Gül Ilgaz
    • The Psychological Dimension of Drapery In Gul Ilgaz’s Work

      Throughout the history of western art the depiction of drapery or cloth has been a topic frequently approached by artists. While in antiquity, the Greek male was shown nude, the female was draped with cloth. During the Archaic period, the body contours of the sculptural female figures could not be discerned underneath the clothing, but later the cloth in Greek Classic sculpture clung to the body as a thin covering revealing and enhancing the structure, body parts, and contour beneath. During the Hellenistic period the cloth blew in an imaginary wind as the sculptors carved agitation and turmoil into their presentation of fabric. Later, Renaissance artists worked to realistically present the lights and shadows of flowing drapery. In the Baroque period, cloth radiated with the dramatic light of chiaroscuro. Even in the twentieth century, artists have wrapped fabric around objects to show political intrigue or even surrounded an island to expose the layered functions of the corporate world. In this context, Gul Ilgaz’s fascination with fabric can be seen as a continuation of an art tradition, the continuation of an art problematic.

      During the early 1990s while working with the STT (Art Definition) group, Ilgaz explored proportion and shape by folding unprimed canvas in sizes related to a white rectangular tabletop. After leaving this group, in the 1997 exhibition, “Arada” at Ataturk Cultural Center (AKM), she arranged large white canvases into the gallery to investigate their relationship to the geometrical dimensions of the walls. In the “Arada ‘99” exhibition at Istanbul Technical University, she hung a circular piece of tulle from the ceiling to partially conceal real objects. Other of her work from this period brought traditionally sized canvas into a contemporary context. By concealing objects under canvas just enough to make them take on a sculptural relief characteristic, Ilgaz created a feeling of mystery seemingly pregnant with impending change. The proportions and sizes of these canvas-like structures continued to relate to the exhibition. Bringing into play a new theme, canvas as passageway or opening, for the 1998 “Ardarda” studio exhibition in Arnavutkoy, from the ceiling in the center of the space, she hung canvas arches in proportions related to architectural structures in the neighborhood. With this manner of presentation, while continuing to work with proportion, she freed canvas from its support. Sometimes the canvas was stretched in the traditional manner around a rectangular frame, sometimes folded in repetitive sequences, sometimes stretched over objects, sometimes suspended from the ceiling, sometimes geometrical, sometimes organic, sometimes tulle replaced canvas, but proportion, size, and the mystery of veiling was always central to her investigations during this period.

      After 2000, Gul moved from the use of three-dimensional objects and real canvas to digital works, but her fascination with cloth and layering did not diminish. In her work entitled, “Cliché”, from 2001, she positioned a triangular almost pyramidal shaped text she had written for her mother as a child in front of a portrait of herself from the same period. Thus, in this initial installation, her previously abstract investigations took on a self-exploratory, psychological dimension. Here, she did not use cloth, but continued to layer, to cover, and to relate the dimensions of her work to the exhibition space. The layering became more pronounced in her work from the same year, “my mother, grandmother, mother”. Each of the layered figures dress in loose clothes, each figure is superimposed on top of the other. In a theme later to re-appear, Gul used layers of clothes to show that her identity as a mother came from inherited female role models.

      Other works include cloth or drapery as seemingly inconsequential secondary elements. For example, in the psychologically loaded work, “Born/bearing to death” (2001), she positioned her opened legs on a piece of drapery spread on the floor. Since she consciously constructed this photographic scene from elements of her personal selection, we must conclude that each object carries meaning. The cloth does not cover her nakedness, but enhances and emphasizes the bareness of her legs. In her installation, “the doll and the flag” (2000), Ilgaz selected a photograph from her early childhood. In this old photograph, she stands in front of a curtain on a stage. Being forced by her kindergarten teacher to pretend to choose the Turkish flag over her doll was for her a particularly traumatic event. In her installation, not only did the drama unfold in front of a large overwhelming curtain, she also stretched black cloth on the floor to make a stage-like support for her doll.

      Gradually, her use of fabric to create a mood became more defined. In fact, the cloth can be seen as an almost organic element, perhaps prostheses used for support. In “My father’s slippers (the room)” from 2003, the flimsy thin fabric of the curtains flutters with wind as if something has flown out the window, as if her father’s spirit has escaped. By mentioning the slippers in the title of this work, she pinpointed them as an important element, but the crumpled bedclothes and the flapping curtains set the psychological stage and atmosphere of loss, turmoil, and mystery. Eventually, in “Hold on to” (2007) she physically merged with the thin curtain material. As she hangs on, dangles from the curtain rod, the photographic image of herself from behind suspended in space from her hands became a piece of curtain material, an art object. Thus, she returned to her explorations into the relationship between art object and its place of exhibition. At the same time, fragile and transparent, her image billows into the room to depict her own vulnerability. Dealing with her mother’s incurable illness and her own emotional loss, in “my mother’s bedroom” (2007), Ilgaz replaced her mother’s presence with meters and meters of tulle as a metaphor for her mother’s life. Like overwhelming sorrow, the cloth of the room’s curtain extended, multiplied, and filled the space. In the background, the print left on the wall after removing the bed, revealed only the flimsiest trace of her mother’s existence. In “Conversation/the kitchen” (2007), Ilgaz merged a photograph of drapery taken from a 19th century French painting onto an image of herself sharing a meal with her female French artist host. Unlike other pieces from the same year, she did not emphasize her emotions. In contrast, here, she transformed a scene from her daily life in France while participating in a residency program into a pseudo-classical painting. After returning to Turkey, Ilgaz exhibited this classically framed digital print in front of a piece of red velvet cloth. In this manner, she used cloth to emphasize both inside and outside the picture frame.

      In some of her most recent work for her 2009 solo exhibition, İlgaz has focused completely on the psychological atmosphere of digital photographs. She has manipulated color, emphasized the contrast of light and dark, and enlarged images to increase dramatic effects. Passageways, mysterious shapes underneath cloth, and semi-luminous cloudy sky link to create a surreal scene, a dream-like, almost nightmarish picture of loneliness. Abandoned spaces and destroyed rooms with only traces left from former inhabitants show stairways, windows, and passages to nowhere. Torn, aged cloth remnants from the past, ripple meaninglessly in an unreal wind. Different from these, in another work, she depicts a mother and daughter pulling a bed sheet to remove wrinkles in preparation for ironing. Since one uses ones entire weight to create a counter balance, this seemingly harmless domestic act, requires trust. If one of the pair lets go, the other will fall. If the fabric is not strong and rips, both people will fall.

      In her piece entitled, “Athena”, Gul links her fascination with drapery to her personal and art historical heritage. By incorporating her self-portrait into a photograph of Athena taken from the relief on a wall of the Pergamon temple now located in Berlin, Ilgaz depicted herself as a female warrior. With an introspective feeling written on her face, she radiates hope for a positive outcome to the universal battle of life. When looking at this specific piece and the others where she incorporated drapery into artwork, it seems that Ilgaz has added private emotions, lived experiences, ideas, and personal intuition from her own geography to the already existing poetry and complexity of past art.

      May 2009