Bantmag Interview – 2015
To prepare for this interview, I was of course going to see what the internet would come up with when I throw my net called “extrastruggle” into its depths. It's not original, but it's always effective.
As I was strolling around amongst interviews, comments and the Tophane attack which was very newsworthy for the more sensationalist press, and stories about the censure of the “Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal” sculpture, and reading the “statements and answers” given by extrastruggle, my first reaction was to put them through a sort of recycling strainer and ask them “OK, but what now?” You said “impartiality”, but what now? You quoted Sheikh Bedreddin, “Truth cannot be disclosed to the people […] But perhaps the people should be inured to the truth.”, but what now?..
What I mean by 'now' is a fugacious, volatile moment, a period of time when even the thought of catching destroys itself; it's not a state of existence –this, I'll get back to later. What I mean are the shines given to hate speech in the form of deaths, our nationalism that can't get enough of being exploited, the political profusion of which is endless; and our social reality that is squeezed between know-it-all signifiers such as our moral values which fill up and empty more than the full up ones... Not the 'now' that we keep missing, but the 'now' we're stuck in at this moment... The 'now' that escalates the anxiety of both our social and personal existence. The 'now' that insists on making one ask this question that has ceased to be a question. So let me ask, plainly and without bias, what now?
Yetkin Nural: The description on your website has changed. It used to say you fulfill the imaginary orders of your imaginary customers when creating your work, now there's a romantic manifesto that makes reference to uprising, disorder, equality and freedom. What is the reason for this change? Or, if we were to investigate its reflection on your work, what can we learn from you?
Extrastruggle: Dreams, our desires, stories, libido, subliminal, things we don't think about, Jung, Fuzuli, Ahmad Hilmi of Filibe are some of the concepts and authors I've been interested in for some time. I wanted to make the struggle a little less visible. I still don't dwell on topics about me, my topics are still societal.
YN: I would also like to ask you this, setting off from this change in description: Is it possible to protect an unbiased struggle in today's world where impartiality is silenced and considered groundless? Is the extra part of the job to protect this impartiality?
Ex: It's a bit odd to tell, I'll try: I don't, in fact, want to be myself, I want to be us. My aim is to enrich the ordinary word of “us”. I want to find the anchors that limit our movements, that are the source of our comments that give meaning to incidents and to meaningless, nonsensical things; the other ends of the backstitching strings that are connected to us in the depths. The process goes like this: Reading, then attaching too much importance to dreams, being in the same situation as objects towards which I feel a strange and inexplicable energy or emotion, trying to communicate with them. This is wanting to witness the interaction between things that seem unrelated and to conceive a new web of traces. It's a good occupation. A studio work that has books, dreams, objects, pens, paper and imagination. What keeps this work unbiased is conscience. If they're not unbiased then I have been unconscientious. Of course, I can make mistakes. There's nothing wrong with making mistakes, but insisting on mistakes is probably proof of stupidity or sadism.
YN: An unchanged part of your description is about your style and format of production. In a statement that welds semiotics and its anthropological projections with deconstructionism, you define your productions as “to create a whole, a Frankenstein from differences.” These Western philosophical concepts inadvertently come to the tip of the tongue, but I might just be reading it all wrong. What are the inspirational points and/or ways of thought that shape your interdisciplinary style of production?
Ex: I used to get triggered by news articles or daily life. My motivations have changed now. My point of inspiration is the distinctive, the one that has created its own alternate universe, the one who uses a different language, the one without function, thrown away, deserted, got tired of, useless, out of sight. If I'm lucky or I have a strong mind and strong observational skills, I can sense its silence in this hubbub. If I could grasp the thing I notice even just a little bit, then I try getting in contact with it. If I'm intelligent enough to understand what I gather, then I try commenting on it. This whole process enriches life, adds joy to walking, looking around; your conscience draws near you, it even takes the wheel sometimes. This may be defined as a prayer that wishes to increase the time that's under the control of conscience.
YN: During my soliloquy in the first question: in an old interview, you have a statement on 'now'. Your answer was that 'now' “couldn't exist without memory or plan”, that even if it did, it would be a fragile and volatile state, “a knoll no one could even stand on”. It reminds me of Zen Buddhism's perception of the “moment”. How much does Eastern philosophy filter into your work and thoughts?
Ex: I can't say I know much. Besides, looking back, I have always wanted to be someone who feels rather than someone who knows. When my feelings rise, for a little moment when my openness towards life is akin to those of Lautréamont, Keats and Fuzuli, then images and thoughts rain on me; and then I write. Apart from these moments, my openness towards life is like other people: almost closed. I try to pry open this closed window, to break this closed state. Sometimes music, views and pain help you. Only sometimes, unfortunately. Except for miraculous moments, the window that opens towards the inside is closed. This is the setting of God or the cosmos. We can't live with it constantly open anyway. It's probably a godly drive, the irrevocable commitment of living beings to nature, beauty, love, tragedy and violence. When the comfort and peace that one tries to attain closes that window that opens towards the inside and cuts off the breeze that only sometimes comes in from the depths, we leave that place, that state, or that. When you think of all of this, what can be more important than 'now'? Everything stands at 'now' but unfortunately we can only stay there for very little.
YN: Extrastruggle came into existence in 1997. That means we're reaching 20 years since productions were made under this name. What do you think about the “We're going back to the '90s” discourse that's prevalent especially today? (I guess I can't run away from the “what now?” questions) Do you look at the taboos, deaths and discourses of then from the same place where you look at today's social engineering strategies, and do you only see repetition when you do?
Ex: I don't like major religions, nationalism or any phenomenon, foundation, party or association that demands crowds; therefore I don't like politics. I vote for HDP (Peoples' Democratic Party). I don't comprehend why we have call to prayer five times a day. I don't feel a special affinity for the Arabic language, I don't know why this language is in my life. I don't know why it says “Turkey belongs to the Turks” next to the logo of Hürriyet, the daily newspaper. I follow the goings-on. When they narrow our space, I, too, go out on the streets with my friends to take part in protests, if everyone stops then I stop, if everyone shouts then I shout. I disliked Özal as much as I dislike Tayyip [Erdoğan]. I can't say I like Apo [Öcalan] either. I stopped liking Fener[bahçe] as well, after Alex left. Love the people. Love the Kurds, the Armenians, the Greeks; love the homosexuals, transsexuals, the long-haired, the tattoed, the women who like travelling by hitchhiking. What the hell is Tayyip!
YN: We will see Extrastruggle at Art International in the beginning of September. How is your participation going to be at the fair? Are you creating new work(s) for it?
Ex: I didn't work with galleries until I was 40 and I sold almost no paintings or sculptures. The collectors usually go to fairs and buy what they like. The ones who like me and my work but can't afford it make do with jpeg images. If I do a book someday, –you have to do everything yourself in this shitty country, as you know– maybe they'll live on on paper, too. Us painters have been in relations with the rich since the dawn of time. But we've got a few more tricks up our sleeves, like Hafriyat Karaköy [Art Gallery].
YN: Do you have any new ideas or exhibitions lined up for after Art International, towards 2016?
Ex: Life goes on, as long as the wind blows...
Translation: Onur Zilberman