A photograph of a dog, and then another photo, and then a photo of another dog, then both dogs, then a close-up of a dog’s nose, in the back garden of a suburban house somewhere.
Turkish tea glasses, from close-up, and then a vitrine in an art gallery, framed texts or pictures on the wall behind, I can’t quite see.
Several images of a bearded man: the partner? The husband? The father of the child?
Screenshots: app icons, email addresses, message chat (in Turkish); somebody made a record of this stuff, maybe to send this stuff to someone.
People at dinner, the bearded man, a grey-haired smiling couple, a young girl, photographed in various places, several snaps in the same place: home? The grandparents’ home?
The head of Kemal Ataturk carved out of the side of a cliff, and then – interrupting the regular flow of still images – a video of the same, with voices now, shot from a passing car.
Sea, sunset, somewhere lovely, another sunset, the bearded man, dinner by the sea, smiles for the camera (genuine smiles), feral cats, the young girl cradling a cat, I am trying to write down the images as they come up.
The photographs, and occasional videos – constituting every bit of visual material on artist Banu Cennetoğlu’s various devices from the past 12 years, 46,685 files amounting to 128 hours and 22 minutes of material – were projected on screen at the Chisenhale Gallery in London during summer 2018 in chronological sequence (according to the date created information for each file) in 22 daily 6-hour segments, each segment therefore being projected twice over the installation’s two-month run.
There is a finite amount of material and it is possible for a spectator to see all of it (Cennetoğlu: ‘It’s there. It depends on your time commitments, but it is possible.’)
You could construct a story about the person whose life belongs to this material, and you could probably identify her – as an actual person in the world – if you had to or wanted to.
You could work out – speculate anyway – things ‘about’ her from what she has recorded, such as what and whom she cares about, her relations to particular people, places, activities, where ‘home’ is and what it’s like, what she – and the people alongside her – do, how they are in their lives, and what their – her – version of the everyday might be.
The everyday constitutes the irreplaceable: a child’s growing up, a visit to people not seen every day, who aren’t – or won’t be – always with them.
The girl and her grandmother making salad, there are a lot of photos of this.
I scribble in my notebook in the almost-dark gallery – there is in fact some sunlight coming in from a side window: the world reminds the images they are images of the world – documenting the documentation.
The triumph of the salad.
The four seconds allotted to each still image is irrespective of the time it might take to ‘read’ the images, begging the questions: read how? And read for what?
Everyone – shouldn’t they – should have – or has had? – an everyday such as this.
There is no immediately explicit connection between the piece running at Chisenhale Gallery and another work that Cennetoğlu is responsible for, known as The List, concurrently on display, from June through August 2018, as part of the Liverpool Biennial, which I had visited a couple of days previously.
However, associations can be made between one work and another.
The List is a database initiated and maintained since 1993 by the NGO network UNITED for Intercultural Action, documenting the deaths of individuals attempting to enter Europe, including – as Cennetoğlu says – ‘deaths that happen while individuals are in Europe and are in detention centres, hospitals and refugee accommodation, or those facing hate crimes.’
The List to date, as of 5th May 2018, of 34,361 documented deaths, was displayed in full on a wall of hoardings alongside a road in Liverpool, and simultaneously published – in print and online – by the Guardian newspaper.
On a number of occasions, the public display of the list had been vandalised, sheets torn down, some graffiti tags sprayed up in place.
The day that I visit the Chisenhale installation there are several images documenting recent artworks by Cennetoğlu, including the prominent mounting in metal letters on the façade of the Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany for Documenta 14 (2017), of the phrase BEINGSAFEISSCARY, based on graffiti seen on the outside wall of a university building, a student-led migrants’ refuge, in Athens.
At Chisenhale, artwork documentation appears among documentation of other things; the artworks are not here as artworks, any more – I suppose – than the salad is here as ‘salad’.
There is no explanatory or contextual commentary on any of the images, although presumably they have all had a use – and a value – for the person who made and kept them, the artist documenting the research, production and installation process of a new work, the mother recording her daughter’s childhood.
I imagine her being ‘proud’ of these things; I am making up stories, although I don’t think this is one of those artworks constructed for the viewer or consumer to ‘insert their own meaning’, it is somehow more withdrawn than that, or withdrawn in another way.
As Cennetoğlu says: ‘It’s there. There’s no hiding.’
At Chisenhale, the List – or a single page of it – appears sometimes mounted on cylindrical advertising columns, common to some German cities, although you wouldn’t necessarily know, seeing it like this, briefly among other things and images, that this is what – or where – it is.
Apart from the videos, which have sound, which cuts in suddenly and just as suddenly cuts out when each video ends, the Chisenhale installation is silent.
There was a silence in Liverpool too: sound came from the surroundings, traffic on the dual carriageway running by the hoardings, some local kids on their bikes, not from the work.
The Chisenhale installation is an artwork, this seems clear, and happens to include documentation of other artworks, among other things.
The display of The List is not an artwork – Cennetoğlu herself is categorical on that point – although it is facilitated by Cennetoğlu’s skills and status as a professional artist and her access to artworld and other infrastructures.
Nor is that to do – the refusal of the category ‘artwork’ – with the fact that The List contains only details of documented lives, and deaths.
For the purposes of the current text, there is maybe no need to mention the longest video playing on the day I visited Chisenhale, although it is the one that engages me most, an hour or so’s footage from a camera placed on an outdoor café table, a research interview with a middle-aged woman who had something to do with the publication or collection of mid-twentieth century tourist guidebooks to pre-partition Cyprus, Romantic Cyprus and such, Cennetoğlu herself off-screen, prodding with questions, the woman feeling the cold, several times pulling the collar of her raincoat close to her throat, taking self-conscious forkfuls of cake from a plate close to the camera, but warming to the conversation, to someone’s curiosity about what she knows, what she can tell.
I leave the Chisenhale installation when I no longer need to see more; but ‘need’ in relation to what?
I am already thinking about writing this text.
On the way out I talk with a gallery assistant and glance at the catalogue of meta-data, 599 pages listing each of the 46,685 files: file name, folder, date created, date modified, screening dates, file type, size, dimensions, colour profile, software creator, 12 years of evolving technology.
Some of the time the projection runs with nobody watching, working at the surface of things, information turning over, or is it not information unless it is recognised as such?
Cennetoğlu speaks in an interview for the Chisenhale Gallery exhibition handout of things she is able to do, attending a demonstration for a child murdered by security forces when he was sent to buy bread then coming home for her daughter’s birthday party, travelling all over the world to research work for a biennale with ‘political content’, while editing information on people who are dying because they were forced from their homes and tried to cross borders.
She speaks of the ongoing 40-year old war in the country where she lives, and of how one has to act from that muddy darkness, and how the act cannot possibly be immune from it.
The work at Chisenhale, she points out, features her young daughter, family, friends and strangers, there are ethical issues, ‘border’ issues here, and she suggests that such questions are relevant to the ways in which the stream of images have no hierarchy to their order.
I wonder: is that how it is for artists – and others – novelists, photographers, essayists and such, who draw on their lives and the lives of real others, and what sort of difference hierarchy – or its absence – makes.
The work at Chisenhale has a very long title, or rather the title is made up of a number of alternative titles that occurred to Cennetoğlu during the production of the work: 1 JANUARY 1970 – 21 MARCH 2018 ˑ HOWBEIT ˑ GUILTY FEET HAVE GOT NO RHYTHM ˑ KEÇIBOYNUZU ˑ AS IS ˑ MURMUR ˑ I MEASURE EVERY GRIEF I MEET ˑ TAQ U RAQ ˑ A PIERCING COMFORT IT AFFORDS ˑ STITCH ˑ MADE IN FALL ˑ YES. BUT. WE HAD A GOLDEN HEART. ˑ ONE DAY SOON I’M GONNA TELL THE MOON ABOUT THE CRYING GAME
Two of those titles are phrases from the same poem by Emily Dickinson about one’s own consideration of the griefs of others, about the likelihood or not of time’s abatement of suffering, and the fascination afforded by the thought that others’ griefs might be akin to one’s own.
INTERLUDE, because a text of this sort should have some dialogue
It doesn’t matter, does it, I tell myself, snapping photos on my phone as I walk along the road, if I miss something; something is always missed.
And, my first thought even before I get there: would someone stupid enough to do this, be smart enough to know what it is they have done?
I can see the torn white posters even before I cross the road, although I recognise the sight from a recent newspaper photograph.
Up closer, the headline on every sheet, those remaining – there are still plenty enough: ‘List of 34,361 documented deaths of refugees and migrants due to the restrictive policies of “Fortress Europe”’.
The entries are organised by date found dead; number of persons; name, gender, age (most are anonymous, ‘N.N.’ for ‘no name’ presumably); region of origin; cause of death; and source of information.
There are 75 entries per sheet, fifty or so large-format posters – taller than me – pasted up next to each other, stretching from here to way over there.
It’s the display of information, and now also the damage to the display, it’s happened several times apparently over the summer, sheets ripped, some torn off entirely, occasional graffiti tags, although while I am reading and taking photographs I am conscious of including that action – the vandalism – as part of – what? – the spectacle? The scene?
The afternoon is drizzly, there’s hardly anyone about, but I get talking to a gentleman who looks to me like a street person, wearing those clothes for weeks, months, shoulder bag with all his stuff, who introduces himself as a writer for a local magazine, thinking of doing a piece, did I see the vigil, he asks, did that happen yet?
Liverpool accent, after just a day my ears are still enjoying and attuning.
I’ve been here a while I say, I’ve seen no sign of a vigil.
There’s a Westminster Labour Party bigwig, he says, outraged she is – he names a name – coming up from London today to hold a vigil, should be here by now.
I’ve come up from London myself for not unrelated reasons, although I don’t mention that.
We talk about the vandalism, he’s not sure it’s quite as it seems, it could just be kids, he tells me these hoardings enclose a demolished estate from which the ‘developers’ have since absconded, tied up with collapsed construction giant Carillion, although he just says ‘Carillion’ knowing I’ll know what that means.
We’re watching some local kids on their bikes.
Could just be about claiming back territory, from whoever it is has come here and put up all this stuff, nothing to do with refugees.
Taking back control, I’m thinking, although what sort of control really.
He mentions again the Labour bigwig: ‘having a break from attacking Jeremy Corbyn and coming up here instead to attack the kids.’
That afternoon I see a few other things in the Biennial: a series of small, hand-sized paintings by Francis Alÿs, done fast, on the spot like sketched photographs, recording the thing in front of him that doesn’t have him in it, except of course for the moment and his gaze, in Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places, displayed chronologically, labelled by date, going back to the artist’s 20s.
Or a film by Madiha Aijaz about libraries in Karachi, and the people who tenaciously sustain them, a shot through a half-open door, tea on the table, an older man mis-remembering a couplet from a ghazal, the younger man looking it up in a book: ‘I asked for a long life, I was given four days. Two I spent in pining, two in waiting.’
What I promised to Georgina Guy and Johanna Linsley, convenors of the Documenting Performance working group at the UK Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) September 2018 annual conference, was that I would produce the first part – or chapter or instalment – of a text to be continued each month for the next twelve months, with the final part to be read out – if next year’s convenors are willing – at the 2019 TaPRA event.
What I proposed: a way of writing about events and art encounters contingently, as they occur amongst other worldly and personal stuff. A focus on the ‘actors’ who figure a historicity on our behalf. A documentation of some of those figurations; obligated to the expectations of others.
The digital material on show at Chisenhale goes back – as mentioned – 12 years to 2006, a year before the birth of Cennetoğlu’s daughter, before the death of her own mother, and a year before she first displayed The List.
At Chisenhale the people to be thanked are listed only by first names, separated by commas, running over two pages of the exhibition booklet.
If these people are being thanked for giving permission for their likeness to appear in the photographs and videos, then they are all – or were until recently – alive.
In the same booklet, referring to The List and the Chisenhale exhibition together, the curator’s note speaks of ‘the impossibility of complete categorisation of one’s own, and others’, lives.’
In an interview for the Guardian newspaper, speaking of her early attempts to disseminate or display The List publicly having encountered it for the first time in 2002, Cennetoğlu says: ‘But then there were five years of constant attempts and they all failed. People would ask me, “Is it an artwork?” I would reply that it wasn’t. And they would say, “Well, if it’s not art, we cannot give you the money.”’
She has spoken, referring to The List, of wanting ‘to put it out there without any announcement, without any direct negotiation with the audience but somehow in a negotiated space.’
She speaks about the terminology, ‘detention centre’, ‘accommodation centre’, ‘refugees’, ‘migrants’, ‘immigrants’, and notes: ‘all these terms are very questionable. When we don’t know the local or native context, who defines someone’s status? We don’t know how desperate someone might be. How can we judge their desperation? Who can judge who deserves to be somewhere safer?’
She says: ‘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.’
Or, perhaps, re-purposed for a text such as this.
But then, that afternoon in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago I had a thought of doing a piece about this.