─ Luísa Sol
Leylâ Gediz told me in April 2021 of how Lisbon’s Martim Moniz district reminded her of Istanbul; of a part of Istanbul. Martim Moniz’s geography is populated by immigrants from diverse places and cultures who, in living and working there, devise ways of living and new commercial, cultural, and social dynamics—but this area also represents serial urban reformulations, demolitions, reconstructions, and redevelopments. It is a place of more-or-less uninterrupted reconfigurations, performed either by the nature of the sociocultural mutations devised by the migratory landscape or by the spatial metamorphoses that result from how urbanity has been produced in this part of the city. The diversity found within its perimeter is guided by alterations and intensified by mobilities, displacements, and itinerancies.
This corner of Lisbon, which Leylâ moved to five years ago from Istanbul, functions symbolically and morphologically as a place that takes her back home; and the building on Martim Moniz Square (1973–1984), designed by architect Bartolomeu da Costa Cabral, is the place she chose to host Layer from Background.
We were stood around the central staircase at Centro Comercial da Mouraria as Leylâ explained to me how “this place really reminds me of somewhere in Istanbul. Even the smell is similar.” The aisles and whole interior of this shopping mall are constantly full of packaging; boxes of goods, empty boxes, boxes just arrived, boxes about to be carried off somewhere. While this accentuates the import-export movement and the transitory characteristics of the specific goods being marketed here, these piled-up boxes also act as agents of a constant interior reconfiguration of the space, ever in transformation, filled with or empty of goods, imprinting into the atmosphere a spirit of itinerancy that suggests notions of foreignnessand displacement which are, in and of themselves, conditions of permanent reconfiguration.
Boxes are also present in Leylâ’s imaginary both as an uninterrupted presence in her work and in the continuous, recurrent reconfiguration of her representative praxis, which repositions, readjusts, reformulates, recycles, retouches, re-represents, and paints over. For Leylâ, this incessant return to “finished” works is an insistent necessity: one where she can channel her sense of dislocation, where she can negotiate proximities, distances, and the intervals in-between them, where she can reflect on and internalize her own hesitations. Above all however—and in her own words—it is a “labor of love.” In a practice that revolves so much around details, restarts, fragments, additions, and removals, this expression ultimately synthesizes a geography of emotions interwoven with sensations and affects, materialized—and located—in the physical space of her canvases.
The Bartolomeu da Costa Cabral-designed building chosen for Layer from Background featured in the urban renewal of Martim Moniz that took place following the April 1974 revolution in Portugal. Serving to augment a set of routes across public passageways and arcades, these renewals transformed it into a building that, beyond simply accommodating enterprises and office spaces, also devises and facilitates liminal spaces.
Stretching from the foot of main hill in Mouraria to Martim Moniz Square, the building sought initially to group together and expand the relations and circulations between those two points, each with their distinct morphological characteristics. Costa Cabral aims at establishing “continuities with surrounding spaces and buildings, proposing new collective spaces continuing the city’s spaces and paths,” thereby weakening boundaries and lending Mouraria “new spaces of sojourn, relation, and participation.” Augmented by a principle of permeability and fluidity, it enables paths across itself, ramps that establish connections between segments, and relations of circulation among levels, regarding itself as a space that welcomes and redistributes; an in-between-space, a liminal space.
Layer from Background, the painting that lends this exhibition its title, reflects this same transition. A transition from one moment to another, or from one space to another. The groups of boxes—some stacked, some scattered across an empty room—are a reminder that a change is imminent, or that one has already come. It is about instigating a temporary time and space: “exile knows that in a secular and contingent world, homes are always provisional.” But feeling at home can also be a fleeting, momentary feeling. For Edward Said, the notion of exile is permanently tainted by the loss of something that has been left behind forever, irrecoverably. According to Leylâ, Layer from Background “is about what the removal of a layer can do to a painting.” This empty room full of boxes could be the expression of that distance, then; of that interval, that layer that is missing. In the intermittence between the space just departed from and the space arrived at, the doubt around a possible departure or the immanence of an arrival, there is one certainty: the fact that this representation refers to a space and a moment that is transitory. “Layer from background” is also the name of a command in Photoshop; corresponding to this abstract layer, it allows users to remove or add an image within an immense tabula rasa. It is a total emptiness, but also a total possibility. It is a matrix of white and gray squares that comes before all the montages, compositions, and imagery that emerge from this placing and removing of layers. But—whether in digital space or the physical space of the screen—what we seek to understand here is always the implication of eliminating layers: “The pathos of exile is in the loss of contact with the solidity and the satisfaction of earth: homecoming is out of question.” At its limits, exile is a condition or state of mind in which you can be exiled within your own country.
Depicting these omissions leads us, therefore, to something of a discontinuity, characterized here by an in-between, an interval no one is capable of explaining, a missing piece. And in this sense, it remains pertinent to mention that the place Leylâ chose as the temporary home of her exhibition is an architecture that defines itself as one “of continuity,” augmenting the “expanse” of and “circulation” in the area. It is a space that takes her back to Istanbul.
Intro II is a veil constructed from strips of canvas, cut out and hung in the main space of the gallery. It is the only piece in this exhibition that is not a painting; it is a curtain, or rather a canvas, that has been cut, divided, and torn. Intro II facilitates the veiling of the exhibition space but also its transposition, which consists of a permeable layer. Passing-between—passing-through—allows us to experience what happens to a layer that has been not deleted, but fragmented. Being transposable, this creates the conditions for a transition; in this sense, it is an element, a mobile architecture, that guarantees and extends the permeability, continuity, and dilution of the exhibition space.
According to Said, having at least two homelands allows for dual visions, simultaneous dimensions, and an awareness of what he has called the “contrapuntal.” The contrapuntal is here to be understood as the permanent coexistence of the place that has been left behind and the place arrived at, recognizing that “... the new and the old environments are vivid, actual, occurring together contrapuntually.”
Leylâ thematically addresses the world outside, transported back into her own studio. And it is there that her re-interpretation is performed, in the light of the objects scattered across her space. Boxes, fans, catalogs, waste materials, the packaging from canvases, the canvases themselves, brushes, jars, papers, bottles: from this space, she enacts, frames, composes, decontextualizes, and deterritorializes these elements—and deletes layers—translating and transporting ideas, sensations, and anxieties from external reality into her own personal micro-cosmos. This process emancipates a reality incubated within her workspace, projecting and re-organizing the world—or at least her world—with what is within her reach: “much of the exile’s life is taken up with compensating for disorienting loss by creating a new world to rule ... This exile’s new world, logically enough, is unnatural and its unreality resembles fiction.” This approach gives way to a doubly contrapuntal perspective: while some layers are removed from these paintings, a number of others are, simultaneously, overlaid. In addition, then, to the reality she left behind and the reality she arrives at, Leylâ augments the world outside with her inner world. And this collage of representations is—and I repeat myself here—“unnatural and its unreality resembles fiction.” And fiction is a sheltering space.
This sort of kaleidoscopic approach to reality—or realities—is also explored in Mnemonic and Untitled (Broken Egg), where vulnerability (a more or less constant notion throughout the whole exhibition) is exposed in the shards of a shattered bottle and a broken egg. In fracturing these two elements and exhibiting them in pieces, the layer that was lost—that of integrity—is resummoned.
And it is particularly in light of integrity that we must mention the set of cardboard prisms—the corners that protect the vertices of the canvases—represented in the painting Denizens. These elements—that also resemble paper planes—are shards that float (or fly) an uncertain path within this territory of non-belonging that is the canvas. They are, in Leylâ’s words, “like someone who is provisionally inhabiting a place”; she underlines that this painting is off-centered or, rather, that it lacks a center and is sprinkled with wanderings: “Exile is life led outside the usual order. It is nomadic, decentred, contrapuntal.”
In Who Killed Danijoy, a woman holds a rim of a car in a warrior-like stance; two boxes, a fan, and a poster are on the ground. Once again an empty room, but a rear door now opens toward a dark corridor.
With the feeling of deterritorialization we experience when not at-home, insecurity and vulnerability become more acute. The notion of security is vulnerable too, in precisely the same manner as the space we consider home: “Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons, and are often defended beyond reason or necessity.” It could be that the woman depicted in the empty room is not only defending herself against something or someone, but also claiming something: “what is true of all exile is not that home and love of home are lost, but that loss is true inherent in the very existence of both.”
In this context, what happens to a painting when a layer is removed from it? And which layer has been removed from this painting? Who Killed Danijoy contemplates immense and immeasurable absences. And it asks a question. In the end, it is an affirmation of a permanent vulnerability; “Because ‘nothing’ is secure.”
The Costa Cabral building’s proposals for continuity were also interrupted. Initially envisaging three blocks, only one part of the building was actually constructed due to EPUL—Lisbon’s main public urban planning body—declaring that it “didn’t much like” the project. But other spaces that formed part of the project—circulation areas, passageways and arcades, and public spaces like gardens and terraces—were likewise only partially built. Two of the several routes and walkways between Mouraria and Martim Moniz Square in fact had to be closed, owing to vandalism, robberies, and the accumulation of garbage. While the building had been intended as an agent of continuity, the dynamics of appropriation acted to arrest the intended paths and limit permeability.
What this demonstrates is that architecture too is vulnerable—and contrapuntal—in that it intertwines realities and perspectives; pertaining to that which is designed and that which is built, to the intentions projected for it and the mode in which it is inhabited, to the place left behind and the actual place we arrive at. In this sense, it is vital to seek an understanding of what happens upon removal of a layer—or layers—from a building, but also to explore what the removal of layers can do to life: “Exile ... is fundamentally a discontinuous state of being.”
What unites Layer from Background with Bartolomeu da Costa Cabral’s building at Martim Moniz Square is the capacity both have to create layers in the intervals between their (dis)continuities, allowing enclosures and relations to arise in their provisional spaces but, above all, to establish realities that arise between their parentheses, to welcome the fictions that emerge and which may, for the moment, inhabit there: for “there is also a particular sense of achievement in acting as if one were at home wherever one happens to be.”
 Mariana de Oliveira Couto, “The Building at Praça de Martim Moniz (1973–1984), by Bartolomeu Costa Cabral: a proposal of continuity,” Cadernos Proarq 34 (July 2020): 89.
 Couto, “The Building at Praça de Martim Moniz,” 91.
 Edward Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 140
 Said, Reflections, 137
 Said, Reflections, 142
 Said, Reflections, 148
 Said, Reflections, 144
 Said, Reflections, 149
 Said, Reflections, 147
 Said, Reflections, 148
 Said, Reflections, 141
 Empresa Pública de Urbanização de Lisboa [Public Urbanization Company of Lisbon] was the developer of the Martim Moniz Square building project.
 Couto, “The Building at Praça de Martim Moniz,” 91
 Said, Reflections, 140
 Said, Reflections, 148
─ Aslı Seven
April 2018, Leylâ Gediz composed an exhibition titled “Anagram” at a small artist run space, an apartment-turned-gallery in Istanbul.
It was composed of
A video, a montage of found footage and archival images, black and white. Accompanied by a well-known Turkish song of the 1970s titled “Do Not Forget Me”, the footage itself was fragmented against the grey-white grid of cubes, the background of the image editing software. The abstract grid of pixels grew and shrank, the found footage of a nostalgic past receded against the expanding, perforating grid, and then grew again asserting itself as a moving image against this background, and so on. The figure of the African-Turkish singer-songwriter Esmeray was present throughout the video, only through its absence, its traces on archival photographs; her body either blurred, or shadowed by its negative space, delineated by the software’s background image.
Installations made with brown and white sugar cubes, most of which were placed on the windows like screens. Windows became the pixelated image support; they also projected the grid in shadow across the walls and floors with the sunlight coming in.
The painting of a sculpture depicting an African woman, a found sculpture, an item left behind by the previous tenants of the house Leylâ had just moved into in Lisbon. I remember video images she shot carrying the sculpture in her hand against the backdrop of the cobblestone grid of Lisbon’s streets.
I understood Anagram as an expression of Leylâ’s recent displacement. She had taken herself and her family, parted with her hometown Istanbul and moved to Lisbon eight months prior to that exhibition.
In the three paintings based on the found sculpture -Obscura, Encounter I and Encounter II- and also in some frames of the video Parabéns, Leylâ’s hand is part of the frame: how to hold this connection, now? Which corner to grasp it from, which perspective to see this through? 
What tune am I singing now?
Displacement induces an uncertainty into the background/figure relationship sustaining one’s life and sense of self. This default relationship, constitutive of subjectivity, dissolves in displacement. You move into a new city, a new country, a new context and, for some time, you lose your sense of subjecthood. You become disconnected from your usual background and for a while, you are devoid of any supporting backdrop or reserve against which you can build and compose yourself as a subject. It’s as if the surrounding place and objects become subjects and you become an object being moved within their setting.
Parabenscarried a suspension. When you can no longer represent or perform your subjectivity – self as a figure – you feel yourself as an object. There is a momentary loss of affect, of the capacity to affect and to be affected. Hence the shout out, “Do not forget me”, but we know that the forgetting is already in place. It’s a tune that is played over and again, knowing that you are losing something, embracing it goodbye. I remember thinking in front of the video that composing this exhibition might have been Leylâ’s way back to composing herself as a figure. An attempt at a momentary recomposition.
What is the value of reading / writing an exhibition along this kind of biographical process? What is lost when we evacuate process and biography in the name of an evaluation that analyzes and classifies? Registering the plasticity of material in autobiographical terms. Subjectivity is always there as the matter of work, to be worked, concealed or recovered in form. Form and process are like visibility (le mur blanc de la signifiance) and shadows (le trou noir de la subjectivation). What is visible or sayable at any given time and place always exists against the reserve of all that is unsaid and unseen – the public secret, the fault line that runs through us and splits us. How do we sing and dance across the fault line?
Displacement does not necessarily occur through change of place. You can stand still at the same place and be displaced by the sudden erection of a wall or a regime change, or by a highway that runs through the land plot where your backyard used to be. This is not my beautiful house; this is not my beautiful wife. When the ground upon which you are accustomed to stand and to compose yourself as a figure is lost, the fault line that defines the realm of the sayable and the visible loses its certainty, in blurring, it reveals itself and as such, it slides into focus. A defamiliarization occurs, a strange strangeness. If suspended long enough in that transitory moment, we might perceive something – ourselves included - for the first time.
September 2019, the exhibition “Denizens” at The Pill seems to hold the answer to the question of how displacement, as an “epoche”, reflects back on the notions of place and community, placement and place-making, the setting of an unstable place, the settling and unsettling of a community across multiple places.
Coined in the mid-19thcentury in response to the growing international circulation of people and objects, the term denizen described a new kind of non-essentialist belonging that was independent of “natural” roots in the form of blood and/or birth right, to designate people and beings that belonged by simply living, inhabiting or frequenting a particular place:
A living being that has adapted to a milieu and became constitutive of it.
A regular at a bar.
A non-native species.
An assimilated barbarian.
A foreigner allowed certain rights (but not all rights) in their adopted country.
A legal alien.
An unfamiliar familiar.
Becoming an object of bureaucracy, like those polystyrene supports of packaging, in search of a category to fit in: refugee, migrant, expatriate, none of the above. How to dance and sing between a rock and a hard place?
More accurately and in legal terms, denizen designates a transitional state between “alien” and “natural born subject”, and projects into the world all the non-conformist, transitory and shifting modes of existence in relation to place, and positions itself in tension with the other, conventional and central term of the political citizen, putting into question and shaking the grounds of the sedentary habitus. Denizens relate to the diasporic paradigm, both in its dispersion, loss and links to neocolonial forms of dispossession, and its utopian potentials towards alternate, heterogeneous, decentered forms of community. No longer compatible with existing categories, and simultaneously accommodating and resisting assimilation, diasporic being is burdened with invention.
In Leylâ’s composition however, diasporic-being reaches far beyond the legal and political duality of citizen / denizen, to suggest a level playing field between objects and images, support structures and paintings, tool-beings and people. And the term “denizen” expands from the most bureaucratic sense to the realm of aesthetics.
Leylâ’s “Denizens” is about recomposing the world from the standpoint of what is usually held off the frame, in a painting or an image or in an exhibition, with attention directed towards what constitutes the support of painting as practice, maintained in displacement. It is about defining a place through the margins, taking as point of departure diasporic and nomadic realities carried by bodies, people, images, objects and tools alike, while bringing the frame, the mold and the software themselves to the center of focus.
A personal ethnography of the infinitesimal infrastructure that shapes and defines the possibility of a diasporic painting ensues, and reveals the ethnographer-surrealist in Leylâ – “Surrealism is like water”- tangled up in writing, composing and figuring herself through: logistics of transportation, moving in, moving out, carrying a canvas on a plane, the cardboard water glasses of Portuguese Airlines ornamented with the Lisbon cobblestone, stretcher bars of a canvas, the undercarriage of a bed, the undercarriage of a bathtub, the texture of canvas, the bed base (not the bed, but the base), Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF), the IKEA world of cardboard packaging, the understated value of compatibility, cardboard separators inside cardboard boxes, cardboard protectors of canvas corners, a drawing folder with shifting affective states and mobile phone charger cables we are increasingly dependent upon. All these “things” created to be compatible as supports, to fit with one thing, and one thing only, achieve full ontological status when freed from their subordinate position to the objects they were made to support, and gaze back at us as embodiments of a newfound incompatibility. They become closer and distant at the same time. They are the incompatible inhabitants, the unfit denizens – no longer useful and freed from their subordinate function; they emit animacy and agency through their “thingness”.
In Leylâ’s compositions these support structures and carriers are not only the main figures depicted on canvas alongside people, objects and scenes, they are also displayed as installations. Denizens emphasizes the grid and the wooden stretcher as material conditions of possibility of a canvas, of painting. The ground is thus brought to the fore, as “painting” recedes partially to the background; they are stretched together on the same plane. Unhappy Folder, a carrier of works on paper, hangs – almost swinging, and blinking to its oblique sister, Happy Folder– from the wooden grid the undercarriage of a bathtub provides.
In Erkete, we see the corner of a street, a makeshift neighborhood in the composition of superimposed cardboard boxes of oil paints and canvases that rest haphazardly on one another’s surfaces like building blocks in a shantytown, or an improvised barricade. The painting conveys simultaneously a sense of place and of displacement, and almost literally emits an installation in transitional state between an inversed IKEA bed base and Venitian blinds that condense the color spectrum of the entire exhibition. Erketereflects one of the central threads underlying the exhibition. A bed, by definition, is the elementary space of the human body, in horizontal form. It is the space of surrender and sleep, of intimacy and vulnerability; but here, it is unnaturalized, in vertical standing, as if prepared for movement, turned into a barricade or a shelter – “a place from which to keep watch or view the landscape”while remaining unseen. Erkete means lookout. It is a Turkish word from Greek origin that describes the watch kept, against getting caught in crime or being exposed. It is nervous and uneasy. It has something to hide - or thinks it does. Yersiz-yurtsuzlaşma ile köksüz bir yerini bulma arasındaki her yatış bir erketeye yatıştır.
By recalibrating the focus away from the centrality of painting towards the formal and material language of the support, of sustaining textures and stretchers, Leylâ partially erodes painting’s conventional authority and uniqueness. As multiples and variations abound, and as canvases lodge and dislodge themselves in installations and as fragments, an interplay of place and displacement, of presence and absence, of exploration and remembrance unfolds. “I am made of a thousand pieces.”
We are presented with variations on a theme in the twin paintings In The Field II and In The Field III: a gathering between four figures around a support structure – a railing – to be installed. The railing, a supporting structure here decontextualized and framed as the place-maker, draws its full performative potential in shaping a gathering around its twist and asserting itself as an active member of the temporary community engaged in searching for its place.
Composing a scene again and again is like playing a song over and over in loop because it affected you so much, to hold on to that feeling of having discovered something for the first time, with the joy and excitement of trying to but not yet being able to fully grasp it – unfinished, because completion would mean outgrowth, and why would anyone listen to a song they’ve outgrown? The two paintings create a magnetic field that expands in time and space, through two other works: Alegoria, where we see four figures again, moving and gathering around a wooden stick, but yellow-washed and removed in time and space, these are children playing on a beach – or are they alternate versions of the railing-gatherers? In the opposite direction in time and space stands In The Field I, through its absence, and opens the ground of the collaboration between Leylâ Gediz and Deniz Pasha, a performance to come inside the exhibition.
“Denizens” operates like a music record, an ensemble of tracks, samples, remakes and variations that interact with one another and create a force field between them to navigate, and yet the objects and scenes from which these tunes emanate remain withdrawn, removed.
History is here.
There is a thread that runs through “Parabéns”, “Anagram” and “Denizens”, which started with the abandoned wooden sculpture Leylâ found in her new home in Lisbon, depicting an African woman. This thread that lead to her collaboration with Esmeray, an Afro-Turk, unfolds now in Taliswoman and Sleeping Beauty, and gives way to her collaboration with Deniz Pasha.
From the woven and stretched texture of the canvas, we transition to the multifarious textures of a world fabric weaved by the threads of colonial and neocolonial violence, through all the ways in which Leylâ engages in a dialogue with African diaspora and artefacts, in Istanbul via Lisbon. From the Black Atlantic to the Black Mediterranean, denizens are denizdenler, from the sea, caught up in the passage of the sea, the space of movement, gathering and dispersion.
We speak of the unsayability of what she’s saying, the fault line of who owns the pain, and yet, who can pretend not to be affected by it. “The bloody catalog of oppression”. Where do we stand in this history of extraction of human bodies, cultures and land by dispossession? What happens to us when we become displaced – stripped from the illusion of identity, some things you can only see in dispossession, and you’re forever altered. Can we preserve the illusion of purity, in dispersion, as the diaspora we’ve become, is there any truth to purity, about us or about these histories we are now entering in?In the process of writing this, I keep remembering Fred Wilson’s Afro Kismet, and the face of Kuzgun Acar appears and reappears in my mind. Have we been kept outside of History? For how long have we refused to recognize this other in ourselves? What does “decolonization” mean to us, here and now? A blindspot in the peripheral vision of the last European Empire (the qualification itself being a ground of contestation), itself stretched like a canvas between the continental margins of all the old and new World peripheries, now entering its final phase of dispossession.
Entering an uncharted territory, to the question of how diasporic being affects one’s sense of place and belonging, one’s consciousness of history and one’s place within it, Leylâ answers by bringing it home. Mining her history – our history – of African bodies and artefacts, comes another move off the frame, an attempt at resuscitation. The ornamental African figurines depicted in Taliswoman and Sleeping Beauty both come from her family home in Istanbul where she grew up. Taliswoman carries the formal language of a search for the right distance – again, how to touch this, how to handle this, which corner to hold it from? – a photograph inversed to its negative, blown up and fragmented into a grid of A4 printouts, some of which appear partially erased by digital glitch, against the blank whiteness of half the canvas. The painting conveys a signal loss, an error in transmission, and simultaneously restitutes these objects in their unfamiliarity, or rather, their opacity. This is a painting, not of the figurines, but of the multiple layers of remove that lie between us and these objects, between these objects and their painterly depiction and as such, it reveals these artefacts in their right not to be seen.
Through these gestures of remove, of searching for the right distance, these objects appear to us as animate beings. Instead of being locked in a “botany of death”, they speak and compose and sing side by side with all the denizens Leylâ brings together in this exhibition as a gathering of intimate strangers that, maybe, belong not to a fixed territory, identity, race or class, but only to each other in their incompatibility and their resistance to naturalization.
A creolisation between Portuguese and the Arabic inshallah, Oxalá has a sensual twist in the sound world of Turkish, as if it was a command to touch: Okșa, Caress. In this transitional and translational space of multiple languages we inhabit, I hear it as an embrace of uncertainty, of not knowing, of trusting and becoming with the flows of things, but conditioned on touching – on letting your body enter into contact with realities and bodies that are “other” – a kind of touching from a distance, of touching the distance itself. Which is what Leylâ attempts at, touching and being touched by History and the present of diasporic being, wayfaring through a texture of the World full of violence, hope, pain and joy.
*This text relies on conversations with Leylâ Gediz, Jacques Ranciere, Martin Heidegger, Donna Haraway, Lynn Margulis, Timothy Morton, Luca Guadagnino, James Clifford, Edouard Glissant, Bruno Latour, Deleuze and Guattari, Tim Ingold and many others.
Encounter Iwas part of “Anagram”, OJ Art Space, Istanbul, 07-29 April 2018, while Obscuraand Encounter IIwere displayed as part of “Parabéns”, Akinci, Amsterdam, 24 November 2017 – 13 January 2018.
In choosing to paint this scene, Leyla draws multiple references embracing one another: The scene actually depicts the process of installation of a railing model originally designed by Swedish architect Sigurd Lewerentz, and reinterpreted by Mike Cooter for a collaborative exhibition with Tomás Cunha Ferreira in the Azores Islands. There is a line between this referential embrace, and the one depicted in Umarmung, a couple walking in the streets of Lisbon – a memory from her first visit to the city a decade earlier – also embodied in a second canvas embracing the one holding the painting.
“Black Atlantic” refers to the title of Paul Gilroy’s seminal work, and the more recent term of “Black Mediterranean”, to Alessandra Di Maio. Both studies attempt at opening to the multiplicity of African diaspora as caught up in the passage of the sea as the founding moment – it is not in an African “home” nor through citizenship rights and integration, but in the very moment of passage through the sea that the African diaspora appears in its full historical and epistemological potential.
Fred Wilson’s Afro Kismetwas an installation focusing on the depiction of African figures in paintings from the Orientalist collection of Pera Museum, 15th Istanbul Biennial, 2017. Kuzgun Acar (1928-1976) was a leading figure in Modern Turkish sculpture of Libyan origin on his mother’s side.
For the right to opacity as the right not to be seen, and also the links between violence and ‘distancing’, seeEdouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, University of Michigan Press, 1997.
This quote is from Chris Marker, Alain Resnais & Ghislain Coquet’s 1953 film “Statues Also Die” on African Art under colonial gaze: “When men die, they enter into history. When statues die, they enter into art. This botany of death is what we call culture.”
Leylâ Gediz’s show “Serpilen” (an unusual Turkish word meaning something that blooms as it is dispersed) was a poetic rendition of her studio, a distilled portion of her work, a pristine and spiritual space created by paintings and some of her working environment’s “clutter,” as she puts it. All became part of a total installation—not a grand, socially loud one, but a quiet contemplation of in-between moments and the intimacy of objects, of lives shared or interconnected, in which viewers could create their own stories through what they saw.
Gediz’s works have always been thoughtfully studied and composed. Her paintings use a limited palette of mostly grays, pale blues and pinks, and black; her drawings of everyday objects are meticulously refined; her installations project a layer of meaning beyond the obvious—a question, a sense of wonderment about what has happened or continues to happen. She tells stories with coolly charged details that are personal and inclusive at the same time. At the Pill, her oil-on-canvas paintings of cardboard boxes (Untitled [Boxes], 2016), candles (Doctrinaire, 2016), wooden stools (Serpilen, 2016), a supermarket receipt (Resistance, 2016), a table with a mirror (Palmyra, 2016), and a portrait of a man seen from one side (Rip Curl, 2016) were minimally rendered and faintly hued. But they reverberated with a strange intensity that was further enhanced by the surrounding memory-filled “clutter,” such as fiber cement planter boxes (Nisilden Nesile [From Generation to Generation], 2017), stacked tires with a large teddy bear on top (Peekaboo, 2016), beer cans and a metal chain (Zor Zamanlarda Sanat [Art in Hard Times], 2016), a bed covered with gessoed canvas instead of sheets (Untitled [Bed], 2017). A sense of connection among all these objects was undeniable; from any point in the space, the paintings and the objects together suggested a story, or stories.
In this way, the show was a testament to Gediz’s conceptual approach to painting. For her, a painting is not just two- or even three- but four-dimensional, adding time past, present, or future: One could venture that there were once plants in the tin boxes, that the snuffed-out candles were once lit, that someone was or would be moving since the boxes were taped up. Explosion, 2016, a painting of a wooden artist’s mannequin with one leg broken below the knee and seemingly about to stumble out of the canvas, coupled with a frame shaped like a shelving unit, is a study—and perhaps an overcoming—of the limits of pictorial representation. Gediz questions both figure and frame. In the black, gray, and white painting Default (Self), 2016, the lean female figure bent forward is repeated in continuum toward an endless background, suggesting digital layering.
The work used as the poster of the exhibition (Le Connaisseur, 2016), is a portrait of an art dealer Gediz read about in a Life magazine from the late 1950s. The picture shows a man looking at an abstract painting that apparently earned him a fortune, even though he bought it very cheaply. This was the one work in which Gediz deliberately commented on the financial side of art: She has put a divisive white streak between the painting within the painting and the man. Histoire universelle, 2016, which depicts part of the spine of a worn-out copy of a volume from the 1913 Histoire universelle illustrée des pays et des peuples (Universal history of nations and peoples), may be another timely comment. Big conflicts and new world orders shake the earth, but beneath the superfluous ambitions of nations and peoples runs a sadness and a joy that only art can tap. Gediz neither condemns nor laments this world, because even though it may seem to be crumbling, it still grows richer in details.
- Mine Haydaroğlu
Elhamra Han // December 19, 2015–January 16, 2016
Occupying an unused office space on the second floor of an early 20th century building on a busy pedestrian street, “Self Help” brings together paintings and drawings by friends Leyla Gediz and İnci Furni, as well as a video they produced collaboratively in 2011. Despite their urge to keeping the installation as modest as possible, the artists made a major intervention into the space: They carved out door-sized holes that now link three adjacent rooms, which enables a smooth flow that takes the works beyond individual gestures. At first glance, the exhibition looks clinical: Lit by bright white lights, the works are sparsely installed and use color minimally. Yet “Self-Help” is a personal, intimate exercise between the two artists—it stands out as a contemplation of resilience through working and mark making together.
Warfield, 2001, an early painting by Gediz, consists of a canvas that sits on four wooden legs resembling a fence, cultivating the sensation of watching a war scenery right outside one’s confined space. Gediz applies repetitive cartoon-like imagery of bombs, cars, and flames against a black backdrop without specific connotations of a time or place, anonymizing the event of war itself. Her recent work January 19th, 2015, presents a similar gesture of abstraction, with a rusted chain painted against a black background. The reddish rust forms on the chain’s rings where they connect—invoking a sense of corrosion, a slow destruction, an injury. Here, the title gives away a particular historical reference: the date of the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul in 2007—a day now defined by collective mourning.
While Gediz takes on the ruptures in recent history, Furni toys with the idea of singular landscapes. In Tea Glasses, 2015, she draws a stack of thin-waist tea glasses in the center of a sheet of paper, leaving a white, empty space on the sides. Watercolor’s weak and graying tones add to the elusive quality of her take on the subject. Furni’s gesture creates a banal fragment of daily life, and favors a basic mark making over the act of pushing an ordinary object to the limits of its formal potential. A Strange View, 2015, furthers this approach. Twelve watercolor drawings are attached to the wall in a flimsy yet delicate manner, grouped in two columns that reach down to the floor. They feature a repeated geometrical pattern and clusters of forms, silhouettes that look like crowds. In contrast to Gediz’s lucid, realistic lines, Furni’s marks are dabs, lines, dots, and splashes, which move between the loose, gestural, and the controlled, simultaneously cultivating familiarity and strangeness.
The works mentioned here are placed on different heights, generating a sort of fluctuation, a wave, that reflects the ways of working together. Here the major risk is getting caught in a formal exercise. Yet Self-Help, 2011, a video tucked away in the back room, provides a center of gravity, suggesting that the artists view the exhibition as a platform to work and heal together. The 9-minute video documents the pair sitting in a moving train, playing with a ballpoint pen. In lieu of words, Furni’s poignant acts and Gediz’s discreet gestures complement each other. Furni flips the pen, plays with it like a paper plane, and stabs the table with it, changing the rhythm—similar to what she does in her drawings. Gediz, on the other hand, seems more cautious: She draws lines on her face and hands, and drags the pen on the glass window, trying to capture the shifting, fleeting landscape. The artists here work to cope with the interwoven ideas of loss and self-betterment, and “Self-Help” underscores their urgent desire to capture or make marks from that which disappears or unhinges itself.
– Özge Ersoy
Övül Durmuşoğlu, 2012
If we were to read Leyla Gediz’s paintings as frames from a silent movie in which Gediz objectifies her relations with people and things around her from her life, what would the soundtrack to this film be? No doubt Gediz, whom we know is quite a music aficionado, will have various responses to this question. Maybe because I feel a different sense of melancholy at each of Gediz’s exhibitions, my response would be Edith Piaf–who has lived life to the full and turned disappointment into strength through her singing. While personal states and positions wane, in the short circuits generated by the introverted İstanbul contemporary art scene, Leyla Gediz is one of the few artists with the integrity to not refrain from constructing her own mythology with her controlled painting grammar* generated from the stories she experiences.
I say controlled grammar, yet at her most recent exhibition, “Coming Soon,” I encountered a Leyla Gediz who, as much as turning herself to the future, at the same time pursues an archeology of the relationship she formed with painting thus far. While installing in the space at Rampa–where she is exhibiting for the first time–Gediz has allowed leaps in her carefully conducted narrative sequences that we are accustomed to from her previous exhibitions. She expressed a desire to reveal where forms flow or alternatively freeze when examined through the painted medium. Gediz–who has been exploring where canonic art historical forms such as portrait, landscape, and still life can be disrupted–this time questions first and foremost how and from where she can produce ruptures within that grammar of expression which she herself has worked diligently to develop.
While conceptually cohesive and experimental series such as “5 Days Buenos Aires” (2011), “We Almost Met” (2011), “Coming Soon” (2011), and “Ideal Family” (2011) transform Gediz’s painting from relational objects to a relational medium, the question of performativity–a constant on the artist’s agenda– ties the product to the process and is reinforced as a significant point of discussion. These series should also be considered as a critical response to the serial production expected of an artist with gallery representation. Calendar dates, added sometimes directly to the painting surface and more often to the titles, prompt the viewer to imagine the experience of the moment recorded in such a simultaneously precise and abstract register. Gediz’s titling of her paintings serves as a personal archive to retain her experiences of these states of looking.
“Coming Soon” is an exhibition where Leyla Gediz asks her audience to anticipate the various directions her painting will take. Since solid commentaries analyzing the artist’s painting methodology and approach already exist, I would like to focus on the Portraits (2011) series, an important interface in this exhibition. Through the conceptual framing offered by the We almost Met and Ideal Family series, Gediz presents us with a scale of personal contracts. This ranges from the words of intimacy uttered without second thought to abide by conventional social rituals that have become cliché and generic, to another social contract that has been hollowed out and turned to a pop image by becoming generic: the format of the ideal family. The contracts her paintings have established with galleries and collectors are also incorporated into the backdrop of these personal contracts.
Taking into considering the position of both herself and various women in her close social circle within the overall picture of society–through occupation, relationships, and committments–Gediz presents a series of portraits in the first rooms of the gallery. The main segment of this series is presented in the last exhibition room–not as a conclusive interval, but rather as an interface that is the first phase of subsequent experiments in manner befitting the exhibition title. This installation of numerous faces–installed side by side, on top of one another–reminded me of a definition a friend of mine used when talking about the character Ophelia in Heiner Müller’s Hamlet Machine.There is actually one single woman existing in the world and Ophelia symbolizes her thousands of faces. Could the depiction of these women’s faces, abstracted from the studio in the background, be regarded as different manifestations of a single Ophelia portrait Gediz herself is also a part of?
In the world of social media, where all faces are depicted by tiny abstracted thumbnail images, Gediz strives to turn her canvases into notebooks where dialogue becomes physical. This process of turning corporal, which at first glance can be read as a replication of my facebook, is to the contrary after an interaction that offers an alternative to the cliché dialogue rituals repeated in these spaces. Gediz, who freely spreads her brush strokes in order to make the viewer more aware of the state of note taking, also wants to transform her relation to framing. Just as each anti-aesthetic is the messenger of another form of aesthetics, this state of free diving that wants to lose control is the herald of a new Leyla Gediz grammar.
The artist makes us viewers confront her close women friends who have insistently asked her, “how are you?”, opening up a space for new forms of identification. This is why these faces are in a different place than the Atlantis 2000 (2001) series, which is the first work that springs to mind when talking about Leyla Gediz and portraits. This series, comprised of 118 pieces, was inspired by a single black and white photograph of a marine on the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk that sank in the Barents Sea in 2000. A public image was separated into a 118 layered singular and actually reclusive multiplicity. Atlantis 2000, which the artist reproduced with an obsessive charcoal gesture on A4 paper and combined over a single narrative line to forget the memory of a face evoking pain, was about the experience of faces that multiply through an internal transformation to ultimately efface themselves through their similarity. At the same time, also like every woman who looks for love in every relationship and does not remember with whom her story began.
As for the women friends’ faces, as if vowing in unison to not make one another forgotten, they tie up once again to a single reference, a fantasy of Ophelia. As an open-ended whole, the series explores how the relation/conversation Gediz forms with the one across from her at that moment can transform into a common space of empathy with someone who is not included in that moment. Also an invitation to a public dialogue collaboration she will notice when she encounters herself as a singular series of experiences no less. The seating space installed in the room allows viewers the needed time to establish this shared dialogue.
What does it mean for two women to be close friends? What were Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf talking about in this photograph depicting a moment before Piaf went on stage? Or what was Leylâ Erbil about to tell Tezer Özlü in the photograph Hans Peter took in 1984? What do women–infamous for being each other’s worst enemies–share? When do they share solidarity, when do they fight and when do they completely avoid one another? What do they observe in each other as they grow up together? These faces that embody all these stories, also making reference to the web of contemporary relations the artist is engaged in, confront us with their history not to be forgotten, but to signify the moment in which they transpire, to be remembered, identified with, and spark our imagination.
* Under Construction, from the transcript of a talk the artist delivered with Adnan Yıldız and Marita Muukkonen, 2010.
© Övül Durmuşoğlu for Leyla Gediz @ Rampa Gallery
Translation from the Turkish original: Liz Amado
Exhibition Catalogue, 2011
Fatih Özgüven, 2008
At a place I used to work, the toilet window used to look on to the air well of the building. The window faced another window of a back room in the next-door building. It had frosted glass. Every now and then, when one side of the window was opened, one would see that the window looked into a baby’s room, or more precisely, that the room was being prepared for a newborn baby. The room was empty at first, then the occupant arrived. I can’t remember exactly how one could tell it was a baby’s room. I think a baby’s crying could be heard, that was it. And also by the calming sounds of a nurse who entered the room after the crying. But the real proof of it being prepared for a child was the rectangular bit of wallpaper that revealed itself when the window when it was opened. I can’t exactly remember the pattern of the wallpaper. But the background was yellow –the yellow of the ‘blue, pink and yellow’ of children’s things- and a pattern, which was the expression of a naïve joy to the degree of cruelness deemed only suitable to children’s rooms, was repeated on this background. A small animal, a fairytale-mushroom or perhaps a small train. Everything looked far more uncanny in the air well.
With the strange feeling of witnessing the adventure of this baby human from age zero as revealed from this occasionally open window, from the rather inconvenient position of standing and having a pee, I would think what kind of life the baby growing up in the room would have, what meaning this room would have for it, what nightmares and dreams it would have in store for the baby. A great writer says: “Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for.”*
Years later, looking at the work of a painter who coincidentally was born and raised in this same neighbourhood, I had an idea as to what kind of nightmares the pattern of the wallpaper had presented to a baby, and then to a small child. A little girl, swimming forward while looking back in fear at something behind her, or escaping from that thing, was repeated in the limited yet sufficiently unsettling infinity of the white square. Or, a red dog or rabbit – I’m not sure which - anxiously looking back on an orange background. Or, a ‘matchstick girl’ looking out of a window of a house right out of children’s drawings, watching Mickey Mouse tumbling head over heels into darkness.
I recall the repetitive patterns in some of Leyla Gediz’s paintings, which formed a web, and even a vortex in some, encompassing the entire field of the painting, were what attracted me at first to them. (Logos, moustaches, insects, small cars, and small bean pods with hair or organisms, or just the wallpaper pattern etc.) These patterns invite the viewer to an obsessive attention, like a single or a few refrains in a Black Sea folk song or a Philip Glass or Steve Reich composition, and they appear as if they will only release their meaning when their demand for attention is fulfilled.
But we cannot say that Gediz is only a painter of ‘patterns’ of some kind. Her other paintings look at other things which are not patterns, which do not form figures, and in fact, which are not even ‘subject matter’ in the traditional sense, with the same attention. A lined piece of paper, a broken-off key, leaves of a plant taking shelter on the windowsill of an apartment staircase, a smeared chocolate stain, a gesture, a face, a form, a consecutively depicted movement, a landscape.
First, we lose ourselves in these. Initially, intelligence, mind, memory, or our faculty of association or combination, our ‘feelings’, ‘thoughts’, ‘impressions’, ‘memories’, our ‘history of looking’ or that vile ‘history of art’ pulls our attention to different areas. (Because everything is, inevitably, loaded with meanings.) We may feel that there is a reference to Romantic painting in the black and white hunter walking in snow with his back turned to us; or in the sunset landscape in a shape which I can only describe as a vertically placed giant medicine capsule; that a hyperrealist interest may be detected in the approach to this object, or that those suitcases passing one after the other on the conveyor belt have a cinematic feeling; that the apartment there is a ‘contemplation’ on the dreadfulness of living in apartment blocks or that a playfulness is intended in looking at things from the most unexpected angles.
But when we return to the painting after all these - momentary - wanderings of the mind (and especially when we look at these paintings one after the other) we think that the real issue, what is actually required from us is attention, a hypnotic attention to be precise. Us versus the painting; we stand face to face, mercilessly and at the same time, fraternally.
In a beautiful and mysterious couplet of his which gives away its secret in time, Rainer Maria Rilke says, ‘Gib mir noch eine Weile Zeit/ Ich will die Dinge lieben wie keiner noch’ (‘Give me some more time/ I will love things like no other has yet’); as we stand face to face with these paintings, we are increasingly filled with the sensation that the real issue here is this insistent attention, and if we look a little longer, the all-pervading mystery will be revealed to us. We forget the subject matter and the story. We only look at the painting. In this last exhibition, the ‘whatever-it-is’ trapped in the pictorial space and titled ‘The Perfect Moment’, perhaps with a certain irony, becomes meaningful when we give ourselves, in fact, both ourselves and the painting, a little more time, and it reveals the secret we cannot name, and maybe no longer want to. This is a contract between the viewer and the viewed, peculiar to Leyla Gediz paintings. The broken-off key has become an object stripped from all possible references, or perhaps, on the contrary, an object on which all possible references accumulate. With all its attention, with utmost attention, it looks at us looking at it. With a sincere attention.
This – to risk being a little banal, a little ‘new age’ - almost ‘mystical’ accumulation aside, Mika Hannula, writing on her paintings at a previous exhibition, remarks that the paintings in the exhibition enable us to become aware of the specific moment called ‘here’: ‘A time that is not going backwards.’ He goes on to add that the entire exhibition is not structured ‘towards the past, it takes risks and seeks to be right here, right now’.
Thematic or emotional emphases changing from one exhibition to another should not deceive us. This observation is valid for each of her exhibitions. In the silence of the empty space almost filled with a humming sound, in the mysterious and embracing urgency of giant glass bowls placed within each other or in the pencil drawings which, in contrast with the ‘structured’ vortexes and webs from her early period, stand on the white paper as a concentration of figures hiding their own secret without forming webs as before, we are face to face with the same painter, inviting the viewer to the ‘here and now,’ or rather, to put it more clearly, to pay attention ‘here and now.’
The physical spaces, rests and intervals (the paintings holding their breath, and the space holding its breath as it looks on, as it were) between the paintings make one think that in this exhibition space filled with a sincere attention and which invites the viewer to pay the same kind of attention, everything has a voice, and there is an emotional calculation as much as a physical one.
‘The Perfect Moment’ also bears all the reasons for us to think that the little girl looking at us from a time gap, from two different frames, is of the same age as Leyla Gediz’s history as a painter. These are, to a certain extent, reasons to do with fiction, narrative and the attraction the figure itself holds, reasons ascribed to them by the viewer. However, the attention we see in the eyes of the girl, which invites our attention, is also a reason.
That sincere, and partly uneasy attention we always, in various guises, come across in Leyla Gediz.
* Nabokov, V. (1951) Speak, Memory
© Fatih Özgüven for Leyla Gediz @ GALERİST (dir. Murat Pilevneli)
Translation from the Turkish original: Nazım Hikmet Richard Dikbaş
Artist Monograph, 2008