DEPO, Lüleci Hendek Caddesi No.12, Tophane 34425, Istanbul

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Neriman Polat Mürüvvet Türkyilmaz
27 December 2013 - 15 February 2014
Review by Sarah Jilani

DEPO-Istanbul, a former tobacco warehouse that now serves as a stark and versatile art space, often opts to host regionally-relevant, socio-politically engaged collaborative and solo exhibitions; its current offering, simultaneous showcases of two contemporary Turkish female artists, has packed a lot of punch into two rickety, wooden-floored storeys.

Neriman Polat’s series of photographs and video installations entitled ‘Home Watch’ greet us on the first floor, generating a profound sense of unease as they render the domestic space one of insecurity, violence, self-policing and solitude for her female protagonists, only to then gesture at the equally dangerous ambiguity of the exterior. Mürüvvet Türkyilmaz’s ‘Unknown Territory: As Far As It Goes’, presented in a bare-bones curatorial tone upstairs, ties in with Polat’s in its exploration of family rituals, childhood to adulthood, death and trauma; however, its lightweight writing-drawing technique on glass and transparency film also performs vulnerable, interiorised mapping of memory.

The ominous air of ‘Home Watch’ is established in the title of the exhibition itself. Displayed on a granite plaque reminiscent of a gravestone, it is ambiguous in its promise of safety and constant vigilance. This unsettling duality persists in her series of photographs of a bed in disarray; a night-time exterior of an apartment block, an angel of death visible within the squares of light from the interior; the artist herself in police uniform, alone in bed. The female protagonist, in her commitment to and self-policing within the domestic space, is depicted in a double bind that leaves neither her, nor the paradoxical pressures of gender norms, exempt from interrogation. The sacred notion of family, and its symbolic counterpart, the home, is a site of self-endangerment for these women. Reaching taut tension with the selection of photos featuring Polat looking calmly expectant amidst mops and buckets, a kitchen knife poised in hand, the home watch becomes more than a question of resistance, but one of potential life or death.

What of life beyond the domestic threshold, after venturing into the exterior’ The latent insecurity of her female figures at home reaches a state of heightened uncertainty and trauma in the act of escape. Her striking audiovisual installation ‘Crime Scene’ (2013) features a flashing series of overgrown isolated paths at night, visible only in the sickly-yellow light of lamp posts, while the breathless panting of a woman running is heard. The lack of safety or sense of escape from danger makes this a bitter act of leave-taking: not only does a woman’s lack of security persist, but it acquires intangibility and multiplicity. Polat’s corresponding photographs of abandoned shacks, overgrown construction sites and boarded-up sheds are discomfitingly reminiscent of the kind of settings which news coverage tends to plaster alongside stories of abduction, rape and murder. Bringing the ‘home watch’ full circle, Polat leaves you with the sheer scale of socially sanctioned and even self-imposed gender-policing, but retains a tone of struggle and endurance throughout.

Mürüvvet Türkyilmaz’s ‘Unknown Territory’ also works from a markedly female perspective, but returns frequently to the potential of collective memory and the emotive strength of childhood as ways of negotiating social rigidities, personal histories and daily life. From the fragile lines of illegibly fine handwriting that form the shapes and lines of larger drawings, to the clear plastic tent with small pockets hiding childhood mementos, Türkyilmaz engages in an act of baring it all. The transparency of her chosen media, coupled with the use of text as the ultimate form-giving line, seem to assert that a free roaming of our consciousness should lie at the centre of our daily lives - only then can a new, open dialogue emerge, and the undervaluation of things like curiosity, imagination and self-reflection cease.

As this exhibition brings together 10 years’ worth of work from Turkyilmaz, it does carry moments of interiority and autobiography. A life-sized photograph of the artist herself in an oversized men’s suit can be found in one corner of the room, questioning gender dichotomies. A revolving strip of photographs features her reading ‘Alice In Wonderland’ in various public spaces from the Sistine Chapel to the Dubai Mall - one of the many ways in which her work nonchalantly bends the lines between collective and personal stories, between ‘high’ art/literature and the commercial or kitsch. Just like what is possibly the most hypnotic work of this exhibition - ‘Perception’ (2007), a giant eye drawn in her handwriting upon a circular piece of glass - Türkyilmaz’s ‘Unknown Territory’ presents us with a seemingly transparent but intricately layered artistic vision.

These the simultaneous solo exhibitions of Nermin Polat and Mürüvvet Türkyilmaz are rewardingly different, yet harmoniously curated and experienced.

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