Turkish artist shows one day in the media landscape in Germany

by Jane Whyatt and Ana Ribeiro

Most local newspaper publishers do not think of their papers as works of art.

But when “collected, indexed and bound,” they can be “both a unique reference library and an art object in which a day’s news is the material and the subject,” according to Turkish artist Banu Cennetoglu. Contemporary Art Daily calls her travelling installation involving German newspapers “a portrait of a society and a celebration of the printed newspaper, a tradition that in Germany dates from the 17th century and is now threatened by a consumer preference for digital formats.”

Banu Cennetoglu Collection of daily german newspapers by Banu Cennetoglu shown in the Spinnerei Leipzig (photo: Nils A. Petersen)

It can also offer a snapshot into opinion-makers’ portrayal of refugees, as her one-day sample represents the height of asylum-seekers’ influx into Germany.

Cennetoglu’s work is entitled “11.08.2015” and consists of nearly 2,000 local publications (owned by 329 daily newspapers), all printed on that date across different parts of Germany. They were arranged in folders in the Halle 14 gallery at Leipzig’s Spinnerei, as if in an archive.

Visitors were free to read the newspapers, turn the pages and compare the news as it was presented by different publications. The installation has already been exhibited in Hamburg and Bonn. After Leipzig, it moves to London.

Cennetoglu spoke with the ECPMF about her work, putting it into the context of the digital revolution, the international refugee crisis, and Turkey’s increasingly dire censorship climate, compared to the freedom the press enjoys in Germany.

Interview conducted by Jane Whyatt

I would like to ask you: what gave you the idea for the newspaper installation?

It is not the first time. I have been displaying newspapers since 2010 when I started in Turkey. The reason is to understand the economy of space in terms of information, in relation to what is important and for whom. The same views appear in different places, in different newspapers.

I work with hard copies. Once it’s printed, it’s out. You can’t change it. I have done similar work in Turkey, in Cyprus – with Turkish, Greek and British newspapers in the Arab Spring. In 2014, I displayed British newspapers in London. But "11.08.2015" in Germany is my most ambitious endeavor: 1,926 local papers. In Germany, people feel the need to know about their own place.

Why did you choose to use local German newspapers as the raw material for your art installation?

I know the history of the local press, and that it is disappearing. For example, the piece was conceived last year and already at least five newspapers that should have been included no longer exist.

How has your own experience been affected by the refugee crisis?

Now it’s more in the news, with the politics of the EU and Turkey – a terrible, crazy deal in our history (more). Because of this deal, Erdogan feels he can do whatever he wants.

It’s important to archive this one day in different newspapers. For example, a petty criminal died in the Black Forest. That was news. But for most newspapers, the refugees don’t exist.

Refugees, migrants, illegals, "egals" – these are not new questions. I am angry that it becomes a hype. It existed before "11.08.2015", and will continue to exist. The deal with Turkey, with the EU paying Erdogan money and accepting his atrocities, means that now you have less news about refugees. But people are still dying. Some days ago two people died, it was on the BBC.

It’s a deliberate political decision. The EU needs to calm its citizens, including those in Hungary, Macedonia, Calais and Paris. Europeans get no news now, there’s no follow-up.

In Turkey many newspapers have been closed down and journalists imprisoned. What is your view of this?

Turkey has never had a free press. The huge population of 70 million has only a limited interest. Newspapers are banned, or burned, journalists are sent to prison. People react. Just writing in a newspaper today can get you imprisoned.

With Turkish newspapers, there is a dominant ideology, a clash of colours which you don’t see in European newspapers. The colour is very strong, juxtapositions in the layout are very strong. They aim for an audience that won’t read dry content. Even before the latest enforced newspaper closures, there was a very small number of papers – in 2010, there were 325. But there could be more, because that is the official number.

For example, I know someone in a small city near the Georgian border. His neighbour owns a newspaper, but no one knows because newspapers are registered as different businesses in order to continue to exist. The journalism right now is copy-paste, there’s not really any investigation. You can’t do it, unfortunately.

Soon local newspapers will cease to exist. It’s one of the reasons I continue with this work.

When you keep newspapers for a month, it tells you something in a sealed time and space, like a time capsule. I like the confrontation of those decisions made. It tells us a lot about the editors.

When you compare the Turkish and the German press, especially local newspapers, what are the main differences?

You cannot compare them, it’s a different legacy. In Turkey, the readers are easily bored. You have to entertain them. It is difficult to find good and critical writers and now they cannot write anymore.

I don’t understand German, so I cannot analyse the content – only layout, headlines and pictures. But in Germany, there is the possibility of putting different voices in the same newspaper – not just one ideology and someone who is in the same state of mind as the editor. This is something I envy – it would be impossible back home in Turkey and it is a precious thing to preserve.

These are dark times. We cannot even show solidarity: a very small gesture might have very severe consequences for the journalists we try to support. I don’t have much hope for Turkey.

ECPMF’s Ana Ribeiro contributed to this report.

HALLE 14 | TERRA MEDITERRANEA: IN ACTION | Interview mit Banu Cennetoǧlu

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