Stone Faces by Kamil Fırat

Istanbul Artist Collective
Nov 5, 2018 3:47PM

Kamil Fırat’s photo exhibition in G-Art Gallery, The Stone Faces, is a unique example, which manifests itself as a linguistic irony as well as a parody that is conveyed to visual grounds.

An irony, indeed, because he names the photo images of the stone sculptures The Stone Faces, which display human bodies from their back as if the bodies are shown not from the back but from the front. In fact, what appears in the photographs are not human faces but human backs…

This naming is a word in the Language (‘face’), which is a lot more different from the object (face) to which it refers, but in a sense, is also attributed to another object (human back) that bodily negates it. In order to make this irony discernible, Kamil Fırat gets involved in the photograph with lines. The uneven, curved lines transform this irony into a sign (an indicator), which emphasises and underlines the curves of sculpturesque images.

The fact that this irony emerges linguistically and transforms itself into a visual parody at the same time has a carnivalesque reference. Mikhail Bakhtin accounts that the medieval carnivals in Rabelais and His World have turned the given conventions upside-down: [‘Upside-down’ is not descriptive enough: it would be better if the act of showing the front side of a human body as the back side and vice versa is worded as ‘displacement’ rather than ‘upside-down’.] This displacement, though Bakhtin doesn't mention that, appears as if to be possible through a magical mirror. This time, the magical mirror of the carnival seems to show the back of a body on the front and the front of a body on the back through a ‘displacement’, rather than switching the image of a body’s right and left, just in the same way as an ordinary mirror does, namely reversing the right and the left sides of our faces. Bakhtin states that the carnival festivities represent ‘the collapse of the Medieval hierarchy’ by means of these displacements and asserts that: ’Rabelais has consistently used the methods of contrasts, which have been employed by the traditional folklore [the rituals of carnival festivities H.Y.] in the struggle for a new world perception and for the fall of the Medieval hierarchy. Namely, the logic of ‘turning upside-down’ or rather ‘positive negation’. Rabelais had repositioned up and down and deliberately blended hierarchical levels, in doing so, his main goal was to discover the essence of the object’s concrete authenticity and to expose its material bodily aspect by getting it out of its shell: ‘The real existence, according to him, was aside from any norm and value judgement.’

Typical examples that aim to dismantle the hierarchy may also be found: In an article published in Mind in 1952, David Pears questions the reasons for the mirror not to displace the symmetry of the human body as the waist up and the waist down in the horizontal section, even though it makes it possible to displace that same symmetry in a vertical section (right on the left, left on the right). This is the hierarchy of the reality imposed by the Nature and concisely, Pearson’s problem is a philosophical problem that the science of Physics produces in relation to reality. On the other hand, the idea of showing the down side of the human body on the upper side and vice versa is, in the words of Bakhtin, an aesthetic and textual problem that alludes to the collapse of the hierarchy in a metaphorical way... Indeed, the enigmatic painting of Rene Magritte, in which a person’s back is depicted in a mirror even though the person is facing the mirror and his back is turned on the viewer, which should allow the front side of his body to be seen, has metaphorical concerns rather than real. Is the metaphorical meaning of Magritte’s painting a parody of Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding? Is it possible that Magritte was aiming to ‘dismantle the hierarchy’ by means of this parody? One should ponder upon such matters.

Kamil Fırat’s ‘The Stone Faces’ does not actualise this parody of displacement in a medieval carnival by reversing an already parodied text. Here, for instance, there is no such a thing as making of a parody as a response to a given text, just like in Jan van Eyck’s painting, or as a response to the logic of a given space, such as ‘one who looks at the mirror lets the face to be seen’, which can be found in that text. So to speak, by rejecting the fundamental rules of the parody Kamil Fırat renders the World textual whilst parodying it, just as a carnival in which everything reverses. In the World, the faces of people are in the front [reality] whereas the Stone Faces of Fırat are in the back [textuality]. Can the lines be the boundaries between these two statements, namely reality and textuality? One needs to contemplate.

Hilmi Yavuz

(journalist, writer, poet and academician)

Istanbul Artist Collective