Erdem Taşdelen, A Vagrant Kind of Life, slide projection with 70 slides, 2016.
We spoke with our current resident artist, Erdem Taşdelen, on the themes of his past work and his plans for future pieces.
Alexandra Best: Erdem, currently you live and work in Vancouver, and teach at Emily Carr University?
Erdem Taşdelen: Yes, I’ve been living in Vancouver since 2008, and teaching at Emily Carr sessionally since 2010. However I’m not teaching right now, as I’m actually moving to Toronto in three months.
AB: What’s coming up for you in Toronto?
ET: It remains to be seen. I just need a change of scenery, as I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived in Vancouver at this point. I expect that there will be more opportunities in Toronto, and it will help to be located more centrally. I’d like to feel less isolated. It’s so hard to travel places from here.
AB: How did you become an artist?
ET: I never really planned to, it just happened. I studied graphic design for my undergraduate degree in Istanbul. I worked as a graphic designer for a year in a design agency and really hated it. What I had initially liked about graphic design as a student was being free to make my own creative decisions without expectations from a client, but I realized that was not the reality of the profession. I had taken a few art history and contemporary art classes in my undergrad, so that’s how I was first exposed to contemporary art. I had never even seen any contemporary art before then.
AB: So the creative aspect of graphic design was what made you select it as your major?
ET: Essentially, yes. But if you ask me, I would say that graphic design departments shouldn’t even be part of art schools, they should be associated with business and advertising degrees. That’s actually what design is, but it’s veiled as this artful endeavor, as the creative face of capitalism. In a sense I chose to study graphic design because it had never even occurred to me that I could be an artist; that was just so completely exterior to my world. But as I learned more about contemporary art, I decided to do a Masters in visual arts.
AB: Which you did at Emily Carr, correct? Having lived in so many places around the world, from Switzerland to Germany to Turkey, what was it about Vancouver that made you want to study here?
ET: It wasn’t Vancouver specifically that I chose, but Canada, because I wanted to immigrate. I applied to a few schools and it seemed like Emily Carr was the best choice, so it was really the school rather than the city. I really didn’t know anything about Vancouver, I didn’t know anyone who lived here. I just packed up and left.
AB: It must have been hard to move here completely on your own. Tell us more about that.
ET: I didn’t think so at the time because I just really wanted to get away from Istanbul. I think it’s also easier to make such big decisions when you’re younger, because you don’t have as much to lose. It didn’t really feel hard at the time because I felt I had no other choice but to leave Turkey, but now that I look back on it, there were some pretty difficult moments.
AB: You work a lot with words and text, questioning the meaning of words, taking words out of context. What is it about language that inspires you?
ET: I read a lot. I always say that if I didn’t make art, I would be a writer (not that I don’t already write within my visual art practice). I think it’s because I’m not a terribly visually creative person, I have more of a literary intelligence. It just comes naturally to me to work with language. It’s how I understand the world; it’s what occurs to me by default in trying to make sense of the world.
AB: In regards to one of your text-based pieces, The Drag Series, you speak about how it “borrows from the visual languages of signage, fashion, and advertising.” Do you think that your background in advertising has an influence on your use of text in your artwork?
ET: With that specific series, I wasn’t really intending for it to be a commentary on the language of advertising as I was making it, but afterwards when I showed it I realized that that was what the work was doing, especially when shown in the context of 221A. Of course I do use strategies of graphic design in my work, and I really enjoy playing with text visually, but my use of text is probably a result of my upbringing. English is my second language, so maybe learning to speak another language has something to do with it as well. If you’re trying to speak another language really well, you’re really cognizant of how you use words. In addition to that my parents read a lot, so books were always around.
AB: Some of your past work (such as Enchantments and Worrier) centers around themes of anxiety and uncertainty about your career as an artist. Do you think that this vulnerability is important to being an artist?
ET: I think it’s always important to question yourself and what you’re doing. If you’re really sure of yourself, then you’re probably not pushing yourself as hard as you could or taking risks. I think that self-doubt can be used as motivational tool, and those themes might still be present in my work, but the vulnerability and self-reflexivity in those projects don’t necessarily have to be about being an artist. Those works were the result of a specific period in my life and practice around 3-4 years ago, when my work was beginning to get shown more, and I received my first commission for a project. I had been making art since 2008, but I hadn’t really been showing it much. So I don’t think I’m as preoccupied with examining the figure of the artist now, but those ideas are still there in the background.
AB: Do you think that those feelings of self-doubt have been resolved for you, or is it something that can ever be resolved?
ET: It really has not at all. I don’t think it ever will be, or should be. I should add, however, that my practice has been undergoing a shift in the past year or two, where even though I’m making work that is inspired by my own experiences, it doesn’t directly put me in center stage as my previous projects have.
AB: In writing about several of your past works, you mention your personal history in relation to the work. For example, your series A Petition of the Left Hand speaks to your relationship with your father who was left handed. You also speak about living in multiple locations around the world. Do you find that your personal history influences your work often, and in what way?
ET: I’ve lived in multiple locations geographically, but also under the influence of contrasting worldviews. Turkey is a country that has multiple cultures clashing. It’s such a cliché to say this but it really is true, it’s a country that’s partly European and partly Middle Eastern in its culture, with lots of tensions and frictions. So I definitely feel that in who I am. Having lived in different places has allowed me to see things from different perspectives, I think; it has enriched my worldview. I can only make sense of the world through my experiences and I try to embrace that and use it as much as I can in my work. I think all artists do that, but maybe some of us emphasize it a little bit more.
AB: Can you tell us your thoughts surrounding the process of conducting your artistic practice within a residency as opposed to a private studio practice?
ET: I don’t actually normally have a studio. A lot of the work I create doesn’t require a hands-on making space, and as we all know, space is very expensive in Vancouver. I work out of my studio apartment. I had always thought that the idea of waking up in the morning and going somewhere to make work didn’t really appeal to me, but now that I’m doing it, it feels really nice to be outside of my home, to come back and leave my work-related thoughts back in the studio.
It’s also fantastic that the studio here is quite large. Few artists would be able to afford to rent something like that in this city.
AB: Can you tell us a bit more about what you’re working on in this residency?
ET: I am working on a project that is related to a work titled Wild Child that I recently completed in collaboration with CAG and Cineworks, which will be shown in 2017. The same things that inspired Wild Child inspire my project at the BAF residency, but it’s a separate work. I’ve composed a poem that’s 70 lines long by lifting certain phrases of text from a book about a feral child, published in 1802 in France. I’m laying those out with moveable toy letters called Montessori letters, the alphabet that people use to teach their kids how to read and write. I’m then taking photographs of them, which I will turn into projection slides. The poem that I have composed, while taken from a very specific case, does not read that way. It sounds almost like a fairytale or a myth. The language of the 1800s gives each line that poetic, fairytale-like quality.
AB: What was it about the slide projector as an old fashioned technology that you wanted to work with?
ET: It’s not necessarily the technology itself that I wanted to work with, but rather the sense of rhythm that comes with it. When I composed the poem, I realized that I wanted it to be read one line at a time, which corresponds to the rhythm that the slide projector provides. The viewer will not be able to see the whole text at once. There is no current technology that is quite like the slide projector in the way that it operates. So my use of the slide projector is not nostalgic fetishism but has a specific purpose.
AB: Why did you choose the title A Vagrant Kind of Life for your poem?
ET: It’s a line from the poem, a line that sounded ambiguous enough to me that it could be about anyone’s life.
It was wonderful to sit down with this genuine and creative individual. We will keep you updated on Erdem’s exhibition dates in Spring 2016.