This year Turkish Pavilion has been curated by Emre Baykal, who chose Ali Kazma as the only artist to « represent » Turkey. The title chosen by Ali Kazma for the entirely new and fully original body of work he produced for the Biennale is “Resistance”. And Ali Kazma, among other manifestations of resistance, resisted indeed, in any possible occasion, to the very concept of “representation”.
“Yes I am invited by Turkey but as an artist I am representing only myself” claimed Ali Kazma. This distance Kazma required between his artistic creation and any possibility of political representation proved along the way to be essential.
Indeed, “Resistance” rapidly moved from the Turkish Pavilion in Venice to Taksim and Gezi Park. And even before the initial festivities of the Venice Biennial were over, Ali Kazma and Emre Baykal, required that between each of the thirteen videos presented in the Turkish Pavilion, there would be a pause. And on each screen, there would appear this very clear statement:
RESISTANCE salutes #occupygezi
© The Artist
My body is mine
“Resistance”, Ali Kazma’s Venice Biennial piece, is fully devoted to the body – the body as the ultimate place for resistance. Each of us lives and dies within his or her own body, the ultimate platform where and with which we may resist uniformity, power, dictatorship, any prescription, whether coming from fashion, from health care, from the current social view of what the body should be. After spending hours looking at this ensemble of videos (they do require hours), it seems to me I am hearing a voice inside me, around me, whispering to my ears, shouting at my face, “Your body is yours, it belongs to you and allows you to exist – or may be your body is actually you. Your body is your exclusive place to live. This body transports you into places, from schools to prisons to other places, into the bigger picture of the world, where one day it will disintegrate as such then integrate again in this bigger picture.”
My body is mine and I can use it as I wish, this is one of the messages I understand from Ali Kazma’s “Resistance”. Yet, “Resistance” does not answer the endless question as to whether we are our body or whether we are distinct from it and may use it as a property. We are not even able to see it all at once.
What does then the artist actually show us, and how?
We cannot see it all
Thirteen videos by Ali Kazma are shown in the Turkish pavilion, on five screens: Anatomy, Aquarium, Bodybuilding, Calligraphy, Cryonics, Eye, Film, Kinbaku, Laboratory, Prison, Robot, School, and Tattoo. All of them are about the body. Representing the body as a way to understand it, to control it, to appropriate it, is as ancient as humanity inasmuch the body does not exist without us representing it. We as human beings do not fully exist if we are not named and represented. The thirteen videos by Kazma shown in the close space of the Turkish Pavilion represent, name, and design us as human beings. These thirteen videos form in the space an endless changing image, an image one is never able to see as a complete picture. This fragmentation of our gaze is reminiscent to the ways we try to look at and to understand life as a global scene. Impossible for us, the scene is ever changing and our gaze too narrowed. We never get it all, it is impossible to understand, as impossible as it is for us to understand the whole flux and evolution and changes of our own history. It is also impossible to fully understand our own body, even though we try to get closer to it, to fit in it better, the estrangement always threatens our full coherence as a human being.
The body lets you down
Kazma states: “I am interested in how the body can be like an embarrassing cousin who shows up at a party at the wrong time. You get hungry, you get fat, you get sick, you have gas, your eyes go bad. The body needs constant care and attention. It takes you places and gives you unique experiences, but it can also really embarrass you and let you down. And, ultimately, it always lets you down.”
As a medical doctor, I am naturally fascinated by how the body resists our endless curiosity, all our investigations: its mysteries, its secret functions, its orgasms, its sicknesses, its pains, all remain out of reach of complete understanding. We can work at it, use the body, abuse it, for suffering, for lust and joy, for misery – we may modify it, pierce it, tattoo it, scarify it, frieze it to death, exercise it, transform it. Ali Kazma explores all these possible actions, from Japanese bondage (Kinbaku) to Bodybuilding; from eye surgery (Eye) to play (Film), including even those actions taking place before life (Laboratory) or after death (dissection, i.e., Anatomy, or freezing as in Cryonics) and those nearly invisible actions taking place in spaces as restricting for the body as School or Prison.
From Obstructions to Resistance
In a previously published conversation with curator and art historian Paul Ardenne (In It, 2012), Ali Kazma stated: “There is this necessary illusion, by having a master passion, that we can do something with it, around it – and this something, whatever it is, making images in my case, we can only do with our body. I cannot do otherwise, I have to put my body into it, and then comes the time when I start to get something back. I cannot work only with my brain and knowledge, I have to get physically tired, exhausted, bothered, obstructed…” Interestingly enough, within this statement, Ali Kazma mentions the physicality of obstruction. And when looking in parallel at the series “Obstructions” and “Resistance”, it really appears that there is no rupture between the two, but a continuum. Several videos of the Obstructions series were already devoted to the body, such as Dance Company or Painter. In Dance Company, the extreme pleasure of exercising to pain meets the pleasure of the spectacle – in Painter, an intriguing and yet unknown way to do body paint in a wheelchair is presented. And indeed, the idea to have Ali Kazma meet Jacques Coulais, the Painter, came to me because I understood at that time already, in 2010, three years before “Resistance”, that the interest of Kazma for the work of the body was deep enough that such a strange way to use the body as Coulais did could be appealing to Kazma as a very specific way to both Obstruct and Resist – and it was indeed.
The body appears to be the most potent instrument we as humans have to obstruct to time – and the most fragile one, too. Interestingly however, what Ali Kazma shows us about the body in “Resistance” is essentially power. The body may well let you down – but its resistance is powerful.
The power to resist
Immediately after installing “Resistance” in Venice, Ali Kazma was back in Istanbul, where a very active resistance to the Erdogan government had just started. The beginning of it was resistance to an urban project that involved the Gezi Park – but the core resistance was much deeper, relating to dignity, to autonomy, to democracy, to basic freedoms. This is not the place for a full commentary on a very important popular movement that deserves the most competent political approach. But what is to be underlined here, is the very feeling of general resistance bringing together thousands and thousands of people from many different backgrounds in an incredible mixture of resisting people and minorities created by the defense of very specific rights: a majority of students, sometimes very young, still in high school, but also gays, lesbians, Kurds, abandoned children and street kids becoming adopted by the resisting groups, lawyers, medical doctors, young women aiming for gender equality, thousands of bodies moving back and forth as waves vanishing and turning back in force according to the actions of the police. The police injured five to seven thousand, four people died, but this cruel reality didn’t stop resistance – if anything, it probably exacerbated it. Even when teargas prevents you from seeing, sometimes even from thinking, the body replaces the brain and keeps thinking and resisting. Resistance against gas is solely a bodily resistance.
Interestingly enough, as the ensemble of Kazma’s videos is impossible to grasp with one gaze in Venice, so also was the political situation back in Taksim: impossible to capture the whole scene in one gaze. In Istanbul even much more so than in Venice, millions of bodies move in an always changing environment. This is the only way the world seems to get to us: through this constantly changing image. We cannot see it all, even if in this changing environment some constants emerge: on the streets of Istanbul, the police, the kids, the gas bombs, the game of throwing them back to the policemen. Suddenly School and Prison, as videos showing the constraints of power over bodies, resonate very differently – they become places such as the streets have been in Istanbul during the month of July of 2013: a place were the body may get hurt and bent in many ways.
The complex political situation also exacerbated Ali Kazma’s radicalism and acute consciousness about how his own ways to resist – essentially by making meaningful images – fits into the global scenery of resistance, or doesn’t. On the street, people who had never done this before started to build barricades, as a result of collective intelligence, the few competent persons immediately becoming leaders. What about the barricades of art?
From bodies to books: more resistance
The barricades of art are also the books. For Ali Kazma, the roots are deep: he still remembers when, during the coup d’état in 1980, his parents had to hide all their books behind a wall to make sure that they would not get confiscated by the state. It was such a feast, when the wall could be destroyed and the books freed again. Books make bodies.
Ali Kazma, as a project conducted with the Editions Take 5, has recently travelled through Europe to take pictures of thousands of old manuscripts, of books, of all types of works related to book writing and book making. This fall in Istanbul, then in Paris and Geneva, three shows will present some of the seven thousands photographs he has taken. Not to forget that one of the videos of “Resistance” is Calligraphy: the bodily act of writing as one of the most beautiful and sophisticated actions a human being can take. And not to forget that Kazma still has to find a way to film the thinking before the writing: didn’t he entitle a former show in Paris “How to Film a Poet?”?
“Resistance”, a self-portrait
Artist’s statement: “My life is about my work, as much as my work is my life. … Each work I do is chosen for personal reasons and these reasons are linked to the body of my work. – The choices you make and don’t make, including the exhibitions, the books, everything, in the end realize your self-portrait.”
The choices we make include the choices of what each of us, in his or her intimate individuality, decides to resist to. Resistance always places the “other” in the scene, the one you want to resist to, the human being or the government or whatever ideology, actions, or words you don’t want to accept as such. By taking the time and raising the thoughts necessary to make our choices, we use our freedom to resist. Resistance and freedom are tightly linked by individualism. Kazma, through the body investigations and representations he proposes at the Venice Biennial, show us a self-portrait of himself, but also of us as a group, as a society, as humanity. And he continues “working, in my body, on the body, the body in the world. I am learning as I am working. And I have learned that in order for me to learn about the world, the world has to learn about me. So I throw myself at the world and in the world.” The beauty of art is that we may now also throw our own body in “Resistance”, at least in Venice, in the Turkish Pavilion. Tomorrow may be, on the streets as well. Ali Kazma suggested to me, during a recent private conversation, that somehow he wants his art also to be more “public”. Let’s meet him there, wherever it will be.
Barbara Polla. A doctor, researcher and political figure, Barbara Polla has dedicated herself to art and literature since 1991. She promotes emerging artists in her Geneva gallery, Analix Forever, a venue that she turned into a space for human and cultural exchanges. She regularly collaborates with critics and curators whom she invites at her gallery or into her writing projects. She teaches about the links between art and fashion at IFM in Paris and creativity at HEAD (Higher School for Art and Design) in Geneva. Among her recent publications: L’Ennemi Public, Ed La Muette, co-directed with Paul Ardenne & Magda Danysz, 2013; Tout à fait Femme, Odile Jacob, 2012; Architecture Emotionnelle, Matière à penser, Ed La Muette, co-directed with Paul Ardenne, 2011; Victoire, L’Âge d’Homme, 2009; A toi bien sûr, L’âge d’Homme, 2008. She is a regular contributor to Les Quotidiennes, Crash, Drome, and Citizen K. Since 2011, she works as “nomadic gallerist” in Paris, where she also created the venue VideoForever, a monthly video projection by themes.