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The Gezi Park Experience

(To read other articles in our Arts-Policy Nexus series click here.)

By Pelin Tan

“An event is political if its material is collective, or if the event can only be attributed to a collective multiplicity.” —Alain Badiou

GEZI PARK—Before the Turkish government brutally invaded Taksim Square and Gezi Park with water cannons and tear gas last Saturday, protesters held forums to discuss sustainable action that would continue the resistance beyond the park’s occupation. The Gezi Park experience is about collaboration, solidarity despite differences, voluntary shared labor, an agonistic democratic platform, and friendship. Whatever form of protest the next demonstrations take, they must contain these core aspects of the “Gezi Park Experience,” with art and its dissemination playing a crucial role.

Before that violent Saturday evening, Gezi Park was a self-organized village. Occupiers provided free food, drinks, and tents, and camps had expanded over the previous 10 days. Demonstrators planted vegetable and flower gardens, and an activist group created Videoccupy to stream footage of the demonstrations. All these initiatives were collective and organic. The food was free and based on exchange—money had no validity here. These are all reminiscent of J.K.Gibson-Graham's ideas of community economy, vertical dimensions of collective organization, and "a politics of collective action." We should keep his questions in mind; "What are our needs, and how can they be met? What is surplus to our needs, and how should it be generated, pooled, distributed, and deployed? What resources are to be consumed, and how should this consumption be distributed? What is our commons, and how should it be renewed, sustained, enlarged, drawn down, and/or extended to others?"

The contemporary art research group "Like a Rolling Stone" organized a public meeting in Gezi Park that focused on voluntary labor and the labor of the volunteer. Voluntary labor is vital in heterogeneity and collective togetherness. This sort of togetherness grows through mutual needs, participants' demands, and capacity based on solidarity and autonomy. This togetherness can build economical activities and labor processes. In this context, the key questions are: How is action constructed? How are labor processes created, and how do they function? What is the role of voluntary labor in the construction of collective labor? The discussion examined how artistic practices can be collectively disseminated. A counter-cultural value could be spread by artistic representation in terms of the philosopher Jacques Ranciere's modes of visibility. Ranciere writes, “aesthetic practices are … forms of visibility that disclose artistic practices, the place they occupy, what they ‘do’ or ‘make’ from the standpoint of what is common to the community.”

We know and have experienced through practicing socially engaged art that collective collaboration, forms of dissemination, and conditions of exchange labor provide can strengthen communities. Along with other video production initiatives, Videoccupy collects images of resistance to establish a video database. They want to be the eyes of the resister and to create a visual memory of this historical moment. Videoccupy is based on a voluntary labor exchange. It is, however, much more than just a set “volunteers.” Here, voluntary labor transforms itself into a power of collective everyday action.

Since Sunday, forums have continued and citizens keep discussing what kind of democracy we want and how to develop the Gezi Park Experience. The public forums take place in every district; inhabitants gather in parks of the district. The forums discuss what kind of democracy we want and how to maintain and develop the communal vitality and dynamism that came out of the Gezi Park experience. Artistic representation and its dissemination through visual presentation, performances, and public workshops must be used to document these moments and to keep re-invigorating this collective social energy.

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Pelin Tan is an assistant professor for the New Media Department at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. In 2011, Tan was The MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology fellow.

[Photo courtesy of Bünyamin Salman]

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