In the Studio with Ahmet Civelek
Brooklyn based Turkish artist Ahmet Civelek greets me at his light filled basement studio in Bushwick. I find him working on small architectural maquettes for his upcoming project. His recent “Sandpaper” works occupy the studio walls and windows alongside hundreds of broken pieces of glass covering the left corner of the room, which belong to Civelek’s “Cycles” series. The artist encourages that visitors can step on and walk over the glasses as they did at his past solo exhibition Cycles, at Entrance, NY last year however he adds that “ the shoe soles might get destroyed afterwards.” After giving me a quick tour at the studio and talking about his recent works we sat for the interview.
Y.V There is often a common narrative thread or theme throughout your works. When did you first develop the style that you work in today?
A.C: It started very early, maybe even during my years at Pratt Institute. At Pratt I was making these giant paintings and within them I always felt like I was destroying my own work or erasing my own labor. After this when I went to London, I wanted to take a more literal approach to destruction and started destroying various objects that eventually led me to open The Destruction Company which was a space for people to come and destroy different items. Moving on from the company I got more and more interested in the conceptual side of destruction and wanted to emphasize what destruction is and what it could be. Basically, on and off, I have been working with the concept of destruction for around 10 years now. Now, with the Sandpaper works I am interested in its inherent quality of destruction through erosion, and it has been a year since I started thinking about and working with it.
Y.V Your primary medium of choice for the latest works is sandpaper. How has this shift in medium changed the way you approach the process?
A.C: It’s actually pretty similar with every new material that I work with. I loosely follow the scientific method. When I find a new material that I am interested in, first I do research of the material online. What is it? What’s the history behind it? I watch a lot of videos about how it is normally used in its related industry. Then, I move on to test the limits of the material--what can it do if I do this or that to it. This really helps me to understand the material and helps me think about the possibilities inherent in it. Then, if I like what the results are, I move forward with making a piece. If the outcome of that is satisfactory, I make more. If at any point of this process I don’t like what the material is doing, I trace my steps back and redo everything or completely move on to a new material. A great addition to this process has been making maquettes for larger installations or for shows. This really helps me think in a larger scale without the need for large, physical space, and I can be ready when the time comes to make new works as efficiently as possible.
Y.V How did you become interested in the destruction of materials? What is the symbolism of destruction for you?
A.C: Growing up in Istanbul, my external environment regularly included violent, physical obliterations because of Turkey’s geopolitical situation. Simultaneously, my internal environment was being fed by TV coverage of American culture, exposing the easiness of destruction ranging from compilations of extreme sports athletes failing to a lion eating gazelle. Because of this constant exposure to various forms of destruction, I am interested in reinterpreting and redefining why and how things fall apart. I also confront subtle and even gentle forms of destruction in everyday life, such as peeling a banana.
Y.V What inspired the idea to incorporate interaction with viewers into your installations?
A.C: Although I make a lot of paintings, I always struggled with making them because of how paintings can act as a ‘monologue’ in relation to the viewer. This led me to try to incorporate interaction within my paintings and wall objects. Some worked well and some didn’t. I feel like doing my show at Entrance last summer really helped. Dylan Brant, who organized the show, really pushed me to make something “un-manageable” which led me to make Untitled (Floor of Destroyed Objects). From that I started making maquettes and then made another installation during a residency at the Vermont Studio Center by covering the floor with sandpaper. Both of these installations really interacted with the viewer/participants in a way that my paintings never could. Now making maquettes and installations became an essential part of my practice.
Y.V How has being a part of the New York art community influenced your style, or allowed it to evolve?
New York has a great community. It’s one of the leading cities in terms of the world of art. Because of this, there are a lot of people in the art world who are at the frontiers in their practices led me to make studio visits part of my own practice now. At least once a week I have a studio visit, whereas most weeks it’s 3-4 visits. I think this really helps me to talk about my work in a more intimate setting but also have the visitors to understand more of my work. And of course this starts/creates a dialogue that can last a long time and helps me to create my own community within New York.
Y.V Who are some artists or illustrators that have been/are influential to you?
A.C: Living in New York I am really lucky and almost spoiled by the sheer amount of art I can see. But mostly my work intersects the work of the Italian abstract painter Lucio Fontana, who emphasizes controlled forms of destruction. The vocabulary I have developed around destruction is intended to pick up where the works of Gustav Metzger and Michael Landy leave off. And lately I have been looking a lot of installations, for example recent exhibitions of Alex da Corte at Karma and Michelle Lopez at Simon Preston Gallery.