The dark arts: Ceren Erdem curates Ad Infinitum

Published 14.10.2019 16:11
Updated 15.10.2019 02:46
A view of Ad Infinitum curated by Ceren  Erdem, photo courtesy of
A view of "Ad Infinitum" curated by Ceren Erdem, photo courtesy of

At the contemporary gallery Dirimart, which now shares its highway valley of heavy industry and mixed neighborhoods in Dolapdere with the megalithic addition of the new Arter museum, senior director Ceren Erdem has curated a scintillating group show with an eye for the enigma of sight as self-reflection

A metaphysical space is aflame. Its conceptuality projects volatile heat. A crackling diffuses across the ether in an undying blaze as it chars the white cube soot-black. A bulbous shape burns upward against the wall, fading into an airy resonance from the low conflagration. Embers spill out over the bare, polished flooring. Gray ashes are scattered as they would be at the foot of a homey hearth, only to warn the public of an inferno, at once real and theoretical.

"Ad Infinitum" opens with a work titled, "Fire" (2017-2019) by Nasan Tur. In the broad daylight of urban chaos, as the Istanbul sun beats down relentless in the lingering fall humidity, Dirimart welcomes with a living painting, as the artist calls it, of fire and its destructive potential. While harnessing the power to set the building ablaze, Tur raises the tensions of power in relation to control.

In his essay, "Curation as Creation" for the forthcoming Oct. 24 issue of The New York Review of Books, critic Jason Farago delights in a timely reevaluation of the role of the curator as an artist. With a sharp, historical frame, he puts curators in their place, tracing their roots to the salons from where they started to emerge into more formal exhibition halls, later galleries and museums that lionize their names as fountainheads of creativity.

"In fits and starts, the professional curator arrogated responsibilities once held by the artist, the collector, the historian, or indeed the critic, becoming the figure who assigned meaning and importance to new art: someone the art historian Bruce Altshuler has called 'the curator as creator,'" wrote Farago, who profiled curator Harald Szeemann as having "positioned the curator as an active agent in artistic creation, perhaps even an author or an Über-artist."

Erdem concocted an inspired curation for "Ad Infinitum" by choosing to play Sarah Morris's "Abu Dhabi" (2016) video loud enough so that its soundtrack is heard throughout the exhibition. Screened around the corner from Tur's "Fire," the 68-minute piece resounds to epic proportions, rhythmically akin to the layered Philip Glass compositions that accompanied the 1982 experimental film, "Koyaanisqatsi."

And in certain ways similar to the celluloid techniques of Ron Fricke, Morris also provokes arresting visual drama out of the contrasting patterns of naturalism and urbanism. "Abu Dhabi" offers a distinctly mesmerizing artistic field of inquiry. Shot during the National Day celebrations of the United Arab Emirates, Morris chronicles the rapid modernization of the oil state from its desert isolation to hosting foreign dignitaries, and most recently, retrofitting for a cleaner world.

The elements of beauty

From the "Fire" of Ad Infinitum's infinite beginnings to the "Air" (2015) of Ayşe Erkmen, captured in her series of mouth-blown glass discs, Erdem evoked the fundamental principles of material emergence in the universe, as echoed by human hands. Erkmen's life's work is exhibited in a mini-retrospective on the second floor of Arter's new museum, a short walk from Dirimart. The curation of her art enjoys ample prominence in Istanbul's revitalized Dolapdere.

Eleven transparent plates, clear and lime-hued, alternate in pyramidal order. The work emphasizes the transformative presence of the wall, as a defining aspect of spatial decisions, or curations. Against the outer world, the fire blazes, forewarning and protecting. From its anterior, the chemistry shifts its natural expression. The fragility of the glass and the visibility of the air bubbles caught inside entrain the eye to feel the dualism of power, the softness of its opposite.

Jorinde Voigt, a multidisciplinary draftswoman based in Berlin, further ventures into notions of tenderness in the physical realm, using the medium of feathers as a structural surface from which to enter into more abstract, cerebral manifestations of her art practice. Educated in philosophy and modern German literature, Voigt impresses carton with ink, chalk, pastel and graphite to create a textual, numerical backdrop for her piece, "Synchronicity II."

Erdem has a special gift for curating diagrammatic verbalism with more immediate stimuli such as color. "Ad Infinitum" is an inviting gesture, a round of introductions by the campfire punctuated by narrative hints of dramatic beauty. She offers a self-guiding palette of overlapping focuses, a compass of cyclical directions, some face-to-face, like Voigt's work against the mixed-media "Light of Memory" (2019) series by Ebru Uygun, and others side-by-side.

A mortal meditation

The flesh-colored neon glow emanating from a piece by Sarkis, titled "Spine of the Issenheim Altarpiece by Grünewald" (2017), intermingles with literal brilliance beside a print on a vinyl covering, the only transparent glass wall inside Dirimart. The adjacent piece by Lucia Koch, "We Had Enough," injects the main room with fiery radiance. Reputed as an art world trickster, Sarkis hung a tiny crystal skull on his installation for a particularly chilling, macabre effect.

The rectangular geometry of the work by Sarkis references the 16th-century altarpiece, "Crucifixion" (1512-1516) by sculptor Nicholas de Haguenau and painter Matthias Grünewald, installed in France's early medieval Isenheim Monastery. His electrified, copper-flanked plasmatic neon tubes radiate with gathering intensity within the curatorial sphere of Tur's "Fire" and Koch's "We Had Enough." Its hellish tone is attended by a woodcut of text on the work's art history.

Another young, Berlin-based artist, Alicja Kwade, conveys oblique optimism to the dark ambiance of "Ad Infinitum." Two stainless steel hoops encircling pairs of stones and stools, titled "Eigenbahn," infuse a sense of everlasting motion. She does not jolt the show into a sudden, sunny disposition, but seamless weaves within the cryptic plane. Her life-size bronze sculpture, "Malus Fularum," depicting a rotten apple, complements the undead aura of burnt architecture.

At the farthest end of "Ad Infinitum," a performance art video plays on a loop. "A Prologue" (2017) by Taldans is an exploration of dualistic repetition and the counterintuitive pleasures of its endless diversions. Conceived by artist duo Mustafa Kaplan and Filiz Sızanlı as part of another work, "Victory over the Sun" (2017) possesses apparent minimalism that unravels at its backstory's first reading. Adapting the first Russian futurist opera, written in the movement's experimental Zaum language, the third and last live presentation of the work will be held on Nov. 9.

The premiere of "Victory over the Sun" at the 21st Istanbul Theater Festival in 2017 marked the 15-year anniversary of Taldans, whose style is distinguished by the merging of the artists's engineering and architectural backgrounds. From the organic contours of the body, disciplined by timed, choreographed movements, they point, gently yet insistently, to the heart of industrial existence. And by foregrounding Russian futurism, Erdem's trail-blazing curation rolls to a full boil.

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