A Glass of Hot Water with Sugar (2001)

The video work of the artist tells the story of four prisoners, namely İsmail, Esma, Metin, Hülya, who have catched the illness Wernicke Korsakov* and released for six months. This illness is a result of the wrong medical treatment after the prison operation, ‘Back to Life’ which is realised by the state in order to stop the protests.

*Wernicke Korsakov, is a result of long-time-starvation and causes problems of seeing, hearing, walking also memory. For example, if the central nerve system is damaged, the person will have a brain of a five-year-old child, without any memory and in need of aid of others to maintain his or her daily life.


A glass of hot water with sugar

A slightly late text


The number of people who has died because of fasting to death has reached to 51. 51 people died because of the act, because of their intentional choice of commitment. For some of us, it is a hardly understandable, unacceptable way of protesting. A human, will starve because he has chosen to and will not eat anything in order to reach the requirements he have stated to be realized. Only will have water mixed with sugar, only the vitamin B1 but nothing else. I am trying to imagine this, what a life it would be without eating anything, how would a person live through. Forgetting how to chew, the taste of bread… Realising the change in your body, slowly losing your bodily facilities. What would that person think when he looked onto his body, his bones popped out of his skin. Or his hair peeling of, his eyes not properly working. What would he feel when a friend died just beside? Would not he feel despair and think of his close death that will be in an hour or in a day or two? Can he think when he cannot even drink something and lick the wet handkerchief? Is it the moment lived, or can they dream of future, the nice days ahead? What would he expect with a disclosed memory? And how many kilograms of bread, vegetables, fruits, and deserts have I consumed?


Michael Foucault narrates the story of Damien who has knifed the king in his book ‘The birth of Prison’;


‘He has been sentenced to confess to everyone in front of the Paris church; he would be carried to Paris on a two wheeled carriage, with a shirt on and two torches in his hands. Afterwards, he would be carried to the Greve square where his whole body would be violated by heated pincers. He would hold the knife that he stepped his father (the king) on his right hand while his body was being showered by boiling mixture of oil, resin, lead, wax, zinc. Afterwards, his body will be torn apart by four horses moving to different directions and be buried. The ashes will be thrown into air.’


The pre-planned punishment takes a longer and more painful process through pragmatic consequences. Four horses will not be enough to tear his body apart, so the six horses are tied; still not enough, it is almost needed to cut the bones in order to ter apart his arms. Damiens, left with a head and a body that still breaths is thrown into the fire and burnt alive. The fire is there he dies in. The punishment realized as an open-to-public ritual with the ambition to intimidate the public.


‘The body that has been violated, torn into parts, put out of organs, sealed on the face and the shoulder, exhibited alive or dead has withered away in ten years time. Thus the body is no more an object of intimidation.’


In this section of the book, Foucault refers to punishment as an exhibited fact in the 19th century. In the Aftermath, the punishment is being transformed into the unrealized economy of rights.

The most common critique of the systemized punishment in the second half of the 19th century points out the non-disappeared postulate. That is, the prison does not function in order to realize enough punishments: the prisoners are relatively living in better conditions than the poor communities. The prisoner has to be the one who suffers most. And the punishment cannot be disassociated from the physical pain. What is a punishment if it is not reflected onto the body?

…What are the interventions of it without the body? The approach of many theoreticians (since 1760’s) is obvious, more likely a trivial case. This approach seems like included in the question. Instead of violating the body as to be punished, it must be the heart, thoughts, will and the psychology of the being to be violated.


Hence, the punishment realized on the body will be transferred onto the soul. Now, the target is the soul. The to-be-seen punishment rituals will be performed in isolated places. The F-type prisons are constructed with respect to Foucault’s critique. The reporting on the F-type prisons by the Turkish Health Association states that:


From our point of view; the plan of the project has been done without taking humanity into account, based upon the security problematic and isolation. It has been scientifically proved that, isolated state of being creates misidentification, heavy psychological and physical defeats. The prisoner is no longer receiving his/her rights: the feeling of safety, collaboration, and togetherness. The isolation process encounters the physical, social and psychological needs.



It is needed to enrich the Foucadian conceptualization of punishment and prisons so that the situation has reached to its peak point: the violation of the souls. The modern court system, transforming the bodily punishment in to the punishment of the soul, has left the prisoners in reaction. The prisoners reacting against are reflecting it on their bodies first. The object of fasting-to-death is to disable the punishment. History repeats itself in an displaced context. The prisoners are dying one after the other. The Turkish version of the modern court system as if trying to prove how a real punishment would  be, realizes operations with a title ‘back to Life’. Thus screens the images to the public. What has happened to Damiens’ is now happening to prisoners who are fasting-to –death. The execution realized in front of the Church de Paris, is being transmitted to our living rooms by the online images of those operations. 

The fasting-to–death action against F-type prisons, started in 20th October 2000, has been continued for approximately two years. ‘A glass of water with sugar’ is based on the stories of four prisoners who have ‘Wernicke Korsakof’, the illness of memory damage. The four prisoners, namely İsmail, Esma, Metin and Hülya have this illness because of the wrong treatment after their fasting period. They are living in a shelter named ‘Life House’ after the ‘Back to Life’ operations.


Canan Senol, 2002