the Turkish Avant-Garde
Istanbul is a city that, by its very nature, thrives on contrasts. Or more precisely, it thrives of juxtapositions each so deeply rooted to become almost harmonically essential to determine the unmistakable character of one of those human places that have the ability to stimulate the traveler's subconscious and imagination.
Constantinople and Byzantium, the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the Diadochi, the Eastern Empire and the Ottomans "at the gates of Vienna". The Venetians and the Levantine merchants. The decadent and fascinating atmosphere of the Sick Man of Europe.
Anzac bay and the young Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal inciting an army without ammunition: "I do not order you to fight, I order you to die. In the time it will take us to die, other commanders and other soldiers will come to take our place ”. Ataturk who twenty years later wrote: "To those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now in friendly country, so rest in peace. For us there are no differences between the Johnny and the Mehmet who lie together here in our country ”.
Istanbul does not overlook the sea. Istanbul is divided by it, the border between Europe and Asia, the Gateway to the East, the mental borderline between the Christian and Muslim world. East and West so near that they can almost touch each other but without really succeeding, like Man and God in the Sistine Chapel.
Istanbul - a city on two continents, a crossroads of trades and cultures, of spies and plots, of fragile geopolitical balances - is perhaps really a non-place, one of those places that you visit just in your fantasies such as Tangier, Alexandria in Egypt, the Island of Mompracem.
The earth you step on
Once witnessed the end of an era
(Necmettin Halil Onan, Turkish poet, 1902-1968).
The Post-TruthChapter II
In a bustling metropolis of over fifteen million inhabitants - suspended between progress and tradition, between liberal aspirations and conservative authoritarianism - one of the most vital and interesting art-scenes on the continent develops and lives.
Beral Madra, curator - of two editions of the Istanbul Biannale (1987 and 1989, the years of the great renewal of Turkish contemporary art) and of five Turkish pavilions at the Venice Biennale, talks about the difficulties that Turkish artists face nowadays in the relation between art and politics in Turkey.
There is no doubt that artists and curators believe that contemporary arti is one of the most decisive means for addressing socio-political and cultural issues. They try to raise public awareness. After all, in Turkey, almost all artists produce political works. If you look at their body of work, you understand their political vision. It is a visual production that shows a different reality, it’s a vision that opposes the now dominant ideology of “post-truth".
In the era of “post-truth”, truth is not only irresponsibly fabricated, but the news sources themselves are manipulated by political and economic powers to create a world of confused information in which deception, fake news spread at an alarming speed. The artists (and curators) affirm that contemporary art, with its fundamental and innate quest for truth, has the power to disrupt this post-truth mechanism.
In Turkey today it is difficult for an artist to openly deal with issues that pertain to themes controlled by the creeping censorship led by the growing wave of conservative neo-Ottoman morality. So the artists elaborate metaphors, alternative ways, new tools, new languages. Artworks become abstract, the tools elaborate, the codes complex.
Candaş ŞişmanChapter III
This is the world Candaş Şişman - a representative of the youngest Turkish artistic avant-garde - lives in. His studio is in the Asian side of the city. There, in an only apparent contradiction with the surrounding environment, he experiments the intersection between art and advanced technology. There he founded NOHlab (https://nohlab.com, https://csismn.com), a laboratory dedicated to the creation of "interdisciplinary experiences" that create a bridge between physical and digital reality.
<<< Candaş Şişman's interview on BBC Culture
When you create an artwork, it is impossible to avoid being influenced by external factors and conditions. Our reality and the environment in which we live are the sum of our past, our present and our future. The chaotic structure of Istanbul, the diversity that coexist within it, inspires me.
Conservatism grows stronger every day. However, art doesn’t thrive in comfortable environments. Instead, it stubbornly takes root where nature is problematic. It might be useful to look at Turkey under this perspective. There are tons of things to criticise, tons of things to “feed on”.
However, my research is somehow different, perhaps it goes beyond the whole system. What I work on are the modalities of perception, the sensory combinations that allow the development of new languages. I don't think I need to talk about that conservatism. I hope this is just another step in human evolution and that systems such as religion, money and government will disappear with the help of science, awareness and technology. This would grant us a simpler and happier way of life.
Algorithms and Hybrid CreaturesChapter IV
The logical thread in Şişman’s argument becomes sophisticated, fractioned into apparent logical leaps, overcoming the first aesthetic appearance of his work. In his works, physical and digital reality merge, overcoming the common binary distinction. He creates what he calls “hybrid creatures”, generated by an extremely complex algorithmic architecture, but nevertheless essential, “natural” in their appearance, endowed with a life of their own which lies outside the common perception of time and space. By reproducing the neurological process that is activated in the contemplation of nature, Şişman manipulates the observer's sense of time and space forcing him to enter an a-temporal and contemplative dimension.
When you throw a stone into the water, a myriad of ripples are produced on the surface, in an absolutely unpredictable pattern. It is something “external” to the observer, something on which he has no power, he has no way of influencing that reality. This is somehow comforting, relaxing.
[FLUX, 2010. Video Installation]
Şişman’s "performative paintings" activate the sensory receptors of the cerebral cortex by stimulating - through the combination of sound-image-movement - an immersive, multi-sensory and multi-dimensional synaesthetic experience.
The good thing of producing experiences is that they are universal. It is not about providing information based on educational levels, age groups or IQ levels. Experience prevails over information. Experience is more important, it focuses on the essential points of human understanding. Each person feels sensations and experiences, that are subjective. Everyone can draw different conclusions.
[Video installation ROGX, 2008]
But it is precisely at this point that Candaş Şişman's logical and conceptual leap begins to unfold in the most fascinating fashion.
The most recent research in the field of neurobiology (e.g. Daniel Libet and Joseph Ledoux) has shown that, at its most primary level, thinking is automatic. When stimulated, molecular receptors can process information and perform thinking autonomously. Unlike the modern rational paradigm, “thinking” is therefore not something we do, but something that happens to us from the outside. This idea forces us to rethink our thinking.
Something in the world forces us to think
Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 1968: 139
By exploring this concept to its extreme consequences, Şişman tries to produce this cerebral stimulation. The sharp cuts, the hypnotizing automatic movements in his works become a tool for "producing a shock, for sending vibrations to the cerebral cortex, directly touching the nervous and cerebral systems" (Deleuze, Cinema II, 156).
Duration 3' and 9''
Duration 3' and 25''
This is the “NOOSHOCK” theorised in the cinematography of Eisenstein and Artaud, a pure "neuro-physiological vibration" determined by the movement and speed of the images.
Thus in the works of Candaş Şişman the process of association between meaning, image and sound is constantly interrupted, deconstructed and dislocated, constantly returning back to the instantaneous and neurophysiological shock that determines the brain / screen connection. In a way it could be said that Şişman's videos sometimes make it impossible to think. The link between the work and the viewer's thought becomes in fact "the shock wave or the nervous vibration. In this sense we can no longer say I see, I hear, but I FEEL "(Deleuze, Cinema II, Image-Temps, 158).
The audiovisual performance thus produces simple and pure emotions, instead of thoughts and logical paths.
Last step, the circle closesChapter VI
At this point, only one last step is needed.
For Candaş Şişman, technology will soon pervade every aspect of our lives, creating new possibilities for all. Artists will begin to create increasingly immersive works, integrated into public life. Perhaps some of them will be visible only through augmented reality. Humans will evolve in their abilities: we are already increasing the power of thought through technology by wearing specific devices to acquire new perceptions.
When we will be able to control and understand the brain, we will be able to create different realities where people will live as if these were the only existing realities.
Scientists, artists and philosophers need to work and design the new reality together. The way of seeing the world will shape new ideas. So we will be able to change the world we live in, the way of thinking and the entire universe of the mind.
By changing the perspective we will be able to change the reality in which we live. One of the most exciting things of the future is acquiring the ability to transform reality.
The circle closes and Istanbul resurfaces in a new light.
Neither I am
nor entirely beyond;
but in the flux
of an all-embracing,
monolithic, indivisible moment.
(Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Beyond Time, 1933)
NOOSHOCKWorks in the Exhibition
Candas SismanFLUX, 2011 Video digitale
Duration 4' 42''
Format 48:9, 4K color video
Edizione di 10 (6 di 10)
Candas SismanSYN-Phon, 2013 Digital video
Duration 10' 56''
Format 16:9, 4K Video, Color
Edition of 5 (2 of 5)
Candas SismanEFF-LUX, 2011 Audiovisual installation for 15 differently tuned pianos and video
Duration 21' 44''
Dimensions 16:9, 4K Video, color
Edition of 5 (3 of 5)
Candas SismanSYN-PHON (digital print) [not displayed at the Gallery] Digital Photography
(Digital giclée glossy print)
53 x 1000 cm
Edizione di 5 (3 di 5)
Candas SismanEDICISUM, 2008 Video installation
Duratio 3' and 09''
Candas SismanROGX, 2008 Video installazione
Duration 6' and 24''
Candas SismanRetory, 2008 Video installation
Duration 3' and 25''
Candas SismanIPOcle [not displayed at the Gallery] Light Installation
Lenses, light, mirror, sound, container, fog
240 x 1200 x 240 cm
Istanbul LabInterview with Candaş Şişman
From the documentary on Candaş Şişman by TRT >>>
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
Special thanks to Ebru Yetişkin for her in-depth analysis and interpretation of Candaş Şişman work (see "In conversation with Candaş Şişman", Published on September 17, 2013)
[Ebru Yetişkin (1976) is an art critic and sociologist based in Istanbul. She works on new media arts and collaborates with new media artists. After completing her high school education in Westchester, NY, she went back to Istanbul and studied Radio-TV-Cinema in Istanbul University. She holds a master in Science, Technology and Society (Université Louis Pasteur - France). She received her PhD degree in sociology in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University by conducting a research in The Center for Sociology of Innovation in Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris. She is a member of International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and has edited a special volume of Toplumbilim on Postcolonial Thought (2010), which is the first edited volume on the subject in Turkey.]
- Ozan Karakoc - BAK Magazine 17/2012 - Interview with Candaş Şişman)
- Yonca Keremoğlu - DiGiCult Magazine Dec. 2019 - Designing Experiences. Interview with NOHLAB
- Maria Orosan-Telea - ArtMargins Magazine Sept. 2018 - Contemporary Turkish Art: Interview with Beral Madra
- BBC Culture - The Heart of Turkey. The "Nerdworkers of Istanbul" - video interview with Candaş Şişman
- TRT World-Türkiye Radyo Televizyon Kurumu - Rendezvous with digital artist Candaş Şişman