A Turkish Artist Turns Classic Ottoman Architecture on Its Head in “dual CONSTRUCTION”

Every culture has its architectural heroes: Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Baroque Rome, Antoni Gaudí in turn-of-the-century Barcelona, Oscar Niemeyer in modernist Brazil. The Ottoman empire had Mimar Sinan. His achievements inspired, in particular, the latest works by Turkish artist Canan Dağdelen, currently on view at art ON Istanbul

First, a bit of context: Mimar Sinan, who lived to be nearly 100 years old, served as architect-engineer for three 16th-century Ottoman sultans. He was the visionary behind some 300 structures in what is considered modern-day Turkey, including Istanbul’s aqueducts and the Mosque of Süleymanin Istanbul. He was also behind the design of two bridges in Bosnia and Herzegovina that are now UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hammam, a Turkish bath in Istanbul located near the Hagia Sophia, informs the recent sculptures and installations of the Instanbul-born, Vienna-based Dağdelen.

Titled “dual CONSTRUCTION,” Dağdelen’s show is a reference to the double structure of Sinan’s hammam, which is a classical Ottoman bathhouse with two symmetrical sections—one for men, and one for women—composed of a series of four domed chambers. This two-part construction inspired Dağdelen’s works as well as the layout of the exhibition, which is meant to impart a sense of contemplation.  This is perhaps most palpable upon viewing the central installation, Reflection (2015). Taking cues from Sinan’s harmonious architecture, the work consists of two sets, one gray, one terracota, of multiple floating porcelain spheres suspended by strings from the ceiling and arranged in the shapes of two domed chambers turned on their sides. They seem to float weightlessly.


The exhibition also features a selection of smaller porcelain sculptures that similarly echo and manipulate the symmetrical forms of Sinan’s hammam. For these works, the artist combined small replicas of the four chambers into varying configurations, stacking and joining the disparate parts. At times these arrangements feel haphazard, as in the case of  Double HAMMAM IV upside down (2015). Dağdelen seems to be hinting at the stability (or instability) of a historic landmark in a modern age. Perhaps she’s also pointing to the shifting significance of cultural symbols.  Her solid, classical shapes and recognizable forms—domes, cubes, cylinders—might be reorganized and reimagined, for example, and their original meaning obscured or amplified, at turns, in the process.


Bridget Gleeson



dual CONSTRUCTION” is on view at art ON Istanbul, Sep. 16 – Nov. 13, 2015.


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