Demagogues: 4, with Text by Allison Collins
by Erdem Taşdelen
Erdem Taşdelen’s work here draws on a line of thinking he began about the veracity of images during several recent public installations of Demagogues in Vienna, Istanbul and Saskatoon. This hand-held version reframes the project and extends its questions about the fragility of truths and processes of coming to recognize what’s real, in both visual and verbal languages. The single question at the core of the work comes from an essay written in 1958 by British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, which was part of a debate about whether theatre ought to deal with daily political events or concern itself with the larger questions in life.1 As Taşdelen explains, “Tynan was of the belief that to have a social purpose, theatre should engage with and respond to the political realities of the moment.”2 As his own entry into this debate about art’s entanglement with politics, and in light of some of today’s most pressing political quandaries, Taşdelen inserted Tynan’s statement into public spaces as a fraudulent document of itself, and made it look as if it had been there before, a fake copy of a non-existent past event.
Using careful framing, he creates a successful artifice, with an image that effectively refers inward, to itself. Each time Demagogues is installed, it seeks a relevance to its location, not only in the sentence’s necessary translation into local languages, but also through placement and sensitivity to context. In Turkey, for example, where voicing questions about the nature of truth in public is subject to the social codes of a nation under authoritarian rule, the work was placed inside a gallery, rather than in the street. Instead of challenging the forces behind supposed truths himself, Taşdelen’s methods are oriented toward the spectator, imploring them to remain attentive to facades and their complex, largely unseen compositions. Demagogues forces me to consider on what grounds I might find to interrogate lies now that my belief in common truth has failed. Fakery, subterfuge and clever trickery have a stronghold, with a separation between real and unreal that cannot be adequately revealed by interrogating an image itself. What is left is to tackle the conditions of power exercised around it.
Placed here in C Magazine, the conversation about truth in imagery is tucked away from a direct connection to false claims and prejudices of the contemporary political demagogue evoked by the title. Instead, the art world, the magazine itself and the issue’s theme, “Criticism, Again,” become the contexts in which to consider demagoguery. While the work elicits a question of its own, it also comes into relation with the questions raised by C Magazine editors, who ask (among many things) whether power dynamics in the art world are truly shifting as new voices emerge to challenge existing structures. Taşdelen’s efforts, grounded his own critical interrogations, likewise address who is holding the context around Tynan’s words: the artist, the editor, the designer, the reader. This reorientation away from demagoguery and toward a multiplicity of shared perspectives, hands on pages, offers optimistic potential.