Art Unlimited, January - February 2020
Translation: Güher Gürmen
Just then a flash in the city: Degenderized bodies and recontructed archives
The exhibition Artificial Bloom; Fluid Archives, together with Christiane Peschek, Zeynep Beler and Luz Blanco, is an entire “alternative archive”, reconstructing the image of the female body in the classical sense of art as well as the artists’ own bodies, the disintegration and expansion of the body, the vagueness of genders.
I met one of my best friends on Tumblr. Although it is strange for somebody approaching the second half of her 30s to say this, it was a blessing for “me” at the beginning of my 20s to find a place where I can express myself and be a part of a community. Since the 90s, the internet technology has been being a medium for feminists and queer existences where they can express themselves, contruct new and different selves for themselves and create “personas” as an extension of their presence in daily life. Although today we see negative opinions on phone or computer addiction in TV programs, news and newspapers, the cyberfeminist production survives against the opinion that having become an extension of us, phones obscure our “real” existence. Since the “Cyberfeminist Manifesto” of the feminist art community VNS Matrix in 1991 (certainly thanks to the wave of tendencies before as well), the internet has been seen as a new medium for women against male domination. Today, artists supporting the opinion of post-internet or post-cyberfeminisim continue to use the social media and the internet, where we keep an account of our personal archives, as “spaces” for deconstructing and reconstructing the female body and heteronormative relations which have been under the influence of the male gaze.
The exhibition “Artificial Bloom; Fluid Archives”, Melih Aydemir’s first solo curating experience, that is open to visitors until January 19 at Sanatorium, constructs an entire alternative archive while reconstructing the female body in the classical sense of art as well as the artists’ own bodies, the disintegration and expansion of the body, the vagueness of genders.
The exhibition “Artificial Bloom; Fluid Archives” is the product of a mind that knows very well what it wants to do with what it shows to, hides form and presents as a field of discovery to the audience. The way that it deals with the issue of archive and anarchive (which might be defined as the archive of what is not deemed suitable for archiving or the archive of what has been archived by a mechanism of domination) achieves an indisputable success in displaying the possibilities arising from the gap between our real and virtual selves by means of the way it conveys to the gallery venue the deformation, expansion and transformation of the body – especially, female and queer bodies – into a bigger “thing” by losing its linearity via cyberspace.
Deconstructing the archive and then reconstructing it
While the “archive” in the classical sense monopolizes knowledge and determines what to store and what to convey to the next generation, it also holds the power of how to exhibit what is “worth to be archived”. Although today, anthropology and historiography witness approaches that reject to treat yesterday with today’s judgement – putting the middle class, white, heterosexual man in the center – it is obvious that we still feel the influence of the tendency dating back to centuries ago in other ways. On the other hand, the fact that women and nonnormative existences create their own histories via internet, have their own archives or embrace other possibilities on the virtual world by means of interventions on their own bodies also means to displace the tools of power and to intervene in the linear course of history.
“Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility. The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience...” says Donna Haraway in her “Cyborg Manifesto” dated 1984. The manifesto prescribes the rescue of the virtual environment and cyborg existences from the monopoly of male-dominated technology and the creation of a common language as an ironic dream. Drawing its strength from this, video art, new technologies and internet become media of expression since the end of the 20th century for feminist artists, while women having their own say in issues such as gender, body, male gaze, race make it possible to create their own archives and to transform the female body into a fluid being.
Austrian artist Christiane Peschek whose works we have the opportunity to see for the first time in Turkey with the exhibition “Artificial Bloom; Fluid Archives” considers the body and the screen as each other’s extensions in her works. The screen is, as it were, an extension of human body. This point where the physical and the virtual meets provides us with an ambigious being, a fluid identity. The starting point of the exhibition originates from Peschek’s series ‘POSE’. What will an archaeologist find when working on digital residues after fifty, maybe hundred years from now? What will the female pose constructed by the male gaze turn into after being played on it, being manipulated again and again? Setting out from these questions, Peschek creates a digital cave. The phone in the spectator’s hand is a tool for being able to see all the works in the exhibition. The wall paintings, the genderless two-headed sculpture and body fragments that one cannot see as a whole without the flashlight of the phone draw attention to the gaps between our real existence and virtual existence. Peschek’s wall paintings that are only visible by means of the flashlight brings to mind an invention in 2013. A research by archaelogist Dean Snow from the Pennsylvania State University shows that most of the handprints in the oldest cave paintings belong to women. The researcher states that it is surprising that the assumption that the cave paintings were done by men have been continuing for centuries without even any research has been done on the matter. We do not know to what extent Christiane Peschek’s wall paintings and installations reminiscent of cave paintings were influenced by this news that caused another archaeological dogma to be shaken which has been taken as truth, however, they provide us with a confrontation about according what archaeological excavations are categorized and under which assumptions they are done.
The manipulated photographs by Christiane Peschek in her ‘POSE’ series look like flowers scattered around in accordance with the title of the exhibition “Artificial Bloom”. The starting point of the works by Christiane Peschek and Zeynep Beler, the exciting dialogue between whose works one will definitely notice, are the photographs that they took with their phones. Peschek first captures the female pose that the classical male gaze expects to see with her phone. And what is more, the subject of this pose is her own body. Afterwards, she manipulates this image by transforming the body into something that scatters and flies around and breaks it from the classical gender narrative. The process that the artist follows in order to obtain these photographs is also full of the clues regarding the work itself. For exhibiting the photographs, Pescheck goes back to a technique that was quite popular at the end of the 1800s. She makes the analogue silver gelatin prints of the digital images that she turns into negative films with a reverse method. It is a way of exhibiting these photographs, which were taken with the phone and manipulated, in the sizes installed in the exhibition. By using this photograph printing technique that is acknowledged as archival, the artist tries to show that the body’s transformation, fluidity or state of consisting of fragmented extensions does not render it less real and that it is still worth archiving.
“Making one’s own body part of the work”, one of the most important tools of feminist art practice, provides artists with the freedom regarding the manner of exhibiting the works. The starting point of Zeynep Beler’s “Nights on Instagram” that she continues to produce since 2015 are also photographs which we do not deem worthy of “posting”. The photographs which fill the photo galleries of all of us today but which we never deem worthy to use on Instagram become worthy of being exhibited by turning into paintings by means of the oil painting on canvas technique. These photographs taken from the wrong angle, which are very low for the standards of Instagram and might reveal the flaws of our body, draw attention to the boundaries and non-boundaries between our real existence and virtual existence. In this way, by means of a second deconstruction, Beler’s paintings seem to challenge the constraints of the internet and the imposition of exhibiting the female body according to certain limits by turning “worthless” photographs into works of art. Thus, both artists do not only archive and exhibit what is not worthy of being archived and exhibited but also decide how and in which form they are “shown”. Both Peschek’s photographs and Beler’s oil paintings carry the traces of cyber-feminist artists who have taken in hand the will of representing themselves in a relatively early period.
Contrary to Zeynep Beler and Christopher Peschek, this is the only place where the works of Luz Blanco, an artist without even any social media accounts, have an opportunity of dialogue with the two other artists. Blanco’s works reflect upon the lost pieces by starting out from the connections between erasure, memory and forgetting. The pixels in “Constellation 1-2-3” are engraved one by one by being drawn through carbon paper. While these engravings draw attention to the transitivity between the layers separating bodies and memories, one starts to perceive the “lost” or “half-visible” female images in the pixels in the drawings when looking closer.
A non-linear state of expansion
Can we say that each of us is a cyborg with our smart phones which have now become an extension of our body, and with our profiles, characters and images on the internet? And what if our cyber-being adventure have reached a point where even asking this question has lost its meaning? The possibilities to be created by the vagueness of the boundaries between our identity in real-life (IRL) and cyber-identities (it should not be forgotten that cyber identity is not singular and unique and differs from medium to medium) is another starting point for “Artificial Bloom; Fluid Archives”. As for the inspiration for this starting point, it is a song and a clip again. SOPHIE, producer and musician, obscures the line between her virtual being and her being in real-life in her song “Faceshopping” dated 2018. This is, at the same time, a moment of transition and opening for SOPHIE. We witness that she carries her trans identity so obviously for the first time on screen. “Artificial Bloom”, as it is in the song, sees one’s reconstruction of one’s own body as something blooming, and even as something scattering.
And again the lyrics “I'm real when I shop my face” in the song is like a move towards sliding the pillars of “reality” determined by male domination. There are no boundaries determined by male domination anymore between what is real and fake. The body has turned into a fluid being by expanding in networks, in spirals and in a non-linear way. The “body” that has played the basic role in the establishment of the patriarchal system loses its validity with the cyberspace. When there is not a body present, domination tools reinforced via dichotomies such as mind and soul, compassion and power, indoors and outdoors also lose their validity.
Zeynep Beler’s installation that she created by bringing together memory cards, epoxy, silicone, fishnet, cable clamps, seashells, found objects and waste objects of her such as plastic nails confront us like a melted body with the phone in the hand. It is as if the line between our presentation in real life and our digital existence has become obscure. The vagueness and blurriness of this line heralds another form of existence. This form of existence is not only physical or digital, on the contrary, in this monument, the human being has ceased to be two different beings, one real and one virtual, and a unification that expands each other and blossoms. While the “human body” turns into an exhibition venue by means of little canvases placed on this fluid, genderless monument, it also reminds that nothing is actually lost and everything that we add to our digital existence waits there for being revealed. The female body shaped by patriarchy in Beler’s fluid monuments is now far from being a body in the real sense and is free in this way.