Hüseyin Alptekin promised to explain his enigmatic works to me, including Don’t Complain, the installation he produced as Turkey’s representative to the 2007 Venice Biennale. We began to correspond (he was pleased by my attempts at a Foucauldian archaeology of his work), and we seemed about to uncover the quintessential stratum that would explain all the others when Alptekin was mysteriously found dead in his studio at age 50. So I will have to guess at what he might have said in reconstructing a few of his more notable works.
Take Don’t Complain, for example—a big LED sign blazing “DON’T COMPLAIN” above an elongated log cabin bent into a near semi-circle and partitioned into five trapezoidal rooms. Each space was furnished with table, benches, white chairs, and several small wall monitors showing black and white videos of equestrian statues, cupolas, steps, silhouetted figures on a beach, rugs hanging from a balcony, stone stairways, photos of “disappeared” people, some lighted hotel signs, junk pickers, and many other apparently unrelated images. Alptekin left an interview that offers a few clues to the topmost levels of meaning. He mentions that Don’t Complain is paradoxical since it is itself a complaint; and it is hierarchical (since the speaker assumes a superior attitude), while the artist himself is egalitarian. Alptekin, in fact, complained a lot. He believed that the socio-political situation of the world warrants complaint, but he also thought complaining to be counterproductive because it diverts energy from more effective ways to bring about change. He recommended a “modest optimism.”
Don't Complain (detail), 2007.
LED signs, log construction, tables and chairs, and video monitors.
View of the installation at the 2007 Venice Biennale.