Life Is What Happens To You While You Are Busy Watching Cute Cat Videos

With You, Again, Right Here, Right Now

Berkay Tuncay’s first solo exhibition in Istanbul, Life Is What Happens To You While You Are Busy Watching Cute Cat Videos is an essay on transforming observations, doubts, and opinions on a specific state of mind. Tuncay’s most effective weapon is actually that he is dealing with mundane things as he remixes and transforms “living”—an accumulation of the slippery, often undefined accumulation of experiences—through the data gathered from a medium that has become banal due to its familiarity and commonness.

First, let’s talk about the Webcam Girls. As I look at these girls whose faces are invisible, three things emerge. The first thing is that they try to respond to different fantasies and situations with their (minimal) clothing. Second, their faces have been cropped by the artist. (Does he want to keep these faces to himself or does he really just not want to use them in the exhibition?) The third is that the moments when these women touched their keyboards are frozen in the images. Tuncay manages to capture and turn on its head the means of distribution that is specific to the industry of sex online, subverting its very “touch.” Tuncay reminds viewers that the women that we see through their webcams are technology users and you access their images through the keyboards that you touch. In other words, although these touches and their appearences are titillating, the situation itself is machine-like and it is far removed from skin contact. Both parties only feel the surfaces of their mouses and their keyboards; the only thing that they touch is their own bodies. The situation that is being described in these images holds no information about life that continues behind closed doors. The sound of the laundry machine, the neighbors arguing, the smell of food… We don’t see any of this nor do we feel any of it. It’s just you, me, and the Internet connection. As I follow the keyboard and the legs, I arrive at the sausages that I assume belongs to a woman gazing over the black and white landscape with palm trees visible in the distance. The sunset or sunrise seen through the double pyramids, the perfect alignment of the palm trees, the calm trees reminds me of a colonial aesthetic. The familiar “modern man” of Caspar Friedrich from 1818 presented the protagonist as a third party who looked onto the horizon line to admire and to conquer; Tuncay takes us one step closer and we are right behind the legs. What is being represented is not a scene but rather something we can empathize with and feel close to as I could own those legs. The proposal is a perspective, a worldview. Tuncay combines the representational nature of the drawing and the contextualizing force of the photograph.

The notion that palm trees transform the place and situation that they are in (look at residential highrise lobbies or the dining rooms that promise paradise in holiday resorts in Antalya) is subverted when Tuncay corners the palm tree. The poor palm tree is stuck in a corner makes even more obvious the cyber language around it while the open and/or concealing aspect of the rest of the wall’s pattern question what is being looked at. Is this palm tree a part of the whole or is it the protagonist? My eye starts scanning the wall, expecting an image to emerge like looking at a stereogram, pointing to an ambiguous relationship with what I actually see in front of me. My brain tries to narrate what is in front of me and cannot just see the absurd for what it is. The two suns in the sunned sunset, which becomes a flag, is a continuation of the indirect gestures of pointing that we see often in Tuncay’s practice. What kind of a place could this be, which includes both a real and a representational sun? Could this flag be a more real representation of nations where the sun always/never sets? Could a poem become a flag? If everybody designed the flag of the state they wanted to belong to, could this two-sunned flag be more inclusive than a flag with crescents and stars? When I continue on this axis of appropriation and belonging, I arrive in front of the Louvre Museum in Paris. It takes me a few minutes to realize what is going on in front of the glass pyramid of the Louvre. When I realize that Tuncay is trying to relay a specific situation, I see that the tourists are trying to do something for a second camera that I cannot see. Tuncay’s camera can never show me what is being captured, because he is not positioned in the right spot. This slight shift in perspective points to the pre-defined nature of the mis-en-scene that is constantly being reproduced, evoking me to think about this need to plan representation. Tourists who want to appear to be holding the top of the glass pyramid is familiar; Tuncay’s video defamiliarizes this moment for us, underlining the fragile and precarious nature of what we want to show and the thing we want to show.

Tuncay’s gray stripes that we are all familiar with from the cyber space, which typically reveal a mistake, a corruption are part of the series of family portraits, making anonymous identities in the same manner that he crops the Webcam girls’ faces. Some of these individuals lose their identity because of a mistake, representing both nobody and everybody. The headshot photographs charged with presenting the familiar, what something is for what it is, are transformed into a situational parody when included within the discourse of Tuncay’s body of work. Another example of this situational readings is the giant mikado sticks through which the artist visualizes the data on “dislikes” vides on YouTube, looking at the least popular ones.

The randomness of the sticks, which appear to have been left behind by someone who just played with them point to how random liking and disliking something are, how quickly subjective and social likes can change and how even something seemingly as unimportant as YouTube videos can evoke strong reactions. The passionate liking, the passionate disliking of the Internet user perhaps represents that obsessive, self-important, almost paranoid state of mind most openly.

The numbers cut of plexiglass, which reflect the views on the Gangnam Style video, bring into the exhibition space a quantitative measure of something that is constantly changing. This monument that loses its validity the second it is made, or rather the second the order to make it is placed, questions the relationship between art and reality, looking at art as a means of representation. Representation failing to represent and to dissipate appear to me to be the real impetus behind these numbers that are placed next to each other.

The portraits of humanity that are formed through the machines and the machines’ arguably “cold” world of data, actually test the boundaries of representation through showing without showing using the remixes that Tuncay constructs out of cultural codes. Just like how David Cronenberg’s bodies that make love to cars seem to describe a state in which we feel, desire, poke, be poked, caressed more than ever. As the title of the exhibition suggest, what is being described is the gaps between what is made to happen, not what happens.

Merve Ünsal

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