İpek Ulusoy Akgül
Murat Akagündüz’s Vertigo, curated by Aslı Seven, was on view at Arter, Istanbul, between March 30 and May 15, 2016.
Murat Akagündüz’s recent “Vertigo” is not yet another landscape show. In search of a new painterly language delving into the depths of abstraction, the artist’s ‘‘Kaf’’ series (2014-2016)—13 out of 15 same-sized, white-on-white oil paintings featured here—investigates a fresh understanding of nature and the relationship between earth and universe, along with the very act of seeing. As Akagündüz moves away from the Anatolian geographies that have previously dominated his similarly large-scale, resin on canvas works, he embarks on a new image-making process based on Google Maps snapshots of the Alps and the Himalayas in this new series, to which the artist dedicated the past three years. The outcome of an ongoing dialogue between curator Aslı Seven and Akagündüz, this exhibition raises critical questions not just around the genre, traditions, and contemporary relevance of painting; it touches on the intentional dialogue between works and modes of display along with utilizing monochromatism and digital mediation as visual strategies with which to investigate a sense of precarity and state of doubt that seems to permeate contemporary culture.
Upon entering Arter’s rectangular second-floor gallery—which at first might seem like a challenging space to work with for a painting show of this scale—one slightly feels uncomfortable not knowing what it is that s/he is looking at. This uncanny feeling evoked by the paintings is combined with an immediate disorientation or loss of balance, already foreshadowed in the exhibition title. One obvious reason is the white-on-white aesthetics of the works themselves, demonstrating the artist’s inquiry into materiality and eventually creating an optical illusion. Despite having its roots in the modernist idea of “impression”, the series draws from Romantic and Postmodernist painterly sensibilities alike. It depicts no lucid form but performs very subtle interpretations of light and shadow through minimal gestures of lines and stains as well as the use of different tonalities of white, echoing Baudelaire’s musing on there being no such thing as color but infinitely diverse tones.
Another reason behind this discomfort could be traced to the meticulously used curatorial tactics including the exhibition design—the way the paintings are installed, purposeful architectural interventions made within the space after a full layering on the existing gallery walls and the flood lighting wrapping the works with a uniform intensity throughout. Frequent visitors to Arter would confirm that each show surprises the viewers with bold changes to the exhibition space. What “Vertigo” does, however, is hidden in the subtle axial changes on some of the walls that have no works hung on them. Moreover, the installation of the paintings is not uniform in their leveling nor grouping, contrary to many permanent museum displays of historical landscapes. While some works are hung in groups, others stand alone at varied heights making it even more difficult to trace a horizon line in these paintings. For example, the five-work-block on the left-hand-side, with each work almost touching the other, hints at what the layout originally imagined by the artist-curator duo would look like had this been a different space. In another instance, one work—the one that looks most like a landscape painting according to the curator—is installed solo and lower in a niche built in on the main wall towards the right.
Careful orchestration of works throughout the space marks slight distinctions and visual ruptures, both horizontally and vertically, for the standing viewer. However, wandering through the gallery and looking at several works simultaneously from a distance, one recognizes that this unique rhythm actually feeds into the intended vertigo experience for the viewer. It is also worth mentioning the role of flood lights, contrary to dramatic lights that have traditionally come to objectify the artwork and situate it within a hierarchical mode of display. The lights used here create a rather homogeneous environment that mimics the visual effects of the paintings and serves to draw parallels between this unstable spatial experience and the socio-political conditions that surround us today.
Going back to the works themselves, we notice Akagündüz’s continued interest in mountainous landscapes. In this case, however, it is far from natural or historical sites in Anatolia that the artist is familiar with, such as in “Homeland-Anatolia” series (2010–2012) and “Turabdin” (2010–11) paintings. Mythical Qaf mountains that are said to surround the world and hinder humankind from crossing them—according to many folk tales—, lend their name to the series, which not only revisits landscape painting, a long tradition particularly in Western painting, but also complicates the artist’s process. Previously, Akagündüz took photographs as he travelled to places, mostly in Turkey, his country of origin, and used them as reference for his paintings, exhibited in his 2012 solo exhibition Hell Heaven at Galeri Mana, for example. However, in the new series, instead of going to the Alps or Himalayas physically and taking pictures there, Akagündüz bases his new paintings on cartographic visual material captured by Google Maps from up above. The horizon is nowhere to be found due to the vertical perspective dictated by the digital interface of Google Maps, perhaps distinguishing this particular exhibition from that of other contemporary landscape paintings. Despite the fact that art work titles correspond to particular coordinates, specifying the exact geographical locations framed in the canvases, the language of the paintings does the opposite. They don’t reveal any visual or other clues as to “where” we see in each work. This is exactly Akagündüz’s point.
In “Vertigo”, Murat Akagündüz demonstrates a unique post-photographic process, exploring something beyond territorial, spatial certainties and rendering precise topographic details to earth’s surface. In other words, he is not interested in “representation of representation” or exploring the “sublime” in nature, such as in 17th century western painting. Instead, his objective is to create a new space, a rather abstract one, for us to contemplate on. In other words, the artist demands us to imagine crossing the mythical Qaf mountains. For this, it is necessary that we are skeptical towards what we see in this show and imagine what might lay beyond our fragile and unstable spatial or social frameworks and how we can potentially go beyond them.
Edited by Merve Ünsal
 Murat Akagündüz & Aslı Seven, ‘Vertigo’, video documentation. Available here: http://www.arter.org.tr/W3/?iExhibitionId=62
 Aslı Seven, “Vertigo: Lifting the Horizon” in Vertigo (exh. cat.) ed. Süreyya Evren (Istanbul: Arter, 2016), pp. 16–21.
 Conversation and curatorial tour with Aslı Seven, March 23, 2016, Arter, Istanbul.
 Aras Özgün, “Extracting Landscape from Mapping” in Vertigo (exh. cat.) ed. Süreyya Evren (Istanbul: Arter, 2016), pp. 80-84.