Nil Yalter, Hasköy, 2018, digital video, color, sound, 25 minutes.

Nil Yalter, Hasköy, 2018, digital video, color, sound, 25 minutes.

Nil Yalter


Nil Yalter, Hasköy, 2018, digital video, color, sound, 25 minutes.

Nil Yalter’s latest show, “Kara Kum” (Black Sand), dwelt on the idea of transformation. It started with a prologue. Visitors heard a recording, emanating from behind a curtain with a kaleidoscopic print of images, of Yalter’s voice uttering words in Turkish, English, and French that relate to themes such as time, space, darkness, and movement: “dark matter, atomic nucleus, volume, hidden.” This work, Untitled (all works 2018), is a distillation of a five-minute-long performance; some hourglasses the artist had used during that piece sat on a table in the middle of the room. The black sand, or kara kum, in the hourglasses was the core element of the whole show; following this initial encounter, in subsequent steps she used it to meditate on the passage of time and our efforts to make something different from what’s at hand—conjuring ideas about alchemy, science, industry, and outer space.

In the video installation Fire Wall, five circular images, “planets” of a sort, displayed on the pitch-black background of a single screen, showed kara kum being processed (sand being mixed with chemicals) in a foundry in Hasköy, a historically multicultural neighborhood in Istanbul. Its close-up and interwoven footage of flames and cauldrons, and its digitally produced images of spheres, particles, and the like, evoke the earth’s molten core and suggest an incessant transformation of energy that does not disappear but only changes form. Dynamic Masses was a set of five black-and-white photographs of the same detail of a cast of a gear from the foundry, with two yellow-and-red patches Photoshopped onto the images and Piet Mondrian’s phrase DYNAMIC EQUILIBRIUM spelled out in yellow neon, emphasizing the science inherent in nature. The installation Kara Kum featured a kind of pool filled with the black sand processed in the Hasköy foundry; above it was a neon sign bearing an equation that describes the sun’s transformation of carbon into energy. Around this work, which looked simultaneously shamanistic and scientific, stood Door to Hell, a partly burned wood-and-metal fragment of a door the artist found in Hasköy; nearby hung four acrylic canvas paintings bearing the words BLACK, HOLE, OF THE, and UNIVERSE—which together combine to form the work’s title. Finally, the twenty-five-minute, single-channel video Hasköy synthesized the imagery of the show as a whole. Yalter shot the footage in the foundry and the surrounding neighborhood, then in postproduction transformed each scene—from one showing the repetitious movements of a worker forming the black sand into specific shapes, such as gears used in machine parts, to the image of a veiled woman facing off with a square alien object that hangs mysteriously in space—with striking visual effects.

A traveler and a nomad, born in Cairo to Turkish parents and living in Paris since 1965, Yalter has kept her art socially and politically relevant through the decades by emphasizing labor. At the same time, she has always nourished her work with the cultural and political movements of the 1960s. In that era, people seemed to be in search of a spirituality that both valued and challenged scientific knowledge. (See, for example, the relationship between the mystical and the rational in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968], with which Yalter’s work has an affinity.) In Turkey as elsewhere, the period was one in which leftist movements were on the rise; shamanistic and existentialist perspectives thrived in Istanbul’s cultural milieu. Today, Yalter’s work still embodies such attitudes.

Mine Haydaroglu