Treading light on the exhibition map with only a single show, held in Istanbul's uptown neighborhood of Teşvikiye in October 2016, the Istanbul-Copenhagen arts duo Kunstrukt has since maintained its distinctive stylistic voice and intercultural signature in person by workshopping around the world and with a sleek online presence, virtually exhibiting new, hybrid series in experimental photography and mixed-media sculpture from Beşiktaş to Noerrebro out of homey studios. Deniz Ozlu emerged from her studies with a more plastic arts background in sculpture, prompting the "Deconstructed Book" series, which they have since refashioned into salable poster art, although initially invented as a variety of post-literate sculptures made from maps and guides of Copenhagen and London to the effect of scrambling the touristic sightseeing view of cities while redefining literary materialism. Lone Eriksen approached the collaboration with more photographic training to examine the subtleties of collective perception, refreshing the contexts in which urban space is appreciated from afar and close-up in an era of cheap flights and selfie destinations, as in the "Spectacle" series.
Together they mix and match techniques and disciplines to slow popular perception toward an appreciation for what is essentially the photograph of the photograph, the book of the book, to reframe the visual narratives of global consciousness. They have a sharp, definitive focus as a pair of minds forwarding a truly internationalist perspective beyond the bounds of media and travel, even of culture and history to a more all-encompassing vision of contemporary artistic work. Kunstrukt inspires a powerful, pro-youth aesthetic and an ageless attitude that breathes with an authenticity born of the core personal relationship behind the collaborative duo.
Ozlu and Eriksen have matured and grown as artists and as people through frequent correspondence and occasional visits between Turkey and Denmark over the years to adapt projects and schemes furthering the platform they continue to develop. Named after the Danish word for art: Kunst, mixed with the English verb: Construct, they relay a playful neologism to stir up a more imaginative, democratic reevaluation of the role of art in the midst of a domineering worldview propped up by industrial nationalism. Through cross-cultural workshops to encourage new ways of seeing, interpreting and representing capital cities in the 21st century, Kunstrukt recently traveled to Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, in June of last year to work with a groundbreaking feminist NGO called Mawjoudin (We Exist) that supports diverse minority communities and individual self-expression across the Middle East and North Africa.
The Art of Friendship
"When we were studying at Goldsmiths we became friends, but we also had this professional connection, being active creatively, going to see galleries. I always wanted Deniz's opinion and she wanted mine. After a couple years I went to visit her in Istanbul, and we were both still busy with separate ventures. We realized that we wanted to do something together. How do you do that when you live in different places?" says Eriksen, reminiscing on her early days as a photography student in London around the time when she began her friendship with Ozlu before Kunstrukt. "In the beginning it was about exchanging ideas. We wanted to do creative workshops. Then we realized we also wanted to collaborate as artists. We had these two different elements. In a way it's two sides of the process that you go through as an artist, how you work with creativity, and how you develop a project. We come from different worlds. I was more into straight photography. She was more in the design world, working with objects. We try to fuse both."
The "Spectacle Series" (2015 - present) by Kunstrukt is the result of collaborations between Lone Eriksen, who studied photography in London, and Deniz Ozlu, who is a concept development professor at Bilgi University.
Since the duo met, Eriksen has traveled to Turkey on many occasions, and Ozlu has visited her in Denmark often as well. Looking out over the two very different cityscapes of Istanbul and Copenhagen, the artistic spaces where Eriksen and Ozlu create, organize and discuss offer unique windows into the meaning of cultural extremes, which Kunstrukt considers with dynamic originality. The industrial horizon of Noerrebro where Eriksen keeps her art and entertains guests is on the outskirts of the Danish capital's historic downtown, inhabited by an ethnic mix of migrants, where Arabic businesses are advertised over African communities who walk through dense cold fronts lowering from the humid gray skies of the North Sea. In the environs surrounding Dolmabahçe Palace, on the other side of the spectrum, traditionally and modernly in Istanbul's trendiest quarters where affluent Turkish families identify as multigenerational Europeans, the gilded lettering of an Ottoman fountain shines through Ozlu's apartment, equally scattered with Kunstrukt series posters and artistic experiments, a world full of question marks to the creator submerged in a wishing well of unfinished pieces amid the raw visualization of new ideas also mirroring the floor and walls of Eriksen's place too. To see where Kunstrukt lives in the Istanbul of Ozlu, and the Copenhagen of Eriksen is like walking into the same room. They are clearly kindred spirits, former university pals and old souls on a shared path through the nonlinear world of hard-earned eurekas and methods of madness.
"Our friendship started by sharing critiques which is a big part of the process. It's hard to find people, even in that aspect of art and design in general, to give feedback, who understand and give opinions about how to develop new works. When we were studying that happened very casually and we kept up the dialogue, the conversation. She was first in Istanbul for a couple of days to talk and meet. We were both interested in the same themes. We are different people but we have a similar perspective. It's still developing," said Ozlu, who teaches concept development at Bilgi University, and began her academic career at Parsons University in New York as a design student. "We always need to find a way to be out there. Both the 'Deconstructed Book' and 'Spectacle' series flourished together. They each have our layers. It's our process. We experiment and share it in stages even if we aren't in the same place. She was working with the books and photographs, and me too. We finished them together."
Ozlu and Eriksen are not necessarily thinking about Kunstrukt as a commercial platform. They echo each other when expressing that they wish to
stay small, as a collaborative project exclusively between them to explore the cities, techniques and the works they are producing. Ultimately, it is about remaining authentic to the original visions, and to the personal relationship. In the "Untitled Diptychs" and "Interior" photography series, for example, sharp motifs are conveyed to realize a sense of being human in creative symbiosis, as its portraits reflect the beauty and complexity of doubles like the leaves of an open book. And more, especially in the "Book Portrait" work the two-sided photographic art and literary sculpture elements are joined. The piece affirms the harmonization of artistic discipline and of collaborative idea generation when formed over the course of a timeless friendship made during formative years.
A Dialogue of Two Cities
"Istanbul has a grotesqueness. Copenhagen is almost perfect," says Ozlu with a laugh, emphasizing how Kunstrukt underlines the personal relationships that people have with cities, despite the mass mob tendencies that would pigeonhole individual experience into the cliches of commercial advertising. "With the name Kunstrukt and in the works that you see it's our dialogue deconstructed with the fragments of what we took out, highlighted, and re-observed. We create them in layers, according to how they appear to us. It comes from a dialogue between Lone and I. It happens through a time period over meetings, through images, objects. Both of us will not force an opinion. We allow viewers to see what they want to see. The core of the subjects are the cities, but it's a collage about what we want to highlight."
"We did a series of posters after book sculptures, one based on an old book about Copenhagen and we found these guidebooks in charity shops. They didn't have much relevance anymore, you know, a guidebook from far back. It had totally lost its value. We wanted to make it into a book sculpture. We've been doing that with six different books," says Eriksen, who wonders with fascination as to the exact inspiration for much of the Kunstrukt artwork, considering its source in a collaborative brainstorm across Europe. "We're from different places so there's this idea of culture, and the contrast of being here and there. What is a symbol of a culture, or of a place?
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