Q&A: Hale Tenger and Mari Spirito

20 March 2018Alexandra Chaves
Q&A: Hale Tenger and Mari Spirito

For Art Week at Alserkal Avenue, Alserkal Programming presents Under, Hale Tenger's first major commission in almost a decade. 

Hale Tenger

How did you come across the fictional narrative that inspired Under?

I came across the story of the hunting ploy in a political essay on freedoms, I once read somewhere long ago. I couldn’t trace it back though, it is unknown to me if it is fictive or not. I searched for quite a while and I realized afterwards it was not important to confirm if it was a fact or not, I just wanted to write a text on my own, incorporating this story into it and do it in a such way so it’ll read like a verse or lyrics to be narrated by a woman as if she is delivering a tale. However, during my research I came to learn that 20-25 million birds are bred yearly at farms for bird hunting markets, and some of theses farms are set in nature with nets, creating the same effects on these birds today.

Under is a free-standing structure with a similar exterior to Alserkal Avenue’s buildings. Can you tell us more about your particular choices in how the structure should look and how do you expect visitors to feel inside the space?                              

It is designed as a free-standing structure made from the same corrugated metal sheets used in Alserkal Avenue’s existing buildings. The choice was intentional, so that the work from outside will blend in with its surrounding, will look ordinary, almost undetected, just like the systems of control and power structures that we live under are so deeply ingrained in our societies that they become standard, permeating everything most of the time.

The visitors will step into an intimate and immersive stage once they will enter Under. There will be a tree right in the middle stretching up towards an open sky and a net set just above head level. The audio will surround the viewer inside the space, with a narration and sound effects as if there are unseen birds flying around, below the net. 

Do you feel that society is more “under the net” now than we have ever been? And what can be done to change that?                                             

Nation state models are not fitting to today’s information societies. The governing systems are ungainly and keep lagging behind. Instead of adapting and creating new way of politics, they become more and more authoritarian and bossy. We need new politics, new systems of governing not only to keep up with the needs of information society but also to tackle environmental problems growing uncontrollably into a global ecological crisis.

I’d like to ask you about We didn't go outside; we were always on the outside/ We didn't go inside; we were always on the inside, which is a work from 1995 that was recreated with Protocinema in 2015.

Even with a 20-year gap, the work was (and is) still relevant in Turkish and global society. Do you think that Under’s theme will still ring true in 20 years’ time? 

Freedom of expression, equalities of all kinds are necessary as ever been but I think if we don’t take urgent steps soon enough regarding environmental issues, these days we are going through will be hankered for. So, I’d say with today’s state of global and national politics things will turn even worse.

Describe your working relationship with Mari.                                                           

We’ve known each other for quite many years now and have worked together first time in 2015 installing We didn't go outside; we were always on the outside/ We didn't go inside; we were always on the inside in New York. It is based on mutual understanding and respect. We work easily together both in a professional and a friendly manner.

Mari Spirito

Protocinema describes itself as “itinerant” and “free of ‘brick and mortar’” – how does this nature set you apart from other art organizations?

Protocinema is set apart from other art organizations by this and other features, being “free of ‘brick and mortar’” is just one way. This de-centralized aspect is a symptom of the direction about half the world is going in – Airbandb, Uber, online universities – on the other side, roughly 50-40% of the world population is not on-line.

Protocinema describes itself as “site-aware”, meaning that there is a site-specific component, yet a smaller budget and more flexible. Recently we started also describing Protocinema as “context-specific”, which puts a bit more emphasis on what is going on in a moment of time, in a certain place. All of this thinking is intuitive anticipation, and comes out of a very long lineage of this kind of work. I am very inspired by many artists and organizations, this kind of work started at least fifty years ago with Land Art in the 1960s and 70s. Miwon Kwon wrote a great book on the history of site-specific practices, called “One Place after Another, Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity”. I am modifying, mix and matching practices that already exist to fit my sensibilities and make some-sense to this time we live in now.

Protocinema’s exhibitions deal with serious issues in different societies. You’ve tackled topics like student debt to loss of hope in youth – how can art address these issues?

Clearly art is powerful, art effects people in many ways, emotional, intellectual, and sometimes into action. Art and Activism increasingly overlap – yet they are two different things. Art is an expression, sometimes a form of communication, that generates ideas and a platform around which to talk about the ideas put forth. Art is fluid, open-ended and poetic and complex. Activism is an action that has a direct goal of changing policy. One can lead to the other, yet it is not necessary for all art be in this realm of “socially engaged” art. Art can addresses issues by bringing the concerns into the light – to be seen and discussed. Art has the ability to addresses issues in that art is about life, about all the things in the world.

Part of your work at Protocinema is to respond to global concerns – what global concerns do you hope to address with Under?

Class, race and gender inequalities.

There are environmental issues as well, so it is not just “we humans” but all sorts of inequalities that relate to dominance and/or sovereignty and control.

What type of dialogue do you want to instigate with Under?

Ideally, I’d be happy to instigate an open dialogue on shared experiences and possible ways to ”move the needle’ on the processes of oppression. This process I’m talking about takes generations.

The behavior modification method in Hale Tenger’s new work, what happened to the birds in her work, is classic, textbook, and happens between individuals in very intimate ways, in small groups, workplace, social groups, and then of course, on larger scale, by governing bodies and corporations, or both of those in cooperation.

In the process of resolving any issue or conflict, the first step is recognition. If I am suffering yet I do not see why or how, there will be no way for me to step outside of and away from this suffering. Recognition is an important step and can also happen by an example of what it looks like not to be pushed down by fear, such as the famous Williamson/Mandela quote: “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I want Hale Tenger’s work to instigate a dialogue of deeper understanding.

Describe your working relationship with Hale.

My working relationship with Hale Tenger is inspiring, respectful and full of love.