Positive Space: An Exhibition Project on HIV/AIDS in Turkey

exhibition text

Positive Space
divides the Operation Room with a white film wall. The spectators enter through this protective and transparent, plastic or raw, inviting and rejecting wall. They are invited to look both from the inside and outside. They enter and exit public and private spheres, social and subjective bodies. The exhibition tries to understand the “Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus” which invades bodies and minds as an universal and cross-generational trauma. It has different meanings from any chronic illness even though it is a current epidemic that is inhibited and rendered ineffective with medication, losing its contagious capability. Positive Space examines problems of visibility, concealment, public persona and public mask via HIV/AIDS; it suggests that stigmatization, fear and ignorance can only be overcome b visibility and public persona. It tries to attribute a personal as well as collective, abstract and queer face and a narrative on HIV/AIDS.

For its carriers, the virus is a cause of stigmatization and anxiety. Therefore, invisibility and anonymity may seem like the only choice. Can Küçük turns the biohazard sign used by people who are HIV positive to announce their status into temporary tattoos and invites everyone who enters this space to brand themselves with it. in the entrance there are two pairs of jeans and underwear left on the floor. It is Elmgreen & Dragset's work titled “Powerless Structures, Figure 19". HIV needs a human being in order to survive; and another one to infect. This binary status is another subtext of the exhibition. The body is marked by the absence of these two bodies, whereas the invisible bodies are marked by eroticism. The two invisible, unclad bodies are either together in the dark or disappear into the dark.

Sadık Arı replaces words with designs that look like sex toys, weapons, religious artifacts and clinical equipment; and that make sense only when they interact with each other. He frames this contagious visual with a screen taken from a hospital. In it, we encounter a boogyman costume, an amorphous body. Özgür Erkök Moroder prepared this body called “Autosite-Parasite” which consists of a videotape—the recording and display device of the 80s. Body works like an archive that constantly collects data. As it records new data, it also harbors old data. Furkan Öztekin has a collage series titled “Tab” which does an online search for AIDS visuals. He opens tabs with the sensational images of AIDS cases he found in the Turkish media archives, invisible visuals of deported hookers, images from the KAOS GL magazine, and then images taken from inside and outside of the hospital we are in right now. Copied, recorded, created images come together; become as neutral as a virus, mixing positive and negative spaces. Sabo conveys the microscopic images of the AIDS-related Kaposi Sarcoma tumor he saw as a child and was affected deeply onto paper with oil paints; and draws a geographical map of AIDS whose origin is unknown and unimportant; and whose proximity is mostly denied.

This map identifies the countries with its coordinates where restricted access to medication makes the disease most deadly. Leyla Gediz, in her work titled “Cocoon,” focuses on the reflection of the virus certain to come from someone else and transform its carrier's body. Gediz draws the portrait of a friend who was freshly diagnosed as HIV positive in her painting dating back to 2009 that had never been displayed in Turkey before. But as the figure tries to adapt to this new piece of information, he is introspective and hides his face. Serdar Soydan pulls out from his archives magazines, posters and books that draw the attention of the Turkish public to AIDS in the 80's and 90's, while dictating norms of public health or demonizing the disease. He also offers a chance to examine how information, trauma and fantasy were constructed in the recent past He invites people to dig deeper into the causes as to why HIV positive people had to hide themselves, and how HIV turned into a shameful crime. He does this by displaying the newspaper headlines that pry into the hyper-visible Murteza Elgin's private life as he was sensationally publicized as the “First Turk with AIDS.” Elgin had to deny the allegations to ward off media violations of his privacy.

Ardıl Yalınkılıç probes his personal history by displaying his correspondence with his mother in 2012. He offers evidence of what it can mean to have the deadly AIDS virus to a generation who did not personally witness its crisis. He intervenes in what was written back then in 2018 as a different Ardıl. Ardıl, in his other work, repaints a picture in 2016 that he made in 2012. He tries to draw himself in passing time as both the object and the subject of his picture, but this time with the losses in detail revealed in time.

The video work by the Artık İşler Collective interprets questions asked by four artists or activists to an HIV positive person with
their own answers. In the video, we don’t hear the other much; we never see their face. We look at the face of the person asking the questions and their notes. We watch an experiment on asking questions, engaging in dialog, and interviewing a stranger. The second video installation in the exhibition, “The Last Satellite That Falls to Earth” stages HIV/AIDS as an ordinary scene in anyone’s life rather than a subject talked over from a distance. Onur Karaoğlu throws the spectator into the middle of a series of weird confrontations, dialogs and an unspoken crisis. The spectators cannot decide whether the performance will go on or not even if they surely take part of one of the roles. Language that changes its frequency between the colloquial and its opposite disintegrate when faced with the unspoken, and metaphors become emptied. Güneş Terkol’s
installation titled “A Whistle Passed Through This Earth” focuses on the fragile connection between a human body and life. The spectator are invited inside with a figure getting ready to travel in a vein.

Inside, we encounter Pınar Marul’s synthetic and fetish sculpture that looks like an internal organ. We may resemble the sculpture to a frozen moment of the fluid, to an unnamed micro-organism or a bodily tissue, and we may want to watch it without interpretation or touch it. Can Küçük uses the wastebasket that waste circulates and pauses in, and gets rid of negative meanings, in order to represent his own body.
His personally coded symbolic tattoos are reminders for the artist of what is in circulation. The collecting, separating, and transforming container body offers itself to the spectator. Hanging on the wall, three disposable objects of mourning, i.e. red ribbons become a permanent warning sign. Nihat Karataşlı, in his installation titled “A Desire Microbiota (a map of bacteria for Istanbul bathhouses),’’ sees the body and bacteria theme in Istanbul bathhouses as the traces of queer desire in the public sphere. Nihat places the samples of bacteria from waistclothes and steam in the gay bathhouses in Istanbul, in petri dishes; and feeds; documents; and displays them. İz Öztat creates a fetish with a triangular knife that hangs upside down and suggests danger, pain and pleasure when held. This fetish is not more innocent or any less dangerous when displayed on the wall. It offers a sharp alternative to the pink triangle used by the Nazis to stigmatize gays and which was turned upside down by the AIDS activist organization ACT UP in order to emphasize their movement. Özgür’s other work titled “AHHhH” focuses on the sound designated to express pleasure and pain. When approached, the sound is amplified and conspicuous.

Ceren Saner invites us to look at bodily fluids of love and essence that touch your soul and heart break, and turn into rivers of blood wiht a photograph. Ünal Bostancı wrote Suzanne Vega’s lyrics of 1992, “Blood makes noise and I can’t really hear you in the thickening of fear” into bubble wrap, recommended as a cheap alternative to carrying and storing medical samples, by injection. Ünal uses fake blood in the rest of the writing in accordance with the arrhythmic and noisy
blood taken from someone HIV positive. This positive blood emits an unnecessary fear into the delicate bubble wrap. The printouts, taken at the end of the workshop, in collaboration with Pozitif-iz Association, aim to alleviate the fear and break the prejudice. The printouts still lie on the white shelves. The spectators are invited to take a photocopy of the messages written by anonymous HIV positive people.