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'Human, how strange, so vulgar, such a masterpiece and yet so primitive' by Berkay Tuncay at Sanatorium, Istanbul

Berkay Tuncay’s solo exhibition titled “Human, how strange, so vulgar, such a masterpiece and yet so primitive” takes place at SANATORIUM between the dates 13 March - 19 April 2020. The artist presents a reading of the Internet culture in relation to its historical connections, in regards to the capitalist, digital and absurd era that we are in. The exhibition takes its title from a Hande Yener song called Kibir (Hubris), written by Sezen Aksu. The exhibition focuses on how digitization shaped popular culture and questions whether it can function to form connections between different cultures.

The video installation Poems from Instant Messaging (ASMR) (2020) is positioned at the center of the exhibition. It takes its starting point from the artist’s poetry book published with the same title. The poems, consisting of longer versions of internet acronyms, are presented in an alphabetical order, imitating the dictionaries for instant messaging abbreviations. In the video, Nynke Norberhuis performs the poems in her own ASMR style. ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) is basically a tingling sensation experienced in response to a gentle stimulus or sound. Popularized on YouTube and followed by many people, ASMR videos usually consist of relaxing sounds creating tingling sensations such as whispering, unpacking, clicking and hair-cutting. Tuncay contributes to this popular phenomenon, which emerged against accelerationist working conditions, office life, increasing social anxiety and psychological problems, by having his poems read out loud with ASMR technique. The ASMR video inspired by experimental areas such as found poetry and concrete poetry forms a strong relationship with text, and produces novel meanings by bringing together acronyms that have a significant place in the Internet slang.

The exhibition builds bridges between prehistory and today, making strong connections between these two separate periods of time. Interested in the humane need of transferring the current culture to a future community, Berkay Tuncay points out to the similarities between emojis/memes-small pictures prevalent on the Internet-, and cave art/Egyptian hieroglyphics. Smiley Column (2019) is a photograph taken at the ancient city of Perge in Antalya. A face is carved 2.5-3 meters high onto a thousands of years old column. This ambiguous facial expression carved on the column reminds us that regardless of our progress with the technological advancements, future generations might find us primitive and ridiculous when time is considered in a broader sense.

The exhibition, which considers cave art as the first example of artistic expression, features two memes applied on the gallery walls: To-Do List: Nothing and Nobody Cares (2020). The memes with an absurd humor that spread quickly on online platforms, transform existing images to deliver a message that is different than its original. Tuncay applies the Nobody Cares meme on the gallery’s wall, featuring the cartoon character SpongeBob holding a psychedelic rainbow. The artist makes reference to a 30 thousand years old technique: He uses tempera and charcoal to mix the paint, then he blows the paint through a straw making negative and positive prints on the wall. Another well-known meme from the series SpongeBob SquarePants, “To-Do List” with the word “nothing” is crossed out, is applied on the wall with the same technique. Applying this  preliminary and primitive technique on the gallery wall hints on humanity's desire for a cultural continuation. 

Apart from finding similarities between cave art and memes, the artist also makes connections between classical texts and contemporary ways of living. Referencing Sartre’s “Nausea” which was written in the ‘30s and Parquet Courts’s song “Content Nausea”, Nausea (2020) is an artist’s portrait with the green nauseated emoji shaved on his head. The lyrics point out to the weary and anxiety inducing nature of being smashed under stacks of data. While in “Nausea” Sartre asks “What is there to fear in such a regular world?” The two texts that are a century apart both focus on societal anxiety and search for meaning. 

“Human, how strange, so vulgar, such a masterpiece and yet so primitive” examines contemporary digital culture and its habits, and brings out the unrecognized parallels between the “cutting edge” and the “primeval”. Berkay Tuncay focuses on our relationship with the Internet, the relationships that are formed on the Internet, prevalent anxiety, Internet slang and the homogenous culture by highlighting the historical continuity of these contemporary phenomena. 

13.3.20 — 19.4.20


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