84 Times: Reflections on recent works by Fatma Bucak

Lisa Parola

Politically motivated violence, the political use of violence, violence as agitation, precarious violence, wide-spread violence, subaltern violence. Stressing that there cannot be a single interpretation to any of these phenomena, Fatma Bucak creates works that require a timely ethic derived from the relationship between the political, the poetic, and those who watch. The artist’s recent works evokes themes such as oppression, censorship, grief of disappearances and political violence.

Considering the complex tangle of facts and narratives around issues of political violence, this ethic is particularly evident in Remains of what has not been said: a series of photographs chronicling the collecting and processing of Turkish newspapers over 84 days beginning on 7 February 2016. This date marks the Cizre basement killings in south-eastern Turkey, a moment of fear and contradiction that typifies emotions still present across Turkey and Europe. The newspapers collected over the course of 84 days are visualized first as a video performance entitled Scouring the press in which two women and the artist wash the newspaper pages until they are opaque and devoid of content. Accompanying this video performance is a photographic series in which the artist is seen holding 84 glass jars containing the resulting blackened, spoiled water.

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Fatma Bucak, Detail of installation view of Remains of what has not been said, 2016. Eighty-four digital archival pigment prints. This work was made possible through the generous support of the Fondazione Sardi Per l’Arte, Torino.

Questions arise. How do you put art in conversation with current affairs, not just in Turkey, but across the world? And perhaps more pressingly what is the role of art and the artist in recent decades of violence and serious violations of human rights? In the first decade of the millennium, these topics have become the subject of much research by artists and curators who for various reasons have intervened on issues such as politics, communication, violence, and censorship. They approach political violence from specific cultural contexts that are increasingly market-oriented, investment-centric, and obviously embedded in spectacle, which diminishes the function of civil and political art and culture.

By contrast, Bucak’s recent work proposes artwork and the exhibition as a space for debate and reflection. In Europe and internationally, such interrogation has centered on two lines of research: the re-reading of parts of history and the documentation of facts looking forward. Bucak’s works engage both of these themes through a dialogue between art and current events. Her projects interrogate what is happening in Mediterranean countries and the surrounding region, poetically demand changes in perspectives, practices, and policies—exploring that fragile relationship full of gray areas between what has been, what is, and what will be.

The horizons in Remains of what has not been said gesture towards the boundaries and geographies that are increasingly difficult to define, and they challenge the rationalism of cartography. History has frayed, geographically speaking, and it is no longer possible to represent it as a closed geometry. Dismissing rhetoric and clichés that all too often accompany reflections on culture and art—especially regarding marginalized groups—Bucak deals with specific situations that bring out unexpected perspectives, suppressed facts, liminal places, inhabited borders, flexible time, and narrative geographies. Immersed in this tarnished landscape of political violence, her works do not merely present the public with a depiction of a temporary event, but they also provide a glimpse of what violence conceals. This prompts new interpretations and the opportunity to reexamine history, the present, and our place in it.

Bucak’s work reminds us that art and culture are transversal concepts that address memory, identity, testimonies and collective experience. Art can be a medium for questioning the past, but it must be able to establish a critical distance. Linear understandings of cultural identity promote simplicity at the expense of the very real complexity of what is happening around us. If we understand art as a space for political discussion, never before have images had so much potential as conceptual “resignification tools” to respond to crisis and failing paradigms of modernity. Art as political action during this global transition cannot simply represent what is. Art must also challenge reality and the power structures that underpin it, and ultimately art must challenge its own borders.

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