into open space against the background of historic and societal mechanism explored by Gorzo and Suciu, Serkan Özkaya’s installation thus builds a bridge towards a notion not only in excess of close transnational relations and individual impacts, but also au-delà the historic dimension of close linkages in itself: Towards a layer beyond globalization, affecting each and anyone. Such insistent concerns notwithstanding, he though never misses to abide his vibrating subtleness full of wit. Where “A Sudden Gust of Wind” is exhibited in the context of this year’s Istanbul Biennial taking its title from Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, the effective conception leads further on towards revived prominence. In its simplicity as assemblage of white paper sheets, states Özkaya smilingly, it reveals its intrinsic nature as being “an example of a true Threepenny installation in itself”. It is artistic endeavor’s agency itself which persists as highest good where works are driven by the wish to both be effective in human self-perception and let the art speak for itself – just as Bertolt Brecht insistently claimed it to be hold on to in the face of alternating superior means to be traversed without Hintersinn .

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Ist der Begriff Kunstwerk nicht mehr zu halten für das Ding, das entsteht, wenn ein Kunstwerk zur Ware verwandelt wird, dann müssen wir vorsichtig und behutsam, aber unerschrocken diesen Begriff weglassen, wenn wir nicht die Funktion dieses Dings selbst mitliquidieren wollen, denn durch diese Phase muss es hindurch, und zwar ohne Hintersinn, es ist kein unverbindlicher Abstecher vom rechten Weg, sondern was hier mit ihm geschieht, das wird es von Grund auf ändern, seine Vergangenheit auslöschen, so sehr, daß, wenn der alte Begriff wieder aufgenommen werden würde – und er wird es werden, warum nicht? – keine Erinnerung mehr an das Ding durch ihn ausgelöst werden wird, das er einst bezeichnete.

_______________________________________________Bertolt Brecht, Der Dreigroschenprozeß, 1931.