Press Release - Propulsion

14/03/2015 - 02/05/2015

Tracing the example sentence used in the definition of the word “exhibition” in Turkish Language Association’s dictionary (‘He was doing projects to be able to open a watermelon exhibition’), Didem Özbek has in time developed a multi-layered project series which she summarises as Red Flag / Blue Flag / White Flag. In this project, Özbek aims to fictionalise and question an artist’s being; how he/she positions him/herself to be able to create, produce, exhibit and sell his/her work, and the professional relationships he/she has to form in order to be successful, using Sait Faik Abasıyanık’s short story Bir Karpuz Sergisi / A Watermelon Exhibition. In her installation Propulsion, the artist passes on from Blue Flag, the project’s second phase, to its third, White Flag. She faces wearing emotions such as courage, acceptance and resignation that she needs to show in order to overcome her fears, by going in the sea or watching the sea just like the beggar and the patron in A Watermelon Exhibition.

Özbek realised the first phase of her project she calls Red Flag with a series of publications, installations, performances and debates in May and June of the year 2012 at SALT Galata. She modified the Wednesday, 20 May 1936 issue of the newspaper Kurun, in which A Watermelon Exhibition was first published, and re-published one thousand copies of it 76 years later on Sunday, 20 May 2012, and started work on re-publishing in May 2013 a Sunday supplement which will tie the agenda of 1936 to the agenda of today. However, the unexpected developments in the country’s agenda proved the effect of the 1936 Kurun, and the artist decided to update the relationships she formed. In the first half of 2014, despite having a good grasp of all the details of the watermelon exhibition she wanted to open, she instead chose to swim like the beggar in the story and gave priority to her aim to participate in Boğaziçi Intercontinental Swimming Competition. During this period she experienced the similarities between the pressures of competition and staying on top in the worlds of sports and arts. Özbek believes that in order to be a subject of an elite sports or arts event, one should not only focus on competition and success, but to make sure they get enjoyment out of the work they do as well. She devised the second phase of her project by using public space as a blue-flagged beach, by including herself amongst men and women who describe the Bosphorus waters as the world’s cleanest and the most pleasant to swim in, getting inspired by their zest for life and Sait Faik’s beggar and his patron who loved swimming in the Istanbul waters. She originally wanted to realise this project on a pavement on the Bosphorus shore. The bureaucratic reasons that prevented it from taking place in a public space inspired her to give ‘propulsion’ to her project by swimming up and down the Bosphorus stream and producing new works by observing creative solutions in public space.

Propulsion examines the role of the individual in the continuous impact of the obstacles that are imprinted in one’s mind. It draws attention to the fact that while we may be sitting on a pavement somewhere thinking about where we got stuck, the concrete block we’ve stepped on during this wearing process could melt and turn into an endless sandbank. The Turkish text used in the installation points out the obstacles met, while the English one talks about the approaches one should imprint on the brain in order to tackle them. In Lodos, a video Özbek will present as part of the Propulsion installation, we witness how the artist was left gasping for air when faced with fears she thought she had already overcome. The artist, trying to move along as the only living being with a sense of awareness amongst the interestingly all blind and senseless and mostly white or pale beings, thinks she will not be able to continue her existence in any environment unless she neutralises her fears. This video can be watched as part of the Propulsion installation at Galeri Zilberman’s project space until May 2, 2015.

Didem Özbek is an artist and designer who lives and works in Istanbul. She graduated from the graphics design programme at Mimar Sinan University and went on to complete her master’s degree in communications design at London’s Central St Martins College of Art & Design. In her practice which focuses on conceptual art projects, she realises public performative installations using printed material and artist books. She has had works exhibited at International Design Center Nagoya, Japan (1997); Akbank Sanat, Turkey (2003); Umetnostna Galerija Maribor, Slovenia (2006); Museo Madre, Italy (2009); Tate Modern, UK (2010); CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Poland (2010), Local Global Plan, Denmark (2011); Asia Triennial Manchester ‘11, UK (2011); SALT Galata, Turkey (2012) and the 9th Shanghai Biennial Bandung Pavillion, China (2012). She is also a co-founder of PiST /// Interdisciplinary Project Space in Istanbul.

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