Ardan Özmenoğlu is an artist who uses such tools as neon post-its to create stunning works that have won her local and international fame in recent years. She spends most of her year in different countries and cities. However, her connection to Istanbul is also quite personal, having turned her grandmother’s home in Yeniköy into an atelier. Özmenoğlu talked about the many layers of her art and the many cities of her life.
How would you describe your feelings after walking into a neon atelier?
I get excited when I walk into any atelier, not just a neon one. An atelier is a place where creativity gains a physical form. It is there that my mind and hands work simultaneously. Special moments unfold as I am able to fulfill my creativity. It’s a space in time where limits are annulled… An atelier is like a temple for me… When you’re alone with your strongest conviction it’s a special moment most similar to religious devotion or prayer; something that only you know.
What do the handicraftsmen, who you work with say when you ask them to write such things as ‘Kaldıramazsan Kaldırırlar’ (If You Can’t Pick It Up They Will) or ‘Abilerim Ablalarım’ (My Brother and My Sisters)?
I’ll recount their words exactly: “Ms. Özmenoğlu everyone writes in neon but you create something very unique.” Hearing this is, of course, very lovely.
What about the post-its? When and how did you decide to turn this every day object into an artistic tool?
I began using post-its while studying Fine Arts. I was investigating new materials under the theme ‘how can I turn 2-D compositions into 3-D,’ and found the post-it note on my desk. I combined an every day object that belongs to the present with traditional silk print technique, which I’ve been developing for years. The paintings I created with the post-it notes seemed quite ordinary on the first day, however, on the second day when I arrived in my studio, the confluence of paper and paint over time, the dimension, the meaning, the depth, and the fragmentation convinced me to continue on this path.
You’re an artist whose work receives a lot of attention abroad. How does the Turkish art scene appear from an international perspective?
Turkey is sadly known for its politics in the international media rather than its art scene and artists. There’s hardly any space for the art scene because of all the other topics that are in discussion… When I’m abroad I’m asked more questions about the state of my country than my work as an artist. I’m trying to change this.
I have amazing concentration when I work. Once I’m focused, there’s nothing that can distract me. It’s a kind of meditative state… I sometimes feel that I’m saving the world.
How did you decide to seek an education in art? How do you feel about your progression from then until now?
My art teacher in primary school was painter Rasim Çubukçu. I can say that he was the first one to recognize my talent. He understood that the weekly two-hour class was not enough for me, and helped me to continue painting in my free time and even in the place of other classes. He was the first to teach me what pattern, color, and composition really meant. He taught me to mix colors when I realized I didn’t have various hues of green in my crayon set! It’s difficult to explain how excited I was. I still get excited when I see today’s crayon sets with their wide color spectrum.
When I was studying art at Bilkent I met Professor Alexander Djika who holds a special place in my life. He told me that I was very talented and that I should never give up on art.
In one of your interviews you said that you travel frequently. Where do you go and in which cities do you feel most at home?
I’ve been to more cities than I can recount. New York, Berlin and Vienna are my most frequent stops. I always miss Berlin, and I feel at home when I’m in New York. However, I also remember the words of a wise artist who said: “You’re home is your heart.” That’s why I’m at home wherever I go.
What do you do when you’re in Istanbul? How does this city affect your spirit?
Istanbul’s chaotic routine is a source of nourishment for me and I think there are many different cities and lives within the city. Most importantly there’s history. It’s a city that constantly inspires you and feeds your creativity as an artist.
You converted your family home in Yeniköy into an atelier. Can you talk a little bit about this space?
My grandmother was born in this home in Yeniköy, it’s a family heirloom wooden house which is now my home and atelier. The house remained unoccupied for many years and was in such a dilapidated state that you were afraid to step inside. I did walk inside with the conviction that ‘an artist creates, no matter the circumstances.’ I spent years bringing the house to its current condition. My atelier is very important for me, it’s a place where my heart reigns freely.
What kind of mood are you in when you work? Do a lot of people visit your atelier? Do you listen to music while you work? What do you do when you take a break?
I have amazing concentration when I work. Once I’m focused, there’s nothing that can distract me. It’s a kind of meditative state… I sometimes feel that I’m saving the world. There’s only me and the work that I’m creating. Dan Graham has a saying: “In order to truly understand an artist, you must know what type of music they prefer.” I listen to TRT3 day and night in my atelier.
Turkey is currently facing major hardships. How do these times affect art? How is your own art affected by these situations?
We’re facing a new occurrence on a daily basis here in Turkey. I think we’re going through a time where there is no personal safety and freedom of thought is limited. This situation is similar to imprisoning an artist. But you can’t thwart a creator. They can fight with even a very small spark in the darkness. Every work of art created during this time is intended to bring hope, as well as to remind and achieve awareness…
What’s coming up? A new project or exhibition?
I have my first solo exhibition in Germany’s Osthaus Museum Hagen on April 14. I’m very excited about it.
How are you? It’s such a trite question that’s usually answered so haphazardly. That’s why as my last question I want to ask you this genuinely: how are you today?
I have butterflies in my stomach.
Photography: Hikmet Güler