BY Tom Snow in Reviews | 06 JUN 14
Featured in
Issue 164

Burak Delier

BY Tom Snow in Reviews | 06 JUN 14

Burak Delier, Songs of the Possessed, 2014, video still

In Notes from my Mobile (2012), Turkish artist Burak Delier reveals some of his personal and professional anxieties in the form of short video-diary entries. The artist stresses the need to be less pedantic and more productive; he asks himself whether making just five or six works a year is really enough. A level of uncertainty runs through many of Delier’s pieces. At their centre is a continual questioning of artistic identity, often coupled with a collaborative approach to exploring the limits of creativity within the current political economy.

‘Freedom Has no Script’ – Delier’s first solo exhibition in London – developed from the artist’s thoughts about the Gezi Park protests erupting in Istanbul during the summer of 2013. Opposing the neoliberal privatization of city space and the increasingly authoritarian character of the current Turkish government, the protest movement represented spontaneity and improvisation rather than the construction of an alternative political apparatus. The artist likewise forgoes the scripting of political alternatives and instead explores concepts of freedom through engaging with workers subservient to commercial industries of all kinds. In The Deal (2013), for example, Delier conducted an experiment with a freelance trader, who sees his independent practice as avoiding ‘work’. Delier’s Istanbul gallery secured a 5000TL (approximately £1,500) bank loan, which was then invested with the proviso that the trader could keep the entire amount if he managed to make a profit equivalent to 18 months’ interest (5918,22TL or about £1,700) over a period of 20 working days. His collaborator’s success meant that the visual documentation – including the video, diagrams, and contracts also on display at Iniva – had to be sold by the gallery in order to pay off the loan.

Collector’s Wish (2012) takes the form of an entire wall painted red. A video shows Delier listening to a collector’s desire to have a memorable childhood poem visually realized. Here, Delier is subject to the will of his patron, reframing the artist/collector relationship in the stark terms of capitalism’s conventional contractual obligations. Certainly, in the artist’s native Istanbul, an almost-total absence of state funding for the arts necessitates an atavistic reliance on private patronage and commercial galleries, potentially restricting artistic freedoms and limiting criticality. The poem itself reveals a cyclical satire: To keep up with society fashion, an Anatolian gentleman commissions an artist to paint a mural depicting Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. The monochromatic red wall that results, however, is a far cry from the gentleman’s original expectations, reflecting the disjunction between the artist’s creative freedom and the patron’s perspective on artistic merit.

In two recent large-scale video works, white-collar Turkish workers participate in psychological exercises. In Crisis and Control (2013), participants describe previous aspirations and current disillusionments while performing yoga in generic office environments. Over 14 minutes, the art work reveals itself as a kind of absurdist theatre crossed with an essay film. Yoga exercises oriented towards the attainment of inner peace appear offset by the anxious meditations of the post-Fordist worker – an inconsistency perhaps also evident in the corporate appropriation of such spiritual practices, which are offered to groups of employees with the promise of greater physical and mental well-being. In Delier’s video, participants are far from exuberant with motivation, instead recounting desires to be more creative and expressing dissatisfaction with current labour conditions. In Songs of the Possessed (2014), newly commissioned by Iniva, paid professional actors and volunteer office workers shuffle amongst one another, taking turns to vent their anger or practice sympathy face-to-face. Levels of enthusiasm appear to fluctuate with each new partnership. With participants stripped of both individual and vocational identities, performance here is equated with the standardized behaviour demanded by the corporate setting.

In many works, Delier orchestrates an environment in which individual identities are bound to ossify. Whilst potentially restrictive, market logic is also productive for the artist in so far as it determines both the subject and form of his work, as in certain earlier conceptual works by Billy Apple, Marcel Broodthaers and Hans Haacke, among others. Yet the various social actors represented in ‘Freedom Has no Script’ reveal broader conflicts of desire within the political economy writ large, where the pervasive demands of commercial activity delimit expression both in and beyond the parameters of
contemporary art.