Ali Mahmut Demirel (1972) who studied nuclear engineering and architecture, lives and works in Berlin. His practice includes music videos, stage design, live visual performances, and experimental videos. He employs minimal imagery in his experimental video practice, which he started in 1993, to create structural compositions that deal with concepts mostly derived from science and architecture. "Isle", Demirel's first solo exhibition in Istanbul, brings together one of his early experimental video works "The Hose" with the "Post-Apocalyptic Utopias" video series he has been working on since 2015. The three works "The Pier", "The Pit" and "The Plant" from this series are presented together for the first time in the exhibition at Arter. In its literal meaning, the notion of "isle" suggests an isolated piece of land surrounded by water, it also alludes to several historical and contemporary narratives around the concept of "utopia". This title serves as a key concept that is vague and obscure, bearing the potential to immerse the viewer in the feelings evoked by both the works and the exhibition space.
As a binding element and a metaphor of timelessness, Demirel incorporates different forms of water in all four works. The water constantly spurts this way and that like a huge metronome in "The Hose". "The Pier" begins in the middle of the sea, seen enveloped in mist, and ends with the waves crashing on the shore at sunset. The water in "The Pit" ebbs and rises, while its colour changes through the seasons. In "The Plant", light, intermittent rain falls on the puddles which appear repeatedly throughout the video. As a recurring element in all four videos, water reminds of the deluge myth mentioned in several myths and holy
In the "Post-Apocalyptic Utopias" series, Demirel observes abandoned architectural structures in different locations around the world to fantasise about a post-apocalyptic future with no human survivors and poses the question, "How do structures live without the humans they were designed for?" "The Pier" (2015) was shot at Scheveningen Pier in the Netherlands that operated as a leisure and recreational facility after 1959; "The Pit" (2017) at a cistern on the outskirts of Turgutreis in Bodrum, probably from the early 1900s; and "The Plant" (2018) at the Packard Automotive Plant which operated from 1903 until the early 2000s in Detroit, USA. Demirel calls these spaces "architectural utopias", even though they could easily be identified as dystopian, since they are no longer being used by people. In "Post-Apocalyptic Utopias", a cistern with a collapsed dome, a factory abandoned since it is no longer economically sustainable, and a pier occupied by pige ons, its columns rusted, evoke a dystopic character. Yet these abandoned sites whose functions have become obsolete Demirel finds utopic, as they have assumed a rather peaceful and balanced existence, in and of themselves. With regard to the structures featured in this video series, according to Demirel, once the originally intended function has been rendered obsolete, the functional hierarchy is replaced by a spatial heterarchy. These very much defined forms begin to interact with the living organisms present in that space, and transform into potential entities that may assume new, yet to be defined meanings.
In the venues he shoots his videos, the artist describes experiencing a state which positive psychology refers to as "being in the flow", and he ultimately aims at passing on this particular feeling to the viewer. The state of "being in the flow" is actually a concept that initially appeared in Eastern religions with different names and definitions, and became prevalent in the West after it was coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975. In "the state of flow", the person is completely absorbed in what he or she is doing, and experiences a certain loss of one's sense of self, body, time, and space. Taking his starting point as the idea that to break free from the body and the self, one should first feel both intensely, Demirel invites the viewer to experience this state of "being in the flow" by organising the exhibition space as a shrinking and expanding area which at times is claustrophobic and distressing, and at times spacious and ample.
Arter and the Istanbul Film Festival have collaborated on a programme centred on Ali Mahmut Demirel's practice. Three movies – The Last of England (Derek Jarman), Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky) and The Well (Metin Erksan) – which inspired Demirel's "Post-Apocalyptic Utopias" series will be screened at the 37th Istanbul Film Festival (6–17 April) within the "Architectural Utopias – Cinematic Dystopias" section of the programme.