Yes it's alive, No it's not: A Conversation with Merve Morkoç
We always enjoyed finding great artists, projects, or presentations at places that usually aren't in the spotlight and we recently found exactly that over in Istanbul, Turkey. Between December 9th, 2021, and January 15th, 2022, Merve Morkoç is presenting her big elaborate exhibition Yes it's alive, No it's not, in collaboration with UP Art Project at Küçük Mustafapaşa Hamam.
We've been keeping an eye on Morkoç's work for some time now and are continuously intrigued by the diverse yet accomplished approach to her practice and the variety of mediums and techniques as well as styles she's been working with. Coming from the notion that any materials of any size can easily turn into an efficient vehicle to transfer ideas, she has been working with paintings, sculptural work, installation, and photography, and it feels like this particular showcase is a culmination of all those different directions. In her paintings, she is often mixing meticulously rendered, computer-generated visuals all the way to raw doodles, splatters, or raw gestures and marks, while in sculptures and installations, she employs everything from found and ready-made objects, ephemeral inflatables, to non-artistic materials as a binding element between them. Such an approach to some extent inspired the idea behind the show which is revolving around the notion of a seemingly clear and well-defined distinction between the artificial object and natural ones. Interested in the way we evaluate our imminent surroundings and adjust our actions according to those, the artist proposes a question about learned and memorized concepts within the relationship of form and material. More precisely, Morkoç is wondering if the characteristics of artificial objects that are products of designed and conscious action be defined with an objective and general criteria as the natural objects which are created from the purposeless influences of physical powers.
Using this important moment, we've reached out to the artist to learn more about her practice and the ways the diverse mediums might be intertwined and complementing, about being an artist in Turkey, and about balloons and cowboys.
Saša Bogojev: What draws you to working in such different mediums, materials, techniques, and what informs which type of work will be made in which technique?
Merve Morkoç: I have never been a single material/medium person. For me, working is not just completing a work of art, but thinking and experimenting with materials. The time I spend with the material tells me a lot about what kind of work it wants to turn into. The texture of the material, the working principle, the feeling it creates in me is what directs me to production.
How are the works relating to each other, or what are some of the elements, qualities, or atmospheres/feelings that you've been trying to keep constant?
Honestly, nothing is solid and permanent for me. Just as life is in motion, so is my production. The only constant is me, my mind, and my hands. But there is a root idea that brings together the works in this exhibition, that I have been thinking about for years, reading, writing, drawing, which is the term “the alive” and its connection and relationship with the material.
Did any of the works inspire others and how does that usually work?
Yes, especially paintings and sculptures affect each other deeply. But also video and sculpture go hand-in-hand.
Is there a meaning or symbolism behind the inflatable objects, such as the big hat, the balloons, etc?
Inflatable materials have always fascinated me. For many years, I have produced and worked on works in various ways. The ability of an object to grow and shrink and change its form is incredibly impressive. An artificial substance suddenly begins to have living characteristics. But this cowboy hat in particular is a homage to my mom. While making the horse sculpture in the exhibition, at one point I thought of adding a rider to it. And while I was thinking about who would be the rider of this horse, a photograph of my mother from her youth appeared in my mind. In the photo, my mother is in a full cowboy costume on her way to work at the age of 17-18. By the way, I would like to pass on a little information. In our culture, there is no Halloween. Wearing a costume was a very unusual choice for a woman in Istanbul in the 80s. Long story short, there are many images of cowboys in the exhibition, which for me symbolize the strength of my mother and the women of my family background.
How much of the work or which aspects of it are informed by the fact that you're living in Turkey at the present moment in time?
The country I live in even has an impact on how I go to the toilet. It's impossible for me to keep my art away from it. Living in a country like Turkey where you wake up to corruption, theft, murder, and discrimination every day requires full-time work. There is a saying that we often use here: "geography is destiny." Living in Turkey brings a lot of burden and trouble, but at the end of the day, I was born in this land, I live and work here, so you can see an expression of this in every step I take and every work I made.
Who are "those who sleep on Büyükada" to which this exhibition is dedicated?
Humm, we come to emotional questions. Last year I lost my two cats, mother, and son, so tragically. They died painfully 4 days apart. While I was looking for where to bury them, I thought of "Buyukada". "Buyukada" means big island. It is the largest of the 9 "Prince Islands" of Istanbul. Two of my very close friends live on that island and I asked them to recommend a place that I can visit whenever I want. They suggested to me the spot where they usually hang out and have fun. At the top of the island right next to an abandoned old greek orphanage, the third largest wooden building in the world. I prepared a grave for them there and it was an incredible funeral day, it would be very difficult to describe in words. Butterflies were flying everywhere, there was a stray cat accompanying us during the funeral, and she lay by the grave for the whole time, and at one point, cows came to us and began to graze. It was an unforgettable day for me in every sense.