Surface(d) above the face, or what escapes our love and attention

ARTWORKS Fellows
5 min readSep 5, 2023

By Ioanna Gerakidi

It was a few weeks back that I returned from Istanbul, where I’ve spent a bit more than a month as a curatorial resident of SAHA Association, with the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Artist Fellowship Program by ARTWORKS. There’re a million things I could write about my time there; in personal and communal, triggering and cleansing, growing but also oppressive ways. And I mean every of these words, as my time there overlapped with the first round of the Greek elections and the second one of the Turkish ones; with discourses on lives and rights at stake, geopolitically and otherwise; with the aftermath of a physical catastrophe like the earthquake in Ankara and with the protests, the demands, the grief and the anger following the migrant shipwreck in Greece, killing hundreds of people.

From the exhibition “Possibilities of Healing”, Sena Başöz, Yapi Kredi Culture Centre, 2023

These turmoils intensified the conversations already taking place (at least within my small circle), on boarders and asylums, on migration and environmental disasters, yet also on unwaged labors, institutional critique and embodied knowledge. Or, better phrased, they again, brought them onto the surface. What can language do or undo? How can it alter the already historically established economies of abandonment, to use E.Povinelli’s words from her homonymous book? How can quotidian narratives affect our ways of being together or feeling torn apart when abandoned, isolated or excluded? And within this vicious circle, how does it all come back to our ways of working, loving, encountering sex, or sleep or food, or just being?

Within these few weeks, everything came to the surface, and not because it was superficial. The never ending, consistent, dynamic, often sorrowful, yet occasionally ecstatic, qualities of these events, triggered the depths of existence, of longing and belonging, or reacting and resisting.

From the exhibition “Exhibition No Further Records: Reşad Ekrem Koçu and Istanbul Encyclopedia Archive”, Salt Galata, 2023

The practices and exhibitions I’ve engaged with, they all come together when thinking across this exact word; the surface, its multifaceted meanings, interpretations and connotations as a means to speak about what we tend to dismiss, undermine or take for granted. From the surface level expressions to borrow the words of Siegfried Krakauer, often regarded as trivial or frivolous due to their ephemeral or popular nature, to the surfaces making a space safe or threatening, an attachment secure or insecure, my time in Istanbul has exposed me to a series of psychosocial, political, personal and professional readings of the surface as a channel. The artists and writers, yet also the spatial cartographies, the architectures, and poetics of interacting I experienced or closely listened to, over the past few months, have shown to me ways of encountering the surface otherwise.

From the exhibition “Starry Heavens Above Me and Within Me”, Lara Ögel, Galerist, 2023

From the installative gestures of Hera Büyüktaşçıyan operating as imaginary reminiscents of what modern cities buried both haptically and symbolically, to the sculptures of Lara Ögel, tracing what it takes to survive political turbulences and along, the existential agony of death, the surface became a metaphor for uttering and expanding on the subjects of migration and urbanism, yet also on the mythic, and the cosmic as subversive ways of living life.

Accordingly, the ornamental patterns of Cansu Çakar, their folklore or uncanny capturing of a history untold, allowed for her painting to turn into another kind of surface pondering on normalizing a queer futurity to quote the words of José Esteban Muñoz. Same goes with the works of Deniz Gul, whose practice explores fiercely the social and political layers of the archive through various media or methodologies, language among them. Her rewriting of the Turkish lexicon, in a way that her auto-ethnography can also be included, allowed for the page to be approached as an alternative way of seeing the world.

From a visit to Hera Büyüktaşcıyan’s studio, 2023

How can the surface be touched as a vessel, that through its static or moving characteristics transcends systemic mechanisms, allowing us to exist within suspended states, to fight against the hideous? These are some of the questions raised in the practices of Sena Başöz, which stubbornly expose the alienation human beings experience when forced to exist within capitalist, accelerationist, exploitative mechanisms, personally and professionally, or in the works of Merve Ünsal, which despite her “image-driven” nature, to use the artist’s words, do transcribe the perplexities of the current, its fragments and blasts, transparencies and opacities, whispers and noises.

Surfaces reveal hidden narratives, reenact memory, trace loss and fears and raptures. And this is exactly how I’ve read so many more practices and gatherings and shows whilst living there. Such as the exhibition No further records: Reşad Ekrem Koçu and Istanbul Encyclopedia Archive at Salt Galata, pondering on how forming a “grand register” can expose the weakness of “serious” historiography; or Sarki’s solo exhibition ENDLESS at Arter, which through a series of oblations, colorful praises and mystic sounds is speaking political and other upheavals.

From the exhibition “Endless”, Sarkis, Arter, 2023

I’m running out of time and space, but what my time in Istanbul taught me is that facets can encourage or disgrace, trace or divide, enlighten or keep in the dark. That surfaces are homes and prisons, give births and grief deaths, track our steps, count our breaths. And that’s why their depths should be praised.

Ioanna Gerakidi

Ioanna Gerakidi is a writer, curator and educator based in Athens. Her research interests think through the subjects of language and disorder, drawing on feminist, educational, poetic and archival studies and schemes. She has collaborated with and curated exhibitions and events for various institutions and galleries and residencies and her texts and poems have appeared in international platforms, magazines and publications. She has lectured or led workshops, seminars and talks for academies and research programs across Europe. Her practice and exhibitions have been awarded by institutions, such as Rupert Residency, Mondriaan Fonds, Outset and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Artist Fellowship by ARTWORKS, amongst others.

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ARTWORKS Fellows

Essays, texts and interviews about contemporary Greek artists and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Artist Fellowship Program. www.art-works.gr