:MENTALKLINIK INTERVIEWED BY JÉRÔME SANS, 2018
When did you start your collaboration and why?
You might not recognize at first but we are very different both with a usual disposition. The anticipation of an uncanny outcome triggered us to collaborate. We started working together in 1995 during the first project we held in Devlet Han that was used for exhibitions as well as functioning as a studio on Istiklal Street. After the collaboration in 1995, our individual works and production styles started to gradually converge and engendered a common ground. In 1998 the inception of :mentalKLINIK as both an idea and a space. We decided as a duo to start up a space where we would be able to develop our art practice as well as art theory in an interdisciplinary setting. We never limited things to only one form; on the contrary, we were interested in the multiplicity of forms. Actually, since the beginning of our collaboration we are aiming to achieve what one might define as the third position while working as a duo. This is perhaps where our idea of plurality is grounded.
Why have you chosen to work under the generic name :mentalKLINIK?
It has a reference to our early phase when we also contemplated on the concept and phenomena of clinic; what does it mean to work on a case? What does it mean to gather a group of people around a case and discuss the matter in hand with them? It also represents something where theory and practice coexist like the ‘mental’ referring to the mind and the ‘clinic’ to the practice. Last but not the least it was the catchiness of the name which interested and attracted us the most. Rather than using two separate artist’s names we wanted an anonymous name which would also be catchy. We should not forget that the therapeutic effect is a part of our work as well from time to time!
Is this an affirmation that your art is about ideas rather than marketable objects and that your work a reactionary form of open laboratory, a think tank that you develop together?
We might talk of something where the idea and the object are superposed, overlapped. Since the beginning, even when we started first with a concept, we let the objects develop always in relation with the concept, the idea. We let the participants produce and create something rejecting the preliminary concept if they wished. Therefore, the objects and the ideas constantly collided with each other; the energy thus created carried things beyond the five senses. :mentalKLINIK’s theory and practice is never meant to explain one another; only when they are brought together do they create anew. We can talk of openness in the sense of breaking down the strict boundaries of disciplines. Not in the sense of being an open laboratory, open to anyone’s participation. It was always with our initiation first that we started to collaborate with friends or theoreticians. We opened up a laboratory space within the concept, subject we were interested in. That space had an open quality once we invited people.
The fact that we work as a duo might also contribute to the sense of openness in our work. The idea of being crowded, populous, especially when you work within arts and culture, as well as the fact of being within Turkey’s geography might at times breed very tiring processes. On the other hand, we address the notion of crowdedness as polyphony. It is not singularity but polyphony which interests us.
Why did you choose to install your “laboratory” between Brussels and Istanbul, a few years ago?
After the Gezi Protests in Istanbul we withdrew into ourselves in this silent, resentful period during which everybody at every moment talked about politics though without any impact. We started to not get out of the neighborhood where we lived and also where our studio was located. It became painful to carry on in a city where we did (could) not participate in its life. Our minds and bodies started to be disconnected. Censorship began to normalize as self-censorship, judgments of value and surveillance rapidly eroded, there was totalitarian oppression, working in the field of culture became to be considered as a luxury without any priority, and furthermore there was peer pressure (including the social media community) about how embarrassing it is to take an interest in or make ‘art’ in the midst of such naked and bitter reality… So, what primarily triggered this move was naturally the political climate in Turkey; however, the motivation was not a formal necessity but rather a personal one since we could not think or produce anymore under the circumstances. In that period, there was only one thing occupying our minds, “what is happening in the country, what will happen tomorrow, how can we change it, and what shall we do if cannot change it?” Even to think ‘art’ was a luxury. So, we decided to be effective in the world by moving to Brussels rather than remain inactive. We did not close down our studio and we continue our work in both cities. But we live in Brussels.
How the daily experience to live in this European capital impacts on your work?
Brussels enables us to once again remember that we are individuals.
How would you define your work?
We don’t like definitions… 21st century brought about a distinctive model of artistic existence. As artists of this generation we create open-ended works which don’t subject an art work to exact definitions. There is simultaneity between the materials used and the techniques employed. As an artist duo, we work to open up unfamiliar dimensions, new spaces and unknown senses. The aesthetics of design, new technologies and new media are all among our inspirations. :mentalKLINIK’s aesthetic rather than create a visual style stimulates various senses. We present the audience with a new visuality which they have not consumed before. We use the materials of today and the language of today. We are interested in the present moment, in the “now”. We look for the ideologies behind everything that stimulates us; we are under an immense bombardment in the extremely short duration of the moment. These ideologies provoke the suspense and anxiety in our works. There came first a generation who wanted to dominate nature and now our generation wants to make peace with it but in a utilitarian manner. Along with this attitude come many anxieties. The electrification in the body and the state of mind this anxiety generates provides the vibrancy and the ambiguous aesthetic of our works.
Your production has multiple facets, not a single visual vocabulary. How do you link all your pieces?
We create our own vocabularies; material vocabulary, sound vocabulary…all sorts of sensuous vocabularies. We build our story by associating these various parts and vocabularies within a network. Linear narrative is a pretty straight line or there are some zigzags. There are very emotional pieces as well as robots next to one another since our present day accommodates them all. Today it is impossible to talk of a single thing, a linear approach to history. After all these fractures, we now have fragmented identities. We are like the archeologists of today. Thus, our narrative is always fragmented and interwoven. Besides the teddy bears today are not hand-sawn; they are probably manufactured in factories operated by robots. The inhuman and the emotional stand overlapped or face to face. A very inhuman thing can dwell in a humanly place or next to a humanly thing where such an encounter, confrontation is taking place. On the other hand, all these robots are produced by humans to enable more leisure time. Technology is progressed for the benefit of mankind and that benefit is oriented towards the notion of leisure time. In the same process, we observe also the robotification of humans. The tension in our works stems from such an anxiety. The applications of biochemistry and biotechnology in interaction with the human body, is a sort of robotification process. We are in a gap where the robot enters into the human body and where the human might transform into a robot. In the past, there was such a binary opposition; the mankind and the nature. The man produced and improved technology looking at the nature. Today the robots are manufactured looking at men or animals. It is funny that all those robotic movements of the robots, barely freed of the organic quality of human movements, are very primitive for the time being. Once they start uniting with our bodies they will become invisible. By using robots, we point at this ongoing process. It is also probable that what is emotional is getting robotic. How much does what we define as emotional today resemble what was defined as emotional a hundred years ago?
Once, Yasemin Baydar said “We found the robots to be emotional”. Can you explain your fascination towards robots which are omnipresent in your works such as the choreographic and robotic work WOOO-OOO (2014), or PUFF OUT (2017)? Are you interested in such themes as transhumanism?
Robots were produced in order to save man from doing work that is a waste of time and harmful to his body, mind and soul such as mass production. They were most of the time built by looking at and mimicking nature and man; and then they were also used in wars and for reducing human death. And in the process, the idea of robotization began to infiltrate the human body and to change its behavior. At the same time, you can observe robotization in the relationship man has with time; the idea of conforming to time frames, of regulating one’s life, these all exemplify robotization in order to build a so-called desired life. On the other hand, there have been many useful developments in the health sector but along with it, (micro) chips began to enter the human body. This process has been going on for quite a while, but today the robots together with artificial intelligence define the human mind. Actually, let’s call these robots new entities that can do and process things much faster than man since it is not meaningful to compare artificial intelligence with human beings. Robots are new entities and we need to regard this not as a matter of comparison but living together in a shared environment. For this reason, the psychological effects and impacts in general that robots along with artificial intelligence have in our lives occupy a significant place in our works.
We sometimes find robots more emotional because they appear like they are in need of protection due to the humanity and animalism attributed to them. The behavior of robots also generates this sense of being in need of protection similar to the one that a cat or a baby generates since they are yet incomplete as beings. For Woo-ooo, we use entertainment robots, they are moving lights usually used in nightclubs or shows for entertainment, pleasure and celebration. We do not refashion them but simply give them a different context. These moving lights (robots) both give light and at the same time move like the human eye or head; what we do with them is a sequence or choreography of flirtation. They function as actors set to a choreography that loops endlessly, a repetitive script that remains unfulfilled and unresolved. The work references the catcall or whistle used as an attempt to capture the attentions of an attractive passerby. This attempt to seduce is often met with repulsion and the lights are choreographed to replicate this shaky flirtation in computer-programmed choreography. Attempts to replicate body language, sensation and feeling result in a playful and dynamic set of movements, reminiscent of play in contrast to the development of human interaction and interpersonal communication which has become increasingly mediated by technology. We treat it like a scene of two doves courting each other and this scene of meeting, interacting, moving away and longing creates a sense of empathy. The moment you have a feeling that you are watching a scene of them courting each other it transforms into a terrific love story, and this is very impressive, very emotional. In Woo-ooo the inhuman and emotional stand overlapped and reflect the ways in which robots are being designed to be relatable to humans. Only an oxymoron is capable of defining this dual relationship that is taking place, human beings being robotified and robots being humanized. We are a transitional generation that knows both worlds, that of our physical reality and of the virtual one. Our aesthetic is rooted in this threshold where the physical looks virtual and the virtual appears physical.
What is your relationship to language, to words?
Language is one of the vocabularies of our aesthetics. We search for diversified means of expression. Language comes into play in our works it is shaped within our aesthetics. When we write an independent text, we want it create a new meaning as it interacts, collides with other works. We don’t use language to explain things, in fact we use it to blur things. We might use it also to blur what it points at. There is always a dynamic relationship. We say what we want to say by distorting it. Besides we defeat it once more by our aesthetics as we say it. To blur meaning, to make it awry, to open up space for a new meaning; these are what inform our work.
How do you understand the requirement for happiness and success in our contemporary societies, a transversal theme of your recent exhibitions?
We actually regard it as violence, because the requirement for happiness and success brings out the wild feelings and destroys empathy among people. If we return to the phenomenon of defining oneself as an object, making oneself, showing oneself as very beautiful or being very healthy are all examples of violence on the body, and besides, there is no continuity in the relationship with the body, it is constantly interrupted. In the meantime, the erotic body also suffered a lot of damage; we are talking about a bodily process here that also contains aesthetic surgeries triggered by desires to be happy and successful. Additionally, to be happy and successful appear today to be the same concept and they are linked at the same time to making money, because it is socially defined as if you cannot actually be happy and successful if you do not earn money. And everyone is anxious today in many senses; some experience these symptoms much more clearly and take medication in order to survive, while others can handle it and move on but even then, even if they do not realize, they are still living and moving on with this anxiety. Since the relationship we establish with time has been reduced to a single moment or even to shorter periods, we lost our ability to empathize; there is no such thing anymore as taking into consideration another person, giving priority to him/her or defining oneself according to others. What we really call self is not the self we know; it is a made-self. Happiness indeed refers, just like the title of this exhibition Obnoxiously Happy, to being happy by hurting someone. When you are, or you think you are happy by hurting others, this is a wild thing, like murdering someone and thus being happy. If there is so much unhappiness, and so many people are unhappy and poor, and you are happy, we believe this already makes you a very violent person. Yet this is not a natural wilderness but an urban violence.
Does art is about the alchemy of changing lies into truth or fake into real?
In our opinion art has its own reality. We never refer to such a transformational power of art. But we rather regard it as an area where it is possible to create a reality of its own. We always examine the tension between imagining and realizing something and that is what we did also in our works like Cheater and Liar. To experience falsification many times in that process and to create works with the aesthetical elements conditioned by it. Our works were the results of a very long process which had many fluxes and refluxes. When we work as a duo we subvert each other and this subversion informs our process. Actually, more than changing lies into truth or fake into real, our work generates a sense of playing a poker game; you never know if your counter-partner is bluffing or not, if what she says is true or not…and the tension in the game, even the game itself feeds on that ambiguousness...
Your works often play on the ambivalence of situations, the feeling to be early or late on an event, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time like in TERRIBLYJOLLY (2012). What do you want to express by conveying the visitor to such experiences? Do you think there is no longer place to be?
We still consider art as a place of possibilities. We use it as a space, a time and a situation exempt from all those categorized definitions that daily life imposes on us. Therefore, we create microclimates and highlight the fictional power of art. On the other hand, it’s also a possibility and a surprise to be in a place when one is not supposed to be. And we love surprises because it is something that cannot be measured in an age where everything has become measurable and measurability is so much praised. Surprise is very significant, very human, and very entertaining in these days where technologies tell you everything about yourself including things you did not know, and where they define, by measuring your heartbeat and pupil, your likes before you do when you encounter new objects.
Many of your works saturate our senses and destabilize us. Why do you want to cause a visual or sensory hyperstimulation, an emotional overload?
When we founded :mentalKLINIK we had a very brief manifesto that :mentalKLINIK is open to five senses and is willing to pave the way for the 6th, 7th and 8th senses. This was back in 2000. What we foresaw, observed then was that technology effects and changes daily life, the way it is experienced and the perception of time. We were also observing how culture of shopping was changing and how easily and quickly people were inclined to consumption. People’s senses were being blocked, so we addressed the senses such as smell, sound and taste. In our exhibitions, we wanted to approach art not only as a visual thing but also as something open to all other senses. Over time, all brands began to employ these strategies as we had foreseen, and the line between art and life got even more blurred. Besides, gradually everything began to have the same effect. Today people take their pictures with a cheesy promotional object as well as with artworks. In many art fairs artworks get damaged because people want selfies with them; people no longer perceive a difference in value between an art object or other objects so it seems an art object, just like any other, can be broken. Normally an art object has an aura and you know you cannot touch it. Today everything can be touched and photographed; if it is a photographable artwork even better since it can be shared on Instagram or Facebook, and the artist can get even more popular.
We always play around with these ideas and our works appeal and trigger the senses. We simulate in our exhibitions a micro-climate of what goes on daily outside, but outside people are not really aware of it while in our exhibitions, by exaggerating it, we want them to become aware of this torture and recognize it as one. This is why we use vibrating and phone sounds, or scents that mix with each. Today everything is getting more and more synthetic and all our senses are subject to the system, ready to be manipulated. We are interested in emancipating and empowering the sensory faculties of man that is impoverished within the contemporary context. We intend with our works to appeal to the viewer’s senses to such an extent that at times the works almost violate the viewer’s personal space, however during this process we want the viewer to become aware of his/her senses and this awareness is central to our works. One can say that our works are erotic but not pornographic, in the sense that they do not impose themselves upon the viewer but invite him/her into their reality by engaging all of his/her senses. Furthermore, the works, rather than offering just erotic imagery, trigger all sorts of sensual responses from the viewer and let him/her revel in his/her imaginary eroticism.
Recently, you conceived the AIRLESS series (2015), ready-mades of toys and deflated balloons which are icons of the popular culture in your globalized world. Did your aim was to return the image of a society always more oriented towards entertainment and leisure?
The Airless series makes use of readymade toys, balloons that have become enormously popular in many places through the rapid increase of globalization of cheap labor coming from South Asia, while at the same time playing with the notion of air, space and potentialities that are hidden in the atmosphere of social living. These cute balloons become uncanny objects after the air is taken out or before the air is given in, thus showing the awkwardness, absurdity and the tactlessness of what we currently consider cute, nice and sweet. This series interrogates the idea of commodified cute by also reminding us of the mobility of objects, capital, products that are manufactured in the zones of child labor, authoritarian regimes and the amalgamated force of law, surveillance and capitalism.
These inflatable balloons entertain, make happy and attract the attention of not only children but also adults in this world of entertainment and culture of leisure; they are like sculptures. Many artists have already used them like Jeff Koons or Philippe Parreno. However what interests us the most about these balloons is the fact that they are mostly produced in China and then packaged and sent; what we see are very small versions of huge volumes, produced identically and packed in layers. When packed, they are without air, in other words lifeless, but they still seem joyful yet with a certain dose of weirdness. There is a joy, happiness that we cannot reach unless these balloons are inflated. At the same time, their mass production points out the idea that such joyful things are being produced under such horrible manufacturing conditions. These popular products are sold very cheaply but already in a richer world; at the end of the day those who have money can buy them. In the beginning, the contrast between this and the joy these balloons promise attracted had our attention. First of all, we wanted to make each one unique; they were already unique as plastic but we wanted to freeze them. We produced them in electroformed copper and then painted in acrylic after the originals. The resulting works, like a crooked cartoon duck or a wide-eyed smiling face, freeze in time the moment a lighthearted plaything becomes disposable. We end up with a unique, deflated and worthless balloon, and when we look at it we can’t tell whether it is fun, scary, joyful or sad since some of them have really lost their expressions; they become semi-recognizable in their crumpled state. And this also leads us to the idea of happiness or showing yourself as beautiful. Maybe they are very beautiful when they are inflated, but they are not so joyful when all life is taken out of them.
You often deal with the question of seduction of objects. How the choice of object founded in everyday life takes place? Why do you choose in particular attractive or “flashy” objects?
We wear only black and the objects we choose and use in our daily lives are not really bright or colorful, but if we look at today’s art, design, technology and objects, they are oriented to be the center of attraction, and we have to take into consideration that we are creating works for this ‘moment’. We cannot ignore the seduction of capitalism and its camouflage. Therefore, we are interested in flashy objects because shiny, bright, sparkling things are very seductive and they fascinate people. They reflect one’s own image and one quickly desires to possess them. Fascination with shiny things is also the case in our relationship to nature if you think for example of the phosphorescence in the sea. Or consider the admiration for diamond and looking for gold dating back to centuries past. When we look at the objects of daily life and art objects today, the ones that stand out are actually those that seduce us and make us blind to the importance and seriousness of life by entertaining us. This relates to the notion of visibility and non-visibility since strategies and ideologies are hidden behind objects. On the other hand, objects are no longer what we thought of them to be; consider for example the chips that have such small dimensions. Chips create a pool of data by transferring, receiving and storing information to be used later. With it they can make our profiling. Therefore today, they are trying to make objects even more attractive since they do not want us to recognize or relate to the reality behind them. We simulate this process of seduction in our exhibitions. We want to fascinate the audience with the exhibited objects’ charm. We show the madness of our lives and also have fun with it. Our works exist on this very thin line-between where the audience encounters an unpalatable reality and oscillates between moments of joy and despair.
The participation of the public is often requested in your work. Why such display, trap or metaphor of the leisure time? Which are the devices you use to include spectators in your works?
In fact, we regard participation as torture, we torture the audience as artists. Our works and exhibitions pretend to require participation, but do not actually give the audience enough opportunity to participate yet they still make the audience feel as if they have participated. Even if a work is very static it still makes the audience encounter him/herself as well as encounter the space. We draw a path for the audience to follow in the space and the artworks shift as the audience walks around them. However, just as it is with capitalism, we believe the audience is not aware of this. In any case when and if s/he becomes aware then s/he establishes a different kind of relationship to the work or s/he might have fun as if s/he is in an amusement park. Take for example the robotic sweepers in Puff. We show them as if they are interacting but they are actually doing just their tasks. We highlight that robots are able to do works people do and that this makes it easier for us leaving us more leisure time. But can we go beyond being a society that fills its leisure time again with entertainment as Lefebvre once asked. Can one make use of that time to make oneself, to read, to watch something, to improve oneself, but not in the sense of personal development? Could leisure time really create the individual that modernism idealized in the past? Otherwise it is wasted again by spending money or being entertained. On the other hand, we recognize and accept the need for having fun but under the circumstances it does not lead to joy but to waste culture.
How do you see the evolution of Turkey in our present time and in regard to the recent sociopolitical context?
Evolution in a reverse way!
How do you imagine the future?
Future is now and totalitarian. Lost, anxious and depressive. Lost in our senses, anxious to feel and depressive about our state or being.
What would be your next dream?
Constantly living our dream.