Sharing, metamorphosis, growth.
An exhibition like Melting Point by Aslı Kutluay, now at its third stage, confronts many problems well before those of its interpretation from the aesthetic and critical points of view.
To begin with it is an itinerant exhibition which was not intended to be so; in fact the works change in the various stages of the exhibition. Beginning in Venice (Magazzino Gallery, April 2016), continuing to Altamura (Masseria Jesce, August 2016), to now land in Istanbul (Museo Elgiz, October 2016). We ask ourselves the meaning of this ‘journey’. Things often are or seem different under different skies: this is already a good reason to make them travel.
In this case, we should add the fact that the artist changes many of the works on show from site to site. In fact the exhibition in Istanbul is called Melting Point on the road – the turning point. We also like to stress that the journey is not a solitary one, but that it is made up of many encounters: those with whom one works, shares and creates the project: in Venice with me, Elisa Genna, Bikem Ibrahimoglu de Montebello, Nicole Boldrin, Margherita Fabbri; at Altamura Emma Capurso, Alessandro Fiorentino and Donato Laborante; in Istanbul Sevda Elgiz, Deniz Ova, Bahar Turkay, Merve Pakyürek and Kimberley Ann Duyguluer and last but not least – a presence through all these steps – Deniz Taner Gokce. Without forgetting the humanity and the efficiency of the electricians, video technicians, waiting and catering staff and the visiting public itself.
The realization of the exhibition has required the creation of an ample network of relationships, and created a shared context, truly matching the functional manner of the social networks. It’s as if the exhibition (that is to say, the works on show) is only the tip of the iceberg of a wider relational and human reality. An itinerant exhibition is not a series of stations neatly lined up as if on a platform, each one independent from the other; the different stops become enriched in meaning and grow with experience, without a hierarchy but with a movement back and forth, between one and the other.
Sometimes, travelling exhibitions are a sad exercise in ‘copy and paste’; it is much rarer that they are able, like a living organism, to change and grow along the way. The project of journey is already a journey. Not only the things on show but even the mood changes: from the message of alarm presented by Melting Point in Venice, with its cry for the risks for the planet deriving from global warming, we arrive through the exhibition in Puglia characterized by a more lyrical sentiment of a closeness to nature to the third stop, to a Turkey that is passing a moment of unclear transformation and where it brings a more – paradoxically – optimistic message: Melting Point has grown up and is looking around.
Everything is rich and varied. Just thinking back over the variety of materials: acrylic, corrugated cardboard, video projection, fishing nets, plexiglass, galvanized iron netting, aluminium structures, eletrical materials, wood, led lights, golden paint.
The artist has produced a coherent body of new works, “non-functional” pieces of furniture, intended to create a connection between the artworks, the place and the visitors. The work comes from her reflections on the phenomenon of Global Warming: structures at the point of melting or burning or cracking, given the changing climate, present us with disturbing scenarios as if we have found ourselves in a magic mirror. Those responsible for these changes, however, are we humans. But, the change of the lights to yellow, which were red in a previous version, is the sign of an optimist and a promising interpretation.
The nature of these new works also suggests a way of purification to recover what we are losing in terms of an ecology both of nature and of mind and in terms of the quality of relationships between human beings.
Wirenets (“Dreamcatchers” and “for the memory of Aylan Kurdi”) for example, are the symbols of borders. This work asks us to question whether we really do need borders. Should we reinvent and redefine respect, trust, as the antique, natural “border” among human beings? In the new version the wirenets are in front of us as Dreams set sail for.. installation like sails made of fishnets on which dreams are drawn – right in the middle of the exhibition space.
The installation Aftermath made using two Victorian garden chairs and a table seems to have been corrupted and melted by heat and pollution. At the same time it’s a criticism of the “battle of powers” which the artist sees as the cause of the world decay. The name of the new version of the seating group is If we could fly or give buds… the chairs have the addition of wings and flower buds and are painted in gold.
Nature enters the show with the sculptural work Stalactites and Stalagmites: which have been reinvented through the use of cables and red electric bulbs: the red was both the colour of heat and a reference to the “ego”. The exhibition at Elgiz Museum for the Istanbul Design Biennial opens in Autumn and is willing to express a timid hope; therefore Aslı has redesigned the lights as yellow.
Similar is the reference that we find in Crack table: a table split in two identical pieces, narrates the melting and cracking of ice territories, and is like “Ying Yang”. One piece of the cracked table stands up recalling the shape of a penguin.
The video work of “Plastic Dreams” was shot by the artist in Sakarya (Anatolia) in September 2016. In the previous video work shot in Dubai, there was a new modern architecture silhouette standing in front of the mosaics of the pool and reflecting in it; the colour was blue, a meditative composition. We could hear the sound and feel the colour of water. It was the narration of Water, represented by blue, and collected artificially in this pool; water will certainly be one of the most valuable elements in the future. In the new version of the video there is an orange plastic garden hose left loosely in the garden pool. The linearity and the shape of the material, in the same pool where mature apples fall, seems to mix natural and artificial in harmony. The artist reminds us, that dreams may be sustainable.
Is it then, an exhibition that knows how to transform itself, a conscious subject of metamorphosis? Yes, but it is opportune to reflect on the capability of a group of significant objects (the works in the exhibition) to behave as a single organism, within which the diverse elements are in a reciprocal dialogue tending towards the presentation of a common meaning.
Questions which are perhaps rhetorical but allowed, speaking of design, as a shared terrain between function and representation. If – and let’s not look now for yet another definition of design – this term, however, indicates the realization that takes the study and aesthetic content of an object of a functional, even prosaic and daily use, we might ask if its morphing on the part of Kutluay in similar objects (that is to say at first referable to similarity in shape, colour or material) doesn’t take them a bit further into the field of art, almost crossing the border between the two disciplines. Thus their representation of a meaning prevailing on the possibility of a functionality. The growth of ambiguity leads to the growth of complexity and the richness of meanings.
Dr. Vittorio Urbani, Curator, Venice
On view at Magazzino Gallery @ Palazzo Contarini-Polignac, Venice
6 – 27 April 2016
As a preview for early visitors to the Venice Architecture Biennale, an exhibition of new works by Turkish artist Aslı Kutluay will open in April 2016 in a new art space: the Magazzino @ Palazzo Contarini-Polignac. Kutluay is an artist living and working in Ankara. This Venice exhibition will be her first solo show in Italy.
In making art, the artist describes and depicts the world. In doing so, she also judges it, or rather she cannot represent it without judging it. But in depicting it, she also saves it. I have always been struck by the importance of the apparently banal question a computer asks you when, while you are closing a document such as the one I am writing now, it asks you: “do you want to save your changes?” After a brief hesitation – which comes from the neurotic fear of hitting the wrong key and erasing everything – you click “save”. What a serious expression! In the act of saving, what is also implied is an act free of egoisms, perhaps also dangerous for the person conducting it: such as rescuing castaways, helping naked girls escape a house in flames or children flee from correctional orphanages, or finding archaeological treasures and handing them over to a museum and other such heroic acts.
In reality, the process of saving acted by art is similar to what the computer does: or at least similar in action and meaning. Only, what we are saving is not a thing, but its representation. Art is about taking a splinter of the reality which surrounds us and trying to transform it into an image. In this, the artistic image is comparable to the rhetorical figure of a metaphor: it is a representation which alludes to an object. The eye sees a landscape: but there is a big difference between how one looks at and perceives a landscape and what the eye sees and understands of the same landscape depicted in a painting.
This leads us to bitterly consider the perennial disappointment that art arouses: the attempt to represent an item of reality almost always leads to finding that promises have not been kept here and there.
On the other hand, this is the burden that weighs on representation: a task similar to that of a diplomat, in which subject X (the ambassador or artist) is responsible for representing the orders or contents of subject Y (the head of state or the reality which the artist wants to depict) for subject Z (the recipient: the diplomatic mission or the artist’s audience). In this representation there is always an inexorable loss of meaning, an erosion of the original content. Aware of this risk, the artist nevertheless engages in her task of diplomatic/artistic representation of reality with renewed faith and enthusiasm. And she does not do it just because it is the only thing to do: she does it because she thinks it is a duty. A duty of saving.
In this coherent but diversified corpus of works presented in Venice, Aslı Kutluay reflects on the impact that global climate change will have on the environment and thus on the human condition. Structures at melting or breaking point, given the changing climate, show us as in a magic mirror the disturbing scenario we may find ourselves in all too soon. And those responsible for these changes are precisely us humans.
As curator of the Venetian exhibition, I have suggested that Kutluay take pieces from her different series of works and follow the thread of an artistic expression which dares to balance on the threshold between art (as it is conventionally intended) and design (as it is conventionally intended). In fact, if “art” is a metaphor transformed into an object, “design” is about the industrial production of functional objects, reconsidered and redesigned according to aesthetic ideas but with respect for its functional purpose and the hope to improve it. I think it is interesting to assess whether these two fields can be further combined and their traditional separation challenged. Kutluay’s exhibition helps us to consider this assessment more profoundly.
I would like to introduce a paragraph from a text by Kutluay, which outlines the context of this exhibition and her vision: “Design is for human beings. It has been like that from the very beginning, from the first cave carving tools to latest high-technology instruments of Silicon Valley labs. Jules Verne’s science fiction dreams have already come true. So does it mean futurists have to dream more and more? “
A short presentation of the works on view:
Crack table has two identical pieces – like “Ying & Yang”. Lowering the height by introducing a step and slicing the table diagonally, correspond to movements of melting by heat. “Heat” is not only the result of global warming but the tensions created by the “ego” of the protagonists (husband and wife, boss and worker, or two opposing leaders). The space between the pieces is the symbol of healthy communication, that modicum of distance which we need in all relationships.
Stalactites and Stalagmites is a sculptural work which represents the sources of red light. Red is the colour of heat; in other words it represents the “ego”. Red also refers to danger, and to the dark area of sexual activities. Ego may also result in us collecting more than we need. We have to slow down, to think, to drop and release, but we still collect unnecessarily.
Wirenets. This work is made to create a space of separation, which you can see through. Fences allude to borders. The crucial question is: do we really need borders? We have to reinvent and redefine our sense of respect, mutual trust and self-satisfaction – all these invisible borders which have regulated human relationships since ancient times. Without the use of money or technology our ancestors happily worked together, producing and sharing, and respecting their neighbours. The Greek philosopher Epicurus (342 – 270 BC) offered “good friends, a garden and an occupation”. These values are simply enough for happiness.
Our Blue Planet, a video shot in Dubai in December 2015, in the middle of winter. The reflection of a silhouette of modern architecture mixes with the blue mosaics of the pool, creating a complex image. The filter is in the blue composition. What we see are artificial elements invented by humankind. In the reflection, the rigour of modern architecture seems to melt and disappear. At any rate, it loses “power”. We can hear the sound and feel the colour of water. Water, represented by the blue, will certainly be the one of the most valuable assets in the near future. Control of its distribution is likely to create tensions exploding in international wars, a situation which has happened with oil until now.
Aftermath is an installation consisting of two Victorian garden chairs and a table, which seems to have been ruined and melted by heat, fire and pollution. Their formal “allure” reminds of meetings between persons of power. The focus of critique introduced by this work is on the “battle of powers” and the empty, endless meetings by world leaders, who seem unable to prevent the world’s decay.
I will now return to the previously mentioned “border” between art and design, which is present in Kutluay’s work. Ambiguously, the works more close to the field of design, such as Crack Table and Stalactites and Stalagmites, seem to partially renounce that simply functionary destination, and slip back (or forth?) into the field of art. But maybe a new system of life, more respectful of the resources of this world, can find a new functionality for them.
Besides the aesthetic and curatorial criteria, in considering this work we can also use the point of view of social responsibility and eco-ethics. Again in the artist’s own words: “We are in an era surrounded by wars, lawlessness and poverty. Now the enemy is unawareness. Our cultures are invaded by the slaves of the system and by ignorance. Because we human beings concentrate on our daily lives and are strictly bound by habits we are not aware that we are part of the system that is slowly destroying our blue planet. We are not only polluting nature physically but spiritually as well.”
“Now the enemy is unawareness”, says the artist. Since ancient times, art has been a powerful tool to describe and observe reality. It has this power and this responsibility.