THE MEANING OF LIFE ACCORDING TO :MENTALKLINIK
DAMN MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 2015
The cheerful, cigar-smoking duo behind :mentalKLINIK produces the kind of neat and bright glitter & glamour that appears easy to consume. However, behind its seductive façade glimmers a much deeper significance that at once surprises and disturbs. “We never start with a message, but in the end each of our works somehow radiates significance.” From their base in Istanbul, Yasemin Baydar and Birol Demir lure their audience into a multi-layered universe.
When in 1998 they started to collaborate with a few fellow artists, the pair had no idea that this casual group would soon grow into a crowd of some 150 people. In 2000 they established their own artist space in Istanbul. “We did so out of necessity, because in Istanbul existing galleries were boring. We used our space to experiment; we challenged our audience to take up a different attitude, and we started to play with taste, smell, and sound long before triggering the senses became mainstream salesmanship in commercial businesses.” This DIY, experimental, and collaborative approach duly culminated in :mentalKLINIK. Even though since 2007 the two go through life as a duo, they still work in close collaboration with various specialists from different disciplines – artists, philosophers, poets, scientists, computer programmers, and software designers. Typically, the mediums employed range from painting to software, performance, sound experience, installation, video, and taste happenings. Any medium might be suitable to voice their message.
“You won’t see much Yasemin or Birol in our work, which distinguishes us from other artist duos. We think of :mentalKLINIK as a third person; we don’t put our own personal emotions into it”, they explain, although Baydar would seem to be the mental component, and Demir the klinik. “It’s a creative, factory-like entity that researches ideas and consequently transforms the result of the research into something appealing.” Sharing all stadia of their work with the audience is still part of their artistic practice: they also occasionally open their studio – located in the affluent neighbourhood of Nisantasi – to the public. :mentalKLINIK’s international career began at Art Basel in 2009 with the installation PuFF: a never-ending ballet whereby glitter is continually vacuumed-up by little black robots in the form of discs. The international audience became curious to know more.
The pair’s oeuvre flirts with marketing and entertainment. “Just like commercial brands and the entire capitalist system, we manipulate people’s anxieties and desires.” Titles like FASCIST - OPENLY GAY - DOGMATIC - WHITE COLLAR - ANIMAL LOVER - SUBMISSIVE - ELITIST and THAT’S FUCKING AWESOME catch one’s attention. “All humans are tempted to be excessively attracted by shiny-happy selfies, by flashy gadgets, etc. We present our work in exactly the same way products are launched into the market, using invisible strategies to make you buy things you actually don’t need. Of course, we don’t stop there: behind the sparkly façade, we have created awareness.” Yasemin Baydar and Birol Demir often use oxymorons in their language works (i.e. He is disgustingly handsome / She is awfully beautiful). “We use them as amplifiers, intensifiers. We think that oxymorons reveal the deep duality of the world and reflect the complex feelings that people are usually unable to express. It is necessary to add conflict into our expression in order to show what we really feel deep inside.”
Baydar and Demir usually take their inspiration from what is happening today. “We are trying to enlarge that moment, to enlarge the ‘now’ and to explore it. It’s important to fully understand what is going-on in the present, since heavy changes are taking place in people’s lives all over the world: we’re all becoming part of a totalitarian system which is being developed through data processing. While people are being overwhelmed by an increasing amount of data, institutions like the G8 are making us obey” (a fact that they refer to literally in their work Thank You For Your Cooperation). “The result of this evolution is that we are becoming highly predictable and controllable human beings. Our species is being robotified. And the irony is that meanwhile, robots are being humanised ... they are becoming more emotional than humans...!” mentalKLINIK’s exhibition at Louise Alexander Gallery in Sardinia this past summer, entitled 83%SatisfactionGuaranteed, referenced that evolution. “Publicity promises 100% satisfaction, which is of course not possible, and not even desirable. Unsated desire always exists, which enables surprises to occur in our daily lives. Unfortunately, nowadays surprises and desire are being reduced by the data calculation mentioned earlier, which wants to make people ‘predictable’.”
Their art might be critical of our way of living, of capitalism, and of Turkish society (“Because of the troubled history, Turks are obsessed by all that is new and shiny. They would gladly take a pill enabling them to fast-forward 20 years …”), but thanks to the gleam and sparkle of the work, it remains outside the radar of the Turkish government – where you can easily see ONLY the lovely façade. Coincident with the current Istanbul Biennial, for instance, :mentalKLINIK is participating in Art International İstanbul with a solo exhibition. But they’ll wait and see about travelling to Athens, where they’ve been invited to make an exhibition, if even their work raises critical questions about the inhumane capitalist system the Greeks have fallen prey to. “Through various experiences with the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, we know that in the middle of a crisis, people consider art a luxury and won’t fall-in with the idea.” Especially not when it twinkles…