Kaya Genç on Nasan Tur

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    Born into a Gastarbeiter (guest worker) family who moved from Turkey to Germany in the 1960s, Nasan Tur, currently a professor at Berlin-Weissensee Art Academy, places financial structures at the heart of his installations. His best work thus far typically shows him employing Marxist tools to examine labor conditions both within the art ecosystem and in society at large, coupling playful critique with aesthetic allure. For Variationen von Kapital (Variations of Capital), 2013–, he commissioned a computer scientist to calculate all the possible spellings of the word Kapital (more than 41,000), writing some 800 of their findings—including CAAPPIIETAHL, KAPPHIIHTHTAAHLL, CAPIEHTTAHLL, and KAPIITAALLH—on handmade Tibetan paper using a brush. The video series Banker sagt Kapital (Bankers Say Capital), 2013–, shows bank employees saying the word to which they devote their careers in different accents. Another central thread in Tur’s practice concerns his body and its imperfections. In The Puddle and the Blue Sky, 2001, we watch him lie down in a puddle on a Berlin street adjacent to the Hamburger Bahnhof, seemingly oblivious to nearby trucks and cars. Another video, In My Pants, 2015, shows Tur standing in front of a camera in his studio while wetting his jeans—a reference, perhaps, to Knut Åsdam’s 1995 video work Untitled, Pissing.

    In “No Surrender,” his first solo show in Istanbul in a decade, Tur continued to address his own vulnerabilities in a group of angsty and intimate works. He attempts to monumentalize failures through various tactics: hiding, running, role-playing, and shape-shifting. Run, a four-minute-long video from 2004, follows the artist as he sprints deliriously through a Berlin apartment, capturing an aimless, infantile rush to spend energy. Its feverish looped soundtrack, highlighting the act’s pointlessness, induces a sense of nausea. A series of three waxwork sculptures, “The Inner Shadows,” 2021, alchemize Tur’s hands into creatures one might have encountered in fables: a wolf, a spider, and a dragon; flashlights lit every five minutes cast shadows of the figures on the gallery’s white walls, transforming these pedestal-bound objects into components of a wonder-inspiring installation that might have remained unseen by visitors who moved through the show too quickly. The animal shadow play conversed with the photographic self-portrait Me and Me, 2021, which shows the artist, Janus-like, facing his own wolf-shaped hands, as if encountering the beasts within. The wolf, a symbol of Turkish ultranationalism, is simultaneously an extension of Tur’s body and an external foe.

    Tur’s hands also inform “Traces,” 2021, a series of thirty-one charcoal-and-acrylic-on-paper drawings produced in lockdown. With meditative meticulousness, Tur, who is right-handed, obsessively outlined his left hand in homage to uselessness. The gesture recalls the “City Says . . .” series, 2008–, in which Tur sprayed replicas of graffiti from different countries on a wall, superimposing the tags atop one another to create a concentrated color block. The hands of “Traces,” despite being Tur’s own, appeared to belong to a multitude.

    Outside the gallery building, Tired Flagpole, 2021, solidified the show’s themes into a public sculpture. Placed on a street newly populated with the offices of global corporations and international hotels that announce themselves with banners and flags, the twenty-three-foot-high stainless-steel pole arced forward, its finial ball pointing to the ground. Weary of the demand to display strength and refusing to carry another cloth abstraction of a nation-state, the flag-free pole was stripped of its function. Yet, with its bowed posture, it embodied dissent, waving a message of no surrender.

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