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Gulsen Bal: Struggling with the Other or “Not I”

From: Zeigam Azizov
Category: Art
Date: 20 March 2006


Gulsen Bal is one of the artists whose work has come to problemitise a number of questions which are characteristic in works of art produced in the late decades of XXth and early XXI centuries. Emergent from the discursive space of ‘knowledge production’, there are number of artists who do not separate this “knowledge” from reality and theory from practice. Instead we find their articulation, which gave the legitimacy to the ‘cut-in mix’ practice, becomes the normal state of affairs within global dynamicity.

Bal’s work embraces a large spectrum of ideas, which are closely related to these emergent issues through her concentration upon understanding the constitution of self in the body, and it's configuration through concepts and images. Using different mediums and texts, and co-practicing as artist, critic and curator herself, Bal’s integrated strategy is based in a belief in becoming complicit in the political discourse of our time since they migrated into the art world.

The first encounter with Bal’s work is a straightforward experiencing of transformed reality by means of the actual being re-/presented as itself in a specific context. In this context we realize that the discursive goals, of philosophy (partially phenomenology) mixed with post-colonial theory, creating the “spectacle” wherein everything starts to work as a kind of “intrigue in finding” the “name the game.”

In this process there is the necessity to grasp the “one” or self as “other,” time as a temporal space and/or as a fragmented topological installment, and subjectivity as a force and guiding principle of existence. Meaning and its discovery makes it possible for things to “become,” since “the world has to be made to mean” (Stuart Hall). The production of meaning allows one to cross borders of vision, yet at the same time building a visual syntax combined with other dimensions and elements of seeing.

The “other” never quite comes into existence solely in the visible, but quite contrary its discovery frequently comes through the hearing, touching, etc. In her own words: “… our subjectivity is constituted in relation to others, in the realization that ‘you never look at me from the place where I see you’. This is the voice of the Other, a projective transference…” (Looking out, from inside).

In another piece entitled in Lacanian manner, “Not I” Bal takes on the notion of performativity as a moment alluding to differences, discovering what is usually called “I” as a mimicry of “other.” Because the enunciation of the “self” is always the recognition of the “other,” the look of oneself is also masking or unmasking the “other” in oneself.

Building up the visual syntax in this manner allows, assuming that the language used in this process was already rooted in a mimetic experience, the capacity to reproduce non-sensuous similarities between self and the order of things.

The use of video, installations and other forms are by their constitution “machines of elaboration” or “time-crystallizing machines.” And if these machines, build to function as bodies at the same time they reconstruct the relationship between proliferated bodily functions. Then this kind of proliferation of means is not only true in terms of our world of multiplicities, but also proliferation of oneself: there are many persons in one persona.

Because of the subject-object collision into the one it marks a new form of exchange, the exchange based on the excess or surplus value regulated by the overabundance of the one in another, place in time etc. We could also say that gaps opened in between these dichotomies, which provides differences and the slippery, ever shifting performance of subject. This particular moment opens up the terrain for mobility and visual disturbances made as a result of global translations (as defined in physics as ‘motion of a body in which every point of the body moves parallel to and the same distance as every other point of the body’). These disturbances provide a new historical circumscription where an existential collapse is made possible by the turbulence of indeterminacy and shift.

Questions of identity, temporality, self, other, surveillance, control, border crossing etc. are all in one way or another largely circulated within the contemporary theoretical vocabulary. Yet, these are questions in a constant break down, in the state of constant shifting and because they are instrumental “tool boxes” that allows productivity in a most surprising forms. The productivity here is closely connected to the “migration” paradigm, the force that both challenges and accelerates global process. In this process identity becomes to a lesser degree of fixed state and poses as an assemblage of temporalities.

What is interesting here is that in this particular moment body as “self,” the concept inherited from the classical philosophy, exposes itself as nothing else but transformational, time configured “desiring machine.”

In the global age, which could also be described as an age of “instrumentalised reason,” put in Adorno's famous phrase, the notion of desire becomes crucial in grasping subject formation. If there is an increase of control and surveillance, which is speeded up by highly sophisticated technologies; it is because in liberal societies the form of control moved from the control of docile bodies to the mass control of population, then situation become more paradoxical with speed of migrations and new technologies. On the one hand it gave to the body (“self”) it’s conceptual function (sending SMS, speaking on the phone, sending an E-mail connects bodies virtually, rather than physically) and also self-governmentality on the “other.” The emergence of control such as in our times became possible only by the control of peoples desire to move or to create independently. However the control of desire is also the opening of possibilities to find other ways. At this point the very condition of impossibility becomes the condition of possibility itself.

The intimate relationship with the changing place and self seems to be central to Bal’s work, which puts the close relationship with the migration paradigm, circulated also in some of her works, in problematic moment of border crossing, such as Balkan Wars and etc. Migrations and possibilities to travel gave prominence to the phenomenon of ‘cutting and mixing’ as a normal state of affairs. If earlier theoretical arguments produced confusions for many while speaking of mixed cultures, travelling places this activity into its natural ground. While travelling across the different geographical and cultural spaces this mixing happen naturally. This process is also significant by the ‘return’ of creativity in larger terms, art residing within this context as a part and parcel of it, different from the modernist task of isolating art as an avant-garde force. In this sense part of her work elaborates “the return of repressed” in the current situation.

Migration has also posed as a post-ideological question through the indeterminacy of politics. It has become a challenge to globalisation itself as process of totalising; it has instead proved the fragmentation of the world and “time-crystallizing machinality” of action. In this situation of global exchange and travel everything is able to move: food, art, music, ideas, capital etc., yet the restrictions are made on people themselves. However having a certain knowledge migrant’s act as actors of metaphysical transformations taking place today.

This challenge is the force for politicians to re-think their approach to the Nation-State, borders etc. ending up in a deep crisis. The crisis, which is so visible today, is best identified in the work of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben as the “state of emergency.” His work identifies an intimate relationship between the sovereign power and the ‘excluded,’ ‘bare life.’ Within this situation control takes ubiquitous form, exposing itself in every step. It stops being control of docile bodies and moves to the control of population. It becomes transparent even more in the areas where knowledge is circulated and established. The so called ‘knowledge industry,’ combined with metaphysics of presence and “time-crystallising machines,” new sophisticated surveillance technologies camouflages this process.

If post-modern theories spoke of the simulacrum, as a collapse of real into representation and certain pastiche which is supposed to represent connection between the past and present, in a post colonial age we see any kind of work as mixing in a past-present-future prospective.

Because of the collision of subject and object, any form of identifying becomes as an affirmation, becoming complicit. One becomes an agent of this kind of collision and the work registers the formation of new subjectivities expressed in language, place and enouncement. The role of an artist here is very complex activity of carefully considering ‘protocols of power’ and mapping of meaningful strata, since the “other” and/or what one is looking for is hidden within these strata’s of formation.

On the one hand this kind of game of ‘hide and seek’ is quite well received in the name of spectacle, on the other hand since the spectacle hides something it also plays the role of camouflage and therefore in this situation identity receives its legitimacy as an assemblage of temporalities.

Depending on each desire subjects take on different identities or to use Dick Hebdige’s phrase, ‘hiding in the light,’ since they know what is controlled is their body: the product of their desire. But body is the concept inherited from the big philosophy of the past, which saw it as a split between mind where as in our age it is becoming increasingly clear that body is temporal state of being produced by concepts and images of desire elaborated as a force of time, as a genealogy of being as well as becoming. Body as a swerving element of subjectification is a process building up many differences and giving a choice. What artist needs is to create a picture of choice in its differences. Gulsen Bal’s work is a remarkable step in this direction.

Zeigam Azizov 2005, St.Petersburg-London

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