Deniz Sağdıç, a Turkish artist born in Mersin in 1982, graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Mersin in 2003 and currently lives in Istanbul.
Sağdıç is well-known for her portraits realized with denim scraps. Her artistic research is based on the meaning of materials emphasising on the communicative and conceptual value of denim, used as a universal symbol capable of breaking ethnic and economic boundaries and as a democratic material common to all cultures. Starting from this consideration, in a perspective based on the upcycling beliefs, Sağdıç created a long series of textile portraits admired by the public and by the collectors and even acclaimed by the critique for its strong expressiveness.
Untitled”, detail, 2020, Denim Zips on Denim 140 x 120, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
Untitled”, detail, 2020, Denim Zips on Denim 140 x 120, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
Deniz, what motivated you to embark on the path of being an artist? In the years of your training and the beginning of your profession, was there an event, a project or a person who was fundamental to your artistic growth?
I first saw the light of day in a family, almost all members of whom were craftsmen. My father was an extremely talented glass master. My uncle was the designer of a glass products company, and my aunts were tailors. I practiced making stained glass in my father’s glasshouse when I was a child. I was only 10-11 years old when I started to earn my own pocket money by making bags from cuttings of fabric at my aunts’ dressmaker workshop and selling them to those around me in the summer months. During my adolescence, I was giving my father a hand while applying stained-glass to buildings. Therefore, I made up my mind almost at a young age that, in the future, I would lead my life with a job that requires creativity. How I would live during the rest of my life became definite when I got into the faculty of fine arts painting department through the talent exam. From my earliest recollection, I don’t remember even a single day that passed without creating anything, fashioning something out of something. When I was walking on air, feeling sick at heart, and even taking ill, all I need was to have things to draw, paint or cut and paste.
ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
Denim is a common and widespread material, which is one of the aspects that led you to use it as a medium and as a subject for your works. Materials often tell a story and express the artist’s vision. What is the significance of denim in your work? What does it symbolise?
I have been using different materials as an accessory in my art for time out of mind. In general, these materials are being goods and things of daily use that people throw away and chuck out. Years ago, I was performing artworks from extraordinary materials for my exhibition project. One day in that period, an idea came into my head about cutting and using my considerably outworn denim in a work I was studying on at the time. As long as I cut, scratch, shape, and attach the denim, I began to realize how appropriate it was actually for fashioning and shaping, such as wood or marble. Moreover, it was not as fragile as marble or wood. As I liked working with denim, I noticed many more features during the process. Indeed, denim embodies human characteristics, and is so universal that people of all ages and from all geographies and every economic class are closely acquainted with it. If a person is not a textile professionalist, he/she does not even know the names of other fabric types, but denim is a textile product that every person knows very well. On the other hand, denim is perhaps the most democratic object of human culture and civilization. Even if he/she is a president or a worker in the poorest country of the world, he/she wears jeans without being found odd by anyone. When considered that the skin color of human beings, unfortunately, can be a matter of apartheid even today; denim is in the position of being the most universal and uniting symbol in the history of civilization. Therefore, denim is not just a material for me but a communication platform. Thanks to denim, the audience can affiliate more easily to my works and the subject I have been representing in my works.
Untitled”,2020, 100 x 100 cm, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
Untitled”, detail, 2020, 100 x 100 cm, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
In both your paintings and textile works, one of your favourite subjects is the human face. Can you talk about this? Also, what is the conceptual link between the use of denim and the faces, the humanity you represent in your work?
I think we, as humanity, often pass off the importance of the human face’s act, which we especially call “looking.” Looking is such an action that, despite not having a physical aspect, lands a punch on the person of focus. A pair of eyes looking towards you can tell you a thing or two. Even if we do not perceive most of the time, regard, rather than the words and gestures, of the person with whom we communicate form our opinions about that person. For this reason, I give a lot of importance to the look, the expression, and therefore the human face. I hold the view that the human face can best verbalize the feelings and thoughts I want to express in my works. I have already mentioned the critical importance of denim for human culture and civilization. I think such an important symbol, when clustered with the human face, actually reminds much better “what” people are. Yes, I think the core problem of the world we live in stems from forgetting “what” a person is. The essential motivation of my art is to try to remind people of “what” human is. I, therefore, think that I can best do this with the human face.
Untitled”, 2020, denim pieces on denim, 120 x 80 cm, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
Untitled” detail, 2020, denim pieces on denim, 120 x 80 cm, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
“Untitled”, zip pieces, 140 x 140 cm, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
“Untitled” detail, zip pieces, 140 x 140 cm, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
You are a multidisciplinary artist who has recently focused on textiles, denim. Do you think you will continue to develop projects with fibres in the future?
Textile has a place in my art life. First of all, I am a person who was born, grew up, and has been living in Anatolia, where textile and its techniques evolved for the first time. I see and feel that fabric is not only material with a practical use but a primary element that has shaped culture for thousands of years in this geography. I am excited about reminding the significance of textile for our culture and civilization while using it in my works. In particular, when I use stale or waste textile products in my works, people, following these lucubrations, may establish a bond with the past, their memories, and the lives of previous generations. Thus, they can enjoy many elements that shape culture in a single work, just like visiting a museum. On the other hand, the revival of waste products in a work of art induces people to question the concept of “consumption” again. As it is well known, today’s most significant pain points such as “global warming” or “climate change” are related to the people’s consumption culture. Therefore, in order for people to gain eco-friendly habits, I find it thrilling to compose works of art with materials that are much more suitable for recycling, such as fiber. I think art is heap sight better than slogans or campaigns in reorganizing people’s consumption habits and involving themselves in that. Because, art is a channel to reveal what can be done on these issues through showing by practicing rather than discoursing or shouting slogans. Therefore, I’m thinking of creating much more artworks with fiber and fiber products from now on.
“Elvis”, 2020, denim pieces on denim, 150 x 150, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
“Green”, 2018, fabric on fabric ,80×120 cm , ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
During your exhibitions, you also organise workshops in which the public participates in the creation of the artwork. What is the purpose of spectator involvement?
I think that textile, especially denim, provides great convenience to the audiences in communicating with my artworks. Art has been long observed in the minds of non-artists as a practice that necessitates endowment, knowledge, and experience. However, from my end, art is the epitome of a human being. A creative product, rather than just an object being followed by someone, becomes an artwork when it can attract people and make the viewer be part of the subject, emotion, and composition. Whenever possible, I try to compose my artworks with other folks to show that people who do not describe themselves as artists can also make art and that everyone is an artist. I try to do this whenever and wherever possible, not just in special events, limited spaces, or with specific participants. Sometimes the walkway of a shopping mall, an empty area of a fairground, or the appropriate place of an event whose theme is not art can turn into a workshop, where we create artworks with an unlimited number of people. If this artwork consists of textile products, denim in particular, which people know very well, this experience becomes easier and exciting for everyone.
With your project “Ready-ReMade”, you have addressed the topic of the concept of art. I ask you: can conceptual art, which uses the work as a purely intellectual message, be “art for everyone”? Or does conceptualism, which is sometimes excessive, sometimes cryptic, risk turning art into an act that is an end in itself and inaccessible to the viewer?
When it has burst into sight as an art technique, Conceptual art had been an approach aiming to express that art would not require any endowment and experience. However, this approach took a different form in due course. As the motto “the harder to understand, the better the art” was sloganized, a fallacy began to occur. Although most art professionals may not admit it, this approach has started to be abused by most artists, curators, museums, and art dealers. So long as the art was hard to understand, it became much more valuable and expensive. On the other hand, the concept does not come into being only with the “conceptual art;” art cannot exist without a “concept”. Creating concepts is the touchstone that distinguishes humans from other creatures. Therefore, art is the epitome of a human being. We can see the most obvious evidence of this in the geography where I live. Tens of tons of stone statues, human and animal forms in the Göbeklitepe excavation center in Anatolian lands have been dated back to 12 thousand years ago. This date indicates 3 thousand years before the discovery of agriculture and the transition to the settled life. In a period, when people run after prey and edible plants throughout their life, and in which constant movement is essential, it tells us a lot that people living in this region fish out tens of tons of rocks and sculpt them at the skill of a sculptor. Unlike other biological creatures, creative action is a more vital issue for human beings than food, drink, and shelter. Hence, when I say: “art is the epitome of a human being,” I am not speaking a very utopian or romantic sentence. However, we, all the people, have forgotten this for a long while. Today when it comes to art, a spare time activity, as a status indicator of some elite class, comes back to the minds of most people in society. Art objects receive attention in sterile halls of museums and galleries, behind guard bands. Many people cringe away from this art and cannot be a part of it. For this reason, I do not expect people to come to my exhibitions; I try to bring my artworks to people’s doorstep. I do not believe in such a definition as “art-lover.” I try to exhibit my works wherever possible and often create them with people who do not define themselves as artists. How can an object be a work of art if it has difficulty in touching a human?
“Untitled”, 2020, leather pieces, 140 x 140, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
“Untitled” detail, 2020, leather pieces, 140 x 140, ph. Credit Deniz Sağdıç Studio, copyright Deniz Sağdıç
What are you working on at the moment? Can you talk about your next projects?
Nowadays I am busy with producing, as it always has been. I have been spending more and more time on the concept of “sustainability” in recent years. Sustainability is one of today’s most significant and in high favor topics. There is a danger for this concept as being consumed loutishly, like every other popular thing. On the other hand, when it comes to “sustainability,” the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is eco-friendly living and production habits. However, we have witnessed during the pandemic process that we have to develop different methods in order for many cultural elements, including art, to be sustainable. Nowadays, museums and other cultural and art institutions in most countries are closed because of pandemic precautions. That is why many artists and art professionals complain that art is in the throes of death. Once you confine art only within the walls of museums and art galleries, for a long time, you will think the art is dead when they are closed. As I said before, I always try to expand the art beyond the consuetudinary spaces and exhibition forms, and nowadays, I continue to do so. I give lectures on “sustainable art” at online events. In collaboration with various institutions, I try to deliver my artworks to people in places where life goes on despite the pandemic, such as offices and stores, apart from the routine venues of art. I continue infrastructure artworks of my project for building a “sustainable art center,” which I started working on last year but was partially interrupted due to the pandemic. Within the bounds of my health, I will continue producing, working, and performing art.