7/4 — 19/5/2018
Tarık was here
Some Ordinary Encounters
Ali Taptık, from the series "White Lies", 2007–2009
At a time when employees get to work, the traffic calms down, shops open up, shipping trucks make it difficult to walk in the streets, doner kebaps just start to be cooked and homemakers see it as a blessing to pay the bills or do the market shopping, a different kind of action is rising up in one of the major parks of Istanbul. At the defined hours of the city when students probably start their second hour at school, there are those who do not prefer going to school that day. Those who prefer being at the park instead of school.
When we accept this preference - namely being somewhere else when there is an obligation to be at school -, a consequence of studentship in advance, we can transform it into a very casual action like having a break when the bell rings, doing the homework or having an exam. Still, the fact that people experience the urge to break the rules especially in the high-school period or adolescence and not in any other period may not be very coincidental. Playing hookey is naturally one of the most shortcut ways serving this aim; the state of rejecting the authority, adopting a different stand and the charm of lying in a half day.
“Years later, while at high school, since nobody knew about my fugitiveness, playing hookey became something more enjoyable. The feeling of guilt rendered every step I took in the city more valuable as I paid for it. I would also focus on the things that only a bum, an idle man would see since I didn’t have any other aim than playing hookey.” (Pamuk, 2005)
This state of a flâneur in which Orhan Pamuk is trapped when he played hookey and tried to understand his home town by only being alienated demonstrates some kind of difference from the attitudes of the students in parks as portrayed in the photos of Ali Taptık. As for the similarity, the common places which students as well as a flâneur would take shelter in could be mentioned. The city which is in constant motion; the avenues, squares, parks, streets in the city are at the same time, the places where the individual checks what they experience in interior space, contemplates and encounters. By coming to the park in these fugitive hours, students actually leave the school, the place they go away from, behind.
When the action of playing hookey is viewed as an adult, it could easily be called “white lies” as Ali Taptık puts it. However, for the students who realize this action, there is probably far more than this title.
In addition to the majority who come with the purpose of meeting their lovers, the number of those who spend time as groups of boys and girls is not low. In the photos, it is obvious that those who spend time in remote corners set up a certain order among themselves, spend time without disturbing each other and that they all have a valid reason to be there. For the park, in addition to its walkways, fresh air and banks, offers these students a private space. It is apparent that it is not the first time there for most of them or it is not coincidental that they are sitting on the banks which are not very noticeable. What is more, these corners which we could easily define as reserved for those playing hookey did not only serve their predecessors but will most probably serve as a space for their successors as well.
When we consider parks as part and a representation of the modernization process in Turkey, it is possible to draw the conclusion that the intention at the beginning does not fit with the present state. With the fall of the modernization project, the parks which were built in the Republican Era, with the purpose of hosting the ideal citizens in suits and with hats as can be witnessed on Istiklal Street, have gradually transformed into the way they have to be in the city. Today, most of them have become places of conversation and leisure time demanded by young people in the neighbourhood rather than families. In addition, these parks have become sheltered areas preferred by the students playing hookey instead of spending the day at a café or in a shopping center.
“Still, not every building is a dwelling. Bridges and hangars, stadiums and power stations are buildings, but not dwellings (…) Even so, these buildings are in the domain of our dwelling. That domain extends over these buildings and yet is not limited to the dwelling place. The truck driver is at home on the highway, the working woman is at home in the spinning mill, and the chief engineer is at home in the power station. These buildings house man.” (Heidegger, 2007)
Spaces, which are structurally constructed like parks, not only offer city people a chance to socialize but also isolate as well. The function of housing as Heidegger mentioned above, could be observed through students playing hookey in Ali Taptık’s photos. On one hand, there is the experience of positioning in the park which is common with friends; on the other hand, there is the hiding from the other space, in other words, the school and authority. In this sense, parks are at the same time spaces where students look for shelter by running away from the most evident power mechanisms such as both the family and school. When family is considered as an institution similar to school, it is seen that similar phenomena such as power, gender and economy are experienced in this most fundamental structure as well. Therefore, the house which is reserved for the family serves the obligation to set up a relationship among the family members, the actions outside this circle are excluded from the beginning. Coming together by playing hookey and spending time with lovers or friends without the supervision of the family and school could be considered an extroverted action which defies authority.
For the students observed in “White Lies” are the ones who not only run away from school, but also openly express their objection in their images. Actually, they are only students. Perhaps, they have achieved to defy authority for the first and the last time before becoming adults by either being aware or unaware. The effort to stay away from the way that authority asks them to be is immediately noticed in almost all the photos. For they do not have many opportunities or spaces to express themselves in a different way than others except this stand they are taking. A t-shirt visible under the shirt, hair scattered around while it had to be tied, accessories forbidden to be worn with uniforms, little details like the scarf of the favorite football team in fact represent the objection of the students in the photos. The fact that they manipulate their outlook enables them to go against the social codes and order established by others.
Another detail which is noticeable in “White Lies” is the power roles set up by male and female students among themselves. They look like as if they are sending out signals of their prospective gender roles as family members which they are running away today. This distribution of roles observed especially among couples becomes more apparent in the attitudes of the male students who pose for the camera with pride and the female students who disguise their faces probably because they are afraid of their parents. Boys posing with cigarettes and girls with make up imply that they are impatient about skipping studentship at once and passing on to the next stage where they believe they will be freer. They pose for the camera with the enthusiasm of bearing the condition of being a woman and a man and this gender discrimination, and the pride of getting their freedom on their own in an environment where they could be relatively freer although it is temporary.
“White Lies” consists of photos which make it difficult to distinguish between the theatrical and the realistic. Although the necessity to make such a distinction is debatable, it is clear that the students in Ali Taptık’s photos possess all the conditions that represent the experience of playing hookey which most people experienced at least once in that period of their lives. This white lie which they will continue when they get back home in the evening and which they will make a parody of as years pass is actually one of the most evident facts that constitute the identity of a city.
“At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a setting or view waiting to be explored. Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences.” (Lynch, 1975)
Benjamin, W., (2002),”Pasajlar” (Passages), (Trans., A. Cemal), Yapı Kredi Publishing, Istanbul.
Connel, R. W., (1998), “Toplumsal Cinsiyet ve İktidar”, (Gender and Power), (Trans., C. Soydemir), Ayrıntı Publishing, Istanbul.
Heidegger, M., (2007), “İnşa Etmek, Oturmak, Düşünmek” (Building Dwelling Thinking), 67-70, City and Culture, Cogito, Yapı Kredi Publishing, Istanbul.
Lynch, K., (2007), “Çevrenin İmgesi”, (The Image of the City), 153-162, City and Culture, Cogito, Yapı Kredi Publishing, Istanbul.
Pamuk, O., (2005), “Istanbul”, Yapı Kredi Publishing, Istanbul.
Stokes, M., (2000), “Kültür Endüstrileri ve İstanbul’un Küreselleşmesi” (The Culture Industries and the Globalization of Istanbul), 145-171, İstanbul, Ç. Keyder (Edit.), Metis Yayınları, Istanbul.
This article was originally published in English on artciencia.com, September 2009 – January 2010 issue, Year 5, Number 11.