Myths and Dreams
In the Elgiz Collection
Curator: Billur Tansel
“Myths and Dreams” examines the transformation and evolution of nature and humans in time and questions whether new perspectives are possible. In this context, It aims to bring to the attention of the viewer the concepts of ecosophia and autopoïese as ways of ‘renewing oneself’, as put forward by the French psychoanalyst and philosopher Felix Guattari.
The starting point of the “Myths and Dreams” exhibition was the ecological concerns that we find ourselves faced with - one of the most important problems in today’s world – and the changes to the planet that we are now witnessing. If we think that the origin of the word ecology comes from Greek and that it is a house, a place to live; we realize that the concept of ecology encompasses the relationships that humans and nature establish with each other and with those around them as a whole. According to Felix Guattari: ecology is a science that consists of heterogeneous realities, that studies ecosystems in nature and has no definite boundaries. The reason it does not have clear boundaries is that it can include social, urban and familial ecosystems as well as ecosystems in the biosphere. In trying to establish a link between all these different dimensions, Guattari embraces these multitudes, posing the idea of ecosophy as a way of connecting three types of ecology: environmental, social and mental.
In this framework, it explores the interconnection and bidirectional relationship between human and nature, and at the same time deals with problems such as the climate crisis as a problem through the concept of ecosophia. It focuses on issues such as unexpected changes in the climate, the damage caused by the material wastes that people use to live, to the ecological system. The issues he thinks about and makes suggestions go as far as the ethical and principle understandings and behavior patterns of societies. And in this context, he draws attention to the importance of the process of self-recreation (autopoïese).
While questioning the logic of the concept of ecosophia, with its common understanding of social, mental and environmental ecology, Guattari emphasizes the tendency of ethics and aesthetics, art and science to approach each other, to grasp each other's methods and gain flexibility. Since art can include accident and coincidence in the production process, welcoming the role they can play in revealing new possibilities, it can set an example for other fields of inquiry.
Only if these three types of ecology can be united in the aesthetic ethics of ecosophy, and if a collective perception can be created and a form of solidarity can be developed, there will be a real harmony. Given an ecological approach, the process and production within contemporary art reveals a desire to develop a form of solidarity with a collective perception, where aesthetics and ethics converge.
Based on this, the selection aims to explore how artists from different cultures deal with these issues and what suggestions they make. According to the curator, based on the concept and layers of ecosophy in the first place that the artists expressed in various forms of expression; It is possible to examine the works that question the relationship between human and nature, the behavior and existence of human beings, their place in society, their responsibilities to the society and the world in which they live, and reveal various concerns. In the second part, attention is drawn to the remnant of the universe and a semi-artificial future reality in virtual environments; perhaps a different and reconstructive approach is suggested. The second part of the exhibition can be thought to suggest that perhaps a different and better future / world is possible, if every individual takes responsibility to work on such an ideal.
While the exhibition presents a selection from the Elgiz Collection, some of the artists whose works belong to the collection were invited to contribute to the exhibition with works they have produced in recent times, since their works within the collection were made in an earlier period. There will also be seminars, artist talks and activities planned within the conceptual framework of Myths and Dreams. In this way, the exhibition will become more interactive for the viewer and gain a quality that sheds light on the present.
Ecological Harmony and Balance
The exhibition 'Myths and Dreams,' which explores ways of thinking together about the ecological crises and threats we have been experiencing for a long time, meets the audience at the Elgiz Museum in Istanbul until the end of April 2023. We talked with curator Billur Tansel about the conceptual framework and artworks of the exhibition.
Interview: Burçak Fakıoğlu Yakıcı
The interview was published in Turkish in online art magazine Art Unlimited
Following the exhibition at the Izmir Arkas Art Center from March 26 to July 31, 2022, the "Myths and Dreams" exhibition is now on display at the Elgiz Museum in Istanbul. Curated by Billur Tansel, the "Myths and Dreams" exhibition, which consists of a selection from the Elgiz Collection, is built around the concepts of ecosophy and autopoiesis presented by the psychoanalyst Felix Guattari. The first part of the exhibition, referred to as the "Myths" section, features, artworks that criticize individuals and society, presenting criticism from the perspective of the artists. On the other hand, the second part, the "Dreams" section, highlights the importance of self-renewal and advocates for the remembrance of the future within our current situation, offering possible solutions to achieve this. Many seminars, artist talks, and workshops were organized as part of the exhibition that extends from Izmir to Istanbul. Thus, an exhibition that invites the audience to think about how nature is perceived and how ecological issues are addressed through events in addition to the artworks on display emerges.
Upon our arrival into the "Myths" section of the exhibition, which is introduced by Johannes Wohnseifer's acrylic work on canvas "Amnesia" that refers to the social memory loss observed worldwide, we subsequently proceed to the "Dreams" section with Hakan Onur's work 'Once Upon a Time.' The Dreams section invites us to experience positive statements based on the "autopoiesis " section. The exhibition tour ends with Nancy Atakan's artwork 'Remembering the Future,' which reminds us of the sounds and images that we can sense from antique needlework and embroidered texts and shows that there may be hope for the future. We had an interview with the curator of the "Myths and Dreams" exhibition, Billur Tansel, about the conceptual framework, structure, and works of the exhibition.
The exhibition features the works of the artists: Darren Almond, Tomur Atagök, Olivier Blanckart, Daniele Buetti, Fernando Canovas, Loris Cecchini, Burhan Doğançay, Oleg Dou, Günther Förg, Murat Germen, Piero Gilardi, Fausto Gilberti, Alev Gözonar, Dennis (Mehmet) Gün, Özlem Günyol, Paul Hodgson, Bengü Karaduman, Kurucu Koçanoğlu, Azade Köker, Büşra Kölmük, Barbara Kruger, Danielle Kwaaitaal, David LaChappelle, Aimée Zito Lema, Mateo Maté, Guillermo Mora, Ozan Oganer, Pieter Ombregt, Hakan Onur, Alex Prager, Antonio Riello, Thomas Struth, Hiroshi Sugito, Yaşam Şaşmazer, Hale Tenger, Steinunn Thorarinsdottìr, Aslı Torcu, David Tremlett, Deniz Üster, Joana Vasconcelos, Halil Vurucuoğlu, Johannes Wohnseifer, Xavier Veilhan, Pınar Yolaçan, Pan Yue, Veljko Zejak
You draw attention to a truth through a strong discourse around the curatorial text and conceptual framework of the exhibition. Starting from Guattari's ecosophy aesthetics, which suggests that a collective perception can be created and harmony with nature can be achieved through solidarity, the relationship between humans and nature meets the audience through the artworks. Can you tell us more about the curatorial process of the exhibition? What was the impact of the pandemic on this process?
“The 'Myths and Dreams” exhibition was curated with the aim of contemplating together with the audience on the ecological crises and threats we have been facing for a long time, considering the discourses of the artists. The sources of inspiration for the curatorial concept were the warnings and suggestions of two important thinkers, Guattari (Ecosophy and Autopoiesis) and Naess (Deep Ecology). Guattari discusses the journey of transformation and evolution of nature and humans over time through the concepts of ecosophy and autopoiesis, thus presenting new perspectives. Guattari focuses on the relationship between humans and nature. Together with the concept of ecosophy, he argues that an examination of ecology on a single layer basis would not yield effective results in better analyzing the causes of ecological threats, and that a closer observation and analysis are necessary. Guattari states that the concept of ecology carries different sensitivities and therefore has an ideological dimension. Guattari who tries to create a unity among all different sensitivities, emphasizes the importance of examining environmental, social, and mental layers and puts forward the ecosophy concept, which combines three types of ecology and proposes ecological balance and harmony. He states that these layers extend to the ethical and principle understanding and behavior of societies. In the "Myths" section of the exhibition, we can observe the critics by artists from different cultures and geographies regarding individuals and societies, while in the "Dreams" section, the suggestions of artists come together with the proposal of autopoiesis, which means self-renewal. According to Guattari, if science and art, ethics, and aesthetics are close to each other, a collective perception can be created with ecosophy aesthetics, and Achieving, a real harmony between nature and humans is possible if solidarity is cultivated.
Arne Næss' words also hold great importance in the exhibition. “By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value priorities.” When we consider that Arne Næss published his work "Deep Ecology" in 1972 and Felix Guattari's three works on ecology in 1995, in the year 2023 that we are currently in, where ecological concerns and threats are increasing and remaining valid, we need to re-evaluate how much progress we have made in these issues. During the pandemic, which humanity has created and condemned itself to, while living an isolated life in our homes, we have had the opportunity to observe many things more closely, to take a moment to reflect on ourselves, and to confront ourselves.
There is a piece in the exhibition; from German artist Thomas Struth who took the photograph titled "Kreuzung mit Passanten, Wuhan" (Pedestrian crossroads, Wuhan) in 1995 in Wuhan. I wanted to include this work in the exhibition as a reference that reminds us of many of the difficulties, sadness, fear, helplessness, loss of life, destruction, change, and transformation caused by the pandemic, even though it was taken in Wuhan before the pandemic.
What approach did you prefer when grouping and displaying the artworks in the exhibition area?
The exhibition consists of two parts. In the "Myths" section, a research is aimed to be conducted on how artists from different cultures and geographies, whose works are in the Elgiz Collection, approach these subjects; starting from the concept of ecosophy and its layers. It is possible to examine the works that artists express with various forms of expression, questioning the relationship between human and nature, human behavior and existence, their place in society, their responsibilities to the society and the world, and expressing various concerns, according to the curator. The second section of the exhibition "Dreams", showcases the artists' ideas on the concept of self-renewal, referred to as autopoiesis, and presents the notion that an alternative and transformative approach is feasible. The exhibition presents a selection from the Elgiz Collection, while also features pieces produced by some of the artists within the collection that reflect current discourses, as well as works by young artists we invited. In this way, the exhibition took on a dynamic form and incorporated contemporary discourses.
In terms of display of the artworks between the exhibition at Arkas Art Center in Izmir and the re-curation at Elgiz Museum in Istanbul, how do you think the artworks communicated with the audience? What differences did you observe in terms of the viewer experience?
The exhibitions in Izmir and Istanbul were curated quite differently. Many of the works displayed in Izmir were not shown in Istanbul, while new works were added and new artists were invited in Istanbul. The seminars and artist talks that started in Izmir continued with new seminars and performances in Istanbul. Since there was still much to be said, the exhibition in Istanbul was extended.
As part of the exhibition, we watched Bengü Karaduman's performance “Walking the Line – Stepping out of the Line”. The performance was a critique of the System that examines a search for a solution and reminds us that we need to rethink the rules as we cannot find a solution, and questions the boundaries. At the end of the performance, both children and adult audiences participated in the performance and we watched them intervene in these drawn boundaries in unity. It seems to me that this collective intervention process also emphasizes a call for a collective ecological movement. How do you interpret it?
Bengü Karaduman’s performance focuses on walking between a restrictive structure that formed over time and the counter-reaction to break free from this structure. Trying to conform to the structure is challenging as it constantly changes. Trying to adapt to a constantly redefined structure loses its meaning. However, this changing limitation also provides a driving force for the liberating impulse. Crossing the lines, we should not deviate from sets us free to follow our own path. During her performance, the artist invited the audience to support her in her search as she was unable to find a solution. Participants of different ages joined the performance without hesitation. It was particularly positive and meaningful to see children accept this invitation, witnessing their enthusiasm to continue their own search and the fact that they carry the world as their responsibility. It can also be interpreted as a sign that art can make a call for awareness and solidarity without the need for words... We continue to exhibit the performance on the wall where it was originally created, without intervening on it, in order to remember and preserve it as a document.
Apart from displaying the works of the Elgiz Collection, the exhibition also showcases new pieces created by the artists represented in the collection. Could you give examples of the works you have included in the exhibition with their new approaches?
Antonio Riello's video work "Giostrina" is based on the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, "Ode to Joy," and focuses on a horse carousel and the people on it. The artist makes ironic statements about social routines and shared visions, questioning the principle of political correctness. This work is in dialogue with Murat Germen's "Ars Accidentalis" and "Zoom into Panopticon" in terms of form, discourse, and technique.
Bengü Karaduman's performance video titled "Sketch for a New Body" is an imaginative exploration of body that swings between two entities (spider and human), based on its movement and transformation. As conditions and environmental factors change, it symbolizes the need to transform and become something else. It is an attempt to find balance as a hybrid body. The main idea of this work is the pursuit of transformation and its inevitability. We wander on the edges of nature that have become a boutique site we visit instead of being a part of it. We are no longer a part of nature, we still retain a connection. Is a human closer to being an animal, or a biological-semi-technological entity enhanced by synthetic parts (prosthetics) and genetic intervention? In the video performance, we encounter a search for a new identity forced by this in-betweenness, a new way of existence. The swing is not an easy metamorphosis; we are looking at an intention that is not yet finalized. This work is part of the "Myths" section of the exhibition and is the first work that suggests the idea of self-renewal, self-recreation, or transformation, thus serving as a precursor to the "Dreams" section.
Murat Germen's work "Zoom into Panopticon" refers to the prison architecture model that was designed by English philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham in 1785, called the panopticon. In collaboration with game designer Haluk Diriker and sound designer Hakan Diriker, the artist transforms the Presidio Modelo into a simplified three-dimensional universe of imprisonment, displayed as a laser-cut model, sculpture, and installation. In addition to the model, there is also a video in the exhibition. The cells located on the inner edge of the model of the structure and facing the surveillance tower contain individual profile visuals where Germen took screenshots of his participation as a speaker and/or listener in online meetings (Zoom, Meet, Skype, Teams, etc.) during the pandemic. The faces of these individuals are anonymized in order to avoid copyright/personal data privacy violations. The arrangement of the screenshots in a matrix format, resembling a memory theater, refers to the Matrix by the Wachowski siblings, which Germen considers one of the most meaningful science fiction films ever made. The discourse of humanity's self-created state is a theme that we often encounter within the framework of the exhibition.
Deniz Üster's installation with works titled "Inauguration" and "Telling" from her Citadel Bricolages series. Inspired by neo-futuristic urban projects of avant-garde architectural groups like Archigram and Superstudio, who consider architecture as a theoretical field and reflect it as a form of cultural criticism in their work, artist Deniz Üster and writer Gürçim Yılmaz re-imagine concepts such as urban space, post-capitalism, automation, settlement/nomadism within the urgency of the 21st century, taking Ron Herron's "Walking City" idea as their starting point. This work references the disappearing nature and human settlements, carrying significant discourse for the exhibition.
Nancy Atakan's two-channel video work "Oleander" portrays the artist's conversations with the plants on her terrace while she was in isolation at home during the pandemic. For her, these plants have gained increasing importance day by day. She looked at them, watered them, talked to them, and developed a special bond with them. In her work "Oleander", she talks to the plant as if it is a human being. The voice in the narrative is actually her own inner voice, and the story is between reality and fiction with a partly autobiographical approach. This work expresses what the Oleander plant tells the artist and emphasizes the importance of nature.
The idea and production of "The Sacred Wallet" by Gizem Candan drew inspiration from the concept of "The Sacred Money and Markets Story" developed by American author David Korten. For Korten, money itself is not bad, but worshiping money is. We are currently at the beginning of the Global Environmental Movement, and the damage we are causing to the world is far beyond repair. Given that non-renewable resources or those that require substantial amounts of energy to renew are not infinite, it follows that a toxic capitalist system cannot sustain unlimited growth. As a result, there is a growing trend towards developing a system that does not separate humans from nature. However, could positioning humans in nature be more difficult than initially thought? What are the limits of humans, and what should they be? This work criticizes the capitalist system and proposes that investing in nature represents the most promising investment for our future.
In addition, Şevval Konyalı's installation "New Atlantis" consists of origami made from the pages of the Martin Mystère comic book series displayed in an antique baby bathtub. The installation is inspired by Francis Bacon's unfinished utopia, "New Atlantis". In Bacon's novel, a European shipwreck discovers the unknown island of Bensalem in the Pacific Ocean, which is inhabited by people who idealize science and creativity. (The island's people send scientists on a ship every twelve years to discover other communities.) This work hints the possibility of an alternative world.
"Remembering The Future" is a design by Nancy Atakan that she has been collecting and refining since the 1980s, using antique needle lace to convey diverse messages. In her collection, Atakan found a delicate, worn piece of fabric adorned with flower patterns that she deemed fitting to bear the poetic phrase "Remembering the Future," which alludes to the ambivalence we experience when contemplating our past, acknowledging our errors, and contemplating the present. Through this work, Atakan conveys a crucial message and presents the final proposal of the exhibition, that if every individual can live by remembering the future, perhaps a difference can be made.
Antonio Riello's "A desperate attempt of vice to turn up on virtue" is a photo work constructed around poker cards of the stadium's stands, as can be understood from the title, which examines the audience's silence in the face of fraud, hypocrisy, and hidden agendas. It seems to me that the inclusion of this confrontation in this exhibition is a very strong statement.
Yes, the artist’s work presents important aspects to our attention with a quite bold and skillfully constructed plot. Fraud, hypocrisy, and hidden agendas are commonly encountered in the "Myths" section of the exhibition. Each card used by the artist to create a sculpture in this construction was actually used in poker games. By setting up this installation and then taking a photograph of it, the artist wants to provide us with a permanent record of this issue and reminds us that both the player and the viewer are complicit in this crime. According to the artist, the viewer becomes an accomplice to the crimes committed by remaining silent despite witnessing them.
Deniz Üster's video 'Being an ear guest to a gossip', as well as the installations 'Inauguration' and 'Telling', are works that involve the viewer in the exhibition space. Could you talk about these Works ?
In the 5th question I mentioned a bit "Inauguration" and "Telling" works. "Being an ear to gossip" is a video work included in the Elgiz Collection, which tells the story of sacrificing what is useful and valuable for the sake of the futile and unimportant. There is a transformation from organic to synthetic, becoming edible and poisonous. The forms in the artwork evoke vaguely familiar rituals and Anatolian folklore later merge with the contrasting nature of Üster's Scottish experience, bringing a completely different post-industrial context to her works, along with fragments of its natural beauty. The film portrays the daily rituals and labor of a tiny epic creature. This monster plants blue potatoes like seeds, collects strange resins flowing from trees, and harvests rocks that it can carry as a result of all this physical effort. Who is this creature? And why is it so intent on continuing these non-utilitarian actions? The artwork presents several aspects that require careful consideration.
David Tremlett's 'Drawings for a New Wall #2' invites us to observe the interplay of circular forms and colors on paper with a pastel work that invites a dialogue between our perception of dimensions, the visible and the invisible, and the past and the future. When considered within the conceptual framework of the exhibition, how would you propose to interpret Tremlett's work?
David Tremlett is a British artist known worldwide for his large wall paintings and site-specific installations, and for his collaborations with Sol LeWitt. He has also been shortlisted for the Turner Prize. In this exhibition, his work "Drawings For A New Wall #2" is featured in the "Dreams" section, and it is a pastel work on paper that invites a dialogue between our sense of dimension, the visible and invisible, the past and the future. In the "Myths" section, Bengü Karaduman's work "Sketches for a New Body" suggests that change is always possible, and Tremlett's work can be seen as proposing a similar idea. It reminds me of Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophy of absolute freedom, being condemned to freedom and creating one's own essence through choices. For example, when we wake up each morning, we decide what kind of person we will be that day, whether a good person or a villain. Therefore, Tremlett's work in this exhibition is one of the important pieces that proposes the idea of change as always possible.
In this exhibition selection, we experience Piero Gilardi, the pioneer of the Arte Povera movement's ironic approach to organic forms and nature with industrial materials through the sculpture included. When considered within the conceptual framework of the exhibition, its display in the Dreams section conveys a message to the viewer. How do you interpret this?
Piero Gilardi's 1998 work "Cherry Flower" and his discourse have a significant and central place in this exhibition. Even before the "End of Nature" debates or speculations about the post-human era became commonplace in the art world, Gilardi, with a personal sensitivity, began to warn in 1965 that humanity would lose its natural habitats. He started the famous Nature Carpets (Tappeti-natura) series as alternative environments to compensate for this loss of natural habitats. He called these carpets "cybernetic individual living cells." These carpets were artificial "nature" pieces made of foam rubber: artificial pebbles, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. His works were thought of as parts of a new alternative environment composition in the reinvention of life worldwide. (Piero Gilardi Biopolitics, by Bernard Vienat, Source Mousse Magazine, 18.05.2018) Today, it has become apparent that living in artificial environments to escape the effects of climate change and prevent extinction is a reality. Piero Gilardi's proposals were early expressions of what was expected. The reason for its inclusion in the "Dreams" section, which generally features positive proposals rather than "Myths", is to provide a small warning and reminder to people.
Can you share any books or authors that have left an impression on you recently and made you reflect on the themes they explore?
I have a habit of reading several books at the same time, some of the ones I am currently reading are: Chaosophy, Felix Guattari/ The Gripping History of Quarantine, Until Proven Safe, Geoff Manaugh & Nicola Twiley / The Great Degeneration, Niall Ferguson / A Manifesto For Change: Net Zero_How We Stop Causing Climate Change, Dieter Helm / Yeni Harita, Daniel Yergin / The Culture Map, Erin Meyer / Sanat ve Ekoloji, Eda Sezgin.