Project Concept proposal: Radical Questions: themed site-specific discussions”

Overview of the concept:

Building on Tino Seghal’s performance piece, This Progress, 2010 at the Guggenheim Museum and the art therapy approach adopted by the artist Lygia Clark in her Relational Objects, I propose to create themed site-specific discussions for which I will curate the radical and supposedly never-been-asked/addressed questions (both collected from people with the help of a website, as well as posed by myself) and also for which I will curate the participants with the criteria based on their “demographics” in order to bring ‘the Other’s together, with the aim of

-finding the self-in-the-other, “impersonal narcissism” by Leo Bersani

-fostering critical reflection on issues

-narrowing down the gap between the academia and the public

Here are some precedents of my project as well as some key motivations:

Jenny Holzer is known for her large-scale public displays, billboard ads, projections on buildings as well as illuminated electronic displays in the public space. Her piece Truisms is the display in public space of one-line sentences that Holzer wrote herself inspired by her observations on society and readings.

Instead of giving the public one-liner truisms, I want to ask critical questions to the public and also collect their critical questions.

Tino Seghal’s This Progress, 2010, at the Guggenheim:

In this piece, the viewer enters the emptied museum, and is welcomed by a 10-year-old boy who asks the viewer “What is progress?” As the viewer answers the question, the pair start climbing the podium and on the way, the viewer meets older versions of the boy/guide and at the top, the viewer meets the oldest guide and as the guides change, the previous guide conveys the dialogue to the next guide. Even though the work is challenging in terms of being process-oriented and participatory in a  museum setting, the work might fall into the void of being random and chance-oriented in terms of the dialogue that’s being created and, the choice of location, the Guggenheim Museum, creates a certain kind of expectation or worse, non-expectation in the visitor. Even though these aspects of the work might not be problematic for itself, my proposal of asking questions and selecting the setting and the choice of site-specific location instead of an established museum aims to be critical about the content of the dialogue and the consequences of the piece.

Lygia Clark as an artist and her art therapeutic approach:

The artist Lygia Clark designed “relational objects”, objects which were hardly functioning in a straightforward sense, but as people were interacting with each other through these objects, they were experimenting with their bodies as well as with each other. In my project, by asking these questions and making people struggle through these together, I hope to reach a level of not only awareness on the issues, but also, critical thinking on “truths” of society that we take for granted, and create a “deterritorializing” zone in search of the “impersonal narcissism”.


-Leo Bersani and Adam Philips’ concept of “impersonal narcissism”:

Bersani and Philips argue, “psychoanalysis has mislead us into believing, in its quest for normative life stories, that knowledge of oneself is conducive to intimacy, that intimacy is by definition personal intimacy, and that narcissism is the enemy, the saboteur, of this personal intimacy considered to be the source and medium of personal development.”

In order to find the new relational possibilities and “zones of proximity”, I offer, rather than affirming our identities and differences and sameness as immigrants, feminists, or what other categories humanity has already offered us; to find the self-in-the-other. Crooke writes, “Seeing others as different, and as potentially hostile, dangerous or threatening to our own protected intimate spheres is, for Bersani, the root of war, aggression and all types of exclusionary measures, ideologies and identities, from nationalism to homophobia.” Instead of the ethics of “Love thy neighbor” which is repressive of one’s primary drives causing further frustrations and making the loving of one’s neighbor all the more difficult, I want to experiment with the idea of “impersonal narcissism” and what this concept has to offer the society in terms of ethics of relationality.

Claire Bishop’s thoughts on relational aesthetics and socially engaged art:

Bishop criticizes the embrace of the renunciation of authorship and the incorporation of the Christian “good soul” by many relational aesthetics and socially engaged art projects. It might be quite naïve of the artists to assume creating a setting where people get together like Rirkrit Tiravanija’s lunch parties has an impact as a work of art simply because they brought a bunch of people together, or in Oda Projesi’s case, to assume they were successful because they created an environment of creative process made possible by the participants. Even though I am, too, sympathetic just as Bishop is, I would argue there is room for more critical work rather than organizing workshops, event, and teachings. Aside from collecting the questions of people by the help of a website and adding my own questions to them when I see fit, I would like to tag and classify the questions and brings different groups of people together. In the context of a different site or a site the participants feel indifferent, the radical questions they would argue will be ‘experimental’ and the dialogue supposedly affects them, building upon each other’s hopefully improvisational and critical, not pre-judgmental answers, making people notice the self-in-the-other throughout their encounter.

In her article “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”, Clair Bishop criticizes Rikjit’s lunch parties for being uncritical in terms of creating situations which are not necessarily critical but being assumed to strengthen the social bond;  Santiago Sierra’s works for being “shocking” and alienating the visitors. I want to create situations where people exchange their own critical questions and ideas. Bishop also criticizes the artists for being the Christian “good souls” and putting too much emphasis on the renunciation of the authorship. The reason why I ask to collect people’s questions and invite them to participate with their questions/answers is not because I believe in the renunciation of the authorship, but simply because I believe people have their own critical questions which I am not aware of. I believe, my father was “educating’ me by asking questions to me and letting me struggle through the answering process, instead of teaching me the “truths”.


Depending on the theme of questions, I will choose a significant site. The performance can take a wide range of forms, from a seated discussion to walks in the city with the participants. As the facilitator/organizer, if needed, I can take on the role of a provocateur/performer and sometimes just a participant. Depending on the questions and the site, I might enhance the location with ‘curated’ props. Also, depending on the theme, organizations/groups that try to raise awareness/have a certain standpoint towards the issue in hand will be contacted and invited to participate or co-organize.

Example questions:

  1. Why do women’s shirts have buttons on the right side, while men’s shirts have the buttons on the left side?
  2. Why do we use “fuck” as a slang word for hateful utterances?
  3. Why do we find high heals attractive? Especially the thin and pointy heels?

Even though the answers to these questions can be found in academic books and papers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are incorporated and appreciated by the public, simply because academic world is not accessible by the public. Also, teaching people the reasons behind these questions is not a critical process, because this is a unilateral pedagogic process, simply because the knowledge producers are the academics and the public is the receiver. What I aim with this project is what my father aimed for me; to ask to questions to create a critical mind that is not in search of the answers to the particular questions, but in search of more questions.

If, as in the example questions, the theme is binary gender positioning, I would choose a site where this binary mechanism is obvious, such as jewelry, beauty, fashion stores and so on. The audience, in this case, is everyone since, today, most of the people are/have been the target of these ideologies. The collaborator in this case could be university organizations focused on feminism or LGBT communities since they are already engaged in academics and consciousness raising activities.

-Piril Gunduz

Categories: Reflective Posts


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