A Conversation with Metehan Özcan

Metehan Özcan
Tevfik Çağrı Dural
About More Articles
Şener Soysal
About More Articles

Conversation: A conversation with Metehan Özcan on his works and multi-layered aspect at the core of his artistic practice, and on city.

On "Illustrated Information"

Çağrı Dural: How was your interaction with Merve Ünsal regarding your exhibition "Illustrated Information"? I don't know if you had any criticisms, but did you hear things like "What does a curator do in a solo exhibition?" As you know, the exhibition might as well be either a curator's work or an artistic narrative. Actually, it can also be considered as a collaboration; your work and Merve's curatorship. It could also be an exhibition by Merve Ünsal - Metehan Özcan.

Metehan Özcan: Actually, Merve Ünsal never had an experience like this, so, naturally, she hesitated at first. I guess, she agreed to work with me because her own artistic practice is based on experimentality. As for me, the necessity arises because: My first exhibition was in the university, in Gazi University. My last exhibition was in a hospital. So, this was to be my first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery. And that gallery is a photography gallery. So, I thought someone who is both an outsider and coming from a multidisciplinary background would be better.  

Çağrı: I guess, it has to do with her being that hardworking. So, she is just cut out for this job. She works in a gallery and she is an artist. She also has an editorial/curatorial experience from working for M-est and Bolt-Art. With these three qualifications she has what it takes, so I guess she is perfectly suited for the task. I also think that, with this exhibition, Elipsis Gallery overstepped its own bounds as well. For we all got accustomed to see exhibitions in which photos are framed and reduced to the status of an art piece in Elipsis Gallery.

Metehan: I also used to perceive Elipsis in that way, and I had my own hesitations. But when I saw works first from Serkan Taycan, and then Yusuf Sevinçli there, I realized it is not as strict as I thought. When Sinem said "Come on make up your mind, let's do an exhibition for you here," at first I didn't agree. And when I asked "I want to do some experimental work, can I do it here?" she said "For sure you can." It was then that I noticed, it is also us who draw this line from the outside. Artists can also transform the gallery, at least this is what I would like to believe for now. Within the exhibition process, we observed this could also be the case. One of the factors, is Merve's being one of the actors here. I mean, my enthusiasm but my inexperience, Sinem's strong premeditation, but her lack of experience in something of the sort...We might confront each other, get into a conflict, I don't know. I am also not sure if she would back down and let me do everything I wanted, but with Merve in the picture, it was "Ok, you can do whatever you want between each other, for me it's ok." That was what she said...So, it was fine.

Çağrı: Yes, the reason I mentioned this, was that in "Close Quarters," your recent work, Özgür's scales and Gözde's box were works that used photography without framing, and used materials we hadn't quite seen the likes of. To me, you managed to think outside the box.


Şener: As you commentated on your interview that was presented as the exhibition text, you can talk about how "Illustrated Information" materialized in general.

Metehan: "Illustrated Information" was a photography series I did for an exhibition of editions in 2012, and there I tried to create a collective memory by gathering photos of public spaces and objects I photographed before. I didn't specify if it was this or that place or a hospital, I didn't give any name as to what formed that collective memory. The state of being in collective places which we all encounter, accompanied by bureaucracy, the routine anonymity of the places and the indispensability of their embodying countless crowds. Like, the room we are in right now, only personalized through moveable items...Like, when an apartment is built in Turkey, there is this possibility that it can be converted into a residence, then a training center and a hospital respectively. As such, no personal traces can be found in places we pass by in our daily lives, but we all have some memories with regards to them.

Like, there are these boards to prevent the furniture from scraping the walls; in an additional building of Ziraat Bank, they divide the space without removing that board. For the board and the floors are different colors in both sides. Yet, a staircase in the corridor knocks against this interior wall, and the remaining 4-5 stairs end up in another small room. Those situations originating from bureaucracy and the system itself, where there is no individuality of the people. So, I instinctively juxtaposed images of different places. That could also be easily consumed to the point of losing its essence and ability to communicate intuitively. Some of the images I used in "Illustrated Information" were photographed for representational purposes, taken directly as a display of some project or a place, and what I added was daily photos as mementoes. So, we see images taken from different contexts within the same platform. And we cannot know which is taken for what purpose. This, in turn, makes it initially impossible for the viewer to figure out where s/he stands. In other words, when I give you this book and tell you this is a user's manual or a textbook or whatever, you look at it in a specific way; but if I tell you that it is my friend's first published novel, you see it in a different way. Likewise, when you present these images via superimposition, the viewpoint is altered. It is the same feeling I had when I was looking at the encyclopedias as a kid. I tried to establish the same, surreal relationship that you find in encyclopedias, like when you see stuffed mussels and stomach irrigation side by side solely by virtue of their alphabetical order.

Çağrı: Then what you are trying to say is: As a viewer, how should I observe it? Should I approach that photo with technical information about a car, as an engineer...by the way it is also a good photograph, mind you. It could also be an ad photo, because the car stands out in there. Or should I see it as a prospective buyer, see the woman beside it?

Metehan: Actually, you can approach it like that, like in Facebook you see people making their first cars their profile pictures. You spend time with the image of a commodity, until it becomes yours. For example, before you buy your first mobile, you don't only see it in the hands of other users, you also first see its photo somewhere. You see it in the ads designed for that specific commodity, in the installations and a desire to own it arises. I think, when you buy it, your photographing it is influenced by all these facts. Maybe not in small items like laptops or mobiles, but here you see this attitude mainly in housing lately. Like in Serkan's exhibition "Shell," the source of Bosphorus City becoming Bosphorus itself, is the reduction of Bosphorus imagery into a specific location. Like in movies and TV series, showing the image of Bosphorus to represent Istanbul and there arises a desire in people to own it. We are talking about a specific coastline, so the way its residents photograph it to show the place to others, they will try to fit the most reproduced image of the place into the place itself.

Çağrı: It is similar to the situation where people coming to Istanbul take photos like postcards, outlining the frame from Ortaköy to Mecidiye Mosque with the bridge. Actually, this is what we discussed all along: How we manipulate the photograph, how photography manipulates our perception. But at this very point, you are trying to explore how photography touches the identity of the viewer.


On his works and multilayered aspect at the core of his artistic practice...

Çağrı: We are rather talking about your last four works (Foça Holiday Village, Postcards, Illustrated Information and Three Cities). In all of these works, apparently, we find a common ground in terms of this aspect of multilayeredness. Early on, you were juxtaposing the photos, now you superimpose them. Maybe, we can assume your work on postcards as an interlude, but in it, we also see this conception of multilayeredness as a result of their being double-sided.

Metehan: Also, you see them in a sequential fashion in the postcards. When I first decided to use them, the gallery wanted a draft image for the catalogue to be printed. So, I just laid the postcards on the table to do the typology, taking into consideration the opacity and luminosity or picking out the hotels, and I sent the photographs I took. Then, everybody said like "wow, it looks really nice, why don't you exhibit them like this on the table?" However, I was concerned that people would focus on them as objects, and not see the constructs they are looking at. Like they wouldn't see a city or a building, rather they would see a pile of juxtaposed postcards. So, I tried to obtain a sense of multilayeredness by enlarging and positioning them in a consecutive order. There, you are directly facing off the building. You are looking at something in a larger dimension you haven't seen up till now, you are looking at it from a closer distance, so it penetrates you. Moreover, to see those tiny handwritings gigantically and their eventual transformation via editing...Like you have this writing, and you have different images changing right next to it, so it becomes hard for you to establish a relationship between them. Is the place we see in the photo, the one mentioned in the writing, or is it one of those places you just pass by?

Apart from that, with respect to the aspect of multilayeredness in my works, I guess, my mind works through associations thanks to encyclopedias. I mean, I would like to think all of us are like that, when you look at something you don't just see one thing. Especially, if you are an easily distracted person, when you look at a textbook, you don't just read the writing, you also study the illustration independently. Therefore, what I ask is, how can I bring this notion of multilayeredness into view, when I superimpose my independent thoughts, what kind of a perception will it create? For example, in "Three Cities," my night walks' absorption of other Istanbul photos, or superimposition of  Melih Gökçek's TOKI's buildings and Gulliver's statue in Wonderland... When you see something like this, it is incomprehensible if the place is that size or whether it really exists or not. For adding the Gulliver as another layer enhances the overall affect. There it is a housing site, but because the buildings look like they are attached before the roads are built, because you just see the buildings without the landscape, it is hard to apprehend the size. And what's more, because you have this statue of an anime character, all those images, the size of the characters and what is public and what is private coalesce into one; because you have a mayor who transforms the city just like he is decorating his own house.


Çağrı: You mean, you are fragmenting a specific image into various parts at once, you mentioned looking up the encyclopedia, and you assemble these parts, these layers in your exhibitions. So, first you do an induction, but in your exhibitions you present us with a perspective by way of deduction.

Metehan: The reason is that, with an individual image, I feel there is this highlighting, overemphasizing. Also, what I photograph comes spontaneously, in relation to where I am and what I do.  At that time, I was strolling around a lot in Istanbul. Right now, I am strolling around in Ankara for the Tübitak project. Now, I live in Izmir, and I don't have this urge to walk the streets. That is when I had this idea of looking back through the materials I have at hand, and thinking of ways to perceive them in a multilayered fashion. So, this time, it is not a question of what I find when walking around, but how I can make people to perceive them differently and how did I change? Like, how did I perceive my early photos when I was placing them in the gallery? How do I present them now? I also do a self-reflection here. The exhibition could also be comprised solely of those photos, but it would carry the risk of their being easily consumed.

Çağrı: So, you present the conventionally, and even dully framed individual photograph in a way that makes it beautiful or admirable, yet with an aesthetic of its own.

Metehan: They are all experiments about bringing what you conceive at home to the museum, or framing some picture you see in some magazine, or putting on the wall what was inside a frame before. Yet, I must have seen them all somewhere, because they are somehow imbedded in my subconscious. Like, Batur's exhibition in Torun is also an example. He also did various arrangements there. He also put frames on a photograph plastered to the wall.

Çağrı: Well then, can we suggest that your work in Foça Holiday Village is extrinsic to your other three works? I suppose, it is your only work that you deliberately abstain from creating an illusion in terms of time and space, and we don't need to question our perception.

Metehan: If we are speaking about the extent of what is fictional, what is manipulated, I didn't do that much alterations in that work, but it is also exciting to know the context. That place was planned as a holiday village, but we don't know how people lived there. When the viewers say "Oh, I stayed at this place," the meaning changes. On the other hand, people like us, who have never been there, see some buildings and people's names. Who gave the name to those places, were they the people who worked there? Otherwise, this personalization is for me, a concern to create a theme just like we see the likes of.

Çağrı: They seemed to select words that sound better phonetically.

Metehan: The way in which Club Med gets in touch with nature is also moderate. At least, if you consider it as it is, they preserved the olive trees, they didn't do anything to alter the land structure, again, the structure of the buildings is similar to that of Mediterranean-Aegean. Thereby, the only intervention is giving people's names and Turkification of the place. We can see it in the postcards, they mounted people on camels, there was this kind of living, but I don't indicate it intentionally in the photographs, I am not diverting the subject. It is just that, like you said, the idea of a plant ceasing to be a design object and taking hold of the place fascinated me. It was rather a recording of it, yet not documenting it.

Çağrı: You also said something noteworthy here: "What is missing becomes past just as it has experienced." Only something that exists go missing, so these notions coincide utterly with photography.

Metehan: When Merve asked "Why are you taking these pictures?" I said "Because I know they will be demolished." Here, structures are demolished and reconstructed simultaneously in various places of the city. And those take place in very short periods. Think about at what pace various structures have altered in Istiklal Street within the last 50 years...Today, it is even faster. We have never thought they would be demolished. If we told someone that Demirören would be built 10 years ago, I am not sure if s/he could imagine it.

Şener: How did you come to collect that much found images? You took these photos of buildings, supposing you had this background in real estate business. But creating an archive, old magazines and daily photos...

Metehan: After you take an interest in graphic design, you come to analyse how it was applied and published in the past. When you visit someone's home, details like the fireplace start to attract your attention. Also, you start to flick through the old magazines you keep at home. In the past, I just see them as somebody's house. The house of whoever it is or a home with a garden or a home just like the ones in the Yeşilçam movies. After studying architecture, you begin to think about how people construct the place. Then, when I look at the photos I took and reflect on them, they seemed too empty, isolated. Alienated from humans, decontextualized, like all the personal belongings are hidden away, I cannot quite understand what has happened there. Then, you have the chance to perceive a photograph taken for different purposes in a novel way. To keep them as well, we have moved a lot, so we don't have a lot of photographs at home. Sometimes you find a single photo, and other times you find the whole album. The man's youth, his wedding, in some cases, you can see them in their deathbed as well. Like here you have another story, he was sick and he had this wife and kids. Or he had an accident, and some people paid a visit. Or you see him in this serious posture in his workplace, and in the next page you see him in a swimsuit. Like different situations from different times in one album.