Adam Kleinman on Hasan Özgür Top
Hasan Özgür Top’s The Fall of a Hero (2020) in Berlin; In Response written by Adam Kleinman from New York
On the occasion of A Few In Many Places, Protocinema launches ProtoZine, comprised of five commissioned texts responding to each intervention from the viewpoint of another city. Taking place across five different cities in North America, Europe and Asia, the hyper-localized group exhibition is globally reconnected by way of this zine—both digitally and in-print—as every contributor responds to the commissioned art works.
A Few In Many Places is conceived with the curatorial intention that these exhibitions, regardless of the scale of audience, are experienced in real life, given the rapid push of digital life interactions. It offers a potential way to move forward, out of internet isolation, including ‘‘safe’’ exchange among our communities. The exhibition’s inclusive and pluralist vision takes this one step further as it allows visitors to learn from sibling interventions, going on simultaneously, and emphasizes a collective spirit. Functioning on a grassroots level—locally and across regions—it is deeply responsive to the unique contexts, in terms of time and place, that both the commissioned works and texts deal with.
Tell me a story
by Adam Kleinman
The poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote that, ‘‘the universe is made of stories, not of atoms’’.Personally, I’m more of a plumber than a poet, and in my crude understanding of things, I’ve always interpreted this to mean that narrative is the primary tool we use to make sense of the world. The thing is, storytelling is never neutral; for one, we speak in borrowed languages and forms, which are, of course, already embedded in larger systems. And while educators might use narrative to teach meaning, governments, the media, religions, and other power structures equally rely on storytelling to manipulate our very behaviors.
It could be said that climate change is the big story of today, however, I often wonder if the whole idea of writing for posterity is rendered pointless by it. No need to limit this to one existential threat alone; with the rise of AI, pandemics, a shaky global order predicated on inequity, and the ever-looming threat of nuclear war: another end of the world is possible. Everywhere you look, from reactionary politics pegged to nostalgia, to countless time travel memes that only plumb history on-line, it would appear that any future horizon is very far from our imaginary.
This brief jot is a short response to Hasan Özgür Top’s film, the Fall of a Hero (2020), a mock interrogation video in which an interviewee describes how zealots lure followers through a recycled ancient crusader myth: that the problems of the world are the result of society falling astray from an imagined golden age, and a return to grace is only possible if a righteous vanguard overthrows the forces that corrupt them. Top’s narrator is probably an unreliable one, but this is beside the point; I read him as simply a vector to deconstruct the uses and abuses of the hero narrative itself.
As a thought experiment, let’s turn this particular tale on its head by looking not at the past, but toward the very messy and clouded present we’re in for vehicles instead? It could go something like this: society and technology are grappling with unprecedented realties, and as such, you are living in the most influential time in all of history. Although I’ve shifted the vantage here, a peculiar vestige of that old script remains, namely an appeal to a narcissist, which centers the fate of the world on just one individual. We can do better.
If stories filter the world, it would be logical to think that a change in narrative can likewise shift the world with it. I may have gotten this backwards though. While we might be sitting at a unique hinge of history today, attention, so they say, has been shattered by the many digital devices, which push and pull each and all of us every and nowhere at the same time. Regardless of the message, tireless media spectacle drowns the present by fracturing any sense of continuity; could this be where the future was actually lost? Who really knows, but, for some reason, I, too, am pining for the past.
The hero’s journey, for what it’s worth, has been with the West for at least 4,000 years. These tales have survived translations, and cultures, and have morphed to serve both friend and foe with equal measure. They are widely attractive because they reflect our own time-based existence, however, the reproduction of narrative structure might have conditioned us to think that way. Tie this all to Aristotle if you like, who gave us the formula that stories, particularly those of political leaders, should follow a narrative arc through which some concluding statement about the point of it all is made so that its lesson can be learned. So, why are you here, and what is this whole note for?
Perspective, perhaps? Looking forward, or backward, or at the ‘‘now’’, is small potatoes; time, after all, has always been non-linear. The question to ask while hearing a story is: does it impose value onto the world, or does it dip into the caves of our shared memory to echo meaning from within?
 Rukeyser, Muriel. ‘‘The Speed of Darkness,’’ Out of Silence: Selected Poems. Edited by Kate Daniels, Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly Books, 1994. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56287/the-speed-of-darkness, Accessed on 22 October 2020.
Adam Kleinman is Lead Curator for North America at KADIST, and an independent writer based in New York. He was previously Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Curator at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Agent for Public Programing at dOCUMENTA (13), and Curator at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.