A blog for selected texts of Basak Senova in various books, catalogues, and magazines. Some of the texts posted are copyright, and their holders are indicated.

30 March 2010


published in User's Manual: Contemporary Art in Turkey 1986-2006 / Kullanma Kılavuzu: Türkiye'de Güncel Sanat. Ed. Halil Altındere and Süreyya Evren. p.124-129.
ISBN 978-3-86588-423-7
(both in English and German)
© User's Manual, 2007

Turkey is still spontaneously confronting diverse socio-political realities, demographically unbalanced economic hardships, and replacements of collective amnesia patterns with implanted sequences and narrations of history enclosed by televisual lenses. We are also unquestionably experiencing social transformations explicit of the new ontological conditions brought forth by global conditions based on rapid technological developments.

This picture points to a new generation of Turkish artists, who propose new channels for the global interaction of economy and information. They consider inquiries about these social transformations as their new territories of research, to be approached with different mentalities, strategies, perspectives and modes of production. In this respect, an attempt to define the local digital culture, which is the domain of these artists and their projects, would present an additional perspective in grasping the state of contemporary art in Turkey.

Primarily, the actors/producers in the local digital culture are artists and designers; art and design schools; digital video, animation, interactive design companies; software developers; production companies; database developments in specific professions; the music and entertainment business; architecture, music oriented cultural publishing such as magazines and web sites; and music production labels. Their common conceptions are around issues such as open source (dimensions and perceptions of open-source, authenticity versus anonymity, copy-paste culture, and hypertextuality); a constant act of re-editing and re-defining of art-production in multiple ways (designing perception, digital modes and thinking of production); technological disembodiment; and networking. Clearly, both the actors/producers and their conceptions display a similar picture to that of many European countries. Nevertheless, the production mode of the local actors/producers, (re)sources, and the way they define themselves and interact with each other are quite exceptional.

First and foremost, these actors merely define themselves as “artists”. Due to their various educational backgrounds and proficiencies, they portray interdisciplinary approaches with their production modes. Ranging from graphic design to architecture, from electronics engineering to sociology, the vast array of view points and methods allow them to investigate the interactivity conditions between art and other factors - such as politics and science - by considering the fact that technology is already ubiquities in any possible practice. Cutting across the issues and forming new methods help these artists to make their statements through works, which communicates in multi-levels.

Stemming from the open source mode of thinking and sharing (by giving priority to develop and produce autonomously, rather than authorship), most protest the mainstream contemporary art production methodologies. Within the contemporary art scene, local digital art production distinguishes itself with a unique self sustained mode of production. The lack of regular subsidies and technical infrastructure drive the local artists into inventing alternative solutions and ways of producing. Owing to the increasing accessibility of digital tools, productions in or around the digital realm have grown in number. However, this mode of production has not brought out a collaborative spirit while spreading amongst a comparably younger generation. Although the digital media is natively habitant in networks and carries its culture and know-how online, it is quite astonishing to discover that the local actors of digital art are extremely introverted. It is obviously due of the lack of the social networks in the overall art scene in Turkey, which has accumulated hostility rather than solidarity for many decades. This self-oriented artistic culture motivates individuals in breaking through the local bottleneck situation and reaching out to rather well established art networks abroad. While this attitude seems to be an effective remedy for artists seeking for wider audiences and global prominence, it hampers emergence of a local digital milieu, thus the global recognition of an art scene.

Another privation in Turkish digital art realm, however, has led to development. Since an institution or faculty dedicated to digital art education still does not exist, the local artists have emerged from various other disciplines, mostly design and engineering. This has evolved digital art, as other educational backgrounds provide the artists with a much more organized attitude for researching, information gathering, analytical thinking and good handling of the tools that aid them in production. Compared to the graduates of art schools, digital artists with other backgrounds show up with their deliberate techniques. The quality of technique not only communicates the proficiency of the artist in the digital media, but also helps to convey the idea through the artwork.

I base these assumptions on NOMAD-TV.network’s (2004-present) three specific projects*: the implementation of the Canadian Festival HTMlles (2006) in Istanbul along with the active local women artists who produce in digital culture; and Upgrade!Istanbul (2004-present).

In 2004, in the course of new media technologies, economic and political orders, geo-political movements, changes and cultural inputs, NOMAD instigated a project which aimed to map a new generation of Turkish artists, their sources, domains, production and digital culture. This project, called NOMAD-TV.network, was designed as a long-term project which observes, detects and establishes links in the network that facilitate local digital culture. For the first time, not only artists, but digital-minded communities and bodies in Turkey also started to contribute to projects in order to make their productions visible to each other. While establishing the local network on digital culture, the project has put local knowledge, expertise and mode of production together with international connections. The first snapshot of this network, .01, involves more than 70 people. Amongst them are many artists with significant projects which render constitutive elements with narrative that forms the digital culture by opposing to the ignorance and inefficiency of the mainstream drift.

Evrensel Belgin, with his web-site anti-pop.com, is an example for the reaction towards mainstream productions. In a rather activist tone, he combines severe critique with parodies through a distinctive graphical language. anti-pop.com also leads the viewer/user to navigate similar projects on the net.

Demonstrating rather a submissive response to mainstream art production, two young artists, Pinar Yoldas and Simge Goksoy, with their web-art projects where they gather animations, artworks, text, and video-works, challenge the perception patterns based on interactivity and navigation. Within the same track, another very young name with the pseudonym tofu, is interested in experiences based on navigation paths in the city. Bending what digital technologies have to offer, her online interactive animations and narrations explore the mechanical structure of daily life experiences, while questioning the nature and levels of interactivity. Another similar case, Ansen, works with various media such as photography, x-ray, and video to reproduce mundane daily life realities and urban life with references of cyberpunk narratives. His works also portray the infrastructure and mechanisms of the operational logic of these realities and the urban mind-sets.

Quite a number of artists in the digital field take the city as the center of their research and productions. Their projects are mostly executed through collaborations, and they give importance and the utmost emphasis to the realization of the projects rather then authorship. In this context, two on-going projects, the K34 project by Ceren Oykut and Selda Asal, and the Istatistiklal project by Ertug Uçar, Simge Göksoy, Erhan Muratoglu- exemplify continuing processes orbiting around projects. These two groups consider the city to be a kind of laboratory, which gives all kinds of data to be processed within the framework of other disciplines. The basis of their research is the polyphonic cultural structure of the city while the fast flow of life covers the city’s historical and geographical characteristics with borrowed images.

Apart from these two groups, there is an artist group called “Casus Production”. By hiding their individual names and labelling their activities as anonymously as possible, two young artists are deliberately working on the country’s social issues with the techniques and metaphorical outcomes of copy and paste culture. Through the alteration that technology has brought to our daily lives, they question relations between communication and power in the society.

Another significant project is the HTMlles Export 2, the extension of a Canadian festival focusing on the position of women in cyberspace by including all facets of new media and web art technologies. The project travelled to Istanbul in 2006, and developed and took shape based on the local contributors. The Istanbul phase of the project not only fostered dialogue and collaborations amongst Canadian and Turkish participants, but also brought new perspectives, practices and research investigating the ethics and aesthetics at the intersection of art and the biological sciences; cultural transactions with online projects; taxonomic approach for urban studies while collecting information and constructing database as art projects; communication-based sonic researches; experiments on wearable electronics; and documentaries about technological and scientific interventions in art practices. The foremost importance of implementing this project in Istanbul lies on the vast interest and contribution of the local women participants, opposed to the insignificant male input. Furthermore, the project clearly outlines the huge gap between the subsidised research-based, high-budget and hi-tech western projects with the low budget local projects in terms of production mode. Apparently, the local projects have more potential to engender social reactions with their activist approaches only if they have the chance to encounter a bigger audience through public presence in Turkey.

Nonetheless, Upgrade! Istanbul, as an ongoing network project, aims to create public presence for digital culture in Turkey. Through monthly gatherings for new media artists, academicians, practitioners, curators and other actors of digital culture, Upgrade! Istanbul also links local producers with the active international network groups related to art, technology and culture through 23 nodes all over the globe.

The Istanbul meetings include prominent local examples, in link with this international network, such as Anabala, Burak Arıkan and Murat Germen.

Anabala is a multidisciplinary project concentrating on Istanbul's sounds and cult. The project consists of two artists: Murat Ertel and Ceren Oykut. They blend sound and visual representation modes in real-time on stage. Their multi-disciplinary pieces take the aspects of humour, parody and surprise as the basic elements of their performances. Anabala has developed collaborative projects with various international artists through this network.

As an artist, Burak Arıkan creates systems that evolve with the interactions of people and machines. He shows the instances of these systems through diverse media including prints, animation, software, electronics, and physical materials. Burak Arıkan collaborates with the Istanbul and Boston nodes of this network while teaming up with Murat Germen in Istanbul. With his impressive educational background and academic studies in the fields of photography, design and architecture, Murat Germen develops art projects by merging these fields. Both Burak Arıkan and Murat Germen focus on the “informational space” or “cognitive space” by working on the assets, facilitating around the re-construction of space. While Burak Arıkan pursues this process by creating pieces involving computer networks and using the concepts of connectivity and collectivity, Murat Germen follows a similar path within the realm of digital photography and computational design studies.

In a significantly short period of time, UpgradeIstanbul has managed to kick-start an archive for the newly emerging digital art scene in Turkey. This will maintain the lacking referential information and form a memory for the local actors of digital culture.


* I took active parts in all of these three projects, initiated and developed by NOMAD. NOMAD is an Istanbul based association, focusing on experimental approaches in digital art and sound-art. It was founded in 2002 as an independent formation and registered as an association in 2006. The core of the association consists of designers, engineers, architects, curators and writers. http://nomad-tv.net