Bitter Medicine Conversations:
Open Laboratory / Hiper-Reality-Simulation / Analyzing Today

3 December 2020 Thu

The conversation below, available online on YouTube here in Turkish, was edited for clarity.

Dr. Necmi Sönmez: This talk aims to bring together different aspects of the exhibition BITTER MEDICINE #02. As you know, one of the most important features of this exhibition is that after this exhibition was installed physically, it was transferred digitally to the audience using online channels. This produces a kind of open laboratory feature. What am I referring to here when I say Open Laboratory? The images in this exhibition open the door to an experimentalism that the audience was not used to before, both in the forming and sharing of these images: Robots create the imagery of the works. These robots somehow bombard the autonomy of the artist and the sharing of images on the internet, as well as the concept of the aura, which I think creates very slippery grounds within the exhibition in terms of sharing of the work to be viewed and the making of. What are your opinions on this subject? First, let’s start with you, Osman.

Osmancan Yerebakan: Thanks, Necmi, for inviting me. The context we are in is actually a good place to talk about the exhibition. I'm here, I'm in New York, you are in Istanbul, in Germany. It is actually a reflection of the reality we are in right now. The exhibition is a reflection of this as well. The first thing I want to say about the subject you just mentioned is that the visuals created by BITTER MEDICINE are constantly changing. In fact the aura of creation and that mystery suddenly draws us into the kitchen of the work, showing us how the work was done and the sudden disappearance of that mystery and the continuous renewal of the work—the landscape I will see if I enter now and the landscape I will see in one hour are different. The excitement and expectation created by this creates a situation that could not be possible before. And on the one hand this is universal. The fact that I can see this from here and that you can see it from Germany or Istanbul creates a great network. The other thing I want to mention here is land art, and there was even a movie in which the protagonist woke up one day and found giant shapes in the field. They thought aliens were doing this; it was uncanny. In relation to land art, to The Spiral Jetty, how did this happen all at once? It was very male at the same time; the attitude was “I did this and it was done and now you are fascinated by this and wonder how I did it all that”—the image actually dissipates a bit here. I am not talking about glitter, shining and those kind of issues here, hoping that we will touch upon them later. The disappearance of this magic, the masculine magic, and the techniques of producing work that have historically been reflected on women in certain ways, practices such as handicrafts and sculpture that have become more feminine in a certain way are critical here. We can even talk about performance art to discuss how the work is done. We can witness the process in sculpture or performance. If it's a giant land art work, it's here. The fact that those shapes are constantly changing and that the artists are also changing beyond the control of it is powerful, deriving its power from the mystery. Suddenly the work surrenders to the robot. I also have a Roomba in my house, especially since I have a dog. I have to keep it running. There is an obscurity included here because I usually let it work when I am not at home. I think the most important point here is as we reflect on contemporary art, how did it happen? It is interesting to see the kitchen of a work instead of what was done.

NS: This is a very interesting interpretation. Kumru, what do you think?

Dr. Kumru Eren: Thank you first for your invitation. I think I can take it to a slightly different place. First of all, we know Borusan Contemporary is an institution that is already experimental—investigating the boundaries of both the field of representation and the audience experience. But despite this, despite many things that we have dealt with experimentally, BITTER MEDICINE fits in with the institution very differently. I can say that it is a form of exhibition that goes beyond our tradition. If we take this art historically, here the screen is used as an artistic space, instead of canvas or paper. If you remember, this was a phenomenon that came into our lives mostly with video art. But this artistic space fits into the exhibition space with Marcel Duchamp. It also fits into a theme where the artistic space for the screen differs and beyond these two themes, beyond these two different spaces, I cannot call it a very interesting installation that fits the hybrid term, it is an exhibition experience. Let's say it makes the exhibition alive because we set up the installation and made it available to the audience 24/7. I think we will talk about different technologies, non-human, artificial intelligence and robot technology shortly.

The artistic form that came to the exhibition space after Marcel Duchamp and created it in the exhibition space was also in effect. In time, I realize that where Osmancan left off, the movements of the Roomba, although they seem random, somehow have an internal consistency. Although it was formed with the gestures of an action painting artist, which, as Osmancan said, action painting artists are much more masculine and the western world, sitting in the dialectic of art work and artist, here our Roomba takes the place of the action painting artist. It reminds me of the random lines on the canvas of Cy Twombly. In a period of his practice, Cy Twombly created different pictures and on the one hand had a consistency within this randomness. It opens another door on how robots and artificial intelligence are built, perhaps in our lives in the upcoming period. Again, I think one of the interesting positions here is that we can handle it from is the perspective. Because most of the camera systems we use here give the exhibition a viewpoint from above, and this is actually a phenomenon that we have recently encountered with a drone, which we can call a drone perspective, a military perspective. We started to read everything. We observe these Roomba 24/7; they are also under surveillance. We intervene when they are not working. It's actually a surveillance society, like a parody of the Foucauldian surveillance society—the Roombas are also monitored and intervened when they are not working. There may be a power relationship here. Conceptually, we come across very different readings. Perhaps the differentiation in our perspective relationship that needs to be studied at length later. I think the screen is a way of seeing a new world brought into our lives by media studies with drone technologies and of course artificial intelligence.

NS: Here, of course, one of the issues I want to bring up in the context of the exhibition is labor— artistic labor and how this labor can be monitored. There is a feature of this that is not easily understood at first. As mentioned in :mentalKLINIK’s previous performative works, here both physical and virtual expansions provide very different synergies to each other. This concept of labor is not very prominent, it is volatile, ephemeral, and as Osman stated in his talk, it has a lightness. Strangely enough, I think this work lends an aura to the exhibition. Both the relationship of the audience with the work of art and the interpretation of this relationship can go to very different points and very different ends. After all, it is an installation that requires a lot of effort and a lot of synergy. Using the space and transferring it to the audience from different perspectives comes into effect with the technical support, as well as this technical support from different dimensions, on the basis of space. When you open the screen and look in front of you, you say wow! how light, how different and how digital the aura is. This feature doesn't seem to stand out too much, but in this context, what are your impressions on this? Osman, let’s start with you.

OY:  If we talk about unnoticed labor, I can speak of it as a person who experiences it personally. I also have Roomba in my house, but I never run it when I'm at home. It has a certain noise that bothers me and maybe this is one of the things we can talk about, because we don't see the exhibition in person. The sound is different or reverberates differently. I always find the house clean when I return; the Roomba works while I’m not at home, and magically, all the dog hair in the house has been picked up. The fact that we see this and it is noticeable is that this work is done by robots. If there is someone who is constantly throwing glitter, it will make us feel more uncomfortable, we will feel bad, especially with this particular task. We are talking about a never-ending effort. But on the other hand, we are talking about the museum, which is interesting, in terms of the museum concept. We can talk about the museum staff, the museum director and the curator. Perhaps we should mention, there are museum officials and even Fred Wilson sculptures showing the museum security guards; the labor he suddenly presented to us, the labor which had somehow escaped our attention, and we can even say that many museums have officials who guard the place for 24 hours, there are officers guarding the works. And I'm sure if we look at the cameras, maybe we can see them at 3 am, they may seem to be wandering around. In a way, this unseen labor is being presented to us. It confronts us. To see or not is our choice. It is up to our will to present it in a way that we cannot turn our heads away from it. It is in a position where we can go online and watch whenever we want. As I said, we are talking about an unending effort. It is a constantly renewing effort. On the other hand, we witness the traces of labor. With the scars they left. We are witnessing the aesthetics of that labor and the beautiful forms left behind by that effort. And the artists' Roomba bringing out the apparatus to collect the normal dust and present it to us can actually be linked to the queer, which we can talk about shortly. We can also bring it to a non-productive state, a state offered only for beauty, to not produce anything. The removal of those apparatuses becomes undesirable, defective, purposeless. Here, labor becomes a work it is based on. If we talk about Surveillance, we are watching them as voyeurists, even the one that can go to Foucault, the pressure we have established with them, the authority we can call guilty pleasure in a way, we know that someone has done something bad somewhere and we go and look at it every now and then. Observation, covert or open observation are inherent in art. It is presented more clearly here. And the shapes created in an abstract way are also abstract, and we are trying to attribute meaning to them. It is robots who do this, still our relationship with AI and robot is not fully resolved at this time, and it cannot be. They can think a little too, we are afraid of them, they can take over the world. It relieves us that the shapes they create are abstract. If there were certain shapes, certain shapes we are familiar with, it becomes terrifying to us. A warped equation of authority, job, employer, employee, worker, and I think these dynamics are constantly shifting.

NS: What are your opinions on this Kumru? What do you think?

KE: I think this is an interesting point in the discussion, because, on the one hand, the pain prescription is an ecosystem in itself. On the other hand, the fact that the artistic space is in the space and this is virtual—let’s not say virtual, but it has been transferred to the digital—with the regime of the gaze. It's an ecosystem in itself. Yes, museums and art institutions have their own ecosystems. During the pandemic period, we saw how fragile not only the art institutions but the whole art ecosystem was and how quickly it was affected. Again, the art laborers were most affected by the pandemic period. We often witness that the art ecosystem is treated only as artists, but artists or curators are the most prominent figures, let's say actors; this ecosystem includes a lot of laborers. It is a very complicated ecosystem with laborers working in security, purchasing, and cleaning, and this ecosystem is not autonomous. With different labor and exchange conditions in the world, we witnessed how the disruption of the third world supply chains brought by the pandemic and the global recession this created negatively affected this ecosystem, and here the art workers were most affected, what we did not see it, it is a very critical important aspect of the work. Based on this, we need to think on a more macro level. Before we get to the work of art and labor here, perhaps with the change of our forms of exchange, and the signal that our forms of exchange will change with the introduction of the robotic world—the financial crisis in 2008, based on labor alone, was a crisis of the virtualization of capital. Maybe we can say that in this period, with the participation of the world of artificial intelligence and robotics in this ecosystem, maybe it is prone to different crises. We can say that the hybrid reality and artificial intelligence world points to a wound between human and non-human. If we get to the language of being science, the being was already in its launched regime. It was thrown into the world. Yet it is now thrown into the digital space. How it will create a representation space for itself in this digital space, maybe this will be something we will talk about. It is possible to say that the labor and exchange relations between both the ecosystem and between human and non-human, that this points to the crisis of existence, opens up a space for all these issues.

NS: I would also like to shift to the glitter material of the installation in the rest of the talk. Glitter is a very interesting material. This is a great splendor, a fascinating material; it is fascinating. This one has an interesting characteristic. As Osman said at the beginning of the talk, it brings up the queer perspective. Besides, it has the strangeness of being beyond classes, beyond categories. This glitter is such an impressive material that it is a material used by people with different characteristics in different segments of society. For example, it is used by people who are masculine and prominent, to reinforce their power. This oddly enough also refers to a kind of classlessness, anonymity. This material is also very eye catching thing. When the audience's eye catches this—as you know, we change the colors in this exhibition—we change the names, and when we mix the final blue and green, the intermediate tones came to the fore. They move, and all of this seems to indicate that your glitter is making unexpected contributions to this work. In your opinion, glitter is a material that has been on the agenda of contemporary art for a long time, but it is not as common as an oil paint, like a watercolor, or like pencil. This is also an interesting feature. Once you pick up glitter, it doesn't come off for a long time. It always stays bright. When you look at this, it is like a material containing ambivalence. What are your opinions on this subject, Osman?

OY: I can also make a joke about this. :mentalKLINIK has done a great job because that glitter won't come out even years later. You will find this glitter somewhere in the museum. It is a substance that creates a certain memory in a way and on the other hand, a substance that comes out to the memory you find there when you see it in a Proustian way, a substance that never comes off and it always follows you. If we link it to the queer here, it is actually a queer symbolizing substance and an interclass substance. It's cheap, very ubiquitous, any kind of costume or anything that can be sold everywhere. What Warhol attributes to Coca-Cola, a substance accessible to everyone, what he drinks and consumes, and that is the way glitter is. As I just mentioned, the attitude of robots against production and their non-productive attitude are also in reference to the queer. And although glitter is a very chemical substance somehow, there is the reality of being a substance belonging to a more human dimension. Robots have a side that literally intersects with their metallic, cold demeanor. It’s as if the two have a conflict. One creates traces, the other erases it; there is an interesting aspect here. Also, glitter points to the camp, the kitsch, whichareis not used in art that we call high art, in contemporary art. Sometimes it is an item that painters sprinkle in paint to reference to the queer. It is never an unnecessary substance. An item used for a specific statement. When we use oil paint, it is not supposed to have a specific purpose, but it is a substance that we cannot ignore and it is used in this way and if we go further and go back to surveillance, if we are talking about the queer, surveillance may also have a political or sociopolitical explanation in a way. Like observing and intervening in what is happening, changing colors, erasing, and remaking. It is interesting to keep non-production, queer sharing under control and under custody as much as the observation of labor. In fact, I am curious about this from the color selection, blue or red are pink, and these colors are intense colors. As you mentioned, they turn into other colors within themselves. I'm curious about that too. The meaning of those colors.

NS: In fact, this was all the decisions of the artists. We had worked for a long time even on the flows of those colors. About what color can come after what color. This observation is interesting and relevant. The selection of those colors we started with fuchsia, which is a very crazy color.

OY: If we are talking about kitsch, fuchsia is probably a color that can symbolize that concept.

NS: It has a very important feature in the structure of the exhibition from the very beginning. Blue has a relationship with Yves Klein; Kumru wrote on this. It is a very good article, I read it fondly, it was talking about leaping into the void. It was a commentary on Yves Klein. In fact, going out and commenting on Yves Klein, was very important, Kumru. Could we talk about this?

KE: Of course the material has its own language. This should definitely be taken into consideration while looking at every work of art. Yves Klein’s materiallessness represents the new realism of the avant-garde. Yves Klein presents the experience of that impression; there is de-objectification. I saw the same gap here and analyzed it within this perspective. In the digital space, I thought it mimics the pixel, and on the other hand, this is the use of the screen I just mentioned as a space, most of the texts related to the video are likewise in Lazzarato's video and philosophy text. Unlike cinema, video art using the relationship between light and art. If we take into account the digital space, the screen space, and the reflection of the pixels in the screen space, how our relationship with light has actually changed, that is, I jumped from Yves Klein to the digital world, but in the text you mentioned, I considered it as a crisis between the two. Someone tries to leave robots in space with Yves Klein’s gesture of leaping into the void—an event that can never be fixed, changing every time, leaving a mark despite an infinite and continuous consistency within itself. I thought it was possible to relate to the uncertainty about the crisis of the world after the post-World War II pandemic, not being fixed. Again, the fact that t glitters also shine the light, I agree with all of the previous views. I will not repeat these. Perhaps it is also the case that glitter material evokes kitsch, the camp world, a material appropriated from the media and entertainment world, and it is also used as a material opened by identity politics in media criticism. Just like the Byzantine icons, the transformation of our perception of the world into a screen, on the other hand, is the transition to the screen or the reflection of the Cartesian philosophy, the projection of which comes from the Renaissance, to the philosophy and machine view. Glitter is also a light source. So there is a paradigm shift. I think it can be handled from this side. The textural effect created by the glitter material and painful recipe placement is also impressionist, similar to the point-by-point representation of pure colors after the 19th century.

NS: These are interesting because one of the features that glitter adds to this installation is that it opens the door to dematerialization. This decontamination leaves a pleasant taste in your eyes after watching the work on your mobile phone or screen. You want to look at this again, you want to look at it constantly. I suppose I am very involved in the work, I constantly look at it and after a certain period of time it is as if the movement of the glitter there, the reflections of the light coming from above are like this forever, the same as in Debussy's or John Cage's music, although it has a certain monotony, it is constantly rotating. makes me think that I am in a flowing concept. Oddly enough, because it also refers to the time we take on testimony - something very apocalyptic. We are constantly caught in uncertainty. Does it give or not certain messages in this installation, what is the feeling this arouses in you? What would you say about this, Osman?

OY: Volatility is perhaps the in-betweenness in installation, again referring to Proust. It constantly gives itself a chance again, it starts over, every day is alike. If we are in a time gap, the exhibition creates it in its own world and lives that way and starts over every day. When you blow on glitter, it behaves like sand, one piece of glitter holds no power but must be infinite but to make an effect. As we just mentioned. Even a single glitter has the power of light. It has a certain reflection, like a ladybug, there is that shine. Like an army, their existence has power as a whole. But there is a moment of lightness when it disintegrates, we can also connect it to time. Especially with the traces it left behind, that memory, embedded in this situation we are in. We always say things like was it March when we talk about something now, we cannot remember. The reason for this is that we are always at home, inside. Like work, being detached from the outside world. We are looking out the window. This is a time of being always inside. That's the way it is. This is the inherent state of the museum; it stops and holds everything in.

NS: What do you think Kumru?

KE: Very interesting comments were made. This is an intuitive thing I'm saying, it's not a scientific but a theoretical one. I thought there was a side to this work, BITTER MEDICINE, that accompanies these conditions, like the conditions we are in. There is no memory association. We talked a lot of references in our contemporary, contemporary artworks, but we established these references. These stem from our need to create human memory. It draws, makes and distributes a shape of its own, and it is completely based on that. We won't want to create a memory. It is different from the crises the world goes through. There is a paradigm difference regarding the memory issue. Here, it is a visual system that is extremely volatile, extremely temporary, provides a temporary state of happiness, as in MK's own expression, and does not refer to any memory, without creating a memory. Maybe that's why we love it.

NS: It was a really nice conversation. Thank you. As I said, this talk became a part of that experience, as it was the first time I developed the curatorship and organization of an exhibition in a digital environment under these difficult conditions, without being in person. And you have really touched on some very interesting topics. I thank you both for taking the time and sharing with us. We will endeavor to open up new perspectives and open up to the audience with experts through these talks.

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