Almost every child is familiar with the story of the boy who lost his shadow and had to chase after it until it was sewn back on. My visit to the recently-ended Nihal Alturk & Renee Rilexie exhibition at St Margaret’s House reminded me of this obscure tale, of the shadow that does not mirror its subject’s movements but instead possesses its own inner life.
At first, Nihad Alturk’s works seem to present uncompleted, imperfect figures. Hard edges, defined lines, and concrete objects are almost undetectable. However, if you take a step closer, you discover minimal strokes, spots, and varying shades which complement the drawing. The only clearly visible images are pistols, depicted on the three artworks which form the centre of the exhibition. These pistols are depicted pointed at human heads without context, leaving the questions of ownership, intention, and outcome unanswered. On the wall next to these works are pictures of anthropomorphic shades. Their mouths are open and their eyes, the focal point of identity and personality, are replaced by dark holes. Is this all a portrait of a developing society in crisis and alienated from its identity?
Alturk’s works are accompanied by a series of photographs taken by Renee Rilexie. Her photos show sculptures of human skulls, exploring the human in our digitalised world. The skulls, constructed of nails, sim cards, and gear wheels, are named 100% human, a striking presentation of the indeterminacy of the human and the digital. Even more important than this arresting title is the choice of the skull as the object of artificial modification; by modifying the skull the artist not only stresses the dualism between interior thoughts and external objects, but seems to merge the two phenomena into each other. The viewer is again left with questions, now of a broader scope: How is reality defined in our current world? Can we still tell the difference between what is natural and what is artificial? What is the relationship between freedom and cognition?
To me, the exhibition consisted of presentations of shadows: shadows of human thoughts, emotions, and actions. These shadows, which once formed a part of society, no longer move in step with their former owners. Like the shadow of the boy in the story, they have bifurcated over time and have now begun to follow their own paths as distinct autonomous forces, leaving us behind and in the dark.
Image: Linda Schlachter