We had the good fortune of connecting with Gülce Albayrak and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gülce, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I had my childhood where I was born. Ankara, located at the centre of Anatolia, the capital and one of the largest cities of Turkey. Although it is still unclear where the origin of the name came from, the first known name was “Ankyra” during the Phrygian period, meaning “anchor” that pointed out a region by the sea in the ancient times. I was born in 1985, right in the middle of this geography. The vast majority of my childhood spent on the streets and in nature. Although there is a lot of “earth” in my memories, it was at the end of my 20s that clay began to guide my life. Currently where I live is one of the most beautiful coast cities of Turkey, İzmir. Well, what actually dragged me to live here and how?
Everyone has turning points in the course of their lives; sometimes these points bring departures to our lives, sometimes departures cause evolving. After graduating from the Faculty of Communications at the Başkent University in Ankara, I was not aware that I was on my way to the most beautiful town in Hungary with the scholarship I won for the master’s program in International Relations and European Studies. I attribute my success on being one of the very few people traveling out of Turkey alone on their early twenties, to an unconditional support of my family as well as my own achievement. Their support with this departure was undeniable. For me, the family was the place where I learned to learn by trying, that success is a fact which should be considered within one’s own values and that whatever I do, within the terms of ethics, if I am happy it is the right thing to do. Even though I was a young woman who was still trying to figure out what was going on and a part of me was very confused when I threw myself into a new world with a language I didn’t know at all; I could feel their unconditional support and that kept me going. After living for about six months in this sweet town with a beautiful nature and preserved architecture on the Austrian border called Kőszeg; I had the opportunity to spend several months in Budapest and Balaton as well. Also a tiny part of my adventure included a tour within Europe via interrail, which was a fun travel-must back then in early 2000s, especially if you are in the region. That episode of my life, which seems short, was a completely different experience for me, that I regard as the milestone where the foundations of my freedom and awareness are laid. And although it has nothing to do with my current job, every bit contributed to me in terms of cultural background, inner growth, conception of the world, language skills and many more.
While my childhood and youth passed in Ankara with my family in our lovely home with a small garden and fun neighborhood, I was an active child going to school, wandering around, doing lots of sports and activities, meeting friends and attending basketball trainings. Only after I lived in Hungary, I became more self-aware, not pursuing the truth of society or others as my own without questioning, also many different cultures were cultivated in my mind as I kept meeting new people from different places. In 2010, again, I left Turkey for educational reasons to live in Vancouver (Canada) for a year and that was the beginning of yoga leaching into me. In the mean time Couch-surfing community accelerated my point of view and brought loads of new souls into my life during my stay and also later when I moved back in Turkey. And this was also a benchmark as an “anchor” so as the ancient name of “Ankara”, like other anchors in my life including the first day of my interaction with clay. My biggest journey in my life wasn’t a journey to a place far away. It started in my motherland, right at my birthplace, the city where I grew up, after parting of the ways with my job at the EU project, which I was working at that time. Literally it started in the mud when I noticed loosing track of time all day during a ceramics course that I participated in Ankara in the summer of 2012.
Then in 2013, when I was 28, I’ve decided to deepen my studies and I got back into the university in İzmir; this time it was ceramics and that was the beginning of an endless process. While studying at the Ege University and later at Dokuz Eylul University, I have got the privilege to meet and work as an apprentice with the potter masters Mustafa Deniz and Bilal Deniz in Menemen, one of the Turkey’s most important districts known with its local clay. I have then convinced myself I could open up my own atelier, knowing that this journey is an endless road. We keep saying that some things are hereditary, and some are claimed to pass down by collective mind from the culture we are in. When I looked at my family roots, even though I could not find one particular person who was a potter, I felt the potter in me literally woken up when I sat down at the wheel for the very first time at the age of 28. Although the role of my masters is the most important factor in my learning process, it turns out that there was a potter somewhere in me all along. At the end of all these seemingly unrelated educations in my life, I am now a woman who owns an atelier, named MANDİTA in İzmir, where all of my experience made sense and come together in a way that I am able to manage them all.
Making pottery; the process of production from beginning to end, creating functional goods such as bowls, designing workshops focused on miniature pottery and also having a little boutique sales corner within the space. My never ending education and great support from my family, my friends, my anchors, my breakdowns, my disappointments and the different countries I lived in, brought me to the point where I am now. But most importantly it was mud that shaped and rasped me on the way. The mud that continues in an endless loop, where learning and teaching never ends, a field where all elements are used together and meticulously. The point where spirit and technique, technology and primitive perception meet. The state of being shaped by yourself while shaping the clay… Learning patience, accepting what is, as it is. Where everything loses its importance and being merely at the present moment is the sole truth. Just learning “to be”. Where Meister Eckhart’s “istigkeit” (is-ness) comes to existence in one’s consciousness. In short, my life; like a snowball, sometimes nesting down the hill, sometimes pushing that ball, but always adding a piece of snow on the road; I continue to grow myself on this path, which I have brought with trainings from different fields, different countries, different cultures that are not interconnected but nurture me in every sense. Where am I from? Wherever I “anchor”. And the biggest upbringing impact was/is the “earth” itself.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I have met pottery later in life when I realized I need a pause from what I’ve been going through at that time. Without any expectations I have started a ceramics course. Once I made up my mind about diving deep I’ve kept learning as much as I could from different medium, different masters, esteemed colleagues, brilliant scholars and tried as much as I could to benefit every opportunity to evolve within. Every aspect of ceramics art is an endless game; some people are more attracted to moulding, some into firing techniques, some interested in glazing, some like only to sculpt while I am genuinely in love with wheel-throwing. Somewhere in between I recognized that I have always had the urge to feel the clay moving in my hands and had the need to involve in the creation part while witnessing the change in the form. In the beginning I had no idea I was going to specialize in pottery especially in miniature ones. Yet I knew from the first day that it would stick with me for a while either as my job or at least as a hobby. It rather stuck with me as a lifelong process. Surprisingly though my desire in the beginning was to fill my walls with masks rather than creating functional objects. So the very first piece I made was a mask and that mask actually was also the last one cause after I started my education on ceramics I found myself enraptured by wheel-throwing. Although attending classes at the university contributed to me a lot, I could easily say that I was learning faster and in a practical manner at most of the workshops I have attended either as an assistant or an artist. Because instructing actually teaches oneself more than you can imagine. Anyhow my interest in miniature pottery started a short time later I began throwing; so I demanded to learn throwing tiny size pots from my master. Though the idea actually came from my childhood memories when I remembered the porcelain miniature tea set that my grandparents brought to my mom from France, which my sister and I also had the chance to play when we were little. So once this memory of miniature tea set popped into my mind I went deep to learn more about throwing tiny size vases and finally started throwing “tear bottles” that which has a myth in Hittite Empire. The story tells about the tears of the ladies, caught and kept in a tiny bottle by themselves, when the beloved soldiers were away from home for the battles. Most of them tear bottles were glassware back then, while some were made out of clay. Whether it is true or not this story has been told in Anatolia for a very long time now and there are antique bottles found at a lot of archeological sites and been exhibited at the museums as well. Thus after I worked great amount of miniature bottles/vases, I identified some of my works as “tear drop bottles”. With that and many other objects I have thrown, I was reaching more people interested in miniature pottery through my pottery studio “MANDİTA” a name given to girls in Sanskrit; also meaning adorned & decorated. A pottery studio where the simplest form of nature; EARTH is shaped as functional objects, bowls, and miniature pottery then decorated to become “mandita”. Honestly, throwing tiny stuff is a delicate and detailed work. Lots of effort with fingers is needed where your fine motor skills have to work at their best. Working with clay in general is an activity that requires technical know-how as well as physicality, pushing the boundaries of previously unused parts of your body. This ain’t an easy road in terms of mental patience as well. And with that patience you get to learn that hours/weeks of work could fall apart in seconds while some of those are fixable the others have no chance at all. I personally could be an impetuous character time to time. And there are those moments where you start to realize your limits and abilities and a great opportunity occurs in those very moments for you to grow your roots into earth deeper by taking a step back. That which seems like an obstacle actually carries you one step forward to a higher self-actualization. And the Wabi-sabi philosophy “perfection of imperfection” comes true together with the acceptance of that fact. Clay is such a responsive and regressive material that it reflects your emotions right away. Life itself is purely mirroring on the process with all the enjoyment and mourning. Once I realized this, I started researching on “Clay Art Therapy” (CAT) and finally found myself receiving a certificate on art therapy in 2019. Hence in my workshops I incorporated clay art therapy slightly within the program I have prepared in which I combined throwing techniques, art therapy and basic ceramics knowledge all together. Well from where I stand at the moment, I have a clear view of the road I have taken so far and I must say it was harder than I thought it would be, yet I think I would not have changed tiny bit of my actions along the way. I’d like to end with a statement I have written for my works last year for a digital ceramics art platform called “Turkish Ceramic Art Platform”. This I believe would summarize my whole attitude on how I approach to pottery in my life:
“Our doors of perception; forms and/or limits our decisions and understanding of life via the effect of our individual background, as well as the impact of all historical events occurred in micro/macro geography throughout time in which we live in. Currently what I achieved with pottery is the pleasure I find in the “process” of creation, with being able to be deeply involved in the state of obscurity. Therefore, my priority in my artworks, lies beneath the state of emotion; that affects me while integrating with mud; and the viewers while looking at the piece.”
In addition, especially in my effort to produce functional works, as usable goods, I am keen to see my artistic wheel-thrown bowls, decorating even the simplest dining tables. With these bowls; I try to reflect the harmony of the color transitions and complexity of the universe and our planet on the inner surface, while preserving the color and texture of the clay on the outer surface of my traditional bowl forms, which I mostly work with local clay. Apart from bowls, the idea of miniature/micro-pottery emerged to be such decorative objects, with a form and process-oriented approach, traced back to my past. And in time it has thoroughly changed to a different dimension with gold touches on porcelain.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Best place to start would be my atelier Mandita:) cause actually “Asansör”, the historical lift, is very near as one of the very important tourist attractions in İzmir. The structure was built in 1907 to connect the two roads with the height difference between each other. The view on top is marvellous and the street down the lift is a really cosy one commemorated after Dario Moreno who was a singer in love with İzmir and actually had a home on that street. Then, Kemeraltı Bazaar would be ideal to visit as it is in a 25-minute walking distance from this historical lift. It is where you could find souvenirs while walking in and around a very old authentic structure very much like the one in İstanbul called the grand bazaar. There are also great local restaurants that serve Turkish food in Kızlarağası Hanı right in Kemeraltı and special kind of coffee “dibek” is also served at most of the places. Anyone who is interested in history should definitely visit Agora Open Air Museum, too. Agora is an ancient market, which dates back to the Roman Empire period. There are also other historical places that are a must-see such as Ephesus Ancient City and Bergama near İzmir. Also thermal pools and hammams are available in some parts of the city. Most importantly summers are highly preferred as there are loads of beautiful beaches in Çeşme, which is like 40 minutes from the center of the city. In summer it is kind of a habit to start dining in the evening with fish, “meze” a selection of hot and cold dishes, and “rakı” anise-flavoured Turkish alcoholic drink, and that ceremony might last many many hours sometimes till dawn. There are countless places to visit even solely to taste the Agean cuisine. I would lastly recommend a very delicious dessert “lor tatlısı” made from a special kind of cheese. I hope you’ll come and visit one day and enjoy every bit of your trip. Make sure to come stop by my pottery studio.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
It is always difficult to narrow down the people who contributed to me; I’ll try my best to keep it short:) Well my knowledge of throwing pots passed down from my masters Mustafa Deniz and Bilal Deniz here in Menemen (İzmir). So to speak, a great amount of thanks definitely goes to them. Additonally I thank to Münire Kaplan, a beautiful soul who introduced me to clay and encouraged me to get into studying at the university all over again at the age of 28. I also would like to give a shoutout to my fellow ceramics artist and very close friend, Neriman Yenice. Our paths crossed for about two years in education, she is a super-supportive colleague and we still keep on sharing techniques and such. Huge thanks to my beautiful ceramics artist friend Sanem Aytekin Pagliafora, who introduced me to Shoutout. The very specific book of Carla & John B. Kenny “ Creating Ceramic Miniatures” widen my sight in the field of miniature pottery. Alev Ebüzziya Siesbye, an internationally well-known ceramic artist, with her beautiful bowls, has always been an inspiration. John Almeda, the world-renowned artist on miniature pottery also provided me a perspective on how size does matter in such delicate handwork. The lovely couple Melanie&Peter Brown, who are brilliant potters in the UK, great mentors, thought me a lot and we shared loads of great memories at the workshops together. There goes a huge thanks to my precious family and close friends that supported me all along the way from the beginning. Thank you Shoutout for this lovely interview, for me it was really fun to rap up my life as a potter and actually see how far I have come. Cheers.
Other: airBnb experiences: https://www.airbnb.ie/experiences/1325778
Erdem Donuktan Gülce Albayrak