single channel video, 9’ 20’’, without sound
A photographer by training, Volkan Kızıltunç in The Unspectacular addresses the two dimensional boundary of photography and creates a link between still and the moving image. The artist chose individuals, who had been living in the city renewal project areas of Turkey in Istanbul, Nevşehir, and Trabzon. They either had lost their houses, or were waiting for the demolition to take place in locations where the real differences occur and are visible. He asked his subjects to pose in order to take their photographs, however, the trick laid in the fact that the artist did not only take their photographs; he gave them a truly long exposure by means of video. Reminiscent of the nascent times of photography where the subject had to be still for a long period due to the exposure time, these contemporary figures remain still with only very minimalistic gestures that seem to break that moment. The subjects of his silent video present us not only with documentation of this ephemeral moment during times of transformation, but also Kızıltunç offers us a moment of observation and contemplation.
There are a number of contrasts that Kızıltunç poetically weaves together, starting from the silence that fills the air in an atmosphere occupied with anger, anticipation, destruction, and the unknown. His video becomes a silent critical medium that relies on displacement and forced change as a strategy to interrogate place and time through the theme of portraiture. He catches the essence of the subject by demonstrating both the visible and the invisible. His contemplative and compelling approach presents the aesthetic, physical, social, economical, and psychological transformation of not only the subjects, but also their surroundings (from the dog to the trash). Through a seemingly local matter, he pays our attention and documents the global phenomenon of the painful transformation that individuals and environments go through in times of gentrification.
Art Critic, Curator
The Unspectacular opens up a discussion between photography and film by deconstructing the notion of still and moving images. Different from the photo series mentioned above, in this work, the human figure and its portrait stands in the centre of the artist’s attention. Kızıltunç creates video portraits in the literary meaning of the term, where he uses the video-camera like a photo-camera.
The biggest difference between photography and film is the existence of time. In a photograph, there is only represented time, where movement get illustrated. Photography freezes time, and captures the flux of life into one single frame. In film, time is represented in longer sections, so that the spectator observes and experiences it by watching movements and hearing sounds. We expect from a film to see action in order to feel the speed of life. That is why, since the birth of film, the tempo of the quickly passing frames is one of its central formal and conteptual elements. In Volkan Kızıltunç’s pieces though, the protagonists are not moving. They stand still in impoverished urban surroundings, and stare at the camera as if they wait for a sign of the artist, so that they can release themselves from the pose. A strange effect occurs, as through the explicit exposure of time, the moment’s reality gains an absurd, even unreal character. Though, the atmosphere in the video is always calm, yet a bit tensed.
The absence of sound leads the spectator to an even more focused visual investigation. No story is told, and nothing but small and mostly unconscious movements of the portrayed happen. These small “mistakes” play a very important role, as they give the spectator a glimpse beyond the facade of the pose. That is why, in spite their artificiality and absurdity, these video-portraits look more real and realistic than classic photography or documentary, as the observer becomes an absolute voyeur, who has the chance of a total observation.
Volkan Kızıltunç’s work can be understood as a silent but strong critic of the ongoing gentrification process, because it shows people, who had been living in the city renewal project areas of Turkey in Istanbul, Nevşehir, and Trabzon. As the result of gentrification and wild capitalism, some had lost their houses; others were waiting for the bulldozers to tear them down. In this context, the slightly vibration of the individuals’ poses could also be interpreted as the calm before the storm or the condition of already being in the eye of the tornado.
Art Historian, Curator
Towards a Humanitarian Typology, Kenneth Feinstein
One thing that fascinates us about photography is that it is based on facts. In order for the image to exist, the object must be in front of the photographer of that person. Rosalind Krauss calls this a "index"; Pointing to something that really exists. In this sense, the presentation of the evidence of the truth brings the photograph into close relation with science. We use images as proof of the physical world. Image groups can be used to understand basic patterns. This typology has been used by scientists and pseudo-scientists since the 19th century. Artists, especially August Sander, understand the importance of topological approaches to photography as a way of speaking about how we perceive our society. Bernd and Hilda Becher's recent works led the movement of photographers combining scientific research with conceptual art. It is also allowed for audiences to make their own deductions from the structure while giving them the imagery that presents the world in a scientific aesthetic.
That kind of study which carried to us from science is the observation. Observing the appearance and making inferences based on the observed data. This brings us to Volkan Kızıltunç's work. The photographer's photography and video work are due to this observation. Kiziltunc uses typological model to investigate how we interact within the circle. Having set out from the "objective" composition of the Becher school, the artist very much likens to portraits, offering images of the subject directly in front of us. Bechers uses this explicit presentation to show a single object by itself; Candida Höfer gives an environment as an isolated singularity. In the photo sequence called [in] the Threshold, Kızıltunç is very conscious about preserving the context in which the object and the people inside.This study is in the form of typology; but they start to move in a new direction. The images focus on objects not the people. Similar to Bechers, a single object is in the middle for us to focus. Unlike Bechers, the object is represented in an urban context. Unlike Höfer or Gursky, the environment shown is not claustrophobic. Kızıltunç has begun to use typology in a different way, towards the world's more humanitarian aspect.
This is especially true for Kiziltunç's “Unspectacular” video. In this work, artist shoots one minute video portraits of different people in their own environment. Unlike Warhol's video portraits, these portraits are not about confrontation, but the shot is wide enough to allow us to see people in their own surrounding. The interesting thing is that since the videos are only held for one minute, tpeople feel like they are posing for a photographer. The photographer, makes the difference between the still and the video portrait unclear for both the viewer and the poser. The poser is not aware that they’re being shot by video but to poses for an image. The viewer thinks first that he is confronted with a static image; But as we watch it, the movement becomes noticeable. “Unspectacular”, points to the main problem of portrait photography. Can we understand a person only by perceiving their outer appearance? The typological approach to photography is only meaningful in the form of series. One single sample is meaningless, but an image sequence can give us information. Humanity of people are secondary; and our inferences are expected to be generalizations. Typologies have been used to confirm racial and class prejudices. As in the works of pseudo-scientists such as Casale Lombroso, who believes that criminals can be identified from their physical appearences are examples of this situation. Even in the work of August Sander's People of the 20th Century, people are not classified by who they are as individuals but what they represent. But by the end of the day, typology expects to examine the image sequences. There is no importance of a single object or an inndividual person. At this point, such works creates problems for art. If individual icons are meaningful; but not worthy enough to being recorded,so what we have it in our hands? It is an artistic context; or is it a scientific context? If we’re talking about the second one, is it expected that we should appreciate the humanity of the people? If the reason for the work is typology only, it is the job of the viewer to find the person in the work, despite the artist. Taking the form of the scientific one, the artist abstracts itself from the singularity of the subject. The person in the photo had tried to escape from the responsibility for the other.
Bechers and his students tried to avoid this problem by avoiding individuals in their work. Thus, they tried to ignore the responsibility of the photographer against the person being photographed. In “The Unspectacular”, Kızıltunç pointed directly at this problem. The artist presents persons with their contextes. He allows us to look at us in the form of a mutual conversation. We look at how they move, how they carry themselves in their bodies, and we grasp them as individuals. Even though we see them collectively in relationship with these people, the typological nature of the sequence has shaken. Typologies are depend on the idea of continuity, and reject the idea of singularity. A typology, a generalized form, should round out details to find a breed. When we are faced with the individual in the typological sequence, we have to either ignore the singular or look at the type to see the type. “The Unspectacular” causes us to do the second one. It is the individual that we are in relationship with. We are required to establish a relationship with them and accept them in their humanity. They look at us, we look at them. They do not expect anything from us except to be seen. We are presented with them as the other: as the one we need to undertake and to deal with. Kızıltunç presents the people we have transformed as a typological ecole. This is where your power lies. They present themselves to us as a series of individual videos on a single screen, individually displayed as short clips or on multi-screens where the figures are displayed in full size, and we expect to see them as the face of the truth behind the self. Finally, the work smashes the shape of its form.
Kenneth Feinstein is a teorician, writer and curator and an Associate Professor at the Centre for Research-Creation in Digital Media at Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.