A Review of Vahap Avşar’s iBerlin

Göksu Kunak

If your origins are related to both east and west, if you have experienced three coup-d’états, three coup-d’états, violence between left and right, gay and minority demonstrations, and secular and Islamic facets for almost 50 years, then inevitably your productivity will include strong political arguments. This approach can be observed in the works of many contemporary artists born in Turkey. In his exhibition iBerlin at Tanas Berlin, Vahap Avşar “explores the underlying patriarchal conditions of socio-political and cultural structures”  (press release) with installations, videos and paintings. Although living and working in New York, one may see the strong ties with current political debates in Turkey in Avşar’s work, interpreted with a good dose of humor.

Installation view: Vahap Avşar, iBerlin, 2012 Photographer: Uwe Walter, Copyright: TANAS Berlin

In the film Goodbye Lenin, one of the most remarkable frames is when the sculpture of Lenin flies, representative of a precise moment in history. Sculpture, with its concrete existence, has always been an important tool of power because of its impact on society.  Standing at a significant spot in the Tanas space, upside down plinths bearing the head of the artist face each other in 20th Century as We Know It (2011-2012), a piece that deconstructs this image in society, referencing also the emphasis of public sculptures in Turkey, starting with the crucial Modernization period. As with the aforementioned flying Lenin scene, busts of Avşar silently report this new vision, in contrast with the powerful sculptures of the 20th Century of which they are reminiscent.

Vahap Avşar, Shoot Out, 2011, 4-channel video installation, HD , 16:9, synchronized, color, sound, loop, Photographer: Uwe Walter, Copyright: TANAS Berlin 

In the video Tekmil (2010), a sweating soldier answers the questions of his commander, frankly visualizing the exercises of the patriarch.  Reminiscent of the speech act theory, as the sound and stress of the commander’s voice controls the soldier’s behaviour. The soldier pretends as if nothing is wrong, trying to give the best answers with a machine-like attitude, yet seeing him perspire reminds the viewer of the reality of the situation. Another video with two young men practicing with shotguns depicts the process of practicing cultural codes through different mediums.

The kitsch painting display includes postcards and posters collected by Avşar since childhood, covering one huge wall in the gallery space. These are the images that Avşar grew up with and in regard to cultural codes, one may interpret how visual history may play a more significant role than that of the verbal. His kitsch painting of the Caliph Ali, an important figure for the Alevi minorities in Turkey, hung all alone, has a visual connection with the upside-down pedestals. This spatial communication displays the change in the society by one hung up and the others toppled over. For several years, there have been times that Alevis had the courage to express their beliefs. Avşar’s work, alongside the posters of the Ali that are given out to the visitors, becomes a tribute to them.

Exhibition view: Vahap Avşar, iBerlin, 2012 Photographer: Uwe Walter, Copyright: TANAS Berlin 

The strong impact of image and the bounds of cultural codes are well subjectified in the works of Avşar. As it is argued in lots of mediums, public-private spaces, or bodies, are constructed according to the apparatuses of power, but this is something we all know. What separates Avşar’s work is his ironic and direct approach within this context. Once these these images have been observed one by one with their many layered meanings, the dematerialization process can really start in the mind of the beholder.

Vahap Avşar was showing at Tanas Berlin  27/03 – 12/05/2012.