16. May 2018

The artist Nasan Tur, born in Offenbach in 1974, lives and works in Berlin. SCHIRN MAG talked to him about the role of political art, the developments in Turkey and his beginnings in Frankfurt.

By Eugen El

Nasan, in this current year you will be represented in 12 institutional exhibitions, of which two are solo exhibitions. With so much going on, are you still able to get down to work in your Kreuzberg studio?

I actually work all over the place. I don’t necessarily need my studio; it’s actually more of a retreat, a place where often not much happens, but where I have peace and time to think. After all, exhibitions are not merely appointments for presentations. They are always associated with meeting and getting to know a huge variety of environments and personalities. The works also change their form and the type of presentations varies over the course of time and in the context of the location.

In an earlier conversation, you said that you prefer to research outside of the walls of your studio. How important is the public and media space for the development of your art?

My art is defined by an exploration of events that I believe are relevant to our society. These don’t take place in my quiet little studio in Kreuzberg, so the research and the travel associated with it are all the more important. The shifts in power within the media and their tremendous influence on the collective formation of opinions on political topics are a new circumstance that I believe will intensify further over the next few years. That’s something I focus on very strongly in my work.

The Schirn’s “Power to the People” exhibition includes your six-channel video installation “Preparation No. 1,” which shows a man preparing for a public act – possibly a demonstration. How does this work from 2010 fit into your oeuvre; is it part of a specific series?

In general, all my works are connected with one another in a huge variety of ways. As the name would imply though, “Preparation No. 1” is indeed the initial work of a series, which will ultimately comprise three different video installations. “Preparation No. 1” is the first of these. The work developed in an old, occupied former grain store in Kreuzberg. The building was torn down a few years ago to make way for luxury apartments – a paramount example of gentrification and the emergence of civil defiance. In close-up shots, the video installation shows a person steadily preparing to take action. It is a very aggressive, loud, unpleasant installation which nevertheless, thanks to its aesthetics, also appears very attractive.

Would you call yourself a political artist?

I see myself as a political person, so I am therefore also a political artist. However, I believe my task as an artist is not to pursue politics, but rather to seriously and critically address political themes that considerably influence our lives in society. This also means producing uncomfortable and challenging works.

You were born in Offenbach, but have biographical connections with Turkey. How intensively are you following the latest developments there? Does this topic emerge in your art in any way?

I go to Turkey two or three times a year on average, mostly to Istanbul, where I have close connections in the art scene. Precisely now it is important to me to show my presence there, to support my fellow artists and to present new works to the public. At the end of 2017 I had an extensive solo exhibition in Istanbul where I attended talks and workshops. I’ll be flying back there in May, but this time I’m going to Mardin, which is on the Syrian border. There is a biennial festival there, where I’m showing some works about journalists who have been murdered.

I am very worried about the developments in Turkey, but also about the increased nationalistic tendencies in Germany and the rest of Europe. One of my most recent works in the public sphere refers directly to this. A few months ago I installed a larger sculpture in an outdoor area in Göppingen dealing with the political functionalization of art and exposing the ubiquitous acceptance of clearly nationalistic ideas in the smoke screen of art. It was the trigger for what is now a wider discussion among the town’s residents on how they address history and its reference to the present day.

Nasan Tur, Die Schalung, 2017, Image via blain/assets

To what extent can day-to-day political developments actually influence artistic work?

I mean, I don’t paint tulips or sunsets. My work deals with the body of society in itself; it is analytical and reflective. I’m not interested in art that revolves around itself. The freedom you can enjoy as an artist doesn’t mean shying away from any kind of responsibility – at least I don’t feel able to do so.

You are involved in the initiative “FLAX – Foreign Local Artistic Xchange,” which fosters exchange and cooperation between local cultural representatives, artists and institutions and those in the field who have recently arrived in Germany. What exactly does FLAX do and what is your role within it?

We founded FLAX at the end of 2015 with the intention of getting to know cultural representatives who have had to flee from their home countries and are therefore new in Germany, and linking them up with the local scene. When I launched this project with Katharina Grosse, and then Lanna Idris also came on board, we quickly set up a number of projects thanks to our longstanding contacts within the cultural scene, and have been able to bring lots of people together.

Nasan Tur vor seinem Werk "Preparation No.1" in der Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Foto: Norbert Miguletz

We have also worked with a lot of institutions, such as the Hamburger Bahnhof, the Academy of Arts in Berlin, and the Goethe-Institut. Close contacts have developed between the participating parties, which has then given rise to new projects that no longer have anything to do with FLAX. That’s the ideal scenario. FLAX is a kind of catalyst, a stimulus, but its members now act entirely autonomously and countless events, campaigns, exhibitions, symposia and workshops have been organized as a result.

For you, how definitive was (or is) Frankfurt as the cradle of German democracy and the center of the ’68 movement?

That is part of history, and in all honesty, during my time in Frankfurt I unfortunately haven’t seen much about these important historic events, which all took place here. For me, Frankfurt was more like a gateway to the world, starting with the club “Dorian Gray” at the airport, one of the nuclei of Techno during the 1990s, where I worked as a young lad alongside school, and then the Städelschule, where I was able to meet and get to know international artists whom I otherwise knew only from books. Offenbach and Frankfurt are home, and I’m always happy to be able to work on projects here.