The Child Within (Me) at Mecid Efendi Manor
A nuanced portrayal of what it means to be in touch with one’s “inner child."
Walking through the garden of Mecid Efendi Manor, the first thing that strikes a viewer is the fragmentary nature of the sculptures exhibited. Rarely do we perceive a body in its entirety – an ostrich plunges its head into a Rubix cube in Stefano Bombardieri’s Struzzo Rubik, a gigantic pair of feet emerge from the pond with no legs attached in David Breuer-Weil’s Visitor2. These playful but slightly macabre body parts that introduce the viewer to the exhibit, "The Child Within (Me)", nod to a sense of incompleteness, or perhaps an impossibility of wholeness, regarding childhood, adulthood, and the transition between the two. In the same garden we encounter The Vault by Wilfred Pritchard, a sculpture that depicts a skeleton with a wide smile playing leapfrog over a mailbox, in an apparently gleeful rejection of its mortality. Here, the idea of youth encounters the idea of immortality without addressing the discomfiting realities of aging in between – literally skipping over them. Right outside the door, we find Bedwyr William’s Wooly Black bicycle, another unmissable emblem of carefree childhood. It is, however, covered with animal hide, ram horns and features a prominent skull on the handlebars, once again conjuring simultaneous images of youth and death.
Although the surreal depictions and fairytale setting of the exhibition are imbued with a sense of innocent wonder, it would be too simplistic to say that "The Child Within (Me)" is an idealized picture of youth
We are often seized with the notion that something "dies" within us during the transition to adulthood, and gaze longingly upon the past which holds captive some part of us we deem irretrievable. The exhibit calls this thought into question. The walls are peppered with quotations from Nietzsche and Antoine de St. Exupery: “Almost everywhere there is happiness, there is pleasure in nonsense!” Echoing the sculptures outside, inside, the manor is full of disjointed bodies – fragmentary senses of self. While one frequently casts a nostalgic image of wholeness over childhood, the exhibit suggests to the contrary that the essentially youthful notion of play might actually consist of an experimentation with selves, a comfortable slipping in and out of identities without repercussion.
Perhaps this is why so many of the images in the exhibit hint at death, like the headless dance of the children in Disobedience by Erwin W. or the slumped over concrete figures of Curriculum by İrfan Önürmen – the “whole” self is a stagnant illusion closer to a jaded awareness of one’s mortality than it is to childlike innocence, in which we feel the freedom to be reborn over and over again.
Claudio Bravo’s Autoretrrato, a quite literally fragmented drawing of the artist’s face in which his eye is placed in the traditional position of a nose, hanging above a Nietzsche quote proclaiming that “A man’s maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play”, brings this notion to life. Several pieces in the exhibit allow the viewer to experiment with their own image by using oddly-shaped mirrors to present us with our own distorted reflection, such as Alicja Kwade’s Ungeklaerte Zustande or Mona Hatoum’s Puzzled.
There is a haunting, melancholic undercurrent to the exhibit that demonstrates a more nuanced portrayal of what it means to be in touch with one’s “inner child”.
The exhibit presents us with a child’s sense of fantasy and an adult’s sense of longing. The adult’s desperate yearning for a return to perceived wholeness is evident in some of the injunctive titles of the works, proclaiming "Heal Me!" (Ferhat Özgür) or "Give Me My Innocence Back!" (Hale Tenger). However the works in the exhibit do not paint childhood in the gilded light of a nostalgic adult – as much as they are fantastical they are also grotesque, disconcerting, in effect allowing for a sense of wholeness through fragmentation – two words which, after viewing this exhibit, we might begin to think are synonyms.
"The Child Within (Me)" does not section off youth into a romanticized, inaccessible recess of memory. Rather it reintroduces it into the present, reasserting a sense of ageless agency, uniting oppositional concepts like innocence and violence, maturity and play, working towards a finally genuine, timeless experience of the self.
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