gözde ilkin

gözde ilkin

“The world is a knot in motion. Biological and cultural determinism are both instances of misplaced concreteness—i.e. the mistake of, first, taking provisional and local category abstractions like “nature” and “culture” and, second, mistaking potent consequences to be preexisting foundations. There are no pre-constituted subjects and objects and no single sources, unitary actors, or final ends.”

Donna Haraway,
The Companion Species Manifesto, 2012

I met Gözde İlkin in the spring of 2022; until then, I had only been a regular follower of her work. I knew that she had made a home for herself on the surface of fabrics, at first those that carry the memories of her own family, and later, also others’. I could sense that the figures that populated these fabrics, tied together through their faceless heads by gnarly nodes in the color of flesh, were meant to address familial situations and configurations that we either knew too well, or at least recognized from a distance. In these now familiar works by İlkin, the fabrics function both as subject and material: the lacework on a pillowcase, the embroidery on handmade curtains, the scalloped edges of a tablecloth, the needlework on a towel become the bearers of domestic memory when they are transformed by İlkin. While these loaded surfaces –either carrying marks and patches that signify overuse or the stain and rust of being stored away in drawers and chests, having awaited for a special day that never came– never become completely unrecognizable. However, at İlkin’s hands, they leave their intended functions behind. Instead of preserving, embellishing or domesticating things, the fabrics used by the artist are transformed into planes that reveal rather than cover; instead of hiding what is underneath, these surfaces draw attention to themselves. They function as signifiers of openness and vulnerability. Using this particular vocabulary of stitching on trousseau fabrics that she has built over the last decade or so, the artist has been picking at the crust of a common –perhaps even collective – wound rather than bandaging over it.

During our conversations over the summer, I found out from the artist herself that these fabrics had reached beyond the living rooms and family histories and expanded onto the city, pointing towards the urban changes and transformations we continue to witness. In addition to memories that revolve around transitions, losses and changes that come from switching from one house to another, the traces of neighborhoods and cities lived in have become visible on these fabrics. The archival surface of the fabrics contain not only chest stains but also traces of rust, turning into urban records as well. By the time we started discussing her work in the summer of 2022, İlkin had expanded the scale of her reach once more, now inhabiting her fabrics with a renewed sense of home, taking into its fold the entire surface of the earth. İlkin's fabrics were now parts of her process of coming to terms with feeling at home wherever she went –either as a traveler or as a resident, the idea of home now resides in the crust of the earth, not just within the confines of a house. İlkin’s artistic residency at the MAC-VAL Contemporary Art Museum in Vitry-sur-Seine, and the conversations she had with gardeners at the museum as well as with the keepers of community gardens and botanic parks in the surrounding area led her to integrate into her work the stories of plants, cracks, seeds, and their migratory routes, encompassing species that took root as well as those that did not. For the first time, taking root was no longer being stuck in one place, but the feeling of being able to settle down simultaneously in many places at once, wherever she spread her seeds. Consequently, she began coloring her fabrics with the plants she collected, sowing the seeds, the scents and the stories she heard into their pockets. These new rituals soon after extended from Paris to Gwangju, taking their healing properties with them. My heart began to beat a little faster when İlkin showed me the video and photos of a brief installation she made at the Water Mill Center in New York in 2021, the result of her collaboration with dancer Aslı Bülbül. In the character "Dune" that the artist created and Aslı Bülbül embodied in the experiments they made on the shore of the ocean, I sensed that İlkin was winking at her much earlier work with fabrics, when she made costumes for performances. In this new modality, İlkin’s fabrics ceased to be surfaces to be looked at, and began to move beyond the two-dimensional space, reaching towards the viewer. My heartbeat accelerated further: as our conversations began to shape around this exhibition, the fabrics and sketches took on colors from plants, minerals, and vegetables; the seams expanded onto three dimensions, and the actors began to multiply.

Gözde İlkin’s fifth solo exhibition at artSümer, titled Entrusted Ground, is on the one hand a landscape painting stretched to three-dimensions, on the other, it is also a stage for sound and movement. Comprising fire, water, earth and air, this place is perhaps a motif to be inhabited, or perhaps, it is merely a cave in the crevices of our minds. Entrusted Ground is home to homeless stones, a shift for dancers and twigs, a prayer for fractures, or a dream enveloped in echoes that come from the four corners of the world.

This iteration of Entrusted Ground is just one among many other possibilities. In my opinion, this nook that Gözde has entrusted to me, Berke, Aslı, Alara, Umut, Nazlı and Barış to populate is a spatial illustration of "natureculture," as Donna Haraway put it. Here, the digital, the organic, the sensory and the virtual coexist. The sound of rice being cooked in Japan passes through the electric cables and turns back into vibrations in space; the branches and stones that Gözde collects are wrapped in floral embroidery made by someone’s grandmother; sometimes the fabrics flow like water, at others they sit still like stones; avocados turn pink, cabbages turn blue, gestures and movements fossilize. This is a permanent rehearsal space where we lean on each other as Gözde's shamans pass their powers onto us, and to you.

The acoustic environment created by Berke Can Özcan for Entrusted Ground is formed by the spatial combination of four sounds in four channels. Sometimes we hear the murmur of the wooden bird-fish left at the mercy of the air circulation at the entrance of the space, and sometimes we don’t even notice it. The other channels, which are separated rhythmically, acoustically, and harmonically, correspond to earth, water and fire respectively. While these are fixed soundwaves in designated channels, they sometimes switch roles and wander around the space as if following the flow of water. There are many pieces of sonic memory in these channels: Buddhist prayer machines, bicycle bells, field recordings featuring the sounds of wind, water, trees, insects, as well as ambulance sirens, sonars or steel drums made from petrol drums in the Caribbean. The digitally altered musical scraps may take you to the past or they may as well bear news from the future. The sounds of Entrusted Ground have a beginning and an end that follows a timeline from dawn to nightfall, and reaches a plain before the sun comes up again, arriving at the whispers of Sema Kaygusuz that we hid at the bottom of the cave sooner or later. However, how your path throughout the exhibition will cross this narrative, which time of the day in these soundscape corresponds to your journey, or whether a bird will serenade you or not remains undetermined.

The performative components of Entrusted Ground are choreographed by Aslı Öztürk. She applied the strategies of deepening the body-mind relationship while staying focused on the sensations that she uses in her practice at large to Entrusted Ground, resulting in a live performance as well as videos that pepper the exhibition. Departing from the four main elements that the exhibition also revolves around, Öztürk created four sections for the four dancers who represent Air, Wind, Water, and Earth. The purpose of this flow of movement, which activates the forms made by İlkin such as the Umbilical Cord, Crust, and Those Who Remember Births, is to produce moving landscapes while making every moment worth sharing. The last part of the performance takes the figures from İlkin's two-dimensional works titled The Unfurling of the Sky: The Dance of the Sleeping Seeds and The Unsealing of the Earth: Mourning and Birth and interprets them in three dimensions. In this section, a choreographic order organized around Fibonacci numbers and more classical dance forms come to the fore. During her preparations with the dancers, Öztürk emphasized sensation by employing somatic body work as well as meditation: the traces of these preparatory work can be especially felt in the improvisations, which are not part of the live performance, but featured in the videos interspersed throughout the space. The music for the performance was also composed by Berke Can Özcan and took its final shape in dialogue with Öztürk's choreography; the composition integrates pieces Özcan had worked on for his previous album Mountains are Mountains and sounds he made for the exhibition.

As Gözde once said: “When the knots we form with habits and ossified patterns are broken; when we allow unsettling changes to happen, an unexpected life can unfold. The solution can sometimes come from an unfamiliar moment and place.” Here at Entrusted Ground you can eavesdrop, close your eyes and daydream, move about or take root; the point is to contemplate Gaia.

Duygu Demir

İlkin’s work Cracks Deepen as Roots Speak, pieces of which are featured at different points of the exhibition was initially produced for the 13th Gwangju Biennial with the support of the SAHA Fund. Thanks to Defne Ayas, Natasha Ginwala, Krisztina Hunya and the entire GB team as well as the MAC-VAL Museum of Contemporary Art for inspiring the creation of the works, and special thanks to Sema Kaygusuz for the prayer she penned and voiced.