Nobody any longer doubts that the violent ruptures which have come to pass during the course of the last forty years and that are escalating, point to a transition into a new epoch: 'Modernity' that emerged with the Renaissance is disintegrating. And, as in previous periods of upheaval, the initial signals come from the art world. It was the prescience of art that has awakened us to the fact that we are witnessing a disruption. The reaction to the disintegration of modernity as witnessed in art has, needless to say, found its reflection in art history and eventually, in critical writing. Confidently ‘progressing’ ever since the Renaissance through the works of illustrious figures like Vasari, Burckhardt, Winckelmann, Hegel, Marx, Wölfflin, Riegl and Panofsky and seeming extremely competent with its academies, encyclopedias, museums and galleries, art history has entered into a crisis since the 1970s. In fact, this crisis was a wholesale crisis of the regimes of knowledge pertaining to modernity and it encompassed three basic processes:
● Statements accepted as referring to general truths were becoming increasingly meaningless as they lost their references, rigor and objectivity. Norms established during the course of many centuries to define what was ‘true’, ‘good’ and ‘beautiful’ were rapidly getting to be blurred. Normative and universal knowledge substantiated in the course of modernity was increasingly replaced by truths relative to different languages, cultures and contexts. History too could then become a literary genre, a rhetoric, a ‘text’ to be variously interpreted by its reader as well as by its writer. Thus, historical truth, no longer a product of the modern rational mind, was turning into an art of contemporary semiotics.
● The conception of temporality was also changing. Time was no longer a dynamic advancing from the past towards the future, made up of an articulate ‘past’, ‘present’ and a ‘future’. According to certain scholars adhering to the ’end of history’ thesis, the advance of mankind had finally reached its termination in Western liberalism. Others were claiming history no longer had subjects like God, man, society or the labor class, as had been the case in earlier times. Furthermore, no longer was there a telos, a utopia, a human ideal towards which history was oriented. In fact, what all of these views shared was a rendition of time into the mere ‘present’. Therefore, past and future could only be meaningful with reference to the present time; each ‘text’ was comprehended with regard to the current ‘context’. History was de-historicized.
● The substitution of the idea of ‘society’, a product of modernity, with ‘culture’; the organization of knowledge and power according to ethnic, religious and other identities; the accompanying privatization of culture were all having a profound effect on art history as well as criticism. Modern art history and criticism, that had emerged in the 18th century as a result of rising public consciousness, are nowadays merging with the communication strategies and corporate culture of private enterprises, following closely behind art. Hence, history and criticism have suffered the loss of their public media.
As a result of these ruptures, history has become irrelevant and art has become de-historicized. Art history and art criticism as well as art itself are being assimilated into art management. Art is abandoning its autonomy: the autonomy it owed aesthetic modernism that had categorized art as ‘unmanageable’ in the face of the more rational disciplines. Art is once again submitting to the authority of power domains, to autocrats under which it had persevered throughout past ages. And art history is narrating its submission.
Fortunately, the related account is only one side of the coin: the official, institutional side of power and hegemony. On the other side is a post-1968 defiant art history movement that flourished precisely by challenging the art, history and criticism that succumbed to being managed; discovering and exposing their relations with technologies of power. These histories embrace critical theory from the Romantic philosophers to contemporary 'post-structuralist' Parisian philosophers; from Marx to the Frankfurt School; from the ‘cultural studies’ initiative of Raymond Williams and E. P. Thompson to post-colonialism, feminist and queer theories. Its concern cannot be the preservation of societal modernization because it is precisely the radical criticism of modernism that nurtures this movement. It endeavors to dissociate the art of the 19th and 20th centuries from modern, formalist historical narratives and to connect it with social life. Transcending modernism is among its aims but not in order to manufacture an ‘absolute present’. Critical history sustains its hope for the future, perpetuates its utopias. Culture is also its privileged category but only to be explored as a dominant system of power and signification. It deliberates on how art is transformed into signs of identity and culture wars. It does not restrict art, politics and history to dogmas based on cultural difference but considers social life as commensurate with it. Neither art nor art history is segregated from movements for social and political transformation.
Skop is being published to contribute to such a fertile movement of history that connects art and aesthetics with critical theory and politics.
Historical studies in Turkey, particularly of 20th century art, are limited. The foremost reason is that the material of art history –art works– are only recently emerging to the public eye and being documented. Hence, art history has been constrained by certain techniques that were passed on from one text to the next. On the other hand, the holistic definition of the ‘modern’, a vestige of colonialism that was officially endorsed by endeavors at Westernization, has remained valid to this day. The art historical concept of ‘aesthetic modernism’ that, from the 19th century onwards, has come to express the process by which art gained its autonomy has remained in the dark. Hence, the modernist process through which art gained its autonomy and from which avant-garde movements were born is totally nil in Turkish art history. This absence is all the more conspicuous today in contemporary chronologies of art for the globalizing market that are published in the guise of art histories. ‘Current’ histories of this period of de-historicization seem even more standard, more official and more authoritarian than earlier ones.
Skop aims at subverting such conformism.
We believe that there is adequate critical vigor to disrupt the current state. One manifestation of such a motivating force is the theses produced with a public spirit at graduate programs that unfortunately have no public outlet since public milieux have been closed down. Furthermore, there are a myriad of other thoughts, analyses, appraisals, truths that have been muffled; confined into their cocoons and totally disregarded by the intellectual market. Skop hopes to become the public screen of this ardor, this plenitude. Skop is a vibrant call to resist the campaign for dissociating art from history, from criticism and from politics.
Why, then, Skop? Because skop [Eng. scope, It. scopo, Lat. scopus, Gr. skopos] alludes to a space or opportunity for free and unhampered activity, intention, thought or vision; to an intention in speaking and writing; to the general range or extent of cognizance, consideration or influence; to inspection and contemplation. It refers to aims but also to desires. Besides, in its most widespread use, skop means to view, to observe, to inspect, to contemplate, as in “micro-scope”, “tele-scope”...
Skop was founded in 2010; it began publishing in October 2011. Its editors are Ali Artun, Elçin Gen, Nur Altınyıldız Artun, Ayşe Boren and Cihan Küçük.