Last year, (2014), Michael Eldridge, Colin Tracy and I exhibited a series of photographs at the Marmaris Municipal Gallery and Art House. The combination of our work seemed to be well received, and gratifying words were written in the press.
Our Exhibition was titled ‘Awareness’.
My photographs initially evolved from an earlier expression shared with Michael, (in 2010), at The Netsel Gallery. We named it ‘Trees and Sky‘. My contribution was a series of six monochrome images inspired by the illustrations I once saw in a book about Zen. In it there were wonderfully simple paintings of landscapes in which the tranquility of unbroken wholeness is expressed. Each painting revealed more than simply the contours of hills, but also was a signature, not simply of the artists’ personalities but rather of that completeness with which they were simultaneously separate parts and also absolute totality when they moved their brushes. In other words these were non-dual images.
Little were Michael and I to realize that our work, supporting of the wholeness each of us shares – and which perceives itself within every rock, tree, lake and flower – was to presage those demonstrations in Istanbul and elsewhere where artists and other folk came together to protect some trees in Gezi Park.
People died in those protests. Doctors were arrested for treating the victims of tear gas, and skin irritants sprayed via water-cannon. Lawyers too found their way into gaols, whilst rebellious soldiers supplied protesters with gas masks. It was a violent time, and not at all what Michael and I had in mind when we made our exhibition.
I prepared for the next exhibition with him some uneasiness. Michael is pretty unpredictable, his energy enlivens every event in unexpected ways, so perhaps to balance his effect, but mostly because I thought they would get on well together, I invited Colin to contribute.
Between the exhibitions I wrote two books. Photography and Psychoanalysis is about the evolution of emotional persuasion using photography in marketing and other forms of social manipulation. It exercised my writing muscles in preparation for the second work titled Photography and Zen.
In the course of writing Photography and Zen it occurred to me that just as Soto Zen seeks to invite people to experience wholeness through sitting meditation, and sometimes the result is conveyed in the kinds of painting I refer to above, Rinzai Zen attempts the same thing by providing the intellect with an unsolvable riddle. In this way the rational mind is forced first into a crisis, and then to drop away and thus reveal the unbroken screen of awareness upon which we are dreamed and in turn dream up others, with all our triumphs, sufferings and dramas.
I decided to put together a second set of images – one of everyday objects photographed as impeccably as I was able. I hoped that their effect would be akin to the kind Marcel Duchamp achieved when he submitted a urinal as a competition entry to the Society of Independent Artists in 1917. They rejected it but when you really can see it, without commenting to yourself about it in any way, a beautifully crafted object surrenders before you. Most simply look at and it say: ‘Oh it’s just for peeing in, what’s it doing here?’
In a dream the image of a chicken’s head came into my mind, so I set out to find the chicken and make her portrait. It didn’t take long. People tell me it’s a cock! Soon several other images were added: a decaying leaf, a fire hose, a battered aluminium can, and a sticking plaster poetically joining a crack in a pathway. The combined work now forms part of the Marmaris Municipal Art Collection, and a smaller replica is currently on display in the foyer of the Turkish Muscular Dystrophy Association, who will auction it later in the year.
Recently I visited the Marmaris Municipal Art House and found displayed in the gallery, among other paintings by Yüksel Diyaroglu, something surprising. I recognized upon the canvas the same all seeing chicken beneath an egg that had been tattooed with the words ‘Shitty World’!
As I looked around I realized that Yüksel’s entire collection was politically charged. He had retreated from the Istanbul streets due to the astringency of the tear gas, but found himself motivated to protest via his paintings.
I don’t share his view that this world is any more ‘shitty’ than it can otherwise be. History tells us that there was never a ‘golden age’, and that nowhere, except as an idea, has it been possible to create the ideal republic that Plato refers to. Roses blossom from shittiness, truth implies lies, health – illness, ugliness – beauty. I find it remarkable, however, that my chicken found its way onto a political canvas or, indeed, that any of my photographs are ascribed any political significance. I see them simply as invitations to see ourselves and our world differently.
Stephen Bray discusses Photography and Awareness on Marmaris T.V.