by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
Turkish visual artist Deniz Sağdıç’s work at the Istanbul International Airport is part of the activities of iGART, which is continuing its mission to make space for art with thought-provoking innovative projects such as the ‘0’ Zero Point exhibition. In conversation with Sağdıç we explore her practice, her creative process, and her latest work that uses waste materials such as plastic containers, bags, numerous buttons of varied colours, paper pieces, cables, and batteries abandoned as waste by the people walking through the airport. “As you know, I use waste materials in my art, the use of these materials is particularly central to my current project Ready-ReMade,” explains Sağdıç. The inclusion of daily use objects that are touched and elevated through her work is part of a conceptual debate that time and again considers notions of what makes the distinction between high art and low art.
“As is known, the immersive exhibition of ordinary objects as they are, instead of classical methods of art, such as oil painting or sculpture, is called conceptual art. Conceptual art can be accepted as a technique, but it is wrong to think that the concept in art if possible, with the conceptual art as technique. I started the Ready-ReMade project as a reaction or response to this approach. I was revising this approach by using ‘waste materials’ with classical methods of art such as painting object with oil paint, showing them as sculptures or reorganising them in a certain order. By doing so, I suppose the aim can be considered to express that the concept in art is not exclusive to this idea of what we know as conceptual art, rather that the concept in art has existed long before, that without concept, art cannot exist after all,” the artist says. Sağdıç explains how when she was creating this series, she thought of what we deem as ordinary objects and how the denim clothes in her closet wouldn’t exactly be considered as so. She says, “In my daily life, as is in the case of many people, I was cutting, scratching or tearing my denims,” revamping in ways what once was. Elevating that creative expression, this was what she used to make a portrait from denim clothes, by blustering through the denim in her closet, from thereon the idea of using only waste or what we deem as not good enough, or having lost its use became an integral part of her art.
Material and medium collapse upon one another, becoming a crucial part of not only her work and process, but also lending itself to the commentary or the experience of the work itself. What we consider to be of less value, with treatment it seems can be raised to a platform of high value, a piece meant to be admired, engaged with, even perhaps revered. “Every new material is a challenge for me, actually a challenge to myself as an artist. When I am planning to use a particular ‘waste material’ in my artworks, I hold this material in my hand and watch it for days. Then I experiment with that material, cut it, bend it, or try to glue it or reform it in disruptive ways. Through this process I try to get to know that material, it begins to whisper in my ear, what I can do with it. Then our cooperation with that material begins, I give life to it but this time in the form of an artwork,” mentions the Turkish artist.
The way in which Sağdıç describes the process of creating her elevated portraits, is nothing short of a spiritual communion which brings forth the question of materiality, its recursive potential to both be engaged with in the process of creation but also in the rules and bounds of the aesthete world that of the creation itself, that is birthed from it. It is interesting to explore this approach especially in light of a career that has seen her work with a diverse range of mediums and materials. One wonders about the choices made as an artist or creator, how it shapes the progress of the work itself, how it maps the journey from ideation or conceptualisation to execution and realisation. “Like every artist when I graduated from the academy of art I worked on oil painting, acrylics, and so on. I was making artworks with classical methods. Actually, I think the best of explaining it is that it is a search, you are searching for yourself, you are trying to understand who you are,” Sağdıç explains. “As a visual artist, I can understand why our predecessors made mostly animal figures on cave walls. Most likely they were having their first experience of the concept of being human. In the following periods of my own art, I changed my style every few years. For example, in my oil paintings forms become fluid and transform from concrete to abstract, which was highly appreciated and likened to the art of marbling (Ebru art) and that style became my signature for a long time. It is difficult, even impossible for another artist to put aside their signature style. But I have always changed up my style and technique," she adds.
Art authorities have often told Sağdıç that dozens of artists would have made a good career out of the styles that she herself has developed, but for her the excitement to challenge herself, in a way compete with herself is what enriches her work and process. She describes it as a fantastical quest, similar to the early artists who painted on the caves in search of themselves. She truly believes that when that search for oneself comes to a close, the life or the process (often the same) of the artist is over and they are no longer making art. As she matured as artist, she became cognizant of a growing problem where art was increasingly being alienated from humans and the human experience. It was imprisoned within sterile walls of museums and galleries, disconnected from the everyday. There was a limit to the people who had access to this creative power with all its spiritual essence, when art itself is synonymous with human life, when art itself is human. The Istanbul Airport is one such stop in her creative journey but also her responsibility as an artist as she sees it, to bring art to the people, to humans rather than the other way around.
“The Istanbul Airport is one of the biggest in the world, the number of personnel is 130,000 and now if you add to this the passengers coming in and out of the airport the footfall is as much as the population of a big city. Can you guess the waste that comes out in a day from such a scaled living area?,” she says. “As a meeting point for people coming in from Asia, Europe, and Africa, the waste generated is also of a rather cosmopolitan variety, something you may not find anywhere else in the world. What better place could there be to encourage people to adopt eco-friendly living habits than here? Because the problems of nature are not only the problems of certain countries or societies, but also a problem that concerns the whole world, all societies,” she continues. In this exhibition, which is almost as globally cosmopolitan as the space, Sağdıç makes portraits based on characteristic facial feature of people from different nations and races of the world. It as though through these works, she seems to bringing to our attention that the problems of sustainable ecologies are not of certain regions and countries of the world rather it is the problem of the world collectively, something universal. “I wanted to say to the audience, “Look, you created these wastes, you actually made these artworks, not me.” Do we really need all the products we consume? These products are not essential for us humans, we need to re-remember what a human being is. And for this we need to return to 0 Zero Point, where this journey started,” the artist says.