Born in Istanbul in 1976, Burak Arıkan is a pioneer on Turkey’s contemporary art scene. Arıkan has studied at Istanbul’s Bilgi University and at the MIT in the USA. His works, which span software programming, electronics, networks and maps, are at the crossroads of the digital and the real world. They are exhibited online and shown in Turkey and abroad.
From a very young age, Arıkan was fascinated by the creative possibilities offered by computers. When the internet arrived in the 90s, this opened a whole new and endless universe to him. It is this new virtual life that Arıkan continues to experiment. His works challenge the limits of the numerical world and reveal the social, political and economical systems that constitute online and offline communities. Most of the recent ones focus on networks, highlighting key actors and connectivity. Mashallah News met with Arıkan in Paris during Kolaj Istanbul last September.
“When I made BORED-ER, I was studying at MIT. Every day, we were pushing the limits of technology in all types of media. For the piece, I took a simple digital camera and shot pictures of those small language flags in the corner of the computer screen. But, my camera was not able to focus on the screen so I realised that there is a limit between my camera and the screen. I took lots of pictures like that, with abstract flags.”
The piece is also related to the constant border issues I was having at the time. I was a Turkish citizen living in the USA, not being able to go to places like Mexico or Canada without a visa. While I worked on BORED-ER, I was denied entrance at the Canadian border. I had forgotten about the visa, I was just going there by bus. But I had to stop and go back. So this work also embodies the idea that a nation never is as sharp as its flag. A nation is always multinational, like Kurdish and Turkish people living together on the same territory.”
“This was an art market simulation group project at the MIT with lots of people involved. One of the researchers suggested that we would call the currency Burak just because my name sounds like “bucks”. OPEN STUDIO was a kind of game: there was fake money that we could to invest in certain artists, maybe get back more money, and so on.”
“The Ergenekon case — an alleged conspiracy against the current government by former military and prominent people within politics, media, academics, and civil society — is a big issue in Turkey. In ERGENEKON, I mapped what the court wrote in its 2,455 pages indictment. I put all the characters in the map, highlighting the connections between them. Then, I wrote a program for reading the bill, since it is impossible to read it yourself. It is like mapping the deep state. I was not surprised by the conclusions: some names were obvious, some less, but I wanted to show the density of the network. Now, all these people are ending up in prison. But following up on the case, which is still ongoing, is hard.
“This piece is a map showing the connections between capitalism, philanthropy, and a number of foundations in Turkey. The graphics show board members of both foundations and private companies. Among them are these very influential people who all hang out together and have the authority to dictate much of what goes on in Turkey. Most of them are from a few families like Koç and Sabanci. The graphics also show connections between, on the one hand side, religious figures, and on the other, secularist republicans. But in the end, they are all in the same game.”
“META-MARKETS is a social valuation of your online profile, sort of like a people stock market. If you have many friends, you are worth a lot and you can earn more than if you have only a few friends. The idea behind the work is that platforms like Twitter or Facebook earn money while the ones actually providing content are the people. In another connected project called USER LABOR, we tried to measure people’s values in the online world, depending on different web-based parameters.”
“I was looking at the online CIA world fact book with factual data about countries such as GDP, population numbers, and others. I wanted to compile these pieces of information into one single organic visual to see how that would look. So I wrote a software to do that. Whereas in the past I used external data, in my recent projects, I prefer to collect my own data.”
“Ucantekme is a blog and website in Turkey which I developed together with my friend Engin Erdoğan. This was before Blogger. We developed our own software to publish personal stuff. Our point was to just make publications about things that we like and which mattered to us in our lives: politics, technology, culture and art events. I wrote about the 9/11 events and the consequent invasion of Iraq in 2003, I wrote about alternative media, reposting content from other blogs. Erdoğan and I wanted to promote citizen journalism in our own way.”
“Together with Erdoğan, I created this fast and easy way to share activism-based events. This was long before the widespread use of Facebook. We designed a data model working like an RSS feed, so that everyone could syndicate his or her events with others. Most probably, no one actually ever used this model. It was just a proposition, us trying to experiment with new models of information.”