By Cigdem Asatekin
January 15, 2020
Çağrı Saray’s drawings exist in a place between forgetting and remembering. They don’t merely stand in place, they reverberate. Like memories, they are unclear, hard on the senses. It’s difficult to perceive them. Like memories, they change their form. They live.
Saray’s practice has long meditated on memory and permanence. His current solo exhibition Spaces with Suitable Temperature at Vision Art Platform in Istanbul extends a thread that dates back to 2011, when he made the drawing series “4/12: Topography of a Home,” which dealt with the personal and spatial memory of one’s own surroundings and history. Made using Saray’s style of multiplied lines, these earlier works reconstructed Saray’s personal history using his own domestic life to reveal that it’s the spaces we occupy that bear witness to one’s life, and not the other way around. Spaces with Suitable Temperature continues this in the present show, this time finding inspiration in the public realm instead, in places that have “the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the endless edifice of recollection,” as Marcel Proust said in Swann’s Way. This time, his subjects are architectural structures from Turkey that witnessed, and shaped, the history of a country. This way of approaching memory in terms of geography and psychogeography follows the footsteps of the Situationists and the French filmmaker Chris Marker, who had a similar understanding of the imperfection of memory and its rituals. For Saray, these practices are the “dust of time.”
Spaces with Suitable Temperature gathers drawings from his series “Spaces of Memory” on which he has been working since 2014, and adds new works to the series. The historical buildings documented in the exhibition cover over 15 centuries, from the Kariye Mosque built in 536 to the Ataturk Cultural Center (AKM), completed in 1969. A number of large- and small-scale drawings show (and are titled after) specific pieces of architecture that are monumentalized structures crucial to the formation of Turkey’s history, such as the Ataturk’s mausoleum Anıtkabir (2014), the Dolmabahçe Palace (2014), Istanbul University (2014), and the Hagia Sophia (2020). Saray’s artworks do not depict these historical structures straightforwardly, in the way you might see on postcards. Instead, he takes well-known images of them and reconstructs them on paper, repeatedly drawn with slight changes in placement or point of view, resulting in an oscillating effect. The result is a blurred, vibrating representation with no perceptible borders or contours. Some drawings look glitchy, and fittingly so, as remembering is always imperfect. The ambiguous quality speaks to both the similarly hazy lines between history and memory, and the slippery nature of remembering and forgetting.
For Saray, collective memory is shaped and created by different points of view and the interactions between them. Like his obscured lines, urban memory is a complex structure which includes personal pasts, rituals, and moments. Unlike history, which is inevitably the product of power, memory has multiple sides and dimensions. As the viewer makes their way through the gallery, the concepts of cultural heritage, testimony, and the political erasure of memory surfaces. As a whole, the series of works in the show delves into this idea of a volatile, variable multitude, both visually and mentally. The images, then, are not only pen on paper but something organic, visions of a nation’s memory. These monuments belong not only to history but also to Turkey’s people. In spite of their historical value, the symbolic meanings inherent in the architecture differ from one viewer to another in terms of collective memory. For example, in Istanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum (2014), Saray’s lines depict the museum in Istanbul’s Vişnezade district, originally built as a part of Dolmabahçe Palace called Veliaht Dairesi and transformed into a museum in the early years of the Republic. The first ––and for decades, only–– state art museum of the Turkish Republic, it was opened and closed many times since the 1970s before the building was permanently shut down in 2007 and the museum moved to a close-by warehouse in 2012. The scandalous discovery of over 400 artworks missing from its collection, most alleged to be stolen by state officials, is a different story. The history on record is present in Saray’s drawing, as are the intangible memories of the museum.
A site-specific installation created for the exhibition, Carbon Series (2020) acts as an analogue lightbox. In the darkened backroom of the gallery, four drawings of different municipal buildings made on standard A4 carbon paper are hung and placed in front of four desk lamps. Per the material, it’s impossible to see the drawings without the light, directly symbolizing the power of the government body. The carbon paper is reminiscent of Turkey’s notorious administrative bureaucracy. With Carbon Series Saray metaphorizes what it means to be represented officially, using the carbon paper as a sensory reminder of government offices, and the light as the authoritative power to reveal their otherwise hidden content.
An embossed etching from the beginning of the “Spaces of Memory” series, AKM (2014) shows the Ataturk Cultural Center, once a symbol of Taksim Square, which notoriously accommodated many protests and rallies since the 1960s, and has since been torn down. When I see AKM, I see in between the flat and embossed surfaces the flags hung on the building during the 2013 Gezi protests. Along the tones of white, I see the large, bitter emptiness left behind by a political symbol that’s lost. I see the black-and-white newspaper photographs from the bloody Labor Day demonstrations of 1977. The things Saray sees and shows looking at these images are ones no history book will write. But we will remember.
Çağrı Saray: Spaces with Suitable Temperatures remains on view through January 17, 2021 at Vision Art Platform, 13 Bronz Sk. at Macka Cad. No.1 Sisli, Istanbul.
Cigdem Asatekin is a writer and painter based in Brooklyn, NY. She holds an MFA in Art Writing from SVA. Her recent writings can be found at cigdemasatekin.com along with her other works.