Believe the Taylor, if you don’t believe the Hodja! What happened to Strapinsky the Taylor and Nasreddin Hodja: Borga Kantürk, June 2010

We thought that it was the people who made the clothes. But we learned thanks to two people that it is actually the clothes that make the people.

Kleider machen Leute” 1. This is an expression in German that can be translated into English as “It is the clothes that make the person.” It means that clothes show the people who wear them.

This ironic saying, which is also the title of a story by Swiss poet, author Gottfried Keller, also forms the basis of the exhibition realized by Doğan Doğan at Dirimart Art Gallery.

While the title of the exhibition is “Personas” 2, the emphasis made on identity here refers to the story mentioned earlier. The exhibition features twelve works on canvas by the artist. The focus of this series, which is originally comprised of fifteen pieces, focuses on people and their apparel.

A total of fifteen people including children and young people and the clothes they used to wear in the past... Every group of clothes brought together here offers a prediction regarding the persona of each specific individual while presenting us with the most crucial hints regarding identity as a shelter-wardrobe. In this respect, rather than taken as a whole, this is an exhibition, which we tour as if entering the series of wardrobes one by one.

In an attempt to arrive in a single whole departing from a set of references to the past, to the memory (on the surroundings of the owner of the clothes), the artist glues the clothes on the surface in a manner that recycles them. When assessing the works produced at the point where this undertaking was concluded, we can also make a reference to the “monument” as well as the genre of painting. As a very colorful whole emerges, the fabrics are attached on the edges to each other and connected to each other again, leaving us with the notion of a veil (consider the act of covering and coating in socio-cultural terms).

We head towards a tradition that we are not unfamiliar with; patchwork.

The overall logic of patchwork is based on disposing of or wasting no piece during the production process while transforming it into a new whole. This both symbolizes recycling for the sake of environmental values of today’s world and spares us from confronting with new waste. This suggestion by the artist contains highly environmentalist policies and the labor in the local cultural modes of production.

As someone who was raised with an artistic consciousness presented by the naturalist and environmentalist movement of the Germany of 1968 as well as the roots of art and activism nurtured by this dynamic, Doğan Doğan brings together values such as recycling and husbandry with the idea of saving in the local culture as well as the traditional notion of reuse of fabric, thread and handicrafts. And what underlie Doğan’s works are the efforts to consolidate this partnership and to feed on this foundation of ebbs and flows.

The proposal of the artist here is not to consume when engaging in new production.

Another series of works we may cite as a reference to this one emerged when he noticed years later the pieces of fabric that remained from his mother’s venture with sewing, which she had continued since her youth, and decided to form a new whole from all these. Like the “Personas” series, for which they led the way, those works may also be described as the production of a whole, a single object that contains both a form of conscience (the instinct to spare) and nostalgic references in a new time period, rather than turning such indefinite pieces into garbage that lost the function they once enjoyed, abstracted from the memory of the individual, from the common past he shared with the people around him.

Historically, patchwork is a sewing form where poor groups that used to lead a nomadic life in the east, would make new use of their old and worn-out fabrics by attaching scraps together and adding them on top of each other to make them functional again. Its mosaic structure, which combines a motley and diverse array of images, its transition of a memory experienced in pieces into a single surface, a cover and body, clearly agrees with the eastern culture. Patchwork is a sewing technique widely employed in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s as a western tradition, which we see particularly in the handcrafts and knitting magazines such as Burda that made it into our country from Germany. It arrived in the western world through the Crusades. Frankly, this anonymous cultural code and production style point to the investigation that underlies the foundation of Doğan’s artistic production.

The state of being a westernized figure living and travelling in the west, all the while having failed to take one’s eastern identity out of his/her pocket and of the mind. It is interesting that the two similar incidents Strapinski and Nasreddin Hodja experienced, former in the story “Klaider Machen Leute” and the latter in his tale titled “Ye Kürküm Ye” 4 (Eat my fur coat, eat), also reach similar ends. The small shock we experience here demonstrates that certain reflexes and attitudes mentioned in the eastern and western narratives, among which we make a profound distinction, which we deem idiosyncratic, are nothing but the differences in detail in methodology and cultural information. Indeed, in a world where the culture tourism and pace of life today violently topples the borders between national cultures and customs, such ebbs and flows appears to be a leading factor. Consequently, Patchwork is a fundamental reference point in this painting series by Doğan. However, this harasses the borders of contemporary art neither in a structure that refers to handicrafts, which generally emulates the Christmas decoration as in its German roots, nor from an Orientalist perspective, as an extremely ethnographic eastern mode of production. Basically, there is a language of production, a point of reference, which would be read and identified with by both parties, however the narrative here is presented not as an entirely nationalist or continental cultural memory, but as fifteen different stories that center around persons (young people, and particularly, children).

Here, Doğan raises the issue of locality while underlining manual rather than factory production, recycling of the old, and caring about cultural memory as a heritage. Although this has been transformed into a ready-made sector today (traditional manual productions, i.e. wood carvings, patchwork, embroidery, imprisoned in courses and as practical models in the “easy to make” magazines, which could help us produce them at home and anywhere), the artist shows us that he is a party in this rough-and-tumble.

Child, Door and Wardrobe…

As a collection area where clothes are kept, the wardrobe is like a treasure chest left behind where the choices made by many people –juvenile or adolescent— in terms of the self-value expressed or the spiritual atmosphere reflected during communication with the outside world can be observed. An aggregate of magic that constitute the charm, glamour of the day, valuables that await the day when they would emerge in an orderly fashion. In a sense, the paintings created by Doğan slightly open the door of a wardrobe, of a treasure, which once presented a great deal of importance. It is as if their doors have been opened and transformed into a monument, frozen in a single layer. That’s why each work raises a game of hide and seek when it comes to the wardrobes of the fifteen people in the series, children in particular. Our gesture here is built on finding and tagging the figure, the soul of the child in that heap in the wardrobe where he hides so carefully. The child hides himself in between the clothes, which become its cover. His relationship with the wardrobe is important in this respect. The family’s imposition or the way in which they shaped the child as a code, the clothing they chose for him like a uniform, are kept here under lock.

As the child enters into puberty, other factors that determine the child’s own likes such as competition with the surroundings and the joint admiration for the characters to which they feel close to and admired (Three different boys in the three paintings at the exhibition feature pieces of t-shirt bearing “Sponge Bob Square Pants”, which, in turn, demonstrates the circulation of this popular cultural image and its impact on the represented identity.) And in later ages, these are replaced by other associations. For an adolescent girl, the feminine flower motifs that must be the same with those of her friend’s or a sexy smart dress that must be bought become very important. Because the girl grows up and in this process, which lasts from the time she steps into maidenhood to old age, her venture to express her identity to the outside world becomes less appealing.

In creating his canvases, Doğan used a series of clothing collected from the families of children mostly of sixteen years of age. Children grow in an inevitably high pace and their clothing rapidly become smaller for them, which forces them to abandon their clothing sooner than we grown-ups do. Therefore, it seems much easier to acquire an archive of used children’s clothing than those belonging to the young people or the elderly. The dialogues during the artist’s painstaking and exciting data gathering process is yet another important indicator of this.

My uniform is my identity!

Considering there are memories that gain a meaning with a single piece of clothing, we must underline the dates when those special clothes are preferred. In addition to those preferred for special days, all casual clothes or those that belong to certain groups, classes or professions, reveal a timeline of the person’s life and identity.

Consider the Rock House cafes where we see at the most critical spots of the venues the cultural and historic information given by the fantastic clothing worn by David Bowie during his Stardust period or the cult white suit worn by Elvis Presley from the period he put on weight, as monuments in a statue-like stance. Those clothes, which contain neither Elvis nor David Bowie in them, stand there hung like stolen souls. They take their place on the wall, representing the period, its sociopolitical stance and a spirit. From here, we can also proceed to the jerseys of retired NBA players hanging on the ceiling of a basketball hall as if flags, to the clothing in ethnography museums as local values and the clothing of Turkish popular icons such as Zeki Müren and Türkan Şoray fit for museums. Accompanied by all these examples, we can better understand the persona created by the clothing.

It is maybe from this context that Doğan sets out. However, he advances in a different direction as the owners of the clothing he collected are not popular figures, the clothing are presented in a structure that does not reveal their owners, and in fact, as they point to the anonymous common soul of the period the moment they come together. He pulls apart, particularly in the seams, the clothes that may have been worn by an eight-year-old child of any middle class family, sending them back to how they had been before they were sewn together, before the tailor was done with them. And afterwards, he takes these diverse clothes to a form of return, to the beginning of the stories written by the hands of the tailor for different moments. The only difference is the existence of those clothes and that the stories were experienced. It causes a form of memory loss. The memory fails to remember or remind what has been experienced, but that experience remains discreetly in multiple layers on the surface. And then, he stitches and glues them on a single surface, transforming and overlapping the layers of memory and time on a single surface and cover. Just as multi-layered, disconnected pieces, on which you work in the Photoshop application, are gathered, compressed in a single layer in a single move, we see a collage here. Doğan first breaks apart all codes related to the past of the individual’s persona, and later sews and maps them. And reading this map takes the method to be developed and the empathy forged by the audience.

Questions on
Market vs. Marketplace

How should we view these paintings that contain the brightly colored, motley array of children’s clothing in a glittering, neutral, white gallery?

For years, there have been quite an abundance of artists in the world of contemporary art who use people’s clothing as a metaphor or medium in their works. There are some works I can cite from the top of my head such as Michelangelo Pistoletto’s famous installation, “Venus on Rags”, 5 Sarkis’ installations in his exhibition “A milestone” 6 or Vahap Avşar’s work “22 White Men’s Shirts Buttoned”. 7 And Doğan also focuses on this aspect. His notable works, transformed into the “canvas painting”, to use the parlance of the art market, after being stretched on a hoop and recycled, makes the waters he navigates on a bit uneasy. Particularly, in the Nişantaşı district, which also hosts the gallery, elite and chic stores stand out with their exposition of clothes on their windows as if each is a masterpiece. Not far away from this neighborhood, on the İstiklal Street, the arcade called Terkos offers yet another encounter with clothing pointed as an unexplored treasure in the pile of catchpenny and excess of imports goods. Fashion enthusiasts and trendsetters faithfully visit these two neighborhoods as if going on pilgrimage. Whether, between these two, Doğan’s paintings could take on a different meaning and position is yet another question. There are two markets. A colorful world also kicks in. The first is that elite, silent, perfectionist, neutral structure of this world and the art market, and the second is the marketplace where used clothing or other clothes that could not make it to the store windows because they were excess production are presented in a chaotic pile.

Another question is whether there is a performative and critical gesture to what Doğan Doğan exhibits here. Is there an ambivalent, ironic approach to the role of the motif and surface painting in the gallery? Doğan does not draw the profile of an artist who would always produce these motifs, who would revolve around its frames forever, who would focus on the alphabet of that language. And the way he views motif and motif-oil painting seems to present a contradictory line in this respect.

Particularly Abstract Painting interrupts the pieces of narration as genre and gesture. It renders the narrative and the flowing image timeless, non-extended. Then, how are we to respond to this deduction when we encounter these things he created particularly about real stories using ready and real materials (not imitations), clothing?

The questions one carries along while touring an exhibition hall are good. They keep both the exhibition and us dynamic in these hot summer days…

21 June 2010, Monday
1- “Clothes Make the Man” is a story written in 1874 by Swiss poet-author Gottfried Keller, who has had an important impact on German literature. The work is cited in the author’s book, “The people of Seldwyla”. It is one of the most familiar stories of German literature. The story is about Wenzel Strapinski, who can wear nice clothing, as he is a tailor, yet who is actually poor.
To tell the story briefly:
Strapinski the tailor, who had to leave his town Seldwyla, departs for Goldach to find a new place where he can perform his trade on a cold, snowy November day, wearing the most elegant and chic attire he could find. When he arrives there, those who see him in that clothing are led to believe that he is nobility and show interest. But Strapinski become frustrated by this interest. Because of his shyness and the suspicions about his past, he attempts to flee. However, at this point, he sees the daughter of one of the notable figures of the city. They fall in love and the tailor is forced to continue his game. They even decide to get married. However, an antagonist who despises him debunks him. And this turns into a scandal during the engagement ceremony. Strapinski runs away, but his fiancé finds and saves him from freezing to death. Strapinski proves that his love is genuine and they then get married. Later on, he continues his trade as tailor, earning prestige and trust.

Sources for detailed information: ,

2- Merriam Webster web site describes persona as “the personality that a person (as an actor or politician) projects in public”
Persona comes from Latin and may be deemed as the “mask”. The works in the exhibition by artist Doğan Doğan also hint that he also underlines this meaning of the word. The clothes are transformed into a wholesome bandage, which points to the notion of a mummy. However, through the visual references they bear (i.e. Sponge Bob, Batman, baseball stars) the clothes also act as the identity masks by which the child can replace the sociological power represented by those symbols, belong to that clan and emulate.

4- The story of Nasreddin Hodja goes like this:
When the Hodja attends a wedding feast he was invited in his daily attire, everybody ignores him.
Nobody invites him in or to sit. This disturbs him. He goes back home and puts on his fur coat, which he usually wears in holidays. He returns back to the venue. Those who seem in his fur coat show great respect. They sit him to the best place by the table and putting an array of dishes before him. He takes the edge of his coat and immerses it into the soup bowl.
- He starts shouting, “Eat my fur coat, eat”. Surprised, others ask:
- What are you doing hodja effendi? Can a fur coat ever eat?
Then he replies:
- Since all this reverence and service was on account of my fur coat, then he should eat the food!
5- The installation, Venus of Rags, realized in 1967 by Michelangelo Pistoletto from used clothing is one of the most lasting examples of Arte Povera.

6- At the exhibition “A Milestone” opened in 2005 at Akbank Art Gallery, Sarkis took some black and white photographs of children from various movies from the “Battleship Potemkin” to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “The Small Town” and hung them on the walls with each photograph accompanied by a colorful child’s clothing.

7- Created by Vahap Avşar in 1995, the work “22 white men's shirts buttoned” is a tent installation made from twenty-wto used men’s shirts buttoned to each other.
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