In a world that is always watching, your past is not your own.
Art Historian and Curator
Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt; Orpheus looked back and lost Eurydice forever; and Peeping Tom, the only man to steal a glance at Lady Godiva, was struck blind. Looking (back) at times can be dangerous.
Photographers are fascinated by the effects of looking back and the implicit voyeurism in their medium’s calling. The French verb “voir” or “to see” is the root of voyeurism. We were made to see and look at one another. While the means have changed, the human impulse remains the same. The camera’s prying eye feeds the ubiquity of voyeurism—the object itself a form of seduction. The eye, too, can easily be seduced. Volkan Kızıltunç’s eye has long been seduced by photography enraptured from the time he received his first camera as a gift at the age of seven.
Putting aside the naughty, negative, or sexual connotations that the word might embody, Kızıltunç is a voyeur, a true “seer” as well as a “presenter” since he invites us to see images. He articulates the social implications of our image-centric world as he examines photography’s role in re-thinking the boundaries of social and personal privacy. In an age, when people willingly expose themselves, Kızıltunç reveals the personal, the hidden, the unwanted, the given away, or those left in oblivion.
An archeologist by training and a photographer, Kızıltunç is performing an archaeology of images, unearthing moments, envisioning fresh entanglements, and mobilizing new memories. Developed through his archaeological studies, he is fundamentally ordering…or trying to put things into order: places, people, actions, and emotions—in short, life. The agency of Volkan Kızıltunç, who creates a fresh perspective through this ordering, enables him to challenge “normative” image production and presentation as he constructs different values through missing, unwanted, or unacknowledged images—endowing them new lives.
By method and spirit, Volkan Kızıltunç is following in the footsteps of many artists, photographers, and filmmakers—from Sophie Calle to Christopher Nolan, who have capitalized on the voyeuristic nature of images. One infamous example is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window from 1954. In the director’s penultimate study in voyeurism, photographs were pronounced dangerous for both the observer and the observed. A photographer, played by Jimmy Stewart, who is housebound because of a broken leg, spends his time peering into other people’s windows through his binoculars. He witnesses what looks like a crime, so he photographs the evidence. In Kızıltunç’s work video is also a form of evidence—alluding to its evidentiary nature as both documentation and evidence. What links Hitchcock’s iconic film to Kızıltunç’s work is that they both render visible the natural human pleasure derived from watching something unfold. Akin to Hitchcock, Kızıltunç as a photographer is naturally inclined to observe others and he understands the voyeuristic nature of lens-based media and, moreover, makes the viewer a participant as in The Nightwatch (2011). It does not matter which city is on the screen, we become the invisible eyes that experience it at night.
Volkan Kızıltunç’s recent body of work is an ode to the human curiosity for the lives, actions, and pasts of others. In his moving images, he creates encounters that capture those moments of “looking through the keyhole” or “finding the curtains open” and lets us peek in. The artist tussles with the implications of connecting the private eye to the public one. At once formal and sincere, Kızıltunç can transform a street corner into something monumental or invite us into that intimate moment of a kiss. Reconciling “our” and “their” pasts, the unknown narrative that glimpses through the images, has the potential to become one of ours. The(ir) lived experience enters our time. According to Walter Benjamin, “the true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.” The fading in and out of the audiovisual material in Kızıltunç’s installations can allude to the amorphous, boundless nature of images and memory.
One can argue that images can function as living things, and hence are metabolic. Let’s consider a metabolic arc from The Nightwatch to Momentum (2021) with Pellicle (2019) in the middle. The voyeuristic mode of The Nightwatch which centers upon the nocturnal city continues with Pellicle, which at first sight might seem out of this world, however, it is grounded precisely in our planet. By using unmanned aerial vehicles and photogrammetric technology, Kızıltunç creates digital reconstructions of geological sites such as mining areas or marble quarries. These “new” cartographies seen in his installation are embedded in the “oldness” of Earth’s topography. As mining is an intrusion or reversal of the planet’s surfaces so is Kızıltunç’s flipping of “real” spaces within a digital environment—an artistic intervention that makes them appear “virtual.”
The artist’s latest video installation, Momentum (2021) builds on these environmental entanglements. In his visual triangle, the human meets the urban environment and the natural world yet the underlying current of voyeurism never disappears. Rather we witness an intense fight, for instance, the poignantly captured “Bitti” visible on the wall—which can be understood as either “It ended,” or “It is over” in Turkish. Is it the friendship, love, or the precarious nature of the natural world that is coming to an end? There is one thing that Momentum encapsulates, and that is the fact that movement or momentum is never over. Kızıltunç observes, captures, and documents this movement in all its forms: the movement depicted, the movement of bodies (human or non-human), the movement within cities, the movement of the moving image, the moving quality of the work, and lastly what moves the artist and us as viewers. He captures that moment(um).
In his multi-channel video installations, Kızıltunç intervenes through synchronization, or he synchronizes the intervention. Being an artist obsessed with juncture or rupture, Kızıltunç dwells on the soglia, the threshold or space in-between, as he encapsulates this moment through a teenager gazing out to sea who is considering whether to jump in and swim as he decides not to—let us not forget that an image connotes more than it denotes. Modern culture and media scholar Tina Campt writes that photographs do not speak, however, they are not mute. They are quiet and solicit a form of listening. The image cannot do that by itself, but it can occasion those affinities, and Kızıltunç facilitates that and turns us into witnesses.
In Kızıltunç’s installations, the image culture is discursively visible, turning it into an object of critical and theoretical investigation. He uses video, which is also the medium of (our) time—of time lived, traveled, edited, offered, and layered. One clear aspect is how preoccupied he is with the medium’s effect on subjectivity and memory as he unveils the most personal and intimate relations one can have to the image while raising novel issues about the politics of viewing. Kızıltunç is a “seer” who also realizes that each person embodies sonder, or “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as [their] own.”
Volkan Kızıltunç knows that in a world that is always watching, your past is not your own. He is here to remind us of that as he fashions the future of memories.