With Paranoid Fantasies, Real Plots, Alpin Arda Bağcık problematizes conspiracy theo- ries that the post-truth era often brings us face to face with, through the Covid-19 pan- demic. We all have been locked in our homes for the last two and a half years and in the meantime we have closely followed countless events brought about by the pandemic over time, like a breathtaking series, which the exhibition presents a summary of.
Content bombardment and proliferation of information in the media makes it impossible to confirm news sources, as a result of which universal rules and scientific data get to lose their significance. Relativity and individual thinking marked by the post-truth era grow to be more glorified every other day. This has inevitably placed conspiracy theories on our agenda. It is as if everyone is a new source of information and everything uttered by everyone is true, and the contrary seems unlikely to be demonstrated. Through this exhibition, Bağcık examines political, social and psychological conditions that the con- temporary person finds herself in, caught between conspiracy theories and ambiguities that the health industry creates.
Although the pandemic is not considered to be over yet, I must admit that, at first glance, I was distant towards the artist’s choice in dealing with this subject, which seemed too fresh yet. To me, there was a risk in terms of making an objective inference from the pres- ent time which could have resulted in damaging the artist’s search for reality. Therefore, the discussions we had with Bağcık during the process were mostly based on where he would position his argument. In the exhibition, Bağcık addresses the need to hold on to a truth in doubtful minds of those who believe conspiracy theories, instead of presenting a full-fledged critique of conspiracy theories on human health and disinformation rein- forced by the increasingly distrustful propaganda of the health industry. In other words, he neither supports conspirators nor disparages those who view them as nonsense. He even brings to mind that a seemingly out of touch conspiracy hypothesis might evolve into a provable theorem in the future. We all feel gradually more like in a simulation, and as if we are forced to choose among realities which are actually made impossible to reach, following the signs shown to us. We are in a labyrinth with no end as it were. In this complicated environment where we have lost our way, Bağcık presents various series in the exhibition in order to problematize the health industry, used as an exploitation mechanism by the powerful, as well as the disregard for human health just for the sake of creating new capitals, subsequently the effort to cover inexplicable realities with ex- traordinary conspiracies.
Hydroxychloroquine is based on a photograph that the artist paints on canvas taken during the Spanish flu, which affected the whole world at the beginning of the 20th cen- tury. The canvas, which looks like a color painting from afar, turns out to be monochrome as one gets closer. The artist makes use of optical illusion to create a kind of conspiracy to the viewer. In fact, this illusion is a trick that our eyes play on us, and the artist merely undertakes the role of conveying this through his painting. The closer we get to the can- vas, the more we face the artist’s depiction of reality, which constitutes the monochrome canvases on which he has been working for a long time. Now a picture in shades of gray trapped behind colored stripes lies before our eyes. The game of reality in question earns layers both on the surface of the canvas and in the content of the image. The artist’s in- vitation to the search for reality, which is visible in all series in this exhibition, is designed specifically to bring the viewer closer and to drive her further away from the canvas. With movement there happens a shift consisting of a temporal rewind and arrival at the pres- ent time. Although it is not difficult to recognize the era costumes of the “mask defend- ers” staring at us from the canvas from afar, the colorful appearance of the canvas seems to suggest a present time reading. Whether we look at it from afar or closely, whether we have experienced the Spanish Flu or the Covid-19, our desire to come together and feel stronger whenever we feel unsafe, and our urge to create new realities for questions with ambiguous answers, does not change. In other words, human life is the manifestation of psychological and political repetitions. When we are no more than the multiplied repeti- tions of each other, how can history not repeat itself?
Favipiravir series, referring to various conspiracy theories about the pandemic, under- lines the tendency to bring together different theories in order to support arguments of conspirators mostly devoid of a rational basis. Among the allegations made are 5G tow- ers, anti-vaccine protests, vaccine propaganda, the claim of inserting chips into the hu- man body, that the pandemic is an artificial virus manufactured in the laboratory, and the chemical content of the vaccine. The blury atmosphere due to the media is reflected in the deleted faces in this series of Bağcık. The canvases in the series are just a few of the countless images that appear on the screen, which we scroll with our index finger. Once
the images are served with a text carefully selected by the conspirators and combined with their own claims, they go viral. This results in the encountered image to assume the representation of another story that is not part of it. Now, the image we look at and the given content create new reality. At the same time, temporal linearity is destroyed be- cause the reality to which the photograph belongs and the moment when the information is created do not overlap. Therefore, both the image and the contect lose importance and what comes to prominence is the viewer who sees and interprets them in their own way, at least that is what the post-truth period proposes. Therefore, the stories get to be intertwined. Everyone makes their own fantasy real.
Remdesivir series consists of seven different sky images, which is essentially different from the other series. Located right next to the images that intensely express the visual flow in the media in terms of space, people and objects, this series serves as a breathing stop. It might be for this reason that it relieves the viewer by letting out the congestion of information and images for a while. The only reference to humans is perceived from the trails left by airplanes or from a distant transmission tower. Even these little tips suffice to lure the viewer, driving her to look for a conspiracy in the image of the sky. Bağcık cre- ates a slight twist in this series as well. Remdesivir shuffles the gaze from a landscape to a mystical skepticism, resulting in a search for complicated ambitions even in a sim- ple sky image. The claim that the trails in the sky left behind for a while by high-flying aircrafts are actually a chemical spray, which is known as the Chemtrail conspiracy, has evolved into the theory that the coronavirus disease gets to be spread in this way. Using the image as a source, Bağcık hides his own interpretation of the sky within the Remde- sivir series. Six pictures of the sky illustrate the atmosphere from different parts of the world, whereas one canvas among them includes the artist’s own dreamed sky hidden inside a conspiracy theory. A usual moment of looking up into the air gets deflected into a place full of question marks. With this series, the artist says “sky is the limit” (fly as high as you can) in order to describe the marginalities where the human imagination as well as a conspiratorial mind can reach.
One of the most prominent actors of Covid-19 is known to be Bill Gates. Gates has be- come a target in today’s pandemic because of his futuristic predictions years ago and his comments on possible vaccine scenarios for protection. The fact that most conspirators doubt the authenticity of the data provided by technological tools or distrust the com- ponents that make them up casts doubts on Gates. Gates’s role as an authority figure of technology automatically makes him a scapegoat in conspirators’ eyes. Bill Gates can insert a chip in our body, monitor us, control the spread of the pandemic, and more. Hasn’t the media already done that? At this point, it makes sense why Bağcık named the work Librium. All of the canvases in the exhibition consist of drug names that doctors suggested to the patients at the very beginning of the Covid pandemic in order to allevi- ate the effects of the disease which later turned out to be of no use, except for Librium. This pill for anxiety disorder is the Red Recipe1 that the society has been prescribed by the sedative media. A vast number of images and information that the society is ex- posed to by the media gets deformed during the course of sharing. Consisting of seven canvases, Librium is a portrait series that deteriorates in every copy. The disinformation resonates in these seven canvases, which remind a pictorial narration of the telephone game, based on the natural process of change of the original phrase until it reaches the last person. This game we played as a child was based on the humor of the last sentence, whereas today that phrase manifests a shift in reality, and it is taken very seriously, the game became real!
The exhibition Paranoid Fantasies, Real Plots evaluates the impact of the Covid-19 pan- demic on society and the individual from various perspectives. It is possible to under- stand that the exhibition offers a memory log2 that records the mass paranoia and psy- cho-politics of governments in a broader perspective, rather than simply analyzing the pandemic. Here, the pandemic stands out because it offers an environment that serves the artist’s persistent search for reality and is one of the most current issues. At the same time, it provides a convenient platform for the artist’s method of presenting a deeper examination on the change of human perception as well as the psychological reflections of such change. These two elements result in the pandemic to be a carrying block in the exhibition and make it understandable that the main idea is hidden under the pandemic title. The subtext as the key point reflecting the mental and physical struggle of society winks at us from the canvases.
While it is true that the Covid-19 pandemic has put us in a real “struggle for survival”, today’s order has brought with it the war among different actors in another plane. All types of people such as politicians, different segments of the society, groups united un- der conspiracy theories, scientists, the health industry and the media have played a role in the big pandemic scene. Debord underlines that the determining factor in the society of the spectacle is not what the images show, but the social relationships created by the association of images.3 Reality is a deeper phenomenon that everyone seeks, however injustices make an atmosphere of fear and insecurity inevitable, and the resulting feeling of uncertainty makes everyone skeptical of everything. So instead of making sense of what we see, we try to come together and find a reason. The Latin root of conspiracy, meaning “to breathe together”4, describes this relationship clearly. The search for truth remains to be perpetual even if the path to it looks like an evil urge leading to conspiracy theories. In light of all this, I believe Paranoid Fantasies, Real Plots indicates that a just world, free from the delusions of the fear society, can be real.
1 The title of Alpin Arda Bağcık’s exhibition at Zilberman in 2017, which deals with the news media without red prescription and the accompanying addictive factors today.
2 “Conspiracy theories are the practice of targeting without allowing to understand, remember and think about the past; they are, in a way, memory politics.” Tangün, Y. A. & Parlak, İ. (2020). Politik Söylemin ‘Komplo Teorisi’ Formu’na Özdeş Sınırları: Kanaat Teknisyeni, Habitus ve İktidar Stratejileri. Mülkiye Dergisi, 44 (2) , 287-320. Retrieved from https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/pub/mulkiye/issue/57500/816004
3 Guy Debord, Gösteri Toplumu, transl. Ayşen Ekmekçi and Okşan Taşkent (Istanbul: Ayrıntı, 1996), p.13. 4 Jovan Byford (2011), Conspiracy Theories: A Critical Introduction. London: Palgrave Macmillan, p.20.
4 4 Jovan Byford (2011), Conspiracy Theories: A Critical Introduction. London: Palgrave Macmillan, p.20.
Exhibition credit: Alpin Arda Bağcık, Paranoid Fantasies, Real Plots, Zilberman, İstanbul, 2022Photo credit: Kayhan Kaygusuz
For more information;
Bu text published in hardcopy fort he exhibiton catalogue in April 2022 by Zilberman.