The new art season in İstanbul kicks into full gear in October with countless art exhibitions, festivals and concerts. Amongst the many institutions opening their doors for the new season last week were ARTER art space in Beyoğlu and Poligon -- “The Shooting Gallery” in the Galata quarter.
ARTER’s new exhibit, “Hamle” (“The Move”), which runs from Oct. 5 through Nov. 18, is as much a curator’s checkmate as brilliant maneuvers on the part of the three participating artists. Curator Başak Şenova took the works of Adel Abidin, Rosa Barba and Runa Islam and assembled a kind of chessboard parallel universe where “I played the game with each,” says Şenova, “although none of us have chess pieces.”
Şenova’s opening gambit is a sneak preview on the ground floor of selected samples from the three artists. Each floor above is devoted to each individual artist. She states in her exhibit book (which, by the way, is in its own right a work of art), that she’s concerned with “strategies of spatial and perceptual transformation,” and that her curatorial methodology for this exhibition is based on a “calculated structure that extended its territories by referring to the game of chess.” But whether the end result is stalemate or checkmate, well, that’s up to you.
With or without Şenova’s invisible grid, the works stand on their own as constructions of reality and imagined realities; but her thematic “spatial axes” trace the way each artist makes his/her moves and how those moves determine the spatial conditions. Throughout the 13 works, spread out with generous buffer zones between each piece, the three artists have used a variety of media and strikingly individual uses of film (and film equipment) as effective and affective messengers of their respective conceits.
Adel Abidin’s “beyond...” on both the ground floor and first floor casts a jaundiced eye to his native Iraq to commemorate, in two different pieces (one sculpture-based and one video) the stoning deaths of 90 “alternative” teenagers in Baghdad in March 2012. In his video triptych on the first floor, “Three Love Songs,” we see three blonde actress/singers in unidentified night clubs seductively crooning songs in Arabic that glorify Saddam Hussein and his regime. These singers, chosen for their media stereotype, have learned the words phonetically, have no idea what they’re singing about, and perform in a distinctly western manner. One of the phrases, delivered in breathlessly dulcet tones, is “we will wipe America off the map.”
Rosa Barba’s “annotations” on the second floor features a large hanging sculpture consisting of a silicone wall with embossed lettering. Its title is “Recorded Expansions of Infinite Things,” and it’s a seemingly endless landscape of tiny letters, from many alphabets and from every book imaginable, creating a surface topography that is frozen in time. “The Hidden Conference: On the Discontinuous History of Things We See and Don’t See” is a long title for a short 35-millimeter film shot in the storage room of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. It’s a poetic, noir-ish voyeur’s glimpse at what objects never got exhibited. The shelves of statues and sculptures seem to have a secret life of their own, some having ominous handwritten notes beside them, as if they were trying desperately to communicate with us.
Runa Islam’s third floor series, “dogs devouring horses,” is notable for its use of outmoded, oversized film projectors whose vociferous presence dominates the atmosphere as much as what they are screening. “Is it a shrine to the old machines?” I ask her. “No,” she asserts, “they are just a method of delivery. The still image is the heart of film. What is a film but many thousands of still images in a constant stream, and they help distinguish that. And the decades that these projectors were used was the seminal period of the evolution of film.” Her 35-millimeter film “Emergence,” using the largest of three projectors shipped from Germany, shows a photograph, taken in Tehran during the Persian Constitutional Revolution in the 1900s, of dogs eating the carcasses of horses. The image is actually a damaged glass negative that is bathed in a red darkroom safelight. It develops in the photographic chemicals until it gradually overexposes to black.
Islam’s ground floor preview is a 16-millimeter film called “Be The First To See What You See As You See It.” It shows a young woman dispassionately tipping over precious porcelain artifacts from their museum pedestals. Islam lets viewers decide how to handle the moral reality of what they’ve just seen. ARTER Space for Art is located on İstiklal Caddesi, No: 211 in Beyoğlu. www.arter.org.tr
The Empire Project’s eagle’s nest
The image of an eagle is on many nations’ passports and paper money. The eagle is a common symbol for power and cunning and swift kill of prey. British/Iraqi painter Athier Mousawi was examining his Iraqi passport one day and the eagle’s image inside it made him think about this ubiquitous “king of the sky,” as he calls it. “Many countries use the eagle -- just hold up a bank note and you’ll probably see one. We don’t question this imagery. Is it nonsense? Where does it come from? Is it represented falsely? And how would you destroy it?” he queries. His latest work is an exploration of these questions through the medium of black ink on white paper. His “The Birth and Destruction of an Eagle” opened at Poligon -- The Shooting Gallery on Oct. 4.
Mousawi’s large monochromatic screen prints are incredibly detailed ink drawings within a thick black border, including other rounded borders within, and many suggest the shape of an egg. “Like all eagles, this one must come from an egg,” he says. “And like all eggs it must be contained in a nest. But when the eagle is a lie that falsely represents power and freedom to a people, what would this nest look like?” These drawings show us. “And the journey within is quite intimate,” he reveals. Mousawi’s thousands of intertwined fine lines among the bold strokes draw us in for such a journey where even more questions and answers lie.
“The Birth and Destruction of an Eagle” will run only through Oct. 20, so venture down the cobblestone streets soon to The Shooting Gallery, identified by a large target on the front window. The Empire Project’s Poligon-Shooting Gallery is located on Serdar-ı Ekrem Cad., Seraskerci Çıkmazı, Aytemiz Apt. No: 1/1 in Galata/Beyoğlu.