Akbank Sanat, İstanbul
9 September - 18 November 2017
Burak Arıkan, Servet Cihangiroğlu, Didem Erk, Richard Jochum, Mirko Lazović, Cengiz Tekin, Anna Vasof
curated by Ekmel Ertan, Işın Önol
In fields such as audio engineering, electronics and physics certain signals of noise are referred to with names of colours. White, pink, blue or black noises have different characteristics; the colour of noise refers to the spectrum of energy that it carries. Black noise is a type of noise where the dominant energy level is zero throughout all frequencies, with occasional sudden rises; it is also defined as silence.
In choosing the title of the exhibition as Black Noise, we aimed to make use of its meaning in physics as well as the contradiction created by the name, but were also interested in the associations of each of these two words: black and noise. These two are words that both have negative associations or connotations. While black implies darkness, the concealed, and the one playing the bad, noise suggests a disturbing situation, a set of circumstances that obstructs communication. The combination of these two words, with negative associations that are more pronounced, provides an account of silence, which might be considered to be negative, but is also identified with peacefulness and tranquillity, or understanding and wisdom. The silence that is the golden while speech is silver – quietude.
Contrary to general consideration, sound and silence are not each other’s opposite, but they are mutually inclusive. Their complex relationship becomes visible in this impossible set: sound is a superset of silence, and silence of sound; and both are contained by that which they contain. Silence has a sound, and with it, a measurable, transformable power. The opposite of this proposition is also possible: when sound loses its content, context, and meaning, it is transformed into noise, and noise into silence. Becoming silent and silencing do not point to a loss of power, and neither does the presence of noise refer to the existence, or the acquisition of power.
Sessizlik in Turkish, created by a negative suffix denoting a lack of sound, is synonymous with the word “silence”, which is also used as a verb in western languages with the meaning of “causing to become silent; prohibiting or preventing from speaking”. Although often used in expressions that imply a tense and passive period of anticipation before and/or after an event, such as the silence of death, silence of the lambs, silence before the rain; silence, in fact, is loaded with sound and action. On the other hand, while sound is a representation of expression, action, co-existence, and nature, sometimes it is not more powerful than its absence.
Parallel to the developments in the world, Turkey too is becoming more silent entrapped in the claws of an increasingly escalating noise. We imagine the silence that is caused by the noise of neoliberal capitalism, which is feeding off of the “post-truth” discourse and violence, to be the quietude that is “golden”. The noise nurtures the voice, which we shall hear when the time comes, that will convey a genuine and sincere communication when it is heard.
In contemporary music, black noise finds a counterpart within the alternative and political music discourse, such as rap and hip-hop that provides a voice to the black communities. On the other hand, the famous composition of John Cage, 4’33” could also be considered as a composition of black noise. It requires patience, empathy and attention on the part of the listener. Otherwise, what is heard and seen would disappear amongst the movement and noise already present in the space, and the audience/listener would not be able to delve deeper.
The works in the Black Noise exhibition are turning into a ritual based on repetition, into a meditative practice on digesting, comprehending, embracing and expressing a certain experience both for the artist and the viewer. The contemporary art project, Black Noise, explores the complex relationship between sound and silence; it focuses on the transformation, the function, the functionlessness, the poetry, the occasional meaninglessness, and sometimes on the power of sound, as a means of artistic expression, in various different spheres. By activating the wide range of associations created by sound and silence, the exhibition encourages the works that carry social references to communicate with one another and with the viewer.
In his work, Arıkan applies the laws of physics to the proximity/distance relationship between the nodes of a network structure:
This software executes a dynamic network structure by utilising a physics-based simulation. As new nodes and relationships are added, the network expands, as they are removed it contracts. During the process of expansion and contraction, the tension behaviours within the network goes through changes. As nodes within the network push and pull one another, the degrees of tension between the nodes change dynamically. The tension assigns a colour to the points and lines. High tension generates saturated colours and low tension generates darker colours. When the tension reaches a state of rests, nodes and lines turn into black.
The network simulation that Arıkan implements by making use of the laws of physics is reminiscent of the present-day media. In our post-digital era the media constitutes a different meaning and a context.
When we speak about the media of our present-day, we no longer talk about the one-way, single-channel communication or relay of information that we know and were accustomed to until the ’90s. There are no “reliable” or “knowing men” in today's media. Neither universities, nor press monopolies, nor government institutions are reliable sources of information. The field of information has already abandoned the routine and static structure of the ’90s; we are struggling to cope with all kinds of information bombarded in a continuous manner and with a varying tension, through a relentless process of contraction-relaxation, about subjects that are everyday or assumed to be universal. Every piece of information, every narrative, every expression is in fact a sound, and with new sounds constantly added to the field, the old ones are falling out of our area of interest or comprehension through being forgotten.
On the other hand, each individual is a node within the network of media, everyone is their own media. Therefore, the media is everywhere and in everything at every single instant: the information sent by the refrigerator, informing you that you are out of milk is now a part of this network, part of the media, so is the photograph of the accessory that your friend wears, or her smile, captured pouting, uploaded onto facebook.
This situation is a post-digital era phenomenon; the proliferation of the channels of communication and their increased accessibility has created this phenomenon. It took us quite some time to realise that this proliferation and increased accessibility were not a guarantee for democracy. There is a constant stream of new sounds being added to all the information and communication channels established on the internet infrastructure, the web sites; facebook, twitter, instagram and so forth, and all of the social media, the television channels broadcasting over the internet, institutions of the press, as well as YouTube and other similar individual channels. In the face of every voice, each word uttered, every piece of new information – be it true or false – we have to constantly re-orient ourselves, rearrange all our knowledge, and redraw our conclusions; we are in a perpetual state of tensing up and relaxing. There is a turbulence similar to the one visualised by Arıkan in each and every one of our minds, which persists almost without subsiding. Each piece of information and every voice added on necessitates the reformulation of all existing relations, and to recompose our perception concerning the whole or its parts over and over again until arriving at a balance. But it seems that balance could never be attained in this hasty climate of speaking, saying, calling and forgetting/being forgotten.
In fact, this set of circumstances shows us that we need a paradigm change, that we cannot continue with our old habits. How could we manage to maintain our critical point of view and attain a holistic perception within this ceaseless movement, this constant change?
This, you could see from the foggy panes of the wide window in the spacious room of my mother’s half stone and half concrete house;
The whole city stretches forwards and downwards along the slope. First, there are the various kinds of plants, vegetables, herbs, trees lining up in the tiny garden; then begin the houses, buildings, constructions, new constructions, coops, stables, water reservoirs, poles, minarets… After that you see the roofs of several neighbours’ houses; beyond that are the houses and buildings of relatives and acquaintances; and among them are dirt roads, pathways, asphalt… Still further are a few neighbourhoods with people she knows and loves, and in those neighbourhoods schools, government buildings, multi-storey buildings, work places, groceries, repairers, painters, car body shops, yoghurt vendors… As you glide downwards and forwards; pits, mines, soot-black plains, fields of coal… And straight ahead… This is called Cudi, starting from the depths, the blackest places, the pits; a giant curtain that rises to the highest point there is. Apparently, Noah tied the ship here and took pairs of each living thing, and he took people in larger numbers than any other living thing; so that they could live, or devour each other in pairs.
In his seven minute long, fast motion video, which, although speeded-up shows nothing other than the evening setting in, Servet Cihangiroğlu transforms silence into a plain, as well as a heavy image. With an amateur video camera set in his mother’s room the artist is looking at one of the central neighbourhoods of Şırnak from a distance, a neighbourhood that has faced destruction and has been transformed. In this scenery, where the snow has blanketed everything, except for a few small movements silence dominates; the silence that lasts until nightfall is buried into the darkness of the night along with all those that could not be told. When the video is over we know that we now carry that silence inside us. We continue to stand there and look for a while longer as the closing credits roll, but now we know that what we are gazing at is our own silence.
The optical zoom-in and zoom-out motion caused by the video camera as it tries to focus while it is getting dark, adds a new dimension to the work through an unexpected glitch – a digital flaw. As this – almost – implies that there is a flaw, an unnatural mistake, through the alienation effect that it creates it also reminds us – heedlessly – of our own position: The silence that the artist “shows” is our silence!
Didem Erk’s painstaking and laborious action of “striking through” by stitching over the words in books that were banned sometime in the past bears reference to censorship while also underscoring the mentality that tries to destroy words one by one, and the issue of self-censorship created by this mentality. In a sense, this implies the fact that self-censorship has transformed into a painstaking and meticulous form of expression in our present-day life, almost becoming a means of resistance.
The strands of thread hanging beyond the bounds of the pages are like the tips of new layers of meaning that censorship adds to the utterance – to the word – multiplying and inevitably enriching the censored material; it is like placing a bookmark onto the word as well as on censorship, which shall never disappear, and always remind us of both the word and the act of censorship...
Didem Erk’s D., on the other hand, confronts us with a vocal and personal expression of self-censorship. This time Erk renders her own utterance meaningless and incomprehensible through the use of other words of her own. On the one hand, through the two voices physically effacing, disrupting one another, and on the other, through that sense of uncertainty, the constant feeling of doubt that the words we manage to catch from time to time in pursuit of a meaning leave us with.
The two similar but also very different works of Erk point to different forms of silence and becoming silent, and in fact, what they both present is the question about what it is that silences. Silence – perhaps, in a way – is a question that unites through a common answer...
Jochum portrays a moment stuck in memory with a sound, perhaps almost with a cacophony. The barking in Jochum’s work is not a direct or crude signifier; it does not point to power or the beholder of the power! On the contrary, with the help of the participants he had invited, in a very subtle manner, he creates a silent cry through the act of barking. He transforms some sort of helplessness, anger, an inability to express into a meaningful expression by making use of the “absurd”. He shoves silence into our ears!
Entering the room where the installation is set, the viewer is confronted with 12 monitors arranged in a circle with faces of people barking on each one of them. These faces, all very different from one another in terms of sex, age and style, have a very familiar, but at the same time very foreign expression. Jochum has asked the participants to concentrate on and think about something that enrages them; then, he only allowed them to bark! Each bark is actually the sound of an inability to express; hence, silence! He brings these silences together, and presents a kind of symphony of silence. A silence that surrounds the viewer in all its diversity, meaningfulness and despair!
In Lazović’s installation that extends over the entrance floor of the exhibition hall, the amplified sounds of drops from an invisible source dripping into a black liquid in a black space create an uncanny feeling. Although these drops that transform the exhibition space into a damp cave would continue their journey between the ceiling and the water below indistinctly due to their obscure source and the black liquid they drip into, they become visible once again with their reflections on the wall and the amplified sound of them dripping onto the water.
Water dripping from the ceiling not only constitutes a contrast with the clean, well-maintained “white cube” of the exhibition space, but also with the meticulously prepared installation itself. However, the rhythmic dripping and the reflection of the ripples created by the drops visible on the wall are clear indications that this is a composed set-up. The black floor and the black walls that were prepared, and the ripples projected onto the wall with the aid of spotlights, transform the white cube of the exhibition space into the black box of a performance space.
And the silence is neither absolute nor perfect. Every sound created by the falling of a new drop increases the sense of uncanny, and leaves us in anticipation: what will happen next? The silence and the sense of uncanny persist with the next drop; we hold our breaths. Another drop! If we were to ignore the noise, our breathing nowadays is a silence much like this; a black noise! We hold our breaths.
This incredibly simple video, created by Cengiz Tekin, showing the repetitive, fast-paced movements of men who pace up and down on a construction site where almost nothing other than the iron reinforcement mesh appears in the frame, takes its power from rhythm: The rhythm of the ceaselessly repeated movements of treading and turning around performed by the men walking! The rhythm is transformed into an element that bears the image; it adds a new layer of meaning and expands the field of expression. What makes this video fascinating is the sharpness, speed and hastiness of the rhythm established by the movements of the walking men, as well as the energy, far more fierce than what is exposed, that is, the energy still left within those bodies that move, much more powerful than what that movement can express, an energy, despite that swift rhythm, that does not come out, that does not flow, does not drain out. This is just like an image of a scream; silent. In Tekin’s work we are looking at the moving image of a silence that bears, or perhaps that can no longer bear, a tremendous sound, a scream.
While the rhythm creates an impartation, therefore a moment of transference, of draining out, on the other hand it also renders that moment into an impossibility; neither the transference nor the draining out is completed, because the rhythm repeats perpetually; it turns into the expression of some impossibility.
The rhythm is not just composed through the movements. The pattern created by the repetitive structure of the iron reinforcement mesh, the repetition of the transparent space – that is both image-like and real – defined by the reinforcement mesh that the men walk in, and the fact that all of the people who walk are men are the other elements that constitute the rhythm.
Tekin takes this one step further to make sure that the rhythm is not just visual; he collaborates with Cevdet Erek to add an audio layer to the video. Tekin’s choice of working with Erek is of course not a coincidence in this context. With Erek’s contribution, the rhythm of the visuals and the energy that does not drain out are also conveyed through to the audio layer.
Erek’s intervention to the work operates through translation. In the audio field he reconstructs what is already created by the rhythm in the visuals. The work attains that fascinating result; a connection that surrounds the viewer both visually and with its audio, a bond that could not be disengaged from, one that extends perpetually with the rhythm.
Anna Vasof imitates a digital image with a sculpture that she produces by making use of simple, inexpensive, everyday objects: the self-portrait of the artist in a moving image, banging her head against the walls.
Vasof bangs her head against the wall with the help of the viewer. When you pull the rope, you are not looking at something as if you were peeking through a slightly opened curtain, on the contrary, you are causing whatever is happening. This is the surprise factor that Vasof employs; the secret power of her work. And it is so much fun; you pull once more and Anna bangs her head again! Anna is silent, but she let’s you hear the sound of the “bang”. Every time she bangs her head against the wall, she announces it with a sound. Anna does not talk, she does not yell, she does not tell you that you are banging her head against the wall! She only let’s you hear the sound that is the result of your action, the sound of you banging her head against the wall. And you, you pull once more. Black Noise is perhaps exactly this irony: this scream covered in heedlessness, cloaked in silence!