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ÖZNUR TUNA

‘Strandbeest’ and Turkish values on life

While watching the kinetic sculptures of Dutch artist Theo Jansen, some of his words regarding the concept of creating – only eventually to give autonomy to those created – have made me question some deep-rooted assumptions in Turkey, particularly in relation to the never-ending status quo of tyranny visited upon the lives of individuals.

Jansen is the creator of “Strandbeest,” or Beach Beast, a form of machine that can react to its environment, move and live its own life. (http://www.strandbeest.com/ )

"Over time, these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storms and water, and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives," says Jansen, who has perfectly combined engineering with art. 

Even though Jansen devotes his whole time to creating new forms of life, he is also very enthusiastic about the day these artificial life forms gain their autonomy, instead of wanting to control them as an almighty, omniscient and omnipresent master.

On the other hand, real human forms, students over 18 and adults in Turkey are not so lucky. The current debate on mixed-gender student housing, which should be evaluated within a larger framework of the loss of freedoms, including those related to the private sphere, is an attempt by the government to choke individuals and terminate their ability to move, as well as prevent them from opening and exploring space for themselves. 

As if eroding freedoms outdoors were not outrageous, the gaze has now been turned inwards into people’s private abodes. Individuals are considered as items to be guarded and dominated as much as possible, especially if they happen to be female. To make them unable to move is not enough: By using the obscure notion of Turkish morality and family values, individual life forms need to be eradicated. 

“We are the state: We have the right to change the laws according to our will, and then claim that what we implement is in line with the laws. Our eyes are on you, between your legs. We decide if/when/how you will have children. With whom and how many are also within our scope. You are the dolls on which we can play our hunger games. And it is not our problem if you end up on our autopsy table as you have led an illegitimate form of life. You deserve a divine punishment,” the perception goes.

Under the disguise of protecting young people and family values, and within the framework of their grand social engineering project, it looks like the Turkish government aims to turn Turkey into a giant breeding facility to create superficial lives devoid of any chance to evolve. Isn't it high time to grant individuals their right to explore and alter their spaces, instead of being confined within the walls of hypocrisy?

Öznur Tuna is conducting a master’s degree in cultural analysis at the University of Amsterdam. 

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