The Third Dimension Of Paper: Sculpture
Interview: Melike Bayık
Photographs: Şener Yılmaz Aslan
Please tell us a little bit about yourself as a young artist. Who is Yağmur Çalış?
I was born in 1990 in Bursa. I started studying art in the Istanbul Avni Akyol Anatolian Fine Arts High School in 2005, and four years later I was accepted into the Sculpture department at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in 2009 at the top of my class. My discipline was originally wood but the school’s classic approach to sculpting did not fit me. So rather than sculpting wood, I used the weaving technique. My grandfather was a basket maker so I was influenced.
How do you determine the conceptual framework and form structure for your works? Where do these ideas come from and how are they shaped?
Most of the time, the events I experience, and my thoughts and feelings about them determine the conceptual framework of my works. Taking them as my departure point, I choose concepts.
I address these concepts by clashing them with their opposite concepts. For example, if I’m addressing the concept of beauty, I feed it with the notion of ugliness, and I actually do it instinctively. These are my own interpretation of myself and the works I produce.
You are an artist who mainly produces sculpture. Why sculpture? Are there any other disciplines you prefer in the production process, such as photography, video, illustration, etc.?
Yes, sculpture is always at the center of my work. I see and think about everything as a sculpture. This has become the way my brain works. Those who see my living space would know what I mean. I attended a Fine Arts High School where I studied art for four years and built a strong foundation. In high school, I was very aware that would not be enough for me and that it was only a step toward more. In my sophomore year in high school, our atelier instructors made a radical decision and added sculpture to the course curriculum. I think it was the best year of my high school life. I would spend the whole day in the sculpture studio. That’s why I became a boarding student in my sophomore year. I had already decided which university and which department I would attend. In 2009, I won the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Department of Sculpture at the top of my class. But things did not go as I hoped. My expectations from the school were so high that I was seriously displeased and disappointed. The difference between what I wanted and what I found distanced me to the school. And when I went to school, I would spend more time in the drawing and ceramics studios than my own department. I realized that I could not go on like this, I had to set up my own studio but of course it is not as easy as it sounds. I had no material resources to support me. So I started working in part-time jobs where I could make money. I spent a couple of years as a teaching assistant. I gave private lessons. I have always considered myself a very lucky person. At one point, things started looking up. I found a place in Kadıköy Yeldeğirmeni where I could create my own studio. I have been here for four years now. I live here with my sculptures. I also have artist friends and neighbors with whom I can exchange ideas. You do not feel alone here. As to your question ‘why sculpture’, trust me I ask myself the same a lot. Wasn’t there anything else to do? I think about it and nothing else I would rather do comes to my mind. It’s my way of existing. It’s not just because I love it or as a hobby. It’s not about “being an artist, which is prestigious”. I do not know how else I might exist. And besides, I believe that it chose me, not the other way around.
I can see that the materials you choose when making your sculptures are quite varying and experimental. How do you choose the materials? What kind of materials do you use?
You start sculpting with the basic material clay, or mud. It is a cheap material, easy to find and fast to work with. You need to work with the mud, mold it to solidify the form, and then make it into a more permanent material. This can be problematic at the basic level, at least for me. I believe the effect that clay creates can be somewhat lost when transferred to another material. This led me to searching for different materials. A malleable material, soft like mud but one that does not require any further action after it dries. The closest material I could find to mud was paper pulp. Working with this material was very enjoyable at first. But it took significant amount of time to prepare the material. Also, considering the dimensions I want to work with, preparing the material loomed large. So rather than making the paper into pulp, I started to work directly with paper. Initially, I had difficulty manipulating the material. But as I tried, paper became my mud. So paper is my basic material, but when I sculpt, the concept of the sculpture determines what materials I will use to make it. I work with several materials. Everything you can think of is sculpted with material. What matters is choosing the material that will best express your work.
Paper is the main material in your sculptures. What kind of things do you encounter in the production process of sculpting with paper? What are the stages you go through on the way to the finished sculpture? Do you sketch, use 3D modeling, or other techniques during production?
Sculpting consists of several stages and processes. First of all, I need to be influenced by something. I should have an issue with it and a claim. Once these are available, the rest is easy. First you build a construction, and you stock up the material you will use in the studio. And with a pot of tea brewing on the stove, the production process begins. Sculpture, pattern and model ... These three progress together during the completion process. When I’m stuck somewhere in the sculpture, I go back to the model and try to solve it there. The excitement of starting is very important. Instead of wasting that excitement on the model, I prefer to reflect it directly on to the work.
Just like your use of mostly organic materials, the results also seem organic. When you make a squid, a wolf or a cactus woman, how do you decide on the material? Do you use waste materials as well?
Yes, I usually use organic materials in my sculptures. I can even say that most is waste material, especially paper. My next-door neighbor is a wholesaler. I made a lot of sculptures from his waste cardboard boxes and cartons. Producing with brand new, never used materials versus waste materials can cause different emotions sometimes. Of course this is a very personal matter. Paper is paper, whether you purchase it or you find it in a garbage pile. You can ask whether there is any difference. I call this difference, experience. One is spanking new, untainted; you can almost not bear to spoil it. The other is a water bottle carton, damaged and soiled. It’s simply garbage. It is not quite possible for me to explain the pleasure of taking something about to go to garbage and transforming it into a work of art. The reason why the resulting work is organic is all about the way I approach to production. People are born, grow up and die. Most people have a desire to be permanent and immortal. That’s why people have children. Sculpture is another alternative to this. Look around you, you will see a huge big bronze statue, as if saying, “I am standing here, I will be in this world forever”. These are sculptures that challenge time with the desire to be in power, to be the one and only. I definitely do not find it odd. I don’t wish to be misunderstood. If that’s what you want, you can make it. But that’s not my deal. This is why my sculptures are organic. I love the feeling that the sculpture gives this sense of being alive and about to move soon. I like it when people come and touch them without damaging them, and treating the sculptures as if they were alive. Instead of challenging time, I would rather work with it. We are in a time of rapid change and development. It’s very easy to consume everything ... Forms and concepts change quickly and constantly. I exist in the context of culture and time in which I live, and I produce in this context as well. Whether it will still stand 200-300 years from now or not does not matter much to me.
Are there any artists you follow in your production practice? As a young artist do you take them as your guide?
There are of course artists I follow who influence me. But there isn’t a specific artist that I consider my guide.
Speaking of paper, are there any new projects or sculptures awaiting us?
There are indeed new projects. We have plans to open a solo exhibition in the Karşı Sanat Art Gallery in April 2018. Before that, I will exhibit at the TÜYAP Art Fair in November. Last year, a different space was created for public art at the TUYAP Art Fair. I’m talking about a cozy and sincere space with no fear and more freedom. We intend to do the same thing this year together with a team, which I am proud to be a part of. Being an artist in our country requires dedication and resilience. Obviously you must be loyal to yourself and the work you do. You will always see new projects by me as far as my passion for my work and faith takes me.
I look forward to seeing your new projects Yağmur, and thank you for the interview!