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Interview with the curator Marco Scotini in the frame of the Istanbul Biennial.

  • Commentary
  • Sep 13 2022
  • Marco Scotini
    Marco Scotini is an Italian curator, writer and art critic based in Milan, where he is artistic director of the FM Center for Contemporary Art and Head of the Visual Arts and Curatorial Studies Department at NABA.

In 2014, a year after the Gezi Park Protests enlightened millions of Turkish citizens with the fire of public dissent, Salt, Istanbul’s archival research and contemporary art institution, commissioned a program with Italian writer and curator Marco Scotini to showcase his ongoing video exhibition and collection project, “Disobedience Archive”, which frames the scenes and circumstances of mass demonstrations around the world. Scotini’s work expanding the “Disobedience Archive” at this year’s Istanbul Biennial only increases in significance as Turkey’s coming election year coincides with its centennial, yet another potential opportunity to rattle the cages of national obedience. Arts of the Working Class exchanged written correspondence with Scotini on the eve of an event that many expect will change the fundamental ideas of art curation and its circulation.

What are “disobedient images” and how does the Archive frame them?

Disobedient images do not obey the norms of a single, exhaustive cultural category. They are multiple, heterogeneous, polyphonic and uncooperative with definitions that codify and reify the spaces of art and those of politics. Their refusal to obey, but they assert themselves as a force for creation and experimentation: of languages, devices, institutions and subjectivities. 
To consider is what and whom these images disobey. If to the never neutral and technologically mediated colonial aspect of audiovisual language and if their aim is to reveal precisely what the corporate media attempt to conceal or remove from view, taking back control of the violent expropriation of experience, and, in turn, ending up producing history and rendering it visible. History, when it is seen as a problem of representational politics, is at the core of these films and videos. This ‘disobedient cinema’ enacts a strategy of action that runs throughout the canonical divisions established by the “power”, such as the environment, bodies, psyches, work, society and semiotic flows, in order to intervene in life as such. These images act as devices of profanation and claim an experimental potential with respect to political directions or commands. They map out the politics of immanence, never given once and for all, but as something that is consistently conquered via the pragmatics of experience. For this reason, the Disobedience Archive is not only a sample of struggles and protests but also an archive of imaginaries, of ways of living, of production, of looking, of learning and self-representation. It should be stressed that, the Italian movement of 1977, with which the Archive commences, is not only a political anticipation with regard to social disobedience but also of its corresponding mediatization. More recent films use archival documents, found footage from multiple sources. Consequently, they remain within the framework of an Archive, even if Disobedience turns out to be a ‘profaned’ archive, in the way Giorgio Agamben conceived the term.

What can this year's Istanbul Biennial visitors expect from a newly integrated, perhaps even site-specific display from the Disobedience Archive?

In contrast to the permanent nature that we consider as inherent to an archive, Disobedience is intermittent and, each time, it is “situated”, in the same way that we talk of as ‘situated knowledge’. The Archive will be on display in the Central Greek High School for Girls, a location abandoned for more than twenty years and where we found, on one of the blackboards, a sentence written in chalk that has become the subtitle of the Disobedience Archive: Ders Bitti, which in Turkish means “the lesson is over”. So, we have worked on an exhibition display and themed areas linked to female schooling. As a result, over and above the initial section on the archive’s historic material, there will be three sections that – even if not precisely new – have required a large amount of research into new material. The most interesting aspect is that, for the very first time, these disobedient materials come from all corners of the world. And this is an important both novel and form of decentralization.

Censorship appears in many guises, as absence, chaos and war. But is censorship comparable between countries such as China and Turkey today?

I have already experienced censorship in both Turkey and China. But I think Turkey is a standalone case. Because censorship and other draconian measures are put into play rather indirectly as the state holds onto its absurd claim of being democratic. So, in Turkey, the aim is to engineer public consent so the citizens would censor themselves rather than formally proscribing content. 

In Turkey, politicized migration stands opposed to the Open Society concept a la Kavala-Soros. In the same way that democracy is co-opted for illiberal aims, its values, like that of open borders, are as well. How does the Disobedience Archive demonstrate an antidote to the exploitation of liberalism?

For whatever it's worth, I fully acknowledge the gravity of Osman Kavala’s unlawful imprisonment due to political motivations and condemn the abominable sentence given by the courts. On the other hand, the Disobedience Archive does not aim to demonstrate an antidote or a concrete solution at all. The solution to the discontents of our age is not so simple so a potential answer could not be so crude as a recipe. Disobedience rather keeps track of cases that bear such potential. 

Does the Disobedience Archive occupy spaces opened by contemporary art in order to influence that community’s organizational capacity in the interest of political action?

The Disobedience project is an investigation into the practices of artistic activism that emerged after the end of Modernism, inaugurating new ways of knowing and acting. A different kind of relationship between art and politics characterizes the current phase of capitalism in which it is impossible to understand society’s radical changes other than through the transformation of the languages it produces and has produced as both political subject and mediatized object. Indeed, the Disobedience Archive situates itself on that social terrain, which is located at the core of the production of subjectivity, in which there is no longer any separation between the flow of signs and flows of materials or forces. The archive aims to operate as an activator of the present in the sense of social change and a collector of innumerable experiences of insubordination as a common force.  

There is a passage in the primary document associated with “Disobedience Archive (The Park)” that states: “Every mobile phone now has the power to challenge, to become the narrative.”? In comparison, how is the art world’s workforce representative of a movement toward class-conscious empowerment? And how is it not?

Luckily, there is not just one art world. 
Nevertheless within the art world, there is a deeper problem at present that relates (since the financial crisis, it could be said) to the fact that a new neo-liberal threat has picked up on libertarian aspirations and has extracted the value from the terrain of the social demands that were meant to oppose it, neutralizing and reabsorbing any kind of fracture on the exclusive level of expression, avoiding any damage to relationships of power.


Banner: Piero Gilardi with Collettivo La Comune, From the street performance Andreottile, Turin 1977, courtesy of Salt





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