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Judge-Mentalities: On Politics of Usership
İpek Çınar

Edit­ed by: Matt Hanson

The seeds of this essay sprout­ed from the fruits of an ear­li­er piece. Dur­ing the peri­od of vol­un­tary quar­an­tine in Turkey due to COVID-19, I pre­pared an essay series called Mecra Araştır­maları (Research on Media) for the Turk­ish mag­a­zine, Art Unlim­it­ed. Only You Can Judge Me, by artist duo Moli­no & Luci­di, was a pearl, estab­lish­ing good rela­tions with its medi­um. It was exhib­it­ed among many poor exam­ples. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with AVTO, the duo used Insta­gram as an exhi­bi­tion venue and played with the application’s tech­ni­cal fea­tures, with con­tri­bu­tions from the audience. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Turk­ish arts and cul­ture scene met dig­i­tal media rel­a­tive­ly late, and this intro­duc­tion had to be done in a rush. It was impos­si­ble to fore­see the sit­u­a­tion that came with the pan­dem­ic. More­over, the effects and bound­aries of the Inter­net evolve day by day, which makes it pos­si­ble to dis­cov­er from scratch every day. As a result of this, dur­ing the quar­an­tine, we were stuck in lim­bo, sur­round­ed by cal­low 3D mod­el­lings, shal­low PDF exhi­bi­tions, and broad­casts with cliche sub­jects. More­over, most of the art pieces we were look­ing at via those online exhi­bi­tions were pro­duced accord­ing to sen­so­ry expe­ri­ences that source from look­ing, smelling, and mea­sur­ing a phys­i­cal space. In fact, some of those pieces were even site-spe­cif­ic works. And when they were trans­ferred to an online plat­form in a rush, they were out of their “aura” in Ben­jamin­ian terms. In this case, one of the main goals of the Only You Can Judge Me can be con­sid­ered as an act of solv­ing this dilemma.

If tech­ni­cal inabil­i­ty is one of the main prob­lems, anoth­er prob­lem is to neglect the empow­er­ment of the audi­ences who come through dig­i­tal media. The role and num­ber of the for­mer­ly anony­mous audi­ences of an art piece have dras­ti­cal­ly increased via online plat­forms, espe­cial­ly in works pub­lished through social media, as it enabled the audi­ence to exist with a name (or a cho­sen nick­name). More­over, the obsta­cle of phys­i­cal dis­tance dis­ap­peared, and every art piece could be reached from dif­fer­ent cities and coun­tries by a wide range of audi­ences. There­fore, the role and the num­ber of the audi­ence became enlarged, to a greater extent, and in a way that tra­di­tion­al art insti­tu­tions did not foresee. 

After this long pro­logue, maybe I should start by describ­ing the work itself. Only You Can Judge Me is an inter­ac­tive project, pro­duced in the process of tak­ing over AVTO and SAHA Association’s Insta­gram accounts. It con­sists of sev­en ques­tions, such as “Are You Moti­vat­ed?”, “Are You Focused?”, “Are You Bored?”, “Is Your Face Aligned To Be Self­ie-Wor­thy Enough?” Each ques­tion appears in a fil­ter for­mat with a dif­fer­ent hand ges­ture that address­es the audi­ence direct­ly. The for­mat of the fil­ter enables the audi­ence to apply them in their own spaces and address the ges­ture to their fol­low­ers. As soon as they do this, the audi­ence turns into the pro­duc­er and their fol­low­ers take the audi­ence’s role. While I try to describe the work, the words “space” and “audi­ence” shine in my mind, and I would like to unpack these words a lit­tle more with my recent read­ings of academic/social writ­ings. In this essay, I try to con­struct a triv­et where the artist, space, and audi­ence form its three legs. 

In this case, to dis­cuss the con­cept of space fur­ther, it might be ben­e­fi­cial to recall Hen­ri Lefebvre’s state­ment in his book, The Pro­duc­tion of Space. Accord­ing to his almost math­e­mat­i­cal sys­tem; space is a liv­ing phe­nom­e­non, and it is con­tin­u­ous­ly  transformed/reproduced by dif­fer­ent actors, rela­tion­ships, and modes of pro­duc­tion. In this sense, Lefeb­vre intro­duces three con­cepts to explain var­i­ous char­ac­ter­is­tics of space. These are spaces that we all con­tact in the dif­fer­ent faces of our dai­ly lives: These are spa­tial prac­tice, rep­re­sen­ta­tions of space, and rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al space. With­in this con­text, the spa­tial prac­tice ensures con­ti­nu­ity in soci­ety for Lefeb­vre. It includes an asso­ci­a­tion between dai­ly rou­tine and “pri­vate life”. Rep­re­sen­ta­tions of space, on the oth­er hand, is the lay­er con­struct­ed by plan­ners, urban­ists, and social engi­neers as well as a cer­tain type of artist with a sci­en­tif­ic bent. That is the dom­i­nant space in any soci­ety (or mode of pro­duc­tion). How­ev­er, these two, which can be crit­i­cized for play­ing the role of pater­nal­ism, are not the only con­cepts. Last but not least, he intro­duces rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al spaces which are direct­ly lived through by its “inhab­i­tants” and “users”. These three lay­ers form the com­plex net­work of rela­tion­ships in which all the actors produce/reproduce space consciously/unconsciously. 

His the­o­ry of the pro­duc­tion of space can be sum­marised by his words: Social space is a social prod­uct. What is more, today, we have a fourth lay­er caus­ing even more com­plex­i­ty: An unpre­dictable pan­dem­ic is includ­ed in these net­work rela­tion­ships, and every­thing becomes even more com­pli­cat­ed. As a result of these lay­ers, “art in pub­lic space” refers to the Inter­net, def­i­nite­ly more than phys­i­cal spaces. And an art piece needs to with­draw from the “aura” of out­side and deal with the indoors. And, to sum up, while recon­sid­er­ing an art piece in a pub­lic space these days, remem­ber­ing all of the var­i­ous com­po­nents pro­vides us with a dif­fer­ent perspective. 

The con­cept of pub­lic space trans­formed will direct us to social media. Social media, espe­cial­ly Insta­gram, takes an active role as a space between exte­ri­or and inte­ri­or spaces, renew­ing per­cep­tions of lim­bo. It is a space where the pri­vate and pub­lic spheres inter­sect. And it is used quite fre­quent­ly by insti­tu­tions to influ­ence peo­ple. Even though it has cer­tain lim­i­ta­tions, it is a space that users can trans­form with­in the appli­ca­tion itself. For this rea­son, it has all three of the char­ac­ter­is­tics that Lefeb­vre deter­mined in his spa­tial the­o­ry, and it adapts to new con­di­tions very quick­ly com­pared to phys­i­cal counterparts. 

At this point, we should turn back to the third leg of this triv­et, the audi­ence. Although, in the­o­ry, the audi­ence is the cru­cial actor, they are often seen as no more than an anony­mous actor whose role forms “the pub­lic”. In Only You Can Judge Me, the audi­ence plays a role in rep­re­sent­ing pri­vate life beyond the pub­lic one. The audi­ence and their pri­vate space turn into the real actor that cre­ates the art piece. “The per­son­al space” and “the pub­lic space” begin to merge. Sud­den­ly the role assumed by the audi­ence increas­es from the anony­mous vis­i­tor in an art venue to the lead­ing role. While the audi­ence becomes a pro­duc­er, a fol­low­er turns into an audi­ence, and the rever­sal of roles goes on. Moli­no & Luci­di become a medi­a­tor rep­re­sent­ing the audience’s invis­i­ble labour to the public. 

The Insta­gram account of AVTO and SAHA turns into a meet­ing point where every actor has a name. More­over, AVTO, react­ing to all of its users one by one, cre­ates a dia­logue between users and media in the full sense of the word. For that rea­son, Only You Can Judge Me is a lim­bo in every sense: It is a lim­bo between the per­son­al and pub­lic, between modes of pro­duc­tions, between roles and between the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics of the spaces involved. Even I feel like I am con­tribut­ing to the project as a crit­ic. Every­thing tends to be inter­change­able and every­thing, includ­ing Insta­gram, is about to push its limits.

 

 


 

¹ Ben­jamin, W. (2008). The work of art in the age of mechan­i­cal repro­duc­tion. Pen­guin UK.

² Lefeb­vre, H., & Nichol­son-Smith, D. (1991). The pro­duc­tion of space (Vol. 142). Black­well: Oxford.

³ Wong, P.F. (2014). Shang­hai, Chi­na’s cap­i­tal of moder­ni­ty : the pro­duc­tion of space and urban expe­ri­ence of World Expo 2010.