Nancy Atakan: Much of your work seems to be a type of narrative. How would you describe your art practice?
Volkan Aslan: I always begin with a problem and I always use irony. While I may appear to be dealing with a sociological situation, I am always telling something about myself. We are continually faced with tragedy and drama. To soften and make problems more acceptable, I use irony.
NA: What types of art-related problems do you deal with in your work?
VA: It bothers me that everything in the art context tends to be classified. In one exhibition, I labeled objects throughout the exhibition building such as a fire hydrant, the elevator, toilets and the reception desk. As an ironic comment on artist’s names becoming brands or trademarks, when I moved to Istanbul in 2006, I made a large advertisement, “Volkan Aslan in Istanbul,” and hung it on the outside of the Contemporary Art Fair exhibition space. In an ironic and critical manner, I wanted to make it obvious that I now belonged to the art scene in Istanbul.
NA: In 2004 you made a digital print series showing yourself taped to the floor with layers of masking tape. At that time you were living in southeastern Turkey in the city of Mersin; now you live and work in Istanbul. Do places and geography play an important role in your work?
VA: Actually, I am not specifically interested in place or geography. When I was younger I wanted to belong to a place because I continually had to move. Since I desired to have stable relationships and long-term friendships, as an artwork I decided to metaphorically tape myself to the floor.
NA: Much of your work deals with the relationship between reality and fiction. Do you see yourself as a visual storyteller?
VA: I combine personal possessions and experiences with found objects and imaginary stories to make them appear not to be about me — as in Concern (2007). Everything becomes fiction, but the spectator can never be completely certain. Sometimes I just want to play with objects, to design, to create stories. By turning everything into an artwork, childlike activities become legitimate.
NA: Last February you did a solo show for Pi Artworks called “Those who wear the same T-shirts.” For the video installation, you asked pedestrians in three different cities what they felt when they wore a T-shirt with the Turkish flag. It is illegal to reproduce the Turkish flag on a T-shirt; does this work contain a political agenda?
VA: In this work, the problem I was addressing revolved around similarity. On an ordinary day on the street in Istanbul, I encountered a stranger wearing a T-shirt identical to mine. I started to wonder if our motivation for wearing it were the same. This video piece resulted from a type of unscientific research project. Since spectators cannot be sure whether this is documentation or fiction and whether the people interviewed were randomly selected, there is a strong element of ambiguity. Perhaps it is staged. Perhaps they are my friends. From this experiment, I learned that even though people may wear the T-shirt because they feel proud of the flag, their pride stems from different reasons.
Volkan Aslan was born in 1982 in Ankara, Turkey. He lives and works in Istanbul.
Selected solo shows: 2010: Pi Artworks, Istanbul. 2009: Pi Artworks, Istanbul. 2006: Under Construction, Istanbul.
Selected group shows: 2010: “fasafiso,” Cer Modern, Ankara. 2009: “Reciprocal Visit,” Depo, Istanbul; “Once Upon a Time,” 5533, Istanbul. 2008: “Concern,” Atelier Frankfurt, Frankfurt. 2007: “Art and Money,” Siemens Art, Istanbul.
Nancy Atakan is an artist and art historian. She is the co-founder of 5533, an alternative art space in Istanbul.