7/27/2013

What is Wrong with the Gezi Park Monument by Studio Vural?

Gezi Park Monument by Studio Vural could have been dismissed as artless opportunism. It could have been a typical register that inhibits and turns unrehearsed moments into objects and cripples them with long shelf-life of concrete. We are all used to those; we see it also in the cool and distant gaze of the classical academics who treat fields of experimentation as a zoo, and deplete them of any potentiality. All this happened before and also recently at Tahrir in 2011. The revolution was fetishized with a burst of an output of bad heroic art for collective tear-jerking.  Most of it purely out of naiveté, these things get staged again and again. Revolutions need their economy of images but how these images come to stand for something and pack in an unusual mass of signifiers can never be premeditated.   


Studio Vural’s Gezi Park proposal is flat out problematic for a few reasons. The source material is the well-known photograph of a woman. She has her arms up in defiance of the anti-riot vehicle.  She stands tall against the jet spray from the vehicle’s water cannon. The first time you see it, it is picture perfect. But, in each recurrence, saturated, reframed and held captive all across media with a the image comes to closed to being retooled as  an eroticized  body, it gets controlled by the gaze and tamed down with history.  Studio Vural refers to it as “it is also significant that all monuments of liberty in history are made of or derived from female figures. There is a soft power, an illuminated fearlessness in their stance, which is not evident in the singularly powerful male figures...”  The see-through sexism of the claim aside, the abstraction and generalization of the figure into psuedo-futuristic statue lets go of the critical aspect of the specificity of the situation. This person --Kate Cullen, a young Australian student, studying in Istanbul-- stood up, motionless against a very powerful spray of water.  It is impossible not to conjure up Rachel Corrie who did the same ten years ago in Rafah and was crushed to death by Israel Defense Forces’ armed bulldozer, and the Tiananmen square in 1989. One day one person stands up in peace and leaves the rest of us in humility. Concrete is not part of that story.


Studio Vural proposes the “Gezi Park Monument” exactly where there was supposed to be another monument.  That was the equestrian statue of the second president of the country (“national chief”). The statue was supposed to  overpower the square. The park’s relationship to the square, the steps leading to the sizeable clearance seems to have been designed in admiration of Nuremberg rallies.  The equestrian statue was supposed to take the glitz away from the monument to the Republic only a hundred meters away. Luckily, It was quickly ushered away to another neighborhood with its grand pedestal staying there for a little more time.  To bring that type of brutal monumentality to the same location reintroduces an autocratic narrative that was interrupted only in the mid-to-late 1970s when the square became home to May Day parades. A critical aspect of the government's project is that the tunneling highways and the reconstruction of the barracks would have drastically reduced crowd access to the square. Most governments in the history of the republic just despised the notion of the public taking over the square and the square becoming public. “Gezi Park Monument” forgets to ask simple questions like: “I would like to propose this but what do the Gezi people think? Is what I am proposing a gift or an imposition?”  and so on and so forth. Gezi resistence is/was relational, horizontal, discursive, collegial, and mobile. Stigmergical in intelligence it opted for the malleable over the hardened; it has been against any form of developmental drive.  Quite contrary to Gezi spirit, the images and the texts that accompany the proposal are alienating and divisive.  Everbody knows that there were a rainbow of flags at Gezi side by side, not only the Turkish Flag. There was a vegetable garden, and this one vegetable garden gave inspiration to tens if not hundereds of cases of urban farming. The garden was destroyed when Gezi was invaded by the police and the city workers. They brought in well-fertilized flowers and rolled out green grass as if they were laying linoleum. Had it been the spring, the government's flower of choice tulips would have been shoved down our throats for an extra layer of neo-ottomania. Gezi does not ask for museums because it does not want to be musealized, it does not ask for “one” library because it imagines a distributed network of libraries all around the town. Lastly, Gezi was not “a revolutionary syringe of Woodstock 69 & Occupy Wall Street cocktail has been injected into Turkish cultural veins..,” it does not have to compared, it was not belated, it was its own thing, reinventing itself each and everyday.