Following our exchanges with Surrealist comrades in Turkey on the question of "street art", SLAG asked a few brief questions about the current situation of Surrealism in Turkey. The questions were answered for us by Rafet Arslan on behalf of Düzensiz, and appear below.
Translation is by Gozde Genc. Special thanks from SLAG go to Ayşe Özkan.
1. What is the current situation of Surrealism in Turkey? How easy or difficult is it for Surrealists to work openly and collectively in Turkey at the moment?
First I have to denote that I can not represent a group which may be referred as Turkish Surrealists, but I write to you as a Surrealist and in the name of Düzensiz (Düzensiz is our Surrealist fanzine and the word means Disordered). In Turkey there has never been a Surrealist group, open or closed. The movement situates a wide area including praxis which never had a correspondance in our country. It is even difficult to talk about Surrealists because it is not easy to pick them among our cultural complexity. The ones who read the manifestos and built their artistic view on them are very rare. There have been few artists like Yüksel Arslan, or Cihat Özegemen who read the Surrealist Manifestos and tried to combine the conception with Anatolian tradition. But these are singular activities and generally are limited to artistic study. Hence it is not possible to talk about activist movement of Surrealism except art.
Shortly, Turkish art only needed Surrealism as a source of images but never thought of the conditions of its creation. Our thoughts have not focused on Freud, Lacan, Reich and Fourier who consist of the black box of Surrealism. In this country, Surrealism is thrust underground, just like Science-Fiction and merely few people tried to understand it.
In the times of modernism Surrealism was out of interest because of the dominant socialist realist perspective. In this postmodern period it is denounced as totalitarian. Today many conceptual artists are against activism and collective production. There is a strong tendency to see Surrealism as an obsolete trend with a papa figure ahead. But not only its background relying on Marx, Freud, Trotsky, also the utopian soul rooted from Fourier and its other libertarian sources are still not comprehended. For instance, Tan Tolga Demirci carried on his activities, such as short films, texts and the e-group he moderated for the last ten years. But these are all personal. He has not aimed a movement and doesn’t seem to be willing.
At this point, our activities in the circle of Düzensiz may be admitted as a movement, but it is quite new, and its effect is limited. In the beginning of 21st century, I don’t know how far we can keep dedicated to the soul of Surrealist revolution. In fact Düzensiz is never put as a purely Surrealist fanzine. It has exhibited an attitude taking to other radical voices other than Surrealism, too. We tried to constitute a kind of united front against the dominant liberal approach of marketing the art. We tried to mention that we are fighters more than artists, at every turn, against all those elitist statements. What we have been searching for was the extraordinary within the daily. We played collective games. We emphasized the coincidence. We concentrated on the explosive moments of Surrealism, like the Paris Commune, like May ‘68’... We argued Dada, anti-art currents, positionist internationalist, art-brut...
We started in Ízmir, then we grew with contributions from other cities. In the beginning we had to tell people what Surrealism is. Neither rational bourgeois logic, nor native metaphisics allowed Surrealism come to life. As a result the word Surrealism just reminded people of the absurd. In order to overcome this prejudice we tried to introduce Surrealism by starting from what it is not, at least to desirous young creators. Many people were introduced to Exquisite Corpse (Leziz ceset) or automatic method via Düzensiz. They started to welcome Surrealism in their illustrations and writing. We could even manage a small discusiion forum on Surrealism. Unfortunately it is still early to start an activist movement. It has been getting harder to be a collectivist as a result of growing fancy to capitalist art, acceptance of post-modern model with its attendant notions and bias without question. As the dominant tendency is towards being a tradename in art, Düzensiz constitutes the only side highlighting collectivism. But, it is a fact, results of insisting on collectivism were really exhausting. We go on insisting, anyway.
An important contributor of French Surrealist group, Yüksel Arslan comes forth as an artist and surrealist with his stand against art tradition. Works of Ömer Uluç, Cihat Özegemen, and sometimes, Mustafa Horasan are examples of Surrealist views. Differing from others, Özegemen gives effort to create a local and modified version of Surrealism. In the recent years the effects of contemporary Surrealism is obvious in the drawings of extramücadele (extra-struggle), too.
Can Yeşiloğlu and Erman Akçay share their Surrealist conceptions and images with Düzensiz. Surrealist texts of Düzensiz have been written by Perşembe and Ayşe Özkan. Cins who performs his art in the streets, accretes with the Surrealist attitude either with his opus and the idea behind it. Others friends in touch with Düzensiz, namely Cemal Akyüz, Bora Akıncıtürk, Süleyman Handan and Eren Barış, contribute to our proposals in similar ways.
Tan Tolga Demirci’s short films, especially Alphabetical Dreams and Summary of My Life are the few examples of Surrealist work in cinema.
In literature Sureyya Evren has Surrealist reflections in a more technical manner and Mehmet Açar with a spiritual convergence. The young generation following Ece Ayhan’s way in poetry is affected by Surrealism. Gözde Genç, Hande Koçak and Ali Kartal whose writings find place in Düzensiz with the kinship to Surrealist idea in their themes. Photography is richer in Surrealist production when compared to other arts where people do not define their work as Surrealist. But many photography artist claim and declare so. It is most obvious in Şahin Kaygun’s photographs and Süleyman Handan, a companion of Düzensiz, works on social Surrealism with his images.
2. Can you tell us anything about the history of Surrealist activity in Turkey?
As I tried to explain previously, it is very difficult to write such a history. But I can give these examples which exceeded the forms of art even in this lack of sentiments and activities of Surrealism: The ‘Garip’ current (the word means amazing, bizarre, curious, exotic, fanciful, fantastic, far out, freakish, marvellous, grotesque, kinky, mysterious, strange, stranger, unnatural, weird, unfamiliar, needy, abandoned, destitute, novel, odd, outre, peculiar, queer and surreal, all in the same place) leaded by Orhan Veli, and followingly ‘Second New’ movement in which Ece Ayhan, a poet, ethicist and libertarian politic figure, and İlhan Berk, an artist/poet brought Surrealism in. One analysis by Ece Ayhan proposed that Surrealism was almost prohibited because of dominant socialist realist attitude of classical left. However, translation of some parts of Maldoror by famous author Sait Faik in 50’s had a substantial impact, as Ece Ayhan also remarks.
3. What are the main priorities of Surrealists in Turkey at the moment? What kinds of activity are they involved in? Which aspects of Surrealism do they most emphasise or attempt to develop?
Collectivism, solidarity, immaterialism, political radical imagination, Eros, dignity of dreams and poetical emphasis, all conducted by the spirit of Surrealism have been the foremost terms for us. We produce a fanzine, street-art, text and exhibit them. In fact, this will be a long run to introduce Surrealism to life, to senses. In this project we try to balance artistic and activist dimensions of Surrealism. Our starting point is trying to create a way in plastic arts and literature. We adopt street-art as a stance. And we contribute to the activities like protesting against conversion of ‘art center’ to ‘grand market’, under the name of Düzensiz.
4. What are the future prospects for Surrealism in Turkey?
To be known as ourselves, therefore to express ourselves truly, to be a movement and to fortify action.
5. What kinds of relationship are Surrealists in Turkey able to have with the wider international Surrealist movement? How would you like to see these relationships develop in the future? What could Surrealists elsewhere do to support activity in Turkey, and vice versa?
I can answer your question again on behalf of Düzensiz.
T.T. Demirci has widespread international relations, but maybe he would rather talk for himself.
We had a contact with Seattle Surrealist group through a Turkish friend who has been among them.
We heartily sympathize with the London Movement especially because of the activist emphasis that is particularly deliberated.
And, recently the Portugal Group contacted us. We are still in touch and glad to occur in one of their projects with our productions. We believe the dialogues will be enriched in time. Cooperation, common production and activities will come. And we believe it is vital to share, to argue and to make people argue about what is manifested. Mutually produced texts, exchange of introductions of artistic/activist approaches, and cooperations for international activities could be good.
This may be what we need to introduce Surrealism truly, and to exist as Surrealists.