Extramücadele's Take On Hell at İstanbul's Non Gallery – 2014
Extramücadele (Extrastruggle) aka Memed Erdener is a versatile artist who is known for his pop art-influenced works that have direct references to the political atmosphere and history of the Turkish Republic.
He has a particular style and humor in approaching everyday politics in his drawings that make the audience recognize his work even from a distance.
In his current exhibition at Galeri Non in İstanbul, Erdener takes this particular style a few steps further and manages to create his own universe of signs.
Previously employing more direct and raw metaphors related to Turkey's political and social agenda, Erdener seems to have become more refined in his use of tools and designs in his new collection, titled “There Is no God In the Sky Only Birds.” In this universe he has created, each and every work has a special artisanal touch and intellectual nature in which he combines Fuzuli with George Orwell and transforms old objects into new materials. Glass, wire, wood, old portraits, prescription glasses and of course his trademark acrylic on paper come together and connect with each other to create a universe where metaphors have become signs signifying politics, gender roles, dominant ideologies, religion and taboos that are very prominent today.
In this almost mythological universe, Erdener uses snakes, birds and chaotic motives as a repetitive metaphor to underline the uncanny political and psychological atmosphere that the show aims to capture. In three of his acrylic on paper works there is a refined reflection of Turkey's current social issues such as oppression and blaming religious piety for problems. Similarly in his sculptures where he uses old tableware, such as “What Matters is to Eat When You're Full,” in which he features spoons of various sizes, and “Head Fork,” in which old forks in various shapes prostrate themselves in front of a plastic fork, have immediate connotations with Turkey's recent corruption case. Having left a deep collective trauma on society, the corruption case is remembered for greed for power and money. In Erdener's works, there is a subtle yet strong reference to greed.
Another important and relatively new aspect of the show is Erdener's usage of old portrait photographs. The audience sees these black and white portraits either on the back of a plate or through various glasses, each with different effects. These old photos bring a human touch, a more visible subject or sometimes a face to the victim of this uncanny universe. With these faces, a feeling of nostalgia, loss and tragedy created by oppression is attached to the overall exhibition space. Works such as “We Always Watched” and “He Who Controls the Present Controls the Past” are unique examples of Erdener's skills in evoking almost tangible emotions from the audience. His quoting Orwell in such cases also points to the power of oppression in creating and re-creating history.
After passing through all these works created using many different materials -- from the classic paper and paint to gear wheels and wires -- the viewer is lastly invited to go out on a balcony in the exhibition space to see the final work in which they can view the outdoors through a combination of prescription glass lenses. The work is titled “Don't Look At Me, Look Through Me To The Beyond,” and it concludes the show perfectly by inviting the audience to look further. The work is accompanied by a quote from “The Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”
With this final quote, one can interpret that Extrastruggle's struggle is recognizing hell and giving its elements new shapes and images, rendering them in a way that they not only remain as they are but can now be seen with all their meanings and the evil they are hiding. That is why he has created a universe of signs and meanings for this hell and has welcomed the audience to it. The audience gradually interprets what's visible with the new meanings followed by each work. “There Is no God In the Sky Only Birds” is clear proof that Extrastruggle is able to create a set of meaningful metaphors that can turn the deep-rooted hysteria of our times into relatable artworks. One can find sentences that one feels deep inside but cannot verbalize in the form of artworks, which is also proof that Erdener's universe of signs is significant not only in a local framework but in a universal one.