Viewers narrate architecture and nature in 'You Tell Me' exhibit

İREM YAŞAR
Published 11.09.2019 00:24
The artist’s paintings, photos and installations in the exhibition make the audience rethink nature and the environment.
The artist’s paintings, photos and installations in the exhibition make the audience rethink nature and the environment.

Canan Tolon's creative works from the 1980s to the present are currently being exhibited at Istanbul Modern. Displaying the artist's unique, expressive and technical pursuits, ‘You Tell Me' ranges from drawings and photography to paintings and installations

Canan Tolon's first solo exhibition in Turkey is being held at Istanbul Modern, Turkey's first museum of modern and contemporary art. Curated by Istanbul Modern's Director Levent Çalıkoğlu, the exhibition provides audiences the opportunity to rethink nature and the environment as well as architecture and culture, which today impact not just the artist but humanity in general in many aspects. It presents a cross section of the artist's work from the 1980s to the present.

Tolon is one of the most original and creative artists of her generation in terms of the rich variety of her research and her intellectual breadth. After receiving her baccalaureate in philosophy and literature from the French High School in Istanbul, Canan Tolon graduated from Edinburgh Napier University in 1976 with a degree in design. Tolon went on to study interior design at the Fachhochschule in Trier, Germany, completed her degree at Middlesex University in London, and earned a master's in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley in 1983. Her works have been included in various national and international collections and featured in several exhibitions, both in Turkey and abroad. Canan Tolon lives and works in Istanbul and San Francisco.The exhibition brings together important examples of the transformations and developments in Tolon's art while also presenting recreations of some of the artist's installations that have already secured their place in the history of art.

Traces of nature and architecture

Canan Tolon's artistic practice centers on nature's continual renewal and on the traces left by architecture as a cultural enterprise. Tolon designs an intellectual and visual world around the mutual impact and resistance between nature and architecture, and the contradiction and consequences borne out of their encounter.

Tolon's experimental works leave the viewer undecided about whether the images they see are real or illusory, challenging them to question if they are photographs or paintings. Incorporating natural materials such as grass seeds, water and coffee grounds in her work, the artist lets nature come to life by setting metal pieces on her canvases and leaving them outdoors to let the elements transform them. Traces of time thus become an important starting point for the development of her paintings.


Canan Tolon, "Untitled" (1998), mixed media on canvas, 196x414 cm.

In the opening ceremony of the exhibition, artist Canan Tolon explained the contextual framework of the show. "By giving this show the title 'You Tell Me,' I'm implying that I don't want to be the one who does all the talking, that I'm leaving the narrative to the viewer, and that I'm also listening. Because the exhibition features works that I created 30 years ago alongside new ones, it allows me to view my works from a certain distance. In a sense, the coming together of old and new works places me in the same position as the viewer and the new works thus become more open to free association. Even abstract painting, while rejecting narrative in visual art, cannot prevent it because, after all, we cannot think of an artwork independently of its viewer."

The Istanbul Modern Director and exhibition curator Levent Çalıkoğlu also provided a brief presentation on Tolon's art. "Spanning 40 years, Canan Tolon's unique artistic practice springs from a deeply personal impulse but ultimately concerns and intrigues all of us, and belongs to a world whose limits we all endeavor to describe. In the exhibition 'You Tell Me,' I've attempted to transport to the present Canan Tolon's memory of the works and moments, and to contribute to her selection by taking into account her other works related to these contexts. Not only have we brought together close to 150 of her works, we have also recreated her notable installations that have already secured their place in the history of art. In particular, we have taken a new perspective in presenting the drawings that led to her installations. We searched private collections for her canvases, whose seeds were planted perhaps 30 years ago and are still alive today. Our temporary exhibition halls spread across two floors were thought of and arranged as installations in their own right. You will notice that each floor has its own distinctive layout, conceived through taking into account the relationship between past and present."

The exhibition also has a catalog published in both Turkish and English. It comprises of images of works featured in "You Tell Me" alongside an essay by Çalıkoğlu presenting the conceptual framework of the exhibition. Furthermore, an interview conducted by Evrim Altuğ with Tolon gives details about the art of the artists. The exhibition catalog and a selection of products inspired by the exhibition are available at the Istanbul Modern Store.

Parallel workshops for youngsters

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Istanbul Modern Education and Social Projects department is organizing art workshops for children and young people as part of educational programs designed for different age groups. Exhibition tours organized for school groups use puzzles to introduce the children to the artist's career, the materials and techniques she uses, and her production processes. On the weekends during the exhibition, the workshops "Living Still-Life," "Fairy-Tale Maps," and "Surprise Results" will be offered to children, who can participate alone or with their family. Various events related to the works will also be held throughout the course of the exhibition.

In an atmosphere filled with pressures, Canan Tolon depicts the human processes of transforming and reforming nature, and the chaos, conflict and uncertainty they cause. Her work can be viewed at Istanbul Modern until Feb. 2, 2020 in the exhibition named by the artist herself, "You Tell Me."

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