Head of a human, haunches of a lion– the Sphinx phagocytises the one who won’t solve its riddle. A gatekeeper of wisdom, treacherous symbol, it embodies ambiguity, erasing boundaries of gender, form, existence, physicality. The mythological creature used to guard the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, confronting the travellers with a riddle, in order to let them access the passage. The Sphinx is a result of symbolic production, a product of collective thinking, whose origins are to be traced from Egyptian mythology, to the ultimate representations offered by modernity. Its iteration and circulation among different cultural spheres is prompted by the physical aspect that the Sphinx assumed as a translation from its original, mythical construction: just think about all the architectural, literary and artistic products mimicking the anthropomorphic creature– from the Great Sphinx of Giza (2500 BC), to Hesiod’s tragic narration of Oedipus, Ingres’s painting Oedipus and the Sphinx (1825), and finally the masonic, most recent statues defending the temples.
Bora Akinciturk was born in Ankara, Turkey– funnily enough, the region where a vernacular representation of the Sphinx, dated 9,500 BC, is believed to be found. Although very specific on a geographical basis, this is not the central link connecting Akinciturk’s work to the enigma of the Sphinx. Inserted into a realm of multiple possibilities, vaguity, obscure jokes and digital-tribal mysticism, the London-based artist develops a language entangling the real and the artificial. Through the use of media as paintings, sculptures, and installations, Akinciturk’s imagery situates itself at the fringes of internet-based visuality, without losing any contact with the factual reality (if still there is one). This paradoxical ambiguity between the actual and factual is the essential key to argument on the present society, and all its myths and beliefs. Here, Bora will give us an insight on what is relevant for his practice, talking through symbolism, tropes of science-fiction, capitalism and internet-depending things and communities.
I first encountered your work through Instagram about two years ago. You geotagged one of your posts in a city on the Adriatic Coast not far from my very small hometown; this thing was quite surprising, both because I discovered a super cool artist-run-space there, hosting residencies and setting up a remarkable program, but also because I was there too –in a sort of limbo, waiting to move to London– in that same region I don’t visit much often. I guess a lot changed from then, you had shows everywhere, produced quite a solid amount of works, and eventually we became friends in-real-life. How are you now?
Right now I have a bit of pain under my left rib cage (don’t know why), but other than that I’m fine. I really want to visit that region soon. Maybe we should go together!
I want you to talk a bit through Keep Smiling is the Art of Living, the solo show you recently had in New York, at Alyssa Davis Gallery. From the documentation online I see a top-floor suite invaded by memetic creatures– schizophrenically drawn, oil and acrylic painted, inkjet printed, laser-cut– embodied through materials and techniques proper to the large scale retail. What does that mean to you?
That show was one of the strangest shows I’ve done so far. The works individually were in a frame of deliberate confusion and disinformation. The sculptures were like collages, the title of the show was grammatically incorrect and there was a huge made up flag hanging from the ceiling in the main room. Faking it poorly as if it was waving in the wind, while standing inside a big flower pot. There was a video installation-like work that was actually an IP camera showing a live feed on the Ipad, with an almost 3-4 minute lag.
That was perceived as trolling and people were engaging with it. The idea behind it was to create some kind of a faux out-of-body experience/cctv footage, watching yourself on a live streaming video with lag. I wanted all of the pieces to look one way while exist as different objects and have different purposes. It felt like a misunderstood show on purpose, like saying something we’re all familiar with but can’t really put into words. It’s a feeling that I’ve felt legitimately on and off since high school, a kind of mild not-belonging, a conformist rejection or constantly trying to get out of a category.
Are you trying to get rid of the weight of ideology?
That could be a good way to put it. I do have problems with ideologies in general but, having said that, I am ideological in terms of how I live. The last 3-4 years i've been living healthy and more disciplined in comparison to the past. It’s easy for me to change the way i do something because there’s only one of me and I get to decide. But in bigger populations I believe social and cultural ideologies reside in a hierarchical structure which makes them dangerous. That’s why I try not to get hooked on certain ones and instead I just try to surf around all of them, smelling and touching them as i go.
I guess what makes the difference between ideology and ethics is the personal aspect of it, meaning that yes, if you think and act through a specific code individually– that’s ethics for me. I see ideology as an aggregated set of rules for collective, mass action; and that is eventually dangerous. I see your work refusing rules on a collective dimension, often appropriating symbols of it– what is your relationship with the symbolic?
I believe as humans we are still very primitive in the way we communicate. Mark making (therefore symbols) is still the most official way of interchange but it is also ancient in the way that it hasn’t actually advanced a lot. It’s all dirt on a platform whether it’s cavemen making primitive drawings on a wall or it’s pixels on an ipad screen. Memes have strange and strong informative qualities where they can combine seemingly unrelated images, text, symbols and create very specific feelings. I like to take symbols out of their ideological sleeves and apply them on different platforms or situations as an attempt to strip them of their human given social and cultural identities.
Symbols are ideological, and identitarian. Symbols are the devices to construct the grand narratives that tend to organise the social sphere. Think about how, to reference one of your works, the alien became a largely distributed symbol, then a narrative, between 1990s and early 2000s. As a product of aggregated techno-optimism and sci-fi folklore, the myth of the alien thrives from the sphere of the supernatural and turns into a pattern that constructed the dominant narratives around the facts occurred in world’s immediate history: space explorations, birth of the cyber-fuelled hyperman (Übermensch), creation of the financial markets, mass distributed fear-turned-into-racism, capitalism, conspiratorial theories and alt-right communities, for example.
The aliens in your painting are fluo-eyed, rave-ready weird, formally responding to the iconology of the alien in the genre of the space opera. The tension in the painting is crucial; that drama projected by the painting is the exploitation of all those narratives– The annihilation of common sense maybe?
I can think of two ways to look at “the alien” in terms of what it might represent. One way is that it symbolises an upgraded, cutting edge post-human. A fast pop dream of a utopic future that you can buy into or be a part of. The second way, it actually is an alien, a refugee and whether it’s coming from outer space or a third world country in this perspective it becomes an image suggesting an outcast, a vermin.
I found that image on Facebook about 2 years ago. When I was invited to this group show at Sorbus Gallery in Helsinki called R4PP4CC1N1′S D4UGH73R I decided that it was the perfect image to make a painting out of. In the short story Rapaccini’s Daughter, Giacomo Rappaccini, a medical researcher in medieval Padua grows a garden of poisonous plants. He brings up his daughter to tend the plants, and she becomes resistant to the poisons, but in the process she herself becomes poisonous to others. This image of mutant infected alien children in a weird forest was excellent for a body morphing drug induced psychedelic version of Rapaccini’s Daughter set in a distant future or something.
Sometimes your work incorporates elements of ritualistic practices, hidden languages and mysticism. How does that resonate to you?
I am very interested in conspiracy theories and myths. There is a strong language to translate certain feelings like loneliness, missing out on life, depression and social pressure. Sacrifices and rituals have played important roles in belief and control systems throughout time making them perfect imagery for representing what it feels about the current state of humanity.
I am also a person who's looking to collaborate as much as possible so it's really fascinating when I’m on the exact same page with another artist I collaborate with. When we had a duo show at Komplot Brussels with Noemi Merca I knew very little about her practice other than the online stuff i saw on Instagram. I knew she was into strange gothic aesthetics and ambient experimental music so once we were at the space thinking about what to do for an installation we automatically went for this anime-gothic-pop-sacrifice-after-death theme.
I think the mystic component of your practice is quite fascinating, and linked to your interest in decoding and producing myths. Recurring elements as candles, sneaky hooded figures, gothic typefaces–often stretched and manipulated, are often mixed with images of sacred iconology, resulting in an hectic, eerie clash of sarcasm and populist critique.
You often give an ironic yet subtly negative view on internet society, and millennial generations populating it– are we categorically doomed?
I am one of the oldest millennials and unfortunately for me it is apparent to say that we are basically born into a world of shit created by our parents, the baby boomers. From job security to welfare, unemployment benefit to healthcare, all the structures that protect us from collapse are falling apart. The only thing that truly describes us as a generation is uncertainty. But also there’s this constant naive utopian hope for everything to work out. Long live fully automated underwater luxury communism!
Are we lame, or just exploited? I’ve recently came across an article about millennials making memes about wanting to die, specifically centred on the icon of 2018 the Tide Pod. I am thrilled.We are lame and exploited but I think we are basically unlucky as a generation. There are too many of us in the world. Fighting the system doesn’t really work for example, because some people want to upgrade it or to adapt to it and in large numbers this attitude makes it impossible for the others to revolt. I want to copy paste an excerpt from Leopold Kohr's most popular work The Breakdown of Nations (1957):
[...] there seems to be only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness. Oversimplified as this may seem, we shall find the idea more easily acceptable if we consider that bigness, or oversize, is really much more than just a social problem. It appears to be the one and only problem permeating all creation. Whenever something is wrong, something is too big. [...] And if the body of a people becomes diseased with the fever of aggression, brutality, collectivism, or massive idiocy, it is not because it has fallen victim to bad leadership or mental derangement. It is because human beings, so charming as individuals or in small aggregations, have been welded into over concentrated social units. That is when they begin to slide into uncontrollable catastrophe.
I think because of the way we define concepts like “success” and “power” as the most important things in life we can’t see any action other than to progressively lust after them. Kohr also writes that the solution should be in division rather than union. I think some artists have this approach in their practices whether its intentional or somehow subconsciously. They produce a limited amount of work, self-funded and not really concerned with showing at the “best” institutions or galleries but more like looking for an interesting or meaningful situation.
Through your paintings, installations and sculptures, you often suggest a dystopian reading of the present, as a commentary on the real-time world scenario.
I think a big part of what I do is a sort of filtering process. My commentary would sound dystopian because it reflects the world we live in. And i think it is bad, but not necessarily worse than the middle ages. I think there’s also a utopian reading of of my works. That solo show I did at Ultrastudio for example: the show you first encountered my work had a weird utopian side. It was about a sort of menu screen for a life after death scenario. I guess it also depends on how we think of the idea of utopia. For me a kind of advanced palette of emotions, a total understanding of life and breaking out of the confines of time and space could be a good start for a kind of utopia. I know the imagery or the text of that show wasn’t friendly looking but the feeling in the space was a hopeful one.
Images courtesy of BORA AKINCITURK
words FEDERICO SARGENTONE
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