Over the border
What is a border today? And above all, does it continue to coincide with what we properly define a separation between different cultures, traditions or geopolitical identities? Does the border still mark a limit or is it now anachronistic to speak of limits when today’s cultural history demonstrates the fluidity of a cultural identity and the constant changes of things?
The depth and extent of concepts such as migration and nomadic dynamism, in addition to being very topical subjects, today at the forefront of the global media, mark the development line of recent artistic experimentation by Servet Koçyiğit, the protagonist of this exhibition. Born in 1971 in Kaman (Turkey), a small town in central Anatolia, but now living in Holland since 20 years, Koçyiğit fully exemplifies the fresco of a multifaceted legacy that runs through the complexity of both a cultural and identity syncretism. This makes the artist’s viewpoint the perfect example of contemporary multiculturalism that shapes his expressive audacity by exploring areas in constant metamorphosis. The conquest of this viewpoint finds a match in the notion of “Prismatic” vision, a view that includes multiple and at times opposite forms that give structure to the entire narrative construction. In this metamorphosis of influences and interpretations, the artist conquers his stylistic code.
By alluding to the evolutionary concepts behind the migratory condition and transcultural identity in both a physical and emotional way, Servet Koçyiğit chooses the symbolism of the map as the main expressive vehicle.
If by definition, maps are intended to mark the boundaries between states, delimiting their extent, the ones by Koçyiğit on the contrary are far from seeking to faithfully reproduce any geopolitical configurations. As elaborations, which lead to new possibilities, new perspectives, aimed at connecting the territory and the community in a participatory dialogue that claims the triumph of fluid iteration, Koçyiğit’s compositions highlight the awareness of a visual mapping defined by people and not simply from inhabited places. Boundaries are no longer impassable limits, but now represent the meeting and the mixing of different ingredients, collages of multiform configurations that preserve the nomadic dynamism, emblem of a social and cultural complexity that can not and does not want to be circumscribed.
In the artist’s articulated poetic structure, it is important to note the undeniable importance of the creative process, an almost ritualistic succession built on research, identification, appropriation, dislocation and recreation of a new truth, a truth that has certainly been altered, manipulated and offered as an “alternative” reality. The fabrics and the various materials that he uses are the result of careful documentation and an exclusive semantic survey: Venda, for example, is entirely made of distinctive fabrics of the “Venda” ethnic group, present today in South Africa; Tsonga is a collage of textiles characteristic of the migratory tribes of Botswana; while Golden Lining shows a pattern created in Holland but exported to the island of Java, a former Dutch colony.
Not only is the choice of the type of fabrics important, but also the predilection of aesthetic contributions that highlight a migratory correspondence – most often as a consequence of violent colonialism – is a constant refrain in Koçyiğit’s stylistic grammar. The artist focuses on the wounds of colonialism and the consequent cultural uprooting still visible today in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa. The residency that brought him to Johannesburg in 2016 has proven to be the ideal opportunity to delve deeper into this theme. His intense South African experience, not only have been essential for the recovery of materials used in his “imaginary maps”, but also and above all, for the making of the photographic series My Heart is not made from Stone, a project for which Koçyiğit himself won the prestigious “Shpilman International Prize for excellence in photography” in 2016.
For almost two months, Servet Koçyiğit explored remote places around Johannesburg, settings that better recreate the absoluteness of nature and helped establish a sensorial approach towards it, consolidating the depository function of local historical memory. Confronted with scenarios where the violent imprint of the coloniser was very evident, the artist became the guardian of the scars of abused and consumed lands. In the hands of the photographic subjects, we find in fact ancient school maps – found by Koçyiğit in some Dutch markets – where the artist has reproduced the same precious stones because of which those places were devastated. Although the scenarios are purely South African, from the maps present in the shots we note how this abuse was actually common in different parts of the world: in the Balkans, in South America, and in the Middle East, just to name a few. An abuse that, where it happened, not only left indelible marks on the territory, but also in local communities, forced to live the trauma of abandoning their land. A theme that also features in the figurative choice to draw on the bodies of some characters in the series of white numbers, coordinates marks (longitude and latitude) that suggest a destination, a place to be reached and, hopefully, to “inhabit”. Even if it is painful and spasmodic, the urgency of “belonging” remains an impulse not to be discredited, because it is an integral part of human authenticity, as individuals, but also and above all as members of a community.
Despite the wounded scenarios, the sprout of hope – also suggested by the presence of the tree, an allegory of roots that must be planted and cultivated with care – seems wanting to heal the indelible scars that nestle in the cultural memory of each of us. In this complex evolutionary parable, the skilful stylistic breadth of the artist adheres. With great historical sensibility, it combines explorations and contemplations of authentic intensity, capturing the collective memory, and offering it to the spectator, urging him to empathise and share the beauty of a human sentiment.
212. Issue 2,
People shape spaces; spaces shape people in return. Art historian and curator Lora Sarıaslan examines Dutch-Turkish artist Servet Koçyiğit’s new collection of maps made from textiles, which explores the intertwined themes of statelessness, citizenship, and migration.
In an age when everything is defined by this term, whether it is their presence or their absence, it might be refreshing to think about the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s notion of the “heterotopia”. Drawing on the medical term, which relates to the displacement of an organ from its normal position, Foucault used this idea to refer to those spaces in society which serve as “counter-utopias”, which were both connected to – but different from – reality. Examples include prisons, in which society’s ‘undesirables’ are kept together, distinct from mainstream society; and mirrors, whose reflected image does not exist in the real world, yet still shapes the way we relate to our own image in that real world; but also trains, gardens, hotel rooms, and mental hospitals. In each of these, Foucault meant to identify actual places in which seemingly incompatible differences were – however awkwardly – brought together to comment on, mirror, or expose reality.
In an age of co-existing contrasts, where all spaces (whether real or imagined) are represented, contested, and reversed, these heterotopias provide the perfect metonym for our current state of mind: we are drifting; neither here nor there; everywhere and nowhere. Foucault’s heterotopia is: a space in which things are “laid”, “placed”, “arranged” in sites so different from one another that it is impossible to find a place of residence for them, to define a common locus beneath them all. Reality and unreality meet in these actual or metaphorical spaces and it is there that artists, motivated by the desire to imagine and create, situate themselves in an attempt to look beyond the borders.
When people move, so do spaces, images, cultural practices, and lifestyles. In a time of constant movement, we are forced by repetition into a particular state of mind – that of translation: of ourselves and of our identities. Etymologically meaning “the activity of carrying across”, translation may be the epitome of today’s world. Translation has always meant displacement – sometimes to a greater, sometimes to a lesser extent – and that displacement has never been a one-way process and has always involved people as well as goods. The 21st century may yet be defined by migration; with millions of people, goods, money, ideas, and hopes being “carried across” every single moment, and translation has therefore become a metaphor for modern day experience and a practical and conceptual tool to negotiate the world around us.
Both our history and our present are laden with moments of defining or translating space, and the quest to take possession of it – either by (re)defining it or creating it anew. If the sociological and psychological impact of the human-created space which surrounds us can be said to ‘define’ our personal and collective identities, then we might ask: how do we shape our spaces, and how do spaces shape us? And in an era when movement is not only real-time but also virtual, how does migration shape the spaces both within and around us? Finally, we might consider how artists have invented new strategies with which to intervene in these questions through critical and creative means.
Imaginary Worlds = Imaginary Maps
Adding the representational language of mapping to his long-standing artistic vocabulary of handcraft which incorporates photography, video, and sculpture, Turkish-Dutch artist Servet Koçyiğit moves into new territory in his new collages: imaginary maps, inspired by this modern condition. In Koçyiğit’s latest mapping pieces, he translates the world around him by collecting, researching, surveying, measuring, cutting, marking, tracing, stitching, gluing, and (re)creating information.
The artist has always been fascinated by maps and has amassed a varied collection – from those showing countries’ natural resources to out-dated maps that once taught students their nation’s borders in classrooms. But through this series of imaginary maps, Koçyiğit takes his interest a step further to create his own statements on politics, current affairs, and geography.
The absence of human figures in this series allows the intertwined themes of statelessness, citizenship, and migration to become its key subjects, colourfully represented with textiles. Because textiles are portable, wearable, and displayable, their performative qualities allow multivalent meanings within multiple systems of signs, costume, and identities – whether personal, corporate, national, religious or other. Koçyiğit exploits this confluence, offering us alternative histories, geographies, and cultural mappings woven together on one canvas.
In this sense, Koçyiğit’s imaginary maps reflect the last trait of Foucault’s heterotopias, “in that they have a function in relation to all the space that remains. This function unfolds between two extreme poles. Either their role is to create a space of illusion that exposes every real space, all the sites inside of which human life is partitioned, as still more illusory […] Or else, on the contrary, their role is to create a space that is other, another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill constructed, and jumbled.”
Well aware of the potent power of textiles, Koçyiğit has always rooted them out in his native Turkey, a quest that he has continued in each of the different countries that he has visited. The imaginary map, East By Night (2015), features Turkish cotton fabrics called ‘basma’, which are patterned with an array of floral prints common in Turkey and used mainly by village women in casual clothing. In the composition, stars and buttons represent cities, while a large cruise ship offers a contemporary and unlikely intervention into the scene, as it approaches this ‘land of basma’.
Following in the steps of Sykes-Picot and so many others, familiar textile patterns representative of regions or countries are used to denote – both mentally and pictorially – the nations of the map. Moving from his homeland to his current country of residence, the Netherlands, the artist turned to use ‘Dutch’ materials in one of his new collages entitled Golden Lining (2016). There the textiles we see are produced in the Netherlands, ironically for export to, rather than import from, the former Dutch colony of Java. Nodding to the unusual nature of this flow of commerce, the artist chooses his textiles not just for their beautiful patterns, but also as subversive tools through which he can expose and interrogate their complicated histories. In addition to his chosen fabrics, Koçyiğit interweaves a golden thread through the composition; a golden spider’s web, echoing the trade routes of colonial times, which reaches its dense centre in the boat, depicted only with thread. The boat’s shimmering existence becomes the skeletal embodiment of the social, political, and economical aspects of the Netherlands’ colonial past, representing a central tool of translation throughout history – transporting riches between trading nations or from the colonised to the colonisers. Indeed for Foucault, the boat was the “heterotopia par excellence”. As he wrote:
“The boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilisation, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development, but has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”
We see neither the police nor the pirates in the Golden Lining; however, Koçyiğit weaves his own narrative of history and reality. As he shapes his geographies, he draws attention to the way in which humans shape their territories. Beginning as a work of fiction, Koçyiğit endows each of his maps with its own narrative and character. “Sewing is for me always about time and distance” and he adds, “I didn’t only want to create geographical maps. For me, they are more symbolic. I am interested in visualising and making a map of where we are standing at this moment. Those maps ask us questions about our connection to others. I made roads from simple sewing lines. I made cities from buttons. When you look at them, one can see how everything is connected. Sometimes you have to pass many borders. But there is always a strong possibility that you will meet someone in the end.”
In his other new work Agent Orange (2016), Koçyiğit uses coloured camouflage prints, crossed by borderlines of orange stitching or lakes of vibrant blue. But while camouflages are designed to allow the ‘wearer’ of that pattern to blend into its surroundings, Koçyiğit’s use of different camouflages, each abutting the next, undermines the ability of any to hide its wearer. Playful at first sight, but upon closer inspection, these pieces turn into an artistic commentary on current world affairs and the changeable – and ultimately destructive – nature of borders, territories, and communities. The title, Agent Orange, is borrowed from the weapon Agent Orange (or Herbicide Orange), which was one of the defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War, and adds to the military feel of the work, with its arrangement of camouflage patterns, which the artist purchased in various markets across the Netherlands.
In addition to these patterns, Koçyiğit further enriches the composition of Agent Orange by including some of the landmarks that ISIS has recently destroyed, such as the Monumental Arch of Palmyra in Syria and the bull-winged god Lamassus in Iraq. This Assyrian protective deity – often depicted as having a human’s head, a body of an ox or lion, and a bird’s wings – was usually placed on guard either side of a city or palace’s main gates. Carved from monolithic limestone blocks, they were depicted as hybrids: seen from the front they appear to stand, and from the side to walk. They also represent the signs of the zodiac, which adds a further dimension to this piece, as Koçyiğit can be seen to be creating his own textile constellations too. The inclusion of these landmarks reflects the importance to any nation state of its national monuments, and seems to parody the kind of tourist map which might place an over-sized Empire State Building to label New York City, the Eiffel Tower for Paris, or the Great Pyramid of Giza for Egypt. But instead of presenting landmarks that exist, he focuses on these destroyed monuments, undermining the very ideas of nations and borders. What happens when these landmarks are no longer there? Does the country cease to exist, as it was once known? What happens to a country robbed of its treasures? The artist, whose first name Servet means ‘treasure’ in Turkish, commemorates these destroyed treasures by meticulously painting them in haunting black-and-white tones over the colourful prints.
Maps are in many ways peculiar and elusive concepts: somehow primordial and modern, imagined and real. In his maps, Koçyiğit also presents the uncertainties of modernity and its structures. State-building, nation-building, and emancipatory politics; the relationship between the nation and forms of collective identity, gender and power relations are all visible in his stitching. In this sense, as art historian and cultural critic TJ Demos notes, “artists have become observers, and willingly or unwillingly, postulants for a redefinition of the dynamics that drive the society at large”. As Koçyiğit reflects on multiple identities and geographical imaginations, his work carries traces of diverse cultures, languages, codes, traditions, challenges, and hopes. One thing that connects all his imaginary maps is the existence of the blue textile connoting water. Perhaps as a resident of Amsterdam, he also believes that in a city by the water one can never lose hope. The sea always brings something…encounters without borders.
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A Place of Non-Place
text companies the exhibition
at Corridor Project Space Amsterdam
One of the phrases Alighiero Boetti had embroidered on his tapestries is “Non parto non resto” [I Don’t Leave I Don’t Stay]. Like the others – including the most famous, “Ordine e disordine” [Order and Disorder], “Dare tempo al tempo” [Giving Time to Time] – it is a sentence made to fit into a square of 16 letters, 4×4, to be read from top to bottom. An accurate, complete and highly evocative sentence. I Don’t Leave I Don’t Stay leads us to imagine a suspended place, a dimension that cannot be abandoned but that we are already detached from. It depicts indecision and uncertainty, tension and the struggle to sketch the past and future together on the same horizon.
A Place of Non-Place recreates that very uncertainty, the fluctuation between real and fictional spaces, physical and imaginary boundaries, straight and reverse perspectives. It creates a narrative that does not develop linearly but instead proceeds through internal signals, sometimes obvious, other times more hidden.
When speaking of non-places, our thoughts immediately turn to Marc Augé’s definition. By this expression, he intended those places of transit, sterile, impersonal, where human relationships are casual by nature. Places like airports, shopping centres, waiting rooms, post offices, lifts – without any identity of their own but that contain and sum up different identities, without ever mixing them. Places that cannot be “home” but that can give the feeling of home, where one can find something familiar in the midst of things that are familiar to someone else. However, in this exhibition, it’s not Augé’s meaning of non-place that takes on a central role. Here the non-place is, on the contrary, a place with its own identity but without a real physical space. The non-place is built in the power of the imagination. It exists in memories, desires and in the proposal of a new geographic setting.
Hamza Halloubi and Servet Koçyiğit reflect on the meaning of place – a reflection linked to their own autobiographies. Both have left their homelands but continue to look to them for inspiration, mixing those influences with the ones coming from the country and context receiving them. The detachment never completely wears out, as told in Hamza Halloubi’s video To leave (2011). Filmed in Tangiers, the artist’s hometown, it transforms the moment of leaving into a powerful image. Everything is focused on the face of the boy that remains, while the camera moves away. It is us who are leaving, but it takes a bit to understand that. Meanwhile, the landscape around it becomes more familiar. We feel nostalgia even before the visual disappears. It’s a place we are already rebuilding in our minds, trying to hold on to the particulars for when it becomes invisible. A non-place that is the very condition of departure. A place/non-place where everyone can identify and feel the same sense of unease: nostalgia and boredom of the old, fear and excitement of the new.
Servet Koçyiğit’s non-places are instead maps marked by borders partially modelled on real ones. They evoke existing places, but are fictional. They are built on personal and arbitrary conventions rather than political ones. The result of a playful process – who wouldn’t like to be in charge of drawing the world? – fascinating in their colourful patterns, these maps are actually a mirror of war and post-colonial pasts. Creating an alternative history begins with the official one, thanks to the choice of the materials used by the artist. The territories are depicted with fabrics containing history; a history made up of departures, transits, economic and political agreements, beautiful to look at, cruel to feel. Still, Alighiero Boetti loved to say that, for his maps of the world, where every country was embroidered with the colours of the national flag, “he had done nothing”: “For me the work of the embroidered Mappa is the maximum of beauty. For that work I did nothing, chose nothing, in the sense that: the world is made as it is, not as I designed it, the flags are those that exist, and I did not design them; in short I did absolutely nothing; when the basic idea, the concept, emerges everything else requires no choosing.”
For Servet Koçyiğit, on the other hand, the creation of the map, the choice of the fabric, its cut and assembly, calls into question the way borders and frontiers are constantly created, claiming the freedom of creating something new. This happens in the video 99 Years (2014), where the hypnotic movement of coloured strings rolling and overlapping gives life to a globe constructed in the image and likeness of the one we inhabit. The playful action becomes a political action.
These are issues that, as Koçyiğit states, come directly from a view toward Turkey, his country, framed in a different perspective, which sets a physical but not affective distance. It is the same distance we perceive, in the moment it is taking shape, in To Leave by Hamza Halloubi: a distance that transforms stories into memories and generates a new way of looking at the fragmented reality that makes up our present.
“Around the world with flip flops”
CoCAin Magazine, No1,Nov.2012
Growing up in Turkey in the 80s wasn’t about bad haircuts nor shoulder pads. After the army’s intervention into democracy (the third time) the atmosphere in Turkey was rather bleak. We were going to school, secretly reading some of the banned books, listening to some of the banned music and we thought freedom must be something like that. We wanted the freedom but we didn’t really understand its definition so much. It took me quite a long time to understand what is really freedom is through art. During that time, while everything is repressed and everybody is in a rather dark mood, there was something going on in Turkey that was rather interesting and hilarious, and that was the humor. Humor in the form of cartoons published in weekly comic magazines. After a long tradition of writers and comics like Nasrettin Hoca and Aziz Nesin, a young generation of Turkish cartoonists re-invented the power of humor and how humor can be used to open up some areas in society to allow people to take a breath and fight back. These young cartoonists adroitly captured what is going on in contemporary society, more sothan any other art form. They taught us to laugh at the situation instead of crying; it was a different angle on life all together. It gave a lot of hope to my generation and we learned a lot from them. May be that is why humor became one of the trademarks of contemporary Turkish art today and why it is also so important in my work. Cinema, poetry and literature have always been very strong in Turkey. However contemporary art was very weak, art schools were terrible and there was almost no space to exhibit in. There were no art institutions or museums. There were only a few artists making interesting work. The only serious institution was the Istanbul Biennale and even they weren’t as strong or as popular as they are today. So when I decided to study art, I thought I should leave Turkey and find somewhere where I can learn about and practice art without limitations. I thus moved to The Netherlands.
My photography series of Motherland (2007), consists of 6 photographs. The images primarily deal with the symbolism embedded in military clothing. The largest photograph in the series, Motherland (180×270 cm) shows five soldiers from different nationalities holding a belly dancer horizontally. This is a very feminine-looking, half-naked woman surrounded by soldiers with their hands all over her. This photo can be interpreted in multiple ways. First, there is a traditional gender conflict—the specific positioning of women in different societies. Second, it displays a contrast between power and fragility. Third, as the title suggests, army protects and/or controls a country at the same time. The soldiers are wearing different countries’ uniforms, so this image does not belong to any specific place. However, the belly dancer suggests the Middle East and/or Asia.
Another work from the series is Power Share, is of two soldiers identically dressed, who share a single hat that is balanced on their shoulders. Maybe the most literal work from the series is Down Under, which shows a blurred image of a soldier sitting on a chair and on the sole of his shoes are all his medals. The focus is only on the medals, while the rest of the soldier is in a total blur. The image represents how the life of a military member is focused on the symbolism of rank. The most subtle image from the series is 1man7army; this photograph reminds me of some of the books I read a long time ago from Jery Kozinski. In this photo the viewer can see a soldier dressed up using parts of seven different uniforms which belong to seven different countries. The idea was to create a universal uniform. The idea of a universal army itself is quite ridiculous to start with; clearly the army is there to protect the borders and consequently national identity. I worked with an expert who specialized in military uniforms for this photo series. Having a job title like this is already strange enough for me but when I began to learn a little more about the complex symbolism used in military clothing the research process became even more fascinating. The dress codes reached almost an abstract level; it wasn’t only military but also civilian clothing that had it is own coded language.
After my studies of art and working in Europe for more than 10 years, I started to look back at Turkey again. I always thought going back would be a step backwards, but as is the case in art and life nothing is that linear—a backward step could be a forward one. I felt excited that the first time I rented an apartment in Istanbul and started working in Turkey. Istanbul is a very inspirational, visually rich city with layers of culture. Turkey had also developed a lot, it wasn’t only that you could see the financial development but almost everywhere in life something was happening. A very silent revolution had happened there. Nothing much changed in the system but simply people were fed up with the system and they had started changing their life styles. This change was also reflected in contemporary art as well. There was a big buzz—the Istanbul Biennale was getting international recognition. New institutions, museums galleries were opening. The art scene was still small and limited to Istanbul, but it was very fresh. Everything was very new, the city had found its own voice. In Istanbul, I spent almost everyday outside on the streets, observing the social life and making work in the lively streets of this amazing city. One of the works I made there was Eskici (2005). This photograph shows a man carrying a lighted chandelier in a street cart. The background is one of the old, desolate, colorful streets in Istanbul. A working man is pushing a chandelier in a cart on the street, a symbol mostly related to the bourgeoisie. To own a chandelier was one of the important symbols and popular in the 50s amongst rich people. As in most large cities around world, in Istanbul, the gap between rich and poor is very visible. A working man carries the weight of the rich and lighting the streets in the daytime.
After my first working period in Istanbul, I started to go to Turkey regularly to produce work, not only to Istanbul but to specific places in Turkey. One of these trips was to a small town called Hasankeyf, southeast of Turkey at the shores of Tigris River. Unfortunately this place will be flooded in the near future; Turkey is developing a dam project to fulfill the country’s growing energy needs—one of the many sacrifices Turkey is going to have to make due to its rapid development. It is ironic that the very water of the Tigris River, which brought Hasankeyf a rich history and civilization was going to be the same water that will now take it away. I wanted to produce some works related to water and with the local people. Doc (2008) is one of the works from that series. It shows two men standing in the water, with a rocky landscape on the background. One man is fully dressed as a doctor with his scrubs, examining the other man—his patient—with his stethoscope. This familiar scene is from a doctor’s practice which has been totally dislocated and brought in to the Tigris River. Water is used in different cultures for healing and cleansing. Water also has religious connotations; there are ceremonies made in water or with water. This photograph approaches these rituals a bit sarcastically and brings a scientific approach to healing. Maybe what we could call a Darwinist work.
all rights reserved © Servet Kocyigit
Dominic van den Boogerd
Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum
Exhibition Catalogue “Servet Kocyigit”
Servet Kocyigit’s installation Free Shave (2000) has brought the hairdresser’s shop into the museum. An open space consisting of wooden walls contains an authentic barber’s chair in front of a mirror. There are couples of shelves with freshly scented towels, and a collection of cosmetics is displayed on the rungs of the ladder. The sprays and the bottles have undergone a subtle metamorphosis. The pseudo-poetic names of perfumes and aftershaves are interspersed with the names of the poets, writers and film directors. The Nivea deodorant is now called Wimea Wenders, manufactured, according the label, in Paris, Texas. Irish moss has been renamed James Joyce-“ Enjoy the natural fresh fragrance of James Joyce, masculine and serene”. An alternative is Wilde pleasures from Oscar Wilde.
Free Shave is not based on particular hairdressers, but on the archetype of public space which everyone is familiar with. The décor of cheap materials and everyday commodities is a playful allusion to the process of transformation in everyday life and art, while the scents are a powerful stimulus to the memory (people can remember a perfume for about forty years). (2) Free shave is a mixture of different worlds, of brands of cosmetics and names of artists, of the hairdresser’s shop and the museum room, of visual impressions and olfactory sensations. The result is a new, hybrid reality that is characteristic of the work of Servet Kocyigit.
Servet Kocyigit (1971), from a village near Ankara, was a stranger to the world of art for a long time. “What I do in art”, he says, “ Is connected with my position as an outsider. Visiting museums was not a part of my upbringing. Art and its history are not my history. I spent my childhood on the street. I saw films, I read books, from philosophy to melodramatic poetry, until I grew tired of them. I studied mine engineering, but didn’t want to become an engineer. As a result of my interest in film, I found my way to the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, where I got involved in sculpture by accident.” His earliest works are sculptures which look like scale models for imaginary buildings. During his subsequent study at de Ateliers his work took shape in installations, photography and video works.
Besides spatial installations, Kocyigit intervenes in given situations. These improvisatory interventions, recorded in photographs, confer a poetic eloquence on prosaic reality. There is little difference between the installations and the interventions – both show that what we refer to as ‘reality’ is nothing but a cultural construction.
The best works from this series depict scenes, which hardly had to be arranged, if at all, for the photo. An example is S(t)ink (1998). It shows the view from above of an old-fashioned granite sink, and some small change lying on top of a white handkerchief and a black piece of cloth. The dirty sink and the rusty coins reinforce the sordid quality of this kitchen sink drama. The photo suggests that an action has taken place, a considerate deed that has restored dignity to the insignificant. Expressions like ‘money stink’, ‘filthy lucre’ and ‘money-laundering’ come to mind. The two separate sums of money suggest associations with economic polarities like income and expenditure, profit and loss, rich and poor. In its very simplicity, S(t)ink unfolds as a microcosm, which Manzoni was talking about: a detail in which a universe is reflected.
Alternative Monument (1999) also visualizes such an insignificant situation, and here too the precise meaning is not spelt out. The photo shows the rear of a concrete building where someone has left an old tire behind. The distribution of light and dark, of straight and curved lines and the formal correspondence between the tyre in the centre and the one in the background, determine the visual qualities. The scene can be regarded as an implosion of the monument. No wreath is laid here; rubbish is dumped in secret to be forgotten as quickly as possible. The tyre, symbol of mobility, disempowers the monument as a paragon of stasis. If the concrete building stands for the status quo, the tyre – a familiar attribute of barricades, lynching and arson – is a symbol of political opposition.
Photo works like these arise from an intuitive recognition. A scene that looks dull and insignificant turns out to contain a rich potential of meanings that only emerge in the light of the photographic representation. “Photography is always accidental, which is why I like it”, says Kocyigit “I am often surprised by the photo because everything I thought I saw turns out to play a different role in the photo, while the things I didn’t notice, like a detail in the background, suddenly determine the image. I am not a professional photographer. I make mistakes with depth of field, tonal values, but I am still trying to make a good photo. Sometimes I take dozens of shots until the result satisfies me. But I am not interested in the medium itself; it is simply a resource that I use for my art.”
Photography is for Kocyigit a way of extracting an unforeseen dimension from what is seen. Hot Towel (1999), for example, shows a dirty oven with a whistling kettle, the top half wrapped in a tea towel. There is nothing unusual about using a tea towel to lift a hot kettle from the hob, but in this case the meeting of the two utilities has created a hybrid creature that looks as though it has stepped out of one of the stories in 1001 Nights: the tea towel is reminiscent of a turban, the kettle of Aladdin’s magic lamp, and the steam of the genie in the bottle. An everyday kitchen scene provokes a chain reaction of associations, form the immigrant teahouse to the autoerotic symbolism of the magic lamp.
“ The culture and language of Turkey determine my background and will always form a part of me, but I work in the Netherlands and Germany and I am also interested in countries I’ve never visited. I work with things that everyone has a connection with. The work of Helio Oiticia and Lygia Clark is very important for me. Their art is clear, conceptual, but not dry and moralizing like Kosuth’s work. They have something to say to me, and I was struck that these stories are from Brazil, a place I’ve never been to but with which I can associate, because they are about what we have in common, such as corporeality and sensorial experiences. The encounter with their work changed my ideas about art. It gave me the confidence to develop my own work on the basis of my own experiences.”
Playful allusions to Turkish culture crop up now and then in Kocyigit’s work. In Free Shave a bottle of Oil of Olaz has been christened Ali Ozgen Turk, ‘Ali the genetically pure Turk’. The same irony determines the use of Persian carpets in several installations. The ornamentalism of the Oriental carpets has served as a cosmology of the beauty of the world for a thousand years. In Carpet (1999) an old and stained carpet has been given a thorough cleaning. Spruced up and smelling of soap, it hangs to dry in a stairway. The symbolic purification is a light-footed gesture that makes it clear that art does not have to be deadly serious for Kocyigit.
“ I admire the work of Kounellis and Boltanski, but what I don’t like is that ponderousness. Too much history. I prefer the playful seriousness of Marcel Broodthaers, the poetic charm of Andre Cadere. I don’t want to categories, I don’t make art for historians. I use rubbish, waste, dirt and give it a different value, which is already a joke in itself. I want to use my work to enter new fields, to cut into a different reality. Conceptual art is too arid for me – anyway, no one has time to think about all those concepts – and I am not attracted by a purely formal approach. My images must clarify the ideas behind the work, they must convey the impression of being connected with life here and now.”
The gentle, sensual character of much of Kocyigit’s work is determined by sensitiveness to small, everyday incidents and situations in which a great complexity is revealed. The tone is light, joyful, sometimes a little melancholy. The meaning of these images is ambiguous in the sense that Maurice Blanchot gives to the term. They are not only ambiguous because one meaning slips away to the other (preventing an unequivocal understanding); their ambiguity also reveals that perhaps nothing has meaning and that everything only appears to be infinitely meaningful. Kocyigit’s images offer a glimpse of a phantasmagoric world which takes place here, right in front of our eyes, but which belongs to a different dimension.
“ I am annoyed by the fact that the art world is so conservative and orthodox. What can I do with those heavy history paintings by Immendorf? I can’t connect them with my own history. The art world is not very receptive to art from other cultures and doesn’t take time to study them. It is a difficult problem. All art that is only about itself and its own cultural meaning is based, I think, on a big mistake. I see more in the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Gabriel Orozco, each of whom, as a Cuban or a Mexican, works on the basis of their own experiences within an existing aesthetic. They make hybrid art that in the end expresses something different from what we already know. Gonzalez-Torres lived for years in New York, he was familiar with the idiom of Minimal Art, so why should he comply with someone else’s ideas about Cuban art?”
The hybrid art of Servet Kocyigit is neither local nor universal, neither central nor peripheral, and it is all of those things at the same time. It reflects in a playful and intelligent way the paradoxes of a multicultural world. The surreal images of a new video (2000) allude to the productivity of this changing world. In a certain sense, they allude to the position of the young artist himself. They show a Turkish hairdresser, quietly at work in a hairdresser’s shop without walls, surrounded by the non-stop pounding of steel presses in the Ruhr. The video accentuates the simultaneity of craft and industry, of care for the body and mechanical production, of the refined and the coarse. A whiff of the Oriental perfume mixed with the smoke from the chimneys.