Mehmet Dogu and Julia Kjelgaard Evoke Shared Memories at {Poem 88}

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Mehmet Dogu, Untitled (brown+pink), 2012, 2x4 and plywood construction with aluminum, acrylic, acrylic tint, and fixative with fluorescent light fixtures, fabric, and hardware, 42 (h) x 72 (w) x 7 3/4 (d) inches. Image courtesy {Poem 88}.

Living Color, featuring works by Julia Kjelgaard and Mehmet Dogu at {Poem 88}, displays various contexts through which to discuss human connection and shared memory. Kjelgaard interprets these themes through her own explorations into disparate cultures, accented by historical events, while Dogu is sparse in his explanations, hoping to share a common bond with the viewer, even if neither is sure what, exactly, they’re sharing.

Kirsten Stolle's Only You Can Prevent A Forest on view at Halsey Institute through Dec 10, 2022

Untitled (violet) is a low, humble podium that presents the warm glow of a television screen in the form of industrial fluorescent-tube lighting covered by purple silk. The fabric stretches across a hollow wooden box that holds only a collection of luminescent pipes. The extension of material accentuates the silk’s minor stretch marks as if this luxurious textile were on par with a lanky adolescent. Geometrical themes define Dogu’s works in this exhibition; Untitled (violet), for example, reflects his mathematical interest with its rectangular purple set atop the bilious green of a larger rectangle made of painted plywood. Beneath these shapes, two simple wooden cubes hold the weight of a group of platforms above them, the shrug of which gives the work a demure sensibility; a child showing off a newly learned task presents the same air of willful but unsure determination. Dogu wants us to know his experience, but not through oblique statements—it’s more the flush of color a face shows after exercise; something colored by the human condition but specific to the face that carries it.

Mehmet Dogu, Portfolio, 2012, 81 unique pieces mounted on 9 panels, overall installation is 120 3/4 x 165 3/4 inches. Image courtesy {Poem 88}.

He deals in memory, emotion, and time: universals in art. He presents these themes, however, in a mathematical, almost cold sense of division, which is redeemed, nonetheless, by colored lights that throw romantic shadows against the wall. In witnessing the industrial antifreeze-tinged ripples of acrylic-covered wood grain, the viewer can easily identify a memory, even if of the mundane variety. I thought of my many trips through parking lots where puddles of gasoline become grotesquely rainbowed by the sunlight, and of algae skimming the surface of a lake. Most prevalent was the feeling that Dogu is aspiring to share a memory; it is not the act of remembering that is difficult, but rather remembering in a way that will translate from one’s visual experiences to another’s.

Julia Kjelgaard, Between the Known and the Unknown—Le Voyage, 2012, archival digital print on canvas, acrylic, 39 1/2 x 32 1/2 inches. Image courtesy {Poem 88}.

While Dogu’s solution is to make emotion malleable in its simplicity, Julia Kjelgaard’s method is to make the personal moments—birthdays, travel, religious rites—connect to something (seemingly) unrelated. For Kjelgaard, even the blankest spaces in one’s conscience are buzzing with static. Heavy swirls efface the carefully scrapbooked mosaic of her prints. The several related works she displays at {Poem 88} feature vintagey black and white photographs topped by sprinkles of perfect circles: some are modern travel snapshots or historical renderings, while others present colorful hollows waiting to be filled. These spheres seem to float around the landscape of the underlying image, and often escape across the border between picture and matting, begging the viewer to see the transference that often occurs between the categories of cultural and personal memory. Le Voyage scrambles images from various countries, contrasting a grim photo of public rail transportation against an aerial view of foreign wanderers in a barren field. Neither group is identified in any significant way. The rail-riders could be in New York or San Francisco as far as the shot informs us, and the wanderers only differentiate themselves by their brightly colored shirts and sun-conscious hats. Kjelgaard is ambitiously spreading a message about human relationships, espousing in her artist’s statement, “My fundamental interest for many years has been in interconnectedness… exploring how we as human beings negotiate the spaces we perceive between things. These spaces of difference, culture , history, location, and relationship all circle around the fundamental knowledge that, in fact, what we see as separate is actually interconnected.”

Julia Kjelgaard, Between the Known and the Unknown—Les Sauvages 13.14, 2012, archival digital print on canvas, acrylic, 39 1/2 x 32 1/2 inches. Image courtesy {Poem 88}.

A flattening of time and place allows these temporal relations to extend a sense of emotional significance, despite the intermingling that Kjelgaard provides amongst them. Her works at {Poem 88} snap the timeline of history before you in the whiplash manner of a metal tape measure that suddenly slurps its tongue back in before you’ve marked your spot. In L’Hindoustan, the base photograph maps out a simple row of windows, perhaps a childhood home, accented with a bubble of birthday balloons and a painting of some sort of settlers. Capitalism or Materialism, or the intertwining of the two, was my first thought when I looked at the work. But Kjelgaard is not propagandizing. Like Dogu, her work seems to earnestly point to an underlying similarity amongst people. The universal we knows of colonialism, of celebration, and of cities, all of which appear in Kjelgaard’s prints, and on a base level they shape a shared worldview; at least, in Kjelgaard’s world they do. The contrariness of the images is neither a trite hullabaloo about diversity nor an angst-filled juxtaposition between developed and developing nations; rather, it defers the context to the viewer. In Le Sauvages 13.14, a billboard promoting a presumably alcoholic drink, with its blithe snapshot of a group of friends in seemingly-rehearsed laughter, overlaps the depiction of a lone woman—face swathed in a red bandanna—pointing at some off-screen offense.

Julia Kjelgaard, Between the Known and the Unknown—L'Hindoustan, 2012, archival print on canvas, acrylic, 39 1/2 x 32 1/2 inches. Image courtesy {Poem 88}.

Dogu most explicitly relates his themes in Portfolio, which is most aesthetically similar to Kjelgaard’s works. Again, geometrical nests subdivide color and image: nine clear panels each encompass nine blocks of color, which themselves each hold a picture or two that Dogu took on one of his various trips. The grid design and poppy colors initially read as a slideshow presentation that some enthusiastic traveler might have put together. Dogu prevents this sentimental blandness, however, by focusing heavily on detail in his snapshots, by zooming in to the point where the objects are sometimes indistinguishable, and by placing two images that only appear related side by side. One block shows two nearly identical photographs—one of an empty bridge and another of a bridge with a passing train—mirroring each other upside-down. Time and place are funny that way. In movies a fast-moving vehicle often cuts across the screen, either foreshadowing a future danger or providing the danger itself, but its symbolism is clear: nothing is the same after that moment. The unfolding of time is most easily translated by punctuations in daily routine: the main character is usually walking to work, or has just squabbled with her friend, when the near-miss takes place.

Mehmet Dogu, 3, 2012, iridescent and acrylic paint, ink on plaster on plywood, burnt, 24 x 24 inches. Image courtesy {Poem 88}.

Though Dogu effectively communicates his themes through these photographs, his more abstract works offer a series of natural expressions. Placed in succession, 3, 9, 1, and 81 are each titled according to the number of divisions, torched and filled in with opalescent neon colors, found in each painted wood panel. Like Untitled (violet), the texture and spatial dimensionality in these works engage a mood more than a specific message. 3 is tinted the same color as my Grandma’s ancient wallpaper, 9’s burnt orange background and sickly yellow intersections provoke nervousness in the viewer, while 81’s compulsive flaming pink scorched the black background in an imitation of a bad dream.

Julia Kjelgaard, Between the Known and the Unknown—Les Sauvages 6.7, 2012, archival digital print on canvas, acrylic, 37 x 45 inches. Image courtesy {Poem 88}.

Neither artist gives a reason to be interested in other people; they’re not explaining something as abstract as human relationships. It’s more like a show-and-tell of how they perceive their own experiences. Dogu breaks down barriers by devising designs based in impossibly broad categories—colors and facile shapes symbolize anything the viewer wishes to impose upon them. Kjelgaard’s images build layers of images into a collage that wishes it could explain each of its details to us; and because it can’t, it fills in the spaces with desperate squiggles that most connect the artist to the audience by acknowledging the basic human inability to make the entire landscape of our personal experience known.

Living Color, featuring works by artists Mehmet Dogu and Julia Kjelgaard, will remain up at {Poem 88} through Saturday, April 14. The gallery is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from Noon to 6PM.

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