From England with Love,
İsmail Saray

Salt Ulus

November 18, 2014 – January 17, 2015

İsmail Saray, Envoy, 1972 İsmail Saray, <i>Envoy</i> [Elçi], 1972
İsmail Saray, Envoy, 1972

SALT Ulus, Ankara

Artist İsmail Saray holds a canonical place for art and the cultural environment of the 1970s and early 1980s in Turkey, but there has been little information and very limited scholarship on his practice. In 2012 SALT initiated a research project on Saray’s life and work in order to reveal his unknown history.

This long-overdue project began with the process of assembling and securing the complete archive of the artist, as well as unearthing various artworks kept by Saray’s fellow artists. Interviews with artists, collaborators, as well as friends’ and students’ of Saray were then conducted in an attempt to shape an oral history for further study. The first phase of this research project was introduced and visualized in the exhibition From England with Love, İsmail Saray at SALT Galata, September 13 – November 2, 2014. A digitized archive of Saray’s life and work is accessible at SALT Research.

The exhibition, which has been reconfigured for SALT Ulus, gathers works produced by Saray from the 1970s on, including selected documents and videos from his archive, as well as his artist books produced between the years 1972-1979. The title of the exhibition is taken from Saray’s installation exhibited in 8 Sanatçı 8 İş: B [8 Artists 8 Works: B] (1990-1991). It emphasizes the idea of distance in Saray’s practice as also evidenced in his correspondence, as well as archival material shown in the exhibition.

Visitors at SALT Ulus are greeted by recreations of the artist’s untitled arrangement from his student years (1970/2014) and his photographic self-portrait series Envoy (1972/2014) on the ground floor. This section of the exhibition continues with Saray’s artist books; sketches from his student years in London; correspondences made in regard to the 10th Paris Biennale (1977) and documents related to Sanat Olarak Betik [Book as Art] (1980) organized by the conceptual artist group Sanat Tanımı Topluluğu [Art Definition Group].

Saray continued to participate in exhibitions in Turkey such as Öncü Türk Sanatından Bir Kesit [A Cross Section of Avant-garde Turkish Art] (1987 and 1988); Toplu Sergi [Joint Exhibit] (1987 and 1988) and A,B,C,D (1989 through 1993) by sending detailed descriptions of works which would then be realized by his friends and the exhibition organizers after he moved to London in 1980.

Saray’s works Somutlaşmış Kurguların Doymazlığı [Insatiability of Fictions Made Concrete] (1987) and Savunma [Defense] (1988), which were produced by the artist Cengiz Çekil according to Saray’s specifications and presented in Toplu Sergi [Joint Exhibit] in 1987 and 1988; his work Satılmış Topraklar [Exported Soil] in 10 Sanatçı 10 İş: A [10 Artists 10 Works: A] (1989); original works from the 1980s and videos from various exhibitions are located on the upper floor.

Artworks with an anti-war theme have played an important role in Saray’s artistic practice since his student years. The exhibition at SALT Ulus also brings together his anti-war works including Electric Blanket (1971) from his student years at the Royal College of Art, Under Democracy (1994), as well as his most recent work Brand New (2010) which was produced for the exhibition From Floor to Sky (London, 2010).