Maps — 2016

By Lora Sariaslan

On Servet Kocyigit

Excerpt from “Awakening the Waters ”

in the exhibition catalogue

This yearning is ours!,

Center of Contemporary Art

Znaki Czasu, Torun,

Poland, 2016

Servet Koçyiğit’s recent engagement with mapping takes his work to a new phase, as he comprehends the world around him by surveying, measuring, marking, tracing, collecting and (re)creating information. Adding the representational language of mapping into his long-standing artistic vocabulary of handcraft which incorporates photography, video and sculptural installation, Koçyiğit moves into a new territory in his new collages: imaginary maps that connect the real geographies to his imagined ones through the textiles he uses.

Through his imaginary maps, he creates statements on politics, current affairs and geography. The intertwined themes of statelessness, citizenship and migration become key subjects in Koçyiğit’s work. His works break down the complexities into bite-sized pieces, showing how each part functions in relation to the whole; thus, he proposes an insight into how the system works and, moreover, offers a new version. As he offers us alternative histories and cultural mappings, he incorporates diverse textiles to weave together different geographies, histories, and presents them on one canvas. Through the colorful pieces of textiles, Koçyiğit constructs political spaces. His art operates through them and also results in them. This is why it is profoundly political, not as a side effect or thematic preoccupation but qua art. He sees what frontiers have done to societies and what societies are doing to frontiers.

Because textiles are portable, wearable and displayable, their performative qualities result in the multivalent meanings that Koçyiğit presents in his work. Textiles internally represent a confluence of messages because they operate within multiple systems of signs/ costume, ceremonies of state, memorial display, and personal / cooperative / national identity to name a few. Perhaps more than any other art form, textiles amplify and even reveal the appreciation of the inherent flexibility of signs. In essence, the meaning of textiles can never truly be fixed.

Servet Koçyiğit, well aware of this potent power, has been searching and acquiring diverse textiles in his motherland of Turkey and this quest (still) continues in the different countries that the artist lives in and visits. East By Night is the first work that illustrates an imaginary territory composed of cotton fabrics with floral designs that are widespread in Turkey. For instance, in one of the new pieces that the artist has created, entitled Golden Lining, the dominating textile is the Dutch textile created for the former colony of Java produced in the Netherlands, and ironically exported to the island. This illogical flow of commerce becomes one level of the work. In addition, the golden thread that dominates the composition becomes a web, similar to the colonial times, and reaches its peak through the depiction of a boat, once again, depicted with golden thread. Its shimmering presence becomes the embodiment of the social, political and economic aspects of the source of the metaphorical golden lining, that of the colonial past. Servet Koçyiğit creates fertilization between the layers of the various textiles that he acquires in the Netherlands rooted in diverse cultures connoting their colonial past. These differences create images that turn into imaginary maps, lands and desires. In addition to the specific associations that the usages of these distinct fabrics evoke, these painterly collages are their own arbitrary signage systems. Buttons stand for cities, different colors of fabric mark borders, and colors of thread stand for roads, rivers and waterways.

Agent Orange is the other new work that the artist has created for the exhibition. This time, Koçyiğit uses textiles with diverse colored camouflage prints mixed with pink strips that turn into rivers, mountains or oceans through the vibrant blues, or by an orange stitching connoting a borderline. Playful at first sight, upon closer inspection, these pieces turn into an artistic commentary on the current world affairs and suggest the mutating and changing nature of borders, territories, and communities. Koçyiğit once again shows us how textiles are interwoven with notions of identity, status and power through their transformative nature. When one thinks about the stages in which the work is created, it is not much different than the historical manner in which borders have been created and institutionalized through maps. In different countries, from Turkey to the Netherlands, the artist searches for different textiles, mostly with cultural or historical significance. He cuts the textile, a violent act, in different shapes marking frontiers, limitations and borders. At times, the shapes overlap, or at times extend the frontiers. In Agent Orange he has even created a special zone with pink stripes over the land – isolating one zone over the others. Once he completes the textile canvas, he staples it to the stretcher, in a way concretizing his imaginary map.

Just like in most of Koçyiğit’s works, the title has a twofold meaning. The title Agent Orange is borrowed from the military and defense system. Agent Orange — or Herbicide Orange (HO)— is one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. It was given its name from the color of the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped. Hence, Koçyiğit’s title creates a web of connections and affiliations. Moreover, this title perfectly matches the military feel of the work, created through a multiplicity of camouflage textiles that the artist purchased in different markets in the Netherlands. He enriches the composition by the further addition of the different historical sites that ISIS has destroyed in recent times. Simultaneously, by creating imaginary maps, Koçyiğit points out the must-haves of any country, its landmarks. However, instead of presenting the ones that exist, he focuses on the destroyed elements, questioning the system of creating nations, borders and landmarks. What happens when they no longer exist, does the country cease to exist, as it was once known?

Servet Koçyiğit’s work enfolds a personal inquiry into the idea of ‘place’ and ‘non-place’ in regard to Marc Augé and Michel Foucault’s heterotopia: (non)belonging and yearning are all visible through the layers of stitching and textiles. Taking these notions as a point of departure, his long-winded mapping project expands from the personal to include social, mental and economic tropes.

In A Stitch Ahead, as the series is aptly entitled, the journey is always a stitch ahead, created by the colorful stamps used by the children in the Netherlands to learn about the geography of their country. These vivid colors on paper create a cacophony of borders and affiliations, with the added layer of the stitches that interject the marks made by the stamps. The handcraft that is a dominant tool and means of expression in the art of Koçyiğit carries on here, suggesting a poetic parallel between the physical labor of sewing and the act of covering distance, moving beyond that stitch. That movement, either physically through travel or figuratively by moving forward, is what Koçyiğit patiently maps through his own territory; let it be in his own life, or his artwork.

In the video 99 years, Koçyiğit continues to reference the earth constantly in transformation, whether imaginary or real. There are a number of issues that the artist focuses on: time, beginning / end, and creation. He diligently records a man holding the yarn wrapped around his two arms, and a woman literally creating a globe at first with the yarns of red and black, and then continuing with blue, yellow and black, until all we see in front of our eyes is a globe created through the mutual effort of a man and a woman. Aptly titled 99 years, the video focuses on the story of the creation, of any creation, but highlights that it is never a solo endeavor, but, indeed, a true collaboration between the two sexes.

Motherland looks at the language of power and control as well as the relations between men and women. Koçyiğit has succeeded in creating a different set of identity coding through his art, and his sculpture I Kissed a Bear exemplifies his stance. Showing a giraffe and a polar bear kissing, this unexpected encounter signals endless possibilities. Hailing from different parts of the globe, the polar bear from the cold North and the giraffe from the warm South kiss each other thanks to the green clutches that the polar bear is standing on. Poetically showing the borderless nature of love, this work exemplifies the fertilization and creativity that Koçyiğit encapsulates in his work. If we go back to the poet Nâzım Hikmet, who out of despair always offered poetic statements of faith and affirmation, confident that “we’ll see beautiful days/ we’ll see/ sunny/ days”, Servet Koçyiğit’s I Kissed a Bear embodies that… Bringing together two disparate animals, which if they ever met in nature would be in a predator–prey relationship, the artist poetically shows the borderless nature of love, as this work exemplifies the fertilization and creativity in his work.

Servet Koçyiğit does not reject or erase his context of origin, but rather employs his background, experiences and encounters as the sources from and through which he can create both an individual as well as artistic agency. His work conveys the complex and stratified character of today’s society, and reflects a composite world with fluid borders and broadened horizons, a world permeated by tension. The artist’s commitment to charting new territory signals a shift in artistic language, and taking the idea of mapping in its broadest sense, initiates a personal investigation into the limits and borders crossed, as well as the dangers and the obstacles that await.

Excerpt from “Awakening the Waters,” by Lora Sariaslan in the exhibition catalogue This yearning is ours!, Center of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu, Torun, Poland, 2016

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