With the art season in Istanbul underway with Contemporary Art Istanbul and the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, we are having an eye-pleasing autumn this year and so it is time the cameras roll on our smartphones. Obviously, I am talking about the selfies people so eagerly take in front of art works; typical poses looking at the piece and your best friend strikes a pose behind you and there you go. You have just done what was needed to be done in an art exhibition: strike a pose and shoot ahead to the next painting.
I was terrified to see how people were waiting in lines to take a selfie with the art works. I was confused and totally dissatisfied with the reaction and the behavior around, not the art itself (mostly), an insatiable, conspicuous and giddy mood the visitors were in which was pretty distracting. Nobody seemed interested. Do they even know about the artist, or what the works mean, what about the techniques? I was lost in thoughts: what is wrong with the people or is it the art itself that makes it that superficial? What you see is no longer the matter; it is more important how the art looks on your phone.
A poster for "Museum Selfie Day" at Pera Museum.
To be honest, most of the art works that we have seen in the recent art fairs in Istanbul failed to feed my mind and my soul. Mostly all are shallowly executed. It seems like aesthetic is replaced by nothing but a shock value for art lovers. What we call art today is something appreciated by a few top artists but not the public. They are the measurements of the quality that determines its value. Eventually, public follows these so called "tops" and appreciate the art in the same way they do. For me, how the idea is executed and the clearance of the idea determines the quality of an artwork in which I can appreciate the human excellence; however, this is pretty much replaced by the cliched techniques today, my expectations shrink and my perception through art has been faded. I appreciate the art that speaks to me; something that I can relate to my world or to humanity. I am not discounting the value of modern art. Like all other art movements, modern art is contextual. The problem is most modern art can hardly touch the soul of the audience but only intends to shock them without forcing them to think about life and anything that is happening around us. It urges the audience to take a selfie and immortalize their works not with an idea but a fading memory on a smartphone's memory. But not every modern artist works as such.
The digital age changed art
The digital age changed the sense of value in art as well. Providing new ways in different types of media, technology allows more human interaction or simply makes the process of creating easier. Cellphone screens have become canvases for most artists. It is the human in digital age; it's the human itself transformed into a digital spirit actually.
As a media artist, designer and spatial thinker, Refik Anadol's work "Melting Memories" was a live example for me to perceive this concept; his work is intrigued by the ways in which the transformation of the subject of contemporary culture requires rethinking of the new aesthetic, technique and dynamic perception of space. So, I paid a visit to "Melting Memories" at the Pilevneli Gallery, here in my hometown Istanbul.
To make it clear, here I mention the information directly from the exhibition's web-page; Anadol's installation address a productive espousal of cutting-edge technology, comprising of data paintings, augmented data sculptures and light projections, the project as a whole debuts new advances in technology that enable visitors to experience aesthetic interpretations of motor movements inside a human brain. Each work grows out of the artist's impressive experiments with the advanced technology tools provided by the Neuroscape Laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco.
The American philosopher John Dewey said, "Science states meanings; art expresses them." He writes and draws a curious distinction between what he sees as the principal modes of communication in both disciplines. In "Melting Memories," the significant work of Refik Anadol depicts a great response to Dewey's thesis.
Most of the works in this exhibition are experienced interactively on architectural scale LED displays thanks to light and projections. "Melting Memories" holds qualification of being his second personal gallery exhibition in Turkey, after Anadol performed the Pilevneli Project 2012.
He masterfully manipulates advanced technology, drawing attention to the possibilities of the art at the intersection of art and science, and raises the possibility of an art field where machine intelligence is not at war with individuality and privacy. All these novelties and innovations naturally shaped the notion of art as well. Human excellence has lost inside of all these new notions and techniques. But now the audience has become a part of the art work, performance; art is a background that you can stand in front of it, on the screens, randomly starched colors, sculptor-like playgrounds that you can play around. The technique is also touchable and observable because any material is a means to create a work.
Art for selfie's sake
The art audience appreciates the work rather than a critical pleasure today. That is why they immediately take out their phones to document the art work along with themselves. The times are changing and modern art is trying to find new ways to express itself but many artists fall into the cliche rather than finding their own voices. They fail to include human experience in their art and produce their works just to be different from all the other artists but fall in the same trap of over-consuming audience. In this kind of an art scene, it is not surprising that the audience is not looking for a meaning in art but just to look it superficially. Today, art is not just for art's sake but art is for the selfie's sake.