With Fish or Without
New Media Artist Genco Gülan
I am attracted to people who require several slashes to describe themselves. There is a misperception that doing too many things at once spreads a creative person too thin. But for artist Genco Gülan, engaging in seemingly unrelated activities is no gimmick. It is simply the trans-disciplinary nature of New Media.
“Currently I’m working on a QR code poem, a locative poem, some drawings, etc.” This was Genco’s email response to my request to meet. I had not seen him in a while and I never know what sort of technically unintelligible project he is going to be involved in at any given moment. But mostly what I wanted to know this time was how, as a New Media artist, he fights back against Turkey’s disturbing habit of curtailing free speech. I was wondering if New Media art had any special advantage in this over traditional media. I never found out.
Gülan is funny and exuberant – the kind of person whose energy is immediately addictive. He can draw people in to what he is doing easily, so when he developed a Web Biennial, artists were optimistic about the opportunity to express themselves more freely than in a corporate-sponsored physical biennial.
The goal of the Web Biennial was to fight against the censorship and bureaucratic authoritarianism of the art world. This works because in this online version the artists are free to do what they want without censure. Sometime later, Gülan organized a physical version at Plato Sanat in Balat. I pointed out that perhaps a physical version of the Web Biennial kind of defeats the purpose. His reply was, “I said I tried to provide a free platform for artists. I didn’t say I succeeded with this physical show.”
"This Kills Art"
“There is a rising level of
conservatism all over the world. It is global—not just in Turkey.” To illustrate this, he tells me about how he was almost arrested in London while making photos. The out-of the-ordinary scene he created aroused suspicion, which attracted the London authorities. “This kills art”, he says. But what he is arguing is more that the need to feel secure in today’s world kills art more than people feeling conservative towards artistic subject matter.
In Turkey, on the other hand, the authorities are threatened by free expression in a real way. The Telecommunication Communication Presidency tried to ban 138 search terms – one of which is the name of Gülan’s father. This presents another opportunity for him to fight using art, he believes. He is going to sue the agency for defaming his father’s name.
"I'm not afraid of censorship in Turkey"
“I’m not afraid of censorship in Turkey because really nobody cares.” He claims. What he means by this is not that Turkish authorities don’t care, but that people here are creative with finding the loopholes in a situation out of necessity. When I asked if he found New Media a good way to circumvent limiting behavior, I got this:
“I know that New Media has become mainstream in the social sense, but in terms of the art context, it is not yet. Consumer products like iPhones and other devices are considered the media themselves, while what is really new media art is what you MAKE with these devices. “
In trying to find ways to adapt to a situation, he uses New Media to create old media-looking artwork. He signs his work, with his own genetic information (bio-waste,) so that the new media part of the work is hidden, but he credits its inclusion to the appeal of the works. Or some of the work he makes is simply inspired by new technology for instance, his last performance ikiz (twins) and his two-headed sculptures are a direct investigation of cloning.
“I do test drives in public with fish or without fish”
Sorry I can’t help elucidate what he means by that. My interpretation is that as an artist it is his profession to keep surprising .