“Reflections fall onto mirrors without logic, and in doing so, invalidate every assertion.”
ISTANBUL — Bahar Yürükoğlu makes icebergs bleed neon colors. And when they don’t bleed, they appear refracted through wildly colored plexiglass, or treaded on balefully by a long-haired figure clad in a golden bodysuit, her face masked by a hood. Curated by Duygu Demir, Yürükoğlu’s self-described “1980s fun house” of a solo show at ARTER, Flow Through, builds on the artist’s many trips to the Arctic circle — “a last place on Earth,” as she calls it in an interview in the show’s catalogue. The exhibition considers the materiality of human presence through conceptually crisp conceits, which manifest in an exuberant visual idiom.
At the very beginning of the exhibition, hung up high near ARTER’s entrance from Istiklal Caddesi, is a work I missed until my final visit. “Accession” (2015) is a medium-sized photograph of four plexiglass triangles — pink, purplish blue, black, and orange — sunk into snow so perfectly white that, if not for the sliver of sky seen in the top quarter of the work, it could almost be mistaken for an unpainted swath of primed canvas. Discreetly positioned right next to “Plexiberg” (2016), a riotous site-specific installation, “Accession” seems to fulfill the role of a legend for those encountering Yürükoğlu’s work for the first time, and a reminder for others already well-versed.
Yürükoğlu’s chosen device for juxtaposing the two extremities on the natural-to-man-made spectrum, the “neo-scapes,” as she calls them, involve a process similar to Robert Smithson’s “mirror displacements.” While the insertion of a reflective surface into a landscape is common to both artists, the frivolity and artificiality of plexiglass colors in an Arctic setting that is “highly desaturated from the human-made,” as she puts it, goes beyond Smithson’s interest in the passage of time. This chromatic interjection points back at the artist: not only is Yürükoğlu’s presence an intervention in this rarely touched landscape, but also her faculty of vision, conditioned since birth by the ubiquity of plastic, insists on a Technicolor appreciation of the world. In fact, the artist confesses in the catalogue interview: “I attempt to re-make nature in our own image.”
Yürükoğlu is, of course, not oblivious to the fact that “re-making nature in one’s own image” has — especially in the last century — caused catastrophic damage to planet Earth. As if to reinforce this point, and avoid any potential misunderstandings, five vertically aligned light boxes (“Channels,” 2016) rise like a cautionary totem, showing an identical iceberg “bleeding” in purple, pink, yellow, green, and cyan. The gravity (pun intended) of the hanging — a single, towering line — suffices to curb the cheerfulness of the colors, and the unrelenting streaming forth of a sinister (fictional) substance also materializes on ARTER’s walls in the ominous glow of the light boxes. The ambiguity of the images, simultaneously tending toward the celebration and lamentation of the melting of the ice caps, probes whether critical distance is a fiction. Grossly implicated in nature’s devastation in almost all of our acts, we do not eliminate gray areas, but instead, turn them into kaleidoscopic delusions-cum-nightmares.
There may be virtue in such hyperbole for purposes of increased self-awareness and self-examination, but when it comes to Yürükoğlu’s more abstract, sculptural works, the focus shifts more explicitly to an economy of estrangement through the slowing down of perception. “Waterfall” (2016), a magenta-colored plexiglass sheet leaning against the wall, comes dangerously close to Jeff Koons’s multi-million-dollar balloon-twisting, with its sensuous curve and the artist’s choice of color. However, unlike Koons, Yürükoğlu does not cast a flimsy readymade toy or inflated animal about to pop in steel to contradict and counter-balance the speed with which we consume objects. Her “Waterfall” remains a semblance, a signifier of the actual thing — in fact, not even of the thing, but of its characteristic movement.
The Minimalist abstraction of a waterfall, being still largely recognizable, gives into an explosion of enigmatic geometric signifiers in “Plexiberg” — the signature piece of the show, which confronts visitors immediately as they enter. The work lacks the verticality of an iceberg, instead immersing the viewer in mostly angular plexiglass shapes that jut out from the walls and the floor, while others — including a circle — slowly rotate in the middle of the installation. The edges of these shapes occasionally glow as if lit from the inside, depending on the light that any of the five projectors may be sending their way. Yürükoğlu appears to have “colored in” Plato’s cave, substituting chromatic surfaces for volumes.
The journey through “Plexiberg” — paying attention to the subtle movement of shadows and mixing of colors — is an allegory of all the lives we are flowing through, as perceived by others. They catch light, shine for a moment, and then disappear in the shade. In even the briefest of encounters involve the imposition of different shades of ideas, opinions, and beliefs about us onto our bodies. Perhaps this phenomenon is nothing to be terrified of, but rather a resplendent odyssey to delight in, as one strives to figure out “how” she stands instead of where she stands. Like a shaman animating natural or artificial landscapes through ritualized actions, Yürükoğlu reminds us that attempts at self-positioning are comforting acts of faith — not obligatory, but encouraged for a peaceful co-existence with the rest of the world.
Bahar Yürükoğlu: Flow Through ran March 30–May 15 at ARTER (İstiklal Cadesi No 211, Beyoğlu, İstanbul).
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