In his 1984 essay The Walkman Effect, Shuhei Hosokawa describes the cultural pessimism that accompanied the Walkmans conquest of the Western world in the 1980s. One French weekly asked: Are Walkman listeners human? Are they losing contact with reality? But such rhetoric was missing the point. Instead of seeing a threat, Hosokawa saw the Walkman as a harbinger of the 1980s zeitgeist, an autonomy machine for the individual moving through the city: To think about [the Walkman effect] is to reflect on the urban itself.
Nevin Aladag, too, uses the Walkman effect to present autonomous urban subjects, albeit in an ambiguous light. Her video Raise the Roof (2007) which refers to the performance of the same name features four women dancing on top of an industrial building in Berlin to music heard only on their headphones while their stiletto heels punch holes in the roofing. Moving high above the city on a summer day, they look slightly out of place. The scene quotes the now standard advertising narrative of (young) people doing contrived crazy things to promote some product. But in Aladags version, these autonomous subjects have long since been sidelined for the city below them takes no notice. What good is the secret theatre of listening and dancing to a Walkman when there is no longer an audience?
Very different conditions apply for the non-professional dancers who perform in Aladags ‘Occupation‘ series (2009–ongoing). At exhibition openings, innocent-looking members of the audience isolated individuals at first and then more of them begin to sway and dance. Sometimes their movements are infectious, and even those not in the know also begin to dance. Occupation first took place in January 2009 at Berlins Temporäre Kunsthalle with 40 dancers briefed in advance. The performance, later repeated elsewhere in modified form, is actually best described, not as an occupation, but as an elegant infiltration of unexpected movement. The feeling of being caught unawares is mixed with amused astonishment. Suddenly, a well-rehearsed social ritual like a private view is challenged by irrational group behaviour. ‘Occupation‘ addresses the potential inherent in a gathering: to what extent might these people be the raw material for a wild party?
The liberating power of dance is also the subject of Familie Tezcan (Tezcan family, 2001), a video work Aladag made after graduating in sculpture from Munichs Academy of Fine Arts. The seven-minute film shows a German-Turkish family breakdancing and singing folk tunes and pop songs in Turkish, Arabic, Spanish and English. The hybrid character of contemporary culture is revealed as a dynamic and complex process of appropriating very different traditions. Although some songs can be interpreted as references to the Turkish diaspora, and although the breakdance moves are partially traceable in to an uprooted Afro-American subculture, ultimately, the supposed semiotic clarity of these elements becomes blurred in the global space of pop culture. This idea of life as a patchwork of references was also conveyed by a show consisting entirely of textile works at Galerie Wentrup in Berlin last winter. For Pattern Matching (2010), Aladag cut up oriental carpets of varying provenance and quality, reassembling the pieces into collages based on the pattern of circles, lines and zones on basketball courts. Before the viewers eyes, two different cultural signatures merge to form a third.
Aladags work might be described as an inquiry into cultural practices. What traces does dancing leave? How many dancers does it take to trigger a party? In the city, where is the line between music and noise? This last question is explored in City Language I (2009), the first part of a video trilogy. In the tradition of Fluxus experiments, Alada? has the city itself play various instruments: on a split screen with four segments, we see an arm holding first one and then a second flute out the window of a moving car in such a way that the flow of air produces sounds. Next to these images, pigeons peck away at a grain-strewn baglama, a Turkish string instrument, and a tambourine is dragged across the water behind a motor boat. In the fourth segment, claves clatter down stairways and sloping streets. It seems as if the city were coming into its own here at last. But the creation of sound and music in urban space points not only to this space itself, but also to the social. Where there is noise, there are people.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell
First published in Issue 2