Four large photographic colour prints depict chalked inscriptions, written on unremarkable urban environments. ‘The storm disappeared and it no longer existed’ reads one, on a grey concrete wall, above a grey pavement covered in dead leaves. In another work, ‘I was happy then’ is inscribed next to a metal gate on what looks like the wall of a commercial yard. The titles refer to the places photographed, such as 41st FDR DR, NYC. The artist spent 3 months in New York, wandering the streets, chalking words on walls and houses and street corners, returning later to photograph them.
We are looking at the photographic record of an individual’s journey. In my own experience, that is a difficult thing to create. Photographs can never be more than flimsy placeholders for the real thing. They might encourage us to reach back in our own minds and hearts to recreate an experience for ourselves, which is, of course, what remembering means. That’s why, for example, other people’s holiday snaps are always so uninteresting: without being fleshed out by recollections of the real thing, they remain images of strangers and strange places, and leave us perfectly cold, unless the scene in the photograph is exceptionally beautiful, or newsworthy, which these are not.
The challenge with depicting memory lies perhaps in evoking a universal, as well as personal, experience. How does one do this without resorting to the obvious, that is, iconic cityscapes or landscapes, or other universally recognisable scenes?
In my view, the strength, and the success, of Yesiltac’s images, lies in the very unspecificy of the places and slogans. Although we know this is New York, the images could have been taken almost anywhere. The artist has intervened in these spaces, but gently – with chalk marks. The language has a particular, everyday type of poetic slant, which sells very well the romantic notion of journeying, of an inward search, and of restlessness. Together the two create a blank canvas for our own imagination, our own imagery.
On my way home on the 55 bus down Hackney Road, I look at the familiar shop fronts and street corners, and I see my past everywhere. That is, I see the places as I did at moments in the past, in daylight, in different seasons, whilst perhaps arguing with someone, or on an errand, when this building was still here, and that one not yet. I notice yet again how quickly the urban landscape is evolving, and think about the nature of remembered space. Sooner or later, almost any space around here will exist only in someone’s memory. At the same time we ourselves are distinctive through our memories, all tied to particular times and places. Perhaps we and the spaces are really the same – made up of layers of history.
In Truman Street/ Seneca Avenue NYC the chalked words ‘I remember’ dissolve into a pink blotch of paint, carelessly slapped onto a concrete wall, presumably to cover another graffiti. According to the notes, this slogan is a homage to the artist Joe Brainard, who in his book of the same title, describes his early childhood in 40’s America, beginning every sentence with the words ‘I remember’. Words and photographs do have this in common – the ability to evoke a whole world with a detail, the right detail.