“So what do we stick on the end? I mean the bit that cuts stuff?” We were in the middle of buying a second hand angle grinder as we say in the UK, something that cuts through metal. Our conversation with Turkish craftsmen usually goes something like this. I go in search of a piece of equipment to help us with our 3D sculpture work and when I find the guy who can help us I say..
“Do you have one of those things which cuts through metal?”
“How thick is the metal” he’ll respond.
“I don’t know, it’s a car door, I guess pretty thick”. The guy usually pauses and then asks why we want to cut through a car door.
“It’s complicated to explain” this does nothing to help.
“OK, I’ll explain, we’re artists and we are making sculptures”. At which point we’ll get out a photo of some of our efforts to date and then the conversation warms up and we drink tea…
A crushed bollard in Balat, Istanbul. Watercolour on 600 gm paper.
“Fear clutches my b’reast” said Daffy-Duck in one of his best cartoons. The phrase stuck with our family and was added to the growing number of phrases forming our own unique family dialect.
This was different however, “It’s a clutch” the friendly motor oil covered warehouse assistant said.
“Really” I said? The peddle which I press on my elderly stick shift operated vehicle to change gear bore no resemblance in my mind to the metal object which lay before me.
It was however, beautiful. Herein lies the fascination for me. When we consider sculpture we often think of three dimensional works formed to evoke something beyond the mere substance from which they are created. Often there is a symbolic or a conceptual angle the sculptor is seeking to investigate.
This pile of clutches which must have numbered hundreds rusting into tantalising shades of brown, orange, yellow and turquoise spoke so clearly of so many things and yet they remained silent in the corner of a dark cold basement in a breakers yard.
I picked one of them up and took it over the counter where the long suffering breakers yard attendant looked sceptically at me. He knew that he was going to have to explain what it was, why it was actually going to be worth more than it looked to us, and that no, we couldn’t have a discount.
He was on the other hand probably looking forward to hearing why on earth we wanted it. I’m not sure I can explain that in English let alone in Turkish but the surprising thing is that once it’s pointed out to the people who work in places like this how the objects they sell have aesthetic appeal to the likes of me, their eyes light up and there is a flicker of recognition. It’s as if the apparently dull, lifeless objects they scurry back and forth with in answer to the barking orders of of local mechanics looking for spare parts are elevated to another plane.
Watercolour on 600 gm paper
Byzantine Emperors had ‘illegitimate’ children like most of the rulers of their time. These offspring it turns out were useful. Michael VIII Paleologus sent one such daughter (Maria Palaiologina) to be married to Hulagu Khan (a grandson of Ghenghis Khan). He however died before she arrived, so she was married to his son Abaka Khan. It then turns out that this husband was assassinated by this brother years later and Mary returned to Constantinople. Understandably (I assume) tired of international intrigue Mary became a nun and renovated the church which still stands in Istanbul known as St Mary of the Mongols. It was one of the few Orthodox churches of Constantinople to be granted permission to continue to as a church after the fall of the city in 1453. Yet another ‘diamond in the rough’ inconspicuously occupying a corner of ancient Istanbul.
Watercolour on 600gm paper
I was explaining that I needed an angle grinder, as we say in British English. Here it’s called a taş motoru (stone motor) and of course it’s used for grinding or cutting very hard surfaces like metal, stone or plaster etc. The guy in the small workshop looked me up and down. The small workshop was a hole in the reinforced concrete structure in a tunnel like passage off an alleyway in an area of the city foreigners never frequent. He realised of course that I’m a foreigner (I just need to say something in order to make that abundantly clear) and that I was most probably not a person most familiar with grinding hard surfaces for a living.
His small shop was the place where welders, car mechanics and workmen went to get their angle grinders, drills and, by the looks of things, any electrically motorised tools mended. One of the other men in the small space was winding copper wire around something which looks like it would become a motor, after a few more hours of winding. I love this part of working in a country where labour remains cheap, it means you can get things fixed for a fraction of the price of a new one!
He asked me what I wanted to use it for and I explained that I was making sculptures out of metal and needed something to cut car doors. He looked blankly at me no doubt wondering how grown men of my age can spend a Friday afternoon looking for what is for him an expensive tool to make a pointless thing out of metal. I explained again, showed him my card, referred to our arts association, and then our website. He finally reluctantly climbed up the stairs, rummaged around and returned with a second hand Bosch angle grinder.
Next episode in a week or so….
Pure Watercolour on 600gm paper.