A sculptural ascension: The rise of art in Maslak

Published 30.07.2018 23:10
Updated 30.07.2018 23:12
“Metropolitan Comfort” (2018) by Bülent Çınar in the foreground, “Existence” (2016) Furkan Depeli in the far bottom right.
“Metropolitan Comfort” (2018) by Bülent Çınar in the foreground, “Existence” (2016) Furkan Depeli in the far bottom right.

There are 25 sculptures in the 10th Terrace Exhibition on the rooftop of the elegant, world-class Elgiz Museum, which opened in 2001 as Turkey's first contemporary art museum. Until Oct. 28, the current show, ‘From Another Hill' muses on the pitfalls and exaltations of Istanbul's materialist highs

The mammoth undertaking of having installed 225 sculptures by 140 artists since the first Terrace Exhibition atop the Elgiz Museum in 2012 has nearly matched the surrounding heights of vertical construction in one of Istanbul's emerging skyscraper districts, a place called Maslak, known for its layers of outdated, 20th century industrial government factory buildings often converted into inexpensive, artist studios, such as for the distinguished class of visionaries represented by Pg Art Gallery, who have furnished a bustling, inner city circle of creative action remote from its base in the downtown core, and all in high style with ongoing popup fetes amid private jumbles and neat curations of indefinable genius.

On the scaling horizon of the corporate zone that incessantly places itself on lofty pedestals of exorbitant steel, each uniformly-windowed, rectangular facade of the historic mills gradually climbs upward along the sloping, workaday periphery before a towering, reflective core of clanking of steel beams heaved by soaring cranes, whose cacophonies are accompanied by the droves of mechanical engineers who detach and combine the moving parts of motor vehicles, constantly excavating and resetting the tangible, founding principles of modernism that perpetuate the runaway pace of present life into the disentangled mass ruse that has maintained the order of the day since the invention of automation over 200 years ago, soon followed by the exponential, worldwide prevalence of artificial movement.

In contrast to the dominant, hyper mobility-based paradigm that besets and fires the contemporary worldview, there lives an unallied variety of wandering seers, those rightly named art lovers who take on every guise, from chic fashionista to cerebral introvert, as they practice a more stationary exercise in consciousness, by traveling through actual space in person to look directly at structures of novelty that forego practicality to advance purely conceptual aesthetics. There is a secret, timeless beauty that unfolds when truly grasping new art through the emotive faculties of sight, to perceive an authentic figment of reality whose meaning is not preordained, to peer through the physique of its sculptural embodiment and admire a work for a time unmediated by the itch to popular distractions, such as to possess it instantly by snapping a smartphone photograph, or to evade it by instead spitefully critiquing the loud ostentations of the unnatural setting, or to be attracted to whatever prestige may come with the artist's precedent.

From Another Hill, the 10th Terrace Exhibition at the Elgiz Museum, on display until Oct. 28.

It is an unsettling custom for most, when the consequence of a deceivingly simple act as innocent and open-hearted seeing has the power to revolutionize daily, commonplace perception towards a vital embrace of visible difference in the world, and to affirm every individual's right to actualize the peculiar mental activity of personal expression with the shared, objective universe. Sculptors are initially metaphysical engineers who root the primacy of the creative idea by building objects for the purpose of connecting souls, as opposed to repeatedly manifesting the needs and logistics of the body, as is regularly performed heavy-handedly to the detriment of the environment, polluting not only the air, but the sound and look of a thoroughly obscured nature.

The season of the moment

The renowned sculptor Seyhun Topuz is among the earliest generation of contemporary Turkish artists within her chosen medium, shared by other living legends like the Maslak-based Kemal Tufan, and Günnur Özsoy, whose most recent solo exhibition, "Memories and Letters" bears uncanny formal resemblances to the abstract aesthetics that Topuz has lately shown from Gallery Nev Istanbul to the 4th Mardin Biennial, as well as for her current show on display at Sakıp Sabancı Museum, titled "In the Memory of Kuzgun Acar" inspired by her late colleague.

Topuz is a member of the Elgiz Museum's advisory board, and so has overseen the impressive decade of Terrace Exhibitions, which she respects for its singular attention to young artists in the sculpture departments of Anatolian universities. It is the case that Elgiz Museum's Terrace Exhibition series offers the public, and the arts scene in Istanbul, one of only a few exclusive opportunities to show large-scale, outdoor sculptures in a richly curated, group setting accessible to the public in a way largely unprecedented for the metropolitan culture's relatively disparate agglomeration of mostly small, indoor galleries.

"It's of utmost importance to mediate the dialogue between public sculptures and children, adolescents and adults in today's society; in order to revive and enrich daily life by internalizing and embracing public sculptures," she wrote, to mark the tin occasion of the tenth exhibition, "From Another Hill." In another ceremonial essay, Prof. Nilüfer Ergin commented on the widespread and persistent issue of artist sustainability and lack thereof, especially as it relates to sculptors in Turkey, where resources and teachers are limited, never mind the adequate funding to lead a full life dedicated to the creation of plastic art. "When we consider the lack of places for bronze founding or workshops that specialize in sculpture production with wood, metal or stone; the insufficiency of masters and education personnel in this field who are able to support all phases of contemporary sculpture; the significance of the Terrace Exhibitions become substantially precious."

At an upstanding distance

Although a ways from the center, the Elgiz Museum is a few skips from the İTÜ Ayazağa metro stop in Istanbul, where a more hardy, well-informed flaneur separates from the globalized pack that revolves in blissful ignorance around the crowded middle of Eurasia's most blistering, nautical concrete jungle. Past an entrance promenade littered with archaist reinventions of ancient sculpture, along with futuristic impressions, the artistic ambiance prompts a healthy bout of midday contemplation in the shade of the behemoth edifices all around, many half-skeletal and dangling with unsecured frames.

A sleek elevator moves up a story and a half, as out of Charlie Kaufman's surreal cinema, through a multiplex interior of halls outfitted with a liberal bounty of curatorial vistas, passing a collection by Sevda and Can Elgiz on permanent view that has grown since the 1980s to feature a hot team of young, international artists, like Azade Köker, Tracey Emin, Hiroshi Sugito among countless others whose mixed media ventures color and texture the halls and mezzanines with a proud scope of stylized perfectionism and experimental anti-formalism, broadly enlightening the Turkish psychological landscape with a staple institution dedicated to free and independent public appreciation for fresh, and surprisingly avant-garde creative work.

While many of the artists at "From Another Hill" were born in the 1990s, there are a few veterans like Bülent Çınar, whose exacting metal work, "Metropolitan Comfort" (2018) is charged with a human figure contorted in the vicious circle of urbanization, as the generic, rusty personal likeness is shot through with the spires of the cycling skyline, reminiscent of the Hindu belief in reincarnation, conceivably a metaphor for most people who are hopelessly locked in the earthly snarl of death and rebirth, attached to the bitter reality called Samsara, ultimately giving reason and faith enough for believers to search for the means to escape the closed wheel of insufferable existence. Departing from there, Caner Şengünalp, erected his piece, "Where Did I Lose You, My Trampled Fantasies?" (2018) in stone and bronze, topped with the fine, minuscule sculpture of a man holding a pillow in his arm, ready for a grand exit from the citified life.

Şengünalp's is one of the special pieces at "From Another Hill" that work exquisitely with the elevated air, as the high-rises encircling provide the appropriate, dramatic reflection for a grand, emotional effect, inviting intimate seers into a subjective experience, to become absorbed in its diminished figure. After staring up with a sore neck, the voluntary exile braves a downward gaze in straightforward pursuit of an exit, no matter how unmarked, sunless, dim and low to the ground. In that spirit, the up-and-coming sculptor Furkan Depeli produced a precocious masterwork in sparkling Kemal Pasha white Bursa marble, titled, "Existence" (2016), of a man, weighed by semi-cubist blocks that protrude from his body as he lies curled up in fetal position, as one buried alive, yet seeking rebirth from the dry, stony womb of modernity's lingering, burdensome materialist dystopia.

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