The Human Stain
Villa Romana Fellow Asli Sungu
little mistakes are fraught with meaning: Asli Sungu lets professionals
explain to her how to brush her teeth properly or cut vegetables – and
reflects on how people have to meet universal role requirements in
day-to-day life. The Turkish artist and current Villa Romana Fellow
convinced Brigitte Werneburg that it can be great art to face your
Sungu, Faulty, (video still), 2007,
"A wheel that doesn’t turn isn’t
part of the machine," said Ludwig
Wittgenstein. In the face of the work of the Turkish artist Asli
Sungu, however, one could claim that a wheel that doesn’t turn is part
of the machine for that very reason. The temptation to interpret her work
as a machine that only produces art when a wheel locks, when s shirt can’t
be buttoned, or shelves don’t hold the things put on them, is big.
Watching Asli Sungu’s short videos, you get the impression that she is
fascinated by mistakes.
Sungu, Faulty, (video still), 2007,
Everything we do is full of flaws.
Even the simplest things. Take brushing your teeth, for example. People
believe they have such a mastery of this chore that they wouldn’t even
think of calling it into question. Asli Sungu is much more distrustful, as
is apparent from her contribution to the exhibition
of works by this year’s Villa
Romana Fellows at the Deutsche
Guggenheim, her four-part film Faulty (2008). In the test phase
of Faulty, she invited a dental assistant to her home, who was
supposed to observe the artist while she brushed her teeth and correct her
if necessary. It quickly became apparent how necessary it was. Asli Sungu
came to the shocking realization that she knew nothing about brushing
teeth. Of course not everyone has to know how to cook. That requires a
certain amount of knowledge. But brushing your teeth? That’s easy as pie?
Everyone can do that!
Sungu in the garden of
Romana in Florence 2008
© G. Hohenberg
it quickly becomes evident that the issue of errors is a highly
complicated matter. You have to find them first, or perhaps even invent
them, because they’re not simply there. In any case, until the dental
assistant came the wheel had turned and was part of the machine. "Brushing
your teeth isn’t art," you might say. But now the wheel is blocked, and
suddenly brushing teeth is art. Art simply means asking the right
questions. Questions that people do not arrive at quickly, that go under
in everyday life. Once they are addressed, however, they bring up a
cascade of additional questions. Who has the authority to decide what is
wrong and what is right?
Asli Sungu, Faulty, (video still), 2007,
It was not without good reason
that Asli Sungu asked so-called professionals to observe her performing
daily tasks and to comment on how she ironed, washed windows, or cut
vegetables. They are specialists, who, unlike her, an amateur, perform
activities as chefs, laundry experts, or window cleaners to earn a living.
As professionals, their qualifications and their personal appearance
suffice for them to be expected to play a role manifested above all in a
pronounced, expertly authorized - and therefore professional - distance.
Parents, however, can never be professionals when it comes to educating or
even just communicating with their children. Yet strangely, they still
view themselves as authorities.
Sungu, Quite her mother (video still), 2006,
Sungu, Quite her father (video still), 2006,
For instance, parents believe they
know which clothing is most advantageous for their children. Who isn’t
familiar with parents’ critical probing questions about whether these
trousers or that dress don’t look better than the one you are wearing? And
who isn’t familiar with the anger this arouses? So it is easy to
understand how Asli Sungu got the idea for her video Just Like
Mother/Just Like Father (2006). For an artist is someone who sees the
wheel in her parents, blocks it, and thus sets the machine in motion. We
see Asli Sungu at her parents’ house in Istanbul dressing in one case in
accordance with ideas of her mother, and in another case in keeping with
the notions of her father. The differences are striking. While the mother
chooses a rather girlish dress and in the end Sungu looks like a
well-behaved schoolgirl, the father opts for a classical businesswoman’s
outfit. The mother apparently is looking for the child in her daughter and
therefore plays the dressing game in a naive way. The father, however,
sees the daughter as an adult woman and thus behaves in a more distant, or
more biased, way. But as different as the mother’s and father’s ideal
images of their daughter are, they have one thing in common: They are both
modern images of women represented by European clothing.
Sungu, Mein Zimmer, 2000,