Issue 1/2012 - Bon Travail

Precarious SM

Anarkink And Work In Turkish Contemporary Art

Süreyyya Evren

We all know that it is pretty easy to stand up for oppressed workers' rights; but it is not that simple to talk on behalf of precarious workers. It is always complicated. Recently, Turkish artist Burak Delier created some refreshing art works discussing the nature of contemporary capitalism, as seen in precarious work, and contemporary art. Delier has been dealing with the conflicting relationships of the tools of conduct employed by contemporary capitalism (techniques, tools, processes) and the fields of art and politics.
In his »Required Skills« (2011), Delier worked on the projection of a probable job application. If artists applied for a job in a company, what would be their chance of getting accepted? Departing from the type of »team mate« as contextualized by the business world, this fictional question aimed to interrogate the ambivalent function of art in today’s society by pointing out the parallelism between work modes in the art milieu and the business world.
He designed an »Application Form« in order to compare the subjectivity of the cultural worker and business world subjectivity. He chose 100 job applications to find out the most and least wanted qualities within the contemporary business world. The most wanted quality was, for example, »Communication Skills«, and the second most wanted quality was, »University Graduation«. Delier then evaluated artists according to these parameters.
What Delier created was at the end a picturing of a contemporary ›slave market‹. He showed the ways masters check teeth. Yet, nobody is forced to be an artist. And there is no artist smuggling. It is all consensual.
In his solo exhibition, titled »I slowly come to discover that it is more meaningful and subversive to engage in experimental investigations on art than carrying out some self–content, easily commoditized anarchist gestures«, at Outlet Gallery, Istanbul, in 2011, Delier also made a ›found performance‹. »At Work« was a ›found performance‹ which consists of moving the office and gallery workers to the art space and using the empty office zone to show art works. The aim of this double replacement was to question the work mode of our contemporary society where the boundary between work and leisure (or art and play) time/space is blurred.

Delier says, instead of carrying out »anarchist gestures« he wants to do »anarchist experiments with form« that question new master/slave relationships within the art world, which is in a dialogue with master/slave relationships contained in contemporary capitalism. Delier's anarchistic project is a curious one because, in fact, although emancipatory sexual politics is very important for anarchist politics in general, BDSM practices based on master/slave relationships make even anarchists confused.

[b]De Sade: A Founding Father Of Anarchism?[/b]

Robert Desnos has written as early as 1923 that »all our current aspirations were formulated by Sade. He was the first to posit the integrity of one’s sexual being as indispensable to the life of the senses and of the intellect.« (Sonn 2005, p. 115.)

One of the known British anarchist writers, Nicholas Walter, also wrote for a defence of Marquis de Sade, a Sade's efforts to anarchist politics of sexual freedom. First of all, Walter reminded that Sade was not himself just a Sadist, but a sado–masochist who enjoyed playing the passive (›bottom‹) role as well as the active (›top‹) role and praised him for being so much aware of »what he desired and enjoyed.« (Walter 2007, p. 55.) »His activities (and fantasies) expressed his deepest feelings, so he had no need to resist, repress, displace, transfer or project them.« (Walter 2007, p. 55.) Walter openly implies that an anarchist sexual position would also be based on NOT resisting, repressing, displacing, transfering or projecting our desires. Walter also places Sade's views on politics on the libertarian side rather than an authoritarian side, considering his opposition to all authoritarian traditions. Walter here also reminds us of the anarchist emphasis on pleasure and joy, anarchist politics of affirmation of life. Walter says »pleasure causes less pain than principle,« and adds that »sadists are less dangerous than statists.« (Walter 2007, p. 55.) He additionally recalls that Sade was »one of the first to advocate the equality of women«. (Walter 2007, p. 56.) Sade was criticising the class system and the institution of property (he was even defining property as ›theft‹ before Proudhon, in his »Juliette«); he was critical of »the state as well as the church, of law as well as religion, of the use of violence in both punishment and war, of the power of the family and the danger of overpopulation.« (Walter 2007, p. 57.) And he was pushing republicanism in a radical and libertarian direction. Indeed, these were totally in line with the anarchist politics of sexual freedom that will follow and play a role in shaping the movement and the ›norms‹ for an anarchist identity. Walter tells that even Sade's pornographic fantasies contain quasi–libertarian passages justifying a ›defiance of conventional manners and morality.‹ (Walter 2007, p. 57.) Thus Walter claims that »anarchist ideas are implicit in many of his (Sade's) writings« and in his »Juliette«, he even gives »what may be the first explicit defence in literature of anarchy.« (Walter 2007, p. 58.) Seeing Sade as »a pioneering exponent of philosophical libertarianism«, and seeing »›Justine‹ and ›Juliette‹ as extreme versions of ›Caleb Williams‹« and Sade’s »political arguments as extreme versions of ›Political Justice‹«, Walter asks if we »should consider the Marquis de Sade as a precursor of anarchism, by the side of and at the same time as William Godwin?« (Walter 2007, pp. 58–59.) This is a very important question regarding the anarchist canon. If the anarchist canon would ›shift a bit‹ when we take Emma Goldman more seriously, we can argue that it would shift much more if we include Sade in the canon (»by the side of and at the same time as William Godwin«). Or, we can argue that, if we add Emma Goldman and move the canon a bit, it wouldn't be such a radical suggestion to include the Marquis de Sade! All the aspects of Sade as mentioned by Nicholas Walter are actually essential themes of anarchist politics and considering their crucial role in the formation of an anarchist movement, there is no reason to reject Walter's suggestion. Also, Marie Louise Berneri, in her book »Journey Through Utopia«, which was published one year after her death, in 1950, and with a foreword by George Woodcock, refers to the liberating power of de Sade’s utopian ideas. After pointing out Sade’s anti–religious and anti–statist politics, Berneri reminds us that »while most utopians had assumed that the sole task of marriage was that of reproduction, according to the law of nature, Sade sees in the satisfaction of physical love a natural action which must not be bound to marriage ceremonies or prejudices.« (Berneri 1982, pp. 178–182.)

It is also probable that »de Sade influenced Stirner«. (Orend 2009, p. 61.) De Sade was enjoying »renewed attention at the time Stirner was writing his book ›The Ego and Its Own‹«. (Orend 2009, p. 61.) As Nicholas Walter noted, there is so much in de Sade’s politics to designate him as an early anarchistic figure. De Sade found, »that men could only be free in a state of anarchy.« (Orend 2009, p. 64.) Karl Orend argues that Sade’s politics could only be named as »communist anarchism.« (Which is an interesting point about the much written dichotomy of communist versus individualist anarchism). Remembering the huge effect of Stirner on later artistic and queer anarchist currents, it is important to look for de Sade’s influence over Stirner too.


On the other hand, BDSM clearly was not a major part of the anarchist sex politics in 60s and 70s. In their representative anthology on the contemporary anarchism of the times, »Reinventing Anarchism«, Ehrlich–Ehrlich–DeLeon and Morris say that anarchists ›of course‹ defend a sex positive approach but not »sex that inflicts pain or humiliation, or involves dominance and submission.« (Ehrlich–Ehrlich–DeLeon & Morris 1979, p. 24.) This collection, »Reinventing Anarchism«, has a large section on anarcha–feminism but nothing on queer anarchism, indicating that these issues became part of the anarchist identity after 80s. Pat Califia, by the way, in her/his Foreword to the second edition of her/his collection of short stories, »Macho Sluts«, points out how she and her lesbian SM friends struggled within lesbian and feminist circles to defend their lesbian SM identities. (Califia 2009, p.13–33.) Califia later became a FTM (Female–to–male transsexual) creating extra conflicts within lesbian circles.
Today, anarchist activists are pretty sure that an anarchist identity should be constructed through anarchist sexual relationships which generally mean non–gendered polyamory and queerness. There are certain anarchists who perform BDSM sexual practices and who have slowly begun to defend this in various blogs. But as we have said, this issue is not decided yet within anarchist circles. Mainly because it is not easy to reduce BDSM to the binary of an oppressed/free love scheme.
Categories of polyamory/monogamous and queer/straight are much easy to handle in this sense. But where to put BDSM? If a sexual act is consensual and safe should its freedom be defended by anarchists without any further inquiry? What if this choice is based on ›pleasure from authority‹? BDSM makes the subject more complicated, forces anarchists to discuss ›the nature of desire‹, and the role of pleasure, which are not really considered during anarchist gender identifications. One anarchist ›submissive‹ (as in BDSM) blogger says: »There is nothing that says a BDSM relationship, even a 24/7 relationship, has to be based on the notion that one gender is naturally superior to another.«
So even a 24/7 relationship based on power relations is defended as an anarchist sexual position. The blogger continues: »BDSM is not ›attractive‹ to kinky people simply because it is taboo. Quite a lot of kinky people are drawn to it as strongly as they are drawn to the same or another sex; that is, it isn’t just a choice but a sexual identity. For many of us, it is something that we cannot fully experience sexual pleasure without.« And an anonymous commenter says: »True BDSM involves a huge amount of discussion and respect and I’d say that true BDSM can only take place because our society tried to make woman equal to men. As such, dominant or submissive women and men shouldn’t be seen as a perversion, but applauded for having the courage and opportunity to claim this is who I am. I submit or command because it is what I enjoy, not because it’s what society expects of me.«

Gavin Brown shows how it was to become a radical anarchist queer: »It is certainly true that there is a tendency within these (radical queer) networks to associate what it means to be a ›radical queer‹ with a very specific brand of sex radicalism that includes a queering of gender roles and identities, a willingness to engage in public sex (often including BDSM), and an openness to polyamorous relationships« (Brown 2007, p. 2695.) The features Brown lists are in harmony with the ones Portwood–Stacer observes in contemporary anarchist activist circles. (Portwood–Stacer 2010)

During a contemporary Queeruption meeting, a sex party was held as a part of the program, which includes several rooms and various orgy alternatives, including a ›dungeon‹ for BDSM play. There were also men–only, women–only rooms, an orgy room and a vanilla room. Even in the vanilla room, Gavin Brown notes of one such event in 2003, »as the evening progressed, the sex play evolved from fully clothed body massages to a polymorphously perverse, polysexual orgy.« (Brown 2007, p. 2694.)
Gavin Brown, while commenting on the sex party during the 2003 Queeruption event, thinks the »sex party was a deeply cathartic and transformative event for many participants.« (Brown 2007, p. 2694.) Especially the term ›cathartic‹ is noteworthy here.

[b]Defending »Precarious SM«[/b]

For political activists, and for critical artists, defending oppressed workers is like defending oppressed women's rights; while defending precarious workers is like defending BDSM – it's slippery.

Bashir Borlakov, in his »Businessman« series (2001), played with new actors of contemporary capitalism, and in his »Long Live the Proletariat!« (2008) placed old–style industrial workers class in a post–Soviet environment. Borlakov's »Businessman« series shows lower rank businessmen, fighting with each other like Conan the Barbarian, becoming examples of contemporary gladiators fighting on the stage of huge skyscrapers. He focused on the ›primitiveness‹' behind the fancy clothes, fancy buildings and openly mocked them. But later, when he was showing industrial workers who are stuffed into a truck, totally alienated and openly represented as losers of the game, his irony (»Long Live Proletariat!«) was not mocking the workers themselves but it was more like an ironic expression of a sad, very sad situation. Which confirms that there is always less respect for precarious workers. They haven't been normalized yet for critical perspectives. This is partly a compliment: they are seen as partly responsible for what happens to them, while industrial workers are imagined as victims. From this perspective, the industrial worker is the modern, noble worker (like noble savage) while the precarious workers are feral workers (like the feral savage). Noble worker is like the old mythical workers class, organised, pure, oppressed, and represents the people. On the other hand we get the degenerated worker, precarious, unreliable, messy, non–people, alienated, disorganised, atomized, individualist. The situation is complex for any critical approach: while the noble worker is adorable and respectable for modernist Left movements, contemporary capitalism needs and uses more and more feral workers.
Burak Delier, in his other work, »Tersyön Feasibility Research« (2011) deployed another strategy and infiltrated into the logic of business world. He made this logic not an issue of art, he did not mock it; but he made those mechanisms play a parodical role, pretending to act as business but in fact they were art works themselves. Which easily makes us think of works that are pretending to be art works but in fact are business! [...] So Delier managed to grab the precarious worker during a displacement act [...]
What he did, in this project (»Tersyön Feasibility Research«) handled the process of feasibility research in an imaginary corporation called »Tersyön« founded by Burak Delier himself. »Parkalynch« is the debut product by the company. It is a clothing designed for protection against lynch attacks and it is resistant to stone, stick, baton and punch impacts.
The installation is composed of three zones. Two zones consist of looping videos and the third one is a meeting–room like space that is separated by glass walls in which the data gathered through the research is presented. The audio could only be listened to in this room through earphones. One of the videos is compiled from the »in–depth interviews« which is the starting point of the market research. The other one is realized in a »focus group« room with a participation of business professionals.
Forms like ›in–depth interviews‹ and ›focus group‹ are ›stolen‹ by Delier from the ›businessman‹ Borlakov was making fun of. But Delier takes them very seriously. Borlakov, in this series, stays in a safe position and criticizes the poor qualities of these businessman; but Delier rejects safe positions and destabilises them all. It is like playing with desire: like an anarchist sub or an anarchist sadist who destabilises anarchist positions relating to power, or someone like Pat Califia, who starts as a lesbian dom, struggles for her rights to enjoy being a dom during her relationships with other women, within the feminist movement, and then becomes a trans man, and further destabilises all positions by writing ›porn stories‹ [...]
Bülent Şangar and Aydan Murtezaoğlu's »Unemployed Employees –I found you a new job!« (2009) is worth looking at in this sense too.
In their co–production »UNEMPLOYED EMPLOYEES – I found you a new job!« the artists question the meaning of work by means of installation. While some people are occupied with folding and unfolding clothes at an endless assembly line–like table, perfume is sprayed in another corner of the space like the sales tactics in department stores and drugstores. The employees were signed up for these jobs after an application procedure; they have a break room at their disposal, which is also meant to be a room for communication and discussion with visitors. In a »Guide« that is applied to the walls, the artists formulate their thoughts and questions about the theme of economic, social and artistic production. The participants of »Unemployed Employees – I found you a new job!« are young, unemployed university graduates who have signed up for a paid job announced in the newspapers. The installation resembles a shop or factory, where the young people carry out pointless actions. The employees are encouraged to express their ideas and thoughts in a dialogue with each other and with the audience. The artists have indicated that the aim of the project is to question the defeats and decrease of social justice created by capitalism through ›the transition process from proletariat to precariat‹.

All work is meaningless in this art work, all work is pointless. They want to penetrate into the precarious worker's realm; they also destabilise the viewer's position, yet they keep the artist's position as a distant, safe position where they can analyse all that is going on and express the ›truths‹, write the history and ask the important questions. Workers, on the other hand, are generating pointless work and pointless and unrecorded thoughts. Workers are consensual slaves of, not only the system, but also the art system.
When Delier was looking at precarious workers in his post–anarchist way, he was looking at how they chose precarious workers, in a slave market style. In fact, Delier shows very succesfully where this slave–master relationship fails: it fails on trust, even when it is supposedly ›consensual‹! Because a consensual master–slave relationship is ›ideally‹ based on trust, and there is no trust here, but still there is a ›pseudo‹ BDSM relationship. So this creates the awful situation which can be described as »precarious SM«.
Delier's »anarkink«, is a way to penetrate this system, and to show how it works with a strategy of double replacements. Doms becoming subs and subs becoming doms is not such a radical move, actually it is standard, as Walter notes about the sado–masochism of De Sade. But Delier uses the hyper–submissiveness of workers/artists and their hyper–dominant existance at the same time. Complicated, it is; but this is how precariat works and it wouldn't be possible to penetrate this system if Delier had tried to protect a safe position from which he would ›understand and tell‹ everything in a binary system [...]
Ahmet Öğüt's »Black Diamond« (2010) should also be mentioned in this context. For the work »Black Diamond«, a small piece had been removed from a wall inside ARTER Gallery, Istanbul, and buried in 9 tons of coal. If a viewer was successful in finding the institution piece, they were to return it to its original location, and claim the diamond that had been placed there. »Black Diamond« is totally a non–SantiagoSierraian usage of workers [...] Öğüt makes these workers work like hell in terrible conditions for an award, but non of them is hired by the artist. Nobody really forces them to work. They voluntarily wear their cloths, get into terrible realm of coal, get dirty, get tired and work to earn their reward. On Wednesday, 2 December, exactly at 18:36, Ümit Sarıgül and Ahmet Can Bayrak found the institution piece of 1cm3 and claimed the diamond. The first edition of Ahmet Öğüt’s »Black Diamond« is still exhibited at Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven. Yet, no visitor has been able to find the institution piece buried in tons of coal in Eindhoven. In Istanbul, the »piece« of ARTER has been found five days after the exhibition’s opening.

Öğüt here plays with humiliation games and with the image of one of the most symbolic classical workers: coal miner [...] He creates several displacements as well, the precariat (reward seeking students) are in the place of proletariat. Art is in the position of a dom ordering the sub to do humiliating acts while enjoying to watch. And the reward (satisfaction) is buried in the walls of an art institution(womb). Creating a complicated atmosphere which is not easy to analyse.
So we end up where we have started: In Nalan Yırtmaç's »Workers« (2008) where we see industrial workers, who are on their way to Germany, and are depicted as they raise their arms after giving blood. All her series of »Workers«, show workers as respected, and victimized. The destabilisation she offers is hidden in the medium: she uses stencils. The message is the graffiti now. Proletariat is the precariat, and vice versa.


Berneri, M. L, »Journey Through Utopia«, Freedom Press London 1982.

Brown, G, ›Mutinous eruptions: autonomous spaces of radical queer activism‹, »Environment and Planning A«, vol. 39, no. 11, 2007 pp. 2685–2698.

Califia, P,»Macho Sluts«, Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver 2009.

Ehrlich, H. J. & Ehrlich, C., DeLeon, D., Morris, G, »Reinventing Anarchy«, Routledge & Kegan Paul. London, Boston and Henley, (1979)

Orend, K, ›Fucking Your Way to Paradise: An Introduction to Anarchism in the Life and Work of Henry Miller‹, »Nexus, The International Henry Miller Journal«, vol. 6. 2009 pp. 44–77.

Portwood–Stacer, L, ›Constructing Anarchist Sexuality: Queer Identity, Culture, and Politics in the Anarchist Movement‹, »Sexuality,« vol. 13, no. 4. 2010 pp. 479–493.

Sonn, R. D, »Sex Violence and the Avant–Garde, Anarchism in Interwar France«, The Pennsylvania State University Press. Pennsylvania 2005.

Walter, N, »The Anarchist Past«, Five Leaves Publications. Nottingham 2007.