Ali Elmacı strengthens the concepts he frequently criticizes on government, media, power and popularity through a new discourse in his 4th solo show which will take place at Gallery Siyah Beyaz. This time, Elmacı explores authority through the concepts of manipulation and imitation. The artist approaches reality and imitation over the notions of past and future. He carries a critical discourse onto his canvas while referring to the ownership of the throne as a powerful symbol of authority in the past and accuses the current governments for drawing a parallel to their ancestors, a parallel that is no more than a bad imitation. He emphasizes that the ideology of the throne is mobilized through its imitation.
In the exhibition, the artist identifies the chair as an upgrading tool, a portable object, a light material that can be accessed by anyone, with governments non-foundational, unqualified, light and compelling tones. The oil paintings of Elmacı which in his own words expose the ugliness; are gaining a new dimension over this exhibition.
MELİS GOLAR : ‘The Chair That Walked All Over People’ is your fourth solo exhibition and the first in Ankara where you’ll be meeting Ankara artlovers. You’ve once again picked a striking title. Can you talk to us a bit about the context of this exhibition?
ALİ ELMACI : In this exhibition, I’ve criticized the people in power, through the context of manipulation and imitation. I’d like to make some definitions first.
Imitation: Trying to resemble or make something resemble a specific example.
Manipulation: The process through which people are influenced without their knowledge or against their will.
Throne: The big and ornamented seat on which rulers sit.
Chair: A piece of furniture with a single room seat, a backrest, four legs, and no armrests.
The exhibition “The Chair That Walked All Over People” is a pastiche to throne. The chair, which is a portable, mobile version of the throne, symbolizes the loosening of the ideology. I’m talking about how the severity of ideology has become a weightless, rootless, disposable mechanism that anyone can easily carry. The people in power hollow out the ideology in order to quickly disseminate it among their masses and ensure its consumption. It’s like instant soup…The behavior of the rulers is like the service of this foodstuff that, when you add water, instantly tastes similar to soup; but it’s diputable whether it’s healthy or not. I liken it to those pouches ready for mass consumption on supermarket shelves under the name of ‘Traditional Flavors’. It’s like how the original preparation time for these soups can take a half day; whereas the powdered soups in these pouches take 10 minutes, to become ready to serve at the dinner table… It becomes enough to simply carry the name of a traditional soup and a flavor that’s somewhat similar to that of the original to be accepted. The exhibition starts exactly at this point where the people in power carry out this policy of theirs; and with it, I try to expose and underline it for the audience.
M.G.: If you would paint a portrait of humanity in a setting where authority and rulers don’t exist, would it still be “ugly”?
A.E.: I can’t think of a possibility where humanity exists but ugliness does not. There would definitely still be some ugliness to paint.
M.G.: We see that your artistic production has transformed over the years. Your paintings are bolder. Whereas in your previous series the characters reflected a dark and evil atmosphere with the locations they inhabited, the clothes they wore, their expressions, their gestures and other figures that completed the composition, it seems like in your recent productions there’s been an increase in exposing ugliness and evil…
A.E.: In my paintings I generally try to nourish whatever is in the current news. So as we slip into a more and more evil and darker atmosphere, this is reflected directly in my paintings. My paintings currently are as you’ve described, but I’m not sure if that’s how things will always remain. Perhaps it’s just the actuality that’s put me in this state.
M.G.: I once read a former interview of yours where you’d said that you take the same characters in different periods and position them in your paintings in your different series. In addition to the main characters, you also use an idiosyncratic symbolism. Are the flowers, animals and objects that appear there repeated as well? Or does each have different functions in different paintings?
A.E.: Actually I can say that in general the symbols I use tend to carry the same connotations. They tend to mean the same thing but if we examine the paintings one by one there are some that carry different meanings.
M.G.: In almost all of your figures we encounter characters that turn their eyes towards us with tenacity. As the viewers look at the paintings you put them in a position as if they were being watched. What is the purpose behind this artificial locking of eyes?
A.E.: I want the spectator to feel the discomfort of being watched. When two people have a face to face conversation, they can’t talk while keeping constant unbroken eye contact. One of them will become uncomfortable and avert their eyes. I also make eye contact with the viewer in my paintings. Making eye contact with the figures is both enjoyable for the audience—because they have a smiling colorful figure in front of them—and it eventually gives them a sense of being watched and makes them uncomfortable.This same sense isn’t only present in my paintings, but everywhere. I want to remind this to the viewers. As long as we are not confronted with a pair of eyes in front of us, looking at us, we feel comfortable; but this doesn’t mean that we’re not being watched. With speed cameras, CCTV cameras at malls, we’re constantly being watched. This is supposed to make us uncomfortable but we tend to ignore it. The sense of being watched prevents people from loosening up. These observation mechanisms are said to be implemented to prevent crime which are actually a form of societal control. So I want the viewer to feel a continuous discomfort of being watched.
M.G.: In your paintings, could we say, in addition to the main characters, that you also do a modern twist on ornamentation and miniature painting in the background of and around the figures?
A.E.: Yes, actually, I’m deeply interested in miniatures. That must be one of my influences. I was born in a 34 domicile village in Sinop. We had one elementary school and only one teacher. I had a school bag, probably sewn by my mother. The bag had miniatures on it. I used that bag all through my childhood. The miniatures on that bag may be the images I saw most often of my entire life. I can still see the figures in my head. I can’t recall what they were doing but there were lots of men, carrying spears in their hands. They were up to no good, as I understand; I think they were in a battle. I both loved and was frightened of that miniature. If I would have encountered those figures in real life, I’d probably be afraid, but it also had an aspect of pulling me in. Perhaps the strange atmosphere there sowed the seeds of my paintings today.
M.G: Can you mention a bit about your production process?
A.E.: First I settle on the subject I’ll be working on, then I make some related sketches. After that, I photograph the figures in those sketches, possibly by myself. This requires a production. I buy clothes and objects and create some compositions. I create a collage from those photographs. Afterwards I use those collages as a jumping off point, but I do not stay completely faithful to them, then I complete the painting. I use oil paint. I usually use ink pens for the works on paper, though sometimes I use charcoal. Additionally I make sculptures. I generally see sculptures as canvas and paint onto them, and I always prefer oil paint there.
M.G.: You went through a sad situation with your piece exhibited at Contemporary İstanbul 2016. As an artist who experienced such an incident, can you think of any other events or policies that you’ve been keeping up on that you believe to be controversial in the art world from our country or from around the world? If so, what do you think is the reason this situation is taking place? Where does Turkey stand in light of this example? What are some points that might urge us to think?
A.E.: There has to be a government policy that protects the art and the artist, one that will defend and provide the artist’s freedom of speech. There needs to be a law. But this doesn’t exist. The government policies are based around eliminating the artist and the creator. You can’t expect anything from any institution. Organizations in Turkey hang the artist out to dry. Ultimately it’s your kith and kin, artist friends, etc., who stand by you. There are some projects in Turkey concerning oppression. There are some artists’ residencies abroad that will take you in for a period of time if you tell them that you’re under oppression. To me, these solutions are insufficient. In the end, you just bounce right back into the fold after 3 months. I’ve made a sculpture as a summary of the things I’ve gone through since 2016. The piece, which you can see at the exhibition, is my depiction of the current country. It’s a piece that portrays how the capital and the artist are positioned in Turkey, how the artist is destroyed and how this destruction is made into a parade.
M.G.: Could we say that criticizing the current affairs again and again, and reflecting them back into the art is how you work things out?
A.E.: Yes, that’s my method. That’s how it must be for anyone who creates and they must go on no matter what.