2O23 Viẓon Q & A session
Q. You often work with political themes, I’m thinking in particular of your 2020 Vizion project at Goldsmiths. Again you’ve created a parallel future based on our present reality. Tell me about the concept?
A. Yes, political ideas are something I’ve been drawn to since reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as a teenager. And yes the current series 2023 Viẓon is both a reference to Orwell and a self-reference to 2020 Vizion.
Q. In both projects there is the notion of spelling and language reform as there was in Orwell’s work.
A. Yes, I find the idea of it both compelling in some ways when it can make life easier and also disturbing in others when it is used for political reasons or to erase history.
Q. The notion of language and spelling reform is particularly pertinent to Turkey – a country that experienced both language and alphabet reform under Atatürk.
A. Yes, the moves that Atatürk made were very bold and would be impossible today. 2023 Viẓon proposes only slight modifications to bring the alphabet more in line with global culture. The project was conceived in January 2013 when the letters Q, W and X (used in the Kurdish alphabet) were forbidden by the Turkish state. But already history has caught up with the project and these letters are now permissible under the government’s new “democracy” package.
Q. In some other ways 2023 Viẓon was also prophetic. I’m thinking of the Gezi Park protests and the use of tear gas and the connection with the video Republic Day 2023 which consists of a series of celebratory smoke-bombs on the Bosphorus.
A. It was disturbing to see the over-reaction of the authorities and police towards the protestors. But I immediately thought of the smoke-bombs on the Bosphorus at the time and how much better it would be if such things like tear gas could be used to make art instead of violence.
Q. Like turning swords into plowshares?
Q. In another way the video Republic Day 2023 turned out to be prophetic as well. The rainbow colors that the smoke-bomb display ends with in some ways echoes the more recent civil “disobedience” actions where residents of Istanbul have taken to painting stairways and streets in rainbow colors.
A. Yes, the rainbow colors have been part of my work since 2020 Vizon in 1984. Having been born in South Africa, which, when I was growing up, experienced far greater civil strife than Turkey does today, the rainbow colors have a special meaning for me. South Africa managed to put its painful history behind it and become today the “Rainbow Nation” with one of the most liberal democratic constitutions in the world. So I have hope for Turkey’s democratic future despite the current political climate of polarization and fear-mongering.
Q. Yes the colors and packaging of the work are indeed beautiful but there always seems to be some underlying menace or threat of dystopia. Can you explain a bit more this dissonance?
A. Yes the work is deliberately vague and open to interpretation – as are the notions of utopia and dystopia. What is one person’s utopia at one point in time can be another’s dystopia. What is the same person’s utopia at one point in time can become a dystopia for them at another point in time.
Q. Like Shakespeare said “nothing is good or bad only thinking makes it so”.