CAPPADOCIA, Turkey — When wending from valley to valley and clambering over the otherworldly rock formations unique to Cappadocia, a region in central Anatolia, it’s easy to imagine you’ve been transported to another planet. The landscape is altogether more lunar than terrestrial. So it’s unsurprising to see the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, tinged orange and red, serving as a stand-in for Mars in Halil Altindere’s video installation Space Refugee. Clad in retro spacesuits, three refugees-cum-astronauts explore the planet with an eye toward colonizing it. Part scientific study, part science fiction, the video explores a future in which Syrian refugees, rebuffed by every country on Earth, find a home and their humanity on Mars, an absurd prospect made all the more damning because of its plausibility.
A critical success during its initial runs at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein in Berlin and Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York, Space Refugee is one of the standout works in Ways Out from the World, the contemporary art program organized as part of the multidisciplinary cultural festival Cappadox. In its third year, the four-day festival draws Turkish city-dwellers to Cappadocia for a diverting romp outdoors. This exhibition, however, has put down deeper roots. On view until June 11, Ways Out from the World embraces the region’s uncanny landscape by encouraging artists to envisage what has not yet emerged.
Although it invokes the realm of the imaginary, the exhibition eschews escapism; instead, the site-specific works on display show artists thinking creatively about the dispiriting circumstances of our own world. In Avanos, Héctor Zamora’s sculptural installation “Truth Appears Always As Something Veiled” (2017) oscillates between transparency and opaqueness, a kind of physical metaphor for recent events in Turkey and Mexico. Modeled after a labyrinth drawing found in Knidos, Turkey, the structure is built with locally produced bricks; by turning them on their side, Zamora exposes the perforations that normally accommodate chimney pipes. Walking the circular route to the center of the sculpture forces the viewer to turn inward; with only one possible path to follow, the way is prescribed though by no means clear.
Similar to Zamora’s installation, which the artist generously donated to the city, many of the other works in Avanos tap into the local arts culture. Yasemin Özcan pays homage to Avanos’s pottery masters and workshops with her video “Earth Is the Mother of Us All” (2017) and public sculpture “While Exiting the World” (2017). The former is a short meditation on living by the land as practiced by Levent Düzgün, a master ceramicist who splits his time between his pottery workshop and his vineyards. The latter work similarly reflects on the power of connection, whether to the land or one another, by combining the individual productions of various ceramicists from Avanos, a city famed for its red clay pottery, into an act of collective production and solidarity.
Like Cappadocia itself, the exhibition is spread across multiple towns. While the installations in Avanos engage with the town’s industry and history, the artworks in Göreme’s Keyişdere Valley reach further back in time, putting a finger to the area’s primordial pulse.
“Ravage” (2017), Yaşam Şaşmazer’s wooden sculpture of a woman in what looks like a yogic child pose, occupies one of the fairy chimneys. Carved from single piece of wood and covered with mushrooms and moss, the prostrate woman is turned toward the earth, seeming to question whether we can submit ourselves to nature, becoming another stratum in the rock face.
Şaşmazer’s sculpture is one of three works in dialogue with the fairy chimneys, the focal point of Cappadocia’s fantastical geology. İris Ergül’s installation Bestiarum Vocabulum (2017), which must be clambered up to on a rickety wooden ladder, transforms a squat, dark cave into a funhouse. The artist has created five beasts, combining the many different layers and fictive genealogies of these ever-shifting spaces, whose residents have ranged from monks to pigeons. Perched on stick legs and composed of animal hides, bedraggled garments, and zoomorphic masks, the hybrid creatures are menacing marvels, evoking the fear inherent in fairy tales.
Nermin Er’s “Side by Side” (2017), the third work to intervene in an old cave, features delicate paper ladders and scaffolds cascading down the rock face. The flimsiness of these structures emphasizes humanity’s ability to destroy the natural and historic fabric of a landscape, while their placement, which resembles a chaotic archaeological dig, points to our pitiful attempts at restoration in the face of destruction.
Yet finding a way out of the world is sure to lead to some dead ends. So it was fitting to end the weekend with Karin Sander’s performance “Hitting the Highest Notes,” in which nine musicians, standing atop an empty building in the rundown neighborhood of İbrahimpaşa, put in a herculean effort to reach the highest note possible. The clarinet and soprano dominated at the start, but as the group inched higher and higher, it was the stringed instruments that could be heard above all others, their notes haunting as the musicians strained to achieve something just beyond their grasp. An exercise in reaching limits and endeavoring to push beyond them, the performance was a reminder of the courage required to imagine what is yet to come.
Despite its ethereal setting, Ways Out from the World is firmly grounded in Cappadocia’s unique history. Just as the region’s inhabitants experimented with imaginative architectural forms, so too do the participating artists utilize unorthodox methods to reflect on where we’ve been and to reimagine where we’re going. The end result is site-specificity at its best.
Ways Out from the World continues at multiple venues around Cappadocia through June 11.