Freedom Has No Script

Issue section: 

Iniva, Gallery London, until 17 May

The title of Burak Delier's show is inspired by recent social movements. The artist argues, "When we consider the recent uprisings in Istanbul, Tahrir Square and Occupy New York, we can see that the rioters don't have a programme. Nobody knows exactly how we'll become free."

Burak is a Turkish artist living in Istanbul who has been politically engaged for many years. This is his first exhibition in Britain.

I hoped the show would see him grappling with the current turmoil in his home country, however obliquely. But if it's there, it's very well hidden. The work on display left me cold. It consists of some videos, two fairly self-regarding pieces about the art world, and a rotating figurine of a footballer in a glass box.

The most promising piece is a video of office workers doing yoga, entitled Crisis and Control. The workers are mostly middle management, and we watch them adopting various yoga poses in their restrictive office attire, standing among the desks and photocopiers.

In the voice-over they describe how they practise yoga to deal with the stresses of their inhuman work. But as they talk and talk, they seem increasingly absurd, and their meditative solution hopelessly inadequate - an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable - and to get through another day of alienated labour in the service of capital.

I spoke to the artist after I'd seen the show. I told him I was expecting a more explicit engagement with recent events in Turkey. He said he preferred not to, having concluded it is very difficult for an artist to portray such things without becoming "unethical".

He made this decision a few years back, when he was invited to exhibit at the prestigious Taipei Biennial. One of his pieces was a provocation: a big banner in a working class neighbourhood threatened with gentrification. It was directed at the planes full of corporate bigwigs flying overhead, and it read "We Will Win". But afterwards he worried that "I benefited from it - but the residents didn't. It enhanced my reputation - and as a result I felt like I was exploiting them."

So he chose to switch tack. His work has become less obviously political, and his subject matter has changed - he now prefers to focus on the exploiters rather than the exploited. It's a pity. Engaged artists can tie themselves in knots worrying about this stuff, and about co-option by the market. It's good to be on guard against these dangers, but in Burak's case I feel it's leading him up a bit of a blind alley.