Memet Güreli, Olağan VI, 2015, Mixed Media on Paper, 46×58,5cm
It is not unusual for an artist to share his/her private sphere with others or to display it as a fine view. The privacy of an artist’s studio (or of a writer’s study room) draws the attention of anyone who has been interested in arts even in some degree. In fact, artists who open the doors of their studios to visitors and exhibit their private sphere unravel the inner world of their works.
It is generally accepted that there is a big difference between presenting a work of art in public space and revealing the studio where it was born. A studio protects the artist and his/her work. It is like a shield mitigating the effects of the hegemonic system outside because it is in the studio where the artist is truly autonomous and where s/he can create his/her work independently. It is the only shelter for the artist. According to many thinkers including but not limited to Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Claude Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, a studio is home to pure human labour. That’s why nothing can leak into the studio, if the purpose is to ruin the quality of that labour.
For example, Engels did not like Honoré de Balzac. He harshly criticized him for being a part of the rotten royal politics and wasting his life for the sake of a nouveau-riche class. Yet, the same Engels wrote in 1888 that Balzac could make a fine criticism of French society and admitted that he learnt more from Balzac than he learnt from the most professional economists, statisticians and historians. How could Balzac put his amazing knowledge about social issues into forefront in spite of all the negativities in his personality? It is not a very difficult question: He made a clear distinction between the room where he used to write and the living conditions that marked the life in the street… Then, it is possible to infer that the privacy of a studio is an equivalent of the autonomy of the work of art.
Memet Güreli, Atölyeden I, 2015, Oil on Canvas, 150x220cm
Now, let me point out that in this exhibition, Mehmet Güreli is in a way sharing his privacy with us through the paintings he made from his studio. In other words, we watch the autonomy of the painter. We see the power of his critical abilities. Though each and every visual presents certain materials, belongings or spaces to us, when together they whisper a secret they have shared. It is a place where the hegemonic system cannot penetrate… Like Balzac’s room, for example? Right at this point, we need a clarification: Unlike Balzac, Mehmet Güreli does not have a divided personality. The acts that construct his subjectivity do not make distinction between the street and privacy. To put it more explicitly, his paintings represent the life in the street. But what about the studio paintings? Why does the painter feel the need to show his studio to us? Perhaps he wants to emphasize that the real meaning of a work of art can be expressed nowhere but in a studio… Did not Marx write that no matter how autonomously the artist creates his/her work, the work is bought and sold as merchandise? Does not the painter paint this statement when he is painting his studio in reality? Does not he praise the autonomy of a studio?
We need to state once again that a studio is a place where the work of art belongs in. It is right. These paintings draw attention to this fact. On the one hand, they expose the qualities of a studio. On the other hand, they themselves are being exhibited as works of art. These are the works of art that show and exalt the studio, but they still protect their autonomy as they were born in that studio.
Memet Güreli, Atölyeden, 2015, Oil on Canvas, 150x350cm
Is that all? Is it enough to define the studio like this to make its meaning precise? Although what is mentioned above is true to a certain extent, things are different in practice. Yes, many famous thinkers have said that we must see a painting only in its own place because it is where its meaning gets clear. Walter Benjamin is one of these thinkers. According to Benjamin, a painting can exist within its “aura”, so the number of its audience has to remain limited. The same thing applies to music, too. Music can be understood only when it is listened to in its own atmosphere. However, what distinguishes Benjamin from his precedents is that he mentioned the loss of “aura” with a radical attitude. While modern life was casting out the “aura” by means of the technological environment embedded in it, “Culture Industry”, which was defined by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, was starting to besiege works of art inside studios. Walls could no longer succeed in protecting studios from the street.
As the privilege given to studios by many people including Marx was taken away (ironically all the thinkers who claimed that this privilege came to an end were Marxists) in modern times, the romantic idea that studio is “home” was given up, too. A studio would never again be a place that matches with the absolute autonomy of the artist or work of art. Instead, the studio was now heading for the destiny faced by the studios in Middle the Ages. In medieval times, a studio was a part of “a group of studios” which all together formed a certain kind of publicity. The relationship between those groups of studios and the art in the street was not distant. These studios were close to the hegemonic system. As Richard Sennett mentions in his comments on the medieval studios, “souls could not be confined to the walls”. Such studios could survive as long as they remained close to the hegemonic system through the groups and order they created together. In the Middle Age, studios stopped being a “home” to be a part of the “guild system”.
Memet Güreli, Olağan XIV, 2015, Mixed Media on Paper, 64x89cm
Then, at this point shall we say that Memet Güreli still sticks up for the idea of romantic studios? We would think that way if we saw only studio paintings in this exhibition and if we were exposed to the idea that just studios are taken seriously. However, this exhibition has more to offer. Different ways of seeing the street and distant places… In other words, the artist elaborates the street being totally aware of the fact that in his studio he has been totally deprived of his old safe environment… The street leaks into the studio and the studio leaks into the street… So, the works that we see represent what we see when the two environments are tied to each other. Then, where is the artist here? Where can we feel the existence of the artist when he is looking outside from his studio, the doors of which have been opened to the street? Where can we sense the autonomous look of these paintings – if any – at the street?
All the practices of the street and the whole reality of the hegemonic system are reflected into the studio. This is something we have already understood but; the studio must be affected by the street, too. The studio does not easily surrender. Let me give an example from Marx again. Though he stated that a work of art is treated as goods once it is released into the street, he also pointed out that a work of art, whether it has turned into merchandise or not, is capable of projecting its own dissidence upon the street because it was created independently in a studio. To Marx, that work of art will continue to offer a different reality in the street. It is highly probable that Memet Güreli relies upon this statement. He puts certain “things” that are peculiar to a studio among things that he sees or is supposed to see when he is looking at distant spaces. For example, the cats in the studio can show up anywhere the artist can see. The cats constantly show themselves as the symbols of the studio’s privacy. Some of the things that originally belonged to the studio have already gone to distant places and become a part of the things there. On the other hand, it is possible to see the transitions between spaces outside the studio. They are intertwined, too (they have lost their privacy). They share many things among themselves.
Memet Güreli, Olağan XVII, 2015, Mixed Media on Paper, 59x84cm
We understand that private spaces have declared themselves to be a part of the “guild system” and thus, they contribute to the functioning of the hegemonic system through the relationships they have established among themselves and with the street. A studio seems to be an insignificant part of all these things. Nevertheless, it should still be mentioned that it is in the painter’s studio where the idea of revealing all those intertwined links between the spaces and the street first came into being. The painter, who did this, lived and experienced that process in his own studio. Therefore, studio paintings become extra important as symbols that include all of the points mentioned above. They constitute the main idea of this exhibition.
If we can make detections and comments about studio paintings, we conclude that a studio is established right in the middle of pressure and it is a place where this pressure is trapped with instant reasoning and manoeuvre. We do not simply believe that a studio is an absolute shelter. The street has captivated the studio, but it still has doubts as to whether or not it can maintain its absolute sovereignty there. In fact, what else can art do but doubtfully drag the hegemonic system in our ordinary lives that just keep going? And in an usual life, what other privilege can a studio have?