A Visit to Banu Cennetoğlu in Venice

My selections from Banu Cennetoğlu’s CATALOG form.

“Lapses”. Lapses/*4. The Book Series of Pavilion of Turkey in the 53rd International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennial. Ed. Basak Senova. Trans. Nusin Odelli & Funda Senova, Fourth Vol. IKSV. Istanbul.

Burak Arıkan, November 1st, 2010

Upon meeting her in Venice, I asked Banu Cennetoğlu, “Aren’t you afraid that your photographs could get copied? What if others create other CATALOGs?” Her reply was, “That’s possible, I’m curious about it myself”. The possibility of derivates of an original artwork or other variations was no problem for Cennetoğlu, she was rather embracing such possibilities and using them as part of her work.

I entered the division reserved for Cennetoğlu in the Pavilion of Turkey and sat in front of one of the CATALOGs laid out on the table. Digital copying may not be a problem, but physically carrying them away certainly is, the CATALOGs were attached to the table! I started to leaf through the CATALOG and ticked off the ones I liked on the form in front of me. I would then download these one by one from the website; I might even publish a Banu Cennetoğlu catalog based on my own liking.[1]

CATALOG is a mail order catalog simulation consisting of 451 assembled photographs taken by Cennetoğlu between 1994 and 2009. The photographs from different times and different places have been taken out of their original contexts and put into 15 subjectively formed categories, forming paths with a variety of signs and denotations that record or recount reality in a multipartite manner.

At first, the consecutively sorted full-page photographs seem to be gathered randomly, not leaving any room for the viewer. As our brain is stimulated and carried into memories, the randomness at times starts forming meaningful patterns. In this sense, the CATALOG experience is not so different from the edits of Godard’s counter-cinema movies, or amateur slide shows of holiday photographs. However, the positioning of the work and the way in which it is situated with the form in front of the viewer makes one pause, we make selections on the form and go back to the pages, therefore constantly cutting into the recondite patterns.

People standing by a highway, official meeting rooms vacant of people, photographs about photographs, sociopolitical uncertainties, moments of seemingly ordinary situations laid bare, scenes of non-primetime places and instances, photographs aiming to capture surplus times and places were the photographs I mostly marked on the CATALOG form. The consecutively arranged photos of what occurred after traumatic events in places such as post-war Georgia, Turkey, New York questions whether there exists a relation, a chained significance between these events. In one of our conversations, Cennetoğlu called this sorting “the convening of images documenting the depression of the recorder and images depressing the world on the same plane”.[2]

By allowing parts of the CATALOG to be digitally downloaded from the website, Cennetoğlu opens the work for re-distribution. An artist’s work at a significant exhibition is to be distributed for free, and two months later –when the exhibition closes-, the work is to be withdrawn. It’s not within common norms for an artist to relinquish control over what becomes of downloaded photos, choose not to know who has possession of the photos and to what amount. On the one hand, Cennetoglu’s attitude is against the ecosystem of the traditional art market, where every art biennial is inevitabely a precursor to following art fairs. On the other hand, her critique is an absolute norm compared to our everyday digital habits, where we are so accustomed to digital copying, free distribution of digitized goods, insignificance of originals, and having continuous new versions of products. Such gaps between the “art world” and the “digital world” was best captured when Heath Bunting copied and republished the website of 10th Documenta in 1997.[3]

Cennetoğlu’s approach stands different from artists such as Hans Haacke who, even after 30 years, have kept up the conditions of Seth Siegelaub’s artist contract where there’s a requirement to consult with the artist regarding how an art work is to be shown even after its sales.[4] It is not an attitude of state supervised economy model like in Siegelaub’s contract, nor is it a complete free market economy or an anti-capital stand; Cennetoğlu’s effort is to render the relationship between her art and capital indifferent.

The stand taken by temporarily allowing the free distribution of the CATALOG -as if to mockingly say “don’t miss this opportunity”- turns into, not an anti-capital, but out-of-capital act. A restricted experiment on royalty, ownership, versions, uncontrollability. A reach to an indifferent moment, where Cennetoğlu completes an era of her thought.

[1] My computer was stolen in September 2009, so I lost all downloaded photographs from the CATALOG website. Later, the website was shut down.

[2] Düğümküme Meetings 4: Versions of Reality. May 18, 2010. Istanbul. http://dugumkume.org/dk04

[3] Organizers of Documenta X announced that they will close the website after the event. As a reaction, Heath Bunting copied the website and republished it on this address: http://www.ljudmila.org/~vuk/dx/english/frm_home.htm

[4] The artist’s contract written by Seth Siegelaub in 1971. http://geheimrat.com/thecontract.html

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