On a snowy day in Istanbul last week, I found myself in Arter Gallery where 22 works by video artist Ali Kazma are on display until April 5. It turned out to be a great afternoon. I spent it moving from one video installation to another, watching the minutiae of human labor. From factory workers to archeologists and clockmakers, people are always working in Kazma's videos and he had made it his job to observe how. After receiving a master's degree from the New School in New York City, Kazma participated in numerous group exhibitions, art fairs and film festivals. He represented Turkey at the 55th Venice Biennial. Kazma's works have been exhibited at the 2012 Sao Paulo Biennial and many times in the Istanbul Biennial, most recently in 2011.

Curator Emre Baykal named the Arter exhibition "timemaker." In the exhibition program, he writes about how, in Kazma's work, "the time-based nature of the video not only defines the viewing experience in terms of its duration, but also shapes the artist's very production process." This is a good way to describe Kazma's meticulous observation of modern society through a determined focus on human labor. One of his classic videos, which shows the alienating but also humane aspects of labor in post-industrial societies, is named "Clerk." Dating back to 2010, the video records the movements of a clerk's figure as he stamps stacks of papers in the manner of an automaton. Seemingly a perfect stamper, the clerk regularly slows down and makes mistakes but carries on with maddening calmness.

The centerpiece of the show, "Clock Master," shows a clockmaker who dismantles and assembles a centuries-old French clock. " 'Clock Master' is the opening piece of the exhibition," Baykal said. "It is one of the earliest works in 'Obstructions.' It shows the repair of an old French clock, evoking contemplation around time past, time disintegrated and time retrieved. This re-activation of time in its physical space has the potential to activate several other connotations and layers that are inherent in all of Ali Kazma's work."

If Marcel Proust is the first name that comes to mind while watching this video, Turkey's greatest novelist, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, runs a close second. Witnessing this artful arrangement of a French clock's tiny parts reminded me of Tanpınar's "The Time Regulation Institute" where clocks were used as the perfect metaphor of modern bureaucracy. The clockmaker wants to fix a broken system, passionately replacing clock parts in a struggle to bring back efficiency and perfection to the system. 

"Clock Master" is part of "Obstructions," one of the two series brought together in this exuberant, meticulously conceptualized exhibition. "Jean Factory," "Automobile Factory," "Crystal," "Rolling Mills" and "Precision" focus on the aesthetics of performance work, while "in 'Obstructions,' the concepts of 'production' and 'work' function as general templates to unfold questions on time, space and body," Baykal said, and added: "While working on this project, we intended to propose 'time' as a key, or as a guide to the visitor to discover several other layers in the works. We also thought that highlighting time as one of the major threads in the exhibition would also refer to the time-based nature of the video and to the methods the artist employs while producing his works - such as ciphering the raw footage with time-codes for the editing process."

The other half of the exhibition consists of works selected from Kazma's "Resistance" series. Baykal installed these videos in a way similar to their original installation at the Arsenale building in the Venice Biennale. In these depressing videos, Kazma presents us with spaces that restrict and oppress us: School, prison and the luxuriously decorated Kuzguncuk house. Kazma brings us to numerous locations as well, including a film set, a calligrapher's house and a London tattoo studio.

" 'Resistance,' which premiered at the Pavilion of Turkey at the 55th Venice Biennial, evolved out of 'Obstructions' and conveyed the entire production process directly onto the human body itself. It is an encyclopedic work that explores the body as a conceptual space and investigates the interventions conducted on it in our modern society," Baykal said. "In other words, the producer and produced are united in the materiality of the body in this series."

But it was his video about Alcor, a foundation devoted to cryonics, "the science of using ultra-cold temperature to preserve human life," that impressed me the most. "The Laboratory" captures this cold, lifeless place that houses cryo-preserved people in a manner fittingly cold and lifeless.

Before heading out to the snowy and freezing İstiklal Avenue, I sensed that the images might stay with me for the rest of the day - and they did.

Arter Gallery hosting Ali Kazma’s exhibition ‘timemaker’