Peeling walls, half-deflated pneumatic objects, suspended fluids, and images that leak out of the frames and into the room... The newly inaugurated space at Sapar Contemporary in Tribeca is home to Mehmet Ali Uysal’s first solo exhibition in New York (ending 19 June). Here, the Turkish artist incorporates a series of optical and tactual illusions.

Known for his interventions into spatial elements, Mehmet Ali Uysal is fascinated with the idea of space at many different scales, be it the planet earth itself or the mother’s protective womb. He started his journey into sculpture by squeezing, peeling, reproducing, and materialising and dematerialising objects and surfaces of various sizes.

After studying urbanism at one of the leading universities in Turkey, Uysal switched to the plastic arts and went to France. Although he achieved recognition in the art scene in Turkey around 2005 when he won the Jury Special Award at the 24th Contemporary Artists Exhibition, he made his large-scale public installations in 2008 in France, and in 2010 in Belgium. In the meantime, the artist has participated in numerous group exhibitions and has shown in Turkey (2005-2013), Weimar (2008), Beirut (2011), Dubai (2011), and London (2015).

Skin, his first outdoor installation – a giant clothes peg pinching a mound of grass – has been duplicated many times internationally after its debut in 2008 in Meuse, France; interestingly not with the aim of intervening in the surrounding public space, but of affecting the world at different points, in recognition of the enormous scale of the planet that is, after all, our home. Yet the reflection of the artist’s deep relationship with the context becomes stronger as the proportions decrease, when it is easier for a single observer to comprehend and experience the work. This is why, for example, he has repeated the gesture with the clothes pegs on the gallery wall, the result of which was to evoke a slight feeling of discomfort followed by amusement, similar to a lot of his works. On the other hand, Uysal shows a series of neon lights that criticise the positions of the artist, gallerist, and collector in his own humorous way; and also installations combining two-dimensional drawings or videos with objects. During his conversation with DAMN°, he reveals that it's not his priority to think about what he’s doing in the sense of artistic work; he wants to bring the personal issues gathered through his daily life into his studio and work with them at an intrinsic level. “My work is not independent of theory, but I shouldn't be the one who conceptualises it." As a person who never forgets to take a humorous perspective on annoying situations, confrontations, and life in general, what he exhibits puts a crooked smile on the visitors' faces.

Coming from Mersin, a small Mediterranean town in Turkey, his journey to Ankara to study urbanism and again later for his graduate degree in sculpture, Uysal has always been in-between places and disciplines, east and west, past and future, his inner search and his struggle within the art world. According to the artist, not having grown up in a more nourishing environment was an important drive for him throughout the early years of his career, when he constantly had the feeling of being criticised, of running late, of the need to catch up. Only in his early 30s did he realise that it wasn’t necessary to catch up, as he had already arrived on his path, which he hopes will continue upwards and downwards, back and forth, full of learning and experimenting. "Sometimes I feel really lonely and tired", Uysal admits. "I’m almost never able to hang a finished work on a gallery wall. There’s always the likelihood of something going wrong because I have to work with local materials and local people in order to build the installations.” The site-specificity of his works most certainly induces surprise. "Sometimes I come across a material provided especially for the exhibition which is absolutely not suitable for the work, or we cannot agree on the timetable with the different construction teams that are supposed to work simultaneously. (...) They question my instructions at the beginning, but I like the fact that they also have fun by the end." At the same time, Uysal is infatuated with construction itself and with things under construction. When during the last few days he needed to install his work in parallel with the workers making renovations and preparing the gallery space for his double opening in New York, he found it stressful at first, but then it dawned on him that he doesn't like to work in a perfectly finished gallery, as with that spotless perfection it is impossible to feel the essence of the space. And this is one of his primary intentions, to deal with or expose that essence.

When it comes to inspiration, the artist mentions the works of Gordon Matta-Clark and the building customs in his hometown (an informal and evolutionary type of architectural practice by the inhabitants, common throughout Turkey). These two sources of inspiration, although from very different geographies with totally different motives, explain the artist's standpoint accurately: Professionals might have all sorts of ideas about right and wrong, but in reality the need of making space and the access to knowledge and material are generating the built environment. And this is one of the reasons that he wants to develop his skills in using materials and experimenting with different objects, so that he can increase his vocabulary in his field.

In the end, the artist is concerned about how to connect an environment to the limited exhibition space, and how to enlarge that space. He is now preparing a new installation in Vancouver, where he will peel-off the façade of a building. He’s also working on modelling methods that incorporate new technologies, to achieve the precision he is aiming for. Uysal has recently been experimenting with digitally controlled machining techniques that enable him to transfer the 1:1 details of objects to larger scales. Soon his work will be shown in France, Korea, and Mexico, not to mention at Pi Artworks, his gallery in Istanbul.



MEHMET ALI UYSAL’s exhibition Hi! is at Sapar Contemporary in New York until 19 June.