Over the past six years, Susann Wintsch, an art historian and independent curator who teaches contemporary art, art criticism, and art theory at the Art Academy of Zurich, has done intensive research about contemporary art in Teheran and in Istanbul. Deeply interested in the relationship between art and literature and particularly influenced by Ezra Pound’s writing, her research is on art practices in non-western localities that present utopic solutions or at least give clues about ways to continue living in a world facing innumerable problems. Her work has found form in two exhibitions presented in DVD format, Volumes I and II of Treibsand Art Space. In this article, I will first describe Wintsch’s methodology and then ask, “As a public space, is DVD an important site for an art exhibition?”
Curiosity about these two cities that have recently become prominent in Western media as important non-Western art centers inspired Wintsch’s choices of place, but actually in her opinion, place is important only because it is the space in which artists learn to interpret environmental phenomena and lived experience. First completing Triebsand I in Teheran, she then moved on to Istanbul. After preliminary research in Zurich, her methodology involved visiting each city on numerous occasions. During her stays, she visited artist’s studios and talked with local gallery owners, curators, and other art professionals. Discussions with the artists led her to the formulation of a concept unique to each place that serves as an umbrella-metaphor under which she can connect artwork by different artists. Reflecting the distinct artistic atmosphere of the two cities, the title of the compilation for Teheran is Analyzing while Waiting (for time to Pass) while the title for the Istanbul DVD is Keeping on Keeping on. “Keeping on Keeping On” resulted from in depth discussion about the mechanisms behind the art scene in Turkey and a suggestion by Nazim Hikmet Richard Dikbas to consider the title of a 1972 song by Curtis Mayfield.
In the process of selecting a concept and before choosing specific artwork, Wintsch emphasizes that she has to surpass confusion, even a state of desperation to reach an oriented overview of the art situation in the specific place. She has to forget the expectations she had before leaving Zurich and become deeply involved in the atmosphere of the respective city. Only after reaching this point, could she start to select artwork together with an internationally acclaimed co-curator/artist who lives and works in the metropolis. Wintsch focused on finding artwork that dealt with existential ethics and presented individual hopes while Necla Ruzgar, artist and co-curator, chose artists she found who had deep beliefs, were persistent, were motivated to relentlessly pursue their aims, and open to new ideas.
As important as the themes presented in the DVD exhibitions, is Wintsch choice to present curated shows using this format. She believes this format has the potential to reach a large international public and bring information to art professionals, collectors as well as the general public. An art history professor or an art instructor can share the exhibition in class with students while anyone with a computer or DVD player can access the exhibitions at anytime or place, and can thus easily cross borders of time and space. In fact, this viewpoint emphasizes the limitations and “elitism” inherent in a gallery or museum exhibition staged in a specific city on a particular date and at a certain time for the visitors or inhabitants of that place. She hopes that eventually, these DVDs will become an archive of artwork from a particular time and specific place, a type of historical documentation about life and a virtual museum about art during a particular period.
Then we may ask: why is this a DVD exhibition rather than a DVD book? Many books today contain a CD or DVD in their cover, similar but in reverse this DVD has a small catalogue inside the DVD cover that gives information about the participating artists and their works in English, German as well as the language of the metropolis. But, what really makes it different from a book? Firstly, the curator named it an exhibition. One of the factors that greatly influenced her decision was that using this format, video work can be viewed as effectively as paintings, sculptures, installations or photographs. Some artists chose to simply include one of their video works in the collection while in other instances Wintsch, Ruzgar and a local film maker produced what could be referred to as a series of video essays that present a series of paintings, sculptures, performances in a real environment sometimes with the artist present and including glimpses of and sounds from the artist’s studio. Furthermore, this style of presentation allows the spectator to stroll through the DVD similar to walking in a museum, stopping at this work to make associations skipping others and going back when desired. With this process, by going backwards and forwards, skipping over, and repeating the spectator can create a non-linear personal macro story. In other words, they can thumb through this DVD like they would a book, but in the DVD can access movement and sound as well as still images and words.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, the rapid development of new technology is a major risk for this type of exhibition. Now videos can be downloaded directly and many computers no longer have internal DVD players. Is the DVD rapidly becoming old fashioned? Why not stage the exhibition in a website or on Ubu? Wintsch likes the idea of making an object that can be kept on a bookshelf, an object that can be shared, and become a part of a collection, something that can be sold in a bookstore or in a museum, something that can be lent, rented, and shared, something visible to the public and accessible even to those who do not use Internet, to those who may not go to galleries or museums. Accepting the fact that fewer and fewer people today are reading, Ruzgar believes watching the DVD simulates reading a book in that it can be shared, skimmed over, watched in a group, and used as a point for debate or discussion.
Let us now return to our initial question. Could we say that as a public space, the DVD is an important site for exhibition? In my opinion, even though the DVD as a technological device may soon become outdated, the format that Wintsch developed is important. As a curator, she places emphasis on research, asking questions, finding potential solutions to problems, and of presenting her results in a format that can be easily accessed by a large audience. This potential is important. At least in theory, anyone owning a computer can have access to her thinking process and to her interpretation of situations in different artistic communities. The potential to use the DVD in classroom situations, in lectures, conferences, and as a starting point for discussions about art makes it a crucial tool. Even if the DVD player becomes extinct like the VHS video player or the tape recorder, even if the data on the DVD is eventually stored in a cloud or on a hard disk or whatever new technology emerges, the exhibition will remain as a historical document of a particular time and place. An exhibition in a gallery or in an institution or in a museum lasts for only a short period of time and then is dismantled. What remains is memories and documentation such as photographs, films or catalogues of the event whereas Wintsch’s exhibition remains permanently in its original form. It can be re-visited over and over by an infinitely large public … potentially forever.
Born in the USA, the visual artist and art historian, Nancy Atakan, received her BA degree from Mary Washington College in 1968 before moving to Istanbul, Turkey, in 1969. Since then, she has lived and worked in Istanbul, where she received her PhD in art history from Mimar Sinan University in 1994 and has taught at the Bosphorus University and Robert College. From May through June of 2006, she participated in a residency program concentrating on the relationship between art and language at the Banff Art Center In Alberta, Canada. She has published numerous articles and two books entitled, Arayışlar, Yapı Kredi publications, Istanbul, 1998, and Sanatta Alternatif Arayışlar, Karakalem publications, Izmir, 2008. In 2008 with the artist Volkan Aslan, she opened 5533, an Istanbul non-profit off space.