Now Unreeling, an Istanbul Artist’s Tumultuous Decade | Modern Society of USA

Now Unreeling, an Istanbul Artist’s Tumultuous Decade

Now Unreeling, an Istanbul Artist’s Tumultuous Decade

Consider all the visual material on your devices, the photographs and videos on your phone and hard drive. Family pictures, cats, random visual notes. Images that friends sent and that you never deleted.

Imagine compiling them into a single reel. What story would it tell? What would it exaggerate or distort? What would it miss? And if you stretched the exercise to cover a long period — say, 12 years — what insight might emerge out of the noise?

That’s what Banu Cennetoglu decided to find out.

“The intention was going a little bit inward,” said the Istanbul-based artist, who turned to this project after a draining period of artistic and emotional labor. “But I realized in doing it that it’s a collective history.”

Ms. Cennetoglu has invested herself in taking the List beyond activist circles. She enlarges it — preserving the spreadsheet format in its actuarial sobriety — and displays it in various cities, working with local authorities. The List has blanketed Amsterdam (2007) and appeared on the Metro in Sofia, Bulgaria (2013). It went up in West Hollywood in 2017. Last year it showed in Liverpool, where it was repeatedly vandalized.

In November 2017, the entire List appeared for the first time as a newspaper supplement, in Der Tagesspiegel, the Berlin daily. It was a moment of high visibility for the refugee cause, but for the artist, it was a kind of breaking point. While preparing the German version of the file for publication, poring over the roster of deceased strangers, she had also attended to her own mother’s illness, hospitalization and death. “I was grieving through this document,” she said. “For my mother, and for all these people in the last 10 years.”

The atmosphere in Turkey only added to the stress. Since a failed coup in 2016, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has intensified its policing of media and cultural life. Ms. Cennetoglu said that many of her friends in Istanbul progressive circles have been detained amid the clampdown. “The possibility that it could happen at any moment is a strange way of living,” she said. “The scary thing is self-censorship. It shapes your thinking, your behavior, and in the long run it may be irreversible.”

When the Berlin newspaper published the List, it ran a cover photo of a dark-skinned man apparently drowning. The sensationalism, at odds with the project’s deliberate austerity, rattled Ms. Cennetoglu. An exhaustion took hold, a sense that her art, private life and political commitments had fused into something intractable, unhealthy. “It felt like a stone,” she said. “All this turbulence and amalgam. I said, ‘Maybe I need to stop and look at this.’”

The marathon compilation now on view results from this introspective turn. Revealing 12 years of visual intimacies is an unusual method of self-care “Not every artist could claim that space, and Banu can,” said Sohrab Mohebbi, who became curator of SculptureCenter last year. “Because a lot of her work has involved this promise of coherence, and through it, this radical incoherence.”

A few days before the show opened, Ms. Cennetoglu watched a long video segment at the center. She explained that it was shot from a car — in Cyprus, it turned out. Once the sound was on, she said, visitors would hear her conversation with a Cypriot friend.

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