HOW MANY STEPS DOES FAR TAKE? – UZAK KAÇ ADIM EDER?

Özgül Arslan has been practicing art actively since the mid-90’s, accumulating a multi-layered portfolio of images encompassing all the way from the individual to the social. She adopts a narrative style that positions “woman” in the center of her productions, as an image shaped by masculine power and consumption culture. Exhibiting an unfailing effort to grasp the social conjoining of forms that mediate between the placement and displacement of identity, the artist refrains from constructing a “woman” image that is as simplistic as a “victim”, or as the sole reason behind the problem. She focuses on creating an opportunity to reflect on this positioning from a broader perspective, such as the ways female identity integrates with the social fabric, its adoption practices, its position in life-dynamics that cannot be reduced to lethargy. From paintings to photography, from videos to installations, the proli c production in various media manifests itself both in Özgül Arslan’s touch with reality and her emphasis on the plural aesthetics of contemporary arts. The diversity of the tools the artist uses to transform social phenomena, relations, life styles and individual experiences into artistic creativity is an indication of an effort to keep her practice open and alive. Özgül Arslan carries out her art practice with a sharpened sensitivity and ample determination to fight against demands imposed by the powers of the outside world, and her practice is based on an open-ended concept. With change, novelty, and research possibilities always on the agenda, her creativity reveals itself in her experimentation with different methods in forms of production, or in her concepts stripped from the morphology of banality.

In her most recent work, Özgül Arslan is interested in transforming the gural/artistic tradition to visual encounters that suit changing conditions. In “How Many Steps Does Far Take!” where she creates such a space of encounter, she shares those traces born out of a constant struggle with the unconscious meanings in her daily life and inner world. The artist transforms darkness into a visible being, to a volumetric trace, applying a magical theory speci c to the image created through pictorial tools, and she creates a space of encounter with self-permeable objects, and etches the hidden traces of what is visible. Categories such as subject and existence, imaginary and real, shadow and light blend in to generously showcase her imaginary world woven with silent moments. Identity, existence, and a conceptual context deriving from daily life can be traced in the works exhibited. From here follows spontaneously the element that shapes the production styles of the artist, who diagnoses her own subjective experiences.

Home, as a private space, offers us disparate images as well as a totality of images. The artist tackles home as an object that can be encapsulated in the sphere of in uence of judgments and dreams; a genuine and tangible essence. It underlines the ne nuances that bond us to a space in which we feel sheltered and the profound reality that each detail ensconces. These spaces that the artist builds out of intangible shadows engender a distant landscape where memory and imagination intertwine. The works represent an expression of subjective experience that controverts an objective reality. The tension and anxiety enshrouded by the seemingly serene atmosphere is unearthed in the processing of symbols. The used symbols express conscious and unconscious experiences; the current individual existence of the artist; her multiple identities as a woman, a mother, an educator and an artist, and its relationship to art history. The stairs, as symbol, exhibiting the prototypical phenomenon of a nascence following the dynamic encounter between subjective and objective poles, creates a “Gestalt” between the past, the present, and the future.

These images Özgül Arslan has created by using and then wiping away bleaching agents on black velvet fabric, unveil the divide between the social construction of “female” identity and the experience of the individual/artist. The artist prefers to take this engagement between pictorial language and signs to the most sweeping depths of the process. These works bear the visual codes of a cruel crisis and interruption of memory, and how internal processes honed by obligations, conditions, choices are to be conjoined by remaining on the other side of meaning or senses. Acknowledging this fact is an expression of challenging, facing and accepting the fragility of artistic production and the artist’s existence.

Erasing –especially in the context of surface – appears as an action geared towards losing, annihilating, and rendering invisible. The corporeal action there is a living and crucial point of expression. The body, the work of art, and expression/action turn into the relationship of the subject with its object. The gaps created by physical movement point at a strategy that makes a reference to existence. This leads to a kind of catharsis for both the artist and the viewer. The “stairs” metaphor that is chosen due to its impact that leads to a purge and mental clarity also refers to the axis mundi in the Shaman cosmology. The subject of the work is not a simple game of forms. The strategy of the artist stands out at this point. The insistence on the inseparable union of form and content emerges in the emphasis on these two elements of work that cannot exist separately. The form of the work of art appeals to the senses. Apparent in the practice of Özgül Arslan is an embrace of the content explored by visual codes perceived through the senses, such as light-shadow, figure-abstraction, color-design, thus an embrace of the signs that help grasp the “meaning”. It is not diffıcult to sense the woeful existence of images that the artist has created by the act of erasing, and that occur in a tension creating a contrast with the function of the action. The artist lays bare those experiences that she weeded out of her subjective experiences, and they become experiences that belong to us, that we embrace, and that we end up feeling more deeply.
These inde nite spaces that absorb the viewers in the paintings titled Sitting on the Stairs, First Step, Girl Lying on the Stairs, and, Us, Stepping Down the Stairs, represent a cosmos that hold time in compressed form, rather than acting as a décor for the memory. The stairs rise vertically, and from bottom to top in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Differentiation in the vertical direction creates two poles or two opposing axes- darkness and light, light and shadow, presence and absence, past and future… One cannot know the meaning of concepts without a reference to their opposites. Meaning arises from these opposites. This dual image the artist uses leaves us suspended in the middle. A little girl who dares to look down and understand, a motionless woman gure who has surrendered herself to the present, or a mysterious double gure that appears at a distance like a ckle shadow engulf us in a space of cordiality. The stairs, at times, point at the here and now, at times, at an area of encounters, and at times, at the space for a tremor that fades and vanishes like an inde nite zone. The artist creates a hazy space where all values vibrate, and confronts us with the resistance of a place where we are non-existent.
In the spatial set-up that the artist builds around the “stairs” metaphor, the human gure that gradually disappears on the pictorial plane assumes the function of some sort of translocation and repositioning. This act of translocation almost reaches abstraction in works like Boomerang, Lost, In nity Descending the Stairs, and highlights the existence of the represented gure through erasure and annihilation. The artist aims at a much stronger representation of gures than any gurative painting could embody by removing them from the pictorial place; and she creates a network of representations composed of opposites by stripping light of shadow, gure of space, in tandem with the forms she created through erasure. The stairs, which head towards abstract geometric forms, invites the viewers to confront the sensation of being “here” within the framework of a collective existence, and encourages them to enter a shared space. It heartens them to step into a world that is shared. As sensed in The Space Next to Me and Stairs, these paintings are simultaneously taciturn and insurgent. It transforms the poetic imagery, which possesses an almost active silence, into an inherent phenomenon with responsibility, and positions the viewer as a curious explorer walking around in the dark passages of the labyrinth.
The interaction between the real and the imagined space still keeps one engaged in the void that fades away into non- existence under the shadow of memory, whether one is inside or outside. The artist employs a strategy, which resembles the re ection of the existence of paintings in the Stairs installation.
The forms are revealed via the geometric intuition of viewers. The artist shies away from the privileges of using the tools of pictorial language, such as contours, lines, and patterns. Image is hedged by nihility. Therefore, as we near the surface, we cannot be sure whether we could capture the image in its solidity. Image begins to exist when it gets away from itself, leaves the space behind, and is grasped. Özgül Arslan shatters the glitter of dreams through these scenes, presenting a measure for the challenges of life. In the video titled Braids, the artist braids her daughter’s hair in a continuous cycle, pinpointing the “ties” that bond individuals together by means of concepts like time, memory, and recollection. Reminiscent of Rapunzel who used her blonde hair to serve as stairs, the braids transform into a cycle of taking root, waiting, advancing, and starting over. The artist conveys the idea of a controversial, fragmented, split subjectivity through gures positioned in a blurry space between what is imaginary and real. This is an inherent con ict that completely occurs outside, leaving room for neither melancholy nor desire nor dialogue.
Artistic freedom embodies the ability to stop and then choose your direction between the thrust of life and the response to it. The creative skill, rooted in freedom, is inseparable from consciousness and the self- awareness of consciousness itself. It is crystal clear that Özgül Arslan’s artistic identity has materialized through her progress in her self-creation process, her hopes, ideals, imagery and the concepts she digs under. Her work comes into existence whenever she has to nd herself as part of a new reality or when she feels she is perched on the slope of time. They are parts of a vision that she herself has lived/experienced and created. In that regard, “How Many Steps Does Far Take!” opens up a space of strong and living confrontation between Özgül Arslan’s world of imagination and the viewers. This space in which the artist interrogates her distance to the multiple roles in her identity generates clashes and short circuits such as the display of social mechanisms via subjective experiences, and in fact, the disclosure of a kept secret.

Derya Yücel
November 2013, İstanbul