First featured in Uncle Spikes Adventures as a Guest post.
This version includes video (at end)
The day was meant to be a wholly light and frothy treat for me after all the fuss of Christmas done and dusted. Even the dustbins were back to normal so a trip into the Capital was in order to catch up on one particular art show, about to close in just a few days. A delightful prospect! Unable to get there earlier; I had been asked to ‘do’ the exhibition before Christmas and I still hadn’t read up on it. All I knew of the artist was that he was a London based Turkish-Cypriot Mustafa Hulusi born 1971, and that he was a flower painter. Looking at flowers, would be a breath of spring on a cold winter’s day. Today I could take in the shops and buy a pair of shoes on the way back. Wow! With all the fuss of Christmas over, it would be delightful to sit on a bus, do the exhibition, and get ‘the shoes’ from good old Selfridges, before taking the bus home. First I had to find the gallery…..
If you take a walk in London through busy New Bond Street, choc a block with taxis, vans, people and building works, you might just miss Max Wigram’s Gallery, unless you are looking out for it!
I found the door to number 106 sandwiched between two shops.
So I opened the door and went upstairs.
For me, it was late already when I found the door to the exhibition space on the first floor which opened it onto a huge, rather alarming black and white wall painting in front of me.
So big and so striking and so black and so white, the painting nearly knocked me over. There were no labels, no clues to say what it might represent, no mention of materials used or anything about the artist, and no flowers. There were no ‘Do Not Touch’ signs and no attendants; a pristine space indeed; I was on my own.
Not quite alone I suppose; a recorded voice was bidding me to take a look in the space behind the painting panels; a lilting Turkish voice, and so I found the film.
I couldn’t understand the rolling commentary of course. There were no seats, so I stood for a time in the darkened space and watched the beautiful ideal landscapes in front of me, void of people and full of sun. The stills would make a beautiful winterless calendar I thought, or even a good holiday brochure. Bees buzzed around paint stripped hives. Coastal beach scenes, the sea, rickety bleached buildings, an abundance of wild flowers bobbing in the fields……..yes, heaven.
Then I caught the subtitles:
‘…… this ten thousand year old island civilisation……… over a period of five years, already an economically struggling population……. was decimated…..’
So there are no people here. The island lays untouched. A picturesque boat by the broken pier has been abandoned, forgotten, and shows the serious scars of time, stripped of paint, fossilised. The picturesque bleached stone buildings, I now realise are abandoned. Those holiday cottages, still falling to pieces are disappearing with no time or energy even for graffiti.
‘Can you imagine a point out there into which we might disappear or be erased?’ asks the voice gently, now with a blank screen, only subtitles in focus.
The subtitles and voice rolled on. It seems that without warning, the population had become endangered and this idyllic island had been abandoned when a plane had crashed there with its poisonous load, more than forty years ago. The holiday makers and the local inhabitants found they had no other choice but to escape; to abandon everything. The island was quickly closed and quarantined, and silenced. It stood still and its ancient civilization disappeared. Empty now. It is a place, without humans.
So the black and white wall panel paintings which had hit me when I first came into the gallery had been a warning sign, about human vulnerability.
The pattern repeated on five narrow panels with a half panel at each end, could logically go on ad infinitum……just imagine a long mirror at each end facing each other, with panels reflected between…. there is no end to the warning message about our vulnerability. We could be all erased. Devastating acts do not need to be deliberate. We live on a knife edge. We have been warned. But here we see, almost fifty years on, that wild life and flowers clearly triumph on this island, without its humans.
Down the stairs and back on to the street outside number 106 and soon into busy Oxford Street in the failing heavy light of late afternoon, this had been no easy exhibition and the white Christmas lights on the trees outside Selfridges look tired,miserable and surprisingly toxic
Half way home I suddenly realised I had forgotten to buy shoes…..
Credits: The photos are those I took on the visit Jan 2012, and the words are my interpretation of the exhibition, and entirely my own. Gill McGrath 2014
Thank you to the artist Mustafa Hulusi who has inspired much of my own recent art work. And thank you to ‘Uncle Spike’ for giving me the space to write about it here on his website.
Three minute short film where Hulusi talks about the exhibition with some scenes from the film can be found on Vimeo :http://vimeo.com/mustafahulusi/emptyneareast
The Exhibition: Mustafa Hulusi. ’The EMPTY, Near East’ took place 7th December-14th January 2012. At Max Wigram Gallery. 106 New Bond Street , London. Website:
It was worth the walk!
PERFECT DAY press