The 2007 Istanbul Biennial with Matthew Schum

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The Best Offense is a Good Defense: Interview with Burak Delier Part 2

MS: Is art the best way to deal with the political situation in Turkey for you?

BD: Yes. Art has the power, the capacity to deal with rough things—political things. I deal with political things with art. That is the best way for me to do it because sometimes I think, when I am at a demonstration or in a political debate, that if you think about politics politically, you are very limited. If you deal with these things with an artistic vision it becomes more powerful. If you do a work about the political history of Turkey, you have to be aware of all that history, or a hundred years—not just this moment. That makes you more aware of life, if you look to history.

If you demonstrate against the government, against Bush, maybe, you are very limited. You live only in this moment. If you take an artistic approach to this history you can find knowledge about humanity and life.

MS: A lot of people in the US, for example, see art as irrelevant within political debate because it is removed.

Burak Delier

BD: In Turkey too, there are too many artists that think this way: that art and politics are different—that they don’t work together. But, I think every artwork is political. If you make a painting of a tree…on the Bosphorus, that’s political because in doing this painting of this tree maybe you don’t see what is going on around you. You devote yourself completely to this tree. Maybe, you are completely with God, with the Being…you look to this tree with some existentialism, whatever. The danger is that you don’t see the social, political, economic field, and that’s like censorship. You don’t see it. And that’s political, because at that point you approve of what’s going-on in the social political field.

MS: Art can’t escape politics.

BD: No. It can’t escape.

MS: Even if you see art as separate, that’s a political decision.

BD: Yes.

MS: PARKALYNCH is protest gear.

BD: Yes.

MS: But I also think it’s a sarcastic comment on the futility of protesting, on the ineffective nature of protest in the 21st century. Is there a bit of sarcasm built into PARKALYNCH?

BD: (Laughs) No…maybe. But, I think this garment underlines the violence against protesters, against demonstrators, against people…who are against. No, I don’t think of it as ineffective. I think it is effective. I think there must be people who protest who think something is going wrong.

MS: But there is a bit of humor built into PARKALYNCH.

BD: Yeah, yeah.

MS: Can you say more?

Burak Delier’s PARKALYNCH

BD: The humor is that there is violence in the world—violence in the being of humanity. Very bad things are happening in the world. Violence is everywhere. People are beaten in the streets. There are armies, policemen everywhere. There are bad things. But let’s make a garment to solve these problems; make a thing—something that’s lynch-proof—that’s truncheon-proof—and everything will be all right.

MS: So, there’s clearly an economic demand for this kind of garment.

BD: (Laughs) Yes. We’ll sell this product to the people. We’ll make as many copies as possible. But, you know, this company won’t succeed. That idea that we’ll make money to make more copies, this is the humorous thing.

MS: But I find it humorous because it also reminds me of Karl Marx and Capital – the theory of how a commodity becomes an abstract thing. He uses the example of the petticoat as the article to analyze how raw materials are turned into capital. There are these kinds of layers to it.

BD: (Laughs) Yes. There is also this Marxist theory that when a thing becomes a commodity it loses its political content. In doing this PARKALYNCH project, I want to make something that is like an ironic commodity. It is important to make something that is on sale, available in this shop. In this content, it is very political, because underlying its necessity is the violence in our society.

MS: You see this jacket saying something specific about the political situation in Turkey?

BD: Yes. There is violence everywhere, but in the political history of Turkey there are too many lynch attacks—in the ‘20, ’30s, ’50s. And in the last two or three years there has been twenty or thirty lynch attacks on the street. Usually, they are on people who had out political pamphlets, or who want to make press declarations. People come together and lynch them—want to beat them—want to kill them.

Burak Delier’s PARKALYNCH

MS: Nationalists?

BD: Nationalists, and others. Especially nationalists because they believe the guys who distribute handouts are leftists or Kurds. If somebody on the streets says, “This man is a Kurd, and he is distributing something for Kurdish freedom,” or something, then a group of people can come together and lynch him. There have been twenty or thirty lynch attacks like this.

Some information about Turkey: In 1921, the founder of the Turkish Communist Party is killed. On his way to Ankara there were three lynch attacks on the road and he survived. Afterward he is killed in Trabzon in a lynch attack. There is Ali Kemal “the traitor” who was criticizing the nationalist movement and wanted the protection of western countries for Turkey. He was killed in a lynch attack. These are political murders organized by the state.

In ‘55, there was the “6th and 7th of September incidents,” the state brought people in trucks from Anatolia to Istanbul—to Beyoglu. This is where all the minorities lived—the Jewish people, the Greek people, the Armenian people—and they had shops, and at that time in Turkey trade was in their hands and they controlled the money. The state brought Anatolian people in trucks to destroy their shops and kill people. That is also a lynching.

My work directly refers to these historical events. This is related to Turkey, but it’s also related to political things in the Middle East. In the Middle East lynching has a very psychological effect. In lynching people, you don’t control yourself. Who killed this man? It is not known. No one is guilty. In this way you lose your control; you lose your consciousness in doing this.

Burak Delier

MS: Now, your art object really fits quite perfectly in the IMC. Can you describe how and when you started this project? I assume it was before the biennial chose its venues.

BS: Yes. Initially the project was just the posters in a show that dealt with the European Union. But with this phase of the project I wanted to make something more than just what people saw on the walls, to reach people—something that is not simply an artwork. You see it on the wall, say, “it’s a clever photograph,” “it makes a good point,” you say these things, then walk away. With these parkas, I wanted to make something that really enters life. Something that really intervenes, something that people will take and use.

When I decided to make an anti-lynch parka, I wanted to make many—thousands—for everyone. I didn’t want people to think Burak Delier made PARKALYNCH. Instead, there is a company and anyone is invited to make things under this company. If somebody wants to make something, we can work together. If someone wants to give money, we are completely open (laughs).

MS: Are you using a capitalist model against itself?

BD: Yes, but it’s not a capitalist model. I call it a ‘company’, but its not like a bureaucratic, working company. Everyone can say I am the owner of this company. Everyone can say I am doing the PR, or that I am CEO, and so on.

MS: It’s a collaborative.

BD: Yes, it’s a collaborative—anyone who wants to make something can work under it. And it is not an actual company, but it is a company.

MS: What you are saying is interesting, because I was initially drawn to the posters. Perhaps because it is a really striking image. But what you are saying is that before you made the jacket, when it was still just street posters, this collaborative was impossible.

BD: Yes. I think the posters are important because they were shown in the streets. Not for only an art audience in a gallery. They are for people. And if this idea of making parkas, or some other garments really works, they will become the customers of what they are making. The “company” is the occasion for organization. To bring together and produce things to empower “them” or “us.”

MS: Like a guild, or workshop of sorts, where you produce what you need?

BD: Yes. But the real idea is to make copies of them—endless copies. It is not only one thing…

MS: Right, it’s stickers. It’s posters. There’s the jacket—the video. But why is it essential to make many?

BD: Because, with artwork—paintings for example—they are handmade and that is special to me in that they are original and not reproducible. But this kind of artwork is a commodity too. It’s the most luxurious kind of commodity. The artwork is not something democratic. Artwork is obviously not for poor people. Artwork is for rich people.

What I am doing is trying to break this. I want to make a very normal thing. It’s not original, but it has a function. It’s like life. Something for people—for everyone. It’s not simply for people who have reach, who can reach to buy from galleries.

MS: It is for the people on the street.

(Both laugh)

MS: Sounds very populist.

BD: Yes, it sounds very populist, but I think PARKALYNCH is for people on the street, and specifically minorities, oppressed people who feel insecure in society.

MS: But it is in many ways a symbolic object—not simply utilitarian.

BS: Yes. It is symbolic, but it also has a function.

MS: It is a symbol, and it is functional—that’s rich. Now, has there been any reaction by authorities?

BD: No. There are people here reacting.

MS: In IMC?

BD: Yes, but they are coming to inspect the quality (laughs). They say it’s too expensive. They say, ‘If the quality is this, we can make some many for 800 lira’.

MS: Where did you have it manufactured?

BD: There is a neighborhood with many textile ateliers, Merter. We had it produced with an ateliers that makes motorcycle gear.

MS: What will you work on next?

BD: Madimak ‘93: Madimak is a village where they had a music festival in 1993. In Islam there is Alevism, and this sect organized a festival. They invited important people, writers and performers to a hotel, the Madimak Hotel. I want to make a fire-resistant suit pertaining to this hotel burning which occurred when a Sunni group ganged up on the people inside who were of this different Muslim sect. Many were saved but 26 people burned to death. It pertains to this historical moment, and it is functional. I will make endless copies. I think the parka, as well as this suit has a monumental value. Because if you refer to the history and the people killed there, it’s both monumental and functional.

MS: How dangerous is the political situation in Turkey? It has intensified recently with Gul being named president.

BD: Well, it began in the ’90s. I think Turkey is in the middle of a transformation. Unfortunately, the people who want to transform Turkey are Islamists; the other side, the republicans, they are conservative now. Today, people who want to connect to the world, who want to trade, who to change something, who want progress, they are, culturally, conservatives. We used to call them “conservatives” only because they are religious people.

It’s weird in a way. I think this republican elite group of people may lose their power. The transformation will continue with this European Union thing, and I think it will be a good thing. I prefer to deal with an Islamist party, rather than deal with the army, because at least you can talk with them. I mean they are Islamists, but they are liberal (interesting), but the other side—the republicans, you cannot talk with them. They know what’s best. They know everything. They treat you like a child. You don’t know the strategy, geopolitical position of Turkey. You know nothing of these things. We know it. We’ll handle it. This is their attitude. They are the power. They have guns. They have the army.

MS: To me it sounds like the left-wing has been…

BD: It has completely disappeared.

MS: That it’s been pushed out of politics on one side by the army, maintaining Kemalism, and the rising religious middleclass on the other. And that there is really no space in the political spectrum for true left-wing reforms. Do you feel that way?

BD: Yes. But I think the leftist people will become more involved in things. With the coup d’état of the ’80s—the 12th of September—on this day the army took over the government and destroyed all leftist organizations. The only organized people left were the Islamists. Kenan Evren was the president of the army, and he became the President from ‘80 to ‘87. He made it obligatory to study Islam in primary schools.

Back then they said, leftism is growing; these leftists are traitors. The Muslims and the nationalists, they will bring everyone together—religion will unite Turkey. They wanted it this way: for Turkey to become more religious, rather than leftist. And they destroyed the leftist movement.