Review: Uzgunum Leyla, Hussein Chalayan

Hussein Chalayan
I am Sad Leyla (Uzgunum Leyla)
Lisson Gallery, London
8 September – 2 October, 2010

Hussein Chalayan is currently spanning the contemporary art scene of London, with two solo exhibitions opened in the same month, one at Lisson Gallery, and other at the new exhibition space Spring Projects. The first exhibition is a specially commissioned work whereas the latter is a rounding up of his two projects Anaesthetics and Inertia.
Uzgunum Leyla (I am Sad Leyla) is the title of a song, giving its name to the exhibition. The song is written for the Egyptian Film Leyla and Mejnun (1940), while dubbed Egyptian films got popular in Turkey in the 40s due to the slowdown of European film industry during Second World War. The infamous story of Leyla and Mejnun sources from Arabic Mythology roots down to 7th century. Over centuries, various versions of the story have been produced, differing in the consequential details such as how Leyla and Mejnun have met and fallen in love. Though they share the same ending; where Mejnun and Leyla can only be united in death – whilst Mejnun goes amok with the image of his beloved and Leyla marries another man. The song starts as a conversation with the singer and the instruments, almost in a prayer-like intonation evolving with an increasing rhythm, expresses Mejnun’s emotional state within the lyrics and the musical composition. The composer, Saadettin Kaynak, brings in Classical Turkish music structures and continuously moulds one with another – Segah and Nihavend.
The song Uzgunum Leyla is on exhibit where its embodying components are displayed disassociated from one another: the music and its sources: the score, the singer, the orchestra, and the emotion.
When one enters the gallery, meets the life-size sculpture of infamous pop singer Sertab Erener. The sculpture, beyond a mere object, is a surface of projection in the sense in which Erener’s face is projected onto the facial part of the sculpture uniting with the lines of gestures, livening up the objecthood of the self-standing figure. The sculpture omits the projection and mimes the lyrics of the song, if not looking straight at its invisible audience. The mimicry added on to the surface of the object allows the emergence of physicality where the projected image becomes the flesh of the skin-exhibited-bare. In the adjacent room, one sees nothing but an empty white space filled with the voice of Erener, performing the song with the orchestra. Experiencing sound without its corporeal presence creates another phase in the encounter where the audience is left to be under the influence of the music, only. Whilst, relating the source of the voice to the sculpture next-door, one is diffused to listen in the nuances in the song, receives in the sentiment throughout the musical dance of the singer and the chords.
The stairs, leads to another constellation of two rooms, this time one is connected to another with two entries. Walking down the stairs, one starts seeing the film where singer Erener is performing the song accompanied by a large orchestra located behind her. The film is composed of close-ups of Erener’s face as if trying to extract the emotionality through her gestures, as well as establishing shots where the audience is oriented to grasp the image of the stage, and how it is set. The stage, resembling the times of the song, is the auditorium of the Kadikoy Halk Egitim Merkezi in Istanbul. Displaying only the stage but not the audience seating, produces the room of the exhibit as the place of the audience, where in this case listening in is experienced standing. Erener is dressed in a piece from Chalayan’s Spring/Summer Dolce Far Niente Collection, reproducing the historicity of the song and its relevant aesthetics in a shifting specificity of geographical connotation. In other words, the appearance of Erener, resembles more of French Rivieran style than Middle Eastern from 50s. In the adjacent room, another video piece is shown, where this time only the orchestra is documented performing, in a single establishing shot. From the perspective of looking at the orchestra playing, one can still keep an eye on Erener singing in the other room. The decency of installation plays an important role in juxtaposing two films in the way in which one relates to another, though they also stand-alone. On the wall across, the musical score with lyrics is on display. Hence, the downstairs gallery is structured in a way in which, three components are on display, relating and in their own space of encounter. It is significant to note that, the films are without sound and the only sound in the whole exhibition is generated from the room above, where the music exhibited on its own.
Chalayan positions music as the immaterial cultural representation. With Uzgunum Leyla he disembodies the components of a music piece whilst embodying them singled out. Within his methodology of deconstruction, he enables the emergence of resonance through amalgamation of filament ingredients. White backgrounds create mere abstractions of physicality where immaterial-material presences inhabit place, such as the music alone, and the emotion projected. While, the films are displayed in black background, foregrounding the image, in rhyme with soundtrack played along. The exhibition, hence the piece is a thorough work of synaesthetic experience where encounter besides experience, experience besides encounter meld into one another. Along line of the aesthetics of the piece, in the opening of the exhibition, Chalayan appears serving sugar-coated almonds to the guests, allowing himself the place of background whilst the work, the fore.