In the Studio

Nasan Tur

Berlin, Germany

»Of course, I'm political.«

In his artistic practice, Berlin-based artist Nasan Tur addresses the tension between self-responsible action and inactivity. He examines existing power structures and questions them. The boundaries of communication, as well as the tentative, or fragile nature of per-ception, are both driving forces behind his practice, and many of the situations that he creates. Today we talk with him about the motivations that led him to become an artist, about the need to be politically active, and about the everyday nature of failure.

Many of your works are performances on the street or performances to which you invite others. Your "Backpacks" (2006), for example, are thematically prepared backpacks that visitors can borrow from the exhibition and use to demonstrate or cook in the urban space. What interests you about the public space?
My early works are performances in the public space that do not require an audience. I did them without people recognizing it was a performance. For example, I did somersaults in different cities around the world, or lay down in a puddle. I’ve always been interested in the activism in people. I grew up very apolitical and behaved like it. This certainly has something to do with my socialization as the child of an immigrant worker; my parents always had the feeling that they were merely guests, so they preferred to keep their heads down in order not to attract attention. That changed for me only as an adult through art. I therefore always see art in the context of society. I ask questions like: “In which system do we live? What role does art play within this system? What can art achieve? Can it shape the body of society and be a critical attitude towards what we find?” This is quite an analytical approach.
The Backpacks belong in this context. Ultimately, they are not so important to me as action, but rather because they activate thoughts and offer possibilities. You can borrow them, you can go out on the street with the speaker’s backpack or with the demonstration backpack – but you don’t have to. As soon as the Backpacks are on the street, they are no longer art, but functional objects. It was important to me to create a platform to react to and to act on. My actions are also about questions that the visitor is confronted with: “Do I want to do this at all? Do I have the courage to do that – and also the strength? Do I have anything to say at all?”

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How did it happen that you connected these socio-political questions with art when they were hardly discussed at home? Who introduced you to art?
My sweetheart at the time and now my wife, was very interested in art. And since I was interested in her, I came into contact with art more or less voluntarily and I soon realized that designing and exploring my own themes was something that attracted and challenged me. During my studies at HfG in Offenbach there was an important project for me with the title Larve (larva). The church had invited young artists to work in its spaces. This was at a time when churches were trying to get attention, because especially in cities congregations were dwindling; so, they were looking for alternative concepts to activate their spaces and draw in people. The project developed in this context in the city of Offen-bach which has Germany’s largest proportion of immigrants, with dozens of mosques exist-ing inconspicuously in garages and backyards, while in the city center, the church stood in almost a state of approaching abandonment. I asked myself: “What is a religious communi-ty about?” That led to a singing performance, based on the muezzin’s call to prayer, which I chanted from the church tower across the city several times a day. The whole action got a bit out of control.

Why? What happened?
The reactions were in part quite extreme. My chanting attracted people to the place, people with whom until that time I had no experience: Satanists, fundamentalist Christians, street-provocateurs! There were verbal and physical attacks, police operations and political pressure from the mayor to stop the action, but there were also many positive, loving, and interested reactions. People came and sang together with me in many languages from the church tower. The press and television were present and the entire event turned into a bit of a spectacle. I was completely overwhelmed, but the whole thing affected me. After the project I decided to become an artist. It was a very clear decision, without a Plan B; I really wanted to be an artist. In retrospect this decision was very important, it gave me focus and left no room for compromise.

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Eine andere Arbeit, in der du ebenfalls im Stadtraum arbeitest, ist „City says…“ (seit 2008). Du sammelst in einer Stadt gefundene Wörter, sprayst diese übereinander und erzeugst damit ein neues Bild. Was interessiert dich daran, diese Wörter zu sammeln und übereinanderzuschreiben?
Es ist eine Aktion und zugleich eine Reaktion auf viele Aktionen von anderen, die im Vorfeld stattgefunden haben. Die Bevölkerung einer Stadt benutzt die Fassaden einer Stadt, also ihr Gesicht, als Plattform für ihre Ideen und Gedanken. Alles, was eine Gesellschaft bewegt, ist auf diesen Fassaden zu finden. Ich sehe meine Arbeit daher als eine Art Readymade, denn ich verändere die Schriftzüge inhaltlich nicht. Da entscheidet sich eine Person bewusst, einen illegalen Akt im öffentlichen Raum zu machen, wahrscheinlich nachts, heimlich, und es wird nach rechts und links geschaut, dass keiner kommt. Um sich dann zu überwinden, eine Fassade zu besprühen – das ist schon was sehr Explizites. Das ist für mich in meiner Performance ebenfalls ein emotionaler Akt, da ich diese Rolle übernehme und genau dieses eine Graffiti wieder an die Wand bringe. Alle Fassaden, die ich in den drei bis vier Wochen gesammelt habe, in denen ich durch die Stadt gelaufen bin, werden in einem performativen Akt auf ein und dieselbe Wand gesprüht. Für mich sind diese Arbeiten, die schon in unter-schiedlichsten Städten entstanden sind, wie Ljubljana, Wien, Istanbul, Belgrad oder Thessaloniki, eine Art Stadtportrait, die aber auch ganz explizit mit dem Zeitgeist des Momentes zu tun haben, zu dem ich sie gemacht habe. Etwas was 2013 auf einer Fassade in Berlin stand, wird 2019 wahrscheinlich schon wieder übermalt oder durch ein anderes Graffiti ersetzt sein. Graffitis spiegeln immer den Zeitgeist wieder, in dem sich Menschen befinden. Es ist eine stetige Veränderung. Die Arbeit ist also jeweils immer nur eine Momentaufnahme.

Sprache ist auch an anderen Stellen ein wichtiger Ausgangspunkt für deine Werke. In "Versionen von Kapital“ (2013) hast du von einem Computer rund 41.000 Varianten der Schreibweise von „Kapital“ ermitteln lassen, die phonetisch so klingen wie „Kapital“. Von diesen Varianten hast du inzwischen mehrere Hundert, die von einem Zufallsgenerator ermittelt wurden, mit indischer Tusche auf handgeschöpftes tibetisches Papier gezeichnet. Was interessiert dich an diesen mehrfachen Transformationsprozessen von Sprache und Bild?
Es geht sogar noch weiter. Weder kann ich frei entscheiden, welche Arbeit ich mache, noch kann der Sammler frei entscheiden, welches Bild er kaufen kann. Dem Sammler wird per Zufallsgenerator das Bild zugewiesen. Er kann dann nur entscheiden, ob er das kaufen will, oder nicht. Auch die Arbeitsweise der Galerie ist festgelegt. Jede Arbeit kostet 1.000 Euro. Die Galerie darf den Preis nicht erhöhen oder reduzieren. Die Arbeit ist inhaltlich sehr komplex. Es geht mir gar nicht so sehr um Transformation, sondern vielmehr um die Frage: „Was bedeutet eigentlich Kapital?“ Am Ende ist es auch eine Idee, aus dem Wort Kapital so viel Kapital zu erzielen, wie es eben geht. Dabei sind ganz viele Ebenen wichtig für mich, z.B. die Frage nach der Rolle des Künstlers. Das reicht vom Verständnis des Künstlers als Genie und Bildschöpfers bis hin zu demjenigen, der nur noch von anderen, in dem Fall von einem Computer, getroffene Entscheidungen ausführt. Im Moment der Signatur bekommt das Werk dann plötzlich wieder einen ökonomischen Wert. Theoretisch könnte es 41.000 Arbeiten geben. Ist das dann noch ein Unikat, oder eine Edition? Dann wiederum fragt man sich, ob der Künstler überhaupt 41.000 Exemplare machen könnte. Ich habe das mal ausge-rechnet. Ich bräuchte über 12 Jahre, wenn ich jeden Tag zehn Stunden daran arbeiten würde. Aber theoretisch wäre es möglich. Ein anderer Kapital-Aspekt: Durch den festgelegten Preis könnte fast jeder, der möchte, in den Besitz einer solchen Arbeit kommen.

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Another piece where you also work in the urban space is "City says..." (since 2008). You collect words found in cities, spray over the images creating a new image. Why are you interested in collecting these words and writing them on top of each other?
It is an action and, at the same time, a reaction to the actions of others that have preceded it. The population of a city uses the façades of a city, i.e. its face, as a platform for their ideas and thoughts. Everything that moves a society can be found on these façades. I therefore see my work as a kind of readymade, because I don't change the content of the lettering. A person consciously decides to perform an illegal act in the public space, probably at night, secretly, looking to the right and to the left to make sure nobody is approaching, they begin to spray-paint a façade – which is a very explicit act. In my performance it is also an emotional act, because I take on this role and bring exactly this one example of graffiti back to the wall. In a performative act I have sprayed all the façades I’ve collected in the three to four weeks as I walked through a city onto one and the same wall. For me these works, which had been created in such diverse cities as Ljubljana, Vienna, Istanbul, Belgrade, and Thessaloniki, are a sort of city portrait, but they are also explicitly related to the zeitgeist of the moment I made them. Something I found on a façade in Berlin in 2013 will probably be overpainted or replaced by another graffito example in 2019. Graffiti always reflects the zeitgeist in which people find themselves and are constantly changing, so the work is always just a snapshot.

Language is also an important point of departure for your works in other places. In "Versionen von Kapital"  (Versions of Capital, 2013) you had a computer determine approximately 41,000 variations of the spelling of "capital", which sound phonetically like "capital". Of these variants, you drew several hundred determined using a random word generator.
Actually, the random selection aspect goes even further. Not only do I not decide freely which work I do, the collector too cannot freely decide which work they can buy. A picture is assigned to the collector randomly using a digital based random selection generator. The collector can then decide whether to buy it or not. The gallery is also subject to certain restrictions; each work costs 1,000 Euro, the gallery may not increase or reduce the price. The content of the work is very complex. I'm not so much interested in transformation, but rather in the question: "What does capital actually mean? In the end, it's also an idea to ob-tain as much capital as possible from the word capital. Many levels are important for me, such as the question of the role of the artist. This ranges from the understanding of the artist as a genius and image creator to the one who only executes decisions made by others, in this case by a computer. At the moment of the signature, the work suddenly regains its economic value. Theoretically, there could be 41,000 works, would they still be considered unique specimens, or would it be considered an edition? Then again one wonders whether the artist could make 41,000 copies at all. I calculated that once. It would take me over 12 years if I worked ten hours a day on it every day. But theoretically it would be possible. Another capital aspect: the fixed price would make it possible for almost anyone who wished to do so, come into possession of such a work.

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