I first encountered the works of Berlin-based Turkish artist Ekin Su Koç at Step Istanbul, an art event that showcased the works of hundreds of different contemporary artists last November. The artist’s eye-catching collages, created with daily magazines, lace, and various other materials immediately appealed to me. While drawing inspiration from nature and human psychology, these collages transformed into a body with flowers or animals. They seemed to represent life itself and tell me stories at the same time.
Anna Laudel’s second gallery in Düsseldorf, Germany recently presented Koç’s solo exhibition titled “Altbau” to art lovers. When I learned that the exhibition could be viewed online, I took the opportunity to once again enjoy the beauty and aesthetics of the artist’s pieces.
On the first floor of the gallery, plaster wall sculptures combining motifs from old Berlin apartments that offer visual richness and hand-made fabrics from nomads from the Aegean region of Turkey welcome visitors. Examining the concepts of identity and belonging through new materials in these works, Koç says these sculptures are designed as part of the old walls of the gallery space, which transforms them into site-specific pieces.
Anna Laudel’s German branch, which was launched in 2019, is housed in a renovated building with ancient architectural details. The word Altbau, which gives the exhibition its name, means “old apartment” in German and is used to describe, in particular, venerable structures with stucco ornaments. In this sense, the gallery building and the name and works of the exhibition constitute a triple parallelism with references to the history of art.
Koç’s wall sculptures seduce viewers with the power of contrasting materials. It is possible to read them with references to patriarchal and postcolonialist traces in everyday life via this contrast in their bodies. According to the artist, what excited her most about these hybrid works was using the trousseaux of Aegean women she did not know. While the elaborate fabrics chosen from these trousseaux bring breezes from Anatolian lands, the designs of the German apartments are reminiscent of plaster casts from the Roman Empire. Therefore, the pieces evoke both the feeling of an archaeological discovery and refer to a utopian world where all genres and cultures live together equally.
Koç is an artist who freely uses various types of materials in her works, as evidenced by her collages and wall sculptures. After graduation, the artist had the chance to visit several museums, fairs, galleries and attend workshops, residency programs abroad. Noting that all these experiences gave her intellectual freedom, she said that old weavings, decorated fabrics, synthetic silks, laces, plants, epoxy, reflective foils, neon lights and plaster are among the materials that she uses professionally. She hinted that there is a long list of other materials that she wants to experiment with. “My material changes mainly depending on the content of my work,” she added.
As I have an eye for free-spirited artists, it was not surprising for me to understand Koç’s desire for liberation in his art. His reflections were visible in his works from the first moment. Tracing the artist’s emancipated steps at Anna Laudel, I saw the artist’s collage works, which are my favorite, and canvases in different areas of the first floor. The collages belong to Koç’s “Someone” and “Multiple Identities” series while the canvases belong to the “Corrected Storytellings” series, which focuses on human relationships with nature.
“Moon or Mars”
After reviewing the details of Koç’s collage works with immense admiration, another series caught my attention during the exhibition. Created with dried plants and featuring various vanity symbols, these circular canvases were so intense that time seemed to stand still for me. The epoxy covering on the plants and the symbols make the figures appear on the canvases as if they were frozen in time.
These works from the artist’s “Moon or Mars” series tell a story similar to wall sculptures. While the sculptures fictionalize a utopian world, the epoxy coated canvases create another planet with misty dystopian landscapes. Questioning the future of the Anthropocene era in one respect, in the Koç series following an urge triggered by a question asked by Commissioner Ipek Yeğinsü: “What would it be if we could start a new life on other planets?”
Reading and researching about the Anthropocene era and the destruction of nature during that time, she envisioned the possibility of creating a different environment, leaving behind culture and consumer habits to start a new life on a new planet.
“At that time, I began to paint hazy and shapeless landscapes in an unfamiliar atmosphere on my circular canvases, seeing them as the surface of the moon. Then I sprinkled images of ancient sculptures, cultural relics, collages of colorful figures, birds and dry plants as symbols of nature on these canvas surfaces and covered them with epoxy. In this way, it was as if these figures and plants were transported into space with all their colors and tried to start over. The epoxy created a feeling of being frozen in time, ”Koç said.
Although the subject of the impressive “Moon or Mars” series was developed after a process of reflection inspired by Yeğinsü, Koç mainly reflects his own observations obtained from personal mood swings and the social effects behind these swings in his. art. Tracing the artist’s work would allow us to better understand his themes. As her series “Heirloom” focused on the concept of family with the combination of old black and white family photographs collected from abandoned migrant homes and laces knitted by the artist’s grandmother, Koç revealed the duality of the notions of belonging to a family or a society and being an individual. The theme of her series “Antibody” developed when her concept of family became intertwined with the health issues the artist experienced. Her series “Happy at Nowhere” is inspired by her feelings when she moved to another country with references to the themes of migration and a sense of belonging.
“The information I learned for the first time is also inspiring to me,” said the artist. She added: “For example, when I first heard that the word story was not generally preferred as it is a combination of words from her story and refers to male-dominated dating, j I was amazed, which gave me great inspiration to rethink and produce the concept of gender.
Whatever the subject and theme, Koç tries to share an emotion or draw the viewers’ attention to concepts that need to be changed through the materials and forms of his works. Among these emotions, childlike innocence, being able to love and find another incomplete or undefined beautiful body and find a moment to reflect on the concepts of nature, belonging and identity without judgment comes to the fore.
The artist finally spoke of the difficult days that the art world is going through because of the coronavirus. Explaining that the psychological and material burden of the period is a bit difficult, Koç hinted that it was very exciting and very valuable that the Anna Laudel Gallery provided a 3D digital solution for her solo exhibition. You can visit Koç’s fascinating exhibition from the comfort of your home via a link on the gallery website until January 16, 2021. The gallery also accepts visitors by appointment as part of preventive health measures for a safe visit of the gallery.