Running now through May 27, 2012, Nevin Aladağ’s exhibition “Sahne|Stage” populates ARTER’s Istanbul galleries with fantastical curtains of hair. In each composition, the brightly colored, artificial strands hang from a pole, alternately parted in the middle, pulled back, even braided or in loose pigtails. Elegant and evocative, these allusive works manage to convey specific hairstyles as well as functioning stage curtains. The larger works are interactive, and visitors can step into a recessed wall space behind the hair and perform as if on a stage or watch others doing so. This performative theatricality also extends to the works themselves—synthetic and often neon colored, they are flamboyant costume wigs that don’t even try to look like real hair.
Born in Turkey and living in Berlin, Aladağ often incorporates participation and performance into her works as a way of playing with identity. In one piece, she brought an audience into an empty theater, where participants expected to watch a show, but nothing ever materialized on stage. Instead, as more people came into the theater, the house lights grew brighter and brighter, and the audience members themselves became inadvertent performers, especially as they started turning to each other to discuss their confusion.
Although the life-sized, interactive Stage works are the highlight of Aladağ’s current exhibition, her smaller wall pieces, fittingly dubbed “Rehearsals,” are just as intriguing. The Rehearsal works have much more varied hairstyles: one is crimped, another is curly with bangs, a third is parted using barrettes. The colors range from blonde to teal with white streaks. Probably because they’re not interactive in the same way as the Stage works, each Rehearsal has a more defined individual character. Each curtain of hair invites the viewer to give it an identity, as if it were a human being. Looking through the exhibition catalogue, I was taken back to childhood memories of humanizing inanimate objects. For example, I would always judge the “character” of a car by its “face”—mostly having to do with the positioning of the headlights and grille. I’d rarely notice the driver and attribute any movement to the car itself, as if it were alive. Aladağ’s Rehearsal works provoke this same kind of fascination and detachment from reality.
As Başak Doğa Temür and Gudrun Ankele point out in their essays for the accompanying catalogue, the playfulness of Aladağ’s hair curtains also has a more serious side. There is the ongoing question of identity, but more specifically, the Stage and Rehearsal works bring forth femininity as a social construct. The curtains all possess long hair, therefore they must all be women. But the hair isn’t even real, so how could someone possibly ascribe a gender to these fully manmade objects? And what does this tell us about ourselves and our societies?
At once amusing, interactive, and thought-provoking, Aladağ’s installations/sculptures are also aesthetically pleasing. For those of us unable to go to Istanbul to see them in person, the catalogue makes a worthy substitute. The images are all of high quality, with detail shots in which every individual strand of hair is apparent. Temür and Ankele’s short, yet thoughtful essays (included in both Turkish and English) only add to the reader’s insight into and appreciation of these highly original works.
Nevin Aladağ: Sahne |Stage
Edited by İlkay Baliç
Istanbul: ARTER, 2012
96 pages; $15 euro / $20 USD