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First Comprehensive Solo Exhibition in Switzerland of Works by Turkish Artist Banu Cennetoglu

BASEL.- The Kunsthalle Basel presents “Guilty feet have got no rhythm.”, the first comprehensive solo exhibition in Switzerland of works by Turkish artist Banu Cennetoğlu.

Banu Cennetoğlu was born in Ankara, Turkey, in 1970. After studying psychology in Istanbul, she moved to Paris to study photography. In 1996, she moved to New York, where she was increasingly engaged with artists’ books and the photographic medium. In 2002, Cennetoğlu was awarded a studio scholarship to the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. She now lives and works in Istanbul, where, in addition to her artistic work, she runs the art space BAS, a collection and distribution centre for artists’ publications and a venue for lectures and discussions. Together with the Dutch artist Philippine Hoegen, Cennetoğlu also founded the publishing project Bent, in 2006, which focuses on artists’ books from Turkey.

Many of Cennetoğlu’s artistic works explore the mediums of photography and film and their various uses (as documentary evidence, for example), both in the media and in the art world itself. At times Cennetoğlu has contrasted the supposed fragility of the photographic image with the print and digital media’s assumption that it must be realistic. For her works, the artist often seeks out the sites of political events: For Determined Barbara (2002-04), for example, Cennetoğlu documented the area near Banja Luka, Bosnia, that was occupied by NATO troops (SFOR) during the Balkan war, and which prior to the conflict had been inhabited by some 704 people. The artist’s subtle photographs raise questions about the appropriation of the land, as well as the larger loss that this appropriation symbolized.

The Kunsthalle Basel exhibition brings together Cennetoğlu’s more recent works, while simultaneously reflecting the different contexts in which they have been presented over the past few years. Thus, her show is both an actual body of work and a documentation of previous manifestations of the featured pieces; to this end, it is a kind of “Introspective”, to quote the term Cennetoğlu herself uses to describe the first cohesive presentation of these various works at once.

In the large, neoclassical, sky-lit gallery on the first floor of the Kunsthalle, four copies of the work CATALOG 2009 (2009) are presented on plinths beside museum benches that are ready to receive visitors who might like to leaf through the books. The volumes were first shown at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, when Cennetoğlu represented Turkey in the nation’s pavilion along with Ahmet ğt (who also exhibited at the Kunsthalle Basel, in 2008). CATALOG 2009 is a thick book in the style of a mail-order catalog, featuring 450 photographs taken by the artist, which are then divided into fifteen categories: composition, colour, assumption, negotiation, operation, vanity, adjustment, excursion, caution, love, seizure, exploit, act, invasion and replacement. The images range from family photographs to images of office rooms and the assembly hall in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, to evidence of the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. For the duration of the 53rd Venice Biennale, visitors to the Turkish Pavilion could order and download these photographs from the Internet free of charge.

In the work Sample Sale / 2010 BC (2010), Cennetoğlu further explores the mechanisms of classification, appropriation and distribution. The piece was originally shown last year in Cennetoğlu’s first solo exhibition in a commercial venue, at the Rodeo Gallery in Istanbul. Eleven “samples” of works (2010-11)—comprised of various found, appropriated and manipulated objects, photographs and a digital slideshow—were conceived individually, and each one was juxtaposed with a copy of CATALOG 2009. The Sample include Baldessari for All, which features John Baldessari’s text-based artwork Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell (1966–68) printed on four grey sweatshirts in the sizes M, L, XL and XXL. Souvenirs from the Manifesta 8, The European Biennial of Contemporary Art Region Murcia (Spain) in dialogue with Africa, meanwhile, which alludes to her invitation to Manifesta 8 in Murcia, is an arrangement on a shelf consisting of men’s shoes and a vibrator that was designed by London-based sex-toy designer Shiri Zinn. Placed next to it is a photograph with pictures of the “Zonas verdes” (green areas in Murcia), which Cennetoglu found covered in dust at the former artillery barracks that were Manifesta 8’s main exhibition venue. The last element of the arrangement consists of a photograph of the never serially produced prototype of the “Peral submarine,” designed in 1884, that is now a monument in the port of Cartagena, Spain’s navy base (which was another Manifesta 8 exhibition venue). These Samples all deal with the context-dependent interpretation of cultural production, commenting on the marketing and display of a product and the roles of the artist, the gallerist and the curator. The Rodeo Gallery’s employees were also made part of the work, in that their reception desk was moved into the exhibition space and they had to provide visitors with information on the sales conditions for the works on view.

For her exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel, Cennetoğlu asked Kunsthalle Director Adam Szymczyk to make a selection of photographs from CATALOG 2009, just as Cennetoglu’s gallerist Sylvia Kouvali had previously done (Director’s picks / Dealer’s picks). Also part of this larger installation are the works 20.08.2010 and 14.01.2011, which are composed of bound collections of 209 Turkish daily newspapers and 96 Swiss daily newspapers, respectively, issued on the mentioned dates. The two dates stand for the daily inundation of information which, at second glance, is not as heterogeneous as it seems. It becomes obvious that the Swiss media landscape is dominated by only a small number of media companies, so that the articles are correspondingly uniform—the local news section is practically the only one that includes articles by individual media companies that differ in content from their other company-owned newspapers. Finally, Pavilion II, Within Limits 1921-1995 (2010) is a collaborative work with the aforementioned designer Shiri Zinn for Manifesta 8. A commissioned edition of a glass sex-toy by the designer was filled with samples of dust from the artillery barrack where the work was presented during the exhibition.

The last room of Cennetoğlu’s exhibition features the new work Suzanne Gabriello: Z’avez pas lu Kafka? (1966–2011). The audio piece consists of the recording of the song Z’avez pas lu Kafka? by the French actress and singer Suzanne Gabriello (1932–1992), as well as a short biography of Gabriello composed by Cennetoğlu. In the song, Gabriello parodies French singer Nino Ferrer’s song Z’avez pas vu Mirza? (1965). Cennetoglu links the motif of the dog that appears in the songs to the biography of Gabriello and Ferrer and to yet another song: Jacques Brel’s famous chanson Ne me quitte pas (1959), which he wrote for his then-lover Gabriello. Whereas Brel uses the dog as a metaphor for his love for Gabriello (“Make me be the shadow of your dog”) and Ferrer is searching for his pet Mirza (“So where did this dog go?”), Gabriello is “working like a dog” to understand Kafka.

In addition to the exhibition at Kunsthalle, The List will be displayed as a poster campaign in seventy locations throughout the city of Basel. The List is a PDF document that contains the names of more than 13,824 known refugees who have died within, or on the borders of Europe since 1993 (the document was last updated on June 17, 2010). It is compiled by the Amsterdam-based organization UNITED for Intercultural Action. Since 2006, Cennetoğlu and curator Huib Van der Werf, using their professional positions, have disseminated this compilation of names via public display structures. So far, The List has been presented as a poster campaign in Amsterdam in March 2007, and in September 2007, when it was published in Greek during the Athens Biennale as a newspaper supplement. The current 35-page document, translated into German in collaboration with the Kunsthalle Basel, will be displayed in Basel-Stadt and in Baselland from January 31 to February 8, 2011.

Cennetoğlu’s body of work repeatedly raises the issue of access: access to information and access to territory, as well as the political and individual or emotional implications inherent to each. A characteristic feature of her artistic approach is that she constantly sounds out the potential of art and repeatedly questions its information content. As she put it in an interview: “Art is not CNN; through a medium it can offer or impose unexpected information at an unexpected moment, which is exactly its power.”

Banu Cennetoğlu was born 1970 in Ankara, Turkey. She lives and works in Istanbul. Cennetoğlu studied a.o. at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam. Her first solo show was Sample Sale BC 2010 at Rodeo Gallery, Istanbul/TR (2010). She has been part of numerous group shows such as Second Exhibition, ARTER, Istanbul/TR (2011), La revanche de l’archive photographique, Centre de la photographie, Geneva/CH (2010); Manifesta 8, Murcia/ES (2010); The Past is a foreign country, Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu, Torun/ PL (2010); I Like The Truth, I Never Liked Fiction (and vice versa), Rodeo, Istanbul/TR (2009); 10th International Istanbul Biennial, TR (2007); 1st Athens Biennial, GR (2007); Brave New Worlds, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis/USA (2007); Wherever We Go: Art, Identity, Cultures in Transit Phase 1, San Francisco Art Institute, USA (2007); Information/ Transformation, Extra City Center for Contemporary Art, Antwerp/NL (2005); Brothers, Sisters and Birds, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe/D (2004) and the 3rd Berlin Biennial, D (2004). In 2008 together with Philippine Hoegen she co-curated the exhibition Masist Gl at Schinkel Pavilion as part of the 5th Berlin Biennial and in 2009 Cennetoğlu co-represented Turkey at the Venice Biennial together with Ahmet ğt.

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