Tripping Up But Not Falling: The Transformation of Nejat Satı's Works
I remember my trip to Nejat Satı's atelier, filled with paintings and objects, in İzmir's K2 Contemporary Arts Center nearly five years ago. This was a dazzling experience and I felt disoriented, as if stepping into Alice's Wonderland. 'Aferin' (2008) an early work, consisted of thousands of pills which create a razzle-dazzle of colours. It is easy to interpret it hastily as a reference to the 'Prozac Nation'. In fact, it represents the introspective aspect of Satı, who was raised in a family of pharmacists. His artistic practices had undergone a radical transformation; his works are still dazzling albeit more refined. His new exhibition, 'Hâlet-i Ruhiye' (State of Mind) is directly related to his setting and his state of mind; in this exhibition, which will have a lasting effect in his career, Satı opens up his studio to the viewer as part of his concern to be a 'more earnest' artist. The reason behind the transformation of his work is his intuition about social and individual experiences which are conceptualised here in a romantic manner. In contrast to artists adopting a certain form early in their career which they repeat over and over again in later works, Satı's exhibition heralds his discovery of a simpler language in which his artistic explorations continue. The exhibition puts forward a speculation about life where people live amidst daily paradoxes, where they perceive things differently during day and night.
An important aspect of the 'Halet-i Ruhiye' exhibition is its opening which turns itself into a performance. During the opening, a sudden blackout invites viewers to participate in a game of blind man's bluff. The reason for this blackout is not a birthday celebration but an attempt to change the viewers' perceptions of colours. The play of light invites the viewer to interact with other aspects of his paintings. What is really interesting here is that this is more than a two-dimensional experience resulted by the blackout. Satı's arrangement in fact leads the viewers who had just walked inside on high heels or boots, to sit on the floor, a gesture which marks an important change from the standard gallery mentality. As viewers, we are used to wandering in sterile galleries with glasses at hand whereas here the viewer is asked to relax and sit on couches. This is not only relaxing but also provocative as it leads the viewer into thinking about why she is there in the first place. With help from street musicians, Satı's language for the exhibition opening shows that he doesn't just focus on art objects but on the exhibition in its entirety. 'Totem' (2012), the only installation in this exhibition, consists of paint cans used in the making of paintings on view. The cans are placed horizontally, showing Satı's understanding of paintings and exhibition as a process. In other words, his approach isn't oriented on consumption; he doesn't say, 'I made these paintings and now that the exhibition is here, I can throw away the paint cans'. Instead, his work honours material that remain after the process of production is ended. This emphasises how the material used in an artwork is part of its production process.
'Halet-i Ruhiye' exhibition consists of two sets of paintings pointing to two different states of mind. 'Strüktür' ('Structure') paintings are the most minimal and surprising of the two. What does the calm mood in 'Strüktür' series, which follows the colourful and intense 'Hypoglottis' series created with Satı's pointilist technique, tell us in fact? The excitement, and the velocity that accompany his desire to share his ideas lead Satı into devising his own methods for storytelling. The 'Strüktür' series consist of the most refined examples of Satı's works which lay foundations of his paintings. As if to imitate the firm foundations of a building, he gets rid of all unnecessary details, presenting 'strüktür' in the most basic way imaginable. 'For a long period of time, and especially during the last three years, I employed this colouring technique in order to create a sense of volume for my works,' Satı had said. This method, which he used for a long time, moves independently from the forms of his paintings. The over-imposition of numerous colours on a black background produces an impression of space, and is reminiscent of minimalist art, a breakpoint that occurred during 1960s. In 'Strüktür' paintings we witness the uneasy relationship between two colours; one colour's loss of influence and its subjection to another colour produce a sense of natural movement. For Satı, this use of colour resembles the looping and natural rhythms of sunrise, sunset as well as the revolution of the globe. 'Where does a painting begin and where does it end?' As the black light penetrates their surface, 'Strüktür' series are covered with different colours, gathering an altogether different identity.
Can you describe your state of mind while reading this text? An exhibition that reveals its own state of mind gains the right to expect the same from its audience. The 'Melankoli' exhibition includes works that most strongly focus on sensations. Paintings represent shattered glasses or glasses coming together: they contain an enormous explosion occurring inside them. Satı reads those paintings as 'signs of a depression which resent its subject'. Works like 'Yanan Apartman' ('The Burning Apartment') and 'Siyah Cam' ('The Black Glass') represent the social, political and daily equivalents of melancholy. These keen and violent works are followed by 'Mars Olan Esnafın Ruh Hali' ('The State of Mind of the Gammoned Shopkeeper' ), which is again intense but has a more enthusiastic and cheerful rhythm. The 'Melankoli' series and this work present variations that are like two sides of a medallion, representing two tendencies. This work reflects the economic crisis, urban problems, and travels between Izmir and Istanbul; it stands apart from both series. Both in its opening and during weeks that follow, 'Hâlet-i Ruhiye' exhibition presents a dynamic experience which constantly reproduces itself for the viewer.