ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Ayçesu Duran as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Ayçesu Duran (b. 1992 Fethiye, Turkey) is an artist currently living and working between Istanbul and London. She completed her BA degree in sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art. Duran’s practice explores absurd traces of civilization and the ways in which humankind attempts to comprehend the state of being. Her sculptural work cross-examines systematized purposes and values through curated juxtapositions of mass-produced objects and naturally occuring matter. Duran opened her first solo exhibition Three Days Two Nights at Pilot Gallery, Istanbul in 2019. Some of her group shows include; What Water Knows, Pilot Gallery, Istanbul (2022), Muğlak, Vision Art Platform, Istanbul (2021), Museum Without Walls (2021), Part One, 5533, Istanbul (2021), Curriculum Vitae, sub, Canakkale (2019), Midnight Cinema, Harlesden High Street, London (2017).
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Ayçesu Duran: My work centers around the idea of being human and looks for ways to expose futility by tampering with meanings and systems we construct. This matter led me to existential philosophy and Absurdism very early on in my practice. Glitches in the order of things, like bursting with laughter when we fall, can be surprisingly powerful. My work tests the bounds of familiarity by expanding and shrinking everyday objects’ intended purposes in curated networks and structures. While doing so, I pull a lot of tangible reference from interior and industrial design principles.
My usual process involves combing through local e-commerce sites for goods that are tucked away in intertwined sub-categories, as well as searching for unfound potential within the trivial. Tools of ritualized social constructs, apparatuses designed to hide, and single task automated machines, are to name but a few. The objects I collect are reminiscent of the shifts in human will and subjectivity in relation to industrialization. The paradox between the effort to bend nature for human purposes versus the desire to replicate the natural world especially intrigues me.
I often turn to Archeology and other material culture studies not only for historical knowledge, but also to take notice of the ways in which something out of this time is presented in a contemporary setting. In short, when it comes down to a main theme, I think the key word is Civilization – which is also one of my favorite computer games that I find very inspirational.
AE: Elaborate on the intersection of organic and industrial materials in your work. What is your approach to finding balance in terms of form and aesthetics?
AD: I think I categorize them more as, already existing and fabricated. Manufactured objects and products of the earth or of living organisms are a very big part of my practice; most of the time they are the starting point. I like to accentuate existing functions and connotations of articles that belong to day-to-day life, while finding new significance for them to confront their preconditioned value.
For instance, one of my recent works, Brainchild, began with a polyethylene container I came across online. At the time, I was thinking about plastic’s intermediary role in humanity’s present relationship with water, and how these two natural and synthetic compounds became inseparable. The container in question is specifically designed and produced for caravans at a factory in central Turkey. Its curvilineal structure functions as a small-scale breakwater system, preventing water from overflowing while the vehicle is in motion. It’s an object with a sense of control, and I wanted to couple it with a material that is obedient in terms of form and its relation with water. That’s how the sea sponge came into the picture. Being one of the most primitive aquatic animals, it also introduced a series of links between water, its fossil-based containers and its longtime inhabitants.
The sponge’s adhesion to the water tank is secured by a pipe clamp that is another instrument designed to tackle and control fluidity. Similar fixating equipment, such as nuts and bolts, has been a part of my work for the last few years. I see them as punctuation marks or conjunctions that help me bring subjects together.
I purchased the sponge in my work from Grand Bazaar, where it was priced according to its size. Along the way, I learned that sponges were classified as plants until the 18th century due to their lack of obvious movement, but they are animals that feed by filtering water. The conversion of life to commodity struck me as if I didn’t witness it every single day. This time, it was regarding cleaning and decorative purposes. I think Brainchild turned out to be quite a melancholic work, or even a memorial object.
The intersection between natural and industrial materials in my work sometimes seem autobiographical to me. As a child, I spent most of my time in remote and idyllic landscapes of Southern Turkey. Both my parents are agricultural engineers, so I grew up with an abundance of botanical imagery and knowledge. However, my life gradually became more and more urban as I sought a better education. When I can manage to look at my work from a distance as a spectator, I see my two lives in the sharp division between natural and manufactured textures, forms and colors. I think it starts instinctively on a personal level, and spreads out to a much bigger picture through the decision making process. The intersection is all around us really, from grocery packaging to constructions and beyond…
AE: How did your practice of sculptural assemblages develop while you were studying in London? How has your practice evolved since moving back to Istanbul?
AD: In university, we exhibited our work a couple of times a year to be critiqued by fellow artists. The budget I could spend on materials was very limited and even if I splurged, I had to dispose of old work after a point due to lack of storage space. I adapted to the circumstances by returning the objects I included in my work back to the retailers after they had been exhibited. Since I was very interested in theories of theater at the time, I treated those temporary objects as if they were props or actors cast to play a certain role in a staged situation. For my degree show, I even bought and returned a pool table!
Retailers in the UK have very customer-friendly return policies but of course, for my returns to be accepted, I had to keep everything in pristine condition including the packaging. Not being able to make any interventions to the objects led me to produce sculptural assemblages and installations that prioritized suggestion and intuition. To this day, that’s the core of my practice and the methodology that I follow while making work.
When I moved to Istanbul, I struggled to keep on working the same way. Returning items was not always feasible. I also heard that some returned products are destroyed, not resold, which conflicts with my intentions. But more crucially, time and space had become a huge unknown. I’ve adapted my practice by moving away from multi-part installations towards focusing on singular forms and sculptures that I can work out in my studio. However, I still think of these works as micro installations within boundaries of an object rather than a space.
The chaos of Istanbul makes me feel like anything is possible to create, but at the same time it makes it harder for me to hear my own thoughts. There is always a distraction. I was very much in my head before and things were born out of that intensity. In contrast, I enjoy following a more material-oriented approach in Istanbul. I can get my hands on a slab of travertine within 10 minutes after deciding to do so–it’s unreal. I don’t want to take the city’s generosity for granted.
AE: Can you talk to us about your work Three days two nights?
AD: Three days two nights took place at the end of 2019 in Istanbul, right before the pandemic. Also known as a “long weekend,” the title stands for a getaway with an urgency to return, often from an urban setting to a rural one. Fittingly, the exhibition featured a mixture of both my old and recent works that utilize surfaces and three dimensional reminders of such clashing landscapes, focusing on the various ways in which we name and shape aspects of natural phenomena and objects.
At the time, I was collecting color catalogs from different wall paint brands to study the names given to different shades. One of the most recent works I produced for the show is a series of angled canvases painted with colors named Isle of Sky, Savanna Sunset, and Evening Sky. I see these shades that offer to bridge the gap between the outside and inside as stylized and inevitably failed representations. They are subtle reminders of human disconnection that take shape as chemicals in a can. The painted surfaces become the backdrops for a lemon, a tangerine, and a quail egg held by microphone clamps which in turn embody the tools of figurative language used to make sense of celestial bodies and natural phenomena. For instance, a citrus fruit used as a stand-in for the Sun is the product of a collective childhood memory.
On the other hand, one of the oldest works in the show was 100, a video documentation of a performance delivered by appliances with anthropomorphic features. Within the exhibition, it became an intrusive work that evokes tension with its sound and setting, promoting the idea of a getaway.
In the video, a printer and an automated hand towel dispenser are seen to have a “dialogue.” The printer is programmed to produce a maximum of 99 copies at once, and towels are sold in rolls of 100 sheets, so the exchange is reciprocated. This specific built-in feature and the numbered production propose that 100 is an arbitrary standard representing wholeness. When I made this work, paper towel dispensers were not as widespread and I found one to play with at the studio. I realized that the mechanism’s sensor had a 3-4 second delay to avoid waste which, to me, felt human. To a certain degree, the machine has an understanding of greed passed onto it by its creators who are very aware of their kind’s flaws. I tampered with the sensor and coupled it with a metronome in order to activate the machine at controlled intervals.
100 is a student work, but it still is the first work that comes to my mind when I need to get across my practice on the spur of the moment. It brings together two significant elements that are recurring in my practice and also in Three days two nights very clearly: inventions that are incredibly specific in their function and collectively-shared connotations.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
AD: There was a poster of Dali’s The Persistence of Memory framed and hung in our living room when I was little. I definitely think it blew up my imagination, in addition to slightly traumatizing me, so I can’t leave that out. I remember being very taken by it, spending a lot of time trying to figure out what I was looking at, and even dreaming about it.
Once I knew I wanted to study art, the first retrospective I happened to visit was Alighiero Boetti at Tate Modern. In the middle of one of the rooms there was a vertical black box with a light bulb inside called Lampada Annuale. On its label it said the bulb lights up for eleven seconds each year at a random time. I desperately wanted to witness it. I spent more time in front of the box than any other work in that exhibition. The circumstance of waiting for a coincidence to happen, and trusting in the artist for the potential was beautiful. It was probably the moment that paved the way for me to start making poetic and enigmatic work.
There was also a point in my practice when I became very interested in the concept of nothingness, and my favorite translation of it into art was in the form of theatrical plays by Samuel Beckett. His alienating reconstructions of real life on stage has shaped my approach to making and showing work tremendously.
Another major influence on the way I think about making work is a book by American artist Darren Bader called, 77 and/or 58 and/with 19. It’s a book consisting of texts for seventy-seven works of his with elaborate commentary of what the works are and could be. I took out the book from the university library, and tirelessly extended its due date for years just so I could have a look at it when I felt lost.
Other influences include films directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, interior design projects by Kelly Wearstler, NASA Image Library, the list goes on…
AE: Do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2022-2023?
AD: There is a plan in the works for an exhibition in Case Study, an occasional project space located in a warehouse flat in London. The space operates as an open setting for collaborative exchange between emerging and established artist duos. I am especially excited about the spatial interplay Case Study provides with its residential setting. It will likely take place in late 2022.
AYÇESU DURAN ONLINE