Workers Forum in Artforum

Pilvi Takala
Asmalı Mescit Mh., Meşrutiyet Cd No:93
January 30–March 27

When the sun sets in Istanbul, the architectural hodgepodge of Beyoğlu—the main cultural and (especially) nightlife artery of the city—comes alive with palpably garish, universally dramatic lighting on its fin-de-siѐcle and post-’80s facades alike. The source of this visual din, an uninterrupted series of light-accessory shops, proceeds uphill, culminating in a gigantic LED panel atop the Marmara Pera hotel that serves as a screen for the nonprofit art space YAMA. Established by Sylvia Kouvali (the founder of Rodeo Gallery) with support from Kağan Gürsel (the hotel’s owner), YAMA—which means “patch” in Turkish—has in the past “patched in” works by the likes of Claire Fontaine, Wael Shawky, and Jordan Wolfson to the fabled Istanbul skyline; now it has become the sight/site of Pilvi Takala’s Workers Forum, 2015.

Workers Forum, in its various incarnations, showcases various messages collected from an online support message board for the employees of a microlabor platform—in this case the US-based service known as Invisible Girlfriend/Boyfriend, which sends its customers SMS messages from imaginary partners. The negligible pay, Takala admits as a veteran employee, leaves no doubt that the workers—often addictively—carry on for pleasure. While there are strict virtual boundaries to intimacy with customers, messages on the forum evince a bizarre community in the making: “I am proud of us,” writes a certain “Garish,” while “Jesse” complains: “People are not convinced that we are real.” Despite perhaps failing to create a semblance of reality, these fictions of affection are fraught with competition: “Ebony,” an employee, complains that “the new ones do not bother to play their parts” and prompts a collective call among other experienced employees to oust the newbies without proper work ethics. The conspicuous and decidedly benevolent desire to serve better and spread kindness for almost no pay, a comical allegory of good government, stands in silent but scathing contrast to the state corruption and police violence that Istanbul harbors.