Architectural oddity inspires art gallery exhibit

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The upcoming exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery explores the sensation of displacement through a real-life architectural oddity.

A Minaret for the General’s Wife features works by Turkish-Canadian artist Erdem Taşdelen, inspired by a free-standing minaret in Kėdainiai, Lithuania. A minaret is a type of tower that is usually part of or next to a mosque.

“I was immediately struck by how strange it felt,” says Taşdelen. “I wanted to go there and see for myself.”

He originally envisioned a speculative film about the minaret and began writing scripts that featured or approached it tangentially. But an art installation was born instead, almost by accident.

“I first started writing from the imaginative point of view of a Turkish woman – if she had existed, what would she have thought?” said Taşdelen. “(But) I became dissatisfied with the experience and realized what I really cared about was being done simultaneously over and over again (across) time by multiple people.”

He says the exhibition aims to think about unity in a collective sense, to share the cultural world with others.

“I want (audiences) to think about how they view objects and entities in their life, how they attribute meaning to those objects that are guided by each person’s individual experience,” he says.

The exhibit was first shown last year at Mercer Union in Toronto, although pandemic restrictions required visitors to reserve a timed entry slot. Taşdelen says the format created a ghostly presence of other bodies in space, rather than the collective unity he had envisioned.

“What I was really thinking about in this exhibition was the idea of ​​the space being suspended while it was being used; the idea that bodies may have been present in the space right in front of you,” he says. “Even evoking the feeling that if you’re sitting in a chair, it might feel warm because someone else’s body has been there.”

Taşdelen is curious how the exhibition will feel this time, given the open entrances. But he predicts that audiences will experience “minor productive confusion” when first entering, given the various elements staged.

“You see things like a stepladder that stays in the installation, and you know that if you go deep enough into the galleries, it will never be left by accident,” says Taşdelen. “Once that trigger kicks in in your brain, you’ll see that everything (you) watch is scripted in that particular way – so why does it feel like that?”

In his artistic practice, Taşdelen has elements that anchor each project.

“There’s really no way to generalize where these people are coming from – they’re all around us, they’re everywhere. Sometimes I hear something and it really sticks with me, and I keep wondering why it still sticks with me and how does that shed any light on my current conditions and life,” he says.

Taşdelen adds that the pandemic has changed his artistic practice in some ways, although he calls his approach introspective.

“In the sense that things are slowing down and deadlines are being pushed back, really the slowness has made me realize that maybe it’s good to take your time with things (and) good things can come out of it too,” he said.

While this exhibition was postponed twice before it finally opened, Taşdelen calls the first postponement a blessing in disguise that gave him more time to work out the details. He is grateful that most of his projects are supported by grants that allow him flexibility to take the time needed.

The exhibition is accompanied by an essay written by Suzy Halajian as part of the brochure given to viewers. The texts, including this essay, are an important part of the exhibition.

A Minaret for the General’s Wife is commissioned and organized by Mercer Union and the South Asian Visual Arts Center (SAVAC) in Toronto and made possible with the support of RBC Insurance and the SAHA Association of Istanbul. The exhibition is at the Richmond Art Gallery from April 22 to July 31.

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