Phantom Work
Oscillating Elevations
Erupting Depths

Diamond Head Diving Man
Aeolian Processes #1 , #2
The Shrine of the

A Little Larger Than
The Entire Universe


Airliner 4
A Strange Weather
The New Horizon
Black Ships Ate The Sky
Total Realm
Bent 003
Wake X!
Terra Incognita






Naomi Evans
6th Asia Pacific Triennial , Queensland , catalogue text , 12-2009

The disjointed narrative structure of Emre Hüner's Panoptikon is based on the literary genre of the falname, which first appeared in 13th century Turkey[1]. The falname were specially produced and illustrated publications based on the sacred text of Islam, the Q’uran, and were used for divinations and soothsaying by the practice of opening the book at any page and ascribing meaning to what lay open. Like an encounter with a random page, Panoptikon’s jewel-like video animations are constructed from a personal archive of images that Hüner has built from disparate sources. With its representations of humans, animals and plant forms juxtaposed with tools, weaponry and machines, set within historical scenes resembling Turkish miniatures, the work allows us to observe hidden, forgotten, and imagined histories.

Hüner’s title alludes to the 18th century panopticon or ‘all-seeing’ prison structure, designed by the social reformer Jeremy Bentham, and later made infamous by philosopher Michel Foucault, who saw this architectural model as a metaphor for broader ‘mechanisms of power’[2]. Bentham’s concept aimed to provide visual access to all prison cells from a central observation tower that concealed an unseen supervisor. The possibility that the inmates might be watched at any time was central to encouraging a form of self-policing behaviour, a principle that Foucault showed to be applicable across any disciplinary system, such as hospitals, factories and schools.

To inhabit this metaphor, the verticality of our bodies might be viewed as the central observing tower of Bentham’s prison. Our perceptions make us, at least to a certain extent, the centre of our own universes. In Foucault’s writing on the panopticon, the individual prison cells facing the surveillance tower were ‘…like so many cages, so many theatres, in which the actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible.[3] In Hüner’s Panoptikon, the video animation also becomes a window into an otherworldly realm which we can observe without being seen; but by extension, we are invited to consider our world as characterised by systems of surveillance and discipline.

Panoptikon’s sequences are like theatrically staged fables, reflecting on Istanbul, the city to which Hüner returned after spending eight years in Milan. It combines markers of extraordinary histories as if an illustrated manuscript of arcane knowledge has come to life. Mining the visual language of Turkish miniatures as well as Chinese and Northern European painting, Panoptikon reveals events around migration, trade, conquests, ideas exchange, scientific discoveries, violence, philosophies, religions, political shifts, art and cultures. Contemporary Istanbul retains visible layers of those histories, and Hüner’s hand-drawn, digitised construction is faceted with traces, figments and passings – an approach to art that seems logical when urban streets are proof that parallel histories exist together.

Hüner’s interest in the psychical effects of contemporary life, steeped in technology, is filtered through aesthetic, literary and philosophical approaches. This work adopts the distinctive perspective of classical Ottoman composition, where past narratives, mythologies and future speculations are contained within a single frame. He also mines the illusionism of Western perspective, layering components from his detailed tempera drawings on paper, some of which are reproduced in his artist book Bent 003. In Panoptikon, elements of this idiosyncratic encyclopaedia are combined and animated.

The 13th century Arabic encyclopedia Acaib'ül Mahlukat (The Wonders of Creation) by Zakariyya al-Kazvini is a key reference for Hüner[4]. Translated into Turkish by the 14th century and widely distributed, it contained cosmology, zoology and botany along with rich illustrations of fantastical creatures. Hüner’s drawings of fecund flora, where the squirting nectar of blockish tulips, like sperm, fertilises the growth of strange organic forms, reclaim architectural expanses decorated with Iznik tile, while chuffing machines appear anachronistic, abandoned and functionless.

In another sequence, mysterious instruments or weapons lie scattered on the ground as if cut from a vanitas painting. The tools of science, medicine and alchemy are combined with the possibility of past torture, the violence dumb, a missed event. Human bodies are shown in states of dissection, their musculature, circulatory system and organs detailed in rich and saturated colour. Elsewhere, Pieter Breughel’s Landscape With The Fall of Icarus (c.1558) is appropriated for the two coastal promontories indicating the Bosphorus, transformed into the site of a violent Ottoman battle. And in the background of these dreamlike scenes, which are always enclosed by a cage or a room, groups of figures edge each other as they watch on, their omniscience limited to their own particular view.

Naomi Evans is Assistant Curator, International Art, Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art

1. Artist email to the author, 11 August 2009.
2. Michel Foucault, originally published in Surveiller et Punir, 1975; Discipline and Punish:The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan, Pantheon, New York, 1977.
3. Michel Foucault, ‘Panopticism’, in David M., Kaplan, Readings in the philosophy of technology, p.359
4. Artist email to the author, 11 August 2009.