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“An amusing paradox: the autonomous work of art rejects décor, yet ends up as decoration on the wall of a room. When people buy a painting, they immediately wonder if it will go well with their couch.”
I never cared much for the chic, decorative typefaces, pages of imperial gardens, semicolons, pause marks, solfege books in his earlier works. I won’t lie: set on pages inscribed in Arabic, the call for legibility in the Ka’bah image from a flower he emblazoned merely four years ago was vexatious, pornographic; this is where I stand, read me as such.
I was startled to see the panels to be hung in the exhibition space. They conveyed another dimension—the idiosyncrasy of the panel, the image, the material; rather than provoking, engulfing, or even pushing away the eye, the panels were introverting, withholding their light, unfolding neither in, nor outwards, creating an unsettling space between concave and convex, positive and negative, opening a door from and unto themselves. I have always believed that the realms of possibility questions are impregnated with are more valuable than answers; the panels intrigued me. The earlier flowers, the illustrative, designative imprints of yesteryears from book pages and door wings were present here as well. Yet, similar to bodies settling into their graves after death, they were nestled in their canvasses, covering themselves with the passage they opened from here to thereafter. The canvasses were akin to the moss-grown, sprouting interior of a sarcophagus absorbing light once the lid was pushed ajar; much like a sarcophagus, the borders were defined. Gilded on thick linen, light was oxidized. Applied craftily, patiently, ungrudgingly with grids and schemes –a meditational effect: integrating the production technique into the technical end-product– the flowers were coated with layers of varnish; yielding a sense of hot plastic pressing, the canvas was becoming tarnished, impermeable, and the amber-like dried flowers were burying their own light and past within. Fossil panels, key rings of dried bugs embedded in plastic, dead butterfly ornaments, curiosity cabinets.
A visual quality alluding to tombs: first the sarcophagus, then the coffin, the green cover, and next, brass balustrades, carpets on the floor, tiles on the walls. Welcome to the tomb of Sufi saint Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi. A production technique recalling Ottoman tomb ornamentation: the stylized stems, leaves and flowers of various plants; rose mallows, peonies, jonquils, freesias, and other dried flowers meandering with chinoiserie (hatayi) spirals of serpentine movement. Flowers becoming transparent and opening their petals insofar as the style demands while their vertical cross-sections are taken. Different areas of intensity converging on the same plane. Each layer serving as a curtain to the one below. The nature of a garden transformed into fabric, clothing, curtain, cover. A system of texture rising four, five, even more layers, calling for intimacy and closer scrutiny. Rhythms, sometimes becoming prominent, giving way to a more concentrated sweep, and, at other times, left behind. A textural gloss between slip and silicon. Fathers of the Orthodox Church referring to color as anthos, signifying both flower and brilliance. An ornamentation extending from the lotus motifs in the caves of the Sincan Province the Uyghur Turks called Bezeklik to Kubadabad Palace and the tombs of rose-smelling sultans of the Ottoman Empire, reunited with the anatomical plant cross-sections in pathology museums, and conserved within the canvas. Still-life aquariums amalgamating water, steel, glass, and formaldehyde, coupled with the tradition of sous-verre (under-glass) technique. Chinese scenes from a mushroom opening between two panes of glass; Chinese teas transforming into landscape by the pouring of hot water. Canvasses packed in their own flesh without bursting out of their packages or letting their content overflow, remaining flawless and cool to the touch like a snake in its coldness. Insatiable touches that fail to grasp the pleasure of the texture on the flatness of the surface in its transition to the whole. A visual quality that supersedes the tactile.
With its specks, undercoating, flower miniatures, and technique that recalls colored glaze, a centuries-long craft that touches the autonomy of canvas known as a work of art. Never a décor for the performance of the actual scene, as it adorns the beautiful and beauty-loving Allah, but an ornamentation that nonetheless reunites with the decorative, as it once did in the early years of the Safavid rule in Iran, not to mention other places. An art prepossessed by the decorative, always on the border of kitsch, pointing to its own contradiction, and resuscitated by dilemma and tension while attempting to act like the bearer of reality ever since the execution of the first portable oil paintings hanging on the wall like background music behind the main actors in front, with ladies pouring themselves wine and gentlemen sipping whiskey at their office desks. Instead of drawing in and holding it, a stage décor that pushes the gaze to the setting and context in which it exists, never becoming the real protagonist. South Americans, Northern Europeans, Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, Jorge Pardo, Daniel Buren, and others who have played with this paradox of the artwork since Matisse. Amidst this dilemma is Erdoğmuş, who confines the transmissibility of the decorative to the transparency of his own hiatus, exhausting the gaze without becoming the protagonist, reducing it as he exhausts: stuck between layers that extend from shallow to profound as it strives to reach into the depths of the surface, an eye that fails to capture the vanishing and focal points of this dense stack between concave and convex, negative and positive, whirling around panels as it gravitates towards the gentlemen, the ladies, the mimics, the gestures in the setting, looking for what will appear. Yet, rather than gliding down a glazed tile particular to tomb decoration, it is a gaze hooked by the silicon opacity of the panels, working against the ornamentation effect and needs to be lifted slowly like eyelids drooping in the heat.
The flatness of depth. A deepening stack that brings together areas of varying intensity when viewed from different distances. Appearing flat from the stratosphere, the profundity of the earth’s surface frozen in its own atmosphere. The abysmal flatness of looking from above. Yet, there is nothing to be seen beyond the apparent. Noting to be seen beyond what it reveals and conceals. A knife-edge equilibrium. Glances searching the interior and exterior of the canvas within the canvas itself, without finding the expected. Hypermetropic glasses with thick lenses. A dense, dark deepness that closes in on its layers instead of opening up. Each layer covering the one below as the silicon that evens out the layers creates a succession of positive and negative molds. The culmination in a state of visibility in which distance and space will be replaced by symbolic or denotive, pornographic puzzles in a single step. Yet, it is neither manifestation, nor expression, semiotics, definition. The signs and symbols of the Ka’bah are no longer present, never will be.
Between, through, and in the context of layers comprising the thickness of the canvas, an imagery taking shape insofar as the process and its stages permit during the technical production, transforming the context into construction, product, and outcome. A process rendering itself its own organ, its own link, connecting each onto itself. The canvas: image, link, organ, and body, all at once. Rather than serving as a connector, it is a medium through which the interior is linked to the exterior—the connection is simply key to the situation. It is not something that connects two or more things, the negative and the positive, or a certain direction heading towards a specific destination: the panel is the directionless, non-connective link itself. The connector is neither dependence, nor orientation. Only itself; the embodiment of the volume, thickness, obscurity that the canvas lays bare.
The desired and the imposed on canvasses. Accident and fate. Health and sickness. Art not touching the canvas the hand has touched. Holy relics. The chemical reaction produced by metal’s brush with acid, moisture, without art as the medium. Transmitted to another, substance predicating its context and connectivity; substance touching substance: the process of technical production. The process, not of prior forms, but of substance: the sanctity of process. A record of the transformations materials undergo in the process of technical production. Gilding on linen, followed by oxidation, corrosion, varnish. Silicon skiving, patinating the canvasses. Painting cloth and industrial materials: the organ of the image, the body of the image. The flesh of substance, material seen as absolute ambiguity. Art and non-art, randomness and obligation, applied arts and fine arts, thing and painting, functionality and aimlessness. Usability and uselessness. Autonomy in the truest sense of the word, without becoming a pure, unblended product: canvasses that need none other than themselves, not event a viewer’s gaze, reversing their own purpose. If a painting’s desire to be a painting is based on the viewer’s gaze rather than the object, then the basis here is not the gaze but solely the object itself: the panel that comes alive during the process of technical production. Like furniture in a space. Is it décor: similar only to a door, a chair, a celadon bowl. Like the indefinable positive and negative, male and female molds, aimless objects. The autonomy of objects. Whether or not to like and use them is a matter of preference. A stylized autoeroticism: like thermal insulation, a gaze-insulation system in the objectness of its own textural layers, touching itself and only stimulated by its own touches. A non-gliding, unfocused, absorbed, swallowed gaze-suction unit neutralized under silicon, immuned to being looked at, not finding anything to scrounge (Klee) upon seeing. The thing produced, repeated at studios: the sheer presence of canvasses, these indeterminate panels in a given space.
© 2021 Tayfun Erdoğmuş