Memorials and Oblivials1:
Performative Forgetfulness as an Empowering Art Practice in Times of Fetishizing Institutional Tokenism While Bearing a Politically Remembering Body
A couple years ago, as a Queer (North) Cypriot artist living in Germany, a sudden urge bisected my artistic being, and ever since, I operate with a polarized mind. For more than fifteen years under my birth name, I have never understood Hasan Aksaygin and his practice as a performative exercise, until its manifestation: Hank Yan Agassi (pronouns it, its), an AI-generated2 anagram of my name, a post-human mutation of myself, is a painter and a storyteller. Out of self-defense, it has emerged from my compulsion to become performatively oblivious against the increasing institutional tokenism of marginalized artists. I am convinced that this limited structural space is fetishistically monumentalizing marginalized art as pedagogical dwellings with the burden of the past. Mobilizing memory and historicity, with Hasan, Hank and their personifications, the following inquiries are at the core of my practice:
Can artistic obliviousness generate empowerment for the marginalized artist by decentering body and memory from the center of their art-making? Can the public responsibility of remembrance be withdrawn from the shoulders of marginalized bodies? In pursuing these questions, my practice centers on enacting the embodiment as a practice to develop an antidote to (my) identity-monumentalization.3 I term this output Oblivials, as the unrealized counterpart to Memorials.
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I primarily discovered painting in the abandoned churches of "oriental" North-Cyprus which appear distinctly apart from the "occidental" South. Belonging to any ethnic community on this island means always having a hostile Other to build an identity, a fact promoted everyday omnipresent memorial monuments recalling the reciprocal massacres. Reminded daily by these monuments to know no "birthright" to those sacred buildings has troubled my relationship with painting practice. Using this troubling tool to uncover the reasons for such politicised existential structures was formally riotous: A "non-European" holding the brush, the extension of God's hand,4 and exposing the pain caused by "his" globalised "great chain of being."5 Was my brush godly enough to create new beings?
For a while, I worked on different approaches to self-portraiture and I could not resist seeing the humor in my self-glorification. After some time in Germany, I started to decode the demands around me - from the university, the art scenes I encountered, from the social world of gay sexuality - to portray and perform my oriental identity. So, I developed an alter-ego in the figure of Jhad, a politically incorrect oriental superhero to re-appropriate or re-claim all what I felt projected onto me. I chose to exaggerate this figuration into auto-fictionalization. But was this what and whom I wanted to paint? Or was it all part of greater conditioning to depict, even if humorous, the apparent suffering of (my) Othering?
The interest in exploring this dual-practice rests upon also a critical reading of self-(re-)presentation. Susan Sontag framed the appetite for creating images of suffering bodies through the photographic gaze as similar to the desire of showing bodies naked.6 Isn't this camera, in the politically-correct selfie era, handed to the sufferers, expecting them to act as archeologists and exhibitionists of traumatic memories? Yes, the iterative dwellings empowered my socio-political consciousness, but at the expense of my sense-of-self: The more I reflect on histories of (my) pain, the more monumentalized I become, the more mythic my relationship was to those memories, especially in the guilt-land Germany.
Corresponding to these feelings, Eve Tuck also called on communities to bear in mind the long-term effects of damage-centered research.7 Her open letter expresses how the accumulation of documented brokenness helps to hold those in power accountable while still keeping the task of dehumanization at the center of the communities like a self-sufficient engine. Hank is a switch for me to sometimes stop this mechanism in favor of other modes of action towards the future, to observe the outer realms of my body, its past. I feel empowered like never before, but why? Who is Hank? Where is it from? What is its art about? Why is it here and now? What is Hasan's position in all of this?
I propose the term oblivials to account for the painterly, textual, and performative manifestations of my intention to perform obliviousness embodied in a figurative mutation of myself. Oblivials stand in contrast to memorials, and as such, I propose a dual-studio practice wherein Hasan produces memorials to his various identifications: as Queer, as postcolonial, as non-white. Hank, however, is a mode of bodily modification through which oblivials are generated. They range from earthly materialities to futurist speculative storytelling, seeking a perspective to perceive individual emancipation and (non-)human existence in a postordial soup8 of planetary existence.9 They also suggest a dormancy for a practice-based function of active-forgetting by insisting on remembering our future with the guidance of the past.10
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If I were to frame these artist characters, I would say with Hank, I try to blur the diction between the categories of Human and Non-human, and with Hasan (a troubling name for a painter that indicates the codes of an aniconic and believed to be an iconoclastic, "image-hater" culture) Human and Sub-human. So, both approaches have a common problematisation with Human. Since they deal with this notion in an artistic way, and If I am not wrong about the coincidence, the manifestation of the Human overlaps with the invention of the Artist Persona in history, they actually deal with the category of Artist with the capital A, with his* definitions in relation to the current power structures defined by economic, social, racial norms.
Finally, what I would like to say, is that I am being busy not to find an ethical answer to the question of "what should be an ideal artist today?," not interested in adding more rules into all other fixated universal moral systems we all suffer from, but more interested into inventing an open-ended artistic language that is negotiable in taking the importance of different localities in this manner. In short, my practice with its all heteronyms and pseudonyms, are all about invoking not an ethical discussion around the outdated and toxic fictional persona of the Artist with capital A, but around fluctuating multiple possibilities of his* novel, derivative definitions and experiences related to the spacetime these figures localize in.
1Oblivials is a word I created, compounding a noun and a suffix: Oblivion means the state of being forgotten or being unaware. The suffix 'al' has a sense of action or process of something as part of a noun and meaning of pertaining to something as part of an adjective.
2 There are many Online Anagram Generators to create anagrams in almost every language. When I entered my name and chosen language selection, the online AI gave me over 10,000 anagram versions of my birth name seconds.
3 A memorial is any reminder object of something lost. And a monument is a type of memorial but more of an institutional and invasive one under the control of ideologies wanting to sustainably represent power. I conceptualized the current marginalized body of work by combining these two vehicles of memory.
4 Kris & Kurz 1979, p. 54 - 60
5 The Christian hierarchy starts with God on the top, follows by angles, humans, animals, plants and ends at the bottom with minerals (Baofu 2012, p.211-212)
6 Sontag 2004
7 Tuck 2009
8 As the antonym of Primordial Soup
9 Very much influenced by Donna Haraway's specification of SF (Science fiction, Speculative Fabulation, Speculative Feminism, Science Fact, etc.)
10 A Nietzschean notion. In Untimely Meditations, Nietzsche elaborates on active forgetting as a capacity to control the effects of memories, enabling to banish the paralyzing trauma to make space for the future. It does not mean the traces of traumatic events fade away, nor must people erase them (Nietzsche 1997a).
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