Curated by Silvia Eiblmayr, organized by Lentos Kunstmuseum, Linz. June 2018.
At the S.o Paulo Biennale, Güreş was inspired by the architectural structure of Oscar Niemeyer’s elegant pavilion to make a brilliant intervention in the exhibition space. She literally put one of the round freestanding pillars of the open hall construction in drag, briefly lending these purist icons of postwar modernism female connotations. She slipped a total of seven brightly coloured skirts over the five metre tall pillar, from the ceiling to the floor, creating the impression of four women supporting the hall, one covered by the skirt above and standing on the shoulders of the other. Although the one at the top has clearly already broken through the (concrete) ceiling. For the prominent pavilion, Güreş contrived a very ‘unclassical’ but symbolically apposite form of the caryatid, a sculpture of a female figure used as a support in architecture. An alternative word for a caryatid is more apt here, namely a canephore, which means ‘basket bearer’ in Greek, which says something both metaphorically and literally about contemporary living conditions for women. Güreş also emphasises the contrast between public space and her skirt wearers with very feminine, intimate and personal references in the title of the work: Pink & Fur, Pattern & Carpet, Pattern & Necklace, Orange & Earrings, Navy Blue & Messy Hair, Green & Tears, Dark Purple & Pearls. The title of this retrospective is taken from Güreş’ piece Overhead (2010) whose dialectic counterpart is a work also relating to the head: Headstanding Totem (2014). In Overhead, from the TrabZONE series, the location is a bedroom in a conservative rural context: An older barefooted woman apparently effortlessly supports a gigantic pile of bedclothes, blankets and pillows on her hands that almost reaches the ceiling, also covering her face — a metaphor for the balancing act between happiness in the home and the burden of obligations. It is an idyll whose inconsistency Güreş accentuates through her humorous and affectionate orchestration, behind which the woman quasi-disappears. In Headstanding Totem, produced in Sao Paulo in 2014, a female figure stands on her head or, more accurately, the artist asked the model to demonstrate a yoga exercise. As always in Güreş’ work, the figure is ambiguously coded: the headstand becomes an act of protest, which is symbolised by a Sita, the Brazilian word for the colourful bandana around her thigh worn at local demonstrations. The three skirts and the belt are traditional objects from four indigenous ethnic groups, for whom they have a ritual character. The socks come from Kurdistan, the fabrics from Istanbul and Sao Paulo.
Headstanding Totem (2014)
On her feet, here inverted as a head, the woman balances an indigenous object held in place by Turkish headscarves. For Güreş, the figure in Headstanding Totem is symptomatic of people’s superficiality. Promoted by the equalising effect of the media, they suppress worldwide violence and war and take refuge in yoga exercises to avoid their ‘phantom pain’. The artist comes to the conclusion that: “Man is a totem figure: his body is the tree.”4 The woman Güreş has turned on her head is a totem pole, which unlike a totem does not have a religious function, it represents the social status of a tribe.5 Güreş addresses today’s all-important ‘investment’ in the body, too, however Headstanding Totem is also a fascinating and enigmatic magical being — perhaps she is an embodiment of Nilbar Güreş’ art itself, keeping “drag and disguises hidden.”
- Silvia Eiblmayr