Bodies Everywhere: A Look at All Those Bodies in Istanbul

A body is intimate–on one hand, it is mysterious and more than anything, it is undeniably present. A body is what makes each of us what we are. Our presence is only tangible as far as our concrete selves go. An artist is, beyond all of its transcendental and inventive impulses, a body–a physical statement, a functioning machine. Furthermore, a work of art, same as its creator, is a corpse–the kind that is compact, variant and mythical, waiting to be decoded and configured for its true meaning. The body of a human and the body of an artwork differ in this sense: while the body of a human is functional; an artwork’s is metaphorical.

The body has always been charged with certain connotations, whether political, sociological or historical. Depending on the discourse it is in, the concept of ‘the body’ stands out as the symbolic figure for a wider matter. In my recent visit to Istanbul, I have come across two different representations of the body by two different artists.

A scene from An Eye for an Eye

A scene from An Eye for an Eye

Salt Galata is hosting Artur Żmijewski’s 11-minute long video “An Eye for an Eye” in which the artist shows us bodies–bodies that have lost their functioning parts and bodies that are not fully retaining their primal purposes. Żmijewski in this video asked a group of capable people to aid others that have certain missing body parts with trying to perform some daily tasks such as taking shower or simply walking. By allowing these people to loan them their ‘missing‘ body parts to accomplish some basic needs, the amputees pushed the limits of their comfort zones. While blurring the line between the intimate or the privy, these groups of people created new forms of hybrid bodies, bodies that are functional yet deformed. A woman ‘being’ the missing hand of a man while he’s taking shower or a man grabbing another one to serve as his missing leg to help him walk are some of the unlikely duos shown in this video. Trust, mutual dependence and reformation all blend into these new unlikely formed bodies as each person loses its individualistic form to redefine the idea of functionality.

A scene from Hamam showing Moral bath

Scene from Sukran Moral’s “Hamam”

As a part of Akbank Sanat’s group show titled Autonomous and Beautiful, Şükran Moral’s infamous video piece “Hamam” is gracing the second floor of the space. In this video from 1997, Moral steps into the ‘wrong’ bathroom, joining a group of men while they are pottering at the traditional Turkish bath. A woman bathing naked with a group of also naked men as they are following their usual routine that includes scrubbing, massaging and a little mingling is a totally foreign concept maybe aside from some touristy resorts. The artist joining these men in their routines as she also scrubs, massages and mingles goes well beyond the ordinary, not just in terms of breaking a certain cultural tradition but also by shaking the habitual in the common sense. A naked female body standing amongst a group of naked (and macho) male bodies in their territory as she performs the male role with them is a total breakpoint in the representation of male and female bodies, as well as the idea of one form of human body.

A female body playing the role of the man in an environment that is solely for men serves as the signifier of how bodies are the primal tools for all political animals like us.

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