Rocks and Winds… Text by Kevser Güler
In a very real sense, reality is a single matter-energy undergoing phase transitions of various kinds, with each new layer of accumulated “stuff” simply enriching the reservoir of nonlinear dynamics and nonlinear combinatorics available for the generation of novel structures and processes. Rocks and winds, germs and words, are all different manifestations of this dynamic material reality, or, in other words, they all represent the different ways in which this single matter-energy expresses itself.
Manuel de Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Zone Books, 2009, p. 21
How to determine the aliveness of a being, how to conceive its forms of interaction with its environment? Kerem Ozan Bayraktar, in his solo exhibition Rocks and Winds, Germs and Words, deals with conceptions of living of entities as a network of relations in which matter and living being, the natural and the artefact, life and death are dynamically intertwined. In this exhibition, centered around his work titled “Big Oxidation Event” (2019) focusing on historical relations of oxygen on earth and depicting them with illustrations, images, infographics, texts, and symbols, the artist uses ecology as a metaphor, posing questions and suggestions on relations between dynamic systems and ways of representing them.
Motion has always been a concept that Kerem tackled since the beginning of his artistic practice. He produced series of works using various media and material, refering to questions on motion and stillness, forms of effects of motion and how motion is effected, and also loops, oscillations, spatial expansion. We can understand the temporality of existence and flux, through motion being the condition for change, and with our ways of representation and experience of motion. In a sense, our ways of conceiving motion informs us on formal modes and differences of our relationality with beings. In his works Kerem frequently focuses on a specific motion to explore those formal differences. This is especially the case with his works in which he shifts from one motion to another in an almost imperceptible way, or in which he constructs continuously repeating motions or for works with still figures, whose stillnes is not interrupted by motion. He asks questions on the relation of repetition of a motion and its various representations, to presupposing an order. As such, the relations of the artist to celestial bodies, plants, animals, objects, and systems defining a relational mode of existence have a common ground.
A being’s relation to motion gives an idea on whether it is alive or not. According to Aristotle, nature refers to beings containing their principle of motion in themselves. Nature and life are perceived as a motion. The living being, which is organized with certain forms of energy production and consumption, can be understood by the structure of inorganic matters in a way that enables them to get into motion in the said organization. Being a living being is a source of self-motion. Kerem, with his works exhibited in Rocks and Winds, Germs and Words deals with complex interactions of animate and inanimate beings via their relation to motion, and with formal suggestions that put animate-inanimate, living-nonliving distinction in doubt. Here motion is viewed in a continuum between the animate and the inanimate from a couple of perspectives: motion as the difference between two instances to define change; motion in the process of transformation of and interaction between inorganic matters; motions whose transformations have been triggered in different scales in the context of the earth’s history; motion with its potential as variation, diversity, and complexity.
In Rocks and Winds, Germs and Words Kerem creates certain imagery and conceptual short circuits. He displays how digital photographs living in a medium other than the reality they represent enter a process of co-evolution or variation; he claims that metal pieces in water perform oxygen respiration. He points to the materiality of digitally rendered animal, object, and plant portraits, and to their bond to the world’s technological conditions, its minerals and energy policies. Small objects are mutate with their opennes to effects they are subjected.
“Respiration” (2018-2019) is a video gathering encyclopaedic definitions and concepts of historical relations and effects of oxygen respiration on earth. Throughout the video artist’s text is read as voice-over. With this voice in the background, we see an unidentifiable topography evoking post-apocalyptic landscapes of post-Big Oxidation Event ice age, displaying movements of ambulances identified with emergency in urban life, trapped in repetition. With images of death, accident, and unavoidable continuity of uncertainty, the work creates a computer game atmosphere dur to the digital drawing method used by the artist.
In his most recent works, Kerem takes the ambulance as an intersection of various modes of existences and processes in the history of earth such as death, energy, life, technology, and language. According to him, the ambulance is an element that complexifies questions on naturality of an artefact, inanimateness of an object, and the life-death relation. Its ethymological root being ambulare in Latin, meaning to walk, to move, triggers images of the idea of “motion” which is inherent in its definition. Ambulance, being a motor vehicle, needing energy to move like living beings, uses fosil fuel as energy source that is combusted with oxygen in its engine system. And fosil fuels are remains of dead organisms, living beings.
This takes us to the installation titled “Respiration” (2019) which raises doubts on definitions of dynamic relations of inanimateness, stillness, and earth. The installation comprising of iron pieces left to water to keep rusting during the exhibition, focuses on questions on transformation of inorganic matters and their ways of being affected, as well as relations of inanimate beings to animateness, motion, and variation. According to the artist, oxygen respiration and metal oxydation are somehow related; first living beings were in water, just like these iron pieces: So are those metal cubes really inanimate?
With the “Big Oxidation Event” (2019) diagram, Kerem presents a multi-layered map of relations traversing complex interactions of oxygen in the history of earth, an element which is today identified with life and clean air by humans. On a macro scale, this relations map shows human, oxygen, plant, animal, motor, bacteria as nothing but elements that have different interactions at different moments in the context of certain processes and fluxus. It is not possible to spot a center in this process or system. Furthermore, definitions of absolute good, bad, useful, harmful are not possible within these interactions; we can only seek answers to questions of what has affected whom, when and in which direction. Consequently, this diagram directly precludes the romantic idea of nature. It presents the extinction of living beings within biological and physical processes that caused the emergence of oxygen in the world; use of oxygen in motor vehicles; fossils used as fuel and emerging in oxygen-free environments, with a crowded sign system resembling the ones used in science textbooks. Illustrations, texts, symbols are intertwined to explain some phenomena, making things more and more complex which results in vain efforts and an accumulation of information where establishing wholistic relations becomes impossible. As the terms on the diagram refer to each other, the whole becomes a self-referential system of meanings. Language and sign inevitably exist as part of this historical, materialistic, dynamic process.
Another work exhibited in the exhibition, “Skins” (2019) comprises of digitally rendered portraits of various beings. Posing questions on how we perceive stillness, life, and death, the installation invites the viewer to look at the stillness of different modes of existences such as plant, animal, and object. It doesn’t see stillness as a passive, stagnant state, instead, it re-considers it as a state that presently accomodates processes of being and formation of all historical, complex relations of earth, as a state that carries a potential for unpredictable change. The state of the digital image is also re-interpreted with this work in the context of complex modes of existences of our day. The installation invites us to accept materialistic, spatial, and technical relations of the actual digital image. It also makes reference to principles of taxonomy and today’s dystopic seed banks structures. The work, with individual figures rendered at different moments making an impression to see time as individual moments, also communicates formally with concepts such as separatedness and discontunity which are the main principles and modes of existences of the digital image.
In “Untitled” (2019) the artist takes digital rendering programs used mainly for commercial purposes to create variations of a product’s image. He renders some digital photographs he has choosen from a database by using this program: Image of a car, fly, flower, landscape. In a sense, by hacking these programs, he uses them to create new living being forms, image variations. Perhaps, he shares the opinion that the digital image, digital image production techniques, and programs functioning within certain market relations can still present us an opportunity, or a dream of a moment in which these digital images came forward as agents in the evolution process of living beings.
“State” (2019) consists of small ambulances metamorphosed within their formation processes by various means. These small inanimate objects are subject to principles of complexity, variation, and diversity, and they are transformed. These objects, in dialogue with the video, are covered with many layers as if they are from post-ice age. These layers cover objects in different forms, making them unidentifiable or presenting them as new object forms.
In Rocks and Winds, Germs and Words Kerem presents a materialistic grounding of definitions, fluxus, relations of animate-inanimate existances on earth, and in this context, possiblities of art production. He offers a proposal of forms that conceives matter as an active agent, that suggests to start thinking by first eliminating the nature-culture duality, and that problematizes anthropocentric or life-centric conceptions of existance. The artist, focusing on diversity, variation, and complexity, and images of motion, transformation, and flux that make them possible, draws attention to transformative potential of the image and questions the state of the digital image today, while looking at the transformation and temporality of beings.
The exhibition unfolds in and through questions about motion and stillness, animate and inanimate, the natural and the artefact, digital image with the problem of representation, data and information. Kerem suggests a perspective that reclaims the diverse agencies of life, earth, technology and media in the co-evolution processes, their potensials of being affected and to affect, and proposes to explore the terrible beauties of these complex interactions with joy.
Rocks and Winds, Germs and Words invites us to turn towards the uncontainable, fluid, materialistic, relational complexity, multiplicity, and diversity of beings and to rethink the enchantment of existence in and through a new materialistic conception of beings.
We are melting, supercoiling, merging.
Infinite expression of forms, an ancient language of folds.
Ursula Mayer, Atom Spirit, 2016-17