Reysi Kamhi interviews Serkan Özkaya

I recently re-encountered to Serkan Özkaya’s work through an exhibition that ended today at the Drawing Center, New York, called Drawn from Photography. The exhibition, that included works from an international roster of artists, ranging from Frank Selby to Karl Haendel, did not include any works by Özkaya. Özkaya stepped out of the group exhibition (or maybe stepped right into it) by copying/writing/reproducing the catalogue essay by the curator, Claire Gilman. The essay is thus included in the elegant publication that accompanies this most remarkable exhibition. I wanted to re-visit an interview conducted by Reysi Kamhi with Özkaya for and here is the result of this recent re-encounter and the triangular relationship formed by my correspondence with Kamhi, who is currently based in İstanbul.
—Merve Ünsal

Serkan Özkaya explores replication, reproduction and originality in his works. In a project that I found most interesting, Özkaya reproduced newspapers by hand, transforming this found object into an original work of art. He has reproduced the art page of the Swiss newspaper Aftonbladet, front and back pages of the German newspaper Frietag, the New York Times and the Courrier Journal.

Today Could Be a Day of Historical Importance is a book in which Özkaya delibarates on the production processes for the “newspapers” as well as some specific articles.

When I visited his studio, Özkaya and I literally opened a can, which serves as a case for his new project. We talked about the starting point for this project and how the production process became a book.
—Reysi Kamhi

Why copy / re-produce a newspaper by hand?

This idea occured to me eight years ago. I read Ahmet Karcılılar’s Photographic Stories and I was really affected by it. At the time, I was reproducing, copying texts and images. I didn’t know exactly why I was doing what I was doing. Maybe, I started to copy because I was visually drawn to those images. I liked the idea of humanizing, manualizing something that was “perfect,” which came from a computer; the mistakes that naturally occured were attractive. At the end, I re-produced a book by hand. I went over every word and sentence; I wrote a book by hand.

When copying this “perfect” material, would you like to charge that material with a subjective aura? Do you want to claim that object as yours?

I do not have the intention of craftfully creating a copy. I do not want my copy to be more “beautiful” than the original. I do it in a way that anyone can; I go over the lines in a way that a child would copy things. I think I make the material belong to everyone by claiming it as mine.

After having copied a book by hand, why did you feel the need to use the newspaper? What are the differences between these two projects? Do you consider the newspaper project a “public” work?

I took my book to a print shop and had five hundred copies made. At my Borusan exhibition, I had all these books set on a table. The visitors could have a free copy of a limited edition art object. This gave me the impetus to produce faster, which is how the newspaper project was born; I wanted to distribute the works and reach more people. I also wanted the ready-made’s public to be instigated immediately. I wanted to avoid the whole exhibition process, because a free object that is picked from a gallery becomes absolutely estranged when outside the gallery. As an artist, when you take something that normally has an exchange value and give it to the viewer for free, there is also an added artistic value. I’m always curious about what the viewer who receives the object feels. I believed that all my concerns could be better articulated through the form of the newspaper. First of all, the newspaper is a quotidian object. It exists today, it is no longer valuable tomorrow. As a reader, you consume the news when you buy the newspaper. The utilitarian value is realized when you read the newspaper. By re-producing the newspaper page that belongs to a particular day, I add an artistic value and this object meets many people on an ordinary day.

What suprises people about this project?

I’m struck by the initial viewer reaction. People say “How did he do all this without getting bored?” before saying “Wow, these are beautiful.” On the other hand, there were many people who did not realize the newspapers were produced by hand. A publishing house in Trabzon refused to print the newspapers, thinking Radikal sent them the wrong negatives. Somebody had to give an explanation along the lines of, “Radikal is being published today as a caricature,” so that they would agree to print the work.

If we conceive art as mimetic, then, what is the relationship between this newspaper project and reality?

The newspaper has a claim to reality, especially with the cover page. Thus, it is life itself. Doesn’t art imitate life through all its endevaors? Art’s primary function is mimetic. When you make a realistic sculpture, it never talks to you. Michalengelo’s work has “lived” for over six hundred years though. In the example of the newspaper, I make something relating to life real, I imitate. In art history, many artists have employed imitation and copy in their works. Documentation and newspapers are readily used for imitation, because we perceive the world through these intermediary media.

Could you talk more about the work’s existence as a book?

The impetus to produce the work was due to the project I produced in collaboration with Courrier Journal. There was a lot of writing around this project and from the beginning, I wanted to produce a book with excerpts from these critical writings. In this sense, the Courrier Journal project’s production process was better documented. This is also why the book goes backwards in time.

Do you consider this book an artist’s book?

I don’t think of it that way. This book was produced to document and exhibit the processes of production.

However, in this book designed by Vahit Tuna, you can see hand-made details and drawings. The book consists of five parts and it goes from the end to the beginning. Different colored ribbons are used to denote the separation, but these gestures are more graphic than anything else.

Serkan Özkaya (b. 1973, IstanbulTurkey) is a contemporary conceptual artist whose work deals with topics of appropriation and reproduction, and typically operates outside of traditional art spaces. Ozkaya lives in Istanbul, Turkey, and New York City, USA. He holds an M.F.A. from Bard College, New York, and a Ph.D in German Language and Literature from Istanbul University, where he also earned his B.A. and M.A.

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Reysi Kamhi graduated from Marmara School of Fine Arts’ Painting department. She is currently a graduate student at Yildiz Technical University in the Arts and Design department. Her work is now being exhibited at Pg Art Gallery’s group exhibition, The Seventh Continent.