Short:Circuit – Cross Border Communications in New Media Between US and Turkey

The initial impetus of this panel comes from the chair’s involvement/research of Turkish artists who have lived in the States, North American artists working in Turkey, and ways their experiences are reflected in the work.
Saturday, 17 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Patrick Lichty
Ali Miharbi
Eden Unulata
Claudia Pederson
Burak Arıkan
İz Öztat
Chantal Zakari

Chair: Assist. Prof. Patrick Lichty

In keeping with the site of the ISEA 2011 Symposium, this panel seeks to present papers that address new media cross-border discourses between Turkey (the site of the symposium) and North America (the birthplace of New Media). This panel seeks to investigate North American/Turkey conversations in New Media Art & Culture; issues artists are exploring, and residency and curatorial projects. Also, we seek to probe the cross-cultural effects of networked culture and social media upon the demographics involved as well as the greater global milieu. This will be done by exploring artists, works, residencies, initiatives working between these spaces and sites of online culture that create frames of engagement for these issues.

The initial impetus of this panel comes from the chair’s involvement/research of Turkish artists who have lived in the States, North American artists working in Turkey, and ways their experiences are reflected in the work. In addition, in conversation with Burak Arikan, other issues such as the impact of Facebook, online dissemination of information, Wikileaks, social media and other aspects of networked culture will be addressed.

Paper Abstracts

Abstract Machines within the Local and Global Dynamics

by Ali Miharbi

In this presentation I will discuss three works: "RTUK", a browser extension that enables users to collectively black out any text on the Web, "Darwin's Birthday", a collection of Google's main pages as they were localized in 100+ different countries in one specific day, and "Delegations", an interactive installation showing viewers' reconstructed faces using statistically extracted face features of the host country’s members of the parliaments. These pieces exemplify my interest in the tensions between the local and the global within the larger framework of micro vs. macro processes that can be encountered in many fields such as economy, management, sociology, computer science, linguistics where top-down and bottom-up approaches are used in conjunction, e.g. in urban development organic and planned architecture function together to form cities and in human brain analytic and synthetic thinking together help us make sense of the world.

The Digital Tunnel (Abstract)

by Eden Unulata

The question “What is a border?” might seem simple. Everyone has an idea what the answer might be, has had some sort of experience with it, and yet would probably have a hard time defining it in simple terms. The simplest definition I have found defines a border as an outer part or edge! ( I found a more complicated definition at Wikipedia that says borders define geographic boundaries of political entities or legal jurisdictions. If one adds context such as, “in the age of modern digital technology” - the simple question of what a border is becomes a very complicated one.

A political entity or a legal jurisdiction within a border defines the rules that people play by. People pay taxes, participate in politics, engage in economic activity and perform service duties according to these rules. Rejecting these rules has consequences of punishment or perhaps even banishment. Once confronted with the consequences, you are no longer part of the system defined by a border; you are no longer one of “them”, but an “other”, the punished, the banished!

So what does it mean to be one of “them”? Who decides the definition of “them”? If you have not rejected the rules, have not gone against the system yet still feel like not-one-of-them does that mean you should still accept the rules? Still pay taxes, still participate in politics, engage in economic activity and still perform service duties? What happens if you are now outside of the border, not by punishment or banishment but by choice and you are playing by another set of rules?  Yet, what does it mean if you can still engage people within the borders you left without answering to the system? What if you were to be punished and banished yet still be present within the border? Physically out of their reach, yet digitally present.

I am an American by birth. I was born in Florida. I now live in Chicago. I pay taxes. I vote, do business and perform the duties expected of me. I am also Turkish and British by birth. I grew up in Turkey, and lived there for many years. I still hold a Turkish citizenship. Yet I never felt as if I was part of their system - at least as they define citizenship. My non-Turkish side was always highlighted, and in many cases, I was considered not Turkish enough! I have heard the term 'gavur' uttered at me so many times it no longer means much anymore.

Add to the fact I haven't paid taxes in Turkey for a decade and a half, I haven't participated in politics, nor engaged in economic activity. In that context I have decided that I will expand my act by refusing to perform duties also known as military service. Why hold to the notion of having to do my duties for a place I have very distant sense of belonging? However, this refusal has consequences! I will lose my citizenship and will be prohibited from entering the country. As I no longer live there, the Turkish government will not be able to punish me physically or monetarily, so they will simply banish me! But do I really need to be physically there in order to be present? I will be able to be present through digital technology, I will still be able to receive news from friends, stay in touch, maintain engagement through email, Facebook, Linked-In etc.

So effectively I will be tunneling under the border with digital technology, be present to the extent I choose to do so and yet remain out of reach. Out of the control of the political entity or jurisdiction of any Turkish legal body. In effect I will be rendering the entity and the jurisdiction just a little more hollow. So in the age of digital technology what is the definition of a border? And really, how relevant is it?

Declaration of Sentiments / Gün (DOS/G)

by Claudia Costa Pederson in collaboration with Arzu Ozkal

Declaration of Sentiments/Gün interrogates current perceptions of digital culture networks as a new, technology-based phenomenon, male dominated, and located exclusively in the Western domain. The project consists of a series of events taking place and off line for nine months with a group of women artists, scholars and activists working within Turkey and transnationally. The project advances the contributions of Turkish women to digital culture by way of connecting traditional women's culture, in this case in the form of the gün (the Turkish term for regular and informal meetings gathering women friends for convivial and creative purposes) with the work of women currently using new technologies to address questions of identity, cultural and political representation from a local (Turkish) and a global perspective.  The Gün is scheduled to coincide with ISEA and with the Istanbul biennial this year. I will be presenting on the resulting documentation of Declaration of Sentiments/Gün in the form of a limited edition art book and its parallel open platform version online.

Noise and Translation: Remapping Habitus Across the US/Turkey Border

by Assist. Prof. Patrick Lichty

Theorist Gayatri Spivak wrote of the politics of translation as being intrinsic to the construction of meaning if one looks at language as being central to that locus of meaning.  But if we can use the distance between root languages (Altaic for Turkish and Anglo-Frisian for English) as metaphor for distance, between cultures, to a sense of home, in translation of meaning and identity. In American cultural terms, the 20th century dream was that of assimilation, or is now possibly that of heterogenous integration.  However, for many artists crossing into the position of geographical otherness, the issues of translation, dislocation, and nomadism reemerge within the work.  To consider Shannon and the idea of noise in the transmission of ideas, including interpersonal relations, how does translation of alterity of space, time, culture and identity evidence itself through the milieu of cultural production?  Asking the question of why recurrent issues emerge is not enough, but examination of the phenomenology of dialogue between these milieux can lend insight into the experiences of artists who have traversed spaces which, in their own way, have been everything yet nothing.  This would be America, superpower without identity, and Turkey part of Europe, Middle East, and Eurasia and center of Byzantium.

This presentation will examine works by Turkish and Anglo-American artists who have either worked, studied,or created in the other country.  This discussion will also explore points of translation, mapping of meaning, and recurrent themes, not insofar to reductivize this matrix of relationships, but to consider the role of liminality as expressed by the work of both sets of artists. This simultaneous locus of commonality and dislocation becomes the expression of “others” who have themselves been influenced by that “other” place to reflect on their own hybridity and alterity. 

Location of Digital Media

by Burak Arıkan and İz Öztat

fter establishing an understanding of how new media is defined, examples will be drawn from practices that use digital media to comment on the techno-social environment. A comparative analysis of practices and examples will be offered to see if there are geography-specific traits. Certain historical moments, which allowed for extensive use of digital media ( such as 7th İstanbul Biennial, 2001,, dugumkume) will be researched to see if they had a lasting impact on the discussion and dissemination of digital culture.

The State of Ata, an artists' book: My Turkish I.D. Card

by Chantal Zakari

The State of Ata is a visual book about the social themes that define contemporary Turkey and that specifically examines the imagery of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, its revolutionary leader after World War I. This is a critical visual exploration on the meaning of Atatürk’s imagery and how it is used in Turkish society today. He is seen as the link to Western culture. His image is being used as a symbol in opposition to the Islamist political movement.

For the new Turkish Republic the symbolic image of Atatürk is the icon that connects the citizen to the image of a modern Turkey. His image pervades Turkish life. A variety of iconic images communicate the military hero, father of the country, visionary thinker, planner, teacher, religious leader, even fashion model, as he moved to reinvent every facet of Turkish life including mode of dress. With the present-day struggle between secularists, fascists, nationalists, Islamists, and the military, there is an increasing interest in using the image of Atatürk as an emblem for every political position. This work also recognizes the political battles within Turkish culture that revolve around feminine political fashion, the wearing of the scarf and even more extremely, the wearing of the black çarsaf. Religious dress has become a political statement that counterpoints the sexually evocative styles from Europe and the West.

This is an artists' book in its conception and design that weaves together photographs, interviews, artists' interventions and archival imagery. It is a critical visual exploration on the meaning of Ataturk's imagery and how it is used in Turkish society today. During a twelve year period between 1997 and 2009, Mike Mandel and Chantal Zakari, two artists, one Turkish, one American, have become engaged in this project to better understand this conflict.

In this presentation Chantal Zakari (one of the two artists) will speak about identity issues in relationship to her Turkish-Levantine heritage.

Bios of the Participants

Patrick Lichty

Patrick Lichty (b.1962)  is a media artist, writer, independent curator, animator for the activist group, The Yes Men, and Executive Editor of Intelligent Agent Magazine. He began showing technological media art in 1989, and deals with works and writing that explore the social relations between us and media. Venues in which Lichty has been involved with solo and collaborative works include the Whitney & Turin Biennials, Maribor Triennial, Performa Performance Biennial, Ars Electronica, and the International Symposium on the Electronic Arts (ISEA). He also works extensively with virtual worlds, including Second Life, and his work, both solo and with his performance art group, Second Front, has been featured in Flash Art, Eikon Milan, and ArtNews. He is also an Assistant Professor of Media Theory and Experimental Genres at Columbia College Chicago.

Ali Miharbi

Ali Miharbi is an artist whose work can take many forms from photographic, graphic or sculptural pieces to dynamic systems driven by live or stored data. His recent work explores our complex two-way relationship with technology within larger frameworks. In 2010 he completed his M.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University after acquiring a dual degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering and Art Theory & Practice with a concentration in Painting from Northwestern University in 2000. Not only his academic background, but also living back and forth between USA and Turkey gave him the mental flexibility to jump back and forth between different modes of thinking. His work has been exhibited in Turkey, Mexico, South Korea, USA and Australia. 

Claudia Costa Pederson is interested in examining histories about the relationship of media with art and activism. Before focusing on art history, she produced radio and video works in collaboration with activists and women artists in the Netherlands and Germany. She is currently concluding a doctorate at Cornell University on the work of artists using digital games and play for social critique.

Eden Unulata

Eden Unulata’s works investigate the formation of cultural identity and how a society draws conclusions from shared experiences. My intent is to understand the mechanics of cultural identity, highlight problems that evolve from its formation, and stimulate a debate on how to better manage these problems. When the identity of a culture and how it operates is explored in-depth, solutions may reveal themselves.     BID, METU (Turkey); MFA, Graphic Design, Bilkent University (Turkey);  MA, Department of Interdisciplinary Arts, Columbia College Chicago. I have worked and exhibited in Chicago, IL., Ankara (Turkey), Adana (Turkey), Istanbul (Turkey), Paris (France), and Oberlin OH. I currently live and work in Chicago, IL.

Chantal Zakari

Chantal Zakari is a Turkish-Levantine artist and a recent U.S. citizen. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she was trained as a designer and an artist. She published The Turk & The Jew, in 1998 with Mike Mandel, a book based on the web-narrative by the same title, which was launched in 1996. In 2005, using a pseudonym, she self-published webAffairs, a documentary of a web community. From 1997 to 2010, in collaboration with Mandel she co-wrote, photographed and designed The State of Ata: The Contested Imagery of Power in Turkey, a visual book about the social themes that define contemporary Turkey and that specifically examines the imagery of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, its revolutionary leader after WWI. Historian and author Etienne Copeaux, defined the book as "an encyclopedic research of the semiology of power relationships in Turkey".

She has had solo shows of her work in the U.S. and in Turkey and her books are in the collection of Brooklyn Museum of Art, Yale University, Institute of network Cultures, Getty Research Institute, The Kinsey Institute Library and many private collections. She has given book readings in the form of performances in the U.K., Netherlands, Canada, Turkey and the U.S.

Zakari is a professor in the Text and Image Arts Area at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.