Erdem Taşdelen – The Characters: Act II | Demagogues: 3

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Erdem Taşdelen, The Characters Act: I, Installation view: Untitled Art Society (in partnership with EMMEDIA), Calgary (AB), 2019. (Photo: Katy Whitt).

The Characters: Act II
Erdem Taşdelen

Curated by Natasha Chaykowski

February 13 to March 21, 2020
Opening: Thursday February 13, 7pm

The first set of stock characters in history is thought to be a series of thirty short textual sketches written by Theophrastus, a Greek author of the 4th century BCE. Better known as the “father of botany,” Theophrastus produced these descriptions to represent types of people, such as “The Lover of Bad Company,” “The Pennypincher” and “The Late Learner.” Peculiarly, all of these thirty types, together titled The Characters, depict negative traits. Some scholars have speculated that a supplementary volume comprising positive types must also have existed, or at least been planned. In the absence of this accompanying volume, however, The Characters takes on an absurd quality through its rather bleak presentation of human nature.

An exercise in dramaturgy and dystopian reflection, Erdem Taşdelen’s audio installation The Characters: Act II follows the scheming, bigoted, flippant, condescending, power-hungry, occasionally tragic and often mordantly wry narratives of ten stock characters. With their defining traits borrowed from Theophrastus’s text and developed by the artist into scripts for voice actors, these fictional characters are recognizable, archetypal: each a distinct form whose whole being is engendered by a distillation of a single trait or set of behaviours and thoughts.

In this second act of three, the exhibition comprises ten idiosyncratic monologues, connected by their shared commitment to portray the less palatable aspects of humankind. Insidious nationalism-cum-tacit fascism, rampant self-obsession and false prophesizing abound, resonating with our contemporary social, political and economic realities. From this cacophony, a strangely recognizable din of dystopia emerges, offering an uncanny reflection of ourselves—amalgams of archetypes—as the cast.

The staging of this second act of The Characters at AKA follows Untitled Art Society’s presentation of Act I in Calgary in 2019. Act III will be presented by the Art Gallery of Burlington in Ontario in 2021.

The artist would like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and Toronto Arts Council for their support of The Characters.

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Erdem Taşdelen, Demagogues: 3, 2019.

Demagogues: 3
Billboard by Erdem Taşdelen

January 15 to March 21, 2020

Demagogues is a provocation to question the authenticity of what is visible in the public realm. Each iteration of the work, whether a billboard or a framed print, is a photograph of the very site it’s displayed in and features the following sentence translated into the local language: If a man tells me something I believe to be an untruth, am I forbidden to do more than congratulate him on the brilliance of his lying? Taken at face value, the image seems to document the presence of this text at the site at some point in time. But in fact what’s displayed is fake, as the text has been inserted into the photograph via digital manipulation.

The original version of the sentence in English comes from an essay written in 1958 by theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, and was part of a debate with another critic about whether theatre ought to deal with daily political events or concern itself with the larger questions in life. Tynan was of the belief that to have a social purpose, theatre should engage with and respond to the political realities of the moment. Taken out of its original context, the sentence may be interpreted today as an incitement to imagine effective responses to the rise of illiberal regimes across the globe.


Erdem Taşdelen is a Turkish-Canadian artist who lives and works in Toronto. His practice is rooted in conceptualism and involves a range of media including installation, video, sculpture, sound and artist books. His diverse projects bring structures of power into question within the context of culturally learned behaviours, where he often draws from unique historical narratives to address the complexities of current socio-political issues. His work has been shown in numerous exhibitions internationally and across Canada, at venues including Untitled Art Society, Calgary; Mercer Union, Toronto; Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen (2019); VOX Centre de l’image contemporaine, Montreal (2018); Pera Museum, Istanbul; Or Gallery, Vancouver (2017); Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg (2016); Stacion Center for Contemporary Art, Kosovo (2015); Kunstverein Hannover; ARTER, Istanbul; Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich; MAK, Vienna (2013); and Oakville Galleries (2012). Taşdelen has been awarded the Joseph S. Stauffer Prize in Visual Arts by the Canada Council for the Arts (2016), the Charles Pachter Prize for Emerging Artists by the Hnatyshyn Foundation (2014), and was long-listed for the Sobey Art Award in 2019.

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