A solo exhibition at Ferda Art Platform in Istanbul’s swanky Teşvikiye district offers a delightful visual assemblage of daily objects rearranged to a surrealistic sculptural effect, simply evocative in its spatial creativity
The ghost of Marcel Duchamp haunts the streets of Istanbul. His silhouette disappears five floors up in the storied Ralli Apartment of Şişli, where, for over a decade, long lines have formed to enter the Syrian Consulate. But above its world-weary concerns, the logic of the ordinary is flipped on its head, as the modern art concept of readymade assumes a localized Turkish air in the deft hands of artist Şakir Gökçebağ, whose inventive sculptures perform magic tricks with the normative appearances and functionality of everyday, domestic objects.
A net, strung with clothespins comes to project an exotic naturalism, something among palm trees and calabash gourds. It conjures tropical scenes of fishermen hauling mounds of striped scales, their fins and tails flapping in the humid, balmy vision of waves and workers. But the materials are liable to be found in an office drawer. It is their suspension, and the patterns of their repetition that provoke the imagination to tip the scales of wonder just enough so normality is exposed as a thin, even transparent layer of awareness.
The artist, like the poet, is a seer. They impart the gift of sight, not merely physical, but toward the merging of the intellect with that of the eye, to see, anything, more consciously, more creatively. It is part of modernism’s escape from the confines of canvas frames and sculpture mantles on which so many busts and portraits have lionized the Western canon to a deliriously self-congratulating effect. Arthur Rimbaud said it best, that the poet, equally the artist, is a visionary after a “long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses.”
One of the first interventions that Gökçebağ effected in the decidedly white cube space of Ferda Art Platform was a spatial normalizer, placing tools used to measure the straightness of walls and fixtures with that bubble floating between lines to indicate exactness, levelness, the total bore of sensual perfection, flat and ready, already made. Gökçebağ has overstepped the boundaries of the readymade, returning its artistic potentiality to its roots in sculpture, but also further, in dialogue with traditional Turkish crafts.
To be a still shape
In the contemporary art vernacular, there is what is called a gesture, which is different from a notion, altogether separate from an idea, and twice removed from that overriding principle of the concept. They are characterized by the performative resonance of installation as an extension of the artwork. To open, “Redimeyd,” for example, there is a work by Gökçebağ entirely consisting of coat hangers, tacked to the wall as such, and even furnished with someone’s jacket, just for that finishing touch.
The coat hangers form an “X” shape, somehow impractical when considering the alphabetical aesthetic in contrast with the linearity of its standard usage. There are two coats, hanging from the tops of the piece, for the symmetrical impact. And across the room, on the other side, is a veritable optical illusion of brooms, sliced sidelong and placed successively, conducting a sense of movement, however, still by the accent on the modified shape of the cleaning utensil. Its dialogue with emptiness, or clarity, is, in that sense, apt.
Straightway toward the back of Ferda Art Platform entering the gallery, is a trio of works reminiscent of Bauhaus textiles whose color schemes and geometric patterns unfold out across the contiguous halls of Redimeyd as it encompasses special reinterpretations of the Turkish rug. In certain homes across Anatolia, these ancient carpets are displayed, not merely to cover the floor, but also as wall decorations. With a mind for negative capability, Gökçebağ cut into a variety of rugs, splaying them out, almost as if they were pieces of paper.
In one corner, the hems of a rug are all that remains, except for a single strip that goes through its body, off-center, though absolutely in line with the angular exactitude of the building’s architecture. Like the piece with the brooms, there is an optical illusiveness to the work as well, as it occupies a degree of realism of its own, subjecting the space to its quirks as its lines are in direct dialogue with reference points that the eye would make to stabilize its seer within the blank whiteness of the gallery cube.
As a thought is rethought
The snaking tendrils of one carpet, carved into a single squiggle, has transformed the traditionalism of a folkloric craft into an abstraction of high contemporary art, playing with the choruses of reason that stigmatize change in the face of total metamorphosis. But there is a proud essence of the carpet’s magic at work yet, in its configuration, captivating as the art of paper marbling, resonant with its mythological spirit among the fairytale ambiance of its origins in legends.
Another altered carpet work dances, inanimately, with special fascination, as it is exhibited almost entirely intact, with only two fine incisions through its core, which, piecemeal then wrap around its rectangular body to form galactic spirals. The motive quality of the piece stands in contrast with the other works along the same lines, which have more of a fixedness. They are not so much “ready-made” as they are adjustments of the customary objects, both as they are used among the vocabulary of domesticated modernity and that of undying tradition.
One room is dedicated to an installation of machine-manufactured metal soup ladles. There is a line of nails on the wall, with which they are held up, their handles sticking out in various directions. The sensibility of the exhibition surpasses linguistic interpretation and has an abstract sculptural drift, which is enough to smile at and walk away having had an encounter with familiar objects lightened out of the gravity of their daily use by the art context. That, then, is the role of contemporary art as it plucks its lovers out of quotidian monotony.
In 1917, Duchamp had a studio in Manhattan where he kept many of his ready-mades, including the “Bicycle Wheel” (1916), and a coatrack piece titled, “Trap” (1917), which might have been a direct influence on Gökçebağ. Duchamp was repulsed by the idea that art would be pigeonholed to a single sense perception, namely sight. He called it “retinal art” and wanted to challenge the prevalence of handmade goods as part of the mainstream definition of art by foregrounding the fruits of factory labor. Gökçebağ has continued that conversation with “Redimeyd,” accenting the cultural relativity of ordinariness as it is expressed in objects.