Beyaz Toros by Göksu Baysal
Publisher: Self published
Format: Hardcover, Handcrafted, Printed in black risograph
Edition: 1st Printing, Edition of 125 copies
A car as a metaphor
In every modern society we find everyday things that have become symbols due to different circumstances. In particular, certain cars have a cult-like quality in various cultural areas. In Germany, for example, it is the VW Beetle, which in the 1950s represents the so-called economic miracle. In Turkey, it has been the Renault 12, which was produced there under license since the 1970s. Valued by many as an affordable vehicle, the model was later also feared as “Beyaz Toros” (White Toros).
This is what Turkish artist Göksu Baysal demonstrates in his conceptual group of works based on a historical-sociological investigation. The simple cars known as “White Toros,” specifically the Renault 12, which is also popular among the Anatolian rural population, are also considered a symbol for the numerous kidnappings of Kurds by JITEM (an informal secret service of the Turkish gendarmerie), Baysal reports. And so such a car, in the form of a negative image taken in Istanbul, parked on the side of the road, stands at the beginning of an enigmatically dark narrative. The image of the Renault exists several times within the project, also as a positive print; there we recognize the license plate with the letter combination KKP, which is turned – barely visible – into PKK by the negative print. A mere coincidence, which is not to be interpreted here as a conscious political statement. At the time, Baysal was guiding a fellow German student through Istanbul, explaining to her the enigmatic meaning of this French-Turkish vehicle type – and subsequently photographing the specific car in front of the grocery store. In Eastern Anatolia, Baysal then set out in search of the traces of the disappeared and abducted Kurds of the past decades and allows us, here with purely artistic means, to look into the still smoldering, seemingly insoluble Turkish-Kurdish conflict. When we finally find out about the background of his images, we can only look for possible traces of the tragic consequences of the conflict in his pictures.
But Baysal avoided getting too specific in his project; the conflict itself, through the metaphorical shift, takes place, as it were, only in our heads, and indeed it is almost invisible.
During his research and his “road trip,” Baysal documents the scenic Turkish-Armenian border region: on the Turkish side he captures huge national flags, milled into mountain ranges, but also the barren vastness of Eastern Anatolia, through to landscape abstractions and plant details. His deep, almost emotional interest in the genre of landscape is also fed by his earlier preoccupation with Near Eastern archaeology and now flows into a poetic-visual connection. Finally, in the sequence of his photographs, we stumble upon pure material studies, be they rock images, shots of rebar he tracks down at construction sites in the countryside as well as in cities, of corrugated iron walls or indefinable concrete cubes. In terms of content and motif, all this can also be brought together with his sculptural work (in the class of Manfred Pernice, i.e.) his own sculptures made of welded metal rods, concrete and flat metal sheets.
Looking at Baysal’s untitled black-and-white photographs in this publication or in the Berlin exhibition, which are arranged neither topographically nor chronologically, we do not know with certainty where we are. Thus, deserted urban scenes stand on equal footing with vast landscapes, surveillance cameras next to rock formations, and appropriated advertising images for the Renault 12 as they appeared in magazines in Germany, France, and Turkey at the time. The juxtaposition of this particular car in Western and non-Western cultural circles – through historical material or fragments from advertising – not only makes visible the political dimension in this presentation, but also illuminates social value concepts. The model from Turkish production ultimately became the title of Baysal’s long-term project. In 1971, as we see here in a reproduced advertisement, the car became also available in Turkey, and later we also encounter in the series of images the undated anniversary advertisement of a decorated “White Toro,” which at the time was sold 250,000 times in Turkey; harmless images at first, but with the knowledge that some of these vehicles were also used for political atrocities, as well as for drug smuggling, they take on an explosive valorization.
Some of these photographs from Turkey, taken in 2018, 2019, and 2020, Baysal then continues to process in his Berlin darkroom, printing them in a wide variety of sizes, transforming them into negative prints, exposing two motifs on top of each other, and in this way allowing people and architecture to permeate each other. Finally, strange hybrids between negative and positive prints are created by repeated exposures of one photograph by another of the same motif in direct contact in the darkroom, comparable to a solarization effect from the experimental photography of the 1920s. We are still accustomed to ascribing a certain authenticity almost automatically to the image of the world in the form of an analog-positive photograph; however, this shifts with negative prints such as these, because the color value reversal also transports the image motif and its effect into the abstract and imaginative.