WHAT'S REAL IS THE FIRST LOOK WHERE YOU LOSE YOUR WAY*
*Alptekin,Huseyin, I am not a Studio Artist Catalogue Raisonnė, Salt: 2011, 44
“When people say that shamanistic practice is atavistic and irrational, one might answer that the attitude of contemporary scientists is equally old-fashioned and atavistic, because we should, by now, be at another stage of development in our relationship to the material. So, when I appear as a kind of shamanistic figure, or allude to it, I do it to stress my belief in other priorities, and the need to come up with a completely different plan for working with substances. "Joseph Beuys
I neither believe in objectivity in arts nor the distinction between the life and production of the artist. For me, the life of the artist is what shapes his/her art and it is invaluable if the artists integrate their limitations, their excessiveness, their failed journeys/flights, their ability to change experiences into their art beyond the pressing concerns of the now. What can be said most of all about Huseyin Alptekin is that his insatiable hunger and passion in life and in philosophy together with his ability to sense and understand situations that carry power (Rolnik Suely, Deleuze Schizo-analyst, 9.), have been transformed into art and he has been nurtured through this metamorphoses. Being an exceptional storyteller, his gift was the ability to relate his life, his experience to his art. His belief in art’s therapeutic nature allowed him to be contaminated by different practices/geographies/Erlebnis. Therefore, any piece of writing about Alptekin’s work has to take account of this rich material.
Huseyin Alptekin, who considered himself a nomadic-city dweller-shaman, had mainly been influenced by Joseph Beuys. They both believed in the healing and shamanic potential of the art. The difference, though, was that Beuys suggested how art may exercise a healing effect both on the artist and the audience when it takes up psychological, social, and/or political subjects and Alptekin saw the healing effect more individualistically through the process of his art-making as opposed to transferring or expecting the audience to share the effects. “I see depression as another way to perceive and comprehend. Through depression we can reach to new modes of consciousness/altered states of consciousness. And only art can decipher it and transform it to a joyful perception.” (Alptekin, Huseyin, I am not a Studio Artist Catalogue Raisonnė, Salt: 2011, 12.). Indeed, in shamanist belief the wounded healer is an archetype for a shamanic trail and journey. The shaman must become sick to understand sickness. When the shaman overcomes her or his own sickness s/he will hold the cure to heal all that suffer. In a sense, Alptekin re-asserted art's right to creative transcendence in order to rediscover and renew his own subjectivity—to heal himself, as it were.
Alptekin found his creativity and vital force in movement, in flights, in frontiers and in thresholds as something to cross, to go beyond. To flee was woven into the fabric of his real life, which he needed in order to create. The different geographies were pregnant with potential because only these experiences altered his perception. Otherness and displacement, the flow of immigration, not belonging, not feeling at home in anyplace, the desire to flee and the melancholia that accompanies it have been the major concerns both in his life and in his work as well as threshold philosophical concepts like hospitality and hostility, creation and destruction, high and low. In line with his interest in crisis situations he was inquisitive about where and/or if these thresholds reach a point of rupture. Alptekin has tuned his hearing to the affects that each of these flights and thresholds mobilized in him(Rolnik, Suely, Deleuze: Schizo-analyst, 6), which allowed him to make new connections within un-connectable things and they have ended up with an exile history and politics with its link to the local, to the particular. This, I strongly believe, is the reason for his personal and artistic intensity.
Another foundational idea that Alptekin shared with Joseph Beuys was that art, common materials, and one's everyday life were ultimately inseparable. Alptekin utilized found or everyday objects from his flights that have profound personal meaning in a non-hierarchical way. These objects and images were painstakingly and obsessively recorded. He amassed collections of various imageries, ranging from random snapshots of artifacts, actual objects, snapshots of friends, to signs, logos, and billboards that were often entangled with archives of recorded events. The preeminent example of this interest manifests itself in Heterotopia. Heterotopia, 1991-1992, one of the earliest examples in the ongoing series, is a collage work born through the collaboration with Michael Morris (whom the artist collaborated during the 1990s). Alptekin and Morris juxtaposed a flux/cluster of objects and images with another flux of images and objects that were usually unconnected and unrelated. A bottle of glue stood alongside bottle caps, a typewriter was situated next to a hammer, a paper seal by a calendar and a Stroh bottle. Their intention was to accumulate the things that are connected by disconnectedness. These objects and images brought together several spaces, several sites that were usually incompatible while they broke the linear structure of storytelling. The randomness of the set of relations between these objects indicated the unforeseeable, uncontrollable, not knowing, absurdity and fostered associative relations. They invited experimentation rather than interpretation. This set of random relations was the potential of imagination and this imagination organized itself by association, juxtaposition and organization rather than by subordination. Consequently, they allow the audience to make fluid connections and associations. Alptekin kept producing Heterotopia pieces throughout his oeuvre in order to see the side by sideness of various heterotopias.
The mechanisms, functions, and symbolism of language played a prominent role all through Aptekin’s art. Influenced by Lettriste movement’s sensibility, the written or spoken symbol is stressed in his art for its formal aspect with relations to its sound resonance. Moreover, his interest in concrete poetry allowed him to emphasize the visual element by means of repetition, which sustained a parallel emphasis on the aural level. Various voices, simultaneity and multiplicity of readings came to the fore. He was also keen to place language games either within the artwork or as titles to his works. Lovelace, 1995, originally produced for 24th Sao Paolo Biennial is a billboard made with sequins. The inscription appropriates the surname of Linda Lovelace; a porn star from the 1970s, best known for her role in the movie Deep Throat. Other than this reference, one recognizes the double meaning that lace contains especially when it is used with love both as a leash (According to Huseyin Alptekin’s text in Crisis: VIVA VAIA: Dulcinea Contemporary Artists’ Series Volume II, 1999: 24) and embroidery. In addition to that, the usage/application of sequins is a recurring element in Alptekin’s work. Sequins bring glitz and glam to mind and it comes from Arabic meaning coin. Ancient cultures sewed metal disks onto cloth as decoration and symbols of wealth and status. In the 19th century they were made of metal. Today, sequins are most often made of plastic surfaced in a variety of metallic colors. The glint and the sparkle that have been associated with wealth have been replaced by its cheap copy. This transformation as well as the longing for shining surfaces, the longing to attract either by the expensive metal or by its cheap copy is at the heart of Alptekin’s usage of sequins.
Appropriation/re-appropration, popular culture/pop aesthetics, clichés and kitsch were cyclical practices and topics Alptekin used and reused since the 1990s. KARA-KUM from1996 is an example of this humorous pop aesthetics with its emphasis again on poor material and scale. The suspended gigantic plastic bag from the ceiling is the sublimation of the banal-in this case the plastic bag-to high art. The usage of the plastic bag surfaces also in Alptekin’s other works. He was absorbed with the idea of plastic bags, the most basic and general items carrying consumer goods regardless of any social class. The image on the plastic bag is a mockery on the design of Camel cigarettes. The pyramid, the palm trees and the camel on the cover of the cigarette is the typical cliché in the Western mind in relation to Turkey since the tobacco is a blend of Turkish and American. The cover of the plastic bag resembles the cigarette with the image of camel and palm trees with a difference in its inscription referring to Kara-kum with the information on survey of the area and indicating the desert’s whereabouts.
Throughout his artistic life Alptekin was interested in places, systems and people that emerged at once, creating their own myth. He found this material and inspiration from cities. H-Fact: Hospitality/Hostility, 2003-2007, is a process based work that consists of the replica of the signboards of the hotels located in Istanbul’s Laleli and Aksaray neighborhoods where the Eastern European shuttle trade is located. The names of the hotels refer to the names of the cities from all over the world. A recurring component at play in this work is language games. Hotels evoke ideas about hospitality, the function of hospitality requires guest, the notional guest triggers thoughts of the other and the other conjures different feelings, including oftentimes, hostility. Where are the borders of these concepts? Alptekin was attracted by the equivocal character of hospitality, the tension between the unconditional welcome and the conditional laws of hospitality. Since the concept is never fully open there is always some violence operative between the self and the other and therefore hospitality governs all human interaction, declares Derrida (Derrida, Jack: Of Hosptality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacque Derrida to Respond, Stanford University Pres: 2000, 14.). If hospitality can be perceived as the deconstruction of - “at home” - and the interruption of the self, then Alptekin’s interest in the hotel signage become clearer.
“We should get rid of historical, geographical and cultural references and open ourselves to other sensibilities.” (Alptekin, Huseyin, I am not a Studio Artist Catalogue, Salt: 2011, 49.). The prominent example of his changed sensibility can be traced in one of his last pieces entitled Incident-s, 2007. The work has been produced for the Turkish Pavillion at the 52nd Venice Biennial originally staging five single room environments where he projected Incident-s, random recordings from Turkey, Kosovo, Georgia, India and Brazil. The recordings from India and Brazil are on view for this exhibition. The two films were recorded in different times and they differ in length. Both concentrate on the accidental and the incidental, on the chance situations on the beaches of Bombay and Rio de Janeiro. Breaking the linearity, and joining the broken parts, the artist collects informal instances constructing everyday myths. He looks at this invisible and insignificant history of the moment. With the belief that comprehending otherness can be achieved only by understanding sameness, he shifts his interest in the same mechanisms that are used for survival within non-relational and disconnected lives.
Huseyin Alptekin considered flight a chemical condition. For him, to reflect on experiences and ideas while on the move offered him the most permanent freedom. Alptekin was not only intrigued by constant movement but also by deep reflection; the other type of flight which happens on the spot, as motionless travel. This motionless travel, I believe happens almost naturally in storytelling. Alptekin being an exceptional storyteller through his ability to exchange experiences and even giving counsel, brought insights and wisdom from the fabric of real life (Benjamin, Walter, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1968, 87). He understood his own experience as series of associations with un-connectable things, revealing ways to be open to all that was unpredictable. If depression crushed his desire, the lost state, his being disoriented must be seen for its potential. The possibilities that bring desire back even after it has broken down, and when the pleasure of thinking (Rolnik, Suely, Deleuze: Schizo-analyst, 10.) seems to have disappeared. Yet, again that desire can return, but almost always from the coincidental, accidental and unpredictable, as opposed to the intentional and calculated; from innocuous experiences lived or imagined. Writing and reflecting on Alptekin and his art, I feel that everything returning to its place. And, funnily, I am back at the beginning; what’s real is the first look where you lose your way…