Each installment features a writer, artist, or curator discussing an underrated artist, artwork, movement, or museum.
Today we're with Rotem Rozental, a curator, editor, and photo-historian, in discussion of Metehan Ozcan who is, in Rotem's words, "a Turkish artist whose work centers around the archive, the album and preservation of national and private memories."
I understand you've worked with Ozcan in the past, is that correct? In what capacity? How did you first come in contact with his work?
Metehan Ozcan was one of the participants in an international group exhibition I curated, titled “Dead Lands: Karkaot Mawat.” This project emerged from a prolonged scholarly and curatorial engagement with identity conflicts in the Middle East and their manifestation in contemporary work. Opening this conversation to internationally, we suggested a view of the land as a point of reference, a beginning or an end. The artists, who are from different geographical areas, origins, and cultures, use institutional systems such as archives, communal rituals and national visual rhetoric, negotiating their identity in persistent struggle with the land that seeks to define, celebrate, marginalize or exclude it. The exhibition was shown in NURTUREart Gallery in Brooklyn (April-May 2016). You can read more here.
I approached Metehan and invited him to join the exhibition after I was introduced to his works by a common friend: a Kurdish-American scholar who spent a considerable amount of time in Istanbul and is very well familiar with the local vibrant art scene. I was delighted he agreed to participate. For the gallery space, he created a collection of images from the Made in Contact open archive. We then showed the images on a mini-iPad that was installed in the entryway to the main space. So the viewers not only had to go through it, but when the arm holding the mini-iPad was positioned in a particular angle, it became a screen that guides your eye to the works in the space, serving as an intimate gateway to the exhibition.
In Made in Contact, he uses Facebook as a repository for images of Turkey's secular past. What makes this project so powerful? Why do you think it's so important in present day?
In this project, Ozcan uses a seemingly open environment to invite people to share their visual memories. However, I would argue the artist is making a more poignant move here. I would insist that rather than creating an open album, a digital version of a personal treasure, Ozcan crafts an image captured of a particular landscape, era or social landscape. We see places a family would feel obligated to document, we see popular sites of leisure, but also intimate spaces, and the particular ways private individuals felt compelled to document them. And here I think about the process of capturing an image in a very literal sense, since this project shows us how different places were seen, framed, or understood by viewers, or by popular media. We see what was considered a tourist cliché, and how particular visual forms or aesthetical narratives were understood and internalized by private individuals. In short, we say how concrete and imagined locations were conceived and imaged as such, how this society visually understood itself and its histories.
Let’s say something more about the format. I think the use of the Facebook album, much like many people do with their private holiday images, events, etc., tells us something about the shaping of a narrative. Let’s go back to the origins of this format, meaning, to the family album in its analogue beauty. This format affords the articulation of a very personal narrative, of the ways in which we would like to present and represent ourselves to the world: the visual languages, by which we choose to do so reflect the space in which we dwell, socially, economically and politically. The private album, created in the intimate setting of the home, has the capacity to undermine prevailing narratives. I think that by choosing to use the album In its digital existence and calling out to individuals to share their perspective, this “open archive,” as it is defined by the artist, crafts a robust statement regarding the possibilities we do have and could potentially have to conceive our civic space and the tools we are given—or should be given—for understanding, imaging and viewing it.
Would you consider Ozcan a political artist? Why or why not?
I think that Ozcan, like many of his contemporaries, reflects changing social and economic conditions in his work. The materials for his projects, both physically and conceptually, derive from the everyday. In that sense, he is inherently a political artist. However, I do not think he made a conscious decision to produce political art. I think the political dimension of his work is inevitable, as many prevailing works are—since they insist on discussing our experience, our lives, pasts and unknown, at times ominous, futures.
How and why do you think Ozcan's work is underrepresented?
I am not certain I would define it as underrepresented necessarily, but I do think that unfortunately, because of the roaring political upheavals that came to define Turkey in recent years, it is increasingly more difficult to introduce works being made there to international audiences. Of course, the Istanbul Biennial attracts global viewership, as well as numerous wonderful local initiatives, but in a space that can shut down at the whim of its powerful ruler, where intimidation and terror replace inspiration and patience, it is sometimes hard for outsiders to focus on the words that should be heard and the images that could be seen, or perhaps even celebrated. I think it’s crucial to know artists like Metehan, to know their motivation, their visual viewpoint and their experience.
Who do you see as Ozcan's main influences? Who do you he (currently or will in the future) influences?
To relate directly to Made in Contact, I think the impact of the project ripples through several circles. First, of course, the people who share images with him, or upload to the page directly, or the people whose images Metehan shares. Then, emerges a broader circle of influence – when community members see the images. Their actions in and beyond the page also impact its outreach. And, lastly and crucially, those images are burned into Facebook servers, which, whether we like that or not, never forget, and will inexorably preserve an image of Turkey that is slowly erasing IRL.