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, 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 opening of the 15th Istanbul Biennial this week, a guide to the best exhibitions around town
Ahead of the openings of EXPO Chicago and the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, a guide to the best exhibitions...
Florine Stettheimer, Beauty Contest: To the Memory of P.T. Barnum, 1924, oil on canvas, 1.2 x 1.5 m. Courtesy: Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut and Ettie Stettheimer
The Jewish Museum, New York, USA
Highlights of the exhibitions and performances taking place during Berlin Art Week 
Reflections, a favourite verse, and a new poem dedicated to one of the English language’s most renowned poets of the...
Nicole Eiseman, Sketch for a Fountain (Skizze für einen Brunnen), 2017, Skulptur Projekte 2017, bronze, gips, wasserbecken. Courtesy: Skulptur Projekte Münster
Various venues, Münster, Germany
Buoyed by Manifesta announcing it will dock in the port city in 2020, is Marseille becoming the new LA? 
Ahead of this year’s DC Open and gallery share Okey-Dokey, a round-up of the best shows across the Rhineland cities
From artist Enoch Cheng’s nocturnal balletics to fascist violence in Charlottesville, rethinking the political agency...
Opened 15 months ago but remaining empty until now, the inaugural show at the landmark Palestinian Museum in Birzeit
The dual sides to the city’s Cph Art Week
Queer cringe at the BBC and other diversity dilemmas
Marta Minujín, El Partenón de libros (The Parthenon of Books), 2017, under construction in Kassel as part of documenta 14. Photograph: © Rosa Maria Ruehling
On documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel
Chris Kraus’s biography of the first female ‘Great Writer as Countercultural Hero’
Remembering the artist whose occultist experiments transformed her body and biography into art 
In this microcosm of the disenfranchisement of ‘Late Great Britain’, what use is art?
Public debate around Confederate insignia has little to do with historical fact, and everything to do with collective...
A multi-faceted collaboration between Matthew Barney, Ragnar Kjartansson and the Iceland Dance Company reflects on...
What Luc Besson’s Valerian and a number of recent artists’ 3D films are getting right about our current reality
The removal of the Confederate monuments in Baltimore shows decisiveness after years of inaction – already they stand...
Yayoi Kusama to open her own museum; Confederate monuments removed in Baltimore; David Roberts Art Foundation to leave...
From a tribute to Straub/Huillet to Valerie Massadian’s portrait of teenage motherhood, the turn to real situations and...
Japan’s growing number of art festivals tread a precarious path between state-sponsored leisure-culture and soft-power...
Fifty years after the term was coined, a show in Samos reflects on ‘the unlikely liaison between love and politics’
Arsenale and Giardini, Venice, Italy
SoundCloud has been invaluable to the new music community for both documentation and discovery – now the audio-...
The extraordinary life of the late, great, gallerist and collector Alexander Iolas
Various venues, New York, USA
At a time of instantaneous information and fetishized immersivity, artists are evoking scent as an alchemical, bodily...
With her current show at Gasworks, London, the Kuwaiti artist shares some influential images
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memory, 1964, mixed media collage and graphite on board, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy: © Romare Bearden Foundation / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017
Successfully layering a broader socio-historical narrative onto a period of radical non-conformity, this is an...
With a strong surrealist strain, and including a welcome number of female artists, highlights from the 48th edition of...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017

frieze magazine

September 2017