Allen Grubesic’s solo show, Experimental Evidence, opened at Pi Artworks in Istanbul on the 7th November and is due to run until December 26th, 2015. Although Grubesic is a resident of both Istanbul and Stockholm, this is his first solo show in Turkey.
Gallery view. Left: WTFFTW, acrylic and clear gesso on cotton, 20 panels, 160 x 185 cm, 2015. Centre: Seven days One Week (2015), 7 Cotton canvas Jackets, plastic buttons, and wooden hangers. Right: detail, A Study for “A Crack In The System” (2015).
Experimental Evidence showcases a new body of work that epitomizes Grubesic’s practice. Whether with sophisticated sultriness or sardonic wit, his work forms an ongoing commentary on the contradictory nature of global communications.
Earlier on in the year, The Forumist took a peek into Grubesic’s ‘WTF’ world to experience Grubesic’s way of seeing:
“I have always enjoyed all the double meanings around us; in commercial messages, street signs, product packaging, graffiti or in the stuff we share online. It’s very personal, how we filter and interpret all the messages that we are confronted with. For me, this is especially true since I moved to Istanbul. I read all the signs through the filter of my mother tongue, or languages other than Turkish. There is a lot to think about.”
A Study for ”A Crack In The System” (2015)
160 panels, each panel 22,5 cm diameter. Ca. 252 cm x 472,5 cm
Steel, Powder-coating, Acrylic paint and Acrylic Lacquer
The subject of conspiracy theories is a dominant theme in the exhibition. In his piece A Study for “A Crack In The System” Grubesic uses an actual code published on the British intelligence agency website to recruit new talent. The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had an open call asking “Can you crack it?”
GCHQ is one of the British intelligence and security organizations responsible for providing information and intelligence to the armed forces and government, alongside the infamous MI5 and MI6. Grubesic has taken the code and presented it on what appears to be enlarged typewriter keys, reminiscent of famous World War 2 code-breaking machine Enigma. Analogue or digital, all of our communications are form of decipherable, trackable and traceable binary code.
Grubesic explains his fascination with the code: “The recruitment ad was like an invitation to a secret club. It raised all sorts of questions: How do spy agencies clear applicants? How much information do they need? On what criteria do they judge people? It’s Orwellian but with a soft underbelly as no system is perfect – and if it is, is it justified? Edward Snowden changed his mind because he is human and not a robot. Government spy agencies are there to serve the people, but they are by nature secretive, and thus anti-democratic. This recruitment code is a way to show power, without revealing the nature or extent of that power.“
When you stand in front of the artwork, your mind quickly becomes confused. The sheer size of the piece is disturbing. The code is also slightly tilted to create another barrier to read the letters and numbers as text. Grubesic describes his experience of making the piece as an ‘endless psychosis.’
“To me the code is just DADADADA- it means nothing. I don’t speak this language. I had to continuously check that I was duplicating the code correctly. The constant recounting and re-organizing of the plates made me feel like I had some connection to its true meaning, without having any idea of what it means.”
36 panels (each panel 4 cm x 22.8 cm) ca. 150 x 150 cm
Brass, Steel, Powder-coating, Alkyd, and Polyurethane.
A Study for ”A Crack In The System” also mirrors Grubesic’s DADADA piece. The Dada movement was often whimsical; they purposefully didn’t want to make sense – to anyone. In contrast, the GCHQ code is intended to only make sense for a select few.
“The Dada movement was inherently anti-war, but is often compared to the Futurist movement that was essentially a fascistic movement,” says Grubesic. For him, the oversimplification of complex ideas into polar opposites is terrifying. It is precisely that kind of polarization that gives rise to the conditions where Fascism thrives.
‘DA’ also means ‘yes’ in many Slavic languages, from Bosnian and Serbo-Croatian to Russian. DADADA, for Grubesic, is therefore an eternal affirmation. This repetition-based approach is used across the exhibition to emphasize and de-reconstruct messages into familiar patterns and codes- but look closely and you will see that the patterns are not coherent.
20 Panels (each panel 45.5 cm x 31.5 cm) ca. 180 cm x 160 cm
Acrylic on clear gesso primed cotton canvas
In WTFFTW, Grubesic combines two well-used Internet age acronyms, repeating them over and over. WTF? For the win? Or Fuck the World!? Grubesic’s acronym paintings can be hung in any order. Any person with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) would immediately notice the anomalies in the patterns.
“The mind wants to have a system, but if the system is too constrained or predictable, the mind becomes inactive. It’s a metaphor for chaos and order. We need both, but if one takes over, we are doomed. Systems that strive for too much order are closed and oppressive. The system becomes self-serving, not allowing any space for human creativity,” says Grubesic.
This thought has been taken through to every detail of the exhibition. Even the gallery walls are painted in colors that are reminiscent of government institutions, hospitals and mental asylums.
“These paintings turned out to be very difficult to execute,” says Grubesic, “So the OCD joke really backfired on me.”
Left: Black Square (2015). 106 x 106 cm. Black gesso, synthetic tempera, synthetic pigment, Turkish blood. Centre: A Study for ”A Crack In The System” Right: Witches Brew (2015), Synthetic Polymer, Synthetic pigment, Plant material, Wood, Acrylic.
Grubesic’s Black Square is a particularly moving piece; a moment of visual silence in the exhibition, and a memorial for those who died in the Ankara bombing. Unlike any other black painting you may have seen, Grubesic’s Black Square contains human blood, donated from a friend. 2015 also marks the centenary of the original black square paintings by Kazimir Malevich, masterpieces of the Supramatist movement.
Grubesic was preparing his painting Zeros and Ones on the 10th October, 2015, the day of the bombing. Over a hundred people died in the attack. People changed their social media profile pictures to a black square in mourning.
Grubesic wanted to use blood to clearly connect the image to the bombing.
“It was a very spiritual and sad experience to make Black Square. I had 4 vials of precious blood from my friend. They say the Turkish flag is the color of blood, but on that day everything felt black,” says Grubesic.
Facing Black Square is Witches Brew, a set of pitch-black witch’s broomsticks. Where as Black Square is about a very specific event, Witch’s Brew represents “what’s cooking” – what the truth is beyond what is presented in the media.
I ask Grubesic what’s next for him.
“Somehow it feels important for me to stay here for now. Istanbul has always been the beautiful city full of intrigue, in books and films. It has that obvious attraction. The whole atmosphere here is electric right now. There is a huge sadness and suppressed anger that is tangible even if you don’t speak the language. But there is also so much joy here. In Sweden you are very disconnected from street life. You never have to talk to people. Here, people are out on the street selling tea and snacks, discussing life. There’s always something going on. Some of it is scary, it’s a city of polarities, but it’s a dynamic that empowers my creativity and makes me feel part of something bigger.”
Allen Grubesic: Experimental Evidence
Pi Artworks Istanbul
Istiklal Cad. Misir Apt. 163/4
7 November – 26 December 2015
10.00 – 19.00 (Except Sundays)
Words by Tanya Kim Grassley