Ahmet Güneştekin, among the significant painters raised in our country lately, continues to contribute to the cultural-artistic life with his last work.
Painter Ahmet Güneştekin’s installation entitled ‘The Room of Immortality’ was exhibited by Marlborough Gallery at Contemporary Istanbul. This gigantic installation became the most photographed work of the exhibition and was followed closely by the social media. We enjoyed a pleasant chat with the artist about his installation.
How did the idea of the Room of Immortality first appear in your mind?
My world of thought is nurtured by myths. Presenting an innovative and lyric appearance is essential for me. The idea of this installation started developing in my mind with the first findings that came to light in Göbeklitepe in 2004. It was completed through non-stop strenuous work in the prior year. Monoliths carved in interlaced forms were pointing to some scenes of the well-known constitutive myths. I have designed the installation by thinking that Noah’s flood and the story of the figures that take place on the reliefs on those monoliths and the relations between them; they all match.
How did you interpret the story?
It is the story of the encounter of Gilgamesh, whose quest to the end of the world to find immortality was inevitably a lost cause, and Utnapishtim, who gained immortality by withstanding the flood that was sent by the gods to annihilate humanity. In the 4000-year-old Babylon poem, also known as the Epic of Gilgamesh, what Gilgamesh wants is the secret to immortality. The Room of Immortality is the way to interpret and show the depth of the influence of this theme of a quest, which continues to preserve its universality, on modern cultures.
I have weaved the Room of Immortality that points to where my thought world begins and ends around the themes of a quest and a journey. The quest of Gilgamesh for immortality, the sage advice given to Gilgamesh by Utnapishtim, who was blessed by the gods with immortality, about why he could never possess immortality, and finally his acceptance of his defeat present the pieces of this combination. Another piece is the sun worshiping societies, whose houses had no doors, that Dhul-Qarnayn encountered when he pursued his own quest within the similar manner of Gilgamesh’s quest to the end of the world in search of immortality.
What did the visitors encounter with?
The Room of Immortality that I set up as a room opens to a figure that represents the snake that takes place on a relief located at the entrance of Yezidi’s sacred temple in Lalish. The visitors paid attention to this figure the most. This snake that represents the immortality of the thought world of Yezidis is a sacred figure that rescued the Noah’s Ark from being destroyed while all the other animals were escaping. The snake figure is used the most in the pantheon of animals resembling the Noah’s Ark on the reliefs where animal figures are used densely in Göbeklitepe. It supports the claim of the thing told on the monoliths by the archaic people who used to live in Göbeklitepe being the familiar great flood which appears in diverse cultures in various forms.
Can we say that it is weather proof as a work displayed outdoors?
Yes, I value durability while generating a piece of art which will be displayed outdoors. All artists do the same thing. The installation consists of a metal skull and horns. The massive skull placed in the middle which appears as a single head is also covered with hundreds of skulls. This large skull represents Noah and Utnapishtim at the same time. It is the only immortal figure among all the mortals. The installation consists of two concave blocks facing each other. The inner facades of the blocks are covered with horns, while the exterior facades are covered with colorful skulls. Although the installation is shaped as a room, it does not have a door or a roof.
What does the Epic of Gilgamesh mean to you?
The 4000-year-old Babylon poem Gilgamesh retains a deep influence on the modern culture; no other ancient near east narrative has ever had such a strong and deep influence. It depicts things about the state of humanity to modern audiences. It is the story of a man who pursues a long quest, undertakes everything, learns everything, and stops suddenly, not the heroic saga of a great king. It is a poem about a person who had been through hardship. It is the epic experience of pain. He wants to prevent death; death terrifies him. He pursues a crazy quest to the end of the world to find the secret to immortality.
What was your interpretation of the epic?
It is possible to refer to the story of the hopeless quest of Gilgamesh to the end of the world as a symbolic story of human life. It is also very easy for a modern individual to identify himself with Gilgamesh and to read his existential crisis like his own. The Room of Immortality presents an interpretation for this state of humanity through the thoughts it contains and its extent.
Is your workshop open for visitors?
It is possible to visit my workshop on the weekdays with an appropriate permit received in advance. We do not work in a way as a gallery or a museum does; however, my works are being displayed alternately in four different halls of Güneştekin Art Center, and we yield entrance to the visitors who come to observe the works.
How is your production process shaped?
Being subjective is certainly immanent in all things as a layer of existence and all things are nothing but subjects that are reversed. Each of all things can set infinite number of plural forms to express their subjective natures and can realize this setting by sustaining their existing identities. To me, every myth is an extraordinary subjective historicity that I can express by colored graphic forms within this context. The mythological elements that influence me and I reinterpret focus on extremely allegoric and symbolic layers, creating a mythological geometry. I do not work with drafts, but I configure my work on canvas by making preliminary drawings. First, the surface and the light beams come to life, then I start applying color on one corner of the surface intuitively. In my opinion, this relation between the geometric plan and the pictorial dynamic is also the common domain of historical knowledge and subconscious at the same time.
Which art stops in İstanbul are your favorites?
Pilevneli Gallery, Arter, Gallery Zilberman, Salt Beyoğlu, Pera Museum, Sabancı Museum, İstanbul Modern, Contemporary Istanbul are among the addresses of culture and art that I follow their works.