A while back I wrote my list of 10 ideas. Of course, as soon as I posted it, I realized that I had left one out. And it was a really important one, too. It involved the next step in an ongoing project of recycling paper by using it in collages and then using the collages to tell fortunes. It even had a name: Art Fortunes.
‘Reading the collages’ had become a really nice way of interacting with people over art. Imagine waiting on line to get into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and when you finally got up to the window to make your contribution, you were told you had to go around ‘two by two’, and then they paired you up with a total stranger and said to you, “Okay, now go look at the art – and talk about it.” That’s sort of what Art Fortunes is like.
I loved Art Fortunes so much I decided that the next step was to ‘spread the love’. So I put together an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to reproduce the collages as prints and get them out there to people who wanted them (which means, partly “giving” them away as “perks” to “supporters” of “the Art Fortunes Indiegogo Campaign”). I’m even making a handy dandy little ‘User’s Guide’ to explain a bit about the cards and how to ue them to tell fortunes.
Believe me, it’s not at all complicated like Tarot Cards or anything else where you’d have to have some special fortune-telling skills or anything – although I find dressing up in a bit of ‘gypsy chic’ does help the mood along…
The ‘User’s Guide’ is pretty basic, too. For example: “This card (above) combines a sketch of a Hittite idol with a picture of a detail from a mixed-media painting that sort of looks like a spine, or maybe a bug. Note the olive tree fragments and ‘feathers’. A celebration of flora and fauna?”
Also, I put together a little video so you could see ‘a reading in progress’. Obviously, every one is different, because every person is different; it’s really fascinating (to me) to see how people get into looking at the pictures and making up stories to go along with them. In fact, as luck would have it, on an ‘involvement scale’ of 1 to 10, (with 1 being ‘being polite, but trying to get this over with as quickly as possible’ and 10 being ‘hey, I know you’ve got 3 more people sitting waiting to have their Art Fortunes told, but heck, I wanna keep looking at the pictures, and I can tell way better stories than you, anyway, and I think that those feathers symbolize pens, so that means that I am going to get a letter from someone very soon, and, also, you see that that one person has two heads? well that means…”), the person in the video with me was kind of a ‘1’.
If you want to find out more (and I hope you do), you can click on the link below, and it will take you down the rabbit hole and into the land of
Blog reader, be(a)ware:
Next week (god willing and the creek don’t rise) I’ll be launching an Indiegogo campaign to fund printing of a limited edition of ‘Art Fortunes’.
For those of you who missed them, here (and here) are links to some posts explaining the ‘project’ (‘work’), which involves making collages and sharing interpretations of them through ‘readings’ – a series of one-on-one relationships that involve an art maker (me), art objects (the collages), and an audience (a person seeking to have their fortune told). In other words, “Art Fortunes” looks like fortunetelling, but it’s also art!
While I’m continuing periodic ‘readings’, I’m also expanding the project/work to include a limited edition of 60 “decks” of 52 “Art Fortunes” cards printed from the original collages. I’ll post the link to the Indiegogo campaign when I have it so you can check it out and share it with others. In the meantime, if you’ve got any questions, just drop me a line…
Well, we’re into March now, so the house is warming up a bit, making it possible to work in the studio without freezing even if I don’t turn on the electric heater. So why aren’t I in there working on one or more of the “10 ideas“?
I blame it on Graphic Design.
That seems to be the area in which I’ve been expending my energies these days, working on everything from designing posters for things that are not on my List of 10 (because not everything is “a project”) to designing a web site for one of the items that is (because some things are “projects”, whether we shy away from calling them so or not).
Yesterday I had the pleasure of making a prototype box for the deck of “Art Fortunes” and a “User’s Guide” to accompany it – both of which will be available shortly through Indiegogo (god willing and the creek don’t rise – or as Aziz Nesin would say, “inşallah”).
Perhaps “pleasure” is not the right word; no, it is definitely not the right word.
I have yet to find the Zen of “cut, paste, and endlessly repeat”. I am no Seth Godin, and marketing tasks – yes, Priscilla, design is a marketing task – are just that – “tasks“. I would like to think of each and every one of them as just another “downward dog” on my way to “savasana” – but I haven’t gotten there yet.
Maybe I should play that yoga tape instead of refilling my coffee…
I should be doing my morning yoga, but I left my telephone/timer downstairs, so I decided I would write to you instead. (I am trying to get into a routine of yoga every morning or every other morning; I’ve gotten from 5 minutes up to 15 minutes, and I NEED to do some this morning because yesterday morning was already the “other” morning.)
Well. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I can post you three pictures – you can pretend they are the three cards that you picked when I read your Art Fortune. Or, if you don’t like these three, and you’re close enough and free enough to get to Foça this Wednesday or Friday afternoon, you can pick your own cards. It only takes about 5 minutes, it’s absolutely free (unless you want to buy me a beer or a coffee or support some other “worthy cause”), and best of all, we get to have a conversation.
Now, let’s pretend:
This card is “The Four Cauldrons”. It looks like you’re running from here to there, trying to carry something forward while negotiating with others who are also trying to do the same. But as you can see, there’s not much room to negotiate in.
This card is “Travel”. In fact, part of you would rather just take off with your hubby to some Mediterranean shore (Oh, wait: You live on one!)
What the future appears to hold is this card, “Balance”.
(Unfortunately, it was really me who picked the cards, and it is very hard to interpret your own fortune. Maybe you can help me out…)
So, I do remember reading in Howard Becker’s “Art Worlds” how unlike musicians, visual artists don’t have the same luxury of immediate feedback for their work. For example, we don’t perform our work and get applause (or whinging) every three minutes like rock and roll bands. Less frequently, and less immediately, we may have our work written about by critics or sold in galleries, which may give us some measure of our level of success in a particular “artworld”; however, the reviews may just reflect how successfully we conform to certain time-bound expectations regarding what art is supposed to be, and the sales may be more a reflection of the current state of stock-market or interest-rate returns than of any emotional or intellectual connection with “the work itself”.
One nice thing about my “women” – i.e., the “try-me-on statues” that I made for my installation “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess”, which were then recycled into the installation “8 Cases”, and which are currently hanging about various locations around Foça and its environs – is that I have had opportunities for obtaining immediate feedback by watching people interact with these figures in one way or another.
Not that there always is any interaction. I have seen people walk right past “the women” without even noticing they are there – which is kind of sad, because they are life-size figures, placed in the immediate field of vision of pedestrians, so not even noticing them is like not even noticing other “real” people out on the street with you – and that to me is really sad.
Noticing, however, is not exactly interacting, and there are quite a lot of people who look up or turn their head towards one of “the women”, only to immediately look back down or turn their head away – much as you might do after accidentally making eye contact with a stranger walking towards you from the opposite direction.
Then there are the people who couldn’t wait to “play pretend”; they went running up behind a figure to stick their own face into the appropriate empty space and have their friends click away – taking a “selfie” was kind of out of the question (although the thought itself raises interesting philosophical questions about identity…) – without even noticing the text in the back.
Oh, did I mention there’s text on the back of each of the figures? In fact, I have the dilemma of explaining this, so you understand the installation, or not explaining it, so as not to ruin the experience. I guess this is where I need to say “Spoiler Alert”.
Each figure represents a case in which a woman was murdered by her husband, who was tried and sentenced for his crime, only to have a judge reduce the sentence on the grounds of “unjust provocation”. (This is supposed to mean someone who is “provoked into a crime due to an unjust act”, and an example of this might be a woman who kills her husband who is beating her for the umpteenth time – rather than, for example, a man who kills his wife because she “swore at and cheated on him” – which is along the lines of the types of “provocation” considered in the “Eight Cases” described in my installation.)
Now, it has been suggested that it might be more effective to put the text on the front rather than the back of the figures, and it has been noted that most people who have their photo taken are doing it because it is fun: Well, more power to them! It is definitely fun to try on a different identity from time to time.
Interestingly, I might add, although there are eight different women you can “be”, from my observations, I’d say that somewhere between one-half and one-third of the time, people want to “be” the “sexy lady in black” (so much for our objections to the objectification of women), with the next-most-popular type being “the tourist”, followed by “the farmer”. Some adventurous “modern” folk (more men than women) have tried out the “Islamic fundamentalist”, and I’ve noticed a few girls pretending to be “the businesswoman”. Surprisingly, I don’t recall very many people wanting to be a “student” or anyone at all wanting to be a “fashionista”, either with or without a headscarf. In fact, the fashionistas are my personal favourites, because they’re the most colourful. But my most favourite part of the installation is when I get to watch someone saying to her friends, “Hey, wait a minute; did you read this?”…
Admittedly, that probably only happens about a third of the time, but it’s worth waiting for, to see the expression on the face of a person that has just had something sink into their brain. If the text were on the front, sure, more people would read it, but I don’t think anyone would want to “play pretend” anymore. I can’t imagine people wanting to “be” a murder victim…
So, there you have it. If you want to “play pretend”, you can “be” a “sexy lady” or an “Islamic fundamentalist” in Eski Foça in front of the studio of Şenay and Hatice (who noted that while these two might be the most extreme, they also are the ones likely to attract the most attention) – it’s on the street near the parking lot behind the archaeological site and the fish market. If you want to “be” a “tourist” or a “student”, you need to go into the Foça Municipality’s Reha Midilli Cultural Centre (or just walk by on a weekend, if the weather’s okay and the staff remember to put them outside). You can go to the Iraz’ca Taş Cafe on the Marseilles Plaza in Eski Foça to be a “fashionista” (and I noticed that someone put a table behind one of them to make life easier for the littlest icon-wannabees). Finally, if you are tooling around the villages, you will find a “businesswoman” outside Yağcı in Kozbeyli and a “farmer” (appropriately) in front of the Dirim Farm shop in Bağarası (where you’ll also find jams and other yummy things to eat, and maybe even Öngör, the woman who runs both these establishments).
And, if you happen to be heading in the direction of any of these places in the company of friends who haven’t read about the “Eight Cases” (or the “Ottoman Princess”), you can find out just how much they’re paying attention…
What an inspiration this woman was! Bright and colorful, she pretty much did what my old art-school professor Peter Marcus told us we should do: “Make them big, do it in color, and have 100 by Friday.”
I love Betty Woodman’s work because it is a hybrid of art and craft that makes a place special. Unfortunately, what reminded me of how much I love her work was coming across her obituary in the New York Times a couple of days ago. It was nice to learn that she lived to the ripe old age of 87, and it was interesting to learn that she was the first living female artist to be given a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Her work makes me think of Bonnard and Matisse. It also makes me want to make something really big to decorate my house. I’m thinking of something practical, maybe a wall hanging to keep the bedroom just a little big warmer….
R.I.P. Jan 2, 2018
Remember my post “Top 10 Ideas From Amongst Which At Least 1 Must Be Chosen Before Another Idea is Had” ? Well, I was working on one of them last night, and it so spiralled out of control beyond my wildest expectations that my head became one big, giant “Ball of Confusion”!
I tossed and turned until I found the answer: “Throw the I Ching!”
I know, I know; that’s so New Age (yuck), or so very Sixties (before my time), and it’s not really an answer.
I find the I Ching is actually very good at providing me with answers, albeit of the obscure kind, like the ones I provide when I read my Art Fortunes. (Note to myself: List of Ideas Goes to 11.)
In this case, the interpretation I can bring to my I Ching reading is this: “Shut up and get back to work.”
Hmm. For that bit of advice, I suppose I could have just called my mother.
I am so happy to let you all know that a little over two years after the rather distasteful events surrounding the initial exhibition of my installation “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess” at the Bodrum Castle*, the work’s ‘reincarnation’ as ‘8 Cases’ was exhibited last Sunday at an event organised by the Foça Barış Kadınları (‘Foça Women of Peace’) to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
A lot has happened in between these two ‘one-day-only’ exhibits. First of all, in the aftermath of the castle debacle, the piece found a champion in Sevim İşik, a theatre and documentary film director who has since become a very good friend. Unfortunately, Sevim’s efforts to have the installation exhibited in Istanbul were thwarted by a slide towards authoritarian rule and societal chaos that may be hard for anyone living outside Turkey to get a handle on; moreover, the ‘brick walls’ appeared so suddenly that I began to think that ‘the princesses’ themselves were cursed: First, through Sevim’s efforts, ‘the princesses’ were to be included in an international event at a university in Istanbul; however, a spate of bombings in Turkey led to ‘security measures’ that prevented anyone but students and faculty from entering the campus (hardly my ideal of a ‘public exhibition space’), and then the work was dropped from the program at the very last moment due to ‘funding issues’. Next, Sevim and I approached the staff of a ‘Gender Studies’ program at another Istanbul university, and things looked very hopeful for ‘the princesses’, as we planned an event that would create an intersect between women’s rights and the arts – until another government clamp-down on university ‘activity’ threw a monkey-wrench into the works. In short, it became obvious that a growing climate of fear and repression was not conducive to a public viewing of ‘the princesses’ anytime soon.
So, what happened next? Well, these nine life-size figures spent around a year and a half in our backyard in Bodrum until we moved to Foça last May. It was ‘with great difficulty’ that I managed to convince my husband that ‘the princesses’ were moving with us. At that point, everyone in Turkey was living under a ‘State of Emergency’ that had been declared after an ‘attempted coup’ and then extended at regular intervals thereafter. Tens of thousands of people had lost their jobs and/or went to jail because they were suspected of supporting the ‘coup perpetrators’. What’s worse (yes, there’s worse) is that the events exacerbated the polarization of an already extremely polarized country: Either you believed the president and ruling party’s version of events – i.e. that thousands of people belonging to a terrorist organisation run by an exiled preacher living in the United States had infiltrated all areas of public life and had conspired to overthrow the legitimately elected government in order to install an Iranian-style dictatorial Islamic regime, or you believed, to varying extents, in the theory that the president and ruling party had fabricated a coup in order to seize dictatorial power by instituting military rule, conducting a referendum on regime change, falsifying the results, purging all forms of opposition by throwing thousands of people in jail and/or disenfranchising them economically, and preventing any type of public outcry by implicit or explicit threat that ‘the same thing may happen to you if you don’t watch out’, as they moved Turkey towards an Iranian-style dictatorial Islamic regime.
I suppose it was only natural that in the grand scheme of things, part of me began to feel that pursuing an opportunity to exhibit the princesses – an installation in a public space that tried to champion multiculturalism and increase empathy for those with different socio-political identities, while being critical of the state’s role in perpetuating violence again women – was ridiculously naive and utopian. But then again, the OCD in me was not about to ‘just quit whinging and get on with it’.
Instead, I got in touch with someone I had met briefly on a previous trip to Foça, and during our conversation over a ‘get-to-know-you’ tea, I described the ill-fated adventures of ‘The Ottoman Princess and Her Sisters’. Ahmet suggested I speak to his wife, Filiz Kardam, and a group of women she belonged to known as the ‘Foça Women of Peace’. I ended up becoming part of this group, attending weekly meetings, where we did things like discuss feminist issues while sewing toys for poor and displaced children living in Diyarbakır, the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish Southeast.
When it came time to plan an event to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, we had a surprisingly long discussion about the “Ottoman Princess and Her Sisters”. We spent around two hours going over two main issues, namely, whether or not we should include ‘The Ottoman Princess’ in the exhibit, and whether or not we should include ‘the two extremes’ – i.e., the woman in full, veiled black chador and the woman in a black bustier holding a cocktail glass.
In fact, I was the one that suggested not exhibiting the ‘women in black’, because I felt, given my previous experience with the Bodrum Biennial, that the ‘veiled woman’ might be an unwelcome ‘trigger’ in a town with a similarly ‘staunchly secular’ profile as Bodrum (whereas, as my husband has pointed out, the ‘cocktail glass and bustier’ would be the ‘trigger’ in some other places) and I didn’t want to cause any problems for the Peace Women, and besides, I felt that the exhibition could still speak to the issues of the multiple identities of and the violence directed towards women without the presence of ‘the two extremes’. Ultimately, however, the consensus was to include ‘the women in black’, but not ‘the Ottoman Princess’. As stated by the woman in our group perhaps closest to ‘the secularist profile’ (and bless her heart for reminding me of this), we should not exclude the veiled woman, because “The whole point is to include everyone.”
You may ask, “If the whole point is to include everyone, then why not ‘the Ottoman Princess’?” The reason given was that this figure did not represent a woman who could be found in contemporary Turkish society, and that, in fact, even the word ‘Ottoman’ was a ‘trigger’ – given the ruling AKP’s self-proclaimed ‘neo-Ottoman’ identity and its un-proclaimed attack on the rights of women – and that this would ultimately distract from the message about state-sanctioned violence against women merely because they are women, regardless of ‘what kind of women’ they are. From what I could understand, it was generally felt that the issues that might be raised by the inclusion of ‘the princess’ were on a more artistic/abstract-philosophical level that might not be understood or were beside the point. Perhaps I misunderstood, or perhaps it was I who was unable to explain my intentions/expectations regarding ‘the princess’ (remember, this was a native-English-speaking person with a background in contemporary art conversing in Turkish with a group of Turkish-speaking women without backgrounds in contemporary art).
In fact, in the long saga of the Ottoman Princess, the issue of ‘Ottoman-ness’ has been a much more difficult issue than I had ever imagined. Believe me, it’s not that I wasn’t aware of Neo-Ottomanism as a government policy/identity; it’s that I didn’t realize how the word ‘Ottoman’ alone could conjure up such a visceral antipathy among a certain segment of Turkish society (whereas the blind adulation evoked for another segment I was aware of). It’s as if the discussion of a whole culture and use of an identifying adjective and proper noun have become entirely off limits.
In sum, the journey of the Ottoman Princess has taught me two things:
Lesson No. 1.: That one figure was really loaded with meaning! Without it, the exhibit presents 8 ‘types’ of women (paired by attire, with one ‘covered’ and one ‘uncovered’ woman per pair – with certain intentional variations in the type of head coverings worn) and refers to eight examples of eight legal cases in Turkey in which the concept of ‘unjust provocation’ was used to reduce the sentences of men who murdered their wives. It addresses the issue of how women are subjected to violence solely because they are women, and because of society’s view, reinforced by the state via the legal system, that men should have power over women. It also points out that there are many different types of women’s identities, none of which either incline or prevent women from becoming victims of violence, and it invites people to ‘try out’ all of these different identities for themselves. But with just that one extra ‘princess’ figure, the exhibit, in my mind at least, addresses the more complex concept of identity-formation itself, particularly in terms of how women are perceived and not only how these perceptions are created, but also how they create expectations regarding women’s roles and behaviour in society. Without that one figure, the piece doesn’t raise the question of what it means to be a ‘princess’, or why I, as a woman, am supposed to want to be one.
Lesson No. 2.: We here in Turkey are at the point where we are ready to publicly address the issue of violence against women. However, we are not quite ready to address the much messier issue of identity.
And now for some good news:
I sat outside the municipality’s cultural centre on the afternoon that the ‘8 Cases’ were exhibited, and I am happy to say that they attracted quite a bit of attention – which, the aim was to raise awareness, is a good thing. True, for about three-quarters of the people who interacted with the figures, they were just a good diversion, a bit of entertainment for a Sunday afternoon. However, I’d say that the remaining one-quarter were more deeply affected by trying on an identity and then reading that it was the identity of a woman who had been murdered by her husband – who was later excused, in part, for his behaviour – murder – on the grounds that his wife had dared to exercise her own will. I’d also say from the expressions on the faces of the people who read the information that they were not aware of these court decisions – and that they were not okay with them.
A number of businesses in Foça, as well as the gentleman in charge of the cultural centre, were enough appreciative of the piece that they agreed to keep the ‘8 Cases’ on view for a little while longer. Six cases will be in the centre of Foça (two at the cultural centre, two at a design shop, two at a cafe), one in the village of Kozbeyli and one in the village of Bağarası); I’ll get y’all a map by next week, just in case you’re in the neighbourhood…
*Immediately before the opening of the 2015 Bodrum Biennial, I was ‘requested’ to remove the installation ‘Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess’ from the Bodrum Castle on whose grounds the work was being displayed. If not, I was told, the entire Biennial might be closed down. According to the women responsible for the organisation and the female bureaucrats at the castle , either (there were two different stories) my name had somehow not been included in the exhibition list sent to the Ministry of Culture in Ankara, or that the Ministry had not been aware that the installation included text describing court cases in which judges reduced sentences of men convicted of murdering their wives because the women’s ‘assertive behaviour’ – e.g. asking for a divorce, wearing pants – was considered ‘unjust provocation’. Either way, they blamed ‘Ankara’ for the removal. Given that I was later informed by the ‘responsible bureaucrat in Ankara’ that ‘he had no idea what I was talking about’ and that ‘Ankara gave permission for the group exhibition, and any other decisions are made by the local museum’ – which is in line with what I was told by a long-term museum employee – and given the fact that in removing the figures in the exhibit, the museum personnel took special care to ensure that no one could see the female figure veiled and covered in black from head to toe by an Islamic ‘chador’, I suspected that the women involved found that figure personally offensive and did not want to see such a representation of ‘that type of woman’ in Turkey, and/or they were worried that ‘the modern women of Bodrum’ might complain about it, so they ‘made up a good story’ to make sure that didn’t happen. I have suggested this version of events to all of the women involved in the removal of the piece, and none of them has denied that, in fact, this was the case. I have provided this detailed explanation because it pains me to know that women are many still unable to put their differences aside and work together in spite of them.
When we moved from Bodrum to Foça last May, I had the task of cleaning out my studio. It hadn’t had a good spring cleaning in around 10 years, and being a natural pack-rat (a good characteristic for someone who makes collages, but a bad one for someone with a small studio space), I found some things I didn’t even know I had.
One of those things was a series of photographs of an installation I had done while I was at Hacettepe, back in the days before smartphones and wifi, when people still took photographs with cameras that had film and that you could hold in your hands and shuffle around to look at. (Didn’t that used to be fun?)
I am happy to have rediscovered this piece. It was installed in a room/alcove near the entrance to the university’s faculty/grad-student cafeteria. The actual cafeteria was upstairs, but the line to get in was so long that it went all the way down a flight of steps and past my exhibit – so it was as if I had professors and grad students lining up for my exhibit nearly every day!
I have no memory of a title, but I hope that I named it “Calendar Boys”. At any rate, that’s what I’m calling it now. It consisted of a bed covered in pink plush, with a pink plush pillow, pink plus slippers, and a pink plush-covered book hanging over the bed, which was sitting in the middle of the gallery/alcove that opened on to the “lunch line”. The back wall was all windows, and on the other two walls I hung 12 framed black-and-white photos (6 on each wall) of classical Greek and Roman statues – all male nudes.
The installation was set up to encourage people to walk around and look at the photos on the walls
and then to lie down on the bed and look at the pictures in the book.
The pictures in the book were the exact same pictures that were on the walls, except that I had coloured the ones in the book (with a bit of sepia-toned and watercolour photoshopping) to make them look “more realistic”.
Basically, the book was my version of a “pin-up calendar” – except for women: “Twelve Months, Twelve Naked Men”.
(There are 10 more, but these should be enough for you to get the idea.)
As with most of my work, this installation had more questions than answers. The ones I started out with were:
“Why are ‘nude’ statues ‘art’, and ‘naked’ pictures ‘pornography’? Or is that even true?” and “Why is it ‘normal’ to look at pictures of nude/naked women, but ‘not normal’ to look at pictures of nude/naked men?”
After the piece was installed, I had another question:
“Was anyone actually looking at it? And if so, who?”
Since I couldn’t be hanging out unobtrusively in the background every minute of the entire week of the exhibit, that question was going to be hard to answer. Luckily, I was able to get some feedback from the gentleman responsible for managing the activities in the building – who, it turned out, was also very curious about the exhibit, and who was better placed than I was to be able to keep an eye on what was going on in the gallery space (and who was also kind enough to let me take his photograph while he was lying in the pink plush bed, wearing a pair of pink plush slippers, looking at the “Calendar Boys”).
According to my informant (I no longer remember his name), although not so many people were as inclined as he was to enjoy the comforts of pink plush, quite a lot of people – mostly women, and mostly when the lunch line was gone, so there was no one watching – were going up and looking at the pictures on the walls, and then opening up the pink plush book for inspection…. (Note to myself: If I ever recreate this piece, I will have to use a bigger bed, so that the only way to get a hold of that book is to get into bed with it.)