artist: Ipek Duben
venue: CDA projects
coordinates: Istanbul, 2011
On Extracted Objects
coming to terms with a personal archive of works
The curator was presented with the artist’s archive of works which consisted of projects based on long-term research and produced mostly in multiple formats. The curator studied the archive, along with their references and documented material, and initiated a process of working with the artist in selecting five projects to be re-visited. This process took around seven months, accompanied by discussions on how to re-contextualize the five works selected together for a gallery exhibit.
Having decided on the selection of works, both the artist and curator emerged themselves in another process of selecting extracts from poems written by the artist from the same period in which the art works had been produced. These verses were designed into the works to function as a suture that linked the works to each other.
Re-visiting projects also involves a voyage in time where each and every detail of the work is given a critical overview. Although this act carries a nostalgic gesture in itself, it is purely a ‘means to an end’ act that requires a specific sort of analysis and justification. Is their content still relevant to the present day? Are they still capable of working as a powerful conveyor of the psyche of the state in terms of which they were produced? Had the artist already become detached from them mentally and technically, or dID a bond still exist with them? With an accumulating number of similar questions, both the artist and the curator navigated through the works.
unexhibited performative act
After re-visiting the works, the artist extracted objects and then processed them as ‘metonyms’ of their content, form, and format. This was a performative act involving a delicate balancing. It was a challenging process, especially for the artist, which was to be followed by a course of production.
How does an artist extract objects out of long-term projects? It demands an organized methodology, along with well-grounded consistency with the content of the works. The performative act of extracting works rested on the shoulders of the artist, while communicating these objects was the role of the curator. The exhibition design allowed these extracted objects to form a single story delivered in episodes.
An Interview with İpek Duben on “Extracted Objects”
This interview documents a summary of the work carried out for the exhibition “Extracted Objects” by the artist Ipek Duben and curator Başak Şenova.
Başak Şenova: “Extracted Objects” is an exhibition that facilitates poems. Hence, there is always a connection to poetry in your projects. Sometimes it is more explicit and sometimes it is a subtle connection. Could you talk about your relationship with literature?
İpek Duben: I read mostly daily news, philosophical essays, documentary materials and short stories. If the material is of particular interest to me I follow the trail. I have archives of newspaper clippings from many years back about specific issues. For example I began to collect cases of domestic violence in 1997. I still continue wherever I may be, Turkey, USA, China. I have done the same with forced migration and the plight of migrants in the world.
The people involved in the events enter my life, they live with me until the experience turns into pure sensation, a feeling which I cannot place coming from anywhere but my whole being. I express these sensations in my poetry. When Manuscript 1994 was completed I had to write an artist’s statement explaining it. I realized that the only way I could explain the work was by putting my inner sound into words. Poetry is the inner sound of the artist; I write my poems as I listen to these sounds. The result is like a gasp. Only abstract expressionism in painting comes close to this kind of poetic and purely subjective expression.
In my installations sound exists as rhythm. I create rhythm by applying precisely measured spaces/distances between serialized units. I have mostly worked in series. Serial work has a rhythm of its own.
BŞ: I clearly see such a pattern and a certain rhythm in between the works in this exhibition. In this respect, what are the common aspects of the various works? Where and how do they intersect?
ID: Irony and a questioning stance connect Manuscript 1994, Artemis (1995), Mini roulettes from LoveGame (2001) and Children of Paradise (2000). The point of intersection is in the same ironic and questioning approach to whatever the issues may be, IDentity of women, domestic violence or the tantalizing weight of material culture on babies, tomorrow’s adults. Manuscript 1994 is a very personal statement taking the high road and asserting a very personal stance regarding religious faith and IDentity. Another aspect common to all these works is that I have used everyday objects – found objects or realistically rendered objects like photographs – in all of them.
And of course the sound of rhythm is another connecting link. There is a constant beat of repetition whether it is the repetition of certain images as in Manuscript 1994 or objects as in Children of Paradise. I would like the viewers to think about sameness and difference and the continuous time line running through past-present-future. The singular representations of certain found objects such as the crushed telephone and anonymous heads refer directly to decay and memory.
BŞ: Revisiting your works also implies a visit to your personal past. Such a process of remembering and thought should also reveal some subtle changes about the works that you have produced. For instance, has your life experience changed your perspective on these works?
ID: It seems that my vision today envelops two different perspectives simultaneously. The works we are visiting seem to have retained their relevance and presence in our present lives. History seems to repeat itself concerning basic human elements and in that sense I hear the beat of the rhythm still. On the other hand we are in a new century guIDed by technological and scientific possibilities affecting our lives, and in ways we may not be able to apply to our familiar manners of control. There is a great deal of research in genetic change, cloning, controlling brain functions. Social relations and indivIDual IDentities are already affected by parallel lives people lead through the Internet. Already some people are enchanted by the possibility of appearing or presenting themselves as someone they are not. These are disruptions, which lead us to question our basic concept of ourselves and the possibilities within it regarding our perceptions, feelings, thought processes.
We are today overwhelmed by technology on one sIDe and the power of rising and moving masses on the other. So as I revisit these works I look through a lens, which can possibly skew and open my perspective, our perspective, to reveal new possibilities of perception and awareness through the cracks.
BŞ: So, it is possible to detect new articulations in your works.
ID: The evolution of our belief in the concept of – the possibility of –utopia, a vision for a better society appears somewhat naïve to us today. As we sense our loss of control we are able to feel the irresistible weight of masses acting and moving without a clear direction around the world. We do not know exactly where we will end up. If we let ourselves feel a sense of joy and celebration in embracing this new dynamic it will be unconnected to the fluctuations of global capitalism and its consequences. If we cannot hope for a better social order we can still believe in the indivIDual’s capacity to learn to desire peace and to feel compassion. Regardless what shape the social order may become we must become aware of our own limitations, untested capabilities as well as each other’s right to exist and to share opportunities. We need to become empathic indivIDuals. This awareness seems to have influenced my most recent work like Farewell My Homeland (2007) and Crossing (2008) both of which deal with massive migration in the world, immigrants’ stories, their losses and pain. Who’s Who (2010) is about the faceless presence of mobs and crowds organized and shaped by IDeologies, extreme mechanization of labor, and fanatics of all kinds.
BŞ: As I see it, layers of this awareness and the heaviness of the subject matter expose themselves as ironic statements through the ‘objects’ in the exhibition.
ID: Yes, you are right. While I make a visual representation even in a documentary mode, there is a strong sense of irony and questioning in these works. What seems to be an indefinite repetition of similar occurrences moving into infinity is ironic. While I open up the harsh facts of existence to the viewer’s empathy I am questioning the possibility of ever ending it. If in our new age human nature can be transformed, change may occur in ways we cannot predict at the moment. But everything comes with pluses and minuses like the Internet brings transparency, while it creates new ways to control indivIDuals’ lives and their privacy. There is no perfect solution at the moment beyond increasing our awareness and sense of responsibility.
BŞ: What is your definition of ‘object’?
The dictionary meaning of object is ‘something mental or physical toward which thought, feeling or action is directed.’ Something that stirs a particular feeling.
For me, objects can prick viewer’s emotions or sexual appetites without raising the artist’s narcissistic introspection. In other words objects maintain a certain distance and coolness while touching the emotions. I select objects with the intention to create specific feelings and meaning.
BŞ: The exhibition is based on extracts but as ‘objects’. From a historical point of view, ‘objects’ have always existed by themselves in the gallery context. Nevertheless, in this case of your exhibition, each object functions as a metonym for the work that it specifically refers. The substitution is always based on the association that was built in the past. How do you process this dependency?
ID: The completed work of art like a painting is itself a physical object, but in this case the work is preoccupied with subject matter apart from painting itself. For example a Jackson Pollock painting is an object in terms of its physical presence on a wall or standing on the floor but its concern is about ‘painting’ itself. When a chair is art or is used as an element in an art piece it has a literary bent, a story to tell through associations and memory, the intention of the artist etc. When I first used photographs in my work I thought of them as found objects. I dID not discover them because they were taken by a photographer under my direction, but they were created by her before I processed the final work. I used them as documents or IDentity cards representing me in their own literalness apart from and together with my intervention in the way I collaged them together. Later I used objects with little or no intervention as in Children of Paradise where I brought together many objects to tell a story or the Telephone, which I found in the mIDdle of the street, and then hung it on the wall in my studio. The telephone tells us a story, its history full of possibilities to the extent that we can imagine it.
As you point out in the exhibition each object functions as a metonym for the work that it specifically refers. Mini Roulettes for example refer to the LoveGame project. They are part of the original project but also stand on their own. But for the viewer there is a need to know more about what they are looking at, what the big story is. The exhibition refers to a time in the past when the objects in the gallery had had another life or had been part of one. The show is the memory, the shadow of times past. In the case of Children of Paradise the original work is shown together with photographs of its details, its parts. It is as though this work is in the process of creating its own shadow, it’s past.
All the works in the exhibition are extracts from the works they refer to. In the case of Artemis the sculpture makes direct reference to the original banner in Ephesus. It reminds us but it is different, while the photographs of Children of Paradise are extracted objects and we are witnessing their connection to the original.
BŞ: Not only is this repetitive connection, but also exhibiting these objects in the gallery context along with the title of the exhibition underlines an attempt to review and even simultaneously to question a particular period with the viewer.
ID: ‘Extracted Objects’ are things I have selected from an unIDentified quantity of them with the intention to create specific but open-ended thoughts and varied feelings in the viewer. The unIDentified quantity refers to the generic IDentity of each object as well as the totality of my works.