Lovers’ Discourse: Cansu Korkmaz at SOHO20
Cansu Korkmaz: Quite a While at SOHO20 +/- Project Space
March 15 to April 14, 2019
56 Bogart Street, between Harrison Place and Grattan Street
Frustrated with the social and economic conditions in her native Turkey, Cansu Korkmaz left Istanbul with her female partner in 2016. After traveling through Europe, they landed up in South America where they lived an itinerant existence for a year before moving to New York. Her debut exhibition here, curated by Janna Dyk, presents a selection of 20 photographs, installed salon-style, at SOHO20’s +/- Project Space, a compact room for artist projects at the gallery in Bushwick. These photo collages, redolent of Surrealism, reveal states of rupture and rapture in a queer relationship.
Korkmaz, whose primary medium is photography, bought a cheap analog point-and-shoot camera in Istanbul with which she shot around 300 photographs. She stored the developed film rolls in boxes, in separate stacks. One day, after a particularly volatile argument in their Brooklyn apartment, her partner – in relation to this body of work she prefers anonymity — tore through each of the stacks of photographs, a single neat tear through each stack. These ruptures, a physical manifestation of the social anxieties placed on their relationship, provided Korkmaz with a muse. Upon discovering the site of destruction, Korkmaz set about putting the torn pieces back together, but in alternate configurations of placement and scale, using the ripped edges as possibilities for new memories and meaning.
For exhibition purposes, the artist took the torn fragments of regular size analog prints and patched them back together in different configurations. These were then scanned and printed in different sizes to generate a sense of narrative, allowing certain memories to recede and others to be foregrounded.
The artist’s partner appears in several frames, clothed and nude. In Quite a While #2 (all works, 2017-2018), an exterior view of urban rooftops in Uruguay shot from the couple’s abode on the left, is juxtaposed with an interior scene of Korkmaz’s muse on the right. A delicate, Bohemian figure, we view her with her back turned towards the camera (and us), cigarette perched in hand. Casually attired in a black back-baring top and comfortable jeans, she leans against a doorframe, a kitchen ahead of her. “Since she [Korkmaz’s partner] is a chef, I am most used to seeing her in and around the kitchen,” the artist told me over the telephone. “Most of my memories are of her are like this.” The images have the perfunctory quality of snapshots, even while the compositions have a conceptual and formal rigor.
Considerations of art history, particularly as a strategic quest to appropriate and hijack the heteronormative male gaze, are rife. In Quite a While #5, a motorbike with an unidentified rider shot in Colonia, is paired with a photo of her partner, sprawled out naked on their unmade bed in Punta del Este (both locations are in Uruguay). The collage suggests a sexual consummation between bike and woman, in turn forming a potent analogy between exoticism and eroticism where travel into the unknown parts of the world is akin to intimate explorations of the other. Were it not for the undies and cigarettes lying close by which invite a moral inquest –not unlike Gustave Courbet’s controversial painting L’Origine du Monde (1866) –the impression of Korkmaz’s muse bends towards a paragon of classical perfection.
In another domestic mash-up, Quite a While #10, a close-up shows two peach slices in a bright red bowl on a tacky blue table, a phone cable running across it. Snippets of personal effects like pills, a coin, and a lighter are visible, suggesting a bedside table. A shadowy foot enters the top of the frame. In the corresponding image, a worn sign above a fluorescent tube light on the wall reads ‘Bienvenidos a esta casa,’ (Welcome to this house). The welcome sign, Korkmaz tells me, is the couple’s “motto” because her partner so “loves cooking and feeding people” and they always have people over.
Call Me by Your Name (2007), a novel by André Aciman with an unforgettable film adaptation by Luca Guadagnino in 2017, has a provocative sex scene between the illicit lovers, Elio and Oliver, that involves a peach. In the book and the film, the peach presents a conceptual bridge between the adolescent teenager, Elio, and his older lover, Oliver: a metaphor for their desire to blur the boundaries between ‘self’ and ‘other.’ By eating the peach Elio has finished in, Oliver completes the union between them; a perfect parable of love which is reserved for biblical accounts of creation. Korkmaz echoes familiar sentiments. “The peaches on the bedside table,” she writes, “represents us as two women, our motto, and us completing each other.” The symbolism of the fruit, when seen in the context of the film, represents a queer union as perfect, and whole, in itself. Considering that their native Turkey has not yet legalized same-sex marriage, and continues to stigmatize homosexuality, this contention is as political as it is poetic.
The desire to become ‘one’ is perceptively depicted in Quite a While #6. A torn fragment of her partner’s head completes a torn fragment of Korkmaz’s own naked torso, humorously conjoining them in a disjointed pattern which strikes a darker chord –in order to complete each other, both individuals must let go of an essential part of themselves. In another, Quite a While #4, a blurry shot of the couple, naked and casually sitting together on their bed, is a double self-portrait of their reflection in an antique mirror. The partner holds the camera, while Korkmaz presses the button, suggesting an interchangeability of persona and identity that sparks corollary propositions about the collaborative nature of the series.
The act of annulment between lovers, Roland Barthes writes in A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1978), is an “explosion of language during which the subject manages to annul the loved object under the volume of love itself: by a specifically amorous perversion, it is love the subject loves, not the object.” It’s hard to discern who the subject here is: is it the languorous odalisque who surrenders everything to the lens? Or is the subject Korkmaz herself, who, having been annulled by the argument (an “explosion of language”), is left to pick up the fragments? Quite a While evokes queer trauma, but it finds its way to a place of healing and redemption.