A year of resounding success for the artist Ergin Cavusoglu who is currently exhibiting two large–scale installations at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York for his part in the exhibition But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa curated by Sara Raza, which runs from April 29 through to October 5, 2016. The exhibition includes 17 artists, and borrows its title from an artwork by one of the participants Rokni Haerizadeh, which in turn is a quotation from Walter Benjamin’s essay entitled Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940). After its debut in New York the exhibition will travel to the Pera Museum in Istanbul in 2017.
The exhibition focuses on contemporary art from the MENA region at large, and serves as a reflection on one of the fastest growing art scenes globally, which is situated in a region of affluence and turmoil. On this occasion Cavusoglu presents two works recently acquired by the Guggenheim: the film and video installation Crystal & Flame (2010) and the site-specific anamorphic drawing installation Dust Breeding (2011). This last work refers to the famous photograph Dust Breeding (1920) by the artist Man Ray. At first glance the photograph is very enigmatic because it has the appearance of an aerial view of a barren and desert-like landscape, whereas in reality it shows a layer of dust deposited on the surface of Marcel Duchamp's work The Large Glass over a year-long period in his studio in New York. Armed with this contextual framework and reference to historicity, Cavusoglu weaves an intricate commentary on ephemerality and liminality, and moreover looks at artistic gestures within institutional context. With this thinking the artist invites visitors to walk over an anamorphic drawing, which is applied directly onto the floor, window and the column along the curving terrace space in the Thannhauser Gallery the 4th floor of the museum. The drawing is based on a three-dimensional model of the largest cement factory in Turkey called Noah. Recording the movements of visitors with a closed circuit camera Cavusoglu displays on a monitor surreal images of visitors who seem to go through the sculpture/architectural structure and thus testify the close link between virtual and real.
Just a month prior to the Guggenheim exhibition Cavusoglu opened an ambitious solo show at Rampa Gallery in Istanbul that gave space to all the expressions of his artistic practice. The exhibition title Which sun gazed down on your last dream? was paraphrased from a text in Baudelaire’s On Wine and Hashish, 1860, which referred to that state of intoxication that makes us feel out of time and space, without a past and a future, without points of reference and that, as stated by Nicole Dee O'Rourke in the text accompanying the exhibition.
Furthermore O’Rourke asks ‘where,’ but of a ‘where’ that is placeless, nationless, outside of borders, a ‘where’ which is almost spiritual. In this exhibition there were almost all elements that comprise Cavusoglu’s broader conceptual and multifaceted practice: film, video installations, sculptures, drawings, paintings, photographs. All his imaginary: places, non-places, mobility, liminality, duende and so on, being given a soul.
This last concern is particularly evident in the bronze sculpture entitled Black Tresses (Duende), 2016 where there are two hands that seem to recall the act of praying or cleansing and that reference directly a passage from Gipsy Ballads by the poet Federico Garcia Lorca: “If I should happen to die I order you tie up my hands with your black tresses.” The work also connects to a previous Cavusoglu video In the Roses, 2014 filmed in the Basque village of Guéthary, also inspired by Garcia Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads in which the poet expresses the complexity of the Andalusian world creating an universe where the figure of Roma (gypsy), wild and rebel, fights with the fate often linked to the Guardia Civil, expression of the order and legality. Those Romani (gypsies) become the universal symbols of the human suffering and trepidations but also a reflection on those “portable” borders that seem to characterize the nomadic Roma (gypsies) and that are not linked to a specific territory nor to a nation state. .
Returning to the exhibition in Istanbul, a special mention goes to the works Percé Rock, 2016 a sculpture depicting a large rock formation off the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, which represents a real artwork and “natural precision” carved by the nature, as observed by André Breton in Arcanum 17 (1945), and the painting series Spheres of the Firmament-Anthropomorphism (2016) where we can find examples of mass production with quotations from art history.
Going back to the beginning of the year we arrive at The Image Generator II at the Extra City Kunsthal in Antwerp, where Cavusoglu presented his latest film Desire Lines - Tarot and Chess, 2016. The video portrays universal patterns of human behavior that the artist created starting from reflections on Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies. Some wayfarers going through a forest reach a castle. They gather here to feast, but they realize that the journey through the woods caused them the losing of the ability to speak. After the meal the castle keeper, the only one able to speak, rests on the table a set of tarot cards inviting the guests to tell their stories through sequencing the cards. In those cards there are all the stories of the world, all destinies, all the protagonists. A convergence of destinies and opportunities that should be in contrast with all that is logical, rational, and sensible.
The first story refers to a knight with a briefcase full of money. Misled, he is ambushed, robbed and hanged by his feet but before. Once more in life dodging the ultimate end, he is discovered and freed by a girl, who he will not hesitate to leave without even thanking her, in order to recover his lost fortune. On the day of his marriage with a rich woman he encounters again the girl and her son who has been conceived during their brief encounter. The second story is that of the alchemist who, wishing to turn lead into gold meets and agrees to the terms set by the devil. For all the characters challenging the castle keeper to a game of chess is the last chance to alter their destiny. Our existence is all here. In seeking a place among everything and nothing, between past and future, between good and evil, in and out ... We are all different, unique, particular individuals but despite this we can tell ourselves using a deck of cards, something we have in common. Despite all the diversity we can try to find those elements that unite us rather than divide. The universality despite all the peculiarities.