Fantastic Turks (2005) was an interactive art project that combined elements of play and performance in real and cyberspace to trace the function of Turkish stereotypes in western popular culture. It was created for my mid-residency thesis at CalArts.
Fantastic Turks was an interactive art project that combined elements of play and performance in real and cyberspace to trace the function of Turkish stereotypes in western popular culture. The project was initially sparked by the inclusion of a group of villains called “Turks” into Final Fantasy VII, a 1997 Japanese PlayStation game. However, it was the fandom’s reception and embracing of these villains that informed the overall conceptualization of this project.
The game itself does not define Turks based on their ethnic or national affiliation. Rather, Turks enter the game’s fantasy realm as a semi-legal organization of elite fighters working for a corrupt monopoly that threatens the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants. As a narrative catalyst, however, the organization of Turks functions as a Japanese appropriation of the ethnic Turkish stock character found in many western works of fiction. Once again, the Turks become an opposing force that obstructs the greater good and has, therefore, to be reckoned with. However, in this bizarre appropriation, something unexpected happens: the villainous Turk transcends from being loathed to being loved! Finally, in 2004 and 2007, Square Enix, the publisher of the game, sought to address the fandom’s fascination with these Turks by releasing two more sequels: this time the players could become Turks and replay the story from their perspective.
My research for Fantastic Turks focused on Final Fantasy fandom’s further appropriation of these villains beyond the context of the game. I looked at role-playing, fanart, and fanfiction to study how categories of identification–including the tags “real” and “imagined” — productively break-down. To that end, I decided to adopt a similar interactive element in my own project. First, I established a Fantastic Turks Recruiting Agency in both real and cyberspace to scout for new “recruits”. Once the invitee accepted the invitation, the project encouraged him or her to become a Fantastic Turk. Although the act of “making a Turk” initially references the game’s role-playing aspect, it is meant more as a humorous allusion to one of the “dangers” traditionally ascribed to the Turkish stock character. “Turning Turk” is a crucial element of the project, as it is the only means by which to enter the fictional space of the project. Ultimately, it is in this act of “embracing” that this notoriously misrepresented and disproportionately underrepresented identity begins to unravel.