Sentences From a Body Multiplied

[in Turkish] Ali Akay, Gösteri No:68, November 1994

Translated by İpek Duben
İpek A. Duben’s “Manuscript 1994” shown last month in Istanbul and this month in Ankara, made me think of Karl Marx’s 1884 Manuscripts and the intense discussion following their publication as well as the post-structuralist formulations of Deleuze, Guattari and Derrida concerning Mallarme and conceiving of the world as a book, and Deleuie and Guattari's opposition to Chomsky with their idea of a 'nomadic and homeless book'.

Alt this reminiscing is not simply being nostalgic. Like most members of my generation, especially those exposed to French thinkers, it is quite impossible to view this exhibition without going over these bits of information, which are part of our collective memory. Duben has been working in New York for the past few years, and even though her 1984 doctoral dissertation on the westernization of Turkish painting and criticism during 1900 and 1945 covered the period following Marx's 1844 Manuscripts she has never had anything to do with any of this thinking. She has absolutely no connection with Marx. Then, why am I pondering over Marx? At a time such as this when visual material and visual reality are gaining ground at the expense of reading and abstract qualities of thought the fashion that has emerged is -- the Book. [...]

There appears to be a strange and subtle connection between Duben's self portraits and her temporal body lying nude on the ground and Mallarme's idea that the book is the world and that the writer is situated somewhere between death and nothingness. According to Derrida the book and its subject are not the same. What accounts for the "difference" is not inherent in the model but in the conditions "outside itself". (Derrida, La Dissemination, Seuil, 1972, p.32). The ideal book is not a perfect replica of nature or existence, in other words, there is not a perfect fit between the thing itself and our thinking about it. Nor can it be true that the book in Novalis's Encyclopedia is the true Bible (a true model and an ideal) and the source for all other books. A book can only be a representation of nature and added to it with its multiples as simulacrum. İpek Duben's book and its multiple copies are also an addition to her natural state. There is an attempt to freeze nature in the way the images on the vellum are fixed on heavy Canson paper. The trick here is to capture the tension between life and death as one attempts to find the relationship between nature and its multiple copies (via the process of photocopying) just as one does when throwing the dice while remaining faithful to the rules of the game.(Mallarme) [...] As the Book is a mere addition to the word of God and therefore acquires a kind of Godlessness, in this book too, the figures Godlessly reject their iconographic functions as they deviate from their sanctity while, as we are told, they are formed into sentences.

The exhibition entitled "Manuscript 1994" is a textual Installation consisting of 51 paintings (manuscripts) which together form four sentences. Duben has "written* an unconventional book. She has chosen to use herself as the subject matter, and the figurative images used in this personal text form elusive sentences whose meaning is primarily accessible to its creator. The paintings (which function as lits of ones and threes) are separated from each other by intervals of silence, like commas and periods, while they line up to form sentences. They touch our unconscious and appeal to our memory and to the memory of the artist. In her continuous repetition of her body and her self-portrait she creates the sensation of a Lacanesque silence. When we engage in a monologue with ourselves our sentences have no language; they are the intervals, which we breathe. One does not talk to oneself, in fact privacy is not silent; most of the time it is a state of being without a language. The artist gives a guttural sound to the silences she creates on painted surfaces, all the time making us feel the vacuum, full with the fearful threats of someone who is unable to scream, too pained to form her sentence, choking to make a sound. In our internal monologue we are forever engaged in the "I", the ego, and the person. And yet Duben's "I" is fractured and torn apart because, as Mallarme says, in order to create the book by arriving at its essence one has to silence the "I". In order to do so, Mallarme had forbidden himself to become engaged in any discourse or extended discussion. As a young man he had declared that he needed a book with many faces, like Duben's - one face turned to nothingness, the other to beauty. Once again, in Lacanian fashion, we are made to think of the mirror image in Duben's work.

Duben's book will be "read" by viewers in Istanbul between October 14 - November 2 and in Ankara between November 18 - December 8. At the same time, viewers in New York will try to read another version (laser color copies) between October 4 - November 5.

İpek Duben's four sentences are the traces of her life. The concept of "trace" inevitably brings to mind Derrida's concept of "differance". According to Derrida, at the point where existence comes to an end, within the immediate parameters of nonexistence, creation by way of representation takes place. Here again we are concerned with the idea of multiplication and representation. In the gallery Ipek's original manuscripts are lined up on one wall while their color copies are on the wall across from them. The two versions of her poem, the original English and the Turkish translation, are printed on rolls of vellum paper looking like Ottoman scrolls and are hung from ceiling to floor near the middle of the gallery. Close to the ground, on a platform, is the "albume-coffret" (the portfolio-box), which makes reference to the cover of the printed book and to her poster. Everything is related to everything else. The parts are also interchangeably related to each other making reference to the butterfly effect in Glick's theory of chaos. In a previous show entitled "Remembrance/Memory 1" Duben had dealt with 'registers,' making reference to vital records and identity cards.

In her book installation, which is being exhibited simultaneously in Istanbul and New York she is again dealing with the question of identity. While in the United States this work is not likely to activate feminist sensibilities, in Turkey it can easily appear as though it were engaged in feminist issues. Art can acquire new and different meanings depending on the socio-cultural context in which it is shown. Not everything can be expressed in purely global terms. In this case universal terminology seems to be relevant in dealing with the formal elements which make reference to the illuminations and manuscripts of the Middle Ages, but the possibility of different interpretations of the socio-cultural content reminds us that not everything can be globalized. New York is the place where she is exhibiting the laser copies: the difference between the locations of the exhibitions underlines the difference between the original and its copy and multiples. In other words, in an era of mechanical reproduction the artist is presenting us with the copy as the "original". Her identity in New York is no longer what it was in Istanbul. In Istanbul she places her albume (portfolio-box) between the two walls that carry the originals and their copy on a rotational axis reminiscent of the circular dance of the Sufi mystics. The issue here is the loss of the so called original identity in the process of reproduction and multiplication. It is entirely possible that the sentences, in whatever unknown language they have been written, may recall different identities in the two cities, or they may not be understood at all. This is the very point that one begins the incredible process of identity loss. This is the process of revolting, of uprooting, of moving outside states of conflict. The four sentences bring identities in confrontation with each other and we are made to see the repetition in places of emptiness and nothingness and in our imagination eradicate the difference between writing and the visual image. It is as though we are asked to forget "the difference between what we say and what we see" as Foucault points out in Magritte's 'This is not a pipe'. It is at once an act of reversing the originals and their copies on their respective walls. The difference between word and figure (image) gets erased and uprooted on the thickly painted pages in front of our eyes. This is an act of soaring, of boisterously leaping into space. İpek Duben's work does away with every possible reading and systemic reference to tradition. To the extent that she makes an issue of identity she frees herself from it; and in her handling (the self portrait and her nude body standing or lying with arms defenselessly stretched into the air) she deviates and changes it according to place. As soon as she considers identity she gets rid of it. It is as though the portfolio-box on the floor is the only place to secure the sentences that were thrashed against the wall. She files the identities in her handsome archive. She is involved in archiving, an act which can be undertaken only when multiple readings are required from us.

One wonders if by presenting her album (the portfolio-box) on a stately aluminum platform the artist is not showing us the importance of identity and her desire to protect it in a sacred way in spite of its present state of homelessness.