Kezban Arca Batıbeki: The Accomplice to an Untransparent Reality

[email protected]
Mar 30, 2016 3:31PM

“Whatever its raison d’être, every collection conceals an inclination to escape this world,” says Baudrillard. The collector often feels alienated in a social discourse, and creates an alternative discourse that responds to her completely. Kezban Arca Batıbeki is exactly like a collector. She creates her own discourse and the spiritual/philosophical background of her works, using the objects she saves/collects, and then turns this into a work of art. Thousands of objects turn the artist’s home into a semiotic treasure overflowing with meaning, like the cabinets of wonder of the 16th century. Be it a photograph, an installation or a video, every object she uses in her productions simultaneously constitutes the symbol of another entity, and always has a meaning, be it secret or open, just like the objects in cabinets of wonder. Whatever the medium of these works, the interpretation of the cross-references among them breathes new life into scripts.

            Benjamin writes that creators of cabinets of wonder protect themselves from the abstractness of collective experience, because as long as the collector chooses the signifiers, only she will be the final signified. In this sense, even though Batıbeki’s works stroll through the social discourse, they always represent her subjectivity and even her privacy, for objects create a grand script that perpetually keeps the artist’s memory on its toes as it offers the viewer a stage of symbols and allegories. The problem of the “lack of memory”, which permeates every point of daily existence, comes to the fore especially in her latest works. Erased, eradicated and ignored by modernity, memory is connected to the concepts of space and time, and thus to the problem of identity that emerges when one talks of space. All these concepts emerge in Batıbeki’s series entitled “Cage” and “Burnt Down Palaces,” and crystallize around the concept of “memory/remembering.” The intersection of art-society-subject has been popular since the 1960s, and the artist, who has been working at this intersection, allows her works to take on not only a series of meanings reducible to aesthetic/plastic value, but also a social content.

            This makes it necessary to address the “Pop” element so diffuse in Batıbeki’s artistic production. Nostalgic elements are very pronounced in Pop, just as they are in every form of mimesis that combines the tastes of the past with modern enthusiasms. Many of the qualities in the works of the artist bring her closer to Pop, because Pop(-art) loves things/objects, shiny consumer products, sexual/erotic images and ordinary/lay cultural criticism. Pop-art is based on the logic of mass culture, and is iconographic, just like Batıbeki’s works from almost all her periods. Photo love stories, subcultures, clichés, kitsch etc. are all closer to sociology and history than aesthetics. Even though there are large overlaps, it would be an injustice to confine Batıbeki’s language of artistic production within the limits of Pop-art. She uses the images that have turned into the myths of consumer society, just as Pop-art does, but reshapes them according to her own artistic/plastic approach, thereby giving her works a social essence. If what Pop-art basically attempts to do is to create a compromise between highbrow culture and mass culture, Batıbeki problematizes this compromise. She gets her ideas from popular-social culture and daily life, especially her “central theme.” And yet, this is not an ideal model to be copied, like looking up the spelling, the root or the meaning of a word in the dictionary. All of Bartıbeki’s productions that share this base emerge as a creative/interpretive/transformative act.

            The eradication in art of the details of daily life, the collapse of the distinction between highbrow and popular culture, stylistic eclecticism and the mixing of codes… Within these contexts, Batıbeki’s works make the post-modernist discourse visible through art. The ideas of Adorno, Horkheimer and Habermas support her creative production. The criticism pertaining to “leveling everything with each other,” “bringing everything together into unity,” and “turning the individual into a passive consumer who watches the shows of the media” all find their place in Batıbeki’s art. This is also why the social/psychological/philosophical/individual nuances created by the artist are recorded after being reduced with the help of dead/passive images. The “passive victims” here are women. As a woman and an artist, Batıbeki rejects forced identities and all clichéd impositions, and refuses to live according to the expectations of the masses. She uses “Kitsch” as the equivalent of cliché that can be found in every discourse, because in consumer societies, just as for “women” who appear in Batıbeki’s works, kitsch is the production/conception/hysteria that signifies the desires of the masses. She point out that sentimentality and well-known/familiar things create the essence of “kitsch”; that is why in “Kitsch Room” and “Cage” she emphasizes a well-known/familiar lay sentimentality. The artist exaggerates reality or leaves it intact, and serves it “hyperreal.” The first thing Baudrillard establishes when analyzing kitsch is the disappearance of reality and its replacement with the unreal. In Batıbeki’s works the icon of “woman” appears all the time with authentic/traditional fabrics in the background. The icon of the erotic woman visualizes mass tastes, the homogeneity of the crowds, and the tendency towards “sameness” in women’s world. Here, woman is the one who exists without purpose, without producing anything. This criticizes the siege of “woman” in societies where everything seems to be about popularity and commerce. Nonetheless, this criticism does not preach to the world/society, nor does it condemn the world for all its tragedies. For Batıbeki, woman is knowingly/unknowingly her own puppet in the “Cages” in which she has imprisoned herself. The ropes of the life that belong to “woman” are pulled both by society and by herself, whether she is aware of it or not. Batıbeki encourages us to realize these ropes are there and to cut at least a few of them.

It could be said that the artist criticizes, or at least points to, the misery/shallowness of daily life, media, television, mass culture etc. by continuously reproducing the image of woman. With her associative imagination, her bearing witness to her times and her creative action, Kezban Arca Batıbeki has always had a critical-aesthetic perspective in all her artistic productions, from her earliest illustrative paintings to photo-collages, and from her installations to short films. In her artistic existence and practice, there is a performative perception and a poetic consciousness. Batıbeki is a contemporary artist nourished by poetic or critical transcendentalism, and she is the accomplice to an untransparent reality.

Derya Yücel