Whitehot Magazine

Interview with Ayça Telgeren on her exhibition Broken Horizon at Galerist in Istanbul

Broken Horizon, Installation shot, Galerist, Istanbul.

By SELIN TAMTEKIN April 1, 2024

Having made a name for herself with her dreamy, elaborate cut-outs, works on paper continue to be an important part of Ayça Telgeren’s oeuvre. However, in recent years, besides delving into video, she has turned her attention more and more towards sculpting. When I met the artist, prior to the exhibition, at her studio in Istanbul, she talked to me about the benefits of the medium: 

“It’s very physically engaging and has been very good for me – when you’re working and your hands are covered in clay, you cannot answer your phone.”  

Telgeren is a warm and attentive host. As soon as I arrive, she leads me to her kitchen and prepares me a lemon balm tea, praising it for its calming effect. Her energetic tabby Patis suddenly appears; hopping onto the kitchen counter she demands our affection. 

As we relocate into her studio, Patis continues to interject into our conversations at their most focal points. Leaping out of nowhere, she jumps on our laps or dives into the servings of cheese, nuts and cake on the coffee table, intended for me. Each time, the shock and hilarity of it generates laughter.   

Broken Horizon is the artist’s first solo exhibition where cut-outs – a method she likens to, “painting with paper” – don’t feature. 

“Your work has transformed a great deal in recent years,” I point out as we talk through her artistic journey.  

In her previous solo exhibition Under My Skin (2020), Mireille, the lovable, larger than life character adorning many of her cut-outs was for the first time absent. In her place was a sensual and somber body of work, highlighting the significant shift.  

“There has been a huge leap, but the fundamentals are the same. My starting point is still my personal and psychological archaeology,” she replies. 

The artist’s childhood memories were an inspiration for Mireille who wore, just as Telgeren had, the short bowl-cut hairstyle made popular in the 70’s by the French singer Mireille Mathieu. 

It becomes evident that great losses in her family were the catalyst for the direction her art has taken in recent years. Telgeren’s mother, grandmother and great aunt all passed away very unexpectedly between 2018-2020. 

When her brother Ali drops by on his motorcycle, he gives her a hand with unwrapping her large works on paper. As they hold up Morning Gaze before me, the artist explains: “As I circle my pencil over the paper, in search of a landscape, sometimes lines begin to resemble certain things and certain people. This drawing reminds me of my grandmother Sabiha. I drew this form resembling an eye while imagining her beautiful hair.”   

Ayça Telgeren, Morning Gaze, 2024, Charcoal and powder blush on paper, mounted on canvas, 99 x 140 cm, courtesy of Galerist, Istanbul.

Telgeren’s ancestors were Circassians from the Caucasus region in South Russia who migrated to Central Turkey (then part of the late Ottoman Empire) in the early 20th century. 

“For Circassians, hair is very important. Circassian women were renowned for their beautiful, dark long hair. They used to grow it all the way down to their heels,” she tells me.  

Admiring the great skill with which the artist has rendered the memory of her grandmother’s hair, I also acknowledge how fluidity – a quality evident in her work since her earliest cut-outs – remains fundamentally present.  

Directing my attention to the light shade of pink in an area of the drawing, she says: 

“Recently I’ve started applying my own blushes and sometimes eyeshadows to works. I picture all the women at a tea party, putting on make on each other and listening to one another’s problems. I think the way humanity presents itself is very masculine, it’s very aggressive and invasive. If this attitude continues, soon we will have no food to eat, no water to drink.  For things to change, we need to cultivate that womanly energy.”  

She discloses that all the works on paper will be plastered onto canvas and hung without a frame or a protective glass.

“I want them to be naked and vulnerable inside the venue,” she says.  

Telgeren has been with Galerist – one of Turkey’s leading contemporary art galleries – for over a decade, almost since the start of her fruitful career. This is somewhat unusual in Turkey’s erratic art scene, where such partnerships are often short-lived. Located in the historical district of Pera, in a grandiose 19th century building, with high-ceilings, and fainted, original murals, the beautiful venue has hosted all of her previous solo exhibitions.  As if to pay a homage to their long-lasting collaboration, on this occasion, the artist has taken charge of curating her show.  

“I wish to interpret the space as a body and contact it on multiple levels,” she reveals. 

On the floor at the very entrance of the gallery, a concrete relief in the place of an electrical outlet greets visitors. An undulating landscape, or perhaps a bundle of hair, the site-specific piece draws one’s attention to a feature typically overlooked in any building. 

Inspired by the ancient figurines of the goddess Cybele accompanied by lions, (Telgeren had come across these at the Museum of Anatolian Civilization in Ankara) are Lions, pyramid-like forms, placed in some interior corners of the skirting boards. Other small concrete sculptures appear on one’s path – gestures that lure one’s vision away from larger works and heighten one’s awareness of the space.

Ayça Telgeren, Lions, 2024, Concrete, 8 x 9 x 9 cm, courtesy of Galerist, Istanbul.

“I want this exhibition to wander everywhere. To start from the ground and climb up all the way to the ceiling,” Telgeren excitedly explains, back at her studio. 

A couple of ropes partly covered in swirling cement, hang from the gallery’s ceiling. Titled Sisters their genesis is, again, very personal. 

“They remind me of my grandmother and my great aunt. They will be placed at an arm’s length away from each other, within each other’s reach,” she explains. 

The notion of touch has always played a significant role in Telgeren’s art.  

“Essentially, the most lasting memories I have of people are how I felt when I touched them. Skin is our biggest organ, and our connection to this world is through touching and feeling,” she acknowledges.  

Beautiful Marmara is a piece consisting of several parts, which takes its name from the inland sea famously connecting Turkey’s European and Asian sides. At her worktable in her studio, Telgeren show me its large centerpiece.  

She wanders her hand caringly around its rough surface. To finish off the sculpture, the artist needs to wash it, remove the remaining crusts, brush its surface before polishing it with oil. 

“I want people to be able to touch the sculptures. I like the exhibition to be open to such interactions, but also because when they do, they transfer oil through their palms,” Telgeren points out.  

It has become dark outside. Before I leave her studio, the artist pours herself a glass of red wine (being a teetotal, I turn down the offer) and sits next to me on the sofa with her laptop. Once again, out of nowhere, Patis jumps on my lap and starts kneading my jumper.  

We watch her video works; both have been filmed on the Aegean Island of Chios, where the artist spends her summers with her boyfriend, the artist Selim Birsel. In one, Telgeren is holding a bunch of grapes.

Broken Horizon, Installation shot, Galerist, Istanbul.

“It’s about touch. About how their plumpness feels in your palm. When they are ripe and freshly picked, they’re usually covered with a thin layer of dust. You take one into your mouth, then another, sense the fruit’s roundness as you bite into it. Then it’s over – a bit like the encounters we experience – and all you are left with is the stem,” she reflects.     

The artist tells me that each year she collects grape stems and brings them back with her to Istanbul. She fetches dried batches which she stores in plastic bags, as well as a single grape stem she has plated in bronze, which sits on one of the shelves behind her worktable alongside other memorabilia.  

In her previous exhibition, Telgeren had recreated the hands of family members from old family albums, as cut-outs.  

“When you remove the heads and bodies from family photos and just focus on the hands, a different dialogue is revealed,” she says.   

The artist then arranged the thirteen-piece wall installation to resemble grapes on a stem. 

“You know, how every grape stem is its own universe?” she asks. 

I nod as I continue to examine the jewel like bronze-plated one in my hand. It’s a thought that stays with me, long after I have left her studio. 

Ayça Telgeren: Broken Horizon is on view at Galerist through April 27, 2024. WM 

Selin Tamtekin

is a Turkish-British novelist and art writer based in London. Her writing has appeared in T24, Exacting Clam and elsewhere. Her two novels published under the pseudonym Deniz Goran are The Turkish Diplomat’s Daughter (2007) and The Fugitive of Gezi Park (2023). 

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