NECLAZGAR, Benden Ötesi, 2009, watercolor on paper, 50 × 64.8 cm. Courtesy Outlet Gallery, Istanbul.

“A Room of One’s Own”

Outlet / Independent Art Space

“A Room of One’s Own,” an all-female exhibition of five young Turkish artists and an artists’ collective, was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s 1929 argument that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” The proto-feminist author’s view stemmed from the belief that women had been prevented from creating works of the same relevance as Shakespeare due impotence brought about by oppression and perceived ineptness. At their best, the participating artists—İrem Tok, Necla Rüzgar, Gökçe Erhan, Gülcan Şenyuvalı, Başak Özkutlu and the AtılKunst artist group—approached the age-old dispute with stirring, palpable vigor.

The works of Tok, Rüzgar and AtılKunst delivered the clearest messages. Tok’s minuscule installations are self-enclosed spaces, scenes from a world in which she is the omnipotent force, dictating the direction and force of her delicately arranged plastic, inch-high characters. Tok carves topographical landscapes into voluminous books such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, undoing the old texts by creating a three-dimensional narrative from their forms. The scenes are meticulously staged mixed-media environments, macabre moments frozen in time that oneis only able to approach as a voyeur. In Neresi? (“Where?” 2009), a little girl floats face down on the reflective surface of a pond while a group of men and women look on from the shore, their expressions impossible to detect at such small scale. One man swims towards the girl—it is not clear whether he will ever reach her. The rest of the group’s static poses and immobility perpetuates anxiety and self-reflection, circumscribing the scene with an aura of neglect and the coldness of relationships. 

In Rüzgar’s watercolor Benden Ötesi (“Beyond Me,” 2009) we see a dog prostrated over a woman, their poses echoing each other. A man with an unpleasant gut flopping over the sides of his trousers, whose head is cropped out by the edge of the paper, sits nearby with his arms folded. With the figures’ carefully obscured faces, the viewer is prevented from reading their emotions. Even the dog has its eyes closed, eliminating any chance of a direct emotional connection. It is a deeply ambiguous arrangement, with uneasy echoes of sexual violence, bestiality and hierarchical roles. It could be a scene of extreme foreplay, or the aftermath of a humiliation.

AtılKunst, a three-woman group comprising Gülçin Aksoy, Gözde İlkin and Yasemin Nur Toksoy, tackle social and political issues through a weekly e-mail chain letter of çıkartma (translatable as both “sticker” and “military force”), which is meant to be forwarded. The çıkartma is composed of mass-media images accompanied with a juxtaposed slogan-like caption, effective as a sort of inverse propaganda, mocking the idea of propagation through the act itself. One such image, printed out and hanging on display alongside all 52 of the çıkartma from 2009, depicts a crowd of toy cars and animals all facing the same direction, with a slogan reading “organized sincerity.” The message is a blunt criticism of the public’s toy-like malleability, their ability to be easily manipulated and directed. Such works are proudly direct, simplistic even, but the way that they are distributed, online and with an infinitely ambitious horizon for the distance they might cover, puts faith in the growing current notion that digital circulation may be
a form of grassroots power.

These pieces succeed because they express a desire to control and harness one’s environment—mastering one’s surroundings and independently expanding into the world from such a foundation is at the core of Woolf’s argument. It is about power, properly used, and Tok, Rüzgar and AtılKunst embody both urgency and self-awareness in the work they produced for this exhibition. The remainder of the contributions—from Gülcan Şenyuvalı’s delicate embroideries of picture-perfect airbrushed women to Gökçe Erhan’s messy collages of ephemeral streams of contemporary printed information such as everyday bills and Google search results—lack the desire to stake out a space in their world before branching out. Theirs is a passive continuation of ongoing gender stereotypes and accepted feminine techniques, and this lesser work dampened an otherwise forceful treatise on what youthful feminism might look like today.