Precipitation for an Arid Landscape
The entries on Turkey’s popular contributor-dependent hypertext dictionary, Ekşi Sözlük, about Rafadan Tayfa Göbekli Tepe—a 2019 children’s animation produced by the Turkish national public broadcaster about a group of children time-traveling through the circa 9th-century BCE construction and 20th-century excavation of the titular Neolithic archaeological site in eastern Turkey—vary from joy to criticism. “When did we execute the necessary research on Göbekli Tepe that now is the time to educate children about its history?” one user asks. Another optimistic comment reads: “It feels like we have only recognized the importance of the site in the last two years, and hopefully this [animation] contributes to the discussion.” Concurrently, Netflix Turkey premiered the high-budget series “Atiye,” about a woman’s transcendental journey into the UNESCO World Heritage site’s history, and the Turkish Ministry of Culture announced 2019 as “the year of Göbekli Tepe.”
When I stumbled upon the twelve graphite drawings of an archeological site at the entrance to Gala Porras-Kim’s exhibition "Precipitation for an Arid Landscape", at Amant in Brooklyn, I thought of Göbekli Tepe. In 1990s Turkey, we grew up without collective knowledge of the historic site, yet I assumed excavated sites would look alike. But I did not think they would look like that. The place that Porras-Kim diligently drew under a sharp noon light, in a powdery dusk haze, and eventually, within an unforgivingly nocturnal darkness—which was indeed Göbekli Tepe—was one I was as foreign to as any other passerby in East Brooklyn.
Upon its official discovery by the German archeologist Klaus Schmidt in 1994, the site, which includes over 200 roughly 20-foot-high columns throughout a 20-acre plot of land, shattered the preconceived knowledge about the existence of hunter-gatherers during the Neolithic age, and was deemed “the world’s first temple” by Schmidt. The discovery arguably changed widely accepted notions about the evolution of humankind. But the emotionality of Porras-Kim’s 18-by-22-inch drawings, which are overall entitled Asymptote Towards an Ambiguous Horizon (2021) and commissioned by Kadist, curtails the reality that this could be a sign of civilization 6,500 years older than the Great Pyramids of Giza, or that it is now a popular site that inspires cartoons and blockbuster streaming-service productions. The hand that creates transverses ages while putting one stone over the other, while brushing off the earth to reveal a column—or while sketching graphite over paper.
In Amant’s adjacent building, where the exhibition burgeons into a roomier installation, Porras-Kim exhibits 7 72-inch square color drawings of objects from the Mayan sinkhole Chichen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula, which currently sit in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. In the show’s titular installation (2021), ampler scale and a bright color palette give an almost Pop Art briskness and sense of liveliness to the archaic. In these drawings, bulbous vases possess elegant cracks; rocks radiate mystery; masks seem deadpan, even shell-shocked. There is more to the senses here: the recognizable scent of incense fumes from a large gold block that resembles marble made with wax, or even a massive flattened honeycomb. The sculpture is made out of a form of resin that comes from the copal tree, a plant native to the region, here positioned alongside the incense that permeates the gallery and washes the drawings of objects of the same place.
Throughout the show, Porras-Kim seems to pull a sheen of airiness, a veil of possibilities—achieved, failed or impending—over matters of value, ones that reveal the human stain of wanting answers. The simple nowness of the graphite marks and delicate scents blanket that which we yearn to know, and preserve its mystery. —Osman Can Yerebakan
Gala Porras-Kim, 303 offerings for the rain at the Peabody Museum, 2021. Color pencil and Flashe paint on paper, 72 × 72 inches. Photo: Shark Senesac. Courtesy Amant.