Fatherland, two-channel video installation with sound, colour and bw, 12’48’’
A Text for “Fatherland” by Baha Görkem Yalım
"How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself." Virginia Woolf - The Waves
"... identity ... can only affirm itself as identity to itself by opening itself to the hospitality of a difference from itself or of a difference with itself. Condition of the self, such a difference from and with itself would then be its very thing ... the stranger at home." Jacques Derrida - Aporias
I was born in 1987, which means I never met my grandfather. The cold war era Turkey was riddled with political violence, followed by a coup d’état in 1980, the most violent of a history full of military interventions. Turkish Armed Forces ruled the country through the National Security Council before democracy was "restored" in 1983 with the general elections. This period, an era where Turkish nationalism of the state rose, the Kurdish language was banned, unyieldingly paved the way to today's Turkey, the Turkey I left in 2011.
In 1982, when my grandfather left his English class, he was wearing his glasses. Glasses are objects that carry a strong affordance and a symbolically charged meaning of use. Affordance is the potential action an object makes possible while making other potential actions invisible for the subject. When we see a pair of glasses, our hands are immediately drawn to its movement and functions. We are very accustomed to eyeglasses, and we readily accept them because they are there to make things more visible to us and more apparent. My grandfather needed his glasses to read and write for a classroom full of students. Perhaps he forgot he was wearing them—most of the time, we do. Seeing things is something we get used to very quickly.
He stepped outside to walk home. He was assassinated with a gunshot, aiming at his left eye. With this action from a distance, a subject is transmitted to an object. Not just as a layer of blood on the eyeglasses but also a much deeper level. The metaphysical paradox here finds a reflection also in the physical level. The eyeglasses kept from that moment are no longer the same glasses he saw the world from; when the keepsake was born, he wasn't there anymore. He never looked from the glasses of the keeper. From this transformation of the subject to the object, the distance the eyeglasses have with its keeper disappears. The mutability that shifts inaccessibility to accessibility is an essential part of the keepsake. The paradoxical core of the eyeglasses assimilates itself, creating a shift in speculation. The glasses act as a potentially active agent that engages with viewers as if the keepsake was the person and its viewers are mere things.
Perhaps the necessity to stress the objectivity of an artefact by theories of material culture accustomed to is an avoidance of the paradoxical qualities of the artefact. But the paradox here is not a source of a problem. It is the opposite. It feeds itself, adds to the objects' independence, and is an inseparable element of the object. This element is where the real illusions are. Hence what constitutes pretence is that, in the end, we don't know whether it's pretence or not. In "Fatherland", I am not giving you the whole truth.
The pretence here also directly relates to the phenomenon of the keepsake having the power to loyally keep the colour, texture and sight of those we have lost even better than these people themselves, making the spectre of the deceased person visible to others. Because things speak the truth in the purest form, the most unmistakable truth conceivable. Miracles, most of the time, work in things. Bodies being repaired, water turning into wine. Truth uttered by things themselves, without the distorting filter of human interpretation, are purist. It is perhaps why keeping is a post-mortem ritual carrying the implication that death has to be negated and separated from the sphere of the living without rejecting it all together. The glasses are a space-time where we are interrelating to the illusion that the object enables renunciation of death and also enables us to vitiate death. Vitiating death is our ultimate desire, and we try to achieve it by enriching life with objects. The keepsakes' function is remembering death by trying to forget it.
In less dry terms, I had no choice but to make "Fatherland" reckon with the past and fight with a ghost. Not to reclaim a future but hold a painful position from the point of view that refuses to imagine a future. “Fatherland” is not an act of rewriting the past but an act of making it obsolete so the future can rewrite it—an ending. There are no horizons in this work but a collapsing inwards, folding in itself. This work wants to remain silent but wishes to yell, scream, be courageous, and be strong. Likely it isn't. Two images oppose to one another try speech. A particular speech we need to adopt when speaking to a ghost. Arguing with a ghost may be futile if we believe in the impossibility of such reckoning, yet "Fatherland" at least attempts it, knowing to lose sometimes is the only way. I am the keeper of my grandfather's glasses. Nevertheless, this work is dedicated to someone very much alive and deeply loved, my father, my father walking in the snow.