Aslı Çavuşoğlu’s “Murder in Three Acts”

Merve Ünsal

March 22, 2013
NON, Istanbul
March 1–April 13, 2013

Outside it’s like any other apartment building; inside hides a cinema. NON, located in a grand building on the bustling Istiklal Avenue, has been transformed into a multiplex cinema with three delectable episodes of Aslı Çavuşoğlu’s Murder in Three Acts (2012–2013) on view. Murder, yes, “crime scene investigations” (CSI), yes, and, hold on to your seat, art objects. Here is where the detective work begins. These objects are displayed in a room with burgundy walls, evoking musty exhibitions of Old Masters. One can see the velvet, feel it, even though it is not there. The silence of an auction house preview room and the dramatic lighting in the context of the apartment-gallery contribute to the absurdly formal situation. These objects, after all, are only meaningful within the context of the crime.

But what is that crime? We are left to guess. Five traditional coffee tables, each pierced with a vertical block of marble, are scattered throughout the room. The flawless obsidians are fetishized in the mechanisms of dignified display, perfectly placed, instilling a sense of preciousness. But the objects are too banal, and one gets the uncanny feeling that Çavuşoğlu is dismantling rather than upholding these traditional methodologies of display.

Into the cinema we go, and it’s addictive. Çavuşoğlu has mimicked the CSI aesthetic to the point that the end of each episode triggers a feeling of wanting to watch the whole season. But the episodes are short. We won’t be spending six hours glued to our seats. (No plot spoilers here either.)

I first encountered Çavuşoğlu’s Murder in Three Acts in the fall of 2012 at London’s Frieze Art Fair as part of Frieze Projects. She was filming a crime drama with a professional crew in a booth that was split into two “sets.” The scripts were ad lib, materializing before our eyes. From the perspective of a bystander, the element of spectacle, combined with sheer curiosity about the process of making this now-familiar genre, Çavuşoğlu’s project was a performance extraordinaire. There were people in white laboratory coats examining blood stains, peeling off their plastic gloves, arduously inscribing their findings onto clipboards. Not papers, documents. It all looked so official, so artificial, so absurd in the middle of an art fair. An art fair, that is, the place par excellence for the object, a tent of expensive fetish. But that’s all history now, and those who missed the strange performance can witness a “behind-the-scenes” version, however, at NON in a small room on an iPad.

Indeed, the work’s gradual separation from the performative only further highlights the constructedness of the situations that Çavuşoğlu created. Here, in Istanbul, Çavuşoğlu’s home turf, there’s a different kind of constructedness, and it is quite self-reflexive in that way. After all, by not injecting the experiential into the current exhibition, Çavuşoğlu displays her interest in what the CSI potentially holds as a point of comparison for the current context. After all, the gallery is another site of instigation, another site of investigation, a site for speculation. As a young artist, she is certainly self-aware of her role in the professional framework that she functions in and the comparison that she draws between a crime scene and an exhibition is subtle yet powerfully open and sincere.

Film, Installation
Video Art, Television

Merve Ünsal is a visual artist based in Istanbul. In her work she employs text and photography, possibly beyond their form.

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March 22, 2013

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