An Interview with Fahrettin Örenli

Originally published in: Orhun, Oktay and Örenli, Fahrettin. (2016, 09). Organik Bir Form Olarak Kent ve Bilginin İnşası (The Construction of Knowledge and the City as an Organic Form). Istanbul Art News (34), p. 30.

Sanatçının izniyle: Örenli, Fahrettin (2016). Sergiden Detay Görünüm [Fotoğraf]. High Heels Sergisi, İstanbul: DEPO, 2016. © Fahrettin Örenli.

Fahrettin Örenli's new personal exhibition shall soon welcome its visitors in DEPO. The exhibition set to open on the 2nd of September is called High Heels, and involves a merge of different tools and techniques such as sketching, printing, painting, photography, video, installations and poetry just like Örenli’s previous projects. In joining together, these techniques have managed to form a seamless whole. In this sense, an intense yet enjoyable exhibition awaits viewers in DEPO.

We found the chance to have a pleasant chat with the artist while preparations for the exhibition continue. We knew from the moment we set foot into the exhibition space in Tophane that we were making the acquaintance of a good-humored and invaluable person, but even more importantly, of an artist with a high-level of awareness regarding his work and interpretations of his works of art. Those with interest in the matter would know about philosophical categories such as being “by itself” and “for itself”. Explained most simply, these concepts signify the difference between arriving at positive or negative results through processes that are unregulated, unconscious and incidental, and rather arriving at these through carefully planned, relatively technically intense, conscious efforts. Örenli clearly sees art not as incidental and “by itself”, but rather as about having awareness “for itself”. This is evident in both his meticulousness and the way in which he owns up to the conceptual background of his work.

In this exhibition, viewers shall mostly encounter themes on processes of city and knowledge production/construction. Although these two themes create the impression of approaching slogans to be chanted, Örenli doesn’t waste his art away by promulgating a singular voice. Fahrettin Örenli is aware of contradictions inherent in his subject matter, and he knows how to put these contradictions to use in an impressive manner, in order to give his art a unique voice. High Heels shall run in DEPO until the 9th of October, and, to be honest, we may easily say that it is one of the first exhibitions that must be visited in the new season.

May we start by hearing the story and creation process of your new exhibition, High Heels?

High Heels is an exhibition that has focused on certain distinct themes and is also able to form a whole in and of itself. Yet it also occupies a special place in terms of my personal creative journey. In fact, with this exhibition I have been able to carry my long-term work to another level. In it I strive to focus on two topics in particular. The first is the mass of the city. I consider the city to be something beyond a material and objective, man-made product or phenomenon, and rather see it as an organic form. The processes I am especially interested in are its modes of producing and circulating information, and the transformation of this information into knowledge within its total mass. To be more specific, I mean the refining processes of this information that has become knowledge… In my opinion, it is arguable whether the value created as a result belongs to people or to the city itself. As a matter of fact, I believe knowledge and products belong to the city. In this sense, the city manifests truly organic character. It is almost a living being, whose past and origin are unclear, yet which exists both in and of itself and as a plane, and develops in line with its own instincts from the moment it comes into being. I see Mother Nature and Birth of Another Bastard City as, for instance, a work that clearly displays this liveliness. A spreading, ever-expanding organism in its break from nature, its state of rootlessness and solitude...

The other theme I focus on is how human beings earn/make money within this city – whether this process itself involves any creativity or not. But of course what interests me more as an artist is whether these money-making processes affect creativity in any way; whether creative energies are able to open pathways for themselves in this state of similarities, affinities, expectations and mobility. Since, at the end of the day, everything is about money, looking into how and to what extent it is able to integrate one into the system is an interesting study for me.

Then it is possible to say that your whole exhibition lies upon political premises?

Perhaps it’s possible to say this in terms of the exhibition, but there’s a point I must emphasize here: as I try to demonstrate in many of my works, I believe that politics has to a large extent retreated from the stage of history. What is completely determinative is, instead, economics. Its own laws, trends, tendencies and expectations have become decisive. They determine our reality. In many processes we see as political changes today, the global forces of economy operate in the background. Despite the fact that this exhibition is focused on themes related to political discussions, it is also an attempt, especially in terms of content, to demonstrate how this is no longer functional or relevant. This is what High Heels is for me. It’s an installation created out of depictions of finance towers, mostly from the world’s developing or ‘late-capitalist’ countries, on condoms. This is a representation of everything that is motivated by anxiety about ‘whose is bigger’, that is determined by the inherent laws of capital, and that almost always resembles each other to the extent that it’s unclear where these belong. My work Desire of City Thief has a similar purpose. It’s the desire of a thief who has İstanbul in their mind and dreams, but carries buildings they have stolen from American cities, bringing them here… We see the growing resemblance of all kinds of conscious knowledge and their modes of production, the way in which economy becomes the one and only grounds for all of this. I must add: what is significant about this approach for me is unveiling the absurd, laying it bare in a satirical manner, exposing and criticizing it. This is what I may say in terms of content; and in terms of quality I hope that politics is not the only factor that determines appreciation of my work. I hope it carries value in and of itself. Ultimately, as an artist I believe in visual research; I believe in art as both a process and a result.

At the beginning of this interview you said that this exhibition occupies a special place in terms of your personal creative journey. Let’s unpack this a bit, if you may: what is this special place? How does it relate to your previous work?

This exhibition actually includes some of my previous work in different forms. Entrika Duvarı (Wall of Intrigue) > ANARTIST, for instance, which has already been displayed in various ways, will be part of this work as an artist’s book. Yet certain pieces that were part of it before will here be exhibited separately and individually. One such work is “Ah İstanbul”, which also relates to the themes we just discussed. My work is made up of four stages. The first stage falls between the years 1995 and 1998: with or without knowledge I focused on what came before physical being/existence. Discovering creations/artificial creations, combining elements/images in order to create new creations were all themes of this period. It was all about the primary and inherent nature of that which is creative. Later on, from 1996 to 2000, I came to consider the initial/starting phase of physical existence. So, in a sense, I thought about and produced on processes of conscious knowledge formation. In the period spanning from 2000 to our day, I have both focused on searching for a form for the future, and through this have questioned what the nature of physical existence is. Now, with this exhibition especially, there is a transition from the third stage into the fourth one: how is sustainable conscious knowledge constructed? This shall be followed by the question as to whether knowledge and experience shall be able to continue existing on their own, after physical existence within the universe itself has come to an end.

To conclude, maybe we can talk a little bit about DEPO’s role as an exhibition space, its importance for you, and how your future projects shall develop...

DEPO is much beyond a mere exhibition space; it is one of the few centers that have been able to remain independent and free. In this regards, it was not possible for me to make so many critiques and choose another space to exhibit in. We had also already collaborated in some group exhibitions before, so we were able to handle the set up of this exhibition with great ease. Its importance for me lies here exactly – in the freedom it allows for.

My work will continue to develop stage by stage, step by step as before: I think the art I create shows parallels to the stages of life every human being goes through – or at least I myself have experienced. I investigate questions regarding the internal and external homes of an existence that lives through artistic method. The question of how conscious knowledge is constructed and circulated, which I consider in terms of the city and money in this exhibition, will keep being my main theme for a while. The issue of whether experience and consciousness gain the status of autonomous, separate beings will be added upon this, and we’ll see where we go...