Under Construction: Anytime, 1998

Installation and Performance
Six bags of Portland cement, shovel, barrel, sand, construction bands, sledgehammers, tool bags, garment, four gelatin silver print photographs (70x50cm each) of various buildings including a trade center, police department, cultural center, and shopping center
Duration: 6 hours
Contemporary Art Center, Architecture of New York Conference, Ankara, 1999
Performed with construction workers Gülabi Keyan, Adigüzel Bolat, and Erdogan Keyvan

Anytime (Architecture of New York) Conference in 1998 was held at Ankara’s newly opened Contemporary Art Center. For the exhibition component of the conference, I proposed a performance as part of my Under Construction research. Many star architects, including Zaha Hadid, Bernard Tschumi, and Peter Eisenman, came to participate in the conference. I figured it would be a good moment to address sterilized global architectural work in relation to the idea of labor and the city.

I examined architecture as an opportunist discipline inclined to negotiate with anyone who has power and money. Architectural intellectual discourse usually serves as a promotional material to be quickly consumed. While architects promote themselves as the mastermind of projects, they ignore the labor practices which make things happen. Interns, associates, and construction workers are exploited to reach rather pristine results. In addition, the very social fabric of the site is ignored to open up space for grand projects.

While architects take all the credit, the faceless workers remain anonymous. Highly-designed sites such as hotels, corporate offices, shopping malls, or museums make a considerable effort so that consumers do not mix with laborers.

I decided to temporarily change this equation. This performance was about “waiting.”

I hired workers from the Hacibayram Workers’ Market in Ankara. At the beginning of the performance, I explained the project as direct as possible. I told the workers that we would be in a kind of circus display; people would watch us as if they are watching a theater play. They said “OK, no problem, it was better than working at the construction site all day long.” I told them that their responsibility would be simply waiting.

Workers were not supposed to do anything but just wait as they did in the labor market. They said they were familiar with this as most mornings they had to wait for work to come. During the performance, while they were waiting, I carried construction materials from one side of the gallery to the other side, as a continuous but useless effort.

However, workers were bored and wanted to help me. They took the initiation to arrange some of the materials and built a small coat hanger for themselves.

At one point, the mayor, who sponsored the building construction, came to the exhibition with his entourage. Apparently, he was very angry that the construction was not over. His aids told him that it was a just performance, like a theater play. He was confused and left.

Funny thing is that the architects at the conference tried to ignore the performance. Yet, Frederic Jameson came and approvingly smiled.

At the end of the performance, I paid the workers their full daily wage. I thanked them for their labor and they thanked me.