Cemile Deniz Alibas, Dominika Bednarsky, Un-Zu Ha-Nul Lee, Lena Stewens – A Whole Isle

A whole isle

Island, Isle, Island, Island.
The island is a metaphor, it is utopia, refuge, dystopia, a whole, small world, a limited something. The island is an antagonistic motif for what is not and will not be. It’s a nasty oddball and a dried-up crumb that will be wiped away anytime. Islands, these are damn lonely places, deeply romanticised places, landscapes that elude meaning. Be your own island is the title of a spiritual handbook for a supposedly happier life. Author Jonathan Franzen describes the severe depression of his friend Dave Wallace as a virtual island of his own, on which he was trapped for life: What looked like gentle contours from afar were indeed steep cliffs.
What are the virtual islands in us? Where would they be if we looked for them? Perhaps a kitschy answer will do it for now: we can be an island to each other, we can occupy the islands of your radical individualism and become an island together, to each other, against these strange tendencies of New Age spiritualism and in a fight against the inexplicable sadness that reigns on a deserted island.

These virtual islands are here, where we stand, they have walls, a ceiling, a floor, an entrance door.

On the walls of these islands hangs a thin, blue rope. It flows, starting from a top point, down left and right, and after a few centimetres, it is pierced by a straight, pointed stick. Due to their contrasts, the two materials in the work of Cemile Deniz Alibas fall into newly formed states. Instead of continuing to run in the two different directions, the pierced rest now hangs down. The ends move slightly in the wind. The rope becomes more and more a blue line. It thus develops a spatial value. It becomes a soft drawing on the wall, nestles against it, moves away from it, remains frozen and changes with every movement. The drawing on the wall becomes a constantly changing picture. The stick vibrates slightly. One hears, again and again silent, dull blows. Three experimental arrangements of lines on paper can be found on the other walls. They float on a yellow background; their lines are black. Partially, the yellow background lays on the lines, translucently. From one or more points, they evolve into three-dimensional systems that look like started sketches of houses but linger in their status as experimental arrangements of lines and want to be nothing more than what they are. On the other walls of these rooms hangs a larger variation of these experimental arrangements, with a wilder application of the yellow background, more attempts of lines that don’t want to be more than lines, but at the same time try to break out of the pictorial space to the front and are stopped again by other layers of paint. Lines become spaces, spaces become constructions of lines, layers of colour become changes of view…

The play of lines becomes distorted. The view goes to the ceilings and floors of this virtual island. Boots with shiny, brown surfaces run over the heads in small steps – they are glazed ceramics. Oversized feathers proliferate from their cracks. They develop along the shaft like delicate flags. These feathers are made out of silicon, eccentric images of what they should be. Their silicone texture forms a strange contrast to the ceramic – or not, as they seem almost to have grown together. It’s as if Un-Zu Ha-Nul Lee’s sprung boots are no longer objects, but independent, pulsating organisms that cleverly elude the field of vision, that always stand above one’s head. They seem to move, even though the materials are firm and rigid and anything but alive – they are probably the births of fancifully narratives that have taken shape and came to life when there was nobody left. A little further away are slippers that behave in the same strange way: duck feet grow from a bed of feathers. They have broken open the front of the slippers and protrude out, slightly limp, the claws touching the ground. In front of them is a trap. A few breadcrumbs lay out the path that the cranky duck feet are supposed to crawl along, with their slippers in tow. When they move, they are caught. Perhaps this is a course of action that has already been set in motion, as it will not happen: it spans over the ensemble of objects like a narrative net.

Grass grows out of the ground of this limited, virtual island in an absurd arrangement. The grass ends sharp-edged. It is made up of small parts in form and colour. The individual stalks are fine ceramics, they are painted in different colours, beige, blue, a light green, pink, brown. This observation only becomes clear on closer inspection of Dominika Bednarsky’s work: the colour field is composed by a distance to that of an old lawn. The stalks are each mounted on a square plate. Each stalk protrudes in a different direction, there is space between them, each one has a different tip, it is a distorted image of a reality that sometimes looks like a soft texture, sometimes like a hardened material. The grass shows up as a deformed impression of a reality that we think we know. Further away sits another one of this kind: it seems to be a pot from which carnivorous plants are entwined. On one of these plant heads lies a severed rabbit ear. The brown-mottled fur was neatly adjusted, small black columns shimmer finely. The rabbit ear is the burnt Memento Mori, it stands contrary to the profile of the ceramic as material. The shiny surface of the glaze distorts all the components of the flowerpot into a strange similarity, the levels shift to a common thing. The pot, the plants, the rabbit’s ear, everything is one, it only differs in form and colour, but not in materiality or different textures. Everything is one in this microcosm, its own cosmos on the virtual island.

It is late. On the horizon, the last walls of the virtual island, a large, blood-red sunset shines. It shines as intensely as it is rarely the case. Against this scenario, flanking the setting sun, the three-dimensional image of a pink rose is set – it is not the image of the rose that is plastic, but a flat cube on which it rests. In front of this cube is another digitally mounted image: the image of a golden playing figure. Lena Stewens creates her collages in a photo community app. She constantly collects digital stickers, pictures, GIFs, emojis, text images and photographs inside this app. The app makes it possible to create collages from the almost infinite conglomerate of data. The individual pictorial components mentioned come from a wide variety of subcultures and Internet worlds. The app has a broad, international list of members – be it the mother from Minneapolis, who collages cheerleader pictures for her daughter, or the 12-year-old teenager from Yogyakarta, who decorates his Selfies with glittering GIFs. The images in this exhibition combine these social contexts into a flat information sheet of cultural identities. The respective motifs merge with the others, the contexts of their origin disappear. The Alu-Dibond collages refer to complex reference fields of digital platforms and their own world designs, which manifest themselves in images. In front of the generic image of a waterfall there is a three-dimensional cube on whose side’s paintings by Boticelli, Raffel and Da Vinci are mounted. A rendered crown of thorns is enthroned above this cube.

On the way out of this little virtual island there is a postcard on the right side. It is set behind glass. Lena Stewens has written an emotional poem in meticulous handwriting with a red pen. The lyrical self mentions its longing, its desire for what is not here. What is not here? Here, the virtual island, where everything is located, and everything happens according to its own laws? The postcard marks the threshold out of the virtual into the real, onto the street, out of the exhibition space. What is the status of what is real and what is not? Are the virtual islands in us merely subject to a fictitious function or do they reach over the thresholds of the imaginary, into our everyday life, into what others see? If we cannot be part of the others’ fiction, we are no less lonely; yet the last words of the postcard sound softly in the background, formulated as the silent need to see the others’ islands: „I wish I could be (t)here“.

For the artists Cemile Deniz Alibas, Dominika Bednarsky, Un-Zu Ha-Nul Lee and Lena Stewens, the virtual islands of the other are both occasion and subject. The four artists, who met at different times during their studies at the Hochschule für Gestaltung, Offenbach, did not join forces to pursue a thesis, to state a manifesto, or to solve a problem – „A Whole Isle“ is an ode to their friendship. Here, the individuality of their artistic positions is not to be reduced by an overturned concept, but to be made the point of reference of the meeting.

Text by Seda Pesen

A Whole Isle @ Basis Projektraum, Frankfurt am Main
02.08. — 04.08.2019

Cemile Deniz Alibas
Dominika Bednarsky
Un-Zu Ha-Nul Lee
Lena Stewens