Interview with Installation Artist, Vahit Tuna

I’ve spent the majority of my life advocating for those who could not for themselves – I’ve always felt that victims should never be silenced and ALWAYS heard. The frightening concept is that they are so rarely heard, unless its from the grave as a statistic.  It’s remarkable how people will not listen until it is too late – at that point listening no longer helps.  It becomes an issue and the out cry ensues for a couple of months —  then is dropped into the abyss.  Nevertheless, when I gazed upon Vahit Tuna’s “Untitled” Installation located on the side of a building in Istanbul, Turkey I simply want to reduce myself to a puddle of pink tear drops — only a thick ply tube of paper towels could absorb.  In 2018, 440 women had been murdered by men in Turkey.  Vahit’s way of shedding light on this epidemic was to create a truly MAGNIFICENT and sombre installation. Each of these individual women was represented with a new pair of black high heeled shoes.   I’m in awe and sorrow filled with regards to this body of work. It really makes you think! There reaches a point in life when enough is enough — this level of violence needs to stop! 
For more information on Vahit, I suggest you give him a follow-on Instagram @vahittuna.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, Vahit also wrote a poem to coincide with the installation, I’ve woven it into our interview.
RMMW: Have you ever been creatively blocked? If yes, how did you overcome it?
VT: The main stumbling block I face while I create my work is usually about how I am going to show it, because, for me, creating new artworks is more like creating superimposed facts rather than creating new ideas. What makes me think the most is not what I’ll be putting but how I will be showing it. Not the continuity they have but the way the artworks speak to each other.
RMMW: We all must contend with an ugly inner critic at times, how do you deal with yours?
VT: It’s about criticizing the existence of my artwork, repeatedly. Since I’m not an artist who constantly creates artworks, I have an intense and a big amount of time to spend on thinking about them. I mean, it’s an intricate flow. After these long periods, I try to cure and re-criticize them.
RMMW: Do you have any artist rituals before starting a new installation?
VT: Luckily no : )
RMMW:  I was reading your interview with Ecem Arslana and the criticism you received for not including the names of the 440 women in \”Untitled\” who are represented in your installation.  I agree with you, equal and unbiased attention must be given to the victims.  That being said, if you had the opportunity to redo \”Untitled\” would you consider putting names up or would you still leave names off?
VT: No, I wouldn’t use the names. Because the lack of curiosity and insensitivity of the society is one of the important parts of this work. Everyone is in silence.
RMMW: \”Untitled\” is pretty powerful, as you were placing these high heeled shoes on the side of a building — did you quickly pause for each of the victims?

VT: No but after finishing the installation, there had been a big silence in the space. 

 RMMW: This body of work, completely reduces me to tears.  To see all those shoes erect and ready to honour victims of abuse.  How did you feel once you installed the last pair of heels — once you took a step back to look at your work?

VT: It was also a really sad moment for me, especially during the installation; I was told that a young schoolboy came up to the crew in the process of installation and asked, “Is this about the murdered women?” We mustn’t forget that children have much clearer minds compared to us. I think that was the hardest part of this installation.
RMMW: You\’ve fought hard bringing awareness to domestic violence, what was the catalyst that drove you to create advocacy-based installations?
VT: Public space is perhaps the most challenging area for an artist to be working in. Once you step out of the safe confines of galleries, museums, and such spaces, the mode of questioning particular to an art practice and the inner workings of its self-contained system goes awry. Even more so in locales where this is an infrequent practice or mode. To show public artwork in Turkey is both inspiring and precarious. There are many hundreds of assaults made on sculptures in public spaces that remain fresh in our minds and it is not possible to make new work in this sense without considering what has happened before. We cannot forget that there is this tradition of the populace idealizing the public domain based on its own set of convictions and beliefs. And the reactions that will be caused by any act that can be considered “wrongdoing” within these idealized spaces. This question of what is regarded as “wrongdoing” brings about a crowd, a mob that continues to grow in numbers and has in the past, as we know so well, ensued on to outbursts of rage and from there on to violence, arson and destruction.
Even without having placed anything in the street, our subconscious concerning this geography comes to surface. And I wonder now if this means, putting aside the artistic practice and public artworks, that the violence that lingers in the streets has become something that holds a considerable place in our consciousness. How is it that these rambling streets can come together and organize around such a singular body, a frame that teaches a lesson to all “deviants”? I think we’d have to crack all of this open to understand what lies at the source of violence.
One of them wore a crown on her head 

One was waiting beside another with a spear in her hand
Another holds thin long paper shreds in her hands, trying not to drop the lines on them
Another one had a conscience, she constantly hid her hands
Another has common sense, always an ear in her left hand
The one at the back thinks she’s running, she’s knee-deep in mud
Another keeps looking at her watch and spitting against the wind
The one who thought she was left in the past, gazes with nothing but suspicion at another’s diamond earring
One persistently guts herself, as if to take out something that wasn’t there
One was blowing the wind onto another’s shoulder, both were like feathers
The one farthest to the left is crouching and looking up at the sky 
One is knitting a new cardigan from the wool of the cardigan she is wearing

Don’t cry she said 

One was giving the vitamins in her hand to another, while looking into her eyes with a loving smile
Another was afraid of dreaming
One was scared to death, yet could grin while playing with her hair
She had fallen of the cliff pursuing her dreams, yet stood up again
One always had a rift in her eyes
One made a crown of flowers for another’s hair, she could have kissed her tiny hands for hours
To sleep till noon was indispensable, she liked the mornings of the night
One was blowing bubbles with the soap slipping from her hands, each bubble would burst with a “pop” in the another’s mind
Another used to run towards where the sun set last so the evening would never come, till it broke away from the tip of the hill
She had placed stones in the places of things she would do, each weighing tons

In the end, so be it said another

Another one’s neck suddenly turned blazing red
One was eyeing everything that was going on, she asked what is it to understand?
Another one pulled up the strap that kept slipping off her shoulder
Another’s last word was “don’t”, maybe she didn’t know it, but the light of the moon rising in splendour had caught her torn hair

Another one screamed, they all of paused and looked at each other

One passed over them like a dark shadow, even the one looking up at the sky didn’t notice her
Another one halted and ran, halted and ran, asking if she would show sympathy 
Nothing she wished for ever happened, so she ended up wishing for things she didn’t want
I’ll come again tomorrow she said
Reluctance she said, yet she had just started to read
Another didn’t believe in myths, she used to break away from the top of the mountain and fall into forests

The other was skyless

She collapsed on the spot like a piece of rock, during the time for morning coffee
One was calling into a box, then putting it over her hear, another one couldn’t have cared lessssss
It was horizontal in someone’s hand, she used to say it always comes vertically 
She cried, threw up, closed her eyes, tilted her head backwards, looked at the clouds for a long time, she asked where is my left hand?, she saw the back of her legs, she was all messed up, dirt went in and out of her hair
Another was always silent, she kept silent, always silent
The other buried his secrets in a large pit, and said they’d be forgotten by sunset
Another was having a picnic beneath a great mountain

Have I returned safe and sound? said one

It rained without pause, what an ill-timed time rain said another
“Look over there” said the one who was a poet, no flower patterned sheets for us in this river bed
Another was crumpling the corner of her dress
Another’s knuckles turned white, does this suit me? she asked mockingly
Another one had a nose so tiny, even the flies couldn’t see it
Another was opening and closing her arms, as if embracing someone on her knees
It was as if an invisible wall blocked her way, she didn’t know how high the wall was
Another one was laughing loudly, she cheered them all up for a moment
She tried to wind back the time she had left, the reel was unsealed and it flew out of her hands
One of them knocked on the door, there was no reply from inside
She took off her shoes and stepped on the stones barefoot

They all paused and looked at the other.

Untitled, August 2019, Istanbul
Translated from Turkish to English: Kutay Kence

RMMW:  Out of all the installations that you\’ve created, which one is your favourite? And why?

VT: Well, my favourite is “Eve gelirken ekmek almayı unutma” (Don’t forget to buy a bread while coming back home). It was a public art project and was speaking with the street. I did this work in 2000, İstanbul.  Such a funny sentence. It was a huge sticky note on the wall who said the title sentence. And who was the reminder? Mom? Father or sister? And it sounded like a poem. “Ekmek” (bread) is still the cheapest and the most important food in Turkey.
RMMW: Having such a vast artisanal background, do you have an advice for Installation Artists who work on a macro scale?
VT: Art is a psychological warfare for the artist and the spectator. If the artist takes his own psychological statement rather than what the others think they will be at least priceless. Everything is so visible yet similar in today’s visual. In order to break this similarity, the artist should create based on its personal story. I believe that these stories should catch the contemporary forms.
RMMW: What do you want those who look upon your installations to take away with them?
VT: Not one more.
RMMW: How long did it take you to plan and then execute the \”Untitled\” installation?
VT: I was already considering state of violence and the dynamics of the street before I began thinking for Yanköşe. I was in a group exhibition in Kunstraum Kreuzberg in Berlin in 2017. The title for the exhibition was “Muscle Memory”. I showed a work entitled “Silent House”, which was an installation of three tables topped with glass. I’d made this work based on a news article I’d read, about the murder of a woman in 2016. Inside one of the tables there was a display of clothing, in the other a necklace, rings, shoes, objects we’d associate with a woman. Inside the third table there was a photograph of a woman, covered on top with iron filings.
When I began mulling over the Yanköşe this installation kept coming back to me. I began to consider making a larger, more expansive rendition of this work, making it a focal point in a public space for people walking by, somehow directing their attention to it. It was a huge opportunity for slam to the government’s face everyday with this installation. Because all femicide is political.
RMMW: I know it sounds silly, but where did you end up getting 440 pairs of high heeled shoes from for your \”Untitled\” installation?
VT: No, it’s not a silly question at all. My art practice are ready-mades, symbols and them being deconstructed or being changed and re-showed in an exaggerated way. For example, I use flags, bust of Atatürk or any other praised or patriarchal objects. The shoes were brought from a shoe shop, they’re all new. They don’t belong to a victim. I wouldn\’t have thought of anything like that. That would be a pornography of death. Inside the metaphor that I tried to create, the position and the psychology of the shoes were important in order to create a space to think and argue about shoes showing a social trauma on women. The potential of arguing also increases the attention to the aesthetical side of the work. The attraction of the symmetric.
RMMW:  If you had a superpower what would it be?
 VT: Ha ha! Well, travelling between galaxies without any suits and with the speed of light! Just beaming around. I am a very curious person; I would like to see what’s going on around galaxies…

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