An art gallery in Romania is currently hosting an exhibition investigating free market forces and the relationship between our present day society and individual identity through the works of artists Burak Delier from Turkey, Hito Steyerl from Germany and Guy Ben-Ner from Israel.
“You, Me and Every Thing in Between” is on display until May 22 at Spatiu Intact’s art gallery in Cluj-Napoca in Romania and is put together by London-based curator Simona Nastac.
In a recent interview with Today’s Zaman via email, Nastac explained that after the failure of the communist project in Eastern Europe, she has become interested, naturally, in the other dominant ideology shaping our world today — capitalism — in its fundamentalist stage widely known as neoliberalism.
“The title [of the exhibition] is a reference to the concept of ‘reification,’ the process by which ideas, people and their actions are turned into things,” Nastac said.
“The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The reality is rather different. It was meant to emancipate us, offering autonomy and freedom; instead it has delivered atomization, social anxiety and ecological disasters. Everything and everyone on Earth, including life itself, has been turned into objects of trade or commodities, in the name of constant growth and profit that have led to hyper-consumption and psychic crisis,” she wrote.
“You, Me and Every Thing in Between” investigates the side effects of free market forces and the relationship between our engineered society and individual identity, she said. “It turns out that we are what we consume and we are possessed by what we aim to possess. Hito Steyerl’s ‘In Free Fall’ shows us how modern cycles of production, exchange and consumption — both of tangible things and less material commodities — empty our lives of discernible meaning; Guy Ben-Ner’s ‘Stealing Beauty’ reveals the social mechanisms that control our desires and shape our values of liberty, equality and security; whereas Burak Delier’s ‘Collector’s Wish’ exposes the dynamics of an economic system in which the wealthy impose their own views, leaving no room for authentic critique and creative freedom,” Nastac said.
Delier’s work — which delves into contemporary art patronage — features an installation based entirely on the desire of Turkish art collector Saruhan Doğan and, according to the curator, the outcome is still something else than a collector’s request.
“We all know that the market is corrupting art, producing content-free and glitzy works for the art-as-asset aesthetic-driven global collecting class. Galleries and collectors lure artists to reflect the superior, detached ideal of today’s mega-rich, rewarding them substantially for superficiality and lack of criticality. It is pretty difficult to resist, especially in emerging art contexts where there is no significant public infrastructure supporting the arts, like in Turkey or Romania, for example. In ‘Collector’s Wish,’ Burak Delier seems to carry out Saruhan Doğan’s commission as instructed, yet the resulting artwork is not only what the collector wanted but is also something more, something true to the artist’s practice and critical vision — the full process of commissioning documented on film, a collaborative art product that can circulate and be seen outside the collector’s house and circle of prestige,” she said, adding that Delier succeeds at retaining, even if partially, his autonomy, and produces meaningful art — although subject to commodification as well.
Nastac writes in the exhibition text that “the fundamental relationship between people and things has to be understood not only in terms of how human beings attribute meaning to objects, but also of how objects act to objectify or mediate human beings.” Commenting on this aspect of the artworks in the show, she says that things we own, including artworks, create a network of uses and meanings that connects us to a place and grounds us in a sensible reality.
“They help us belong in the world and belonging is increasingly part of every transaction we make today. Businesses profit from building communities around what they sell and communities grow by meeting the wants of their members; thus, the experience of ownership becomes the springboard for the extension of personal connections and the development of our social reality in general, as we always aim to be around others who own the same properties, be they material things or, more importantly, ideas, histories and desires.
“Furthermore, in hyper-consumerism, goods and experiences are often status symbols, as individuals buy them not so much for their use-value, as to display them to others, sending associated meanings such as displaying wealth, membership to a certain group, or the belief in specific political, cultural or religious ideologies,” she writes.
In Steyerl’s video, the owner of an airplane scrapyard wears a deceptive marine captain’s hat and sells plane carcasses to the film industry; his life is closely shaped by both economic downturns that make airlines unprofitable and by the increasing demand for spectacular action movies, the curator said. “At the same time, Steryel’s own cameraman reveals that his livelihood has been ruined by the rise of digital media and, as a result, he also fell victim [to] the property downturn preceding the 2008 financial crash, which left him struggling to keep up with mortgage repayments on his architect-designed house. Like the owner of the scarp-yard, he too sees himself as the captain of a vehicle struggling to control it, in the midst of the endless cycles of capitalism incorporating and adapting to the changing status of the commodity.
“In ‘Stealing Beauty,’ private property and inheritance as defined by French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Marx and Engels are the sources of Guy Ben-Ner’s all-embracing concept of civilization that determines our relations with objects and with each other, even with our own family, whilst in Delier’s ‘Collector’s Wish’ art is the status symbol brought into discussion.”Artist Burak Delier (R) and Saruhan Doğan (Photo: Bashir Borlakov)