Meditations in Blue - 2022
States of Rest: İsmet Tatar’s ‘Meditations in Blue’
by Esra Plümer Bardak*
The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Our senses are capable of extending throughout the entire universe and touching it. Not seeing with one’s hands but touching with one’s eyes. Octavio Paz, Convergences
From the moment we open our eyes to the world, if we are lucky enough, we may see colours, shapes and images that our retinas allow us to see. But what do we see when they are closed? Artists and thinkers over the span of centuries have inquired into how artistic experiences surpass the act of seeing beyond the eye, as well as the realms of dreams and the unconscious in states of sleep. It was not until the invention of photography and the advancement of painting by the impressionists that artists began to indulge in the physical capacities of the eye and its likeness to the techniques used in artistic production. Despite the fact that the advancement of technology steers us into new frontiers, contemporary art practices continue to explore the most basic techniques and materials. The use of technologies in art mediums, rather than replacing these conventional tools, have been crucial in providing more complex understandings of them.
The closed eye, for example, in a wakeful state may still experience "patterns full of dots and sparkles" or “swirls and waves of coloured dots travelling through vision." In other words, our eyes remain active with phosphenes: also known as visual pigments, or the moving visual sensations of stars and patterns we see, when we close our eyes. These can also be generated by mechanical stimulation of the retina through applied pressure or tension which would cause us to see light that technically "isn't there." Similar to fireflies that can glow, cells inside our eyes release biologically-produced light particles called biophotons. Photons from external light and existing biophoton particles are both a part of the normal function of cells. However, our eyes cannot determine the difference between protons from external light and the biophotons our atoms are emitting. Either way, our optic nerve is simply relaying or delivering these signals to our brain, which then, must decide if it precisely signifies the real world around us, or if it is only a phosphene.
When we close our eyes in meditative states, we may escape our physical worlds and become transported to an inner scape constructed entirely of our conscious and subconscious materials but we are also experiencing the materiality of our eyes. We may be guided through meditation to enter further to an inner scape to confront, resolve, purify or redeem the past or future and immerse ourselves in the present. However, in this process, what is observational and what is an imaginary product can become intertwined as our perception oscillates between vibrations and fragments of external light and our atoms.
İsmet Tatar’s new works 'Meditations in Blue' is a series of mixed media cyanotype prints that combine handmade paper, natural pigments and colours acquired through distilled plants and pulp, brought together in hues of deep (indigo) blue paint. The blue together with the active reference to mediation in the title signify the artist’s experiences of salvation and solitude in the Mediterranean Sea throughout the hardships she endured at the start of and during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the blue we see here, although inspired by the island of Cyprus and its surrounding nature, is not only representative of an outer world, but also a spectrum of the inner-world of the artist.
İsmet Tatar’s series is a substantial collection of 65 artworks, presenting an array of imagery akin to the patterns of dots, swirls and waves of colour we may experience by closing our eyes. These fluid and abstract images, reminiscent of the light that lingers or penetrates and sparkles impressions on the eye, are also echoed in the technique that the artist utilizes: the photographic process of the cyanotype.
The cyanotype, most commonly referred to as the ‘blueprint’, is one of the oldest photographic printing processes in the history of photography. It is a slow-reacting photographic printing technique that uses two chemicals and only water to develop and fix. İsmet Tatar utilizes this method that might recall the mechanical stimulation of the retina through applied pressure which causes seeing light: the surface of the handmade paper is treated with external fibres and organic objects and pressed onto the paper as it is exposed to sunlight; resulting in dark blue. This distinctive shade of blue is the most characteristic feature of the cyanotype which is highlighted by her use of the added pigment indigo blue among other self-made recipes using organic materials such as avocado cork, lavender and turmeric.
In addition to tablet-like squares presented in different compositions and diptychs, 'Meditations in Blue' feature circular shapes that offers the audience a sensory journey through ocular experiences on different scales. On the larger scale, we may encounter spherical shapes resembling planets travelling in various orbits, and on a more intimate level, smaller scale works resemble lenses that sneak us into the artist’s moments of introspection. These images may satisfy our sensual appetites with their aesthetic compositions and enchanting forms, sprinkled at times with gold. From an emotional aspect, these images also emote a sense of protection and comfort against the evils and difficulties of the world; a refreshing swim in the ocean, the silence of being submerged in it perhaps giving way to a momentary lapse of swimming in the embryonic fluid of the womb.
These frail images are encumbered with the ailments İsmet Tatar and her life partner experienced while entering the pandemic period, the time spent with doctors and hospitals throughout, and her experiences and introversion, followed by loss. Thus, entering these images as a way of going out to nature, escaping to the blue of the sea, in states of rest, becomes for İsmet Tatar a form of resilience. Being alone with herself during this period, the artist embarks on an experimental journey; reading, writing and jotting down what has been lived, and reveals this series as a testament to, and reflection on this period. The concepts of nature together with motherhood and womanhood are prominent and recurring themes in Ismet Tatar's artworks. Spanning across four decades, nature and its different manifestations, appear with the concept of unity, being one with the self as a woman, together with nature and its forces that prevail in the face of the difficulties brought by life.
Emerging in various periods, employing form, content, process, or a combination of the latter, in different stages of her career, the overarching themes in İsmet Tatar's oeuvre boil down to the basic elements of nature; air, earth, fire and now water. The four elements of nature were believed to birth all life and enable the existence of humankind. The themes that İsmet Tatar explores are not far from what ancient civilizations revealed; from the pictographs found in the first known city of Uruk, the ritual vase of Warka, to the philosophical speculations of Empedokles and taken up by Plato and Aristotle, we come across representations of nature as consisting of the four elements called earth, water, air and fire, each one being the expression of a divine force in the visible world. These prints on handmade painted paper, which have the quality of a private diary, began with a paper art book named ‘The Sea Inside Me’ prepared for the International Postal Art Books exhibition in Brazil and led to the series ‘Meditation in the Blue’ with simpler and more abstract forms.
Reflecting on another one of İsmet Tatar’s series ‘Mysterious texture of earth’ in 2005, Neriman Cahit wrote that “as the dimensions brought by the meanings bestowed on them entangle… the painting, complicated in its simplicity at that last point, and in its silence, greets us regrettably from expressive themes at times as a question mark and at times as an exclamation point. At the viewer's eye and heart level... Everything is a matter of consciousness. The present might be forgotten or never learned. The past might be contemporary. Art exists within these axes.” In 2015, the exhibition I curated ‘Geomorphologies: collecting specimens and creating space’ brought together İsmet Tatar's decade-long work from 2005 onwards with an emphasis on the artist's experimental and inquisitive manner of artistic production. These lines by Neriman Cahit reproduced in the catalogue of the same name in 2015, still stand today in complement with arguably one of the most memorable lessons from Marcus Aurelius. Meditations put forth that nature unfolds perfectly and that one must accept that they cannot change the past or what other people feel in their hearts, and ultimately that "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” Who knows, perhaps Aurelius had foresight into the more contemporary findings on perception, that what our senses allow us to experience may not reflect what exists and may be a creation of our consciousness.
Following İsmet Tatar’s artistic journeys across air, fire, earth and water, pushing our senses beyond the universe, ‘Meditations in Blue’ completes the elementary composition of her artistic world, into an alchemical bind mixing innumerable inorganic and organic compounds. Produced in a state of rest and introspection; Ismet Tatar’s series embodies the worlds we escape into while maintaining the afterimages of where we escape from. Nature, after all, is an inner principle of change and being at rest, and the body a river. When we look at ‘Meditations in Blue’, what we encounter may depend on our consciousness; our senses may travel to abstract, yet familiar, mundane, yet magical experiences. Whether we can enter such deep states of meditation or not, it is still interesting to know that even in a resting state, we can close our eyes, and remain active.
*Esra Plümer-Bardak is an art historian and researcher-writer. For more info: esraplumer.com
 Paz, Octavio. Convergences: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, trans. Helen Lane. N.Y.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.
 Murphy, Cheryl G."Why Do I See Patterns When I Close My Eyes?" Huffington Post, Dec 6, 2017.
 Morales, Olive Marie. “Why Do We See Colors Even With Eyes Closed?” Science Times, Feb 5, 2021.
 The cyanotype process was invented by English polymath John Herschel in the early 1840s who also coined the term ‘photography’ as early as 1839. Herschel also experimented with the photosensitive emulsions of vegetable juices publishing his findings in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1842. Contemporary of Talbot and Daguerre, Herschel contributed to the science of photography and made important strides in discovering formulas to make images permanent. The technique can be found in Anna Atkins hand printed albums of botanical and textile specimens, notably her 1843 book of algae which is considered the first-ever published book of photographs, 19th-century American folk art, as well as industrial and commercial uses in the reproduction of plans, technical drawings and even used for printing stamps and banknotes in South Africa.
 The word ‘cyanotype’ itself comes from Ancient Greek, meaning “dark blue impression”. Historically, blue has been one of the most beguiling colours in art; as a symbol of revelation, an imported good more valuable than gold, a sign of divinity later liberated from the shackles of religion, a trademark for particular people and movements, as well as a sign of mass production.
 Benson, J.L. Greek Color Theory and the Four Elements, 2000, p. 12.
 Cahit, Neriman in Plumer, Esra, et al. Geomorphologies: Collecting specimens and creating space, DAÜ-KAM, 2015, p. 67.
 Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations.
 Lu et al., “What you experience may not exist. Inside the strange truth of reality” Newscientist, 2020.
 Aristotle, Physics 2.1, 192b, pp. 20–23. Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye.