Text and pictures by Rachel Simkover
Twelve artists, one background: Turkey
There is no conceptual or formal framework that connects all of the works in the exhibition Zwölf im Zwölften at Tanas; the premise of the show is purely biographical: all of the participating artists are from Turkey and are currently practicing abroad. The exhibition consists of the twelve artists featured in the book, At Home, Wherever, the last in the series Contemporary Art in Turkey, edited by René Block, the director of the gallery. Why are these Turkish artists living abroad? It is a tradition in Turkey to go elsewhere for education, and many artists expressed their frustration with the lack of government funding available for the arts. Most artists were in agreement that they really felt no other option than to go abroad in order to further their artistic development.
Each artist has their own unique story about when and why they relocated, ranging from Vahap Avşar’s personal “forced voluntary exile” to New York City after experiencing dissatisfaction with the reception of conceptual art in Turkey to Canan Tolon’s childhood, education, and current residence abroad, resulting in feelings of being foreign in her own country because she doesn’t speak Turkish. Tolon finds the distance nourishing. She currently resides in California, where everyone is an immigrant and it is taboo not to address identity. She feels that there is an expectation to address identity and self-orientalize, meaning that one can not just be a "contemporary artist" but is often branded as a "Turkish artist". Servet Koçyiğit, who lives in Amsterdam, agreed that there is pressure to fulfill expectations by creating “immigrant work…something Turkish.” “But”, he asks, “What is Turkish?”
Just because the artists were not brought together because of the content or form of their works, does not mean that the works have nothing to do with each other. The first room takes the view into the domestic sphere. The three works by Şakir Gökçebağ are simple “purist” installations using everyday household items such as measuring tapes, a drying rack, and an oriental carpet. The piece, Reorientation 2, an oriental carpet that has been cut up so that the cross sections create a new, compressed composition, is an appropriate entrance into the show because it is both a fulfillment and rejection of the expected reference to the orient.
Passing through the hallway, on either side hang the Chief Commander works by Vahap Avşar, enlarged postcards depicting public statues of Kemal Atatürk, the first president of Turkey. There is an aura of nostalgia and sadness surrounding these works, and as the former leader stoicly watches over his surroundings while remnants of tape adhere to the edges of the photographs. The next room contains photographic and video works, none of which are nostalgic.
The 5 channel video installation, Backbench, by Ergin Çavuşoğlu could not be more situated in the present, as the viewer sits on the same grey stadium seating as depicted in the videos, therefore almost becoming a participant in the discussion taking place.
Wedged inconspicuously in between two movable walls is Canan Tolon’s Colony 2, a landscape growing on top of old mattresses made infinite by mirrors. It alludes to the possibility of feeling at home wherever one finds the space to settle.
The artists will always have their national identities, but the work in this exhibition demonstrates that the work is readable internationally.
The exhibition will be on view until March 3, 2012. There will also be an artists’ talk during the closing with the artists who live in Germany.
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