The Construction of a Dreamland – 2016
Extrastruggle began in 1997 as a project working on imaginary commissions, and with direct references to both the political and the popular, produced works that treated a critique of the culture of everyday life with a sharp and humorous tongue. The artist, in his new exhibition featuring recent sculptures and installations titled “I Only Did What I Was Told To Do” again uses the same brand of sharp and humorous language to question infinite captivity by adding, like the rings of a chain, issues of faith, ideology and society.
This exhibition focuses on the issue of women, and topics such as allegiance and submission to power, the inequality of genders, the culture of consumption and the sanctification of debt intersect and change places with references to past and contemporary beliefs. Extrastruggle questions this world, which he perceives as a hell, and the conscience of the sick crowd that fills it who spends its days without taking responsibility, and will say “I only did what I was told to do” when the day comes. “Yes, there is no doubt that bringing together love and mathematics is a poetic and revolutionary desire, however, 289 women were murdered violently in Turkey in 289, and the total debt of the world is 230 trillion dollars” says Extrastruggle, and we talked with him about his new exhibition.
Your new exhibition is titled “I Only Did What I Was Told To Do”. This is the discourse of those who submit, or those who want to whitewash their crimes in others. Could you explain why you chose this title for your exhibition via your works?
When chatting with Merve Güneş, whose texts I like and with whom I occasionally produce works for the monthly Ot magazine, we said, “Let’s make a book that focuses on women’s murders, let’s work on that”. Merve named the book: “She Who Has A Pussy Has No Faith”. Then Defne Sandalcı, Umut Yıldırım, Gülcan Evrenos, Nazım Dikbaş and Burcu Pelvanoğlu also contributed to the book with their texts. The new works emerged as a result of the intellectual labour for the book. That was how the exhibition was born. In the production of the three-dimensional works, a real craftsperson, the talented Azat Demirer helped me, he is the master of creative solutions and knows very well the relationship between different materials. The exhibition takes its name from a work that is made up of meters of chains: “I Only Did What I Was Told To Do”.
This title reminds me of Hannah Arendt’s book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”. Responsible of the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination caps, Adolf Eichmann stated, during his trial, that he only followed orders and the law. Arendt, on the other hand, discusses how evil becomes banal when the ability to think and judge disappears. What is your view on that?
If we are talking about Turks, then Turks show allegiance not to the law, but the state and orders. They bend and yield according to the actions of the state. However, I must add that this unlawfulness coupled with allegiance to the state does not require submission. The old story: Adam’s wife before Eve, in other words, the first woman who was created at the same time with him, namely Lilith, refuses to accept God’s law that ‘man is superior to woman’. She refuses to lie with Adam and she deserted him.
It was then that God created Eve from the right rib of Adam. Therefore, Eve is submissive. Whereas the Turks never submit. A Turk has never been seen to submit. The mother of a Turk lies with no one. However, the non-conforming Lilith, who today has become the symbol of the women’s movement of freedom cannot be the mother of Turks. For this reason, we can unreservedly declare that the Turk’s mother is male. For instance, my male mother is Namık Kemal, and my male father is Yaşar Doğu. The Turk is child of two men. The Turk is the product of mind and muscle power. In other words, rather than living a century like a woman, the Turk lives a year like a man. The Turk keeps his distance to concepts such as thinking and judging, which will slow down his actions, and when he comes across a more powerful male being than himself, or when he is clearly cornered, can easily say, “I Only Did What I Was Told To Do”.
In your exhibition text, you see women as the most oppressed section of society in the system you describe as hell. And you also mention that differences are trampled on under the force of society. Can you discuss your works in which these views are reflected?
I can discuss perhaps not the works but the entire production process: I keep notebooks, notebooks of various sizes. Letters, typographies of Allah, strange animals, odd phrases I hear in everyday conversations, sexuality, many images of breasts, examples of the way children talk to each other, religions and their superstitious beliefs, dreams and the unconscious, Yahya Kemal and eastern gothic, the aggression of Turks, planned disasters carried out by ruling powers and the ornamentation of every period are subject matter I am interested in. What I want to is go on magical journeys among them. I want that the God of animals, letters making love, swearing temples, dicks getting fucked, Turks apologizing from everything, every place and every person across the cosmos in turn, this entire phantasm to live within the framework of an architecture that can only exist in a dream. That’s the kind of nightmare my art is.
To summarize, we could call it a ‘Dreamland’ where miraculous relationships are established between things that are not alike. The essence of the life I want to live is poetry. Let’s recall Calvino’s words: “The hell of the living is not something that will be. If there is one, it is what is already here, the hell we live in every day, that we make by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the hell, and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of hell, are not hell, then make them endure, give them space.”
What are the defining concepts of your new exhibition?
Ablution, women, punishment on the one hand; debt, submission and construction on the other hand. The sum total of these two extremes, and positioned right in the centre is conquest, confiscation, usurpation and rape. This is the set of ideas that form the exhibition.
How was the transition from Memed Erdener to Extrastruggle? Many people know Extrastruggle as an art collective. Do you plan to work only as Memed Erdener in the future? In other words, will there be a transition from ‘we’ to ‘I’, from ‘social memory’ to ‘individual memory’?
I was 27 then, when I first used the title. I had wanted to create a Lou Salomé who would enthral me, tear me away from the outside world, and whip me every time I took my seat at my desk. And I did: Extrastruggle was a female Frankenstein. I had fallen in love with the methods this sadist woman applied to make me work. I had turned black and blue all over, taken over by an intellectual passion. Let’s say I had wanted the lines on my face to deepen not randomly, but by involvement in such an affair. Yet the passion of the whip and the love affair faded over the years. However, there are still many short-cuts we have set up, devised with great labour. Who could know the pleasure of fearlessly wandering their side-streets? Besides, I was always alone. This was a dream I built only for myself, I did not want to allow anyone else in. After all, who wants to share their love?
As for your other question, the sharpness of my paintings and sculptures perhaps even fall short of the severity of the planned disasters taking place in this country. The word ‘individualization’ is still one I don’t like in this ‘TeCehennem’, this hell of a country. The way I sometimes view life goes, ‘I, God, them’. At such times my anger goes deep in my soul, and that is no great exception to be frank. It is perhaps just a new thing for me.
The name Extrastruggle developed on external criticism and questioning. However, there appears to be, in your recent works, an orientation towards the internal. Which orientation will take precedence in this exhibition?
The word ‘struggle’ contains great promises and that bothers me now. Why, you may ask. As years have passed, my hope has withered away that the disease of persecution we encounter in the family and in the street, in every nook and cranny, and in fact, blatantly, in the open and shamelessly will end. How can one ‘struggle’ against a Turkish-Islamic fascism, which has lost its conscience, that has penetrated every capillary? I am more despondent than I was 20 years ago.
But let’s not sink into despair, after all, art always points at an abstract field beyond meaning. One occupies oneself with art to nurture the soul through the emotions. Yet if you have 200 years to spare, then art can be used to tame the Turks, too, of course.
Taboos, icons and traces of social memory are defining elements of your works. The place where these icons or taboos stand changes over time. For instance, the place where the icon of Atatürk and the woman wearing a headscarf stood yesterday is not the same place it stands today. How are the changes in the dominant discourse reflected in your work?
For instance, there is my mermaid Apo sculpture, which no one wants to see. It is a strange work; it has a tacky aesthetic. Its meaning will change swiftly over time. I do not look upon life with the dominant discourse in Turkey, I don’t care about it either. There were my “Türban Şoray” works which magazines did not want to publish, even I have forgotten about that. The Turk is afraid of his shadow, and he is right to be afraid of his shadow.
As far as I know, you didn’t work with any art gallery for a long time. What was the reason for that?
In the past I used to work in the daytime, I had a salary; and at night I focused on art and I didn’t have to sell paintings, in fact, I didn’t care. Now I work much less and I have a family. In brief, I chose to focus on art rather than going to work. When you have more spare time, you have a closer relationship with your conscience. After all, life is entrusted to us. Besides, we artists have had formed relationships with the rich for centuries, without touching each other.