Alev Berberoglu: I would like to start our discussion with your latest exhibition titled “Sterntaler”. In this exhibition, your departure point was “Die Sterntaler”, also called The Star Money, one of the tales collected by the Grimm Brothers. Briefly, it tells the story of a little girl whose mother and father are dead, and despite being very poor and homeless she gives away all that she has to the ones that are more needy than her including every bit of cloth on her. In the end, when she has nothing left, she is rewarded by heaven with gold pieces and finest clothes. The story is a living part of the culture, as you mention that it is still told in Germany around Christmas time and basically has a moral that encourages generosity. However, when it is closely read with a feminist approach, the text seems to be problematic. You interpret it as a story of total submission, total self-abnegation, and criticise as being a story of womanhood worldwide. In what ways do stories and, in general, literature influence your art?
Elize Vossgatter: I am fascinated by folklore. By stories passed down by generations. Stories that caution ways of living. They are meant to teach values, morals and social mores. Often these stories are frightening – using fear and exaggeration to provoke an idea of ‘goodness’. But, these stories were told in a time that is foreign to us, when women and children were not regarded with great value. Times have changed. Women have changed. Children have changed. We shop, shave and sugar ourselves to greatness- and often these tales fall flat in this consumer, technological age and then I like to show up these differences. Sometimes, the stories are still pertinent – even more so – and then I like to reflect this. I enjoy the poetry of language and the visual shape that metaphors take on. For this reason I enjoy using stories or proverbs as a departure point in my work. The Turkish language is particularly poetic and I am enjoying discovering Turkish folklore and poetry and looking for departure points for my works here.
A.B.: Amongst the concepts and themes you concentrate on in your works, exploration of femininity seems to be foremost. What issues do you investigate in the portraits of women and girls you have painted?
E.V.: The women I paint seek recognition through the eyes of the audience. They long to be desired but have damaged themselves in the search for desirability. Their makeup is smudged, their bodies imperfect. Some play at being the temptress, opening their bodies for us to mock.
They are all waiting for the promised day when all their troubles are rewarded. Like told in the story Sterntaler. Waiting for the handsome prince, waiting for their riches, waiting to be saved… But they are searching and inevitably alone. But they are self involved and insecure and seem to have misunderstood the ways things work, and so, they are still waiting….
A.B.: Could you tell us about your painting technique and choice of materials? You paint on panel experimenting with different kinds of oils and solvents. How do these experiments with unconventional materials contribute to your paintings?
E.V.: The oils are thick and luxurious and aromatic. They are sensual and I paint these women sensually and the surface is plump with the oozing liquid, and just as they are comfortable in their bodies I refuse them this and start eroding the surface with chemicals, such as meths, thinners, turpentine and this sets up an interesting tension that strips the surface ‘of its youth’, so to speak. The skin sometimes starts to peel and the clarity in the eyes sometimes becomes a void. My painting process speaks of the process of dashed dreams and lost hopes.
A.B.: I know that you see parallels between women and paintings ontologically. For example, you said: “Painting, like being a woman, is comprised by the very conventions that support its reception in the world.” Apparently, you are looking for ways to break these conventions in your art. Could you describe this in relation with the distortion of figures during the act of painting?
E.V.: Well, painting can often be a very superficial process. That is centered on technicalities of painting. I’m not interested in technique, traditionally speaking; I am interested in how the process of painting physically echoes the process of living. How it feels to be human. In this case: what it feels like to be a woman – and this, essentially, must be a universal reality – and one understood by any woman around the world. It makes no sense for me to paint a woman well. What is important is that the act of painting evokes the act of living and feeling. If we have so much, then why are we so empty?
A.B.: Could you briefly describe the Creative Block project, which you believe that helped you arrive at your own signature?
E.V.: The Creative Block project is a great initiative in South Africa. I regard it as a useful ‘soupkitchen’ for artists. Once a month you submit paintings on small square surfaces supplied by the project, and then they choose the ones they want and buy them from the artist and sell them on privately. It’s a welcomed financial relief, but more than that it has forced me to be playful in my artmaking and to constantly experiment and be fresh in my approach to my materials. I took a long break from making work and it was just a good platform for me to enter into production again and to gain confidence in my voice. See link: www.creativeblock.co.za
A.B.: Being half-German, you say that visiting Berlin once in a while refreshes you spiritually and clarifies your vision. Does it apply to travelling in general, or only Berlin?
E.V.: Berlin was just where I managed to end up because I have family there and it makes me feel connected to my origin. It is not Utopia. Sometimes it’s just good to get away from one’s real life and feel the blissful reawakening of change. To climb out of ones everyday rhythm and establish new ones. Following one’s nose, without any other responsibility. I’m an independent soul and being in a travelling state, heightens my instincts. It is how I feel here in this bustling city of Istanbul. Here, I think I have found my new haven.
A.B.: Have you been to Istanbul before? What are your impressions of the city?
E.V.: I hadn’t been to Istanbul before. The only visual I had of the city was from art history books when I learnt about the Hagia Sophia with its golden light. I have always wanted to come and see it for myself. I had no idea about the city geographically or culturally. The only warning I received from travelers was: “Beware the men!”
After spending three weeks in Istanbul I have fallen in love with the city. I have never been so inspired by the energy of a city – busy all the time! It feels like a city full of cultural and political contradictions with new and old, and European and Asian influences: Hamburgers and Döner, Âlâ magazines next to Cosmopolitan; Baklava and Mars bars. It is mixed and varied, and a reminder that people are people everywhere in the world.
Istanbul inspired me, and excited me – it has taken me a long time to digest and I am longing to come back again.
A.B.: Could you describe the works you produced during your residency period formally and conceptually?
E.V.: I started off by reading old Turkish folklore, which I planned to reflect on a more contemporary society. I read Dede Korkut and other ancient poetry, and old anonymous folklore that had been passed down by generations. I found these stories interesting, as they turned out to be mainly stories of war and brave battles. Stories that glorified a violent heritage – but beautiful stories none-the-less… Adjective used to describe men were words like bravery, courage, honor, dignity, strength. The only words I found that described women were: obeying and beautiful. I started looking at the idea of the contemporary “hero” and “heroine”. I looked into the barbershops on every corner with men getting pampered and I smiled, men sitting in droves drinking tea and ogling women, and I smiled. I looked at beautiful Turkish women, with dyed blonde hair and perfectly manicured, I looked at mothers, workers, students: like all the women in the world looking to be desired. These were the visuals and the beginnings of my thoughts.
I then learnt a lot about the politics of the country, of the military, of the war that is still ongoing and how this seemed to contradict the booming consumer society that confronted me (it is worth mentioning that the month I was in Istanbul was “Shopping Festival”).
The day I was looking at the tourist side of the city I found these “boys” faces in the newspaper. They are 6 of the 8 Turkish soldiers that were killed on the 22 June 2012. The pictures of them when they were still alive were haunting. They didn’t look brave or courageous – they looked sad. Soon after they were killed. A wasted life? The tourist centre was booming. Souvenirs abound… I found some discarded tiles and on them painted these portraits of the contemporary Turkish hero. Just another souvenir? Who are the real heroes?
The women I painted are a little more lighthearted. The female hero was staring at me from every billboard, and iPhone and news stand. These are the contemporary idols I found on the covers of the July “Cosmo” and “In Style” magazine. I painted Cameron Diaz and Lady Gaga. Who else? Oil paint and golden sequins…
A.B.: In what ways do you think this residency contributed to your art?
E.V.: It was an extraordinary experience for me, and one that strengthened my belief in the issues around desire that are constant in my work. It was refreshing to see things from a new perspective. When one is traveling, one is so open and there is no responsibility. Every day I learnt more and more. It is invigorating, and am hugely grateful to Gallery/Miz for their invitation and their generous hospitality. You’ll see me again!