FEEL­ING IN EX­ILE ON EARTH

Nearly ev­ery two sec­onds, some­one must leave home due to con­flict and per­se­cu­tion, says the UNHCR. Ap­prox­i­mately 68.5 mil­lion peo­ple are forcibly dis­placed. In re­sponse to such an un­prece­dented tragedy, Çe­lenk Bafra has cu­rated 18 works by four artists fr

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - MATT HAN­SON - ISTANBUL

ZILBERMAN Gallery in Istanbul is show­cas­ing an in­ter­na­tional group ex­hi­bi­tion ‘An Ex­ile on Earth’ cu­rated by Çe­lenk Bafra. Eigh­teen works of artists An­to­nio Cosentino, Manaf Hal­bouni, Hiwa K and Zeynep Kayan will be on dis­play un­til Feb. 2

OUT­SIDE on the street, the tramway runs along the wide, pedes­trian Istik­lal Av­enue, bustling with the sale of treats and trin­kets. Hawk­ers shout in Ara­bic, lur­ing young­sters with glo­be­trot­ting fam­i­lies in tow for an ice cream cone, ir­re­sistible even in the dead of win­ter, es­pe­cially when play­fully pur­veyed by smil­ing men in em­broi­dered vests and fezzes, cloth­ing styles a cen­tury out­dated. As soft snowflakes fall in slow-mo­tion un­der the Thra­cian sun­light, cold rays bounce off the neo­clas­si­cal fa­cades of by­gone Greek res­i­dences and Euro­pean es­tab­lish­ments, glo­ri­fied by semi-in­door hall­ways named af­ter his­toric Ot­toman ter­ri­to­ries and adapted from the an­cient ar­chi­tec­tural form of the stoa, with its gilded mar­ble since ren­o­vated to a lus­ter.

The proud­est com­mer­cial drag in the city where East and West meet ap­pears eter­nally peo­pled to the brim, all the more so in re­cent years as waves of Arab-speak­ing mi­grants, in­clud­ing some half a mil­lion Syr­ian refugees, have called Istanbul home, of­ten be­fore con­fronting harsh re­al­i­ties be­hind the prom­ises of uni­ver­sal hu­man­ity and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity in north­west­ern Eu­rope. The multi-cen­ter busi­ness com­plex in­side the Mısır Apart­ment stands or­nate on the rel­a­tively calmer pas­sage along İstik­lal which, in Turk­ish, means in­de­pen­dence be­tween the 15th cen­tury Galatasaray High School and the me­dieval Ge­noese port of Galata. The build­ing’s ex­otic ti­tle, “Mısır,” is from the Turk­ish word for Egypt and the Ara­bic for gar­ri­son, de­not­ing oc­cu­pa­tion in the land of the Pharaohs by set­tlers from the Ara­bian penin­sula.

There are two sep­a­rate rooms on the sec­ond and third floors in­side the con­verted apart­ment build­ing where Zilberman Gallery houses rel­a­tively mod­est gallery spa­ces to ex­hibit con­tem­po­rary art. It is a charm­ing, fash­ion­able cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion in Istanbul’s core, which un­der the di­rec­tion of founder Moiz Zilberman for 10 years and run­ning now also en­com­passes a sis­ter an­nex in Berlin. The art on view in its cham­bers has that char­ac­ter­is­tic, moody in­door light­ing that both ster­il­izes and trans­forms the still air into a place meant to plumb the depths of cre­ative in­quiry, led by minds per­pet­u­ally tasked to shift the par­a­digms of in­di­vid­ual iden­tity, in­tel­lec­tual work, and in­no­va­tive cre­ation, man­i­fest­ing new con­cepts of be­ing and per­cep­tion for foot­sore au­di­ences prepped for change in an in­creas­ingly in­ter­na­tion­al­ized world of bound­aries that fluc­tu­ate be­tween ob­struc­tive fix­a­tion and to­tal dis­so­lu­tion.

In gen­eral, it is the case that the spe­cial­ized worlds of con­tem­po­rary art, par­tic­u­larly the realm of in­door, neigh­bor­hood gallery ex­hi­bi­tions, are one of the last fron­tiers of un­abashedly pub­lic, process-based work, mostly con­ceived by ed­u­cated spe­cial­ists and life­long prac­ti­tion­ers of cer­tain hands-on meth­ods to in­ves­ti­gate the na­ture and ef­fi­cacy of com­mu­ni­ca­ble, in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tiv­ity in the in­ter­est of cul­ti­vat­ing provoca­tive, op­po­si­tion-in­formed thought. These in­ter­per­sonal val­ues and modes of civil so­ci­ety are paramount in a cap­i­tal­ist-driven, na­tion­al­ist-or­dered world, where pop­u­lar growth is de­fined by the con­sump­tion of ready-made ar­ti­facts man­u­fac­tured by a de­creas­ingly hu­man, cul­tural en­gi­neer­ing.

A GLOBE OF MIS­FITS

Ex­ile be­gins like an ab­strac­tion, its roots sup­planted, by def­i­ni­tion, into a con­cep­tual re­al­ity de­fined by loss, to­wards an ideal, le­vi­tat­ing as it were, sus­tained by in­vol­un­tar­ily un­set­tle­ment. An­to­nio Cosentino, whose sig­na­ture, flat-stemmed cac­tus marks his “Un­ti­tled” (2017) char­coal on paper, al­ludes to a com­mon mo­tif in, “An Ex­ile On Earth,” with his fo­cus on a loaded ve­hi­cle. A ghoul­ish car­toon of a skele­tal, hu­man fig­ure reaches out from the trunk, en­cum­bered by the clut­ter­ing cargo. With his sub­tle, crafty touch, Cosentino drew an am­bigu­ous type of au­to­mo­bile. It is not clear where the front is, or the back, or if it is even ori­ented to a grounded, bi­nary sense of geo­graph­i­cal di­rec­tion. Be­side the sim­ple sketch, his mixed me­dia, “Map” (2017) out­lines a fic­ti­tious wall con­structed west of the ar­chaic city of Con­stan­tine, plac­ing the cur­rent, geopo­lit­i­cal mo­ment as com­pa­ra­ble to a level of de­vel­op­ment that was com­mon in an­tiq­uity.

The se­ries that fol­lows is by Zeynep Kayan, also a Turk­ish artist whose works seem to com­ment in­di­rectly, more the­o­ret­i­cally, on themes that be­come life or death for the com­pa­tri­ots of the artists whose works are cu­rated at the heart of the ex­hi­bi­tion. Hal­bouni, for ex­am­ple, cre­ated in sol­i­dar­ity with the plight of his fel­low wartorn Syr­ian na­tion­als with his “Nowhere is Home” (2015-2017) and “Mon­u­ment” (2017) se­ries. And ul­ti­mately, Hiwa K re­turns to the en­dan­ger­ing mi­gra­tion path and ex­tin­guished ur­ban mem­o­ries of his Kur­dish Iraqi ori­gin story with his grip­ping pair of videos, “Pre-Im­age (Blind As The Mother Tongue)” (2017), and “A View from Above” (2017). In a clev­erly framed se­quence of 18 stills from her se­ries, “Stud­ies for stay­ing in the mid­dle, or chang­ing quickly from one state to an­other” (2018), Kayan vi­su­al­izes the ex­is­tence of phys­i­cal di­viders as a sys­tem of op­po­sites open to whole­sale rein­ter­pre­ta­tion.

A bar­rier that would block a per­son from view, and from move­ment, is not an ab­so­lute, Kayan might ar­gue, but one of many proofs sug­gest­ing the in­nate mal­leabil­ity of ma­te­rial and the abil­ity to sense and re­in­force, or re­de­fine, its re­al­ity. Her video, ti­tled af­ter the same se­ries as her pho­to­graphic work, an­i­mates her con­vic­tions in the way of a per­for­mance. The face of a lone per­son is un­seen, un­framed. The body demon­strates, on be­half of all, the contours of hu­man en­clo­sure, it be­ing a func­tion of per­spec­tive. The gallery then broad­ens into a spa­cious suc­ces­sion of in­vi­ta­tions into the mak­ings of mul­ti­me­dia ob­jects and acts of in­stal­la­tion based on the pri­macy of the ideas that con­ceived them. While cre­ated for distinc­tion, the art­works are not in the least di­vorced from worldly con­cern. They might even prompt its re­di­rect­ion.

The first edi­tion, fine art prints of snap­shots from the “Mon­u­ment” se­ries by Hal­bouni are as glar­ing as they are imag­i­na­tive, re­fresh­ing as they are avant­garde. Any de­vice to en­cap­su­late his ef­fect is doomed to dis­ap­point, as words fail to con­vey the pres­ence of coach buses turned up­right be­fore the ar­chi­tec­tural splen­dors of the Maxim Gorki Theater and Kun­sthaus Dres­den in Ger­many. The in­stal­la­tion and its im­pres­sions as prints give lit­eral, ma­te­rial weight to the many over­ar­ch­ing spec­u­la­tions that have emerged fol­low­ing the EU mi­grant cri­sis. With its front end point­ing to the heav­ens, the buses might sym­bol­ize the idyl­lic stargaz­ing of mi­grant dreams, to as­cend north, be­come mo­bile, eco­nom­i­cally, to stand tall as hu­man be­ings, strong, vis­i­ble.

Where au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy is seen as a source of Ger­man na­tional pride, to baldly dis­play bus me­chan­ics in the con­text of mi­gra­tion in iconic pub­lic spa­ces in Ger­many is to stress that by bring­ing such tech­nol­ogy to the greater world, it is no won­der if peo­ple abroad use it to how they will, seek­ing to wield such power at its source. “Mon­u­ment” could be seen as a metaphor for the out­stand­ing, reper­cus­sions of Euro­pean col­o­niza­tion and the lat­est gen­er­a­tions of post-im­pe­ri­al­ist hege­mony that con­tinue to strain Western Eu­rope, as for­mer sub­jects of its em­pires, and equally vic­tims of its for­eign con­flicts, re­it­er­ate the time­worn say­ing: all roads lead to Rome, now to Berlin, Paris, or Lon­don.

THE WAN­DER­ING EV­ERY­ONE

The emo­tional pulse of “An Ex­ile On Earth” is nar­rated by Hiwa K, whose videos are deeply mov­ing. “Pre-Im­age (Blind As The Mother Tongue)” is writ­ten with pow­er­ful orig­i­nal­ity and per­son­able frank­ness in a voice-over mono­logue. “Feet are never based,” says K, em­pha­siz­ing the fun­da­men­tal ne­ces­sity of move­ment as es­sen­tial to the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. The artist bal­ances a pole stretch­ing up­ward with an ec­cen­tric web of mir­rors, as he walks through name­less ter­rain over­land from Me­sopotamia, through Tur­key, to Kavala, in north­east­ern Greece, and down through Athens and the tent cities of Pi­raeus, into a vague ren­der­ing of Italy, ob­served askew as from the weary, sur­vival­ist eyes of a mi­grant come from the far-flung, em­bat­tled reaches of the Mid­dle East, as K had from Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gion.

“Pre-Im­age is in­deed a cen­tral piece for me, I even wanted the artist’s voice / sound / nar­ra­tion to be dif­fused in the en­tire space to in­vite / call the au­di­ence, and ac­com­pany the au­di­ence, through­out the ex­hi­bi­tion space,” wrote Çe­lenk Bafra, who en­joyed the chal­lenge of work­ing within the Zilberman Gallery space in Istanbul as her small­est cu­ra­tion yet, since she mostly col­lab­o­rates with mu­se­ums and bi­en­ni­als. “I don’t think the ex­hi­bi­tion is about the mi­gra­tion cri­sis. It’s rather about be­ing an artist and liv­ing as an artist in a world with con­stant mo­bil­ity and mi­gra­tion.”

Manaf Hal­bouni, "Mon­u­ment" 2017.

A still from "Pre-Im­age (Blind As The Mother Tongue)" (2017) by Hiwa K.

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