Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul: Despair & Metanoia

Despair & Metanoia

12/09/2013 – 26/10/2013

For more than 20 years, Sukran Moral and VALIE EXPORT have shaped our definition of performance art. Although both artists have been creating unconventional works, an amalgam of feminist and activist strategies, they had never met in the course of their careers; this is the first time their work is being shown together, in a curated juxtaposition that aims to underline their artistic tropes and to highlight the universality of their subject matter.

Sukran Moral has been dealing with gender issues from the beginning of her career. The artist has always come across as a sexually confident woman, who is not afraid to question established assumptions about femininity and the role of women in Turkish society. Moral’s controversial performances and subversive strategies are a challenge to hetero-normative societal pressure. Two of her most celebrated performance works are “Hammam” (1997) in which the artist reclaims the feminine space in a Turkish bath reserved for men, and “Bordello” (1997) in which Sukran Moral is in a brothel and is therefore automatically assumed to be a whore. Both works aim to castigate social prejudice, gender stereotypes and sexual intolerance.

Due to the controversy that several of her performances have sparked, the artist has often faced social exclusion, ridicule, and even death threats, but she has never lost her courage and faith in the sacred and profane character of art. It is in this sense that she has selected to exhibit an image of crucifixion. The image is the epitome of how Moral views the life of the artist, but it is also a wilful appropriation of well-known crucifixion imagery, only in this case a woman (Moral herself) is crucified.  “Despair”, a less provocative work, is one of centrepieces of the exhibition: it shows a group of illegal immigrants on a boat in the middle of the sea in hope of a better life. “Despair” reflects Moral knack’s for narrative and pathos, made more prominent through the harmonious marriage of image and sound and Moral’s economy of expression. Most importantly, in this work, Moral uses emotion as a powerful trope to reflect on the personal and the political. 

VALIE EXPORT ‘s work has been instrumental in the redefinition of femininity, the negotiation of female sexuality and the exposure of power structures that have negated women a space of possibility. She has used the female body, inscribed with expected notions of sexuality, in a poetic and in a polemical way to address the associations and links between appropriation and representation, sign and signifier, domination and alienation. To this end attest the two large-scale photographs from her Body Configuration series (1981) and a rare vintage print from the 70s in which the artist gracefully aligns her body in accordance to the monument she embraces, opening up a discourse about the female body and performance art in the public space.

“Metanoia”, an installation of 29 videos of performances by VALIE EXPORT, from the 70s until recently, is another centrepiece of the exhibition. VALIE EXPORT is not only a seminal artist in the history of performance art, but also a pioneer in the use of film and video; one of the reasons she was drawn to it is that it had no male, hegemonic legacy as is the case with many other media. Therefore, her engagement with film and video is an extension of her active engagement with feminism and her desire to experiment in different languages, incorporating of course body language, structuralism and sexual politics. The artist herself has claimed: “By using video it was possible as a feminist artist to work very freely with the depiction of body-consciousness”.

The title of the piece comes from the Greek word Metanoia, which has various meanings: meta (=after/post or beyond) + noia, which comes from the Greek nous (=mind) and refers to something post-logical, beyond reason. In Modern Greek the word has come to mean “redemption”, which quite like Moral’s faith in art, implies a religious aspect of art. In one of her early performance videos “Man & Woman & Animal” (1970-73) that are included in the show, VALIE EXPORT looks into the religious and historical construction of gender, its dualisms and the ecclesiastical power mechanisms.  Noted video works such as “Cuts/Elements of Observation” (1973), “Hyperbulia” (1973) and “Syntagma” (1983) alongside some video poems accentuate the experimental language of video and performance art.

“Despair & Metanoia” will be on view through October 26, 2013. A catalogue accompanies the exhibition. 

Şükran Moral lives and works in Istanbul and Rome. Her work has been exhibited internationally, most recently in Rittato di una Cita, MACRO, Rome (2013), Light From the Middle East, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2012); Bodies of Silence, Royal College of Arts, London (2012); In which language shall I tell my story…, The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2012); Desire, Sex & Lust, Sexuality in Contemporary, Bergen Kunst Museum, Norway (2012); AMEMUS, Galeri Zilberman, Turkey (2010); New Acquisitions and Highlights, 21C Museum, USA (2009);  Love and Violence, Yapı Kredi Kazım Taşkent Art Gallery, Turkey (2009);  Modern and Beyond, Santral Istanbul Museum, Turkey (2007); Peace… Fucking Fairy Tale, Gallery BND, Italy (2007); Zina – The Adulteress, 51st Venice Biennial, Italy (2007); 5th International Istanbul Biennial, Turkey (1997). Her works are in numerous public and private collections including ARTER, Istanbul, Istanbul Modern Art Museum, The British Museum, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

VALIE EXPORT first came into international attention in the 60s with legendary performance “Genitalpanik”.

She devised her name VALIE EXPORT in 1967 written in capital letters, both artistic concept and brand.  

She has had many solo museum exhibitions internationally, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Camden Art Centre in London, MAMCO in Geneva, Museo Nacional Reina Sofia in Madrid and in many important group exhibitions including documenta 6 (1977) and documenta 12 (2007).  Her works are in major museum collections such as Centre Pompidou, Paris, Tate Modern, London, MOCA, Los Angeles, and MoMA in New York.

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