A recent artist-in-residence at Oregon College of Art and Craft, Gulsah Mursaloglu is a Turkish mixed media artist based in Chicago, IL. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015. This interview is the first of a series conducted by OCAC thesis student Lindsay Costello.
Duplex: Tell us about your background. How did your upbringing affect your current approach to art-making?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: I was born and raised in Istanbul and lived there until I came to Chicago to pursue my graduate studies. My father is a farmer and grows cotton in the south of Turkey. One of my earliest memories is the softness of the cotton plants when they were freshly harvested out of the land, and how it was the softest thing I ever laid my hands on. This direct connection to the land, and using touching as a way to get to know a material, touching the outside of something to understand what’s going on in the inside, were definitely things that I inherited from my family and it has been woven into my practice and sensibility. I was also always inspired by certain absurd patterns that would occur in Istanbul through people’s daily interactions with materials. Yogurt cups would be placed under the pipes to solve the problems with sewages; ropes would be tied to antennas to provide good reception. People replace materials with others when they are fixing or building things and this creates interesting patterns within the landscape of the city.
Duplex: Your work has a fierce sense of materiality and seems incredibly tactile. How do you choose your materials, and does a sense of touch factor into your decision-making?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: My work starts with an inexplicable curiosity towards specific materials. Then I start to experiment with these materials; at this stage the studio acts like a laboratory. Through this experimentation process the work starts to become clear to me one step at a time, both conceptually and formally. Tactility has always been an important part of my work; I believe that is because touching has always been my primary understanding of the world around me. During my time at OCAC, I’ve been interested in orange peels as a protective membrane and skin and my current work will include orange peels as one of its primary materials.
Duplex: Has your approach to material developed over time? I read that you started painting during your undergraduate studies as a sociology major.
Gulsah Mursaloglu: When I was doing my undergraduate studies in sociology, at the same time I was working at a studio run by two artists in Istanbul and making paintings. Even when I was making work that was strictly in the realm of painting, I was experimenting with materials such as tea, coffee, wine and varnish to create my surfaces. But I can definitely say that my interest in materials and approach to them particularly evolved and changed during my studies at SAIC.
Duplex: You’ve done several residencies, with more to come. Despite this sense of nomadism, what does your typical studio practice look like? Do you have a time of day you work best, an environment, a playlist, a uniform?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: My regular studio is in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago. I share my studio with five other artists and I find this communal studio space helpful for the creative process. I would say I’m someone who works best during daylight, so I prefer to be at my studio from the morning till the afternoon as long as my work schedule allows me to do that. In my process in the studio there are two modes of working: one requires deep contemplation and concentration and the other requires repetitive labor. When I’m in the first state I prefer to have a quiet environment, and when I’m in the second state I like having music in the studio, these days I’m mostly listening to soundtracks from musicals.
Duplex: Can you describe how a residency informs or helps your practice? What advice would you give to emerging artists about the residency process?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: Being at a residency allows me to have distance from my regular environment and a mental space to look at my work through a different lens. I often find the first week of a residency challenging in terms of adjusting to a new environment and a studio space, but I also find that challenge very productive in terms of understanding how I work best and how I can sustain a creative practice without being dependent on a specific place. The biggest luxury a residency provides me with is having uninterrupted studio time away from the distractions of daily life, and being in a completely different environment is also very stimulating. I guess one piece of advice I could give is to be open to the challenges of being in an unfamiliar environment and try to use this distance to challenge yourself in your own work and break some habits.
Duplex: Has your time in Portland and on Oregon College of Art and Craft campus affected your approach to art-making at all? What is your impression of the community here?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: I’ve really enjoyed being an artist-in-residence on the OCAC campus. The community here — faculty, staff and students — has been really generous to me, and I’ve gotten to meet lots of amazing creative individuals. What I’ve found to be most inspiring has been OCAC’ s approach to making and the emphasis the school puts on the process. I really relate to this way of working and I got to learn different historical practices here such as weaving and ceramics. I believe these new skills will definitely affect my work in the future.
Duplex: Whose artwork do you look at when you’re feeling stuck or uninspired?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: One of the most inspiring shows I have seen during my time in Portland was Michael E. Smith’s exhibition at the Lumber Room. I really loved the subtlety of his objects, which bring organic and inorganic materials together and the minimal installation of them in the space. So these days I look at his work, Camille Blatrix’s works and Carol Bove’s works.
Duplex: What’s influencing your practice right now, outside of visual art and artists? A recent favorite book, film, color?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: During my time at OCAC I got the chance to read chapters from a book that has been on my reading list for a long time: On the Animation of the Inorganic by Sypros Papapetros. I find this book really inspiring because it talks about themes that I’m interested in investigating in my work, such as the agency and life of the matter and latent movement through an art historical perspective.
Duplex: If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing? Have you ever considered an alternate profession?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: When I was very young, in my primary school years, I really wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. But since I never got the necessary training for that, as a more realistic alternative, I would have pursued graduate studies in either sociology or anthropology and stayed in academia.
Duplex: Speaking of academia, your website notes that you have teaching experience, including working as a drawing instructor at SAIC. How does teaching differ from making for you? Did you enjoy that experience?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: I love teaching. For me teaching art is a wonderful and very diverse process in which each student applies the information you give them in a different way and I find this diversity and range very exciting. I also believe teaching and seeing this translation of information is very inspiring for me as an artist. So I definitely think teaching nurtures my own practice as an artist.
Duplex: Your residency here at OCAC ends soon. What’s next for you?
Gulsah Mursaloglu: Yes, unfortunately. I will be going back to Chicago and I will be starting HatchProjects at the Chicago Artists Coalition, which is a residency program that brings together emerging artists and curators to create exhibitions together in the course of one year. I’m very excited for that, and also I will be teaching at the Ox-bow School of Art Artists’ Residency this summer.
All photos courtesy of the artist.