Nil Yalter and Bilge Friedlaender

ARTER, Istanbul, Turkey

ARTER closed 2016 with two concurrent solo shows by female Turkish artists – Bilge Friedlaender and Nil Yalter– whose practices matured abroad, in Paris and in New York respectively, during the politically turbulent decades of the 1970s and ’80s. Despite dealing with experiences of cultural displacement in contrasting ways, the two artists meet in exploring the political and ethical potential of abstraction – whether partial or complete.

Yalter’s show, curated by Eda Berkmen, opens on the ground floor with a thoughtful mix of works from the 1970s and ’90s, tracing the unlikely twinning of the abstract and the documentary in the artist’s oeuvre. The centrepiece here is the chilling installation Deniz Gezmis¸(1972), named after a young Turkish revolutionary who was sentenced to death. Five pieces of framed butcher’s paper are each painted with three identical grey circles that ominously advance towards a thin line. The distance between the circles and this line is marked in centimetres, except for the fifth panel, which shows a hollowed-out trio of circles bisected by the line. The measurements and the sixth paper outlining the legal processes leading to the young men’s deaths gesture towards the inhuman calculations that underpin state terrorism.

Nil Yalter, Harem, 1979, video still. Courtesy: ARTER, Istanbul

Nil Yalter, Harem, 1979, video still. Courtesy: ARTER, Istanbul

Nil Yalter, Harem, 1979, video still. Courtesy: ARTER, Istanbul

On the first floor, two rooms are dedicated to Yalter’s examination of gender and sexuality – in contrast to the majority of works here (perhaps too many), which focus on the timely issue of migrants’ living conditions. In the video installations Le Chevalier d’Éon (The Knight of Éon, 1978) and Harem (1979-80), narratives are re-imagined through a symbolic yet austere language. The latter focuses on the romantic relationship between two odalisques and is accompanied by photo-collages featuring murky photographs of traditional coffee rituals or the abandoned imperial harem in which women were held captive away from prying eyes. Detailed architectural drawings of decorative motifs from Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace fill the surrounding papers, standing in for the Sultan’s luxurious form of patriarchal oppression. In both installations, Yalter’s use of mirrored split-screens, isolated body parts and cascading monitors builds up to a singular effect turning the forbidden bodies into an object of curiosity.

Friedlaender’s first solo show following her death in 2000, curated by her daughter Mira Friedlaender and Is¸ın Önol, is a more subtle affair focusing on the artist’s relationship to minimalism. It covers a momentous decade (1975–83) of her underappreciated practice, exposing the personal vocabulary she developed in her eponymous 1977 artist’s book, including ‘string’, ‘tear’ and ‘torn’. My Square (1975), for example, depicts two triangles in shades of lilac making up a square. As taut white strings circumscribe the darker triangle, their intersection becomes a curious site where light and dark, material and shadow, may fleetingly co-exist.

bilge_friedlaender_wordsnumberslines_1977_artists_book_wire_string_collage_and_silkscreen_on_paper_with_folio_cover_22_x_28_cm._courtesy_arter_istanbul.jpg

Bilge Friedlaender, Words/Numbers/Lines, 1977, artist’s book (wire, string, collage and silkscreen on paper with folio cover), 22 x 28 cm. Courtesy: ARTER, Istanbul

Bilge Friedlaender, Words/Numbers/Lines, 1977, artist’s book (wire, string, collage and silkscreen on paper with folio cover), 22 x 28 cm. Courtesy: ARTER, Istanbul

Works such as Dream Time Places #2 with Flying Shape (1975) and River/House/Book (1981) reveal Friedlaender’s surprising interest in fiction. She once wrote: ‘A line would not exist if we were not people. The whole thing is a fiction.’ In the former, a blank piece of paper has been torn in two, the tear then traced in pen through the middle of a smaller piece of black paper, only for the black rectangle also to be halved. When the papers are superimposed, the two ‘tears’ converge as their ghostly versions in ink and pencil hover below on contrasting dark and light backgrounds. More poignantly, River/House/Book transforms unfolded leporellos into undulating rivers on beds of sand in cedar boxes. The addition of an open bamboo structure offers shelter to ‘exhausted’ waves. Such works embody Friedlaender’s desire for a more equitable world, in which the human and non-human are invariably treated with care and love. In both Friedlaender and Yalter's exhibitions, margins – whether pictorial, ethical or political – simultaneously materialize and fade through their skilled use of abstraction.

Lead image: Bilge Friedlaender, Square Mutation: Denying Gravity #10 (detail), 1975, watercolour and wire on paper, 56 x 76 cm. Courtesy: ARTER, Istanbul

Issue 184

First published in Issue 184

Jan - Feb 2017

Most Read

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018