arikan blog 2

A biennale in a holiday destination can seem like icing on the cake, but a work at the 5th Biennale in Marrakech explores the baking recipe itself. Burak Arikan is a Turkish artist whose home country, like Morocco, numbers its visitors in the tens of millions. One question, which his Monovacation (2013) poses, is this: what do we expect from our annual getaways?

The answer varies, but not by much. Rowboats, mountains, bikinis and beaches are all high on our agendas, at least that’s what the national offices of tourism believe to be the case. Arikan collates television commercials from around the world and uses bespoke software to analyse the patterns which emerge.

The result is a grid projection running every film the artist could get his hands on, (found footage and clips from YouTube) a nodular map of advertising motifs, and a six minute montage in which the ideas morph into one another. “You have concept morph,” explains Arikan, “not image morph”, pointing out the shifting occupants and surroundings of a lake.

“So the movie starts with a rowboat. You will see people doing rowboats from Italy through to China basically. All of which are very quick 1,2,3 seconds, and then it goes slowly into nature and then into the mountains and it works like that.”

Biennale venue Bank Al Maghrib is full of surprises, but this presents you with some familiar scenarios: travel clichés, held at arm’s length. The result is alienation, an effect of the computer code written by the artist in order to configure a detailed map of the most frequently advertised holiday activities.

“This is all for a vacation which you can have anywhere in the world,” says the artist, most of whose projects benefit from his programming knowhow. In the past he has analysed data patterns in the art market, the higher education sector and the urban landscape of Istanbul.

The uber-commercial now concept-morphs into a passage featuring horses. “If you look at this you find a horse that crops up all the time: in Egypt, Turkey, Portugal and Spain; they’ve all got horses.” It was this motif which inspired the current piece.

“A horse, what does that mean, you know?” he asks, finding a range of meanings in a host of countries, including the most interesting reading of the situation in his homeland: “In Turkey they show it, like, jumping on a bridge. I guess, Europe to Asia.”

And while the overall effect of this installation may be one of monotony, there are differing nuances. “European countries usually advertise themselves as, ‘You can rest here’. So say I’m a European from the UK, it has to be somewhere close: South Europe, Spain; I rest and then I go back to work.” But a far-flung destination like Taiwan will advertise its potential for magical experiences.

Marrakech is magical too, the North African city lending plenty of relevance to Arikan’s work. “Morocco has a big tourism issue,” says the artist. “It’s an economical engine but at the same time it’s an issue for locals. Obviously you can see that everywhere.” It’s a fragile ecosystem. The vibrant square beyond the venue, Jamaa El Fna, is a UNESCO designated Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Arikan laughs when I ask him if his research has put him off holidays for life. “I don’t really do travel for tourism any more,” he says. “Although I will travel a lot, I go for work mainly. I live in New York right now, but I’m based in Istanbul and New York.” Hence the global outlook.

In a world where you can be a tourist just about anywhere, this data-crunching holiday of holidays could put you off as well. The perfect beach, bikini body, or sunlit lake are just so many simulacra, and thanks to our ubiquitous cameras, we are all filming and shooting our own commercials and ads wherever we go. It gets to be hard work.

Monovacation can be seen in Bank Al Maghrib at Marrakech Biennale 5 until March 31 2014.