peer: hi, you three have been collaborating on a project called Vasiyetimdir for a while. could you talk a little bit about the project as an introduction to our conversation?
Özge: Vasiyetimdir is a publication project that Aslı, Merve, and I initiated in the summer of 2016. It has a straightforward format. We ask artists what remains or should remain of the artistic work after their passing, and we publish their responses in an online platform. There are no rules for the contributions. This can be a text that mimics a legal document, a shortlist of self-imposed rules, a video without a narrative, or simply a dream. The “wills” appear in the By Artists section of m-est.org—the current host of our project. We received the first contribution in October 2016 and since then we have been trying to publish one contribution every two weeks. It’s a series that keeps growing with a slow pace.
The title is a phrase that can be roughly translated as “It is my will that…” For us, the most immediate reference is the melodramatic dialogues from the 1970s films in Turkey. I remember three of us sharing a laugh the first time we thought about it. But for some, this title immediately evokes death, loss, and mourning, which says a lot about how the intellectual activities around us have been overwhelmed with these ideas. Our initial thoughts had little to do with the current political climate and violence in Turkey, though. We have been rather curious about what the desire to control artworks says about the current practice of an artist.
Merve: For me, what was interesting was to think about control or lack thereof, that artists have in relation to their works. This is something that I think about a lot in relation to practices of living artists—there are so many things that go into making a decision, so many nuances be it political, social or cultural, which are negotiated constantly. And then there is the question of what happens after your passing and I thought asking this question might help clarify some of these “nuances” now. In other words, thinking about what happens after the artist ceases to exist might actually allow us to talk more about what they’re thinking, now.
peer: how strict are you about controlling your works? do you let go or try to control every aspect of your works and their consequences?
Merve: Let’s say it depends on what the conditions are. I find the “political” context of exhibiting situations very important. If the work is in an exhibition, it’s very important to me what the framework is and what the institution stands for and who works there and how/whether they are paid. Granted, I have not yet been exhibiting widely, so these are perhaps hypothetical questions, which is all the more why I wanted to publish my will so that I’m held accountable to these standards once I exhibit more. On the other hand, I feel more relaxed about what happens to a work when it’s “bought.” If it’s destroyed, it’s destroyed. If it matches the couch, it matches the couch. There is a different set of guidelines there. I should also note that, though, I’ve been lucky enough to only have sold works to people that I know well and that are taking much better care of the works than I ever could.
peer: can you say more about why you are more relaxed about the control on your acquired works?
Merve: Acquiring a work or to put it in more simple terms, buying the work entails a purchase of something. It is a direct transaction and as an artist, I decide what is a sellable work and what is not. I draw the boundaries of what that sellability is and so in a way, once the purchase has been made, the work’s life is completed and the work is transferred to another entity. If I try to control what happens to the work once it’s somebody else’s, I think I’m stepping outside of that simple transfer of money for a good. Can the fashion designer tell me how to wear the shirt that they designed? Why should I be able to control my work when it no longer belongs to me? I’m the author and I’m more than happy to answer questions or be in dialogue with the person who bought the work, but I don’t want to have control over it.
Exhibiting a work, on the other hand, is a completely different ball game. The work’s entry into the cultural and artistic realm with everything that comes attached to it is very charged, I think.
Özge: I’d like to interject an idea here. I think it’s risky to make a comparison between a designer’s shirt and an artist’s work, especially in relation to ownership. Artists have moral rights over their work. This right is not transferable—it cannot be sold or given away. If someone doesn’t properly attribute you as the author of the work, this constitutes an infringement. If someone modifies, burns, or destroys your work, this is an infringement as well. This legal protection is based on two main ideas. First, it aims to encourage artists to circulate works with protection against destruction or damage to their artistic production. The second is to preserve artistic heritage for the benefit of the society.
You can claim moral rights even if you create a work anonymously or pseudonymously. That said, you can always make an argument against copyright and say what you create is simply a small part of a larger cultural production, so you are not necessarily interested in claiming your own rights as an artist.
peer: if we believe that the authors should have absolute control on the work, then they should also have the freedom to relinquish the right to control.
i believe the logic behind not allowing to relinquish moral rights is the same as that of the law that forbids slavery. it is common sense that no human being would want to be a slave by free will and if one accepts being a slave, then there must be a reason forcing them against their free will. thus, any contract where one accepts being a slave to another is “void” in legal terms. along the same lines, you cannot add a term to an artwork purchase agreement stating that you relinquish all your moral rights. it is also common sense that an artist wouldn’t want to relinquish moral rights by free will.
well, this is not true for some artists and this is also a problem for free/libre culture approach where the author wants to transfer all rights to the public so that everyone is encouraged to freely share and build on the work.
free culture is about encouraging others to build on your work. but even if you relinquish your copyright through a free cultural license, you still have the legal right to sue someone based on your moral rights, because you cannot relinquish them. this may create a chilling effect that discourages building on your work. so, some free cultural licenses also include terms where the author states that they will not enforce moral rights or any other rights that would conflict with encouraging other people to share and build on the work. also when a work falls into the public domain (unfortunately, after more than 100 years in some jurisdictions) copyright protection is over but moral rights may still be enforceable in some jurisdictions. if authors do not want others to wait for so long to get inspired and build on their work, they may also dedicate the work to the public domain, besides using a free cultural license. however, these are complicated legal issues and may differ from one jurisdiction to the other and this is also one of the problems about the conventional intellectual property laws.
merve has an option to relinquish her moral rights by including some terms in the artwork purchase agreement. the last will and testament covers the situations after the death of the person where one wants to override the default terms described in the law. regarding the property rights, it only covers those in one’s own possession, not those already acquired by someone else. moral rights can also be transferred through a last will and testament in some jurisdictions and these also cover the rights for acquired works. it is understandable that the authors would like to override the default terms in law regarding what happens to their work when they die, through a last will and testament. but there are other ways to override the defaults in law even before your death, when you are still alive. I believe the most effective one is the artwork purchase agreement.
“The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement” (1971), initiated by seth siegelaub and robert projansky features an artwork purchase agreement template, which artists can utilize to have control on the aspects mentioned in the agreement. artwork purchase agreements can be utilized in many ways by modifying the terms to achieve the desired control on an acquired artwork and it may cover the artists’ will not only after their death but also starting from the moment the artwork is acquired.
does it make sense to worry about what should happen to my work after my death when not paying much attention to what i can do about it when i am still alive? i think the artwork purchase agreements are the ultimate tools to have a say on the journey of the works once they are sold and they are the immediate documents representing artist’s will.
Aslı: About three years ago, when I was walking on the street, I found myself wondering what would happen to my works after I’m gone. I started to type notes on my phone while keeping a walking pace. I remember smiling at the idea of getting hit by a car at that very moment, deeply focused on composing my will. Like the protagonist in Clarice Lispector’s last novel The Hour of the Star who gets hit by a car a few minutes after visiting a fortune-teller who’d told her the miracles were about to happen. In my case, there was no one to witness my story and my phone was password protected.
I’m interested in how the word testament resonates amongst artists and how they respond to it in relation to their works, especially in a society where there is no legal enforcement for the execution of a will. I’m also curious to see what it will disclose about an artist’s ongoing practice.
peer: it’s important that you mention that your phone was password protected when you talk about the thought that you could get hit by a car as you were typing notes to your phone about your will. i am not sure if we all think about what will happen in the future to the digital data and information we are continuously creating. some of these data are protected behind our passwords. even though the service providers we rely on have access to those data, it won’t be accessible to others after we pass away, unless we make a plan when we are still alive. i think this is an interesting issue to consider when we think about what “remains/should remain,” not only from our works but also from us, after we pass away.
people used to keep private objects and information on physical media in safes or hidden locations. but these could be discovered or unlocked after they pass away, independent of their control. now we all have digital data and information hosted by various “service providers” accessible with our passwords and the amount of these are huge.
just think of your emails from last 5-10 years or even more. probably there is a lot of information that we didn’t think about how private they should be and for how long they should remain private. also there is another aspect to consider: behind our passwords, we do not only control the data and the information about ourselves but also about others. we also rely on the service providers of our choice for the privacy of these data.
this reminds me of a text by benjamin mako hill about the email privacy, titled “Google Has Most of My Email Because It Has All of Yours.” email is not considered private anymore, unless it is encrypted. it took about twenty years to develop consciousness about encryption in information technologies and i am not sure if we already started considering all the consequences of our online actions, yet.
people always negotiate the privacy of their actions because they could picture the possible consequences. if we are in a public space, we lower our voice if we talk about something private and we know how far our voice could reach. we know that the private information we are talking about cannot be retrieved in the future, unless it was recorded. even if it was recorded and archived, retrieving a particular information from it used to require considerable amount of time and labour. consider doing research twenty years ago about a particular person in a newspaper or radio recordings archive. and also consider having access to a friends email account and searching for your name as a keyword. not only you would immediately retrieve how your friend has been mentioning you to others but also how others have been mentioning you to your friend. you would call this spying but all the service providers we rely on are continuously doing similar data mining operations on our data and also on our contacts’.
email is just an example but there are many other platforms on which we are continuously creating information about ourselves and others and i am not sure if we think about possible consequences of these, at least for the long term. we cannot negotiate the privacy of the digital information we create today because we cannot foresee who would access it in the future and how it could be mined with future technologies. the big data technologies of today already enable very complicated data mining operations on the digital information we have created without thinking of such a possibility then.
how do you approach these phenomena? what should remain from the digital information you create and control? what should be accessible by whom? what digital information about you and your work can be made public? i believe there will be valuable information about the works of an artist for future researchers if they have access to password protected data of the artist. but how should the privacy of these be negotiated after we pass away? information wants to be free but how about private information? what should remain private for us and our contacts today and also in the future? do you take any action to have more control on your data?
Merve: I always feel guilty reading letters that people wrote. Especially if the letters were not published in their lifetime. While there are a lot of things that would be useful for researchers, I’d think that the artist/person can/should decide what is useful and what is not and what should go unseen and what should not. I had a recent dilemma about a text that was written about a dead artist’s work—somebody mentioned that he wouldn’t have wanted that to be said about his work. I consulted someone whose opinion I really respect and asked what she thought. She said, “In your situation, the artist being dead is an advantage, use it.” In other words, there are projections and conversations that can be had only without the artist being present or only because we don’t know enough. And that’s a good thing, somehow.
Aslı: I’ve been concerned about these questions since an acquaintance passed away in 2013. His Facebook page was on, until it was reported to Facebook that he was dead. What happened to his messages and all the other information he created remains a mystery. There was this program called suicide machine, through which you could erase all the information on social media and then delete your account. It was active a couple of years only until FB interfered legally and somehow managed to ban the program. Then I quit Facebook and asked all my information to be erased from their side. I haven’t received an answer. It shows their ambition on collecting data even though you’re no longer online. The same goes for online storage where all the information on my phone automatically updates on the cloud. I really don’t know how to classify my private data and decide what should be inaccessible. Are you familiar with digital estate discussions? Could you tell us about the possible measures we can take?
peer: IMHO, we should have a better understanding of information technologies and how they alter the world we have known thus far. then, everyone may reconsider the meaning of privacy for themselves in the age of information technologies.
accordingly we should develop strategies for ourselves and make required investments (in terms of time and even technology) to have control on what we consider private for us. but i think there is also another important issue that i have mentioned above: our responsibility for other people’s data that we keep. how can we be confidants while we cannot control even our own data?
also, there is the issue of how we negotiate each other’s understandings of privacy. i may not care much about my privacy and post our photo with you online but what if you do care? how about the passerby in the background of the image?
this makes me think about meriç algün ringborg’s work The Risk of Being in Public , a slide projection installation where the slides feature her notes she has taken during a one year time frame whenever she noticed she was being photographed in the public space. she makes a reference to a quotation from diane arbus, possibly from the times of analog photography. but a lot has changed since then. i would say that the “risk” got much bigger. face recognition technology allows filtering all digital photos in a database and finding out the ones in which we somehow appear. and this technology will only improve in the future.
online images already cause problems for many people today and i think it is a very important issue. paolo cirio has a project titled Obscurity that addresses this issue and the notion of the right to be forgotten. There is also a campaign he initiated.
getting back to your question, some people employ various strategies of obfuscation to protect their data body. there are some examples of this in the book Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest by finn brunton and helen nissenbaum. also i’d like to mention critical art ensemble here since they published some of the early texts about the issues around “data body” back in the 90s.
well, again getting back to your question, i should mention encryption. it’s about maintaining our own servers for our own data instead of using other people’s computers—a practice being called “cloud,” which creates a confusion. a speech by eben moglen titled “Freedom In the Cloud” has been very effective for creating awareness about this issue-. having control on our computing-using free/libre and open source software is the only way to achieve this. employing safe backup strategies for preventing data loss—paying extra attention to how we handle the data which may be/come private for ourselves and/or our correspondences tomorrow, if not today. and of course one may employ the strategies of richard stallman, the founder of the free software movement, as he explains in various parts of his text “How I do my computing“. but…yeah, i think this is the short answer for your question: but… 🙂
peer: you all mention your interest in the connections between artists’ current practices and their contributions to Vasiyetimdir. the project is still going on but do you already have some answers for that? have you been discussing the received contributions in that sense?
Özge: We received many contributions that speak to the urgencies of today. For instance, there are contributions that respond to the immediate violence that surrounds us: Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu reflects on the violence on the transgender community in Turkey; Erkan Özgen states it’s necessary that children forget about the memories of recent violence in the country; Zeyno Pekünlü comments on how she started thinking whether she would get to die from natural causes; Pınar Öğrenci writes about her detention in 2015.
There are also contributions that speak to larger questions that are less time- and place-specific and yet of great urgency, such as the public domain—a topic that is related to our practices as citizens. Bager Akbay writes how his artworks and their derivatives such as coding, planning, and documentation belong to the public domain; Ali Miharbi draws a image to reflect on how the data migrates, get duplicated, and is constantly reinterpreted; anonymous stranger scans the back cover of a 2013 book dedicated to the public domain, titled what would your contemporary art project proposal be if you were invited by a curator to participate in a contemporary art exhibition?
Merve: One thing that I have observed from the contributions that we have received thus far is that there is a shared language or a common worry and that’s not the case for people’s practices. So maybe, while their artistic works are very different, artists think similarly about their own deaths?
One of the flaws or let’s say structures/frameworks of the project is that wills that are published inevitably impact the wills that are published later, so I think in a way, the existing wills influence the ones that are being written. This could also be to push the artists who are contributing in a different direction. Was I expecting more variation? Yes, but then again, maybe this also points to shared sensibilities and affinities somewhat.
Aslı: Many responses take “death” as a starting point. It’s perhaps because of the urgencies of today, as Özge says. I’ve been rather inclined to think about the subject as a metaphor. For instance, I’ve been talking to Ayşe Erkmen, who also contributed to Vasiyetimdir, about artists’ digital archives and how she found the urge to ask an assistant to upload everything onto the e-cloud. I remember thinking about the password of digital estate could be the only thing to be inherited by her heirs. Her contribution plays with this idea, too.
Alper Maral, on the other hand, is rather interested in disowning all the material belongings that he collected throughout his life. He wants to manually erase his mundane traces in the world. Both Esen Karol and Cengiz Tekin share a typo anxiety, to be overwritten or corrected, as they reflect on in their respective contributions. Erdem Taşdelen chooses a mantra-like musical collage for his wish to control. Dealing with the idea of death gives you a glimpse of artists’ practices.
peer: how did you decide to collaborate on Vasiyetimdir? i am not asking this in the sense that “whose idea was that?” but instead how did you encourage each other to actually make it happen and do it together? how did you negotiate the format and “nuances” of the project? and are there particular nuances of the project that strongly matter to you?
Özge: To be honest, we didn’t negotiate much about the format because from the start, we wanted to keep an open-ended and slow format, which we have shaped as we moved forward. That’s why we chose m-est.org as a host. (Disclaimer: Merve is the founding editor and I’m the managing editor of this online publication initiative). But we did speak about whom we would invite to contribute to the project. We came up with a list of fifteen artists and asked them to suggest other artists so that the conversation would grow with artists who knew each other.
Some of the artists we were in conversation with suggested that we go back to some established artists who already dealt with last wills, afterlife of artworks, and cultural value in their own artworks, such as Dennis Oppenheim, Chris Burden, and Cengiz Çekil—artists who all passed away in the last few years. After some discussion, we ended up agreeing that we wanted to invite living artists whom we or our contributors had an ongoing conversation with. This is why there are a lot of artists from Turkey as contributors.
We wanted to start with where we are and explore where we are going to, which are limited to own affinities—exactly how we talk about the focus of m-est.org as a publication. We also approached some artists who don’t have anything to do with Turkey but we haven’t received any contributions so far. Now that I think about it, perhaps the tone has been fixed a little too much on and around Turkey.
Merve: It is an ongoing negotiation and it is very difficult at times as we have to face our own prejudices or preset notions of what we want the project to be. I have a particular way of thinking about “artistic” work and publications and long-term publishing initiatives and I know I always bring that baggage to the table. Something I always try to think about is not to say or do anything to an artist that I wouldn’t want done to me, but that’s about the only thing I’m consistent with.
Aslı: Right now, we are all in the different parts of the world which makes it slightly challenging to focus on Vasiyetimdir. However, I consider this sleep mode as part of the project as it allows for its potential to spout in its next stage.
peer: could you share the invitation email you send to the contributors? did you change it over time? did you send the same text to each contributor, or did you tweak it for some?
Özge: We used pretty much the same text for the invitation. It’s not very different from the way we introduced the project in the beginning of this conversation. That said, it’s not an institutional invitation so each of us tried to make the invitation as personal as possible.
peer: what would your contributions for Vasiyetimdir be? at least would you take it literal or would you try to put it in a more artistic form?
peer: to be honest, when i was asking this question i forgot that merve and özge’s contributions to Vasiyetimdir were already published online. i had read them when they were first published and now i also remember their content as well as the content of many other contributions. but i do not think i can attribute most of the content to their authors. one of my personal reasons for this could be that i am more interested in the content and what it makes me question, what the work has to say, rather than who is speaking, who the author is. that’s because i see cultural production as a collective practice where everyone builds on the works of each other. trying to isolate “a genius author” to whom an “original idea” can be attributed does not add much to the culture besides creating hierarchies such as that of the author and the audience, etc.
if this is the reason why i forgot that you have already contributed to Vasiyetimdir, then it may be my own problem and it should be ok. but if it is a sign of cultural amnesia at large, then it shows how important it is to have projects like Vasiyetimdir through which we can look back and cure our amnesia.
Özge: How does our reading of the artwork change if we treat all of them “equally” with anonymous producers? For me, this borders on the idea that every work should speak for itself. The background of its production, the social context in which it is produced, the alliances of the artist with his/her peers are also valuable data to interpret a work. Otherwise there is the risk of doing only formalist readings about artworks. How do we deal with this problem then?
peer: yes, the identity of the author supplies many possibilities for interpreting the work and reading it in many different ways and thus enriching our artistic experience. also, only an artist’s oeuvre may render some works meaningful (for example when an artist insists on doing the same thing or its variations for a long time, even for a lifetime). the consistency of an artist’s practice is also an important measure, or how an artist’s practice evolves with time may open up other readings for the works. i find all of these very important since they supply extra (and sometimes the main and the only) context to experience and interpret a work. and i believe that a work of art only works when you create such a connection, an interpretation for your own. so the identity and the oeuvre of the artist has a function for interpretation of a work.
however, the culture industry has been creating hierarchies through the author-centric perspective. i am not sure if i can explain here all of my problems about the way the authorship is presented and utilized in the culture industry. but one is that, i believe in a peer-to-peer relation in the cultural domain where everyone is an audience but everyone is also an artist—everyone is a peer building on each other’s work, without hierarchies. if the birth of the peer could be at the cost of the death of the artist, then this is something to consider for me besides the function of the information about the identity of the artist for interpreting a work.
Aslı: Sometimes I also forget the content of contributions or their authors. I guess Vasiyetimdir is more like a one body of work for me, where all the chapters compose the final work. This happens to me when I receive art-agenda reviews or e-flux opinion texts, too. I read a few from what get through my email but I can’t remember the contents soon after. I’ve never been a good online reader because computer screen is too distracting for me and the reading list is too long.
Merve: My artistic form is often very regimented, so my contribution to Vasiyetimdir is also quite rigid. I think in terms of guidelines and rules, so I did the same thing here. I also wanted to take on the position of the unsuccessful artist in a way as to claim some sort of power over my practice. Every artist makes choices, every artist has politics, every artist has preferences. We should encourage each other to think about these and make bold statements to overcome the notion that beggars can’t be choosers. You can say no to a shitty exhibition even if you are a shitty artist.
peer: merve, your contribution includes many terms against the creation and the exploitation of the artist myth. could you elaborate on these ideas? do these measures only cover the situations after your death or do you also employ those rules for your current practice? do they protect your privacy or to set your work free from an author-centric perspective? are there other strategies you employ to protect your position? Also, another question about identity politics in art: how do artists speak on their account, how do they speak for other people and how does an institution speak about an artist or about the others?
Merve: You touch on something very important for me, which is probably my main incentive in being a part of this project. Everything that is a part of my will is part of my practice now. I wanted to take ownership of my practice and write these things out, because if you are not an established artist, you might not get the opportunity to exercise these “principles.” By putting them down, I got a chance to reconsider them and also perhaps hold myself accountable for the future. I think a lot about my authorship and how the different facades of that authorship circulate in the world. Is it possible to always present yourself the way you want to be presented? No, but it’s good to think about how/whether these things can be negotiated.
peer: i have another question for merve. in your will, you have strict terms about how your work should be exhibited, in which context and by whom. but you also say that once acquired, you do not want to have control on your work. but what if a collector or an institution wants to exhibit one of your works in their collection in a context which conflicts with the terms you mention? such an exhibition would mean that you endorse the exhibition and it can even be used as a whitewashing mechanism by the institution.
i remember a tool called “the creator-endorsed mark” developed by nina paley. this is a tool that can be used along with a free cultural work. such works do not require permission by the author for sharing, building on, making money, exhibiting etc. the author would let the exhibition organizers use the creator-endorsed mark only if s/he endorses it. so people would know about the artist’s position about such an exhibition. this may also be against the logic behind free culture that criticizes conventional intellectual property laws by calling them “permission culture,” a term coined by lawrence lessig. (here i must add that i find lessig’s approach to free culture problematic because of the “some rights reserved” approach he introduced with creative commons. “some rights reserved” approach does nothing more than reproducing the power given to the author instead of distributing the power to the public and this conflicts with the approach of free and open source software, which is the main inspiration for the idea of free culture.) the creator-endorsed mark is an example of how to let your work be free for everyone but prevent the author’s identity to be exploited.
do you have any measures to prevent the collectors from exploiting your identity as an artist, once they acquire your work?
Merve: I definitely recognize the contradiction in letting go of “control” once the work is acquired vs. the attempt to have control before the work is sold, if ever. I do care about consistency though, so I’d say that my rules don’t apply to the works in people’s collections, but since this will is on the Internet, people can see my wishes for the contexts in which my work is to be exhibited and I also do hope that there is caption information that notes the work is lent by the collection and not the “estate.” Will I turn in my grave or dissipate in my urn? Maybe, but that’s OK.
Aslı: My contribution to Vasiyetimdir is about the impossibility of a “perfect” will, how it is never accomplished, not as a sign of lack but rather naturally always left as unfinished.
My first draft proved d how much importance I was projecting to my works.
The control I wanted to have over them just seemed vain over time. It was also nonsense considering how hard it is to install your work and have a say on the
wall text even if you’re there.
It’s about the control over the works, and also of yourself, too. We are all very different from our 20-something selves. Then how would it be possible to have control over your works through a set of instructions after you’re gone? Who will be allowed to write their will?
After these thoughts, I accumulated several drafts . I thought I would choose the best or the most interesting to read amongst them. Then I realized I was being a perfectionist, a control freak, doing exactly the same while writing the first draft. That’s why I decided to publish all my drafts, with some corrections only to make it more pleasant to read.
I was thinking of adding another draft about the future of art practice—whether it would be possible to continue producing after the artist’s death. Mentioning it here would be consistent with my opinion about the infinite nature of a will. When you think about the fashion industry, brands mostly don’t conclude after the designer passes away Coco Chanel or Elsa Schiaparelli are brands that are run by CEOs, not necessarily by family members. For artists who are working through bigger production means, like Olafur Eliasson or Jeff Koons, would it be possible to continue the production post-mortem, possibly run by their studio managers? I guess I’m more into these Black Mirror-ish possibilities of Vasiyetimdir. Maybe these connotations of will can be unfolded through a different format of Vasiyetimdir.
peer: i think the posthumous productions you mention as a “Black Mirror-ish” scenario is already being practiced in various ways. there are some practices with economic interests but also there are others with cultural and even artistic interests.
(re)inventing/discovering a forgotten dead artist through research or various other investments may enrich the cultural domain but it also serves to create economic or symbolic value for the collectors of the “then underestimated dead artist.”
it is also a fact that our culture has been dominated by culture industry for more than a hundred years now and that model is based on profit driven capitalist economics. one of the key rules for the maximum profit within that model is to limit the number of the authors and also the number of editions for creating artificial scarcity, and to maximize the demand for them through various forms of promotion. so, many authors were left out of the culture industry to limit the supply and thus many artists couldn’t meet wider audiences. so, such posthumous production also serves for curing amnesia in a way.
there are also practices of repackaging a dead “star.” and there are also artists questioning the intersection and the tension between both outcomes of posthumous productions. but i think what you have in mind is different from those posthumous productions where artists construct their own legacy as a source for their future productions that can even be continued after they die. as we know, this works for a brand but can you elaborate on how it can be possible for the artistic production which is still evaluated according to the author who “touches” it?
Aslı: “Discovering” an artist, whether dead or alive, is definitely part of the cultural industry; it is related to its demands from professionals working in the field. It creates a canon with “Columbus’ discoveries” as well. I remember a project presented by a curator years ago: His focus was on vanished artists, based on speculations on how they might have decided to withdraw from the art world. I remember thinking that art industry can’t even let them vanish, somebody should do a project about their disappearance.
This is similar to the intention of big data, your information is kept without your consent. For instance, JD Salinger or Maurice Blanchot wouldn’t give any interviews or let their pictures be taken. This helped create an artist or philosopher myth around them and eccentrism became part of their oeuvre with or without their intention. I don’t know what the way is to escape from all these re-creations/re-branding of artists by the culture industry.
About the posthumous artists’ production, I was trying to say something that legally if you have a production company as an artist, paying taxes and giving invoices etc, the company would be entitled to be purchased after the artist’s death depending on the heirs actions. Usually we are familiar with foundations in the art field, but that doesn’t mean it will remain as the only option. I just have the feeling that soon we’ll see post-mortem productions where the literal “touch” of the artist won’t be desired anymore— similar to a Chanel bag that doesn’t need Coco Chanel to be produced and sold now.
Özge: I also contributed to Vasiyetimdir although I don’t identify as an artist. As a curator, I closely work with artists, collectors, museums, and archives—with people and institutions who constantly think about the afterlife of artworks. That’s why I wanted to share Stone, a 1963 poem by Zareh Khrakhouni (b. 1926, d. 2015, Istanbul). In the poem, Khrakhouni writes about how he sits on the edge of a road, under the sun, carving a stone, alone. Here’s a snippet: “What am I making? a statue to be worshipped by future generations? / A refined sculpture placed before temples of hope and light? / A khatchkar – erected in dedication to ancient heritage / Or a simple stone / Square sacredly polished / Left forgotten in the grass on the edge of the road.”
For some, the poem might evoke the acts of resilience against the political violence that surrounds us. Others might think that the poem suggests something about how artists could position their works vis-à-vis a larger cultural production. How do artists create and try to fix cultural value? When does the value get fetishized and when does it become simply a part of an ever-changing way of thinking about ourselves, our communities, our environment? These are the questions I’m interested in exploring more.
I should add that I shared this poem next to a photograph I took in my kitchen. It’s a close-up of “Crumpled Sky, Spring/Summer,” a map of the starry sky seen with the naked eye. The image captures the Cassiopeia constellation on the map. This constellation is named after a queen in Greek mythology—Andromeda’s mother—who was known for her vanity and arrogance about her beauty. As a punishment, she was chained to a throne in the heavens.
peer: your contribution is titled “(On) Vasiyetimdir” and i also read it in relation to one of the readings you suggest above—about “how artists position themselves and their works in the larger cultural production.” how do you feel when artists speak about their works with an ego as in the example of “a statue to be worshipped by future generations?” or in a more humble way, as in the example of “a simple stone,” if we take these as the two extreme positions?
the contributions inevitably reveal a lot about the artists’ ego and i think this was something you have been wondering about when you started this project. it is believed that one cannot be an artist without a huge ego. i also think it is true to a degree but i also believe that there might be a distinction between how artists feel and behave to construct a charismatic artistic persona. i think Vasiyetimdir is a good opportunity for an artist to construct (or add to) an artistic persona and i also think this is why many artists are excited about it. as you said, you also know many of the contributors personally so i would like to ask whether you think the contributions reflect the artists’ feelings and actual wills or they are artworks that would directly contribute to the artistic persona they would like to create?
Özge: I’ll backtrack here to ask you about the contributions that resonate with you. I find it interesting that you want us to talk more about our own contributions rather than the other contributions in Vasiyetimdir. Is is perhaps because our own contributions reveal more than what we’re saying about the project?
peer: i went through all contributions to answer your question. i still feel like the project itself as a whole, with all contributions, is more interesting for me than any singular contribution itself. there are literal texts i like there but i am more interested in the ones seeking an artistic expression. and again, the main thing that keeps me busy about Vasiyetimdir is interpreting how people have approached this project in general, and also in particular. and no, i will not single out some names. 🙂
Özge: OK, fair enough. For me, Vasiyetimdir does something more interesting than exploring artists’ egos: It reflects on the current ownership models in the arts. I’m curious about the changes we will see in this field in the coming years.
Let me try to give an example through an artwork—Julien Bismuth’s Mime Works I-IV, 2010, a performance piece that my colleague Haro Cumbusyan and I exhibited at collectorspace in 2013. This is a half an hour performance produced in collaboration with the mime artist Gregg Goldston who was the only person who could activate the work according to the artist as well as the sales contract. For this exhibition, Gregg came to Istanbul and performed the piece at least twice a day. One day I asked Gregg about the “real owner” of this work. He said it was his own body that “knew” and therefore owned the work. Another interesting turn happened when Gregg had to leave Istanbul before the end of the exhibition. Before he left, he rehearsed with another mime artist, Eric Wilcox, who took over the performance and reinterpreted it a very different way. It was the same choreography but it was another work. For me, Eric became another owner of the work as an interpreter/activator.
I also learned a lot from the collectors Josée and Marc Gensollen who loaned the work to us. As collectors, they are interested in works that are transmitted through words, sentences, instructions, dates, and traces. This type of immaterial works don’t necessarily appear but you can still talk about them. This idea resonates with Mime Works I-IV where the performer creates a story around an invisible artwork: We don’t see the work but we watch what happens around the work. After all, the work needs a temporary caretaker and transmitter. It also requires audiences beyond its collectors suggesting an ownership of participation. With Vasiyetimdir, I’m thinking more about different modes of ownership, much more than individuals’ egos.
peer: in general, “ownership of participation” sounds like fooling the “participants” to me because i find the vocabulary of participation problematic and would prefer a vocabulary based on being peers. let me try to explain.
most of the time you do not “own” anything, even get any credit/attention compared to what the “author” gets, when you participate in an artist’s project (this is not limited to artists’ projects but in most of the “participation” phenomenon). relational aesthetics aspect of being involved in an artwork is really important for the artistic experience but the way most of these projects are constructed creates an hierarchy of the artist (author) and the participants where the latter does not have the same status as the artist who initiates the project. we can even call them the unpaid workers for the artist’s proprietary work of art. does this mode of relation sound familiar from other fields and even sound more exploitive?
the participants have no right on the work’s journey. they cannot decide on the exhibition the work they are a “part of.” no need to mention that they cannot sell the work and this statement would even seem irrelevant to many people. of course they do not own any edition of the work and they even do not have a preview copy of the work they are a “part of.” for me the solution is simple for an artist who thinks there is a problem here: distributing all the rights on the work to all the people who is a part of the work. and if the artist would like to encourage more people to be involved in the work in the future, the work should be free for everyone and they should have the rights on the work they have contributed. this can be achieved with free cultural licenses and a peer production approach.
the work should be free/libre for everyone to be the “caretaker,” “transmitter,” “audience,” “owner,” “participant,” and everyone should be one of the authors of the work, or the author of their contribution. everyone should have the status of “peer” instead of “artist,” “audience,” “participant,” “owner,” etc.
peer: i also think that the notion of ownership in art is an interesting topic. well, the “owner” of the work is simply the one who paid for it, to whom the author sold it, namely the collector, at least in the legal sense.
what excites me is another mode of ownership where works are not exclusively owned by an individual, or by an institution, or even by “public,” but instead by everyone in the world. This is beyond the historical notion of the commons, which have been governed by the local community around them. this is the ownership model of peer production.