Ahmet Ergenç

Bringing Fuzûlî and Orwell Together – 2014

Extrastruggle first emerged in 1997 as a movement of culture jamming / artistic intervention, and until now, mostly produced extrovert works with highly distinct references and points of attack, works that could be deemed propagandist. As befits its name, this was a project of ‘struggle’; a struggle of discourse (and yes, Foucauldian) against the morbid discourses that formed the establishment of the Republic of Turkey (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, TC). In works he presented on his web site and at his first solo exhibition (“I Didn’t Do This, You Did.”) he carried out interventions against current hegemonic visuals/images and entered them into alternative semantic combinations; as in the “The Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal”, featuring minarets added to Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal, the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, or in “Heart Wound”, an inverted version of the flag of the Republic of Turkey, made of flesh, fat and bones. These works were in constant struggle with state ideology, and often with the holy taboo of Kemalism. Extrastruggle also produced works that commented on ‘New Republicanism’, a political movement aiming to take the place of Kemalism. In this manner, with artistic interventions made using the narratives, symbols and myths of the nation’s history and current agenda, Extrastruggle became a fully flourished political and artistic performer. In doing all this, his detached, depersonalized political engagement rendered his own status and person invisible. This was also perhaps why Extrastruggle was often erroneously though to be a ‘group’ project.
However, now, in his second solo exhibition titled “There Is No God in the Sky Only Birds” a personal aspect which did not exist before has emerged. Memed Erdener, having defined himself via a ‘negation’ of power in his previous works, now creates a unique position (a position that does not feel content in being only the Other of power). A voice concerned about what it is is added to a voice that declares what it is not. Stating that he again has a problem with authority and the state, he declares that the struggle must move on from the extra (the outside) to the intra (the inside), adding a more metaphysical, more sufist strand to actual politics. And this is how he explains this move: To bring together Orwell and Fuzûlî. Having only produced Orwellian works (like a modernist writer, who perhaps produced a little more monolithic works, focusing on grand symbols and myths) previously, he now approaches a more ‘hybrid’ position, producing more multilayered works both in terms of the use of materials and conceptual content.
While his previous works only focused on the codes of ‘civilisation’ and power, and the collective, his new works add nature, Sufism and personal existence to the equation. In other words, while his works previously engaged only with ‘the external world’, they now take ‘the internal world’ into consideration, too. Thus, Orwell, the man of the industrial Western city, converges with Fuzuli, the man of eastern deserts. ‘Major’ topics such as nation, identity, history, memory, power and hegemony, which occupied the centre of previous works, also form the frame of this new exhibition. However, here there is a strand that makes us feel that the political and the collective cannot be held separate from personal micro-strands, and that the events that take place in the political sphere, first and foremost occur within the internal structure of the individual. This new composition is completed with the addition of a regard that has turned its gaze to the greater landscape beyond the socio-political context, to the cosmos, and which questions, not only the power of the state, but the greatest of powers, the construct of God.
This regard appears before us in a work based on a very simple idea, but which emits an impressive aura. In this work titled “The Incalculable Order of Chaos” a tangled web of wire painted black has been installed upon an old calculator. This critique aimed at the rational mind that seeks to control the world, invites humanity to a more humble respect towards the chaos of nature, since, as everyone is aware, the mania of control/calculation creates ‘a world disenchanted’ and various despotisms.
There is a highly simple and effective work in the exhibition, which conveys the problem of ‘internal’ rather than external struggle: “One Must Be Slow and Hear the Smallest Voices”. A snail shell, and a gigantic ear, connected by wires: in a world rapidly revolving, to listen to the world from a point of meditation, with the slowness of a snail, might be a departure point for internal struggle.
Works that combine nature and objects of civilisation indicate another method of ‘struggle’. The work titled “What to Do in the Time Given to Us” features an old clock missing its hands placed atop a dry branch. A great summary of human being trapped between the time of nature and the time of civilisation. As long as “the time given to us” remains disjointed from the cycle of nature, the sad state of the world may never change. “The Thing that Does Not Love Itself”, formed of a mesh of wire replacing the handle of a rake, recalls the vital role of the relationship one forms with one self, or in other words, ‘his or her love for his or herself’ in the relationship one forms with the world.
The existence of a historical viewpoint, juxtaposed to and intersected with this ‘cosmic’ and ‘personal’ perspective augments the power of the exhibition. The work titled “He Who Controls the Present Controls the Past”, for instance, touches upon the recently much-discussed problem of ‘social memory’. This work, made up of ‘found objects’ such as old metal mirrors, a toy soldier and passport photographs, expresses well the absent memory in the history of the Republic of Turkey, a monument to military tutelage.
The work titled “Revolution” proposes a different interpretation to the problem of “revolution” that has often been subdued by being substituted with the Ottoman word “inkılâp”. Below the work composed of an old bayonet and a crochet coverlet there is a quote from a text on Deleuze and Guattari. This quote from the field of radical political theory placed below the work recalling the period of the ‘War of Independence’ opens an entirely different window. This quote, stating that revolution is not a matter of destroying old internal conventions but occurs through making additions to the current system, also explains the tragedy created by the absolute rupture the Republic of Turkey placed between itself and the history and tradition that came before it. What counts is not creating one’s own hegemony through large-scale political interventions, but to constantly carry out interventions that will shatter hegemonic structures. The exhibition occupies a strong political position because it makes the viewer feel this. And what’s more, this new whole which Extrastruggle attains by adding the intra next to the extra, manages to shed the unidirectionality of the extroversive proposition “You Did This” which frankly is not very persuasive in the art of culture jamming / intervention. We are now looking at a much more comprehensive Extrastruggle.

Translation: Nazım Dikbaş