Merve Ünsal: I would like to situate BITTER MEDICINE within :mentalKLINIK’s practice. The link between this work and your formal and conceptual lexicons is quite clear; the articulation of the work employs relatively “new” methods that we have all quickly adapted to, or tried to. Could you talk about the process of the work?
:mentalKLINIK: with the pandemic, we stepped into a new hybrid reality in which the physical is transferred to digital realm. With this bitter medicine that we prescribed to the current “moment” that we are in, we provide a form in which the physical is transmitted through a digital experience, which is the time-space of this hybrid reality.
Watching the transformation of the sense of time as it crashed into a wall with the introduction of the notion of the pandemic into our daily lives, we were experiencing an enhanced domestic space reality within our micro-climate. With the invitation of Carl de Smet, we revisited our work, Puff Out, and prepared this “bitter medicine” prescription for the rapidly shifting circumstances of our day and we presented this work for the first time at the Belgrade Contemporary Art Museum. During the first days when the museums were closed, Bitter Medicine #01 was presented live 24/7 through the museum’s website, until the museum opened its doors once again. To fill the void left behind by the museums that had closed within the increasingly online, digital world, six robot vacuums, programmed to be sensitive to dust would move through the space where glitter is scattered across the floor, thus constantly transforming the space, constituting Bitter Medicine #01; the emphasis was on the motto of “nothing will remain the same” after the pandemic.
As Bitter Medicine #01 was still shown in Belgrade, we were invited by the manager of Borusan Contemporary Dr. Kumru Eren to prepare the second prescription for Borusan Contemporary, under the curatorial guidance of Dr. Necmi Sönmez as the institution was to remain closed until the end of January 2021. Carl de Smet’s curatorial approach was to have the prescription of Bitter Medicine #01 for the temporarily closed bodies of the institutions. Dr. Necmi Sönmez’s curatorial prescription was to have the Bitter Medicine #02 was through the relationship between art and dematerialization in a novel way within the framework of hyperstimulation, which is at the core of the works of :mentalKLINIK. The reinterpretation of Bitter Medicine with different curatorial visions enabled us to be further inspired within our universe of multiple perspectives, opening up new dialogues.
:mentalKLINIK, Bitter Medicine #02, 2020.
MÜ: The possibility of being visible 24/7 could be interpreted as a criticism of the social orders of the “new normal.” What does 24/7 mean for you?
:mentalKLINIK: In our opinion, the notion of being watched 24/7 refers to today’s surveillance technologies, data-focused precarious lives, and the ambiguities created by our subjectivities based on technology and services. Furthermore, the cheerless zeitgeist, our bodies being digitized with constant stimulation, and the dissatisfied and hyperconnected lives are deprived of surprises.
It is not easy to observe a situation while experiencing it. But we are within an order that is not normal, suspended and people would like to go back to “normal.” We would like to ask: to which “normal”? Or what is the “new normal?” The “contemporary person” who appears to have been promised immortality and infinite youth, is experiencing the end of the neoliberal policies, as the notion of death, inequality, and discrimination are back in center stage with the thread of COVID-19. Every end deserves a celebration.
In the world that we are stepping into now is an order where private data is willingly shared, artificial-intelligence supported Bio&Neuro-Control mechanisms are deeply embedded, driven by point systems and micro-controls. We are being told, “Welcome to the Dystopia and thank you for your collaboration 24/7.” In reality, the 24/7 viewing is more internal than external and is even more sense-driven, rhythmic, and behavioral than previously considered. When ways of seeing have arrived at this point, as artists, we produce reflexes against the anxieties created by the perception changes that these control mechanisms have created in our gaze as well as the anxieties triggered by these invisible policies. The hyperstimulation created by hyperconnectivity corresponds to the experiences of our exhibitions.
Bitter Medicine’s 24/7 content and form is linked to the cloud (evoking romantic feelings). It could be perceived as the humanless, censor-equipped, connected to the internet automation of Industry 4.0 functioning within the artistic realm.
:mentalKLINIK, Bitter Medicine #02, 2020.
MÜ: What do you think about the changes to the responsibilities and visibilities of art institutions? Is the first addressee of the Bitter Medicine the art institution?
:mentalKLINIK: This violent standstill in the system has also dragged every person, institution, and field into panic who was caught up in this speed, flow and distorted understanding. We watched this effect in very hectic and unaccounted online projects in the field of art. Galleries, institutes, museums and even artists are opening online showrooms as if we only use our sense of sight to see/watch and perceive art. (Except for projects that use the Online medium self-consciously)
'Show Rooms' remind us of Peep Shows. Art, which has been considered in the entertainment category and event culture for a long time, offers us "Online Art Porn" at this time. In online viewings, through the technical, color, and viewfinder possibilities offered by the camera, we can see works up close in a way that would be impossible in the physical space, able to scrutinize on a pixel level; watching the productions in which artist employed special space and the techniques, we lose the post-aura, which, although fake, is still alive within art. As Benjamin pointed out, while the first “aura” is lost in reproduction, now our five senses are reduced to one or two and we are expected to relate to the art work in this limited way. The art market has used the artist as an extra for some time now and they are presented with a temporary and fake lead role. Instead of “artist is present”, the “artist is online.”
As opposed to the stillborn aesthetic of the art world squeezed into virtual viewing rooms, Bitter Medicine is physically constructed, constantly changing, working, relayed to the world 24/7. At the same time, the danger of the art work to be confused with a communication object within the age of communication and data optimization is opened up to discussion. With Bitter Medicine, we are bringing up the sensibility of the “new beauty”, which is the strongest weapon of the digital aesthetic.
MÜ: Surveillance politics has been taken to a whole new level as some workers have been expected to keep their cameras on while working. As your work carries the politics of labor and exhibition-making to a poetic space, could you talk about this point at which the political and the aesthetic converge?
:mentalKLINIK: It is clear that there is a relationship between the power of the invisible and immaterial art. We know how invisible or hidden strategies are embedded in current materials, technologies and services, and we reflect and even parody this current situation both aesthetically and conceptually in the materials and relationships we use in many of our works.
In our exhibition titled 'Truish', which we realized in 2017 in the era of 'post truth' where politics move away from reality, we asked, “How can art lie when the reality is not true enough,” The relationship between art and reality is constantly changing. We question this, could you transform again what ‘pretends to be real’ by art?
Today, we as :mentalKLINIK describe the relationship between art and politics as “art is politically aesthetically politic’’
In the power of the invisible, the invisibility / ambiguity of Corona virus has created a domain of power and made surveillance and even bio-surveillance technologies acceptable without question. From the period when Foucault questioned body and power politics, we have entered the era of powerful technology companies ruling FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google), who know us better than we know ourselves, examining human behavioral patterns and processing deep data. We are in the transition between the precarious human and the semi-hero human loaded with augmented abilities. At this stage, even the owner and slave relationship is a collapsed fable.
We currently live in a new hybrid understanding of time-space where the physical and the virtual are combined. When physical shared reality is under threat, we point to this new hybrid space with our virtual encounters. The loss of the physical brings with its digital anxiety. The bitter recipe we offer can be read as a tactic of this understanding and as an artistic crisis management.
As :mentalKLINIK, we provide an array of multi-faceted approaches to our universe, just like a disco ball, using the ultra contemporary tools of a visible lightness, invisible political strategies, and social dynamics without any concealment. In this exhibition, the “bitter medicine” is presented for the :mentalKLINIK universe and the hybrid lifestyle created by the current circumstances, as well as the artistic and cultural realms that are silent and/or have been silenced.
MÜ: There is a trained randomness embedded in the way in which the robots move and sense. What does this infinite potentiality mean for you?
:mentalKLINIK: While autonomous robots work using patterns given by sensors, they perceive the glamorous glitter we offer them as just an unwanted dust. The idiosyncratic mission of robot vacuum cleaners and the dust / glitter overloaded density offer us unrepeatable pictures that change with every moment. The robots, whose dust boxes have been removed and are thus off-duty now, become the actors of the show. And while this ongoing performance invites you to dive in with the movement, speed and volume of the current time*, it attempts to seduce.
The most obvious qualities of Bitter Medicine #02 (drawing, painting, performance, video art etc.) present a new form within a transitional plane. The digital transmittance of the work, the mobile robots, the pre-fictional choreography of the moving cameras, and the transfer of the moment are not monotonous; rather than a mere transmission, the work is open to surprises.
Thus, optimization, which is the first goal of the robot and artificial intelligence world, has the possibility to turn into a surprise with its arbitrary, targetless approach.
As :mentalKLINIK, we attempt to create an undefined space, an unstable region and frozen time by establishing various relationships with the materials and actions that make up an immaterial world with Puff Out, just as we have adopted in our previous works oscillating between the robotics and the emotional. While Puff Out adopts an inherently entertaining attitude, on the other hand, it produces an aesthetic that is violent, abrasive, questioning the world we live in.
MÜ: Artists need to give prescriptions for the social states we are in. What are the prescriptions that you are working on now?
:mentalKLINIK: We do not prefer to charge the artist with a mission. The artist’s internal monologues, their introverted world are more provocative for us. While the result always relates to the viewer and the society and although we are assumed to be a clinic [KLINIK], Bitter Medicine is also a reflex that reflects off of our own universe.
It is very valuable for us to live in the times we are in and to produce within that time. Today, while donating all our senses for the continuity of the system, we will continue to invite the audience's erotic body to stimulate their mind. We aim to create a short-term but memorable experience by creating a cold shower effect, drawing the already shortened attention to the field of art. As we always say, ‘’Nonetheless, these actions are not that deliberate.’’
* Necmi Sönmez
ABOUT THE WRITER
Merve Ünsal is a visual artist based in Istanbul. In her work, she employs text and photography, extending both beyond their form. Ünsal is the founding editor of the artist-driven online publishing initiative m-est.org.
10 September 2020 Thu
Time for individuals is lighter and more volatile than for institutions. I spent the past six months trying to remotely get to know Borusan, to which I had become a member just before the pandemic. Although the intervening physical distance seemed like a problem with working from home, it was also an opportunity for seeing the picture crystal clear just as any frame that becomes definite with distance.
15 October 2020 Thu
This series of Close Readings emerged from a deficiency I observed both in contemporary art criticism and in my own writing practice: Although exhibition criticism, interviews, and monographic artist texts are produced regularly, focusing on a single work, interpreting, and analyzing that one work is a form we encounter less often.