Art Unlimited – Interview with Ali Alışır

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Interview by Ümit Özdoğan
We have made a detailed interview with the academician and contemporary photography artist Ali Alışır about his works, production process and exhibition.
After the education of graphics at Yeditepe University, you studied photography at Accademia Italiana. Although graphics has a close relationship with photography, how come did you choose photography as a means of communication?  
Ali Alışır: I had already been painting long before I started my education in graphics. The year I entered Yeditepe University with achievement grant, the faculty of fine arts were on Büyükada. Our education environment was a fascinating place as the island, and in terms of academic staff we had a rare fortune. At the university I had the chance to visit lots of exhibitions and to read the publications on the plastic arts. I saw that many things one plans to do have already been done or said. They have been done or somehow mentioned about by others before you. At a time in which the number of artworks and artists have increased this much, I have sought the ways to produce something different in the name of “art” and to express myself in the most correct way. At this point I can say that my works steered for photography as a personal choice rather than because of my education in graphics.
After being graduated from the school, right at the moment I thought the circumstances in Turkey were hard for young artists to earn money or live, I decided to go to Italy. It was a time in which painting was not enough for me, either. For, I did not want to cling to the classical methods while the digital technology was flourishing and the world was witnessing to a swift digital revolution. At that point exactly I seized the chance to have photography education at Accademia Italiana. While living in Italy, I both worked at fashion business and produced my artistic works. I can say that rather than the education I got at school in Italy, the life there influenced me profoundly. When I look back today, I can see the traces of these disciplines in all the works I have created. I think that having my roots in painting, merging my graphics education with fashion photography and the interest I take in architecture and technology have contributed to my works a lot.
We see that your approach method to photography is not based on freezing the moment, what is the reason of your focusing on editing?
Ali Alışır: Technology progresses very fast. And we, the artists dealing with images, produce works in an art form the material of which is technology. As an artist my aim is to examine and to try to understand my environment rather than taking photos. Photography takes place in my works as long as it serves to a creative idea. Moreover, I think during the last century the art of photography has quite fulfilled its duty “to catch the moment” and “to document”. Now we are in a period in which we can really talk about “the art of photography”. For, the war in the new world order is not fought with the documents but with the images.
This visual bombardment composed of images creates in our minds an infinite now that is unable to answer the desires. While it renders visible what we do not want to see, it also exposes us to a social estrangement. That is why the age we live in becomes an age in which not the knowledge but the images are –momentarily- dominant. Without a doubt, this has even turned into a kind of weapon in the hands of political governments holding the power of the mass communication media. My objectives are to question this age and order of images via photography, and to lay bare and criticize the environment the individual exists in. And I try to tell this through photographic language.
I have the impression that your editing language has turned into a stylistic language. Am I wrong?
Ali Alışır: Yes, that is true. I use digital photography by taking off from certain concepts. My aim, rather than imprisoning the photography in a moment, is to re-construct those moments and spaces. And by doing it, to criticize the structure of our age through the subjects I choose. In this context I prefer to use the most recent material of our time. When you look at the art history, you can see that all artistic movements and big changes have always taken place by a revolutionary attitude. I, too, prefer to paint by light using the most recent material of our times instead of using the traditional techniques.
The “virtual” concept that you dwell on… Can we talk about the dimension of this concept in your works?
Ali Alışır: Since the year 2009 this concept constitutes the focal point of my photography works. For me this is a process starting with the “Virtual Bodies” exhibition and currently continuing with the “Virtual Places” exhibition.
In my opinion, our day has a technology which can compete with those in the science fiction movies. Most simply, our perception of space and velocity has changed fundamentally. We no longer calculate the time dimension we know in order to go to a “place” or to interact with “somebody”. The images we take or share circulate immediately around the world (through the Internet, e-mails, or multimedia messages), interact with other people, become news, and determine our lives, the fashion, economy, and politics.
The social relationships of people are replaced by “virtual” communication environments today. Our real faces have begun to gradually turn into faces belonging to a virtual world. The original and the copy, the real and the image have intertwined.
On the other hand the age we live in virtually exposes the religion, politics, economy, social relations and news to a bombardment of “meaning”. Each individual turns into an image transmitter in this environment by connecting each other through digital processors (networks). But in this traffic the images do not inform or educate the individuals. They only enable them to become a huge news network.
Today in our offices, homes or daily lives we no longer know the existence of a world without computers or cell phones. While in daily life our bodies in front of the computer become useless, our real selfhood is merely reduced to a complete functional simplicity.
With the influence of the mass communication media, the reality itself becomes artificially reproducible today. The events on television are treated as if they were the same thing as the events’ depictions. In short, the news and their contents are also manipulated.
Today it is getting impossible to set off from these images in order to arrive at any reality. So in my works I deal with the situation and position of today’s human whose historical memory is gradually getting obscured, who is crushed under the image and vision bombardment, and who constantly lives the now.
I have read the brochure text of your “Virtual Places” exhibition, and it is quite explanatory in terms of matching up with its concepts. Would you elaborate that text?
Ali Alışır: Today the concept of place is no longer composed of four walls. With the development of the Internet and the cyber space, people can travel from their locations to various places, gain different information, or meet new people and trade with them in other fields. All this influx is actually possible by a series of electric charges’ travel on networks via electronic circuits. And today we are all connected to each other with the help of these interfaces and networks (cell phones, tablets, computers, etc). Through e-mails, multimedia messages and social networks we can reach the news, information or to each other no matter where we are in the world. We talk about an important revolution and change here. Information, images, sounds travel around the world without needing a physical environment any more. In other words, we utterly experience a space dissolution. The renaissance of technology is now being created in a virtual environment.
That is why I built my “Virtual Places” project using these interfaces (electronic circuits and chips) upon the heavy and gloomy constructions of renaissance and the middle ages, produced by physical ingredients. While when looked from afar these places create a visual dissolution effect, when you get closer they aim at your perception that they are a unity of data (the 1-0-1-0 codification on the electronic circuits). It is ironic that today the factor which constitutes the digital photography is not the image but the unity of data. We can look at this project as an artistic critique on our exposure to an endless image and information bombardment as distanced from physical space and surrounded by quantitative technology.
What is your new approach to the concepts “Consumer society – new sexuality”, which are mentioned in the brochure text you have written for your “Virtual Bodies” exhibition?
Ali Alışır: My “Virtual Bodies” exhibition which I opened in 2009 was aiming to question the position of the body and the individual in consumer society. I am not one of those who frequently follow mass communication media. But when I look as an artist I see its immense effects on society. I feel that the power we used to call “dangerous mass” is no longer existent, that in fact a big majority is propelled to a social indifference. I think that we, imprisoned to the course of virtual economy instead of real economy based on “production”, have become “travestied” mentally (in terms of politics, or religion, etc.). My “Virtual Bodies” exhibition was a project determined to put forth these critiques.
In addition, I think that in our day the concept of sexuality appears not only in sexuality but in many other fields as well (in media, reality shows, news reports, cinema, literature, etc.). This reminds me of Roland Barthes’ expression: he said “In America, you can come across with sexuality everywhere except from sexual intercourse”. I think that this sentence is still valid.
You have worked with brands such as Giorgio Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo. What kind of a period was it for you?
Ali Alışır: To work with these brands and their art directors was a quite important experience for me. These experiences enabled me to look at the art and life in their different dimensions. In this sense I have seen that the essence of the modern world is advertisement and branding. The reason behind my taking place in the fashion business in Italy even for a brief time was my desire to get to know this field closely while putting forth my critiques. I have seen that all these images which today mark the advertisements, which we criticize for deluding us, have actually invaded the art world for a long time.
“I have seen that all these images which today mark the advertisements, which we criticize for deluding us, have actually invaded the art world for a long time.” Can you elaborate your sentence with examples? If I do not misunderstand, you are talking about marketing the art.
Ali Alışır: This break has first begun with Pop Art and Andy Warhol. It is a still-debated question. It is not known whether Warhol played at the market or settled the account of the art left without its utopia. This question brings to my mind this famous statement of Warhol: “I work in every level: art, commerce, advertisement…” or he says “I am the operativeness itself!” Obviously with these words he affirms both life and the system to a certain extent. Andy Warhol asserted many times that he was not against the marketing of the art as meta or the existence its own market. If we look from a different angle maybe we can think that he saves us from the anxiety of producing art.
But then I look at the lives we live today I see that everything wants to show itself constantly. It is as if everything existed to be viewed, read or recorded. This brings about an abundance of images unseen of at any point in history. Today art does nothing more than manufacturing this abundance of images. They are definitely indistinguishable from the traceless and sparkling fashion and advertisement images.
For example we see that there is a disturbing flawlessness in movies of today’s cinema. Everything looks more real than they are. All the unnecessary reflections and redundancies in the movies are perfectly cleansed. Especially in the movies with historical content (such as Braveheart, Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, etc.) all scenes shine gorgeously thanks to the visual effects and they swallow us up. In these scenes produced by artificial textures the reality is now lost. This shows the fact that cinema, as in other art forms, has lost its connection with the history. I think that these images produced out of artificial reality have invaded all areas of our lives, including art.
I find it inconsistent that artists such as Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer make use of the images of media and politics to produce artworks while at the same time criticizing them.
What are the differences and similarities between producing in Italy and producing in Turkey?
Ali Alışır: Today being a young artist, either in Turkey or in Italy, means accepting a youth full of hardships in everywhere in the world. Unreceived visas, unpaid rents, the pressure of the conservative neighborhoods, unhelpful states, an environment and family incomprehensive of what you do… To be an artist means first of all to get through these hardships like a wizard. Nothing happens easily in Italy. You undergo big trials and processes. With one exception; if you are really good, you get appreciated and rise to a level. The culture engulfs you the moment you go there. If you go to this country, which produced renaissance in the world and spent enormous amounts of money on art, to live and produce something, you somehow experience this difference…
How did your sharp alteration process take place from your concept of Virtual Bodies to your Virtual Places? How did you arrive from the dazzling and confusing portraits to your current visuality?
Ali Alışır: I look at the art works and production processes not as forms but as ideas. I choose which way and technique that is appropriate for me to tell an idea. In this sense the more techniques you have, the less you fear. I may say that I prefer to construct the spine of my works with their conceptual angles rather than the physical similarities. I consider what we call style in a similar way. Rather than what you photograph, I think it is more important that to emphasize what you use the language of photograph.
In your latest works there are religious and mythological motifs. Although these elements are fitting to be multicolored, they are imprisoned in a monochrome world in your works. How come did this kind of tendency develop?
Ali Alışır: This is a total illusion, actually. What you have seen are not religious or mythological motifs; they are motifs which originally exist in the places. I intervened none of them. I even tried to keep them, I may say. But the photographs of electronic circuits and microchips I superposed on the places are perceived as motifs when looked from afar. However, the whole photograph consists of the information.
I am curious about your work regime in terms of your identity as an academician and contemporary photography artist.
Before beginning to produce I try to visit so many exhibitions and to follow the works of contemporary artists in the world. They really bring me different points of view. But as I have said this is not something I constantly do, but only a method I frequently use at the production processes. Recently what I most pay attention to is whether I am ready to produce and create. I ask this to myself very frequently. Otherwise I know I will be working in vain. Of course if you are involved in a professional project, you are then working with a team that thinks through all details for you, and you always feel ready to put forward what is true. But if you produce very personal works, you can only find what is true by undergoing very hard processes.  At that point what you have experienced contributes to your works a lot; your relationships, people you have just met, what you read or watch, your good and bad memories, they all somehow influence your work… I believe that at these situations creativity surfaces more. The reasons why I produce these digital works today are my acceptance of art as a living and changing entity as well as my thoughts’ flows being not planned but free, I may say.
I would like to ask on what you actually feed. What are your sources?
Ali Alışır: As an artist the most important thing I have learnt about life is not to work too hard or read too much in order to be successful. On the contrary, it is by getting involved in life as much as possible. In this sense I believe that the sources of inspiration in art are not only the art history or thousands of works by huge painters, but also what other art forms bring to us. That is why I get my inspirations from the cinema, painting, music, writing, nice conversations at cafés, new relationships, in other words from within the life, and I feed from each one of them. Accordingly the life we live is more important for me than the works I do. On the other hand I try to follow the technology, politics, and sociological incidents constantly.
What do you think about the soul of places? Do you feel beforehand what you will be contributing to them to what extent while you choose your places?
Ali Alışır: First of all, I think that the concept of place has changed. The most determining quality of the place, the “inside” and the “outside”, has begun to get gradually obscured. The understanding of city and metropolis undergoes such a change. With today’s understanding of telecommunication (with network connections and the Internet), the place, city and metropolis are now everywhere. Their spatial unity is dismantled. They become spaces without a soul. When choosing the places I especially paid attention to their historical features; my aim was to bring the old and new points of history together. These places the images of which I processed turned into “virtual places” where people can travel without using the physical means.
I got the chance to examine your works closely. In your exhibition in Art On Gallery, some of your works included in the virtual places heading bear your intervention with paint. Why did you need it?
Ali Alışır: There is neither intervention with any paint on nor a painture in my works. The works you have seen are all digitally processed and printed works. Their high quality processing might be creating this optic illusion. In terms of production, I intervene digitally by photography to those points which I deem necessary during the production of the works, that’s it.
Can you tell about the current situation of the art of digital photography? What kind of place do the digital art productions hold in Turkish art environment?
Ali Alışır: It was once thought that photography reflected the “real” world and gave absolutely reliable images. With the appearance of digital photography and images, these certainties have begun to be questioned again today. We are constantly warned against believing in naïve reality. In the post-photography period, we are living a limitless freedom and flexibility in terms of image creation via electronic and digital technologies. In this period, which we can call Post Digital Period, the images can be produced, saved and immediately interchanged.
Around many places in the world, there is an art platform produced by using new media, which is accepted without prejudice by the market. This enables the artists to produce more different and daring works. Turkey, in my opinion, does not yet benefit from these developments of artistic technologies and innovations. I hope later on Turkish investors and collectors invest in these improvements and contribute to the Turkish contemporary art more.
You have said you will progress on the concept of virtual; can we have a hint of your new concept?
Currently I work on a couple of projects simultaneously. But I am mainly focused on popular icons. From Marilyn Monroe to Gandhi, from Hitler to Yunus Emre, lots of names constitute the subject of my new works. With this project which I named “Virtual Icons”, I try to tell the traces these popular figures and ideologies left on the society.
Are there names that are source of inspiration for you?
Ali Alışır: Technologic advancements, discoveries and the artists who produce upon them interest me. I admire Daniel Rozin’s technologic mirror systems, Sam Boxton’s cloning sunbed, the young designers Auger and Loizeao’s works such as tooth implant or after life battery. I think that future’s art will be reshaped through these hybrid technologies.
How is your future calendar?
Ali Alışır: Currently my works are displayed within the body of Etiler Akbank Private Banking Center Branch, after Art On Gallery. The closest schedule after this is Contemporary Art Fair and fairs abroad. And of course there will be a new exhibition on the concept of “virtual”.
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