deniz aktaş

deniz aktaş

Letter to the visitor:

76 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance

When Deniz told me about famous Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s movie titled 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, with a certain degree of embarrassment, I admitted that I hadn’t seen it. And of course, I knew immediately that I was now obligated to watch it, and that since the director was Haneke, it was going to be a tough one. In the last two years, life itself has seemed too much like a movie. This is why I had been avoiding all films that are too close to reality –part of a larger tendency to run away from things that tend to twist and break my heart. This is why, for some time now, I find anything on view on MUBI intolerable and let myself fall into the warm embrace of Netflix shows. For one reason or another (personal and collective), in the last few years everything and anything that hits me with the unfairness of life started to hurt me more than usual and made me feel even more helpless. I didn’t want to think about larger-than-life questions: how complicated human beings are, how simultaneous and intertwined our capacities for love and violence, how mega systems and invisible mechanisms rule the lives that are held together by the unsteady thread of belief that we are in control. I have been sidestepping all things that made me contemplate the darker side of human existence. But since Deniz had an intuition that there was a link between the exhibition and the film, I knew I was now obligated to have the confrontation that I had long been avoiding, thanks to Haneke.

In the film, we are presented with 71 fragments from the lives of a handful of individuals: there is a Romanian boy who left his homeland and entered Austria illegally hiding in the back of a truck, a university student who has an obsessive relationship with table tennis, a low-income couple with a new baby, another couple trying to adopt a child, and an old man who fails to have a meaningful connection with his grown daughter. As we wonder how and when the paths of all these characters will overlap, we are presented with TV news-clips, in which the same airtime is dedicated to the Bosnian War and to Michael Jackson’s sexual abuse allegations. We grasp that we accept these quotidian absurdities in the film with the same level of acceptance as we do in real life. But we also sense that there are connections between the Romanian boy and the dissolution of socialism in the Balkans, that similar existential anxieties and nuclear family dynamics play out in the interpersonal scenes: the nighttime prayers of the security guard-father figure are somehow related to the young couple trying to expand their family, or that what remains unsaid in the drawn-out phone conversations between the old guy who fails to communicate with his daughter is silently echoed when the university student (who, we find out later, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown) calls his mom before his upcoming Christmas visit. When we realize that these stories do not get gradually intertwined but rather crash and burn at a single murder-suicide event that results in the death of most of the film’s protagonists, it also sinks in that the film hasn’t provided us with any tools to make sense of this moment of violence. When it comes to ascribing meaning to violence, we are bereft of any easy explanation. The things we choose to ignore despite our vast capacity to perceive and interpret them, the news we watch from the safe distance of our bourgeois lives, and the witnessed events that we intentionally unsee so that our desire to live is not completely obliterated are incredibly interwoven, no matter how deep into the subconscious we push these things. Brutality and goodwill diffuse into each other in the randomness of life. This is where Haneke's frustrating and unsettling realism is located. This is why I wanted to avoid him.

I watched the film in two strenuous sittings, spread over two nights and with numerous interruptions that I fabricated, taking unnecessary breaks, and using any excuse to get up and escape the television screen. Then I thought: This is exactly the kind of prolonged torture Deniz puts himself through. Instead of going for the camera, whether for photographing or filming, he chooses to spend enormous amounts of time in front of sheets of paper, armed only with his pen or pencil. Of course, this is a chosen pathway, it is not comparable to my struggles with a film I don’t want to watch. His is a highly intentional existential choice to push himself to his limits, literally and figuratively. He uses his testimony not to point fingers, or to wag his finger to the passive onlookers, but to repeat what he saw by filtering it through his own body –just like how some traumatic events ingrained in the person who experienced them result in their involuntary repetition. However, for Deniz, his drawings are a deliberate act of repetition: Deniz draws to grasp what is lost or destroyed or the horrific events he witnessed by reconstructing them as fragmented images, tracing them line by line, registering all their shadows on paper. Repetition is not only in the representational act of the artist, but also often reflected in the resulting images themselves. In this exhibition are 76 drawings, counterparts of Haneke’s 71 fragments. Choosing to see and to represent things that are visible as well as those that remain invisible through this deliberately slow and ceremonious act, reminiscent of Haneke’s cool, calm and collected manner doesn't mean that the artist is not affected by them, or that he has put a distance between himself and what he is depicting. It doesn’t signal a capacity or claim a desire to be objective or that Deniz himself is able to make sense of everything he observes in a neatly organized narrative of cause and effect. On the contrary, his meditative, detailed drawing process that borders on the obsessive is similar to what Haneke is trying to do: to grasp life in its full range by repeating our experiences through the bodies of his actors: an attempt to process the spectrum of human nature.

Let’s delve into this other chronology of chance; this time 76 pieces that unfold in the format of an exhibition. The bags of sand that block our way, are those from a construction site, or are they gathered with the aim of barricading something? The dead birds we are used to seeing on urban walks –those that still manage to send a chill down our spines at each confrontation– are they just random encounters or are they to be taken as omens? A floating shutter, an endless street, a closed gate, a rock, or rows of tanks. When these objects, landscapes and birds infiltrate the body of the viewer, what kind of new narratives do these cascading images attach themselves to? Do they become part of a dream, a nightmare, or are they to be interpreted as scenes from the storyboard of a movie that is yet to be filmed? That thing over there, is it a cloud or the smoke after a blast? Is that car sold for scrap metal or are those the remains of it after an explosion? Why would anyone shoot at a gas stove that many times? Are these images from news programs? Is that freshly dug grave somewhere near here? Or is it far away? Are these images current or from the pages of history books? Or are they projections into the future? Does it matter? Should it? If we can track the horizon line despite everything, will the body follow suit to where our eyes take us? When these images are translated through pen and paper, or when we force ourselves to look at them through these screens, does that make for a clear conscience?

In 76 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, the second solo exhibition of Deniz Aktaş at artSümer, we are greeted by The Ruins of Hope 3*. Once we get past this obstruction, we find ourselves in front of Silent, a series of drawings that the artist made during his time with the Arter Research Group in 2019. When we follow the birds, they take us to a series of landscapes that are held together by a continuing horizon. Then we hit a wall with Defence. With its impact, we stumble into the nonplace of the Floating Objects. As we observe their details, the sense of gravity, which anchors us to this moment and place starts to diminish, the floor slowly slips under our feet, and like the objects on view, we find ourselves hanging in the air.

Duygu Demir

* The first two drawings in the series, the title of which refers to Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “The Wreck of Hope” (1823-24), were first shown in the 16th Istanbul Biennial, The Seventh Continent.