On Ficto-Criticism by Aslı Seven
It's difficult to summarize my encounter with ficto-criticism, because it mainly happened to me, in my own writing, before I knew the term existed.
For me it was a way to distance myself from 'explanation' when writing about art. Instead of positioning myself as a curator or an art writer, at a position of authority or exteriority, I was trying to find a way to write "with" the process of artistic research and production, to write something that flows alongside the art work and conveys something of artistic process instead of offering closed explanations on finished objects.
I did an artistic research PhD in France at ENSA Bourges and EESI Poitiers-Angouleme in 2019 and during that research it became clear to me that sometimes writing subjectively is the only way to reach any kind of truth about making exhibitions or any kind of truth about art and its context of emergence and visibility. At the same time, I always have the hope that writing subjectively one might reach a wider audience. Of course that is the constant desire, never fully achieved, but I still think subjectivity and fiction resonate more than self-righteous explanatory texts or "highfalutin" curating.
The key statement would be that fiction, if it is to have any critical value, always comes in a relationship to fact, and in ficto-criticism the issue is to intervene in what constitutes the matter of the world where facts and fictions coexist and make up each other constantly; to provide a shift in perspective where we can gain new insight on fictions that we take for granted (as facts) and reverse the situation.
Mackenzie Wark recently used the terms "ficting" and "facting" to underline this relationship. JG Ballard's non fiction writing is another reference, along with more anthropological ones - I also looked into field reports and theoretical writing in anthropology where fiction is clearly a method to convey something other than academic knowledge, closer to the process of research (I think of Nastassja Martin's novelized experience of getting bitten by a bear in Siberia in her book, "In the Eye of the Wild" translated by Sophie R. Lewis).
Another theoretical thread would be new materialism's insistence on the withdrawal of objects, the idea that no subject or object can ever fully grasp an object in all its potential. This insistence on un-knowability and the humility it brings to the table is where fiction and ficto-criticism as method become relevant.
“Electrical Afterlife Scriptoprothesis in the Shadow of a Hyperobject”, the text I wrote in the catalogue for the exhibition, [Elektroizolasyon] at Arter uses fiction as a shell for critical / theoretical writing. If I must look closer into Emre's process, a written script was at the heart of process leading up to the exhibition. Meliha Erem's short stories carry fragments from this script that we chose not to share in the exhibition. Instead, we chose to display Erem's short stories and to give them the same status as other works of art. This was mainly done to convey a sense that besides the film and the sculptures, writing was also a medium through which Elektroizolasyon expresses itself, and that ficto-criticism was not only in the text, but it is also the modus operandi through which sculptures and film were made.
To finalize, especially around Elektroizolasyon (but also the exhibition Saint Joseph: Beats of a Fabulous Machine); ficto-criticism does not only operate as a method of writing. It is also an architectural / scenographic expression where the fictions of the museum are activated, reified and interrupted with other fictions, like the industrial entrance door installed at the exhibition's entrance, or the bunker-like structure covering one of the windows on the second floor; or again, the appearance of Arter's architectural model in the film and the view over the exhibition from the 2nd floor which makes everything look like an architectural model - the question of scale opens up to some kind of critical fiction as operating across the space's architecture.
A similar approach to objects operates inside the vitrines in Saint Joseph where objects from artistic processes are displayed alongside objects from early 20th century physics and chemistry labs: their design carries similar methods of “ficting” and “facting” and putting them side by side creates a speculative space where it is possible to gain distance from what we take for granted in both scientific and artistic processes.
Aslı Seven is an independent curator and writer based between Istanbul and Paris. Her research and curatorial projects focus on infrastructure, landscape and built environment, with an emphasis on fieldwork, ficto-criticism and collaborative artistic processes. She is a member of AICA and OF C-E-A (French Association of Curators), and a collaborator with ICI (Independent Curators International).