Walker Art Center
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The Local Tango and the Global Dance


To talk about today, I am at pains to understand the situatedness of the practice from "out there," and the way it displaces itself from the local tango of cultural economy. Twice-displaced critics and curators that we are, we claim to transport knowledge about a conversational and convertible art practice situated within the local dialect. You spoke so eloquently about this situation--when the Mexican and the Turk met up in a nouvelle Japanese soup joint in Helsinki--in the context of the contemporary art practice as it operates outside the local tango and divorced from the humanist disciplines of culture. That weak layer you speak of is the very community that sustains me, although we betray each other now and then.

Having just visited the Seventh Biennial here in Istanbul and comparing it with the ARS 01 exhibition[4]--the way the former is laid out haphazardly, creating an ambience rather than a reading, using large spaces around which works are scattered in a directionless way--forces me to respond to your question in an honest way. I don't think I can ever attain the level of Kiasma in my little institution, and I will never be able to provide the care for the works that they do, or that kind of stability. Proje4L does not represent accurately what is happening in Turkey. It is biased toward contemporary expression, forever facing the risks of its own volatility.

You know how hard it is to pursue this line of work when one is both a cultural critic--an active agent in the contemporary visual arts field--and a museological interpreter. I cannot see anything of this sort being possible in the great Middle/Northern Europe and North America today; perhaps once, but not today.

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Dear Vasif,

I write to you today while bombs are falling in Afghanistan. I find it interesting to transpose our discussion of "out there." Perversely, it is the notion of "the center" that most likely seduced the Muslim fundamentalists to stage their fears of globalization by crashing airplanes into skyscrapers. They could not restrict themselves to creating a purist Muslim kingdom amidst the mountains and the valleys of Afghanistan. Good children of the religions of "the book" (which in my view involves the idea of the West after all), they thought they could symbolically defeat the Americans and at the same time provoke them into attacking "the Muslim world" so as to induce an overall Muslim reaction against the West. I mean, they could not be so naive as to imagine they would not be attacked in response. On the other hand, American statesmen will ultimately profit from the fact that they have finally restored the idea of a "radical other," reviving their sense of civilizatory uniqueness and their duty to forcibly modernize the rest of us. Ultimately, even though the Taliban bans TV, photography, and cinema for its population, Bin Laden needs CNN to broadcast his call for a universal Jihad against Jews and Christians and against all of those who live under Jewish and Christian rule. Likewise, American and British governments have trained their "special forces" to parachute into the middle of the desert relying on something you could call "applied social anthropology," for they are trained in the local languages, technologies of cultural exchange, and the management of local systems of power. Here you have a perfect illustration of the complicity between the center and the edge: both of them are required to advance their positions by means of an efficient administration of their mutual instability. It is hard to even focus one's mind on the so-called collateral damage in such a situation. I admit that rather than making me feel alienated, this whole global tragedy simply proves to me how futile my personal political mores are in the present situation, not only in terms of signing petition letters circulating in cyberspace but also in terms of how these mores relate to the very banal questions of art and art criticism. This recent crisis highlights something we have been experiencing for a long time: the difficulty of working out modestly effective political goals and strategies. We are doomed to operate blind to the outcome of our provisory assumptions.

Having said that, I find two really challenging issues in your letter. The first is the image (or should I say mirage?) of something you call whole emancipation. I find this notion really unfathomable. I guess the first thing I will ask you to clarify is how you define "emancipation" in this case: Do you mean the pursuit of fairness

4 The Seventh International Istanbul Biennial took place September 22-November 17, 2001; ARS 01 was presented at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, September 30-November 17, 2001.