Untitled (Bureacracy): Q+A With Ali Kazma
by Brian Boucher 09/23/11

photo: Mahmut Ceylan

A single work by Istanbul native Ali Kazma (b. 1971) is now on view in both Istanbul and New York. The short seven-channel video O.K. (2010), displayed on small wall-hung flat screens, is included in the Istanbul Biennial, in the group exhibition "Untitled (History)," and in "Double Crescent," an exhibition curated by Dan Cameron at the new Chelsea gallery, C24. The piece shows the hands of an Istanbul notary public stamping papers at astonishing speeds, such that the accumulated sound recalls a stampede or a drum solo.

Previous video works by the artist, who earned an MA from New York's New School in 2000, have focused on other occupations: a taxidermist, a studio ceramist, and a brain surgeon, highlighting the specialization of the respective professions. The previous works are generally single-channel videos with a documentary feel.

Kazma's work is also currently on view in Greece in "Old Intersections—Make It New," the third Thessaloniki Biennale; in Curitiba, Brazil, as part of "Beyond the Crisis," the Sixth Curitiba Biennial, curated by Alfonse Hug and Ticio Escobar; and in Amsterdam as part of the "DE BASIS" festival organized by SKOR. A.i.A. discussed the work O.K. over lunch with Kazma at the Istanbul Modern museum, housed in a former maritime warehouse neighboring the two buildings that house the Biennial.

BOUCHER How did the work O.K. come about?

KAZMA I created it for the second show at Arter, in Istanbul, curated by Emre Baykal. Creating new work is part of Arter's mission. The title corresponds to the content of the stamp: I've read it, I've seen it, and it's approved.

BOUCHER Are any parts of the video sped up? They seem so fast as to be impossible.

KAZMA No, it's all actual speed.

BOUCHER Is the character in the video a bureaucrat or a performer?

KAZMA He is an actual clerk. He works very near here, as a notary public. Twice every year, all Turkish corporations have to get their papers approved, and it's a lot. I don't know why, but it's still in the law. So there is a short period of time when they have to stamp all of these papers. And there's a few who specialize
—or, somehow, I don't know how it happens, but someone gets good at it. I sought someone out who was really fast and had nice hands, so there was a casting call. We met a lot of notaries and this man was very fast, very kind, and had very graceful hands.

BOUCHER The imagery is very similar across the screens, narrowly focusing on the notary's hands, the papers, the tabletop, the stamp. Why is it a seven-channel work?

KAZMA I thought about five channels. I like prime numbers. I chose the size of the monitor so that the hand would appear on the screen somewhere close to actual size. For the space in which I showed it the first time, seven monitors seemed right. The seven pairs of hands on the seven screens work well, too, in the rhythmic sense. Sometimes the hands stop, and they do other things so the volume goes down, which creates a balance.

BOUCHER There is a noticeable dynamic rise and fall in the sound level, as well, with noisier passages and spells that are more quiet.

KAZMA The sound is obviously very important. I found a shop that sells old office furniture, and I hit the tables and recorded the sound. I picked a table that made a specific sound. The color of the table and the suit, I wanted to be very simple. I didn't want it to reference any specific moment so I didn't want anything on the table. I wanted to isolate the movement, the mood of the movement, the atmosphere, and the sound. It had to be very crisp, very minimal, just the action itself. No reference to Istanbul—although, of course, when you show it in this context there is. People here are very used to this.

BOUCHER Bureaucracy crosses borders.

KAZMA As anyone who has read Kafka understands. We, especially in the art world, are always talking about the idea that the world has moved on, that the world has become a superhighway of information, that it's mobile, etc., but I wanted to remind us all that we still live in a world where such work as stamping papers exists. It's still possible in this world to have that. There are people who have developed this weird skill. For me, this was important.

BOUCHER Digitization, mobility across borders, fluidity, all of this is one reality. But there are other realities.

KAZMA And that's a very privileged reality, as well.