The Gallery’s second exhibition “REFLEX”, curated by İpek Yeğinsü, includes works by Alexandre Dujardin, Ayşe Ören, Balca Arda, Derin “MEKAZOO” Çiler, Genco (İbrahim Gençer Yüzer), İpek Yeğinsü, Jeff Harvey, Lale Delibaş, Özlem Paker, Sonia Klajnberg and Yasemin Cengiz Çağatay, ranging from digital photography to web game, from kinetic sculpture to animation.
May 21- July 5, 2014
The curator of the exhibition İpek Yeğinsü examines the themes and motifs of the artists' work and the context in which they were made:
Reflex is the general term defining involuntary responses produced in the face of an outside stimulus. This system facilitating survival through swift action, takes its name from the Latin word “reflectere”, meaning “to reflect, to send back”. Some reflexes are controlled by the spinal cord and are inborn (coughing, blinking, etc.). Others are acquired later and are controlled by the brain; they are defined as “conditioned reflex” (riding a bicycle, swimming, etc.).
Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov whose name is identified with conditioned reflex is well known for the experiments he conducted with dogs. However, he also accomplished another less well known and very important research. He explained the timing of the responses to stress and pain with four different temperaments: phlegmatic (strong, equilibrated and quiet), choleric (strong and impatient), sanguine (strong, equilibrated and lively), and melancholic (weak). According to Pavlov these four temperaments react similarly to stimuli; however, at what stage the individuals experience “transmarginal inhibition (TMI)”, in other words, when their bodies shut down as a response to extreme stress and pain, is different among the temperaments. Melancholic types arrive to the TMI stage earlier than the others and their nervous system is evidently different from theirs. The research that Carl Jung took over also concluded that introverted individuals reach the TMI stage much earlier with respect to others.
If our reflexes are so deeply correlated with conditioning and even with our temperament, how shall we evaluate our decisions? Scientific studies on decision mechanisms define this process as a problem solving act with a satisfactory solution as its outcome. According to the advocants of rational choice theory, the basic principle is to maximize the reward and to minimize the cost. But other specialists argue that decisions can be rationally, irrationally, or even unconsciously taken. This is due to the fact that the loaded information necessary for us to understand our choices is much more intense than we can manage, and the time dedicated to the decisionmaking process is very limited. Under these conditions, the mind is obliged to decide with a pace that can be considered a reflex, without taking into account the complexity of the issue. In fact, the decision’s quality is negatively correlated with the amount of information its decision making process necessitates. Some scientists define this form of decision making that disregards information as “intuitive”. As a matter of fact, overanalyzing a problem is also considered unhealthy, since it paralyzes or completely disables the decision making process. When family structure, cultural background, education, religious belief, social circles, geographical position and other similar parameters are added into this equation, we may realize how complicated our decision making mechanisms are, and how difficult it is to even understand ourselves.
In that case, do our decisions really belong to us? Or are they the result of behavioral patterns being imposed on us from the day we are born? How do unconsciously acquired prejudices affect our choices? REFLEX is searching for the answers in works by eleven different artists. It brings side by side the situations where our decisions are essentially no more complex than an inborn reflex, with those in which we have to struggle with vital choices for self realization. Wishing that REFLEX generates an occasion for every viewer to reconsider his or her life, choices and decisions.
Alexandre Dujardin’s Aenima series are composed of patterns and textures borrowed from nature; images of flowers, insects, animals and humans are interwoven to create a cosmic balance, an ecosystem of interdependence, a tribute to universal harmony. They are reminiscent of meditative mandalas taking the viewer to a journey in the heart of the forest, in ancient times of creation, in his or her own body and mind. Dujardin’s elaborate drawing technique stands somewhere between scientific illustrations utilized for taxonomy by natural history museums, and Renaissance character portraits in chiaro-scuro. In Aenima, the brain, the heart and the butterfly are at the center of the composition. The two organs are the principal control centers of the human body and its most primitive reflexes; the brain controls breath and the heartbeat, and the heart keeps the brain alive by feeding it with oxygene. There is thus a symbiotic relationship between them, a duo without which the entire system would collapse. Interestingly, they are often used to symbolize opposing concepts. While the brain is a metaphor for cold rationality devoid of feelings, the heart is the symbol of the soul and the emotions working against the rational mind. In Dujardin’s works these counterbalancing forces are combined to sustain the entire ecosystem, endowing it with both its soul and its mind. The butterfly, on the other hand, refers to a continuous cycle; its short but significant life is filled with stages of radical transformation, parallel with our own path. How we employ our mind and soul in coping with our own transformation is probably the most important question of our existence.
In life we all make choices. We sometimes regret them but have neither the courage nor the motivation to change them. And other times we ourselves are surprised by how radical our own rebellion can become; how loudly our essence and nature manifests itself, no more to be hidden; what we are willing to sacrifice for self- realization once we wake up from the comatose state of the routine; how a seemingly tragic failure can become the most valuable blessing; how the banality of everyday life can reveal the crucial milestones in our journey and how saying “never” is the most dangerous act of self confidence in the world. Each one of Sonia Klajnberg’s robots has such a story. The robot calculator is flawless until one day he loses his ability to calculate, which also causes him to find his love. The robot cook decides to leave the factory he works at and travels to Italy to become a skillful pizza chef. The robot gardener falls in love with a savage flower he is supposed to exterminate. The robot watchmaker is bored of being precise and starts to tell everyone a different, more relative time. The robot juggler works at a garage and his sparetime activity ultimately becomes his career at a circus. The robot housekeeper enjoys the way the objects and traces reveal secrets to him. The robot fireman falls in love with another robot while rescuing her from a fire. The robot sportsman gives up on one of his racing trophies to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. The robot machinist finds her destiny after being fired from a hospital and losing her medical career. The robot lumberjack refuses a dance career that her family imposes on her and runs away into the forest. Finally, the robot artist believes he can change the world and starts to paint a new landscape on the existing one. Are we as courageus as Klajnberg’s robots? Does what we do simply function as our supposed-to-be destiny, or does it reflect our reason of existence? For how long can we resist our own nature? For how long can we deny our own essence? Klajnberg’s robots refuse to, even though they are robots.
“Rhythm”, the photocollage series by Özlem Paker, uses the repetitions we encounter both in natural elements and manmade structures. The artist with a deep interest in the formation and transformation of matter, enriches color and form through light effects generated by the plexiglass and through unusual framing. Deconstructing the photographed image, transforming it and recombining it in digital environment, Paker conducts a deep research into the possibilities offered by the space. Utterly different textures and forms emerge while reflections, intersections and overlappings merge. These completely new images overthrowing our expectations rely on the very mathematical rules at the basis of the perfect sequences found in nature. At this point the hierarchy and the boundaries between the natural and the artificial cease to exist. Is the observed and documented geometry more real; or the composition deliberately created by the response to it? With a constructivist approach, Paker implies to the viewer that her purpose is to reconcile these two images instead of making them compete.
Özlem Paker's Path to Wisdom is based on the concepts of cognitive map and decision mechanisms. Cognitive maps are representative diagrams visualizing relationships between thoughts. To build his theory, Edward Tolman who invented the concept in 1948 utilized labyrinths and mice and advocated that the mouse in the labyrinth does not reach the food through a simple chain of stimuli-response but through a spatial scheme it develops in its mind. On the other hand the decision mechanism is defined as the cognitive process which enables us to choose a judgment or a course of action from among many, and the study of it. Paker’s artwork is closely related with Tolman’s experiments. The user advances in a labyrinth with numerous probabilities of chains of action. However, all the encountered instructions are about prohibition and contradictory. Paker constructs a scenario in which the user is left with the single option of taking all the forbidden courses of action one by one. Thus the artist pushes the individual to decide outside the scope of his willpower and to question these decisions’ consequences.
Özlem Paker's installation Pinning the Map illustrates the complexity of memory and cognitive processes. The kinetic bust is covered with memory and thought balloons emerging from the respective regions of the brain and the pins inserted into them. The overloaded mind floats in the vortice of thousands of data and fights against the brainwashing mechanisms targeting it; the slow spin both implies a universe generating internal movement and the helplessness of the disoriented individual with unsettled thoughts. The questions, problems and mental pressures manifest such a wide variety that they range from simple, “to-be-remembered” codes such as phone numbers or passwords to good-bad, beautiful-ugly judgments and plans to save the world. Yet they all essentially coexist in the mind; they have the same priority and it is impossible to establish a hierarchy between them. In the right context, the place of a key in every individual’s small universe can become as crucial as saving the world. Isn’t our reality the sum of our daily lives and basic decisions, after all?
In work Blush No More we encounter a female “cyborg” busted in the toilet. Arda’s ironic approach also reveals itself in the artwork’s title. The blushing reflex, natural and specific to humans, is associated with a being whose toilet necessity is doubtful. Even the cyborg who is being told to be ashamed no more has internalized our society’s judgmental values. So can one talk about morality where willpower is absent? What are the answers if we ask the same question for the humanity instead of the cyborgs?
“Cyborg” is the abbreviated version of “cybernetic organism”, defining beings with both artificial and biological parts. This term is also used in naming prosthetic implants that communicate with the impaired or amputated patient’s central nervous system. While in literature and cinema it refers to superhuman beings transformed into machines, in social sciences the name is given to elaborate networks of communication and management. It is closely related to the notions of human-machine relationship and the mechanized human. Debates evolving around this issue question the ethical consequences of the point up to which artificial intelligence is expected to develop. Can willpower, morality and empathy that distinguish the human from the machine be obtained with artificial intelligence? Can the robots be held responsible for the moral aspect of their actions? At what point does a mechanized human being cease to be human? The issue of human- robot ethics that Isaac Asimov tackles in his “I, Robot”, will be one of the highlighted topics of our near future.
İpek Yeğinsü’s Istanbul City Lights Series project is ongoing since 2008. The abstract compositions realized throughout the city with long exposure technique at night originate from Yeğinsü’s tendency to “paint with the camera”. In the artwork the camera is the brush, where the observed reality is reinterpreted in an abstract expressionist manner. The paint, on the other hand, is the light itself. While swiftly passing through the city with our intense living pace, our perception of it is more similar to a moving, blurry impression rather than to a static image. The photographs are created exactly in this state of mind; both the photographer and her environment are in constant movement. Beams of light captured by the lens, the majority of which coming from artificial sources, are no longer an instrument rendering the objects visible; they are the image itself, the primary component of the abstract landscape. Aren’t these artifical lights rendering the city visible at night and endowing it with its external contours, thus its identity? The elements of intuition, randomness and time- space relationship residing in these works transform them into the photographer’s “reflex” to the urban texture surrounding her.
Burning Waters consists of three frames where İpek Yeğinsü documents the reflection of artificial lights on sea surface and a digital composition created with their combination and transformation. The frames where the light becomes the subject itself are presented alongside the digital painting where they become its raw material. The black lines and the original frames’ vertical use constitute an anti-rhythm against the horizontality of the sea surface. The horizontal line below functions as a horizon carrying the entire composition. In fact, Yeğinsü underlines the subjectivity of landscape by reinterpreting her own photographs; the “reflex” the water generates when touched by the light is now, in Yeğinsü’s digital painting, a “stimulus” for the viewer in search of spatiality.
Too Funky, the first member of the interactive sculpture series Ayşe Ören names “Seduction”, is inspired by Artemis, the goddess of nature, hunt and moon. Numerous breasts on the body’s front side we encounter in the depictions of the Artemis of Ephesus, underline the concepts of fertility and abundance. In addition to her breasts, Ören’ s goddess has emphasized ovaries and the part of her body containing female reproductive organs is arranged in a way reminiscent of an owl’s face. In many mythological sources the owl is identified with the moon, which is identified with femininity and fertility. Thus Ören’s work refers to all these symbols at once. The work’s frame is confined to the woman’s most eye catching and seductive part.
When approached, the dim light that surrounds Too Funky suddenly shines bright, and begins to propel especially around the breasts. Just like the moon, the work’s texture reminiscent of the moon’s surface reflects the secret light that hits it from another source. The woman assuming all her femininity and struggling to attract attention, does everything in her power to awaken the man’s sexual reflex; she is convinced this is what she is supposed to do. This action actually becoming a “reflex” and that she appropriates as a function arising from her sexual identity, also happens to be her greatest power. Ören’s material choice, the warmly colored metal, reveals a futuristic approach towards the image of an ancient goddess and implies the mechanical nature of sexual intercourse.
The character Sir Filthy Mouth created by has a body covered with mouths. Its only purpose appears to be reacting to every bit of information he receives from the two antennas on his head, to answer everyone. Despite the enormous size of the toothbrush, he is obliged to clean each mouth one by one and this need for cleaning gives the sensation that his words are trivial and cause “data pollution”. While one image illustrates the character’s portrait, the other enables us to look at the mouths more closely. The video animation explicitly reveals the “answering everyone” state by animating the mouths. Sir Filthy Mouth successfully represents the current communication explosion and the stress it generates in individuals. With the pace of communication taking away most of our energy, time is limited while the data to be processed is heavy. Our comments on social media and the reactions to the messages we receive have thus become “reflexes”. Hours-long debate programs on TV with the so-called specialists with no output other than yelling at each other; parliament images resembling martial arts movies; the anger and the depression of the individual bombarded by endless fights and insults on social media, all appear to have concretized in Sir Filthy Mouth.
Card games are based on probability and strategy. The player’s experience and the intelligence in his moves are as crucial as his luck. Dead King Card is about a legend, Elvis Presley, who brought his own end by making the wrong moves. According to Çiler, every medallion has two faces. The inverse symmetry in playing cards reflects Elvis’s ambivalent situation, who is both physically dead and an immortal king to his fans. Another ambivalence arises from the wealth and the unimaginable pressure simultaneously brought by fame, and is represented by the microphone and the skull respectively, placed on the opposite sides of the scepter Elvis is holding. While ironically reminding us of our alternatives and their multidimensional consequences, Dead King Card calls our decision mechanisms into action.
Like Derin Çiler’s Elvis, Genco’s (İbrahim Gençer Yüzer) character comes alive in a playing card. The heroine he chooses to depict is his own girlfriend. This iconized female figure is associated with hearts and represents a queen who owns the artist’s heart. The portrait’s facial impression is neither affectionate nor angry; it lies somewhere in between. This way it leaves us room to perceive her feelings as shaped by our own prejudices. While the portrait’s one half is luminous and peaceful, the other half closer to us and perceived bigger appears dark and tense. Like in all areas, love, relationships and even the loved one have two faces; the inverse symmetry in the playing card and the asymmetry in the character’s face together underline this fact. Although which face we will see generally depends on our own actions, the events and reactions that develop out of our control define the future of our relationship. Even though it starts by encountering the right person in the right place at the right time, its sustainability is in the hands of various chains of probability. Love is a gamble first, after all.
In her animation Fake World, Lale Delibaş focuses once more on the key concepts of her artistic journey, the circle of life and existence. Her choice of Pinocchio as the leading actor is meaningful. Like Arda’s cyborg, Delibaş’s character is neither a living individual nor an artificial being. Although he is bound by the society’s rules to the point of having his nose grow longer when he lies, he will always remain a puppet and will never be accepted as a real human being; although its existence is under doubt, his willpower is punishable. Moreover, the character the artist created by scratching out the paint on the found wooden object is radically different from what we are accustomed to see, coloured and polished. Delibaş’s purpose is to approach the concept of life and death from a wider perspective by employing the wood’s meanings related to rebirth and soil present in a variety of doctrines. The white void in which Delibaş positions her Pinocchio is a vague place. Here the character coexists with his reflection; it is nearly impossible to distinguish one from the other. Delibaş exploits this uncertainty to ask the question “which one is fake, which one is real” for the world we live in and the other world, and to underline the cause-effect relationship between them. On the other hand, throughout Fake World Pinocchio is asleep. The relationship between him and his reflection is constantly being redefined as he involuntarily turns in his sleep. Sleep, the state of living most similar to death, is a metaphor deliberately used by the artist whose works often contain philosophical symbols; it is a strong expression of the endless tragedy the human being, unable to distinguish the reality from the dream, stuck in between this world and the other, has to go through.
Many numbers we watch at the circuses are based on conditioned response. Animals learn to do them either in the presence of a stimulus they dislike or by being deprived of a necessity. Even though it seems entertaining to the spectator, this process is extremely coercive and painful for the animal. Yet the show goes on and the pain is skilfully hidden behind frozen smiles. Thanks to The Circus and The Elephant by Yasemin Cengiz Çağatay, this feeling gets deep into our bones. The colorful and chaotic bulk on top of which an elephant is sitting is on the one hand reminiscent of childlike fun, and of the lava of an exploded volcano, dispersed internal organs, city dumping grounds on the other. With a closer look we can distinguish many details: the clown, the alien-like portrait and the acrobat standing on his head are only some. They also seem to have been dispersed by a sudden explosion; still, they continue to do their numbers to entertain people. The elephant’s position in the composition is vital: even though not exactly at the top of the bulk or dominant over the situation, he has managed to establish a certain distance with it and to have survived it. He is tired and wounded; but not defeated. Çağatay’s elephant is reminiscent of strong individuals with dignity who managed to stand up still in their seemingly entertaining lives full of complications and difficulties. The society we live in is actually no different from a circus. Full of fake smiles and cheerfulness at first sight; looking closer, merciless and apathetic. Just like a circus trains animals, life trains each one of us by putting us to the test with a variety of coercive experiences; the life of the individual who is obliged to keep the show going on passes in an endless struggle and he is pushed into decisions adaptable to conditions, rather than to his own will.
“Imagine if zombies weren't so bad. Imagine we were able to reincorporate them into society and have them be contributing members of it. I would love to live in that world.” This is how the artist Jeff Harvey describes Modern Zombies, a series of six Zombie characters with six different professions: a farmer, a postman, a pilot, a construction worker, a singer and a waiter are proud of their positions and proud to be serving a purpose. They are reminiscent of political campaigning posters designed by the ruling party, especially those related to fiscal and social welfare policies where each tax paying citizen acting responsibly is equally important for the system’s sustainability.
However, does the artist truly mean that? Or does he imply that we resemble zombies serving the system? How many of us really have a chance to choose their profession without the pressure of the family, financial priorities and economic environment? How many of us really like their jobs? Are the proud and happy ones really in that state of mind, or are they simply conditioned to make themselves and others believe their existence is purposeful? How much willpower and initiative do we really have, or do we have any at all? Are our lives no different from a zombie that moves, talks and fulfills tasks but has no essence, no soul? Jeff Harvey’s work appears cheerful at first sight; a deeper look reveals how striking the tragedy is.İpek Yeğinsü, the curator of the exhibition.
About the Artists
Alexandre Dujardin is a young artist currently living in Berlin. After his studies in illustration and painting at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg he decided to leave his native region to reach the capital of art several years ago. At first, he worked on his painting in a squatt during one year, then applied for the big ateliers Berlin had to offer like Raw tempel, where he spent one year, and then the Bethanien Kulturhaus and its studios where he currently practises his art. He now works as an award winning (Chioggia, Italy) freelance illustrator for publishers and magazines in Germany and France and exhibits his paintings and illustrations in France, Italy, Germany and Turkey.
Sonia Klajnberg is a graphic designer and illustrator who lives in Berlin. She holds a National Diploma of Fine Arts from Ecole Européene de l'Image Angoulême and exhibits her work in her native France ,Germany and Turkey. She has participated to Contemporary Istanbul 2014 with her Revolution of Robots Series.
Balca Arda holds a PhD degree from the Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto, Canada, an M.A. degree from the political science department at Bosphorus University focusing on the Politics of Aesthetics, another M.A. degree from the University of the Arts London in the field Digital Arts, and a B.A. degree from Bosphorus University in Political Science. She is a graduate of Galatasaray High School and has exhibited her art in Istanbul, Toronto and London.Currently, she is an Assistant Professor in Visual Communication Design at Kadir Has University.
Özlem Paker is an interdisciplinary artist concentrating on mixed- and multi- media. She holds a BFA from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University and an MFA degree in multimedia from Parsons School of Art & Design’s Design & Technology Department where she also served as a faculty member.
İpek Yeğinsü is a curator and artist, a doctoral student at Özyeğin University who also serves as a faculty member at Kadir Has University . She holds an MA degree from Koç University's Anatolian Civilizations and Cultural Heritage Management department and a B.A. degree from Koç University International Relations department.
Ayşe Ören is a designer and sculptor who holds a B.A. degree from Bilkent University Interior Design department.
Derin Çiler is freelance illustrator and designer using the alias Mekazoo. He is also the founder and designer of MKNK CLOTHING, a limited edition streetwear brand.He collaborates with global brands like Nike.He holds a BFA degree from Yeditepe University Industrial Design Department.
İbrahim Gencer Yüzer is a sculptor and 3D designer who holds an MFA and BFA degree from Dokuz Eylül University Fine Arts Department.
Lale Delibaş is a conceptual artist who holds an MFA and a BFA degree from Marmara University Fine Arts Department who has a rich history of exhibitions in Istanbul like Borusan Art Center.
Yasemin Cengiz Cagatay is a self-taught painter who started painting early thanks to her art teacher mother and her large collection of art history books. She had a rich humanities education early on with the rich library of her family home.The artist holds a B.A. degree from the Bosphorus University Business School and participated to the Sotheby's Institute of Art London and New York's and IESA Paris' art programs.