Evliyagil Dolapdere is a new exhibition space in Istanbul for contemporary art steeped in multigenerational environmental and social consciousness. Beral Madra curated 'Choose Only One Master — Nature,' gathering multimedia works by 11 artists that thematically aligned with the 16th Istanbul Biennial
A rough wood sculpture gnarls upward from its winding, naturalistic trunk, smoothed with painstaking attention to the lines of its engraving. An unlikely blossom of tubular, oblong shapes ascends from its risen root, suspended with a surrealist sense of gravity. But using a lime shade of otherworldly, bright green, artist Nilhan Sesalan created, “Dream of the Wood” (2017). Its primitivist archaism, merged with contemporary vision, is akin to the work of Burcu Erden, or the monumental animism of Kemal Tufan. With forms reminiscent of the alien typology of H.R. Giger, and further explored by Memo Kösemen in his evolutionary fantasy, “Choose Only One Master — Nature” includes a mixed media on fixated canvas by Kösemen, also an author of research on the gravestone aesthetics of Turkey's Dönme. His show at Space Debris in early 2018 unveiled his prolific output, inspired by entomological fascination and a photographic memory. “Arferis” (2019), in Dolapdere, sets his invented creatures in a fictive wonderland. If artists could travel through time, and their works reproduce, the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and the filmmaking of Tim Burton would have a happy childhood raised in the imagination of Kösemen. Young people are the focus of Raziye Kubat, whose trio of mixed media works on paper follow a geography of earthly direction. Centered is a chilling portrait of climate activist Greta Thunberg, whose facial skin is boiling, as she looks with a piercing gaze across the museum floor at a red hot archival pigment photograph print on metallic paper. Ali Kabaş heightens the perspective, and curator Beral Madra placed his work up on the wall, craning necks. It is a powerful juxtaposition of images, the protruding nose of a plane thunders in view of the highest mountain peak on the planet. “Everest” (1999) is less an exciting panorama than a critical window on the vantage point of man’s having one-upped and conquered nature. Other children painted by Raziye Kubat have a less intimidating poise, such as in “Northeast” (2019), seasonally appropriate, where a triad of boys in winter wear surf mystically on the back of a whale in a seascape of powdery light. Kubat paints backgrounds with a talent for abstract expressionist texture. And her “Southeast” (2019) is contrasted with its emergence of sharp neon colors. Her linear strokes are loud, like the visual art of Miles Davis. Her shadows are subtle, and architecture exacting. The play of scenography continues in the oils of Eşref Üren, whose piece, “Environs of Ankara (Snow)” (1973) is a modernist miniature celebrating life in the Anatolian capital when its rolling landscape whitens in the subzero warmth of communal togetherness. Thin figures amble about between stands of yellow and blue trees, walking to and from green and red houses in an open, preindustrial countryside. Almost 50 years ago, when Üren painted the work on hardwood, Ankara was bucolic as ever, with its remote, familial pastimes. The environment across media Serhat Kiraz translated the Turkish word, “Yok,” which can mean simply no or also absent, as “non,” for his wood triptych, “YOK / non-...” (2019). The geometric precision of its unfinished paneling, impressed with darkened lettering and off-centered concentric circles places linguistic design in an earthy milieu. The rustic look of its renovated historicism pairs in contradistinction with a sculptural work by Handan Börüteçene. Fusing a tree fossil, organic glass and a metal wheel, the extraterrestrial mould of “Untitled” (2013) has a superhuman lure. The mood becomes macabre in the hands of Sadık Arı, whose ink drawings on paper approach the mastery of a medievalist enlightenment in the vein of Northern Renaissance engraver Albrecht Dürer. In arrangements of two and four, “The Raid” (2016) is a powerfully direct confrontation with human burial. From an empty earthen womb, to lain flesh, and finally skeletons, Arı, with his spare, dichromatic palette, details the integration of life embodied through the round of being, from potent emptiness, into animate form, and back to free space. In his series of naturalist dualities, “Diptychs IV,” photographer and graphic designer Ahmet Elhan entered the magic realms of waterfall ecologies. Within his portrayals, he frames his focus with overlapping geometries, similarly applied by Kiraz, yet without the circularity. And in common with Arı, his austere shades of black and white vary only slightly, but imposingly with a stark, artificial accents of faded digital beige and cold machine blue. By its contours alone, nature has a recurring profile in its infinite multiplicity of manifestations. A collagist’s reckoning of tree bark gives way to a vacant, internal expanse at its heart, suggestive of the female body beneath its core. The archival pigment print by Can Akgümüş, “Hider Series” (2018) closely observes the rough textures of anthropomorphic arboreality like a paper cutout, yet, like the works of Arı and Elhan, it is colorless. Its discernible form conveys the principle of nature as feminine, and so, subject to the toxic machinations of man. Finally, aged beyond death, its mythic seduction is petrified by a synthetic veneer. Known for her allegorical, indoor gardening, Sibel Horada adapted the basic shape of the landmark tradition of multilayered stone cairns, traditionally built by the indigenous peoples of the North American Arctic. “Shaped by Water” (2019), an installation of styrofoam, had Horada relaying the vast aesthetic gulf between superficial construction, and its symbolism, with that of the apparent chaos and artless disposition of the cosmos in relation to its individuated figments that, according to ancient myth, long broke from the holism of creation. In the beginning, the word In a primarily visual field, especially in exhibition spaces curated for the act of seeing, literary approaches are a welcome refresh from the ambiguity of meanings found through objects alone. Güven İncirlioğlu, of the Xurban collective, contributed a book, “past, simple: notes on a future catastrophe,” on display at the second-floor loft in Evliyagil Dolapdere. Printed in İzmir province in August, the work is a crucial addition to Xurban’s house philosophy. Founded in 2000 as a transatlantic project with New York-based artist and researcher Hakan Topal, İncirlioğlu translates his expertise in art theory and photo-mechanical materials to ecological literature. In certain ways comparable to the linguistics art of Elmas Deniz, “past, simple” is the result of a year-long work-in-progress, detailing notes by the artist, with ambient imagistic cues, on the sociopolitical topics of neoliberalism, environmentalism and urbanism. “Through consumption, the object becomes ephemeral,” writes İncirlioğlu, an apt lead from which to approach the final piece of “Choose Only One Master — Nature”, behind a back room, out of view, but through the entering of multiple interiors. There are two “Untitled” (2012) works by Handan Börüteçene, both made of a lemon, pomegranate, lightbulb, glass bell jar and marble. It is through the looking glass of natural decomposition where the future emerges.