Interview: Bora Başkan

In his fourth solo exhibition, Bora Başkan introduces us to the male robot “Humanchine.” The artist speaks to Mehmet Ak about the themes and ideas behind his drawings
Bora Başkan
By Time Out Istanbul editors |
In the follow-up to his 2014 exhibition Sur/face MachinErrs, Bora Başkan unveils Savage Humanchine, which sees the artist attempt to establish new spheres of struggle both artistically and politically. In some ways, the exhibition is a collaborative effort of sorts: in putting it together, Başkan exchanged ideas with Zafer Aracagök and Eser Selen. Ilgın Deniz Akseloğlu served as its curator, while Ezgi Sönmez turned some of Başkan’s works into sculptures. Başkan has also published a book to go along with the exhibition, whose design was done by Okay Karadayılar and whose accompanying texts were translated by Ayça Akarsu.

What sets this exhibition apart are the texts accompanying the drawings. Although the joy and worries of the nonorganic unity formed by the drawings and texts might seem as if they came from a grand, joyful universe like that of Rabelais or Kafka, Başkan says the main character “Humanchine” is most closely related to Leopold Bloom. We could describe Humanchine as a male robot who obeys a set system and who is greatly afraid of any disruptions to this system.

Since Başkan’s exhibition defies every type of systematicness, mapping and linear progression, we thought it fitting to remove the questions and focus on the artist’s interpretation of the concepts shaping Savage Humanchine.

“There were some references in my previous exhibitions. The references stood there, and I formed connections between them. This time, I didn’t want to take the concepts found in the texts I wrote for the exhibition and construct them around a center, or have every thought working towards driving this center forward. My aim was to create a surface where ideas and concepts collided or intersected as in a network. That’s why there’s a multitude instead of a narrative with a single concept at its center.”

The sacred visage
“In my previous exhibition there was a series of visages: this time, I leaned more towards eliminating any likeness or expression. The human body isn’t defined anywhere in the exhibition or the book. Everything exists as more of a bust, or a flesh body. I didn’t focus on the sacredness of the visage and the meaningfulness of its beauty; instead, I did away with the face and turned it into a flesh body. In reality, all images spring from that slippery surface between human and animal: for instance, a bee without its head can still continue its function, as the conditions of being a bee are coded in the body. ‘The stone is worldless; the animal is poor in world, man is world-forming,’ Heidegger says. I’m totally against this. Mankind is so obsessed with his own history, language and culture that he fetishizes every condition he creates.”

“Both the book and the exhibition developed out of a drive to devoice and demap. Even naming something is making it part of a certain discipline and power. The methodology I used in this exhibition sought to break down native tongue and higher consciousness. I employ a sort of anti-apparatus (like a Trojan horse) to question whether it’s possible to dismantle the network of domination in the wheel. The images needed to support the texts’ inclination of fragmentation and devoicing within themselves, but not through a direct pairing of images and texts. We wanted for the compilation to be open-ended, where the visuals and texts were continuous within themselves but unable to achieve a whole.”

“We disputed quite a bit about making the name of the exhibition more clearly male-oriented – after all, the robot in the texts is very clearly a man. I couldn’t comment on what it’s like to be a woman, or at least I couldn’t do it in a performative action like an exhibition. For example, I also don’t like it when people say, ‘A woman is a closed book’ and put the issue aside. On the other hand, what we’re talking about is a ‘state of being human.’ The fact that the person doing the setup is a man does not exclude the woman from this setup. Accepting it as such would be anachronistic. Sometimes, women are partners in crime, as well.”

“The modern use of this term has been around for 70-80 years. Due to the new network of relationships established by the metropolis as well as the rearrangement of all labor-value systems, certain new, cheap workforces and a new production of desire take shape. Then all of a sudden people notice that this culture is extremely eerie and uneasy. This time, they look outward. Europe, for instance, takes a look at the places it exploited for labor and resources for decades and says, ‘Look, it seems there’s a culture here, too!’ At this point, I borrow the term ‘savage’ from Levi Strauss. We have to understand that there’s a culture behind what’s shoved aside as wild and savage, keeping in mind the network of exploitation in which it exists. This is the first approach we need to take.”

“There’s an anachronistic savage – one transformed by advertising, daily jargon and relations of power. What I mean is: even if we managed to escape to what is savage, where would that be? It surely won’t be a liberated area. When you’re outside, it’s a very defined, sterile sort of outsideness, and when you’re inside you’re lost. Neither integrate nor break off! You have to lead a somewhat schizoid life in the face of capitalism. I think a slippery surface is better. A distinction based on a duality like ‘all or nothing’ affects everything about us. I look for in-between forms that allow for an escape from anthropomorphism. More of a spectrum than a clear black-and-white.”

“I was very pessimistic in my first exhibition; it seemed that there was no point in resisting or struggling. I didn’t think there was hope for salvation. Afterward, this pessimism seemed very stupid. Savage Humanchine has a positivity to it that comes from the contradiction within. What I’ve done this time around is essentially a celebration – with a high dose of humor – of the coexistence of savage and machine. Indeed, it’s better to establish systems that cannot be consumed by capital and then abandon them to be demolished. You don’t know where you’ll go, as you’re both settled and nomadic.”



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