The brief tale recounts the hubris and gruesome fate of Marsyas. A satyr and follower of Dionysius he lived in Phrygia, a kingdom that existed in what is now Anatolia. A gifted flute player, Marsyas rashly challenged Apollo, the god of music himself, to a contest to decide who was the better musician, with the agreement that the loser would submit to whatever punishment the victor chose. Only when he cheated, by adding his divine voice to the sound of his lyre, did Apollo win. In vengeance for daring to challenge a god, Apollo flayed Marsyas alive and nailed his skin to a nearby pine tree. The torrents of tears shed by the creatures, nymphs, gods and goddesses that mourned Marsyas, fell upon the earth, intermingled and became the source of the Meander river, now known as the Büyük Menderes River.
This strange and violent story was a touchstone in Classical, particularly Roman, culture. For populists Marsyas became a symbol and mythic martyr for liberty, freedom of expression and the right to speak truth to power. To authoritarians his fate was a warning to the forces of chaos and misrule.This exhibition brings together in dialogue two powerful bodies of work, each created in response to the story of Marsyas.
Mia Dudek’s latest series, Marsyas, Dudek plays with and juxtaposes various ways to picture, represent and manifest skin. The works are all about surface and surfaces. Unusually composed, close-up shots of bodies and body parts, render them almost alien and unfamiliar. The bodies seem restricted, covered in some with clear plastic in some images and strained, muscles and veins bulging in others. Dudek further complicates her depiction of skin with varying material productions of the works.
In Dudek’s series Marsyas’ cruel punishment has become the default state, as if in our moment, all physicality is comprised.
Arda Asena has especially created a series of sculptures and sculptural installations for this exhibition and in response to the myth and Dudek’s body of work. The works develop a line of sculptural enquiry in which Asena uses fabric-based sculptures to depict, in semi-abstract fashion, bodily forms. Some are formed of stuffed, flesh coloured stockings lying abjectly, in corners, draped over plinths or suspended from the ceiling – skinless bodies, their innards waiting to spill out. Others are formed by being stretched between walls, the fabric pulled into translucency by the physical tension, an abstract echo of the Marsyas’ flaying at the hands of a tyrannical god. An oblique but powerful sculptural achievement.
Dudek and Asena’s work combine to conjure a disturbing sensibility of tortured physicality, echoing the pessimistic wisdom of the myth of Marsyas, that suffering is more common than justice.