Volkan Aslan
    •  Nancy Atakan:  In my opinion, much of your work seems to be a type of narrative. How would you describe your art practice?

      Volkan Aslan: I always begin with a problem and I always use irony. While I may appear to be dealing with a sociological situation, I am always telling something about my experiences and myself.  Life is hard.  We are continually faced with tragedy and drama. To soften and make problems more acceptable, I use irony. Technique emerges later. Sometimes I use found objects, sometimes an object I have designed, sometimes video, sometimes photographs, but I am always telling my own story. My life is my art practice. My art practice is my life. 

      NA:   What types of art related problems do you deal with in your work? 

      VA:  It bothers me that everything in the art context tends to be classified.  In the post-modern world it seems everything must be defined.  I try to sabotage classification.  In one exhibition, I labeled objects throughout the exhibition building such as a fire hydrant, the elevator, the toilets, and the reception desk.  Just like labels for art objects, these labels included the object’s name, date, size, and material. As an ironic comment on artist’s names becoming brands or trademarks, when I moved to Istanbul in 2006, I made a large advertisement, Volkan Aslan in Istanbul, and hung it on the outside of the Contemporary Art Fair exhibition space.  In an ironic and critical manner, I wanted to make it obvious that I now belonged to the art scene in Istanbul.  With this type of work, I am trying to sabotage and to destroy the conventional space/spectator/art object relationship. 

      NA: In 2004 while you were still a student, you made a digital print series showing yourself taped to the floor with layers of masking tape. At that time you were living in southeastern Turkey in the city of Mersin, now you live and work in Istanbul. Does place and geography play an important role in your work?

      VA: Actually, I am not specifically interested in place or geography.  When I was younger I wanted to belong to a place because I continually had to move. I attended five different elementary schools in five different cities, two different middle schools in two different cities, and two different high schools in two different cities. Since I desired to have stable relationships and long-term friendships, as an artwork, I decided to metaphorically tape myself to the floor. 

      NA: Having lived continuously for the past four years in Istanbul, you have obtained a degree of stability. Nevertheless, you have traveled quite a bit to participate in numerous international exhibitions. Could you describe your work included in some of these shows?

      VA: In an Istanbul flea market, I found a bag of 490 felt figures that had been discarded by a local church.  I used these figures in a series of works entitled Concern. The stories changed in every location becoming site specific. I made the first series for a 2008 solo exhibition at Pi Artworks in Istanbul.  In this story, a bear created a nation.  Of course, this is an imaginary nation with its fictional wars, slaughters, maps, and boundaries.  Even though it is a fictional country, I secretly added scenes from my own life.  For the wall in the 2008 Milan show, “Save As”, I used 120 felt figures to tell stories about relationships between males and females, males and males, people from different cultures and races.  None of the scenes were normal.  To the spectators, the figures seemed to be familiar, but the interactions were absurd.  For “Atelier Frankfurt” in the same year, I used 200 felt pieces to make a story about the birth of the universe.  The figures began to walk, to make cars, to murder, as the universe gradually moved towards entropy. In the Weimar “Cultural Jam” exhibition, I printed images taken from the felt figures onto acetate and attached these to the windows.  From the inside looking out, the figures seemed to take part in real life and to interact with the people on the streets, the traffic, and the buildings.  When looking from outside to the inside of the space, everything was fiction. 

      NA: Much of your work deals with the relationship between reality and fiction. Do you see yourself as a visual storyteller?

      VA:  Actually, I combine personal possessions and experiences with found objects and imaginary stories to make them appear not to be about me.  Everything becomes fiction, but the spectator can never be completely certain.  Sometimes I just want to play with objects, to design, to create stories.  By turning everything into an artwork, childlike activities become legitimate.   In 2009 for a solo show, “four”, at Pi Artworks in Istanbul, I designed a table.  I bought four dining tables from the flea market and had a carpenter cut them into four parts and reassemble them into one table with legs from four different decades.  For the installation, along with the table, I included old photographs and objects that had been discarded in the attic of my mother’s apartment building.  I arranged these in the exhibition space as a type of film set and then asked a film writer to create four short scripts with fictional characters who could have lived in the 1960s, 70s, 80, and 90s and owned these objects.  A smaller version of this exhibition was repeated in “Once Upon a Time…” at Kunstraum Kreuzbeg/Bethanien, Berlin.   Mainly, in both of these exhibitions, I wanted spectators to feel a close affinity with these objects and to cry or laugh at simple love stories like they do while watching a soap opera on television.  As a part of a collaborative project, I traveled with several other artists from Istanbul to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran.  Throughout my travels, I wrote a dairy and collected cheap objects, postcards, and photographs, but this time rather than work with fiction, for an installation entitled Under Construction, I presented my impressions of the reality of cities having lost belief in an ideology and undergoing change.

      NA:  In February you did a solo show for Pi Artworks called “Those who wear the same t-shirts”.  For this video installation, you asked pedestrians in three different cities what they felt when they wore a t-shirt with the Turkish flag.  Since it is illegal to reproduce the Turkish flag on a t-shirt, does this work contain a political agenda?

      VA:  In this work, the problem I was addressing revolved around similarity.  On an ordinary day on the street in Istanbul, I encountered a stranger wearing a t-shirt identical to mine.  I started to wonder if our motivation for wearing it were the same.  This video piece resulted from a type of unscientific research project.  Since spectators cannot be sure whether this is documentation or fiction and whether the people interviewer were randomly selected, there is a strong element of ambiguity.  Perhaps it is staged. Perhaps they are my friends.  From this experiment, I learned that even though people may wear the t-shirt because they feel proud of the flag, their pride stems from different reasons. 


      From top left clockwise:  Concern, 2008, 490 ready made printed felt figures, wall installation. Courtesy of Vehbi Koc Foundation, Istanbul; four, 2009, designed table, found photographs, miscellaneous objects, film scripts. Courtesy of Pi Artworks, Istanbul.  Those who wear the same t-shirts, 2010, 8 minute 40 second video, clothes rack, hangers, and mirror, t-shirts.  Courtesy of Pi Artworks, Istanbul.


      Volkan Aslan was born in 1982 in Ankara, Turkey. He lives and works in Istanbul. Selected shows: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006 solo shows Pi Artworks, Istanbul. 2009 Bethanien, Berlin. 2008 Atelier Frankfurt. 2008 Triennial Bovisa Museum, Milan. 2007 Apex, New York.