Chisenhale Gallery in London recently presented the first solo exhibition in a UK institution and major new commission by Istanbul-based artist Banu Cennetoğlu.
Art Radar looks at the new work and its controversial accompanying project, the compilation and distribution of The List.
Banu Cennetoğlu’s work incorporates methods of mapping, collecting and archiving in order to question and challenge the politics of memory, as well as the distribution and consumption of information. She was born in 1970, in Ankara, Turkey, and lives and works in Istanbul.
Cennetoğlu’s solo exhibitions include Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn (2015); “Gentle Madness”, Rodeo, London (2014); “Banu Bar Mixt”, Salonul de proiecte, Bucharest (2013); and “Guilty feet have got no rhythm.”, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel (2011). In addition, she has participated in documenta (14), Athens and Kassel; the group show “The Restless Earth”, held at the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan (both 2017); the 10th Gwangju Biennale in 2014; Manifesta 8 in Murcia in 2010; the Turkish Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009; the 3rd Berlin Biennale in 2008; and the 1st Athens Biennale and 10th Istanbul Biennale (both 2007).
For her commission at Chisenhale Gallery, Cennetoğlu has produced a new moving image installation recently presented in the gallery’s exhibition hall. The multi-titled moving image work maps Cennetoğlu’s archive of digital images and videos sourced from various devices, including her mobile phones, computers, cameras and external hard drives. Starting on 10 June 2006 and ending on 21 March 2018, the work presents a continuous stream of unedited content, ordered in a chronological format. The work is 128 hours and 22 minutes in duration, and each day the gallery was open a new six-hour long file was presented.
The work traces over a decade of personal, social and political change from the banality of life’s small moments to the birth of Cennetoğlu’s daughter, to documentation of her artistic practice, and numerous protests, ceremonies and cemeteries. In presenting an accumulation of digital content sourced over the past twelve years, the work also documents changes in image production and circulation.
In conjunction with her installation at the gallery, Cennetoğlu also facilitated the distribution of The List in The Guardian newspaper, in print and online, on 20 June 2018, in recognition of World Refugee Day.
Compiled and updated each year by UNITED for Intercultural Action, an anti-discrimination network of 550 organisations in 48 countries, The List traces information relating to the deaths of 34,361 refugees and migrants who have lost their lives within, or on the borders of Europe since 1993 (documented as of 5 May 2018).
Since 2007, in collaboration with art workers and institutions, Cennetoğlu has facilitated updated versions of The List using public spaces such as billboards, public transit hubs (e.g. bus stations) and in print in newspapers, in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Turkey.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Cennetoğlu explained her motivation in distributing The List:
People have very short attention spans. Sometimes they only read things reduced to one line on the front page of a newspaper. Sometimes it’s manipulated or a half conceit. I think when you see the scale of this, when you can hold it in your hand, it’s overwhelming.
Produced in parallel with one another, related but distinctly different, both Cennetoğlu’s sustained facilitation of The List and her artwork presented in the gallery examine intimate and shared experiences of life and death, and the responsibility inherent in recording these experiences. Made in response to The List’s attempt to record profound loss, Cennetoğlu’s new moving image work inverts attention to her own subjectivity and to the impossibility of complete categorisation of one’s own – and others’ – lives. In this sense, Cennetoğlu’s Chisenhale Gallery commission invites audiences to consider their own relationship to memory, loss, ownership and belonging.
Working with Cennetoğlu on the updated version of The List, Chisenhale Gallery partnered with the 2018 Liverpool Biennial on its display in the public realm. The List was presented along the hoardings of a new construction development on Great George Street in Liverpool’s Chinatown. The Biennial opened on 14 July, but as of Saturday 28 July, the work is missing, presumed destroyed. The director of the Liverpool Biennial, Sally Tallent, said in a statement:
It is timely and important to make The List public during a global refugee crisis. We were dismayed to see it had been removed on Saturday night and would like to know why. The List has been met with critical acclaim and we are doing everything we can to reinstate it.
Liverpool City Council have also confirmed with The Guardian that they did not order its removal. The artist has said that The List has never been damaged in other locations where it has been shown, including cities across Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States and other locations in the United Kingdom.
Whilst Cennetoğlu then produced another version of the display, it has since been destroyed for a second time. Cennetoğlu will not install The List a third time, stating that the torn remnants of the display will serve as a “reminder of this systematic violence exercised against people”.
In an interview with Ellen Greig (PDF download), Chisenhale’s curator of commissions that took place in June 2018, Banu Cennetoğlu discussed The List, how she came across it, her ongoing facilitation of its distribution, what it has meant for her practice as an artist, and the challenges of visibility that present displaced peoples in the face of the ongoing global refugee crisis. She says:
The List is a database that was initiated and is maintained by an NGO called UNITED for Intercultural Action, which they have been collating since 1993. By combining different sources from around 500 organisations, they try to keep a database of documented cases of the death of individuals attempting to enter Europe; deaths that happen while individuals are in Europe and are in detention centres, hospitals and refugee accommodation, or those facing hate crimes.
I first encountered the database in 2002 when I was living in Amsterdam and researching border politics and the spatial representations of these spaces, broadly speaking. During this period, I found UNITED’s website and encountered this PDF of The List, which was obviously a shorter document than it is today. It was a very clear and quick decision that it should be more accessible somehow, in the wider public realm, without requiring people to only go to UNITED’s website. People should be able to see it despite themselves, and despite that they are caught up in their daily lives; the fact they have to go to work, come back from work, get on the subway, walk on the street etc. I wanted to put it out there without any announcement, without any direct negotiation with the audience but somehow in a negotiated space.
I really wanted to do this as an artist with my resources; using my position as an artist and all of the possible collaborators, partnerships, resources that are born out of working with art institutions, curators and fellow artists but not ‘appropriating’ The List as an artwork.
It took five years to find and convince the first partners for the distribution of The List in 2007, as it is not an artwork. During this time, we tried different modes, such as more clandestine or DIY dissemination in public spaces, which was removed immediately. This made me sure that I needed a legitimised space for a dedicated period of time in order to be certain that The List would have broad accessibility.
During the first instalment in March 2007, The List was displayed as a poster campaign in 110 outdoor advertising signs throughout the city of Amsterdam in close collaboration with curator Huib Haye van der Werf, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam and SKOR.
The List has recently been distributed as a 48-page supplement in the national daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and simultaneously as a poster campaign on 24 cylinders scattered around Berlin. It has also been distributed in Milan with La Terra Inquieta, which was co-produced by the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi and Fondazione Trienale di Milano, and in 2013, the document was translated to Bulgarian and was on display as a poster campaign in Sofia metro stations in collaboration with Övül O. Durmuşoğlu and Sofia Contemporary 2013. In 2015, The List was translated into Turkish and made visible in Istanbul through YAMA, a large public screen on top of The Mamara Pera Hotel in Tepebaşı.
In October 2012, as part of the exhibition, Measure-Europe’n in collaboration with Salt, Istanbul, The List was distributed via 150 outdoor advertising boards all around the city including the metro line which carries 230,000 people every day. In 2011, the 36-page document was translated into German and was on display as a poster campaign in 72 locations in Basel-Stadt and in Baselland in collaboration with Kunsthalle Basel. And in 2007, in collaboration with the 1st Athens Biennale and TA NEA newspaper, the 16-page list was published in its entirety translated to Greek and distributed as a supplement in the daily newspaper.
I feel that a fixed timeframe of dissemination is important, and also a surprise encounter is important. This is why The List should not be represented or aestheticized in an attempt to make it an artwork. The visibility that I can facilitate is supported by different collaborations and negotiations within art institutions and art workers, because that is what we have.
Banu Cennetoğlu was on view from 29 June to 26 August 2018 at Chisenhale Gallery, 64 Chisenhale Road, London E3 5QZ, United Kingdom.
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