Pinch Me Awake: Is This A Dream?

Some people say life imitates art but I honestly prefer to agree with Woody Allen: “Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television.” And Mehmet Ali Uysal is one artist that proves Mr. Allen’s theory. I say this because, growing up in Brazil, I had to deal with the massive presence of bad quality soap operas (are they ever any good?) on TV. It became part of my life to deal with unlikely scripts – the kind of stories that abuse coincidences and make you say, “Nah, that would never happen in real life.” Uysal, who lives, works and skypes from Ankara, Turkey, has had a life that resembles one of these unlikely scripts, full of strange coincidences and scenarios. For starters, you’re not going to believe how he started out as a fine artist: during his studies in Architecture school, one of his friends told him that there were lots of beautiful girls in the sculpture department. That’s where it all began. The rest, as they say, is history.

A Series Of Fortunate Events

Life took its courses (and Uysal his art courses) that led to a Master of Fine Arts degree with emphasis in sculpture, which unexpectedly took him eight years to complete. That’s because his ideas were always in conflict with the academic direction of his professors. In our skype conversation, he shares with me: “When I started to make some installations on the walls, it was forbidden even to put the nail on the wall. They clearly said what I was doing was not art. It took years for them to accept me. They wanted me to fail from the courses.”

Mehmet Ali Uysal Exhibition “Peel” at Nesrin Esirtgen Collection Art Space. Photo courtesy of the artist.

While things weren’t going so well in the academic field, Uysal’s girlfriend at that time tried to convince him to register for an art prize. He stubbornly disagreed with the submission fees and refused to participate. Instead, his girlfriend secretly applied for him. “Three months later, they called me and said you have the prize. I said which prize?” The guy who wasn’t allowed to use the walls in his sculptures earned the first prize that made him part of the 24th Contemporary Artists Exhibition in Aksanat, Istanbul. “Later on, I learned that this is the most important contemporary art prize in Turkey.”

The humorous detail of this story is that his registered projects in the competition were the same ones that had failed in his master studies: “Someone was saying this is bullshit and someone else was saying this is the best one.”

At some point he interrupts our conversation—“Just give me one minute because my cat is saying something."

“Oh, you have a cat!”

“Yes, I have a wonderful cat.”

Skin, Installation, 10x18x6 m, 2010. Photo courtesy of the artist.

His work is now published in more than ten books and he has upcoming exhibitions in Dubai, New York and Istanbul, and will be exhibiting at Pi Artworks, his represented gallery, in September. Even with so many great events happening in his life, he admits, “I’m still surprised about what has been happening to me, in fact. It’s becoming something big now but I didn’t follow any rules, I didn’t follow a recipe. But it fits me. I applied for some good jobs and they didn’t take me. It is good that it didn’t work! Sometimes things that don’t happen help me as well.” 

From the exhibition “Peel.” Photo courtesy of the artist.

With unlikely events turning into fortunate coincidences, he reveals his life philosophy to me: “Maybe it’s a little bit cliché, but I think I look at life as if I’m water. I just flow.” Uysal now shares his life with his partner Zoé—who also brought Charlo, the interrupting cat, into his life—in a city he loves despite it being away from the major art scenes. Parallel to his artist career, he also teaches an elective sculpture course at the university where he studied. Yes, the same one where it all began.

Article by Bel Borst