"Hidden Opportunities Disguised in Uncertain Moments", ArtUnlimited, issue14, january 2012, pg 34, interview



Zeren Göktan whose works include new media, videos and installations is currently exhibiting with “Black Swan Event” at Istanbul Modern until 22 January 2012 under the title of “Uncanny Encounters” group photography exhibition. We spoke with Göktan about her new exhibition, understanding of art and future program.

Göktan obtained her BA degree in Graphics and MFA degree in Painting from Bilkent University in Ankara. She completed another MFA degree at Tufts University’s Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts in media art. Currently engaged at Yildiz Teknik University’s School of Fine Arts with her doctor of arts degree, Göktan is known for her inter-disciplinary work involving new media, video, animation, installation and photography. Her different and multi-dimensional work involves sharp criticism of individual standing and the situation of the world focusing on conceptual as well as aesthetic concerns and themes. These include her solo exhibitions at the 2005 Garanti Contemporary Art Center Platform “Breadzone” and Akbank Cultural Center “In-flux” while also exhibiting in mixed fashion nationally and internationally. Göktan’s joint video work with Idil Elveris, “We are Volunteers” was exhibited in 2007 at the 10th International Istanbul Biennial, in 2009 Torino VIDEO.IT and in 2010 Biannual Que Vive in Moscow.

Cihan Atas: You are one of the six artists selected for the joint exhibition of Uncanny Encounters. Why don’t we start with the process of a series of photographs that have been selected to here under the title of Black Swan Event.

The series of Black Swan Event started to develop after taking pictures in Gökceada (Imbros). When I first visited the island, I felt to have fallen to a place that was uncanny, restless and sad. I was truly shaken by the place. Over time through frequent visits to the island, I learned its history and this led to the expressions of identity, belonging, migration and government policies from my perception. First, I solely listened to the place. I couldn’t take any pictures. I did not know what to do with this feeling. I continued to go to the island at every opportunity and tried to understand and in fact face what happened there. I used a middle sized format camera and multiple contrast films. This process took place in four years. Meanwhile at another part of Turkey in another forgotten village I took the pictures of swans that become the opening pictures of the exhibition. I think I saw in them the representation of those who lay down to die. The fact that the true color of the swans were black which were later painted white reminded me of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book of “black swan” and the philosophy of the same title. In the entrance of the book the writer talks about the fact that the discovery of black swans coincides with the discovery of Australia. Before that, it was believed that all swans were white. Through this, he underlines how fragile information can be that we take for granted and believe to be true. Taleb therefore talks about the big effects of incidents that are unexpected and our vain attempts to understand them. In a way, he describes the helplessness of our life experience. The book emphasizes that some incidents require looking beyond your knowledge. Through this theme, all the photographs in the series started to come together and talk to each other. The series is about re-considering our perceptions. At least this was what I felt and wanted people to make feel. I departed from a feeling and questioning not only about Gökçeada(Imbros) but also about this geography in general. Add to this the sensitivity coming from my family’s history of migration and population exchange, the swans that pose as white have become personal for me.

C.A: Now that we are at it, let’s discuss the “uncanny encounters”.

I think the curators Levent and Çelenk had an uncanny encounter when they realized that my existing photography exhibition was fully in line with the conceptual dimension of their new exhibition! The fact that they could see that the photographs in the series of “black swan event” were of unpredictable, remembered, uncertain and imprecise nature and the conceptual dimension are very special for me. It made me extremely happy that they could show a meaningful place to this series.

C.A: We know you more with your new media work and video and animation installations. What are the reasons for your preference for photography this time? Can you describe the process that led to this?

In this work, photography as a tool was very attractive. Photography is about archiving, memory, remembering and catching the moment. I wanted to take advantage of all of this. I wanted to show that these places existed while at the same time demonstrating that they were worn off and abandoned. For instance, in one of the pictures we have a skeleton of a cat that hangs on the furniture from his/her mouth. It is as if it has become a part of the furniture and the house. It tried to hold on to it but was frozen there instead. At that moment, it hangs in time and dies. Viewed closer, one can see that the furniture dates from 1950s or 1970s. Who knows if I was late a day, that rotten skeleton could have been falling down and lying in countless pieces. But I wasn’t. So that moment is defined and frozen by me. A premise and furniture that belongs to the past has through my taking a shot of the skeleton becomes connected to the time of today and me. In a way, a bridge has been built through the past and the present. Both of these situations are about the permeability of time. It is also closely related to the fact that I cannot access this memory and try to create my own way of remembrance and fiction. This very moment is the black swan moment. While I search for clues by taking pictures in the topography, I do not set out to explain what has transpired there. Instead, what is important is the uncertainty this vain attempt creates and taking advantage of these uncertain moments. I tried to picture the unexpected disaster moment that left the cat hanging in a different place than the moment in the photograph.

C.A: In your usual work you use a language of multiple layers. Can we call these photographs your most plain work?

Photography has been a tool that I frequently used and questioned. In animations and new media work I used photography a lot. I created animations departing from photographs in my personal exhibition titled “In-Flux” at ‘Aksanat’ (Art Center). That required a coming together of image, time and filmic time. These moving images led to production as time went by and exhausted itself. By designing a hybrid work of animation, video and photograph that cross each other, I wanted to create a different atmosphere that intervenes in time. In 2005, I exhibited Bread zone that was created with photography and digital drawing. This work was about the aesthetics of molding bread that ran between real and virtual and then emulated geography. It then becomes camouflage. This work also required a combination of time, digital aesthetics and filmic techniques such as panning, zoom in and out. In other words, photography was always involved. However, this series is defined through one medium. Therefore, it can of course be called plain. In Black Swan Event I wanted the viewer to fill the gaps. Moving from one photograph to another I wanted the viewer to decipher some codes. I wanted the viewer to carry the memory left from lived moments. I believe that photography and painting have these qualities. One image finds place in memory and takes roots. It is said that photography and painting both include what is left outside the image. I like that part. What is left outside is extremely important. Here what is left outside are the people who have lived there.

C.A: What does it mean to be an artist that uses different types of medium?

This approach creates a space for productive freedom. I do not want to feel that my artistic production is confined to one medium. I specifically avoid this. Sometimes when working on one technique I create open spaces to breath in another by holding visual diaries. When making animations for an exhibition I pause for rendering and frantically make drawings on water color. Using technically different media allows me to think better. There is no hierarchy among them though. I am usually after a thing and that thing chooses a medium for itself. This is the best part of being able to use many techniques. We shouldn’t forget about painting. It always had a very different meaning for me. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that in the foundation of everything I do there is painting. This is also true for the black swan event. The photographs tell stories through colors. On the other hand, the light I see in the lying swans reminds me of the Renaissance light. But the depth of the premise is about photography of course.

C.A: What can you say about photography’s place in contemporary art?

With the development of digital techniques photography found itself in a wide spectrum. Its fusion with digital techniques increased its capacity for manipulation. Most importantly, it got detached from reality and was liberated. It broke its chains. In contemporary art photography always had a huge place. This is not a much appreciated fact. Photography is no longer a document but in Turkey it is much undervalued. This makes me sad.

C.A: You are doing a doctor degree at YTU. What are your expectations from it?

Academia keeps me fit. It is a very productive place for discussions regarding contemporary art that eventually feed me. I also like being connected with future generations.

CA: Can you talk about your partnership with CDA projects?

This is very new. In the first group exhibition, I worked on the idea of the artist being in a gallery and gallery creating a new place of work. “Red overalls” is something I have been wearing in my workshop for years. When I was in the U.S, I focused on new media and this is a video-voice work about the overall I wore going to dry cleaners. I re-configured it here at the exhibition because it was a new beginning.

CA: Last question to understand you and your work. Can we say that you have a sensitivity for the potential of conceptual names you use?

Yes, this is very true. I don’t name my work so to say. I don’t worry about giving explanations. Quite contrary, my multi layered work is added another layer by these names and the layers are thus connected with each other. In a way the text is a tool for the different dimensions of the work. Just like the artist is a mediator between the viewer and the image.