On Tö

Merve Ünsal
About More Articles

Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (1956) which was made only 10 years after the Holocaust, describes the inexpressibleness of pain through the lack of language and images. In the film, where the images of those days and the Holocaust photographs of the concentration camps are intertwined, the potential of forgetting ability of a place corresponds to the habits of forgetting, overlooking, ignoring of all of us, of the human being. According to Resnais, one of the most effective ways of confronting the Holocaust, which unfortunately does not have a unique place in the history of humankind and we can all agree on the unimaginable dimensions of its horrors, is to feel the slippery hill that visual and verbal languages face when trying to describe it and beginning to accept the inadequacy of them.

Zişan and İz Öztat's Tö (2017) is predicated on this bloody inadequacy of languages. The tensions created by what language(s) is/are incapable to tell, creates a space in Tö where this tension is stylistically transformed into matter and through its vibration it begins to produce its own language.

Tö is an artwork formed by three intertwined elements. The encounter at the base of the work, which can be divided as sculpture, publication and moving image (greets touching, handling, and caressing feelings which are awakened by Tö), restricts the movement of the audience in space.   

The bowel, which tickles the architectural elements of the space by tying one column to the other, resembles a ribbon waiting to be cut at an opening ceremony, or the inured inability to cross a line; a barrier. The familiarity of the material form and the material itself, does not diminish the severity of its use to mark the space. What leaves an impression on the audience is the fact that the answer to the question; "Who applies violence to whom?" is left unknown. The fact that the bowel is strained, and the latitancy of its removal from a dead body, interrupts -even for a moment- our abstract perception of the body. The potential idea of that we are looking at something rests in our body and continues to function in us at that moment, removes the skin as a cover, and destroys the protection of its inner-outer boundaries. While the intestine is becoming a touchable, observable object, we face the organic decay of our own body. And the decaying living bodies, and the ones decaying under the ground, or the ones decaying in unknown places.  


In the image projected onto a stretched piece of parchment, a human figure wrapped up in parchments slowly walking around a round dome. The image, embodying the roughness of the surface on which it is projected, can be seen as a moving icon while it is becoming abstract. The fact that the relation with the viewer's body and eye-level requires a state of looking up, extends this awe-pose and it is unclear whether this results from pleasure or pain. (This reminds me of Peter Hujar's work which shows men in a state of orgasm.) The audience is caught in the middle of a desire to see the face of the figure turning around the dome, requesting it to do something and another desire to begin to act by wearing the parchments themselves, the viewer who wants to participate, this desire to become a participant can actually be read as a flirt of all this instalment with a ritual of purification. The possibility of salvation shown by Tö is mysterious and inviting as well as being tactile.


In the circle, where there are garments resembling ghoul-like figures (which is something we are familiar with from the video), and beneath them hanging buckets which are filled with water, the presence of this six buckets and three garments reinforces the feeling that the viewer is also a part of an ongoing, timeless situation. The water in the buckets carries the threat that the situation can go back to the beginning at any moment, with an initial potential that suggests the parchments can be softened, deformed, and reused. Every bucket means birth and death. Maybe the hanging garments are waiting for their owners, maybe they have taken their places as dead talismans, being aware that they will never be donned again.




In the publication that I have perceived as a wind that fills the objects and images in the space, and sometimes overthrowing them, there is no clue about what objects and images are. Bataille's Acéphale meetings, the possibility of a group of people gathered to produce nothing is a portal opened for the audience by the text in the publication. The texture incompatibility between objects (as it is possible to read the projected image here as an object) and the audience is becoming more visible with this information.  On one hand the self-emergence, the purification, the possibility of its own participation; on the other hand the desperation of the mournings and wounds of the geography where it existed at that moment, even the perpetrators of the atrocities do not/ cannot undertake their agency, and where the compassion turns into a weakness; Tö, like Night and Fog did, shows the state of forgottenness by piercing us.

Beyond-time collaboration between Zişan and İz reminds us how social trauma has a cyclical and never-ending nature. While Zişan's works that İz brings into light, the images and the experiences of Zişan, build real bridges that cannot be burned with the past, because they are imaginable; the existence of Zişan in this installation is repeated as it is in the image that circumvents and therefore it is infinitely flexible. A state in which lostness creates an eternity rather than a void encodes over the encounters of these two women and embraces us in the expense of self-consumption.



A quote from Zeynep Sayın's Ölüm Terbiyesi (Metis, 2018), which İz attached to the end of the document when I shared the first draft of the article.

"A community which is forming as dissolution and disintegration instead of the claim of eternity and persistence, which does not complete any incomplete opus, which ventures its own downfall at any moment; a community established by those who are not part of any community, who have no new partnerships other than their death and their killability, other than their morality, who are refraining from being transformed into any kind of power gesture as long as they are withdrawn at any moment. [...] It is obvious that it will be not infinite but finite, not possible but impossible, not non-confidential but confidential, not headed but headless. Rather than offering a solution, sensitizing the awareness of the problems and makes them more valuable than responses, a community-free community.

However the years following Documents and Acéphale which have a desire for an opus-free community and an opus-free art; on the contrary, are the years which witnessed the rise of fascism, the greatest opus mankind has ever set up. After ten years passed away, in 1947, came the time which we still live in, whether if it in our country or in the whole world, made Bataille write "Auschwitz is an indication of humankind such as the pyramids and Acropolis: from now on, the image of mankind will inevitably be remembered together with the gas chambers."