In “Everywhere, Nowhere,” a Turkish Artist Chains Together Human Conflict and the Natural World

Nov 11, 2016 5:07PM

Image courtesy of Zilberman Gallery.

A striking paper installation rises up through the center of Azade Köker’s new exhibition in Istanbul. It looks like a heavy, mundane object—a metal chain—rendered larger than life. Ominously dangling from the ceiling, it is white and speckled with chemicals, as if rusted over.

That sinister atmosphere is no mistake. Köker, a Turkish-born artist who divides her time between Istanbul and Berlin, is worried about the future. For Köker, today’s wars are harbingers of natural disasters; the political boundaries we’re battling over aren’t fixed, but bound to come undone by violent forces of nature. That anxiety about territory and ownership, about survival in an uncertain future, is central to “Everywhere, Nowhere,” her fourth solo exhibition at Zilberman Gallery.

“I’m not able to see the forest because of the trees,” Köker has said of her attempts to represent nature in her work. The same could be said of standing in the gallery, being captivated by Entkettet / Dissolution (2015), the massive paper chain installation hanging in the center of the room. Soaring high in the gallery space, it is shaped something like a tree, the thick chain resembling a trunk, the links tangled in a pile on the floor like twisting roots.

Many of the mixed-media canvases also depict trees. Some border on abstraction, like Green Sky (2016), which calls to mind reflections on the surface of water. Others, such as Secret Struggle (2016) or A Cheerful Day (2016), look almost like snapshots of forest scenes. They’re beautiful but eerie, shadowy and devoid of humans or animals.

The 13-foot-wide Aleppo II (2016) leaves the forest for a broader perspective. A large, transparent disc hovers over the war-torn Syrian city like a magnifying glass or a mirror. With this image juxtaposed against the still, haunting images of the forest and the heavy, tree-like chain installation, it’s hard to miss the connections Köker draws between human violence and the natural world. Those trees, she seems to suggest, could be gone in a second, unceremoniously cut down and paved over or obliterated by a bomb.

Image courtesy of Zilberman Gallery.

The land that humans fight so hard to claim, to own, to protect, to keep—it’s in peril, in Köker’s view, and so is civilization itself. So, what about the chain? It can be a symbol of unity, or one of oppression. But the artist doesn’t feel the need to explain her specific motivations. “Some philosophers see the chain as a negative symbol and some positive,” she has said. “There is a duality between good and bad, and I’m most interested in that.”

—Bridget Gleeson

Azade Köker: Everywhere, Nowhere” is on view at Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul, Sept. 30–Nov. 12, 2016.

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