“There is no room for both the world and its double,” Jean Baudrillard wrote in response to the explosion of digital documentation in the 1990s. Turkish artist Banu Cennetoğlu seems to test this assertion in her various projects. She often gathers large amounts of digital and analog data and explores how the resulting collections reflect or obscure personal and historical experiences. Her first solo exhibition in the United States features, for instance, an ongoing project in which she collects every newspaper in a country on a given day. To date, there have been six installments, comprising 142 elegant leather-bound volumes and representing countries in Europe and the Middle East. Leafing through the volumes, which sit on shelves in their own reading room in the show, you get a sense of the way banal and monumental events take place side by side.
After a long stint working in New York as a fashion photographer and a two-year program in contemporary art at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, Cennetoğlu moved back to Turkey in 2005. She founded BAS, an art space focused on artists’ books, in Istanbul that year, and soon thereafter started her best-known project, The List (2006–). Since 1993, the Amsterdam-based, pro-migrant network UNITED for Intercultural Action has maintained a list of details concerning migrants who have died accidentally, killed themselves, or been killed as a result of European Union immigration policies. For her project—which she insists is not an artwork—Cennetoğlu disseminates this list in various mediums. She has distributed it across Europe by way of billboards, stickers, and newspaper supplements; showed it in video form on a large screen on the roof of a hotel in Istanbul; and posted it along a street in Liverpool for the city’s 2018 biennial, where it was repeatedly vandalized (the destruction, as the artist noted after deciding to leave the piece partially ripped, reflecting the violence that migrants face).
Cennetoğlu’s video 1 January 1970–21 March 2018 (2018)—which has twelve alternate titles—is the exhibition’s central focus. More personal in nature than her other projects, the work is a chronological presentation of all the images and videos that were stored on her phones, hard drives, and cameras since 2006. The resulting video contains 46,685 files and runs a staggering 128 hours and twenty-two minutes. The images—of near-empty beaches, works in progress, magazine clippings, empty bureaucratic spaces, family events, and on and on—produce a silent rhythm, broken only by video clips with sound. That the video sometimes takes on the tedium of a vacation slideshow is perhaps by design. The viewers’ seating comprises rows of low deck chairs, suggesting that you should absorb the video rather than watch it, the way you would take in a sunset. But glimpses of almost voyeuristic intimacy do flash across the screen. In one brief clip, a man and a young girl dance wildly to the song “Golden Brown” by the Stranglers in a dimly lit apartment. In another, a naked woman carries out a series of poses in front of a piece of plywood. The video also records a period of political unrest in and around Turkey. The Arab Spring, the Gezi Park protests, the European migrant crisis: all are captured in the film’s digital stream, marking the passing of historical time.
Today, most people record, and partially live, their lives via digital images. But Cennetoğlu tries to overcome the curation and performance that are central to social media, and instead provide an unmediated portrayal of the visual record of her life. As with her other work, she wagers that the video’s accumulation can reflect a larger, overarching history. But her adherence to a chronological, unedited approach makes for a work that, with its nearly unwatchable length, asks a lot of the viewer. Moments of coherence emerge in the video, but drowning in our own image feeds, we may not have the patience to wait for them.