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The Red Gaze presents a constellation of objects playing with a plethora of lines of sight via cross-references, quotations, repetitions, analogies in pathos-gestures through the open doors of the gallery’s four rooms. The exhibition shows contemporary works by artists from Istanbul, Diyarbakır, Damascus, Lahore and Berlin, in addition to two pieces of classical modernity, a self-portrait by Arnold Schoenberg and a poem by Pablo Picasso, as well as a damaged Flemish Baroque Cristo vivo figure from the 17th century. Its topic: the artist as eye-witness. The visitor enters the exhibition via a narrow espalier passing through 34 eye masks made by the Istanbul artist Eşref Yıldırım from stiched yarn (Pursuit, 2014), death masks commemorating the 34 Kurdish smugglers killed by American and Turkish drone strikes on the Turkish-Iraqi border in Roboski on December 28, 2011.
In the manner of a book’s chapters, the interlocking rooms of The Red Gaze are named after the poetry of the exhibition: "The rats may feast where they want" (Picasso) - "If at all the word martyr means anything today" (Navid Kermani) - "As long as wars are still being waged in the name of religion" (Şükran Moral) - "I am just one protest, I am just one artist" (Erdem Gündüz).
The Truth and the Public: The Artist as Witness
At the point where all lines of sight converge in the gallery, there stands a strange, cold object. A minimalistic political sculpture by the artist Memed Erdener a.k.a. Extramücadele, a cruelly imagined object trouvé: a pair of iron spectacles with two eye-funnels pointed inwards with sharp pins, drizzling everything witnessed, everything observed in public into the burning eyes of its imaginary wearer. The eye-witness is watching the world with bleeding eyes. The Red Gaze positions the spectacles of Memed Erdener a.k.a. Extramücadele, The Truth and the Public, next to a self-portrait by Arnold Schoenberg; a small drawing, consisting of merely a few lines, from 1944. A black tear, furrow, or scar is perceptible on the cheek of the famous composer-artist. It is a rare privilege that we are able to show this self-portrait by Arnold Schoenberg at the Zilberman Gallery in Berlin: the Jewish artist Schoenberg, in Los Angeles in 1944, fixes his gaze rigidly and full of horror at a murdering Germany, and at an unfathomable war. In the rooms of The Red Gaze, his gaze melds with the eyes of the thirteen-year-old Muhammad, who witnesses the murders of ISIS, miming the story with his eyes, hands, whole heart and soul in the video work of the artist Erkan Özgen. A courageous piece, this video entitled Wonderland (2016) Erkan Özgen from Diyarbakır. Muhammad, a deaf-mute boy from a small Syrian village, son of a family of well-diggers who work for the Syrian oil industry, flees with his parents and five siblings from the militias over the Turkish border near Diyarbakır to Derik. In his own way, Muhammad tells the video artist about the militias murdering his neighbors, members of his family, killing six of his own cousins. At the end of the video, Muhammad even reenacts the decapitations, "he had seen the decapitated heads of his cousins, and their eyes hollowed out in front." "I would like to document, " says Erkan Özgen who himself saw things as a child that he "would have preferred not to," "that I have the faint hope that what Muhammad tells with his absent tongue will motivate people to find a strong voice against the war."
A Strong Voice Against the War
Erkan Özgen’s work does not turn the viewer into a voyeur, does not surrender the thirteen-year-old mime to our gaze. On the contrary, the boy appropriates the gesture of a storyteller, no, of an artist, re-enacting and presenting on stage a strong gesture of testimony: "Muhammad is able to tell his story to the public. He holds up a mirror to people. " Just as Arnold Schoenberg’s "gazes" do. Or the words of Navid Kermani, or Celan’s version of Pablo Picasso, words rare and rarely quoted,
"hack rip tear wrench and smash dead I impale singe and burn caress and lick kiss and I behold ring and ring the bells on and on till they flower I shoo the doves from their shelter"
We wrote those words on the walls of the gallery by hand, directly across from the Wonderland video. The thirteen-year-old narrator, exactly like duran adam, the "standing man" of Gezi whose performance on Taksim Square moved thousands to follow his lead, and just like Schoenberg in 1944, is an accuser who bears witness that the world is off the rails, that "it can’t go on like this", "that this system doesn‘t work anymore,"
"if only they would not put flags and lanterns in the wounds leaving everything swimming in tears."
In the exhibition The Red Gaze the martyrs change sides. It is the artists, the thirteen-year-old Muhammad, the performance artist Erdem Gündüz, the poets and writers of The Red Gaze, the artists of the Zilberman Gallery, who here assume the role of the witness; eye-witnesses of fear and suppression, of dictatorship, mass flight and exile. "Walking away" is written on the page from an old Latin manuscript in childlike script, a page from the image archive of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art which the Berlin artist Rebecca Raue inscribes with graffiti, with drawings of groups of refugees, and handwritten mural poetry. Her idiosyncratic medieval work, called The Secret Box/Floor Plan of the Tabernacle (France, ca 1360) (2016), tells us the story of Exodus about the ancient Hebrews and their liberation from slavery. We see a wooden box in the midst of the page—"the secret box" is written there by Rebecca Raue’s hand in a bold color of red. A special kind of house it is, traditionally called mishkan, from "dwelling place"—a portable home for all those uncomfortable witnesses who fear for their lives because they have put it at risk with their art and performance, poetry and truth. Rebecca Raue’s The Secret Box is facing seven precious Icons by Turkish-Armenian artist Sarkis that are arranged on seven individual lecterns made by Romanian designer Laurentiu Giogu, reminiscent of icon book-rests in Orthodox monasteries. On one of these icons we see a self-portrait of Sarkis himself, who has engaged with the self-portraits of Arnold Schoenberg in the course of his own work for many years. Passages of Sarkis’ essay "Self-Portrait of an Autodidact" on Schoenberg’s Gazes are cited in this catalog. What we see on the Icons of Sarkis is an architecture of the divine, including its angels, promising a refuge that cannot be delivered, scenes from a world-to-come that is betrayed among humans again and again: Blessings Upon the Land of My Love is the title of a diptych-painting by award-winning artist Imran Qureshi, shown in the immediate vicinity of Sarkis—with thanks to the generous loan from the Deutsche Bank Collection for this exhibition. The paintings by Imran Qureshi show the red-mottled interiors of two courtyards. About these flecks’ red and the fate of the courtyards’ residents we may only speculate, and know nothing about.
The Artist as Martyr
"If at all the word martyr means anything today, testimony, which is precisely what the Arabic word shahâda means, he says, then it is the people, waiting in the ship’s belly to emerge into the light, them and all other refugees of this night who will not see the light. They are the witnesses of our time."
These are the words of my friend Navid Kermani, writer and publicist, expert on Persian mysticism and German poetry. He wrote these words on Lampedusa as a public witness, and graciously agreed to make his voice heard again in this exhibition. Three sets of headphones are located across the composer’s self-portrait, close to the "love, love, love" written by Rebecca Raue across the Egyptian-Syrian manuscript The Ascetic and His Guest (2016/18th century) and very close to the perforated eyes of two large Rift paper-works of the Syrian born Berlin artist Ali Kaaf whose solo-exhibit Box of Pain is shown in Berlin parallel to The Red Gaze.
"As long as wars are still being waged in the name of religion, artist cannot be silent about it,"
states artist Şükran Moral, and we write this on the wall of the gallery as well. We would like to thank Şükran Moral for participating in this exhibition. Her critical work, pictures, performances, and photographic works on topics of violence, trans-sexuality, on love and death, have influenced an entire generation of contemporary Turkish artists. Her portrait Don’t Kill the Nightingale is presented upon the entry to the last room. There we see a small Cristo vivo figure with its back to the wall, 17th century Flemish, damaged with arms and legs broken off, without the sign of the cross, vertical like a Giacometti; it could represent any one of us.
"I am just one protest. I am just one artist. I am no- thing. My idea is free, my heart is free, my spirit is free. I believe this system doesn‘t work anymore."
This "I am" belongs to the voice of dancer and performing artist Erdem Gündüz, the "standing man" of Gezi, taken from a BBC interview from the summer of 2013. This "I am" can be read and spelled out through the exhibition from a distance, even from the place of the spectacles of Memed Erdener a.k.a. Extramücadele. Two portraits of Istanbul artist Ahmet Elhan from the same year, Composed XIX and Composed XII, are presented with the "standing men" together, nude photographs, manifold in their transposition, masculine-feminine, "unheroic" effeminate men posing in front of 18th century Ottoman interiors.
A white-and-red rose on black made by Lahore artist Aisha Khalid is hanging behind the Cristo vivo, All is gray when the black is washed away (2016). This work was produced by the artist especially for The Red Gaze. We would like to thank her for this. This rose draws our gaze from afar. And it has a prone sister, double rose, green and black, All is gray when the black is washed away, from 2015. The roses from Aisha Khalid—they are red and green and bear no thorns.
A.S. Bruckstein Çoruh on September 10, 2016
Zilberman Gallery Berlin
11 October - 23 December 2016
Curator: A.S. Bruckstein Çoruh
Ahmet Elhan | Memed Erdener a.k.a. Extramücadele | Erdem Gündüz (text) | Ali Kaaf | Navid Kermani (text) | Aisha Khalid | Şükran Moral | Erkan Özgen | Pablo Picasso (poem) | Imran Qureshi | Rebecca Raue | Sarkis | Arnold Schoenberg | Eşref Yıldırım