Collectors do not grow weary of the search: Interview with Borga Kantürk

Borga Kantürk, an artist whose practice is frequently based on diaristic responses to and recordings of what he is exposed to, for me, represents a spontaneity, a responsiveness, which situate the works in that particular transformation of the familiar. In other words, I’m drawn to how Borga alters what I know by employing different media and methodologies. In this conversation with Özge, the two trace Borga’s interests, curiosities, and references through looking at Borga’s work within the framework of his exhibitions and projects, varying in space and scope, with an emphasis on the conceptual and visual connections.—Merve Ünsal

This interview was first published in the catalogue of the FULL Art Prize 2012. 

Özge Ersoy: Borga, I’d like to start with a question about your drawings. In your recent works, you depart from photos, digital visuals, and newspaper clippings that you have found and collected. At the center of the installation The Other Zidane are your drawings about the soccer player Djemal Zidane, who played in the Algerian National Team in the 1980s. For Close Ranks (2009-2011) you drew players, uniforms, and banners that reflect the resistance and struggle documented on the fields and grandstands. In Jot this Down Too (2012), you portrayed Hrant Dink in red, Lefter Küçükandonyadis in blue, and used black for Festus Okey, who was murdered with a shot in the neck at the Beyoğlu Police Station. It is possible to say that you intervened with and recreated, thus personalized these documents you collected for these works. On the one hand, you seem to acknowledge these figures who are the subject of  your drawings. On the other hand, you might be creating your own unique expression by opting for manual and slow production. Could you talk about the relationship you’ve established with your drawings? Does this relation differ among the aforementioned works?

Borga Kantürk: For me, to draw is to feel an affinity with the person or event I’m addressing, to have empathy towards them. I started to produce with this rationale in 2008. I must say that the fact my practice sways between being a curator and an artist is closely related to this mode of production. On the one hand, I am motivated by the operative practice of curatorship to conduct research on oral history and undocumented phenomena and create an archive. On the other hand, through my identity as an artist, I am interested in conveying this archive to the audience by assuming the role of a witness or narrator. What I want to do as an artist is to tackle the situations and processes that I feel close to and to blur their boundaries. I think pen and paper are the most simple and humane tools of keeping a record. I can say that instead of being a writer who takes notes, records and interprets things, I prefer documenting via drawings.

I’ve had this fixation with documenting since 2001–2002. Earlier, I used to reproduce my own documents; by painting, drawing or penciling over them. I started this process by manually documenting the banner of one of my exhibits. Later I decided to use carbon paper. I was interested in leaving a trace while being unable to see the transformation of the original. I produced diaries with this rationale. These days I’m pondering over how these traces relate to the status quo, the state and the wheels of bureaucracy. How is historical memory recorded, how does it get lost or left unrecorded? Carbon paper is a symbol of the status quo. The colors red, blue and black also take on a significance here. I’m interested in how these three colors—that are used in government offices—are representative of the official space and ideology; they relate to pens, stamp-seals, and carbon paper.

Summer Resort Report, detailed views, photographs by Borga Kantürk, texts by Özge Calafato, 2011.

ÖE: By employing the drawing technique you are also questioning the idea of authorship. It seems as though you are concerned with resisting the urge to produce a brand new creation; you’re attempting to establish more subtle, intellectual links.

BK: My ideas on drawing were shaped at the Helsinki Artist Residency Program I participated in 2005. In that period I was drawing every day. My drawings thus transformed into an action, into a series of traces. I was trying to emphasize the process, the whole that progressed day by day. For me, it is also an interrogation into the idea of belonging. However, the sense of producing a singular and unique creation is not a matter in question here. It is closer in stand to On Kawara’s works which mark the actual day that is lived and gone.

Borges has an anthology/archive titled The Library of Babel. This project compiles a selection of short stories, and in a sense, signifies Borges, expresses his view. Actually we already know most of the stories included in this book. There is Poe, Melville… What I find exciting here is the question of why Borges wanted to create this route, this state of togetherness, and present it to us as such a whole. Here there is the guidance of someone who makes and interprets signs and follows the traces. This is a dedicated effort to transform all these little narratives from different times into a series within a certain time frame and space. Based on this, I am constructing for myself the model of an artist who edits, compiles, archives, bears witness, preserves, saves and shares that which s/he has saved.

Borga Kantürk, "Study Room", 2012. Photograph in color.
Borga Kantürk, Study Room, 2012. Photograph in color.

ÖE: You often place your drawings in a space. The drawings in The Other Zidane (Revenge of Zidane) are exhibited on custom-made wallpaper, before the plastic chairs you painted in red, green, and white. In Close Ranks, the arrangement of the drawings is reminiscent of the form of the sun; and in previous installations they appear together with a neon sign that reads “um coracao, um corpo, um sol” (one heart, one body, one sun)—in reference to the Brazilian soccer player Socrates. In other words, instead of exhibiting the drawings on their own, you construct them as parts of installations. Could you talk about how you construct this relationship? By creating this connection, do you emphasize your personal relationship to documents?

BK: My concern is to create an atmosphere. The exhibition space is ultimately a living area. Especially if you are including the exterior space in this construction, in this work… In any case one can’t deny that this exterior is a space with memory, the public nature of which is experienced beyond one’s intervention. The notion of creating a private sphere like a room or atmosphere is inherent in works intended as books or diaries as well. The book is a process with a beginning and end, there is a volume suffused by this process; the structure is shaped accordingly. The book’s relation to that which is public starts to be shaped in the café or the library where it contacts the public. These drawings are sometimes construed to become a book and sometimes as a spatial installation.

Here, I can also refer to my curatorial works. The KUTU Portable Art Gallery that I started in 2002 was also concerned with creating a space of its own and later adapting that area to another space. My desire was to exhibit artworks inside, to create a safe space, a designated area for the artist’s works and expressions, and therefore to provide a sort of isolation. As for the artist, KUTU was based on a notion like creating “a room of one’s own.”

Also in my installations I feel the need to create a buffer zone with meticulously drawn and marked boundaries—similar to a stage or a section in a museum. In such a structure, these productions have a documentary nature and are also subjected to personal intervention; they exist in so far as they point to an event or a situation, either on their own or as depicted in newspapers. Let’s consider an archive or a corpus: They are more distant to being pieces of a whole; they are dissociated and singular. They have been detached from the temporal sequence; they have transformed from a single historical reality into a kind of reminiscence, a remembrance that recalls ambiguity. I prefer the presentation of these productions within a unifying atmosphere. The curatorial and editorial aspect of the work becomes effectual at this point.

Borga Kantürk, "Hrant" from the series "Jot This Down Too", 2012. Figure drawing with red carbon paper on colored paper, 65 x 50 cm.
Borga Kantürk, Hrant, from the series Jot This Down Too, 2012. Figure drawing with red carbon paper on colored paper, 65 x 50 cm.
Borga Kantürk, "Close Ranks," 2009-2011. Installation, 34 framed drawings. Installation view from sevennovembertwothousandandtwelve, Hasköy Yan Factory, Istanbul, 2012. Photo by Rıdvan Bayrakoğlu.
Borga Kantürk, Close Ranks, 2009-2011. Installation, 34 framed drawings. Installation view from sevennovembertwothousandandtwelve, Hasköy Yarn Factory, Istanbul, 2012. Photo by Rıdvan Bayrakoğlu.

ÖE: Let’s go back to your urge to collect and archive. Considering the scope and sobriety of your research, one can say that you use a documentary approach. Despite your meticulous archiving that resembles that of a social scientist, the fact that you refrain from didacticism is quite apparent. How does your relationship with documents alter in different stages of the collection process? When do you decide to take a break from collecting and intervene? What aspects are most crucial for you to emphasize in your intervention?

BK: In my work, I emphasize the process. Thus, scattered and multipartite constructs may emerge out of my works. I’ve been interested in the notion of collecting since childhood. I’ve collected various objects at different times, like sticker books, tapes, music albums, and exhibition invites. I want to highlight the way in which these objects relate to memory and the ever-changing process of collecting. I start to work on the transformation of this process into constructs to be exhibited only when the state of collecting and research exhausts me and I’m crammed with the objects and documents I’ve found. I can liken this state to that of the crammed secondhand stores where objects lose their visibility. It is when my mind, hard disk, and desk reach the point of overflowing that I want to stop collecting, reduce the articles and intervene. Collectors do not grow weary of the search; they cannot help but orient their instincts towards what they want to find and get covered up in dust as they do so. I also have moments when I say “OK, it’s done” or “come on, that’s it, we are doing the exhibition.” Thus I can’t say that I’m exhibiting a completed transmission, artwork or visual product. My priority lies with emphasizing the research process and presenting various records and interpretations driven from it. I’m perhaps playing with it because I’m bored with the dry and absolute state of a historical document devoid of a story.

Borga Kantürk, "Seagull with Glasses", 2011. Installation with slide projector, projected photograph, two framed drawings (20 x 25 cm), 2 texts (on A4-sized paper), found caricature album, wood table.
Borga Kantürk, Seagull with Glasses, 2011. Installation with slide projector, projected photograph, two framed drawings (20 x 25 cm), 2 texts (on A4-sized paper), found caricature album, wood table.

ÖE: Here I recall your collection of visual materials on the state of traveling. Your work titled Travel Log (2011) combines the photos you took in İzmir with the associative texts of a writer who used to live in this city. Your “Café Recordis”(2011) exhibition held in Gallery NON makes reference to ships and sea shores while dealing  with the actions of waiting and wandering. Both works make me think of the links between environmental and personal transformations. How do the concepts of belonging, reminiscence, nostalgia, and the state of traveling link to one another in these works for you?

BK: This is a state of restless wandering. I associate it with certain examples in literature. Upon Fatih Özgüven’s advice I started reading Antonio Tabucchi; and I can say that the spiritual and physical state of wandering that I’ve read there has a connection with my works. Just like in Melih Cevdet Anday’s poem “The Disturbed Tree” or in İlhan Berk’s “Yesterday I Took to the Hills, I Was Not Home”, I am questioning the act of setting off on the road with a heavy heart caught between dreams and reality. As one wanders, history and time continue their flow; and one continues to bear witness. It is also possible to read this condition as a sociological excavation or mental archeology. A social and ideological comparison between the past and current events reinforces this state of chagrin. I feel increasingly anachronistic, as if I live in the wrong age or I am the wrong person; that I’ve been unable to keep up with the social, urban, and many other transformations; that I’ve been cut off from communication and have become restless as a result. My works thus emerge as the product of such a mind-state.

Borga Kantürk, "The Sick and the Building", 2012
Borga Kantürk, Building, 2012. Photograph in color.

ÖE: Finally let’s touch upon your recent exhibition titled “The Sick and the Building” (2012). This time you approach personal transformations from a different angle; memory and nostalgia are replaced with uniformity, apathy, and timelessness. Do you think you look at the relationship between the individual and the space in a different way?

BK: My previous exhibition “Café Recordis” coincided with my return from military service; it emerged as the reflection of a mind-state focused on wandering with the past and memory, motion as well as emancipation. It was a retrospective journey into a spiritual past and also a journey showing that I can pace, that I can move. There were interspaces like the harbor, the seashore, and the street.

“The Sick and the Building” is more about returning after a bit of wandering and closure. It focuses specifically on the concept of time and processes whereby the relationship between time and human spirit gets interwoven with the workings of bureaucracy and public buildings. I am interested in the conflict between institutional time that seems almost static, and personal time buried in routine going on for years on end as if it has no end or no beginning, and then just wasting away. This is also related to the sense of living over and over again (like it was just yesterday), having lost the knowledge of which day you started doing the same things. This exhibition can also be viewed as a self-portrait; because it looks at the space and the person within that space. It throws a wink at literature and cinema dealing with such themes of haunted houses and labyrinths, while at the same time playing with links between modernity and institutionalization. Here is a more condensed and gloomy state of entanglement. I think this exhibition is focused on the idea of wandering in a place with its perimeters woven in a systematic web and where the slow flow of time is killed; and putting up resistance by looking for a way out.

Borga Kantürk is an artist based in Izmir. He holds a graduate degree and proficiency in art from the Department of Painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Dokuz Eylül University. Borga participated in artist residency programs at La Friche, Sextant Et Plus, Marseille, France (2009) and HIAP (Helsinki International Artist-in-Residence Programme), Helsinki, Finland (2005). His most recent solo shows include “The Sick and the Building,” Galeri NON, Istanbul (2012), “Cafe Recordis,” Galeri NON, Istanbul (2011), and “Tanıklık Mesafesi,” Institut Française Exhibition Hall, Izmir (2009). He is one of the co-founders of K2 artist’s initiative (2003-2007) and “KUTU” Mobile Art Space (2002-2009).