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
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
© Leyla Gediz, 2013