Dilek Winchester’s solo exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art takes place in the context of our policy of showcasing a multifaceted, decentralized and open-ended international art, produced in diverse geographic regions of the world, attracting the interest and recognition of an international public. Born in Istanbul, where she lives and works, with studies in painting, new media and sculpture in London and Istanbul, Dilek Winchester is an especially interesting and important representative of the younger generation in the contemporary Turkish scene.
Language has a central position in her work (installations, drawings, photographs and videos) primarily in its written form, occasionally accompanied by its oral or auditory rendering, but also as a compilation of linguistic archives. In parallel, documentary techniques are used with interviews and photographic records, as well as existing images which are culled from archival sources and the Internet. Winchester’s artistic research largely focuses on an extremely interesting historical phenomenon of cultural translation and hybridity, which she reveals in her work while following relevant contemporary researches in the field of comparative literature. Specifically, she delves in the late Ottoman past of Turkish literature of the 19th and early 20th century, to study the use of different writings and alphabets in the so-called Karamanlidika and Armeno-Turkish novel and theater play, written in Turkish by Turkish-speaking Greeks and Armenians, using their respective alphabets.
Winchester brings to the fore unknown until recently or marginalized texts of the Karamanlidika and Armeno-Turkish literature, which as hybrids, i.e moving in the in-between space among two different languages, which are translated into a new, double-voiced, linguistic reality, have been excluded by both the Turkish literary canon and by national cultures. She retrieves a multilingual past from oblivion, rewriting, often by hand, forgotten alphabets. She searches and records through translation processes and puns, hidden and new relations between things/emotions and their name in everyday language.
Her multifaceted interest in language as a common cultural and anthropological tool and her desire to render or, better, to translate with words, bodily expressions, images and metaphors, feelings or that which is unsayable, lead her onto an interminable, virtually impossible, search for the definition, recording and cataloguing of human emotions and for the multiple or/and common ways in which speaking voices may enter the public linguistic space. The associations that are born or/and methodological parallelisms with a geometrical definition of emotions in Spinoza’s moral philosophy, which are set in the center of the conception of human existence by the rationalist philosopher, as well as with the philosophical positions on language, linguistic games and rules of the analytic thinker L. Wittgenstein, expand the interpretative and intertextual horizon of her language-centered works beyond literature. Through such creative methods and practices she investigates issues of national identity and transculturality at the collective and individual level, she examines and comments critically, often playfully, the relations between language and nationalist ideology, between artistic praxis and politics. By showcasing a rich scene of cultural translations she attempts, beyond ideological and political silencing, concealments and voids, to shed light on the historical coexistence of different cultures, on cultural complexity and polyphony, creating the conditions for a new rapprochement between identity and alterity and a new dialogue between cultural past and present.
The exhibition, which creates a vast reading site, in a literal sense, is comprised of eight works of the past five years, including two new video-installations from 2012, Zevallı Delikanlı (The Wretched Lad) and Alphabets (Interviews) which are being presented for the first time. A central piece is the 2007 installation titled On Reading and Writing, an emblematic work, on the edge between fiction and reality, which summarizes Winchester’s main research and problematic. On three blackboards the artist transcribes in white chalk three paragraphs from a text written by herself in Turkish using Greek, Arabic and Armenian alphabets of the Ottoman period which narrate this linguistic “Babel” through the eyes of a young child. The reference to the historical photograph depicting Kemal Ataturk as he presents on a portable blackboard the new Latin alphabet of the newly constituted Turkish Democracy in 1928, is obvious to the visitor, through which he or she can read the critical commentary of the work on the violent rupture and traumatic policies of the cultural revolution toward a rich, multicultural Ottoman past.
By rewriting in the beginning of the exhibition directly on a wall with letters from five different alphabets, the plasma-word Kendinibeğenmişηesinesankibizdenφncehiηbirşeysφylenmemişηesinegillerden (Asifitishimandnooneelse) by Oğuz Atay, which is presented as the work and, simultaneously, as its title, the artist does not content herself in revealing her ideological kinship with the contemporary Turkish novelist and his characters’ relation to the cultural polyglossia from which they were sundered. She brings back the exiled writings in an endeavor, through their coexistence, the linguistic mixtures and her own, essentially untranslatable word, to reunite language and identity with their cultural origins. This symbolic reconstitution of the historically fractured unity within alterity, is re-codified with open interpretative connotations by means of a new translation strategy used in the work Zevallı Delikanlı, where the Karamanlidika theatrical text by Teodoros Akillioğlu is transcribed also into Greek, inscribing equally the foreign language within the artistic body.
Curated by Anna Kafetsi