Text by Fatoş Üstek

Commissioned Text for the catalogue:
Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt

Sensorial Détournement
Along the Magnitudes of Presence

All works of art are objects and should be treated as such, but these objects are not ends in themselves: They are tools with which to influence spectators. The artistic object, despite its seemingly object-like character, therefore presents itself as a link between two subjects, the creating and provoking subject on the one hand, and the receiving subject on the other. The latter does not perceive the work of art as a pure object, but as the sign of a human presence.

Asger Jorn, Detourned Painting

This seemingly complicated title aims to convey insight towards the artistic practice of Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt. Collaborating for more than a decade, this artistic duo has been engaged in an in-depth investigation of grand narratives. Aiming to understand the world at large through elucidating the components of what makes the contemporary individual, Günyol and Kunt portray the forces that are at play. Unlike a scientist or a social theorist, they have been following indirect lines of thought, experimenting with the potential of something manifested as something else that still contains the information of the former in its full capacity. They have been employing a variety of methods in the course of the transformative processes. The procedures of codification, juxtaposition, translation, and classification emerge as subtexts to the outcomes of their practice. Instead of solely concentrating on the visual as their domain of investigation, they depict the sensorial, extending towards the aural and tactual stimulations. In the course of sonic entries, they not only include the sounds and voices, but also address the field of language as an asset to aesthetic experience. Günyol and Kunt investigate the relationship between symbols and concepts and their role in the formation of ontologies (of a person, a society, a culture); moreover they concentrate on the object as the conveyer of intrinsic meaning while aspiring to possibilities beyond.

Günyol and Kunt do not solely work within the containment of a specific media, they explore various means and mediums of production in line with the context they attend. The nature of their works differs according to the respective content. Their productions are spatialisations of their enquiry, resourcing its formal manifestation from the subject-matter. They might produce a large ceramic vase (Myth, 2013) carrying an engraved symbol of a rearing bull inhibited by white ropes, balanced by two lines of masks commodified in the graphic novel V for Vendetta, whilst characterising the dominating forces of contemporary society, more specifically European establishment. In a similar line of thought, they might address the demarcation of lines on the continent as an ever-changing puzzle (Untitled (from 1804 to 2006), 2006) and register national borders of the countries in the world as an obscure doodle, while cording them on an A4 size of paper (Ceaseless Doodle, 2009). They might suggest reading the daily news through images printed on newspapers headlines (What is on today, 2006) pasted on a gallery wall; or build a rope as an alternative symbol for resistance (…And Justice for all, 2010). While doing so, Günyol and Kunt fabricate their own language made of codes and symbols that emerge during the accumulation of an intricate web of relationships. They do not halt at the existing symbols, nor gratify themselves in decoding the existing trichotomy of signification. Instead, they introduce another layer, if not more, to their subject-matter. In this regard, when European Central Bank introduced the new series of Euro banknotes, Gunyol and Kunt determined to draw attention to the ongoing financial crisis, and mapped out the components of the new series. The portrait of Europa from Greek mythology utilizedas a security feature aspiring them to look into her ancient depictions. Instead of fetishising the image of Europa, they pronounced the symbol of Zeus -mostly portrayed alongside Europa, instituting a contextual bridging with the notion of power and sovereignty. Conserving the medium of ceramic vase, Gunyol and Kunt embedded points of entry to the viewer. Additionally, they make use of a common cultural trait, the story of the heroine Vendetta, through duplicating the infamous mask from the novel onto the surface of the vase. The introduction of the new Euro bank notes, and Günyol and Kunt’s quest in pressing the financial crisis across Europe lead them to the production of a ceramic vase. Their pursuit of nationhood brought them to the point of abstraction with the works, Ceaseless Doodle and Untitled (from 1804 to 2006), entangled issues of great consequence. In the aforementioned works, Günyol and Kunt juxtapose the methods of expansion and reduction, in which they primarily map out the associative relations of their subject, bringing back together to formation a statement activating those relationships. This process is not a singular equation of ‘a plus b equals c’, but rather a chain reaction of mental activities, associations and formations emerging as a body of its own. In this regard, they transform their subject into another body seemingly dissimilar to the initial subject, although closely related and even raising on its grounds. This topological unhinging enables subordination of the defining qualities of the subject-matter to another body. For instance in a sequential line up of works, they have depicted national flags as their subjects of intervention, concentrating on their material/physical features. The work entitled f.skl.246 (2009), is an inkjet print on cotton paper, which includes the colours of two hundred and forty-six national flags serialized according to the alphabetical order of the respective countries. f.skl.246 emerges as a barcode of human nations while Flag-s (2009), manifests a black-out in a post foregather of all flags in one frame. The process of layering and abstraction give force to the potential of Gunyol and Kunt’s practice to provide a critique of reason without committing a heteronomous violation of the autonomy of that aesthetic. In a way, the abstracted states of the two hundred and forty-six flags from all existing nations of the world, do not create a unifying image, but subliminally demarcates the notions of freedom, collective and individual identity, and belonging. Furthermore, by assigning an abstract mode of expression to the flags, the representative icons of nations, Günyol and Kunt introduce autonomy to their own body of work. The streamlines of autonomous semblance of their practice surface in their work entitled Hullabaloo (2009). Two hundred and sixty-six loudspeakers filter into one giant loudspeaker playing the national anthems of their respective nations. The choreography of the release of music conducts a canon, where the sequence is set to be half-time to its predecessor. While a jarring loud texture of sound is produced, the individual melodies disappear into the body of the cacophony. Not a single anthem exceeds the others that are heard in full length. The blending of emotionally charged social product triggers the questioning of collective and individual existence. Through delineating the notion of belonging, Günyol and Kunt tackle the concept of truth in the Adornian sense. In aesthetic theory, Adorno states that; “[a]utonomous semblance of art is precisely its sovereign truth.”i Their quest in the sovereign truth embodies itself in the piece entitled Perfect Couple (2010). The artist duo studied the Friedrich Ebert monument located at the façade of Paul’s Church in Frankfurt am Main. The monument was sculpted twice, before and after World War II, by the same artist Richard Scheibe. The earlier version of the monument differed from the later version, in which it portrayed Friedrich Ebert, the first president of Germany, as a strong and forceful person. Günyol and Kunt pronounce this unlikeness in the form of two same-sized photographs placed at the exact location of the later version. The speculative aspect of the authentic hand of the artist was brought forth while they investigated the mysterious shift in Scheibe’s artistic oeuvre (who was once affiliated with the National Socialist Government of the 1930’s). Within this specific piece, the concept of aesthetic negativity is the key to understanding the two-fold manifestation of the monument as a sovereign subversion of the rational, hence the subordination of truth.

Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt’s artistic practice centralised under the rubric of deconstruction and the method of détournement. Deconstruction denies the possibility of a pure presence, essential or intrinsic and stable meaning – and thus a relinquishment of the notions of absolute truth, unmediated access to “reality” and consequently of conceptual hierarchy. Détournement is the integration of past or present artistic production into a superior construction of a milieu. The former conceptualised by the semiologist and philosopher Jacques Derrida, the latter by the members of Situationist International, the artist duo desired to employ these two methods at varying degrees. By collecting and disseminating the words used in political campaigns and in the respective party posters distributed across Germany (Spread the Word, 2012), Günyol and Kunt pronounced the attempts of deconstruction to separate the subversion of the successful functioning of the non-aesthetic discourses, such as political affiliations of a country, by alphabetically lining up the vocabulary that was brought to use. With their piece Fresh like the First Day (2011), they carried the method of deconstruction one step further disuniting the Turkish constitution to its basic components, such as the letters of Turkish alphabet, punctuation marks, and numbers. Fifty-three black books contained only a single component from the constitution, presented in their precise locations in the original text. Through deconstructing the constitution and reducing its weighty content to a sequence of symbols and signs, they distorted its deplorable loss. In other words, Fresh like the First Day, détourned the constitution to a varied aesthetic experience from the whole and its constituent parts. In a similar vein, the video piece entitled, On the stage (2010), the configuration of poses outsourced from protests inclined towards contemporary dance, where the dancer holds the poses in transition from one to the other. The isolated composition of movement disputed the aesthetic experience that it achieved from the particular claim to validity involved in the enactment. It attempts to conceive of this experience instead of as the object of a cognitive process.ii These two works solely focus on the production of politics through its components to attain a sensorial intrigue, and transform the context by means of decodification. This aspect is represented by BT028, CBT65, BT022 (2013) and Untitled (Series) (2010), where the former piece is the sonic codification of barbed wire, and the latter is a representation of military operations. Beyond the contextual détournament, these works employ the methodology of sensorial détournement, so that they all focus on the senses, experimenting with one sense at a time and its translation to another sense. In other words, BT028, CBT65, BT022 translates the corporeal into sonic, Untitled (Series) transform linguistic representation to iconographic presentation, and Myth transfers the visual into tactile. The sensorial détournement Günyol and Kunt apply is an inquiry to the reception of one thing sourced from something else that is that thing, but also not the same thing. On the line of simplicity that Guy Debord and Gil J Wolmaniii proposed, in their manifestation, A User’s Guide to Détournement from 1956, the artist duo filter their aesthetic attitude in accordance with the conscious or semiconscious recollection of the original contexts. By collecting referential symbols and inaugurating associative ones, Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt seed familiar aspects and strangenesses into their body of work, while their juxtaposition sets the web of associations forward. Henceforth, in the heart of their artistic practice, content precedes form, and form exceeds content.


i Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, University Of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (August 12, 1998), p.152
ii Christoph Menke, The Sovereignty of Art, trans: Neil Solomon, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1998 p.xiii
iii “The distortions introduced in the détourned elements must be as simplified as possible, since the main impact of a détournement is directly related to the conscious or semiconscious recollection of the original contexts of the elements.”
Source: http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/presitu/usersguide.html


Fatoş Üstek is an independent curator and writer, from Istanbul, currently based in London. She is Associate Curator for the 10th Gwangju Biennale, and guest tutor at Vision Forum, Linkopings Universitet, Sweden. She curated, amongst other projects, an opera in five acts at David Roberts Art Foundation (DRAF), London; the exhibition trilogy Now Expanded that took place at Kunstfabrik, Berlin; Tent, Rotterdam; and DRAF, London as well as various group shows in Europe and Turkey. She is member of AICA Tr and regular contributor to art publications such as Camera Austria International, Art Review, RES Art World / World Art. Üstek has written for international publications such as the 6th Momentum Biennial Reader, Borusan Art Collection and numerous artist catalogues. She acted as founding editor of Nowiswere Contemporary Art Magazine between 2008-2012, is the editor of the book Unexpected Encounters Situations of Contemporary Art and Architecture (Turkish Only, 2012) published by Zorlu Centre, Istanbul; and is the author of Book of Confusions, 2012, published by Rossi & Rossi, London.