A diverse and inclusive art world in the making
by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Ayca OkayPublished on : May 08, 2023
Istanbul-based artist Ali Elmacı examines politics based on hypocrisy, with a solo show, titled Kiss My Lips, Dagger My Heart, after two years, at Pilevneli Gallery. From his perspective, ugliness has always been at the centre of his compositions, symbolising criticism for the abuse of power, media, social patterns, and popular culture. This time, Elmacı turns into a Spaghetti Western movie director, producing a short film, alongside his oil paintings, sculptures, and drawings.
The exhibition marks the artist's directorial debut, in addition to his recent works on canvas and paper. Three new short films produced by Bulut Reyhanoğlu, Smelled It When I Tasted It, We'll Go Out to the Garden Too, and Love Me More Than Yourself translate Elmacı's visual language and perspective onto a new medium.
Elmacı started working on his series, in his studio in the peaceful neighbourhood of pre-election Istanbul, right in the middle of uncertainty, coupled with the country's media channels being controlled by the propaganda of power holders. This uncertainty affected him in multiple ways; inspired by the politics of the media, he transferred his critical thoughts to his paintings, with a unique language. Rather than a materialist approach, he always uses bold and original forms and images as symbols, generating eye-catching, colourful compositions. He further traces the sacred meaning of form and colour, using the power of metaphors to strengthen his conceptual narrative.
As an enthusiastic artist, employing dark humour and apocalyptic figures, Elmacı examines social norms with a striking interpretation. He does so through the artistic mediums of drawing, video, and sculpture in recent periods, apart from his productions that include a contemporary understanding of classical canvas painting. Yet all his works offer a common ground for discussion, one rooted against the media's management of the perception of Turkey as the easternmost of the West and westernmost of the East—its geographical position forcing the country to adopt new policies, due to the rapidly changing agenda. The absurdity right after the catastrophe caused by the earthquakes in Southern Anatoli are a fresh example. The decision mechanism misguided authorities triggered the disaster's impacts. With the media trying to cover up the dismay, the way they presented the information was even more absurd—creating a fiction, far removed from the on-ground reality.
Elmacı’s works primarily constitute criminal atmospheres in his paintings, in attempts of bringing the truth to light. Finding criminal cases crude and obscene, with details that are uncomfortable and disrespectful. Elmacı directly uses this language in his paintings. While highlighting something, he puts together various other things that will distort and distract the viewer's perception and disperse it—overlapping his language with that of the media. This parallels power-driven situations, where the public is shielded from information by the media, through the information of other, less important things as a way to make people forget, or to confuse and distract them.
Kiss My Lips, Dagger My Heart is imagined as a Spaghetti Western fiction, and draws parallels between the storyline of a western to the narrative of an exhibition. Elmacı interprets the theme of two facades as a murder resulting from a duello, where good and evil characters get tangled up in dilemmas. Personally, I have always been amazed by the cinematography and musical dynamism of Spaghetti Western movies, where the camera mainly moves in between—zooming in and out of positions— and the characters seem uncanny with almost whimsy gestures. Like in those films, the theme of two facades is a trait seen in all of Elmacı's characters. The 'evil’ in all of Elmacı's works are visual investigations into the anatomy of a murder, appearing to be a duello; where the results concentrate on the details of the murder.
The painting titled Kiss My Lips, Dagger My Heart at the exhibition's entrance welcomes the audience, representing governments and their citizens' biggest nightmare—terror. The subjects in the painting are having a picnic in the shade of Michelangelo's David, with a woman hugging a skull, and a man using her waist to position his shotgun. The sculpture of David represents an object of idolatry, translating to mean the ruling power. The David in Elmacı's painting is weighing Goliath with his eyes, intimating that he is Michelangelo's original version. He hasn't thrown his stone, hit the giant, or cut his head yet, but he is frozen when he becomes sure that he can take him on.
This reminds one of the Coloured Revolutions of the 2000s, where the participants of the movement often used nonviolent resistance, also known as civil resistance. The demonstrations consisted of strikes and protests against corrupt or authoritarian governments to protect democracy, bringing heavy pressure on changing rulers. In most revolutions, a unique colour or flower was used as a symbol and non-governmental organisations, especially student activists, played an essential role in the Coloured Revolutions.
Another highlight is Love Me More Than Yourself—one of the three short films that mark Elmacı's directorial debut. An allusion to Kiss My Lips, Dagger My Heart, the movie features another icon embraced by the public as a saviour. He casts Turkish singer Aleyna Tilki as a princess idolised by pop culture—a sort of icon, indicating that people's expectations of popular icons can homogenise them, flattening out their quirks. Another short film from the exhibition, Smelled It When I Tasted It illustrates a duello—detailing the duality of character, where one holds his beliefs separate from his duty.
Elmacı's years of practice show that it is seemingly possible to defeat the Apocrypha by using the power of symbolism and creating scenes inspired by crime and pain. While the rapid development of technology brings access to information at the speed of light, many ethical values are being forgotten—concepts of privacy, obscenity, grief, trauma, and tragedy are emptied, in favour of a pervasive culture of performative pain. However, Elmacı makes an inversion when instrumentalising the vulgarity of performative pain—a popular context employed by current media channels. Instead, he creates his own language.
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