Issue 3/2016 - Endlose Gegenwart?

I Want You(r) Now!

Süreyyya Evren

History of art is supposed to be represented best in art museums. Museums are out there so that you can link tomorrow's art to today and envision future. That's why it is specifically interesting to discuss museums as places that are becoming more and more buried in the present. Boris Groys calls this phenomena as museums "in the flow". That is, instead of being on the side of the aura, museums are immersed in the flow of time. Groys notes that museums ceased to be a place for permanent collection and became a stage for changing curatorial projects, guided tours, screenings, lectures, performances, etc.

Will Gompertz, BBC's art editor and previous director of Tate Media, implies that museums are all about visitor attractions today and when we talk about museums we are talking show-business here. In his What Are You Looking At?, Gompertz tells how "performance art" became mainstream because museums needed more "events" . Museums all need art works that are also incidents of importance, preferably that also need booking: remember for example Carsten Höller's "Revolving Hotel Room" (2008), offering the fantasy of spending a night at the (Guggenheim) museum, which went on sale for those who are willing to pay between $259 and $799 for a night in the Guggenheim, to experience a special relationship with the building, with arts, and with all the aura it takes to be in the Guggenheim .

Securing a night at Höller's revolving bed was like hiring a super luxury escort you wouldn't normally be able to effort for a minute. Such an experience is not even on sale for you --maybe for some Arab Sheikh or some wealthy collector... But now, you have a chance to buy private time of the Guggenheim itself, a one night stand relationship. A chance to go to bed with the Guggenheim -or, a 'girl friend experience' with the Guggenheim, where the museum behaves like it is not a public institution that has links with all kinds of trade, power, money, cultural infrastructures, history, traditions and future prospects, but a museum just for you, for whole one night, a museum that wants to show you what it got to offer, as you wish. Be gentle, and you can take delight in every inch. And when you are exhausted and you want to rest, sleep a bit maybe --the bed is spinning slowly as such an extraordinary experience should effect you. This is not a stabile moment, it is a moment that revolves around itself. You could have seen many works from the collection, you could have seen the new exhibition that night, but they will all be packed in the revolving private time you bought: and the real special thing is not the deepness of an experience or an artwork (not the background and the story of it, not the metadata around art, not even the talent and genius behind art --but the feeling that you are all alone with the whole aura and whole physicality -the Guggenheim building).

Museums today are not relentlessly always only short of events but they also need event-needy poor souls, who have a void in their hearts and dreams, that can only be fulfilled with either continuous, repetitive public events, or special, private events that make you feel like you are something of moment. Museums based on preserving the aura, gave you the privilege of getting dusty and deep into the knowledge hidden in art. Museums-in-the-flow, on the other hand, suggest the slippery surface --and thanks to a literature based on Nietzsche, Deleuze and others, we also know that the surface may offer even more valuable knowledge than the so-called deepness. But how would that work?

In the peculiar atmosphere of contemporary art today, both the discourse based on deepness and discourse based on surface are all accused of creating an unaccessible art discourse. A theory, as Groys says, that is an advertisement but a bad advertisement -never attracts new audience but instead sicken and bother the existing ones.

Yet, as it was easy, a century ago, to go for a new manifesto that thunders staid art museums for creating a hierarchy within the history of art, it is equally easy today, to criticise 'museums-in-the-flow' for losing that grip.

The repetitive, continuous public museum-events do not really feel the need to be appreciated by the art world -especially when they are huge, like the singer Björk's exhibition at MoMA (March 8-June 7, 2015).

An artistic response to all this dizziness of the present is a deliberate self 'de-skilling' sometimes. One question is, could this strategy be employed by the institutions as well, could an art museum 'de-event' its program? Right now, it seems, such a gestural trick is only -partly- possible if the institution is dying.

Agamben once said, the "knowledge of the past is the only way to have access to the present" . But this allows the consensus of the present block the access to the same present. One reason is that you don't have enough dialogue with the past texts -do not have discussions with already said words in earlier decades. Who argues against an exhibition catalogue written 20 or 30 years ago?
Nowadays, a well-known Istanbul art gallery, one of the very first, is about to close its doors. Founded in 1976, Maçka Sanat Gallery is in itself a place that holds many keys to the history of Turkish contemporary art. Before shutting down, the place decided to host few final exhibitions and transfer all its archive material to a bigger collection and archive (of Vehbi Koç Foundation).

One of these very last exhibitions of Maçka Sanat is held by an Istanbul-based artist, İz Öztat (1981) who herself loves to work with archives.

Preferring to produce a new document to be included in the archive, Öztat revisits "interrogation" as a methodology that she encountered in the recorded talks. So Öztat positions herself as the interrogated subject by appropriating a sentence from the recordings as the title of the work, "I prefer to answer questions". She invited 20 people —including artists from different generations, art critics, curators, her mentors and friends— to interrogate her anonymously inside the walls of Maçka Sanat. The sound recording of the interrogations that last over 20 hours are exhibited along with a publication of questions compiled from the interrogations and are introduced to Maçka Sanat archive as a contemporary document. The title of the exhibition is "İz Öztat through the questions of 20 people" (May 3 - June 4, 2016)

The exhibition is not literally accessible —it is like present blocked by past. As it happens, there is a niche on a gallery wall where you can hear some talks, but you have to spend days there to really be able to listen all the recordings —more than 3 days actually. And the gallery should be empty or very quiet for anyone to hear anything. Öztat lets you penetrate into this series of interrogations -even hands over selected questions asked, but does not want you to be able to comprehend it, categorise it, work it through.

In the exhibition project, the very fundamental aspect of any artistic research —the artist interrogating herself/himself to find new truths/ways etc. — has been delegated to art world figures (who appear as interrogators). A totally de-skilled artist, Öztat, who even cannot ask herself questions to start with (say for example cannot ask her self "what to do?" or "what do you want to do?"), accompanies an art gallery and a decent art events archive fade away, a place that smoothly aims to de-event itself and gradually decease.

But 'de-skilling/de-eventing' as reactive strategies maybe failing to grab one new opportunity: to become places/occasions to discuss(and understand) the eventfulness of events.
When Öztat says "I prefer to answer questions" she also seems like saying "no, I don't want to answer new questions that were not yet asked and invented by my visionary understanding. I am not new, not even interested in being one. I am becoming a new series of whisperings though -that is doomed to end pretty soon and rest in an archive." Obviously archive promises deepness -roots, reality and continuity.
It is an opportunity to compare 60s skilful disclosure of power regimes within a person and society, with todays de-skilled, even sometimes mule , unskilled artistic gestures that do not speak from a safe heaven. Let's recall for example Yoko Ono's classical performance Cut Piece (1964). A work where we see the artist becoming a medium as she sits on stage like a figure who is out of the realm of destructive sins and who becomes a genuine victim of our own wills. An act of sacrifice of some sort. Yoko Ono does not cut herself, she does not cut anyone: Yet there is a tension because we are cutting her as the audience. We becoming cruel, she becoming sinless, we laughing she crying ; and we finding ways to dismantle her unique naivety, her innocence ...

That opens an track to trace how things changed as we reached today, to small scale art events like Maria Karlberg's "A Woman for Sale" performance in 2013. In "A Woman for Sale", we see Karlberg cutting not her clothes but her very self into pieces by herself. The performance mainly consists of Karlberg obeying to a recorded voice (which sounds like Karlberg's inner voice) that gives several orders and teaches how to behave to become a better brand. An inner voice, teaching skills and showing ways for success .

A gestural weakness of direct de-skilling is that it resembles, at some degree, the avant-garde manifestos -where you offer one solution in one moment. Yet a 'mule art', a solution of the 'unskilled', at the borders of art and politics, carrying values from politics to art, like 'duty-free widows', do not offer any one solution to dead-ends. Instead, moves the art event into the problem, this time like a mule, the unskilled artist carries her inner voice, and it is her own self-discipline that cuts her into pieces. Not a de-skilling gesture like Öztat did -where she still decides who should interrogate her and which interrogation questions are worth writing down and where she is nearly as innocent as the skilful Yoko Ono of 60s- but a mule, unskilled gesture resist the hegemony of present, the flow, the pressure to be in the flow, by carrying us, on her back, to a psychological/artistic space where we can find an opportunity to discuss the eventfulness of events today...

A con-artist, like Arthur Furguson who sold Buckingham Palace, or the Turkish con-artist Sülün Osman who sold the historical Galata Tower in Istanbul, both maybe real persons or maybe a hoax, while such con-artists are showing a skill based on convincing, also they very well create an example of how to link past to future just to be a part of the flow without inviting anyone to discuss the event. Where artists like Karlberg do reenact a con-artist's ways of selling only to sell themselves -A Woman for Sale is also a woman you can only buy as much as you can buy the Buckingham Palace or the Galata Tower.

It gets a bit more complicated when it is A Museum Exhibition for Sale -and all discussion is open to manipulation. Robin Pogrebin from New York Times notes that "Nearly a third of the major solo exhibitions at museums in the United States between 2007 and 2013 featured artists represented by just five galleries, according to a recent survey by the The Art Newspaper: Gagosian, Pace, Marian Goodman, David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth."

Today, production costs are getting higher everyday -and an interesting part is continuously increasing costs of insurance costs. Why would insurance costs get continuously higher and higher? What does that mean? Which possibilities of future change production costs today?
A museum based on aura is a place where you expect values will also be preserved -along with hierarchies and power relations of course- and values to be carried to future. Can commercial galleries steal that role? (and cancel any idea of discussing the eventfulness of the events in favour of the flow of more and more events).
Commercial galleries sometimes represent a vicious circle of the 'flow'. They make a lot of noise (sometimes they use museums walls and museum aura for echo) yet they do not really want to carry anything from one place to another -except the possibilities, prices and cultural capital.
Sometimes, not more noise but silence or silent gatherings may offer new potentials for this discussion.
In W. G. Sebald's Vertigo, in a short story titled ALL'ESTERO, there is a passage where he tells a tiny and totally silent restaurant, and describes "a silent gathering" there, where a waitress behaves like she is carrying secret messages among the customers and the house .
Could we then suggest carrying secret messages across borders like a mule in a silent gathering as a possible strategy today for both finding places to discuss the eventfulness of events, and also to be a part of the eventfulness of events - to be carried inside this mental place through art, without increasing the insurance costs even more?