I was told this is how it goes… “Politics in a corporate world is as important as the work you do. Simply performing well isn’t enough. If the only thing you do is to perform well, don’t expect people to notice and reward it – you will be disappointed. You need to promote your work to the right people. You need to get on well with everybody, even if you don’t like them. Have a poker face, do not show your emotions too much, do not react to everything instantly, wait for a strategic time to react, and then make your move. Be smart about your steps. Be smart about who you talk to and how you talk to them.”
As a super enthusiastic person with facial expressions reflecting every emotion I have, I first thought I could only manage in a corporate world with the help of botox. I have come to experience and accept that the corporate world is a jungle where people change sides and play mind games every day. Maybe it’s a little bit of an exaggeration for the comparatively lighter world that I choose to be in, but on a harshness scale of 1-10, we are all in a jungle.
So, when I first stepped foot in Tayfun Gülnar’s Chromophobia at x-ist, the first piece that struck me was the one below, reminding me of my daily corporate jungle.
Just that morning, I was consoling a colleague who was crying and complaining that she should have more carefully chosen who to trust at work. While trying to calm her down, I was thinking about what to say and how to avoid being unfair to anyone, because everybody acts justifiably in their perspective. No one is completely right or wrong as no one can be completely good or completely evil. This is the idea that lies in the middle of Tayfun Gülnar’s exhibition. People see, perceive, and define “the other side” as “bad”, while “the other side” does the same in return. Our perceptions of good and bad, right and wrong are subjective. We see it in politics all the time for example. Tayfun Gülnar’s story is not about individuals per se, but instead focuses on destruction of the masses through only painting in black and white and a little bit of blue. (Chromophobia in fact means aversion to colors; disgust of certain colors in particular.) The artist says as people, we create injustice together. Somebody’s victim becomes another’s hangman.
The artist is interested in war history. He paints these very detailed war scenes – which you might find familiar – with unknown characters. The most fascinating thing I found about Tayfun’s way of working was that he doesn’t start off paintings with sketches, even when utilizing very large canvases. According to him, he instead has a fluid image of the whole scene in his mind. He starts painting the middle of the canvas with these images in his mind and adds every little detail in time, expanding to the edge of the canvas. While he is wondrously spontaneous in this respect, his story in the exhibition is very well thought out, carefully planned, layered, and follows a path by bringing in the viewer gradually.
The exhibition is divided into a series of three: Eternal Cycle, Invasion, and Demolish. All tell different but interrelated stories. The artist says we can imagine the stories like a ruler starting from zero. As in the painting above (Eternal Cycle Series, Eternal Cycle V), you start with a white background – the perceived good – and as it gets darker, it eventually ends in black background – the perceived bad. In fact, the ruler metaphor continues with another painting placed right next to Eternal Cycle V, that pictures death and ends on perhaps an even darker note.
The world of Chromophobia feel as though it swallows the viewer the deeper they venture into the exhibition. This is almost a reluctant participation – the more one sees, the more they question humanity, civilization, and society itself. It darkens one’s perspective. Despite this, it’s hard to look away from the mesmerizing nature of the depicted scenes. The artist plans the series in such a delicate way that when the viewer enters the gallery and sees the first painting, they’re almost in a Godly position, looking down on a very complex scene from above. Then the viewer becomes a witness. When the paintings in the middle of the gallery are parallel to the viewer, it’s as if going any closer would have them step into the scene. And finally, after reaching the window, they’re able to see inside… They’re now actively watching “the crime scene” but unable to do anything to stop it, therefore becoming the perpetrators. The artist deliberately planned the exhibition this way to have viewers wake up and understand that anything can become normalized over time. Thus, we all eventually become part of the very system we criticize. (Recall my corporate story.) In the end, there is no such thing as “good”. It is merely a perception that we adhere to, in an effort to make ourselves feel better.
Ultimately, through Tayfun’s imagery, we must face the darkest versions of ourselves. It’s an awakening which makes you pessimistic and prevents you from turning away – the paintings and their stories pull you in. “We are responsible for each silent minute in which we overlook injustice or we are in the grip of our intimidation,” says the young artist with too many in his pocket.
Tayfun Gülnar’s first solo exhibition “Chromophobia” can be visited until Saturday 27 January at x-ist, Nişantaşı.
All images courtesy of the author and gallery.