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Issue 162

In Focus: Meriç Algün Ringborg

The act of writing and the ‘shadowy constitution of authorship’

BY Kaelen Wilson-Goldie in Features | 20 MAR 14

Meriç Algün Ringborg is writing a love story. It is funny and sad and, at times, quite strange. It is eerily generic (as we fear all love stories to be) and maddeningly unresolved (as we know all loves stories are). It is, to be honest, an episodic train-wreck of intrigue, indulgence, delusion, desertion, infidelity and betrayal. One reads it and wonders if it will ever come to an end, if it will ever exhaust itself, if it will ever give the emotional turmoil a rest and allow the lovers – and, with them, us – to walk away, whole and unbroken, without regret. The plot revolves around three characters: Mark, his wife Maria and a man she falls in love with named Peter. Mark, it seems, has only six months to live. Peter may or may not be a detective, and he also may or may not be engaged. Maria, clearly, is a drama queen, a woman prone to erratic passions, a woman who doesn’t know what she wants. Ringborg’s narrative is a thriller, a murder mystery and a detective story. It is, at once, both smooth and disjointed.

A Work of Fiction (Manuscript), from 2013, by MARR, is an invention, of course, as is the apparent author. A text-based work of art, it was one of several pieces – including an audio file, two videos without sound and a shelf lined neatly with 150 blank books, each carrying the title of a writing manual on its spine (for example, About Writing, Becoming a Writer, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing and 500 Ways to Be a Better Writer) – fleshing out Ringborg’s first solo exhibition at Istanbul’s Galeri NON last September. That show, titled, suitably enough, ‘The Apparent Author’, adhered strenuously to a single conceit, albeit with subtle variations. Every sentence had been plucked from the Oxford English Dictionary, composed for the very purpose of illustrating – exemplifying – the given meaning of a listed word. Ringborg had then taken each sentence and dislocated it from its original intent, wedging it into a new context where it was made to perform differently, and made to mean something else. 

The Library of Unborrowed Books (detail), 2012, site-specific installation with books, shelves, brass sign and two contracts at Stockholm Public Library. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

Born in Turkey in 1983, Ringborg recently moved back to Istanbul from Sweden, where she went to graduate school. In person, she is nowhere near as serious, austere and bookish as her art, which appears almost ruthless in its commitment to the written word, the act of writing and the shadowy constitution of authorship. Which is to say: Ringborg makes art about making art, and about meaning, language, grammar, systems, a wish transformed by understanding and the strange, often abstract things we share. Her work is deceptive, her humour wry, the playfulness delicate. At stake in her videos, sculptures, sound installations and texts is the creative act and its failures or false starts. Over and over, Ringborg returns to the impulse that finds us forever trying to express ourselves to others, fitting words to ideas and emotions and the passage of time. Falling into the conventions of genre, she shows in no uncertain terms how those words, in their imprecisions and approximations, can cause real psychic damage in the process. 

A Work of Fiction (detail), 2013, installation view at Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm; photograph: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

Two years ago, Ringborg began a project titled The Library of Unborrowed Books. For the first instalment, she borrowed 600 books from the Stockholm Public Library that had never been taken from their shelves before. For the second instalment, she did the same with 1,001 books from the Center for Fiction in New York. A wide blue shelving unit, alongside brass signage and two framed contracts divulging the details of the process, were featured in an exhibition at Art in General, New York. Later this year, Ringborg will write two further chapters of the project, working with public libraries in Sydney for the Sydney Biennale, and in Cuenca, a small city in the highlands of Ecuador, for the International Cuenca Biennial. This, too, is in many ways an exploration of failure, calling attention to the books that are overlooked, and the transmissions of knowledge that are stalled. Likewise, in ‘The Apparent Author’, Ringborg’s looped videos of hands twirling a pen, waiting perennially for creative inspiration to strike, examine the promise of something that never materializes.

A Work of Fiction has grown from the story of Mark, Maria and Peter – printed, bound and then strewn on a table in a gallery – to an environment replete with desk, typewriter, chalkboard, stuffed bird in a glass case and bookshelves. Metatext (2013), the sound work featured in ‘The Apparent Author’, has conversely been distilled from an audio file composed entirely of sentences about writing – all of them taken from dictionary definitions – into a poem featuring only the dictionary words whose meanings those sentences were originally meant to explain. In the meantime, Ringborg is conjuring into being a new kind of theatre fuelled by sentences describing actions. ‘Since we met in September, I have been more or less working on the same project,’ Ringborg told me recently. ‘I wanted to further explore and perhaps exhaust the idea of writing by collaging found sentences from the dictionary.’ ‘It is obsessive,’ she added. ‘I wanted to take it to a level where the day I move on, I won’t regret it, if you know what I mean.’ Indeed. 

Meriç Algün Ringborg lives and works in Istanbul, Turkey. In 2013, she had solo shows at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada; Galeri NON, Istanbul; Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm, Sweden; Art in General, New York, USA; and Frutta Gallery, Rome, Italy. Her work was also shown in 13 group exhibitions, including: ‘Signs Taken in Wonder’ at MAK, Vienna, Austria; and ‘When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, USA. Later this year, Ringborg will have solo shows in Sweden at Malmö Konsthall, and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; her work will be included in the 19th Biennale of Sydney, Australia, the Cuenca International Biennial, Ecuador, and ‘Freedom of Movement’, Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie is a writer based between Beirut, Lebanon, and New York, USA.