Published in Art Asia Pacific on March 29, 2016
This month, Didem Pekün is presenting her first London solo exhibition at the Delfina Foundation. The artist, currently pursuing her PhD in visual cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, is concerned with conceptually breaking down the production of subjectivities within contemporary border politics, violent geographies and dislocation. Her exhibition, “Of Dice and Men”, explores many of the concerns that occupy her documentary and video-based practice.
Based at the intersection between the two cities Pekün works in—London and Istanbul—Of Dice and Men (2011– ) provides a transcultural analysis of the artist’s subjectivity that results in a video diary. The work is presented in a split-screen format, where the two screens have a dialogic interaction, staging a sense of dislocation that is formally realized.
Perhaps what is most monumental is the scale of the work. Pekün compiled this footage over a period of three years. It poignantly encapsulates a sense of journey, with singular moments that transition between London and Istanbul. The essay includes footage of the 2011 Occupy movement in London and the 2013 Gezi protests in Istanbul, which are interspersed with footage of clips that catch the artist’s eye. The video blends moments of conflict with small joyful instances that capture her attention: a public piano that can be played by anyone at Kings Cross train station in London, or young men jumping into the Bosphorus river. All of these moments contribute toward creating a tableau of life in a metropolis.
One of the recurring motifs in the film is an image of a dice being rolled. The die becomes a metaphor for chance and alludes to the ways in which the fate of society often rests in the hand of one almighty power, such as the state, or the global financial system. The Gezi protests highlight the governmental encroachment of secularism in Turkey, while the Occupy movement in London hints at the social and economic inequality created by large corporations. The recurring roll-and-throw motion blurs the distinction between every day, casting a shadow of mundane repetition, only differentiated by minor variations.
Pekün also references the assassination of Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist whose death in 2007 sparked nationwide protests in Turkey and ignited the spirit of revolt towards sociopolitical injustices in the country. Dink’s passing imbued Turkey with a sense of hope in the power and importance of societal solidarity towards sociopolitical change. Pekün uses clips from protests that followed Dink’s murder, showing people holding placards stating “We are all Hrant Dink” in Turkish, Armenian and Kurdish, to reflect the sense of public identification that was brought about by Dink’s death.
The juxtaposition of the two cities highlights the commonalities of human reaction and spirit. The sense of solidarity and celebration that people face when confronted with moments of joy, oppression and triumph—irrespective of cultural backdrop—constitutes a study of the human condition. In one instance, Pekün poignantly compares experiencing the festive atmosphere of the gay Pride parade in Istanbul to witnessing the first gay marriage in the United Kingdom.
Subjectivity plays a significant role in driving forward Pekün’s reaction to the two cities. The work invites the viewer to uphold the artist’s point of view, which is reflected through a multitude of cinematic techniques used by Pekün, including photographic stills, film footage, voiceovers and archival clips. She ties all of these different elements together in order to present a vignette of life in a metropolis, driven by a reactive attitude towards the volatile events that unfold there. The self-referential subjective self that Pekün refers to is not the narcissistic self, but the political self.
The video also deals with questions of representation, by making very deliberate aesthetic choices that favor one narrative style over another. For instance, in one segment, rather than filming a young girl in the London tube, Pekün decides to show her story via a voiceover. In the clips from the Gezi protest, every picture is different, yet each encapsulates the same issue. In this instance, there is an inherent complication of representation. At what point does the oversaturation of political imagery become ineffective as a tool for driving people towards social change? There is a paradoxical situation, wherein the same images that give power to a sociopolitical movement are also rendered ineffective by their overuse. Pekün runs a rapid montage of images from the Gezi protest to drive home this point.
Pekün has a very strong place for eloquent, expressive tropes that pull the viewers into a reflective space. In one sequence, she uses a very grainy footage that reveals two eagles in the sky. The poetic descriptiveness of this imagery gives us an indication of temporality and the passing of time. In another sequence, she metaphorizes fog, comparing it to sociopolitical events and the impact they have on people. During a fog, while one cannot visualize the familiar, there is the realization that eventually the fog will lift.1 In the same way, it can be said that the veil of uncertainty during a state-induced sociopolitical conflict will eventually fade away.
In Pekün’s work there is a very strong interplay between political agency and bias. Through her practice, she endeavors to comprehend a fluctuating present marked by unfolding socio-political events and the rise of a new political subjectivity. “Of Dice and Men” considers the varied neoliberal states of two cities and contrasts the reactive dynamics of their contexts. In doing so it alludes to the cyclical nature of history and captures finite moments of joy and tribulation in between.
1. “Through the Fog” is borrowed from the eponymous exhibition title where this work was first shown. State of Concept, Athens, 2016, curated by Nick Aikens.
“Of Dice and Men” is on view at Delfina Foundation, London, until April 4, 2016.