Istanbul

Extrastruggle, Bureau for Registering the Sufferings Caused by Former Governments, 2021, laser-cut iron, 12 1⁄4 × 44 7⁄8 × 1".

Extrastruggle, Bureau for Registering the Sufferings Caused by Former Governments, 2021, laser-cut iron, 12 1⁄4 × 44 7⁄8 × 1".

Extrastruggle

ZILBERMAN | Istanbul

Extrastruggle, a fictional graphic-design firm established by Memed Erdener, has mocked Turkish officialdom since 1997, its provocations taking the form of assemblages, collages, sculptures, stamps, stencils, and Photoshopped pen-and-ink works on paper. Using black humor to tackle the state’s assaults on Kurdish dissidents, LGBTQI activists, and Islamic feminists, among others, the Istanbul-based initiative has attracted animosity: In 2009, nationalists sent the artist threatening emails and hacked the website extrastruggle.com. In 2011, Extrastruggle created a wooden sculpture of the mausoleum of Turkey’s founder, Atatürk, but added minarets, turning this secularist monument into a mosque; the piece was soon removed from public view. Many of Extrastruggle’s works experiment with script and typography. In 2015, the firm began the ongoing drawing series “Calligraphies of Disobedience” to show solidarity for victims of Recep Tayyip Erdogăn’s autocracy; in Osman Kavala, 2018, one piece in this group, letters in the imprisoned NGO leader’s name morph into Surrealist objects.

Again incorporating calligraphy, Extrastruggle’s latest body of work proposed an imaginary country, this time avoiding Turkey-specific references. “Utopian Bureaucratic” featured sixteen signs laser-cut from sheet iron and painted black, all dated 2021. Each advertises a bureau, board, committee, education center, or secretariat of the liberating bureaucracy. Among the imagined units are a Chamber of Making Peace with the Past, a Public Education Center for Understanding That Every Beauty Comes with Great Pain, a Unit of Determining What Needs to be Forgotten, and a Supervisory Board for Figuring Out If There Is a Moment When Anything Is Possible.

The typographic experiments feature monospaced letters that seem to coexist democratically: Allocated equal volume and allowed their own space, the letters keep their distance. In an era of institutional collapse in Turkey, the letters ignited the imagination, offering a glimmer of hope for political restoration. Made in consultation with Azat Demirer, an Istanbul ironmaster, Extrastruggle’s signs are also in conversation with Ottoman Divan literature, in which the act of writing enmeshes calligraphy, features of the human face, and nature. One practitioner of this form, the poet Nāimī, proclaimed that certain letters of the alphabet corresponded to noble parts of the face and produced the basis of beauty. (Nāimī was executed for heresy in 1394.) Extrastruggle is similarly concerned with the formal qualities of calligraphy and elicits from Turkey’s austere Latin alphabet resonances of an imaginary radical future. This use of language brings to mind an aspect of Turkish grammar: Future perfect tense is called Gelecek zamanın hikâyesi, “the story of the future.” A wall text detailed Extrastruggle’s fantasy of working for another fictional entity, the Leibniz Investigation Company. Delving into Turkey’s history, the organization finds pearls of wisdom “in an unexpected place, in the Turkish tenses room: future in the past,” and establishes “institutions of a utopian bureaucracy that wouldn’t work for evil.” In visualizing this past perfect Turkey, Extrastruggle’s iron signs asked viewers to envision a country that could have been different, could have founded a Private Secretariat for Liberating the Body from God, could have established a Committee for Deterring the Individual from Making Up a Mass, or could have had room for a Bureau for Registering the Sufferings Caused by Former Governments.

At the gallery entrance, a Lennon Wall–style message board, #IdeasForAFutureCountry, recalled similar such walls installed by protesters in Prague and Hong Kong. Asking visitors to share their own utopias and inviting creativity, the wall featured suggestions including a Ministry of Love, a Bureau to Locate the Ghost of Turkish Novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, a Time Regulation Institute, and a Headquarters for Optimist Thinking. Rather than face Turkey’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy head-on, these political suggestions continued Extrastruggle’s original program, expressed in its 1997 manifesto, to create graphic work “for all communities under social pressure.”