Scouring the Press opens with a dreamlike and gloomy scene. The beginning of the ten-minute video shows a close-up of murky water with tiny particles still moving in the liquid, suggesting an ongoing movement or a recent interference. The landscape in the next sequence is a serene one. Three metal trays are positioned on the edge of a cliff, with a vast, hazy plain in the background in pastel colors, captured around the time of dawn or dusk. There are no immediate clues about the location, which creates a sense of anonymity. Presented in a static shot, three women enter the scene, drop a bundle of newspapers to the ground, and start washing them, scrubbing the pages one after another.
The repetitive and collective scrubbing contains a hint of aggression. This feeling is only magnified as the women wring out water from the papers, now devoid of any content, and make lumps of them that they place at the side of the trays before leaving the scene one by one, with their hands covered in ink. Without making any eye contact with the camera, the three women are focused on their work, indifferent to their surroundings, suggesting a somewhat mechanized, routine endeavor. The murky water remains behind.
Such an act of removing text and image immediately calls to mind the idea of censorship as a form of regulation and exclusion. But is censorship simply a negative, repressive exercise of power? Bucak’s work does not immediately produce a moralistic answer to the question that distinguishes the victim from the perpetrator as the agent of censorship. It rather explores the sense of consent that daily newspapers and similar sources of information appear to create. Scouring the Press does not only inquire into the effacing of events, news, and histories, but it also seeks for layers of complicity in a structural censorship that is about the lack of antagonisms or disagreements, where certain groups co-opt and direct public opinion. And it is precisely in that consent that violence seems to lie.
Bucak picks up this inquiry once more in Remains of What Has Not Been Said, a photographic series comprising eighty-four images. With minor changes, each photograph shows a pair of arms holding a glass jar almost half full with a dark-colored liquid—the same murky water seen in Scouring the Press, blackened by the ink from the newspapers. Calling to mind the cinematic format of a flip book or film frames, the series repeats the same generic black background as well as the image of two arms reaching out from the left side of the photographs. The work creates anticipation for a simulation of motion or some other change, but in the end, it does not offer it.
The liquids in the glass containers are presented in a forensic aesthetic, as though they are more than discards— specimens perhaps, or evidence. Bucak provides some hints of what this “evidence” might refer to. Each glass jar bears a small hand-written mark dating its contents, beginning with February 7, 2016—the day referred as the “basement massacre,” when the violence peaked during a state security crackdown on outlawed Kurdish militants in Cizre, a town in southeastern Turkey, close to the Syrian border. The conflict is ongoing, and the alleged mass abuses and extrajudicial killings of civilians are still not addressed: The government blocked access for independent investigations and bulldozers have leveled the ruins, while press coverage of the spiraling violence has been notably lacking. Departing from the impossibility of bearing witness to certain types of violence, Bucak shifts the attention from subjects to objects—things that can only be derivatives or remnants of information.
Remains of What Has Not Been Said not only testifies to the invisibility or the lack of acknowledgment of both political and physical violence, and but also to the imposing sense of consent in public opinion. The artist seeks a visual language about invisibility and disappearance as well as a method to archive it. Departing from a dearth of confrontation, she proposes that the meanings and practices of discussion are to be constantly negotiated among consumers of information. In face of oblivion, Bucak uses abstraction and archiving as forms of resistance.
The above text was commissioned and published in Fatma Bucak: Remains of what has not been said, in conjunction with an eponymous exhibition curated by Lisa Parola and organized by Fondazione Sardi per l’Arte, Torino in collaboration with Università degli Studi di Torino and Fondazione Merz, Torino, October 31–November 10, 2017.
Özge Ersoy (b. Istanbul) is Public Programmes Lead at Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong. She is also Managing Editor of m-est.org.
Fatma Bucak (b. Iskenderun) lives in Istanbul and London. Her works are exhibited in international museums and institutions. In 2017, she was invited in Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art.