Artists in Their Time

Written by Ömer Erdem

Istanbul Modern’s new collection exhibition “Artists in Their Time” is inspired by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, a most prominent figure in Turkish literature.

Come close, close, close, closer, closer. Look at the back of that man with his arms spread wide open, uneasily going towards the depths of the sea. How tense. It is as if time transformed into a spring, and got stuck in his muscles. And turn your head right immediately, focus on the kids singing like chicks with floatation rings on their arms. It is not enough, take a step back, pay attention to the lovers holding hands. It is as if they agreed never to separate. How about that woman right ahead wearing a headscarf, bathing in the sea with her clothes on! It is eziapparent, she could not stay in the water for long. Was she scared? Her blank face erased time. This black and white photograph taken by Manuel Çıtak in 2000 at Kilyos Beach, presents us the Istanbul crowd. If we stare a bit more, water might become uniform, Black Sea might get even darker, and turn into a sea cave of a city’s feverish pace of change. But since we are visiting an art exhibition titled “Artists in Their Time”, we should begin going beyond and beyond the photographs, paintings, sculptures, and artworks, and submerge into the free space of reading, thinking, comprehending, and interpreting. We must bring the time into our time.

Exhibition opened in Istanbul Modern takes as its starting point the words of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar (1901-1962), “I am neither within time nor completely outside of it, but in indestructible* flow of a uniform, extended moment…” and “focuses on how artists position their work and themselves as individuals within the concept of time”. Exhibition meditates on topics West-East, old-new, tradition and modernity. It offers an opportunity to follow the footsteps of time in Istanbul where change, constant change is an unconditional law. There is of course more to it: Anatolia and life in its entirety reflect on art’s, artists’ lens. This is why through Coşkun Aral’s lens, we see a gun fired with lust and its smoke. Middle East is on fire. In Neş’e Erdok’s painting, a bald-headed, tough young boy in a white shirt with his jacket thrown on a branch gives voice to rebellion on one hand, and maybe in fact despair. It is what it is: time is being desperate at times. And when we look from our standpoint, time is a burst and disintegration of emotions.

Experience of contemporary Turkish art naturally demonstrates our modern living and the pursuit, transformation and conflicts within that living. Art and time are issues on their own both in philosophical and theoretical contexts, and these in a way become concrete in works of art thus offering the viewer a simple and collectively comprehensible alternative thinking. Burhan Uygur’s work titled ‘Kapı’ (The Door), clearly bearing traces of traditional Turkish miniature art, is a typical and striking example in this respect. Here the door represents entering and exiting, being stuck, but more importantly it illustrates the zest of life arising from among motion and time. Time is not dead. In East, the homeland of death, it is not mortal at all. Yes, change is rapid, overwhelming and utterly intense however it is filled with sounds and colors too. What matters here is not Turkish art witnessing time, it is whether humanity perceives this witness state in due time and prematurely, or not.

The color and line festivity in Bedri Rahmi Eyüpoğlu’s painting inspired by Anatolian patterns aside, minimal touches of time are revealed on tea glasses placed on the red table. Details are adorned with hard beak of time bird as well as with its delicate claws. Just like in Avni Arbaş’s painting depicting fishermen going out to the sea, color and line knot in time, and hang in space like an evil-eye talisman. Photographs, video arts, sculptures both criticize and interpret the unmitigated and highly tense soul of change. With objects he collects from streets and walls, Burhan Doğançay generates some kind of “augmented reality” rather than an object from traces of time with his own reading. What we see is transfer of real to a surreal dimension. Adnan Çoker’s oval and purple touches in a worn frame, once popular now classic, should be regarded as the manifest of reading. There, time is like the setting sun.

The most gripping work in the exhibition is Erol Akyavaş’s political and futuristic work in which he abandons tradition and embraces modernity. Vertical lines trying to reach up like letter aleph, reminds one of a time fence at first; scribbles at top inspired by Islamic inscription assume a nebulous state, question its own period, connect to soul flow. What is cyclical is at the same time submissive. So are Komet’s scattered matches and Şahin Kaygun’s fantastic drawings. Time is not auspicious anyway. As we step back and listen to the sound of our hearts, as we go deeper and deeper into the works, realizing that time and the great change in us persist without slowing down and embrace us immediately in the first street we enter, must be a proof of the transitivity between time and space. Artist’s time is not confined to the artwork, it actually becomes a part of our existence after we visit the exhibition and see the artwork. Time is living.

In addition to texts on artworks and artists, collection catalog in Turkish – English for “Artists in Their Time” exhibition features articles in overlapping contexts by guest authors, art historian and critic Ahu Antmen and literary historian and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar expert Handan Inci. Antmen focuses on modernization and interaction of generations in Turkey through concept of time. Introducing Tanpınar through a biographical narrative, İnci deals with concept of time with references to writer’s works.

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Ömer Erdem

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