Seçil Alkış: You’ve had 3 solo exhibitions so far, and your fourth solo show will take place in New York in January. How is the intellectual and practical process of working on a show?
Murat Pulat: We’re talking about a presentation imprisoned between the walls… In the process of preparing for an exhibition, you have to go beyond the specific gallery space and think also about all the other things that encapsulate the exhibition. I really don’t know yet, how it works.
S.A.: We’ll be able to see most of your recent work in the New York exhibition. You’ve utilized more illusions and color transitions in some of the works. Can we talk about your recent works?
M.P.: I don’t think the surface of a painting is different from that of a wall. As I’m busy working on other things, everybody thinks and talks about the paintings. For example I’m trying to grow a lemon tree. I inhale the leaf and it makes me sad. For me, actually, painting is one of the pieces of that make up the whole. I try to clear my life of the things that suppress us, as much as I can; this works very well. These days, people have begun to play with imagery. Images are really effective; it’s actually what I want to show people, share with them; before and after the exhibition. What they call virtual, effects the human psychology and its sociological structure. Masses take part in art even though they are not themselves artists; some don’t even think about it. The people working with imagery are thus closer to us through the utilization of art in this context, through its intervention on its utilization.
S.A.: Your first three shows were in Istanbul. This is the first time you’re exhibiting in another city. What does this mean to you?
M.P.: Istanbul and New York are just cities. What are cities? They are the sum of the perspectives on them. From which perspective should one look at Istanbul? I wanted to walk around like Orhan Veli; really. To feel the city, to walk around like that. To take part in the city somehow; no matter how passive or active. One day a man said that he saw the sea and then he saw other things in it. Why am I telling this, because I feel responsible for the sum of various things. What I want to do is not to make science out of it, but to create other situations, to come up with other perspectives.
As I said, to leave is just a part of it. The thing is, we all get up in the morning an do things. And surely I impose more work to a person who gets up before me and does things. A memory about my mother; for example as I was a student, our apartment was very close to my school. Everybody would get up early in the morning, but for me there was something else involved. I found it problematic to get up early as I would get very tired during the day and spend my time at school which I thought was very limited. Despite all this, I would get up the moment they would touch me. I didn’t know why I did this. What was the thing that made me get up even though I didn’t want to?
For me actually, the early situation or rather an instinct, and maybe the pre-experiment period is to solve this problem. I surely impose more work to who gets up before I do, and does things. Everything would be easy if one more person were to get up. Somebody else will pick up the glass and come. It will be faster and no one will be late for school; and then things will follow after that. I’d like to see things from a collective perspective. What you come upon in the street; let’s say a beggar’s idea, for example the merge of a coffee shop in the corner and the florist; all these are the combination of ideas. We can say it’s how life is, but it’s not, it’s something that just becomes a part of us continuously.
S.A.: When you consider both the context and the commercial part, Istanbul and New York are two very different cities, how important is this for you? The usual example: when we make an exhibition here, it’s very difficult to have somebody write an article about it, on the other hand, the simplest exhibition in New York is accompanied by many articles.
It’s a serious world, it’s a market that’s criticized quite often…
M.P.: As Van Gogh chased crows in the fields, he would always say: ”i have to go, I need to catch up with something”. Concerning where he’s going, he says that “crows seem to be following me”. He works under the sun so much that he almost paints the whole world. He’s left standing with his canvas in his hand. This situation is actually the same as the loop that we call the market. Another situation showing the situation of Van Gogh. These can sound crazy but all this has something to do with the world. To go somewhere, to move. It’s not just New York that’s my choice; for example it’s similar to traveling to Izmir.
S.A.: Contemporary art and the exhibition of works demand a comprehensive perspective and its spatial context beyond that. How do your works relate to one another and the space?
M.P.: I actually know that some of my works relate to space. Something important for me has happened. I had chosen a work to be exhibited at an auction. It’s a still from an Hitchcock movie (surprised woman), there was a scene in which a woman is screaming in the bath. A photo taken during the exhibition of this painting was more important than the work itself. It was like the scream of a woman who was complaining about the current situation. Thus the work began to work by itself.
S.A.: Is there such a thing in your New York exhibition?
M.P.: There was this movie “Mean Streets” starring Robert de Niro; and also “Breathless”… An image from the past can be inclusive. This name includes a few directors, the directors that came after them and even other things. What I’m trying to say is, of course America was there, Hitchcock was there. Some just see the movie, but there’s something which is the subject of intervention; some call it the motive or a portrait made up of numbers and letters. Here is a movie that’s much older than the work itself, but it becomes a part of the New York exhibition the moment it touches. For example the work I created for the gallery window is no more a painting for me, it’s a collection of letters within the emptiness that encapsulates the space. Something is turning into a wall there. My imagery is the walls of that gallery.
S.A.: Can we state is this way? The important thing is: after you create the works, they begin to live and work the moment they’re shown and have a connection with the viewer.
M.P.: It works here as well. I’m talking about a simple thing in my life. I sometimes put my paintings in my bedroom. One day when I woke up, I saw something screaming. I jumped out of the bed. The moment I open my eyes, right in front of me is a screaming woman that looks like a real portrait because of the perspective. What we call imagery is nothing other than the ideas that we see in daily life. The more perspectives I have, the more i see. Images are a kind of simulation, but we shouldn’t be afraid of them.
S.A.: Art is now much more complex than it used to be; on the one hand there are more opportunities, on the other hand young artists experience a lot of tension and tiresome processes. As an artist whose work is well known, what did you experience? What are your suggestions to new artists?
M.P.: A few weeks ago, a group of tourists tried to take a photo in the train in the Haydarpaşa Station, and three of them were struck by the high-voltage line. This event is unfortunately the result of the lack of care of authorities.
This is actually a work, an effort. The more we try, the more we’ll make our lives better. This is valid for a manager in a train station, or a shipyard. One needs to look at it from a complex perspective.
I don’t only want to talk about artists. We can really make this the rationale of art. But it can also be its tension. In short; it has to resist. Resist. If they care one bit about their freedom…
The word “resistance” has become a little too popular in Turkey, I think concepts die when they become popular. Like Che Guevara posters. Empty.
S.A.: You say that images lose their effect as they become popular. Isn’t Marylin Monroe one of the most popular images of the world? We see her often in your works, I’m really curious why.
M.P.: Sometimes the image itself doesn’t represent its own sub-connections. I saw Marylin for the first time when I was a child. I felt she became a part of my inner identity. This may sound too assertive, but it’s as simple as that. This is now a mixture that depends on the outer world within the first species. It’s not different from how sun causes the skin to become darker. When we see a movie, we don’t remember many things from a million scenes. Why is it that some images remain, even though we forget other things? Why do some things cause us to shiver in the night, begin to remember with them, combine with them, why do they remind us of being afraid of the dark? This is a sensitive area. All the things you come upon as you dream… If you become aware of it, you can change it. The moment you understand it, you begin to come up with ideas. I don’t attempt to put something out, but let’s just say that some things combine, they cause each other to multiply and transform the image; in other words hybrid images emerge.
What I want, isn’t to direct the situation by saying things before the exhibition. The encounters and circulations haven’t even begun. We’re rather talking about the things that belong to the exhibition. We haven’t experienced it yet. We haven’t experienced the process, only talked about its potential.
Remembering is restaging that which is the memory, in front of emotions. However, as a result of each staging, the event that is remembered is no longer a repetition of that event; it is reproduced as a different state. In other words, no memories are the same as their source, the lived experience. It becomes a different reality, although it carries a slight resemblance. A remembrance transforms into a possibility for a different experience that has its own temporal and spatial singularity, each time it is remembered. Studies carried out especially in neurophysiology and neuropsychology demonstrate that this experience is a physical reality and significant findings have already been obtained. This essay aims to establish a contemporary aesthetic sensibility by associating works of other artists (Proustian literature, Arvo Part music, etc.) Sarkis where necessary.
If memory was only a storage device and recollections from here were cataloged data, they would be remembered completely independent from the conditions of the environment they are recalled from, unaffected, neither changed nor augmented or impoverished. Furthermore, a recollection is different from the sudden remembrance of what was once forgotten. If we consider functional differences between the terms “recall” and “remember” in English, recalling that which was never forgotten due to a reason for duplication (desire) is indeed persistence of its existence in the body it has been embodying continuously, as part of a sensation since its origin. As a limb, such as a hand or an ear, ages and changes, in harmony with the body, all recollections in the memory present continuity. A recollection is no longer the original experience; it is the coexistence of events incorporating everything that touches upon that experience. The works of Sarkis harbor possibilities that may be considered in this context. From this perspective, Deleuze acknowledges singularity as individuals consisting of intersection of events as well. In other words, these intersections are indeed intersections of experiences recreated as other events, thanks to the possibilities offered by the memory. Thus, recollections are now new and completely different events that establish their own actuality in combination with the current actual existence of events, rather than accomplished and finished, dull, dead pieces of history. Ali Akay notes the following about Sarkis:
“He presents the hints that the question of how to construct a museum can build on, by preserving the virility of the museum at the expense of its operating structure by dividing the energy it embodies, the idea of a museum can start off from the energy derived from heating each other up, rubbing up against one another rather than freezing, displaying historical archives, saving the old.”
Sarkis has embedded the energies of objects instead of the objects themselves, and the interactions between these energies as unified spaces instead of homogeneous spaces in his works, thus presenting a productive ambiguity.
Object fetishism of Sarkis or his style which avoids being an object warehouse, his focus on the traces of objects in the memory (as icons) instead of the objects (and their physical immanence) themselves, is indicative of this understanding. The actualized duplicate existence of that which is in the memory translates into an aesthetic remembrance. What kind of an aestheticization is this? It is not aesthetics in its most commonly used meaning, but in the sense of beauty perceived or determined through the senses as a science; aesthetics which fill in the void between the shift, the non-coincidence, and the failure to coincide, even the Parallax within the context of Zizek, between the tangible world – the world here and the now – and intangible world – the world envisioned and presented as utopias within that envisioning, in other words the the world that has to be.
To put it more clearly, as Emre Zeytinoğlu often highlights post-modern aesthetics are located within productions that fill in the void created as a result of the discord between utopias signaling the promised future and the practical (experienced) reality of that world which is already here, happening now. It may be argued that such a shift occurs at the same time between memory and experienced actuality. If a remembrance is recalled from the memory into experienced reality, it will be reconstructed there as an aesthetic structure and differentiate from its origin. The mind will reconstruct itself as aesthetics under the conditions of the current experience. It will try to complement itself in a way that is compatible with its own story. In this context, here we have a Sarkis who can be associated with Proust.
As Jonah Lehrer states in his book, “Proust was a Neuroscientist”, Proust thought that all of our remembrances were fictions reconstructed by the memory.
“Our struggle to recover our remembrances is futile, all that mental effort is useless…” Why does Proust think that the past is so elusive? Why is the endeavor to remember “futile”?
These questions take us to the core of Proust’s concept of memory. To put it simply, Proust believed that our memories were fictional. Although we feel them to be real, memories are nothing but finely fabricated lies. Let’s consider the cake example. Proust noticed that we start to distort the memory of the cake to suit our personal story, from the moment we finish eating it and leave the crumbs on the plate. We bend and twist the truth to make it fit into our story, “we reprocess experience with our intelligence.” Proust warns us that we should handle the authenticity of our memories more carefully and more sceptically.
Even within the text, the Proustian narrator constantly changes the descriptions of things and people, especially of his lover Albertine that he remembers. The sign of Albertine’s beauty shifts from her chin to her lip, and from her lip to her cheekbone right below her eye as the novel progresses. In another novel, this would have been seen as a random detail error. However, “In the Lost Time, the lesson the novel wants to deliver is that memories are inconsistent and faulty. Proust wants us to know that we can never know where the sign of Albertine’s beauty is located in reality. In a letter to Jacques Riviére, he writes that “I am compelled to portray mistakes without having to feel the obligation of saying that I see mistakes as mistakes.” Because every memory is full of mistakes, there is no sense in keeping a track of this as one keeps a list.”
The remembrance that comes from the memory is deficient in terms of its compatibility with the actual. For this reason, when this remembrance is updated for subjective complementation (as an effort to fill in the void due to shifts), it becomes the actual incorporating the aesthetic aspect. Such a remembrance contains the iconographic references of objects, rather than their idolized constructions. Recollections transform into a drama and they are staged as intertwined with actuality and physical reality of today. Indeed, the spatial-temporal reflection can be observed in the evolution of the stage or the theater. As Elvan Zabunyan notes in her essay on Sarkis, “An important development took place in theater in 1530: The dimensions of the stage changed and to utilize the depth of the stage with the transition from the concept of surface to the concept of volume. Also in 16th century, the stage became an independent space, something beyond a platform within a room. This independent space also brought about a new perspective for the theater play.”
This independent box-stage, also known as the stage of Renaissance, demarcated the drama and the actors/actresses from the audience as the viewer and the viewed, and did not let the two world permeate into each other. Here, the stage formed the space and the boundaries of the drama, akin to the frame of the canvas or the pedestal of the sculpture. However, similar to the sculpture breaking free from its pedestal or theater capable of freeing itself from the determinism of the painture stage, and even artistic practice breaking itself loose from the boundaries set by the white cube gallery, the work blends into the public space, the actual. Where does a work start and end? Where does the everyday life and objects or artistic performance and objects start and end? Memories that are no longer a play staged through the medium of all these memories are like similar to a coming into existence in the actuality of now. Therefore, staging involves the blurring of the boundary between the viewer and the viewed within the flow of all the vital fluidity. In an interview he gave to Evrim Altuğ, Sarkis says the following:
“Yes. There are no actors in my works; the figures I create are the actors. Clothes, photographs, films, lights… Therefore you shape a person the moment he or she enters through the door. This is similar to entering a poem.”
Sarkis acknowledges space as a phenomenological space. In other words, a sensation, a space bent and twisted with the possibilities of subjective experiences. And again, it can be interpreted, in a similar fashion to what Proust thinks about the memory: subjective, bent and twisted according to the reality of the actual experience, a personalized space. In this space, the works of Sarkis are bent and twisted through space and they discover their own reality in the actual, as they are interpreted subjectively, blending into space… Works of art contained by and containing space (to put it with Deleuzian expression, as dual captures indicating an infinite loop) and spaces where such works are exhibited are not frozen or fixed; they are constantly living with a potential that will be actualized in the obscurity the future holds. In the artistic experiences of Sarkis, works are intertwined with spaces and constantly interpreted through a memory, presenting an experience of the aesthetic flow that is generated ad infinitum and questioned with an inductive need for completion.
“The first staging of Sarkis was the Night and Day Dream of the Wall Painter; a loudspeaker was placed on a revolving pedestal in the middle of an “arena”, comprising one part of this installation; this section was part of one of the night acts. In this case, the stage itself can be perceived as a pedestal. In the 1970s, Sarkis reversed the concept of the pedestal which serves as a complementary part of the whole or allows the work to displace itself as a portable support. In Wheelchairs – A memory and seven wheels (1970) – colored stools or – landing field, wheeled platforms, which are clear allusions to small theater stages, carrying the work, transform into a work of art themselves. And sometimes – the whole exhibition space was conceived as the stage; the pedestal of the installation exhibited at Magiciens de la Terre was also the reconstructed gallery space. This “recreation” was a wooden stage-plank one could walk around. In Istanbul, we were in space. In Paris, we are around it. The perspective of the viewer is different; by displacing his work, Sarkis addresses consciousness of the potential viewer before everything else, by questioning the act of re-exhibiting an installation and thus opens up the subject of interpretation into debate. The question of interpretation which has been at the center of his works for years, theater, music and other works of art interpret a role (which falls under the expertise of the actor(ess) who interpret a role)yet retain their form, but they can be conditioned in a new space, and be interpreted by an artist while maintaining their singularity.
Sarkis diminishes the borderline separating space and his works, making it permeable and removing it in his works of art. The best shortcut to approach him is to consider his works as a total of intensity instead of addressing them separately one by one.
The way to actually sense Ardan Özmenoğlu’s art primarily goes through “living”. It is an art that can be understood by being a public person, by being in an intensive relationship with history; looking, seeing, watching, feeling contemporary appearances of history; everything that is written, drawn, spoken, produced, done. In short, this is an art that necessitates the affirmation of life and being active participants rather than turning one’s back; an art that necessitates a person who does not avoid struggle.
In an age dominated by the visual, Ardan Özmenoğlu focuses on the instant of the opening of the eyes and claims her place. This claim is revealed by Özmenoğlu’s reproduction of millions of visual codes that circulate as an intensive artistic energy. The critical question here is formed as such: in our contemporary age of simulation, does the courage to open ones eyes to spectacle correspond to a cynical approach or to a clever artistic strategy? Hal Foster’s reply regarding Warhol may be appropriate and relevant in this case: “ … it is difficult to separate his (Warhol) defense against spectacle from his identification with spectacle.” (Foster, 2009: 159)
The art of Ardan Özmenoğlu deserves to be contextualized on two axes: on the horizontal axis in relation to the reproduction of contemporary cultural fragments, on the vertical axisin relation to her connection with art history. This relationship is open to multi-layered readings and is associated with certain avant-gardist movements of recent history that had universal impact, as well as with local cultural productions rooted in older times. In this respect, Özmenoğlu layers her work by anchoring in history the effects of her own geography to which she forms a global belonging while moving between geographies. This is a production of art open to multiple sensations and it is meaningful that it manages to surmount the problematic of postmodern transience/superficiality. The works prolong and their effect grows.
Deleuze’s question about overcoming the weakness of figuration and narrative art in contemporary painting is still current: “Among figures, is there not a non-narrative one; are there not non-illustrative relations between the figures and phenomena?” (Deleuze, 2009: 15). Owing to her experience in architecture and graphic design Ardan Özmenoğlu starts to work already at the point of eluding this problem and moves along, covering new distances with each exhibition. While the representative print initially fragments, the figure insists on being. This is the way to arrive at the phenomenon visually rather than through narration. While the body’s surface area tries to maintain its meaningful outline (although there are border breaches), various parts are reproduced within themselves. This is offered to the spectator’s feelings as layers between colors and as figures that are liberated by escaping the figurative.
If contemporary art is to a great extend understood through a relational paradigm of experiences, the potency of Ardan Özmenoğlu’s work in terms of conveying it’s feeling intimately and earnestly is significant. From the most masculine issues (references to politics or Yeşilçam) to her most feminine work (nature, plants and İznik tiles, etc.), it is obvious that the work relates to the spectator directly and positively. In this respect, this is an art that is ironic and, more importantly, affirmative rather than being pessimistic. Instead of performing a narcissistic monologue by foregrounding her intellectual background and personal viewpoint, Özmenoğlu’s work attains the opposite and reaches a visuality that affects the spectator through intense communication and interaction.
If each artist re-writes the history of art in her/his unique way, Ardan Özmenoğlu’s art is an aesthetic production that is full of life and an art that is able to reach the spectator. Naturally, this history is constantly updated and time will show in which directions this process, which is currently undergoing a transition, will evolve.
Seçil Alkış: I am really curious the story of how you started using Post-it notes. You take a simple material from daily life and transform it into a very different kind of artwork with silkscreen. Could you talk about this process?
Ardan Özmenoğlu: I first came across Post-it notes while doing my Master’s degree. Post-it is a very contemporary material, with no history and very much something of today, of the moment. We jot down things we need to forget. In some of my works, I bring this material together with the Turkish folklore and traditions, with Turkish history and sometimes with things that we need to remember but keep forgetting all the time. And everything today is bound to be forgotten. That is why you have to jot them down on Post-it notes.
S.A: How did your“New York” exhibition come about? You opened over forty exhibitions all over the world, traveled to and worked in many different cities. You go back and forth between Berlin and Istanbul. When did these international connections begin?
A.Ö: As soon as I completed my Master’s degree, my Russian professor Alexander Djika told me ‘Ardan, you are really talented, you should go abroad.’ He was the first to guide me. As soon as I graduated, I received acceptance for an Artist in Residence at Berkeley, California. It lasted six months. If you are talented, original and persistent about the arts, you see that other opportunities open up. Following that, I went to Berlin for my second solo exhibition, which was followed by my New York exhibition. In the following years, I went back and forth between Istanbul, Berlin and New York.
S.A: I would like to talk about the exhibition in New York: E Pluribus Unum.
A.Ö: That is actually a phrase that sums up the States because it is comprised of many nations coming together; “United States of America.” Especially New York is singled out among them. I came up with the name while I was living in New York. There are one cent coinsall over the streets there. Just imagine that it is a country that loves money but no one picks up one cent coinson the streets. In Turkey, you cannot find 5 cents (kuruş) on the streets. No matter how small, that kind of change is picked up and pocketed. Worst comes to worst, you give it to poor people. It was really interesting, I picked up the coin and looked at it; on the coin, it read:“E Pluribus Unum.” I later found out what it meant which really touched me. Out of many, one. This is a phrase that sums up many things in life. My exhibition was,out of many, one and I, as an artist, was, out of many, one.
As for my Laundromat installation; that is a lifestyle in the States, you have to go to the laundromat once every week or every month. In Turkey, even the poorest families have a laundry machine in their homes and it is not considered a luxury item. And the atmosphere of these laundromats is so lackluster, so cold and so boring that you want to leave them immediately. I created the opposite of this atmosphere; I believe I made the most enjoyable laundromat in the world, all colorful with Post-it notes and tens of laundry machines. It was one of the most appealing works of the exhibition.
S.A: After a few exhibitions in Istanbul, it is very important for artists in Turkey to open an exhibition abroad. Especially New York is crucial for artists in this regard. How important was this for you? Does it make a difference where in the world it is?
A.Ö: It is very important. Here is the deal: “The whole world follows New York. If you are there, you are being followed. If you are not, you are following.” I think that is the only answer there is.
S.A: Is your next plan to open an exhibition in a museum?
A.Ö: Why not? I am ready.
S.A: What would you like to say about your neon works?
A.Ö: As everyone knows, those are very special pieces of work. I pick particular sentences, offering a marvelous reading. And each neon work I do relates to others
S.A: And would you like to add anything about the conceptual stance of the exhibition? You elaborate on many aspects of this capitalist city and country but at the same time maybe you incorporate the Turkish culture into this process.
A.Ö: Whatever city the artist lives in, she is bound to be heavily influenced by it. I mean, she becomes a part of the flow and sees it differently. You become more perceptive about the differences of your own country. Many of my works which are about here (“I’m off to the Friday prayer, I’ll be back soon”) pop up in my mind when I am abroad. It always enriches you to be looking from the outside, into wherever it is you live. On the other hand, my work entitled “employees must wash hands” came to life from start to finish when I was in the States.
S.A: You are interested in sociology. What is your evaluation of Turkey’s situation in general?
A.Ö: All our lives depend on how we form relationships with humans, with nature, with substances, food or anything else. I do not limit this to just human relationships. If your relationship with a flower, with an animal, with food or with a painting you paint is real and authentic, you start to see and to be seen. Observation is something else. I myself am a good observer. Real artists are good observers. If you look at my works closely, you can grasp how I see and interpret Turkey and the world.
S.A: Your works welcome the spectator not just with its content and its theme, but also with a visual language. Is there aconscious decision underlying your works that you would like to share with us?
A.Ö: Even if they seem that way, nothing israndom in any of my works. Every decision I make about my works is a conscious decision, my own decision. And I am inspiredby everything and everyone, be it a bird flying or a fish swimming. You can tell this from the diversity of my artwork. I believe that life itself is art and I tell of life in my works. And music… Music fascinates me.
I think that artists form a different kind of relationship with life, that they hear the unheard and see the unseen. It is a sort of witchcraft or magic. Of course there is hidden wisdom in this. Also, talent is a secret prayer.
S.A: Today the gap between being an “artist” and being a “painter” has widened enormously.How do you define this predicament or this process? Or where do you see yourself in this?
A.Ö:The more art and artists are valued in societies, the happier the artist is. The status of the artist today might not be a happy one but I think it is full of hope. I hope that politics, the economy and education in our country is planned accordingly to increase this happiness. When people ask my profession and I tell that I am an “artist”, Ino longer want to hear them ask the question, “Are you a singer?”And I am struggling against this. Whenever I encounter such a situation, I tirelessly explain who an artist really is. On the one hand, this drives me into a state of despair, but on the other hand, it is part of my struggle. We should first of all communicate and know what the arts and the artist mean and the rest is up to you.
S.A: Transparentsculptures, Post-it silkscreens, neons… The choice of materials and the media of expression say a lot to the spectator about the artist. What do the media mean to you?
A.Ö:Art is creativity. I am thrilled by works that not only add a dimension to daily life, but also ask big questions in a simple manner. The silkscreen technique is something I developed through the years with details peculiar to me so it is like my third hand. My space-specific installations with Post-it notes, glass sculptures andneons are all first of their kind in contemporary Turkish art. Bringing together a traditional technique with a contemporary medium or a contemporarytechnique with a traditional object, and the fact that my work arouses the sensory and perceptive faculties make me an authentic artist. If you happen to come upon my works, you can easily identify them and say,“This is by Ardan.” Even if my techniques vary, there is a unity in terms of the idea and the sense of humor.
Seçil Alkış: To start with, can you tell us about yourself? Who is Monika Bulanda?
Monika Bulanda: A tough question, I actually have a variety of identities. I am both a musician and a painter. If I was to define myself as a whole, I could perhaps say that I am someone who lives and find life in art. I always try to be within the world of art. About music though, I try to do more like commercial music. I try to play around with sounds. I will be exhibiting a tiny CD as well here. About painting, well I’m doing things as you see, more on paper, some as mosaic but that’s a totally different thing…
Most important of it all is that I am an artist in painting and in music, or perhaps me being an artist that is forcefully trying to stay within art. At the same time, I am trying not to lose my values, and I do hope I will not lose them… Of course, progressing steadily is important to me as well.
S.A: You use unconventional materials in your works, these materials you use for your paintings, how did you discover them, how would you describe that process?
M.B: I work with different materials since childhood. Paper, as a material, is quite new to me. I usually worked with charcoal and oil paint. For example, I find it really interesting why I did not enjoy working with acrylic back in the day. Yet, I did many works with acrylic, I even won first place in a competition when I was kid with it. Now I do work with paper, and here is how it all began: While I was passing through Taksim, I had an idea. I even remember the exact spot; that was when the paintings started. I saw windows, and the crowded population around there. I for long wanted to make a painting showing crowds through windows. This feeling was around for a long time then. I was thinking about how I could accomplish that, and I bought some oil paint as I was passing through. I tried with oil paint, but no, I could not create the feeling or the colors I wanted. I went for a concert to New York just after that. I didn’t stay for long, but just for enough a duration. The same feeling I had in Istanbul, with the crowd and the different colors, were there as well. I looked back again and again from a different perspective; you know as if every human was a color and I was trying to catch the feeling of each different color. After I came back home, I tried to get that feeling on the same painting again. It didn’t work and I found myself quite upset about it. Just as I gave up and was covering my works, I realized the effect they did when they were covered with small pieces of paper. That was how I achieved the feeling I was seeking! Perhaps, it was a result of a mistake. After that, I worked with black acrylic painting for a long time.
But the feeling and the idea were always there inside me. It is of course not a total coincidence. I worked hard for everything to come to this point, until I got what I wanted. I tried and tried over and over again. For a year and a half I’ve only been trying things, I was also drawing different things and working on some oil paintings at home.
S.A: How do you decide on the images for your next projects, by the way do you take these photographs yourself?
M.B: Of course I do everything on my own. The feelings I feel have to be transferred to the audience. When I feel something, I want to make it. For example, the project I’m working on right now is about Ottoman Turkish. There was a painting on old Ottoman Turkish in a museum I was visiting, maybe it had affected my works, I realized this later on. I am a person who gets affected in the soul quite easily. I visit a lot of exhibitions and museums, and I get happy seeing new works, getting new ideas. It motivates me to be honest.
S.A: Some artists refrain from visiting galleries and museums since they think they would get affected from what they’ve seen when they are producing. What do you think about this?
M.B: I think it is a good thing to be affected. Getting inspired of course, not copying. I think it is the only way to progress. It is the same for music or any other thing life. We learn from the things we experience. Then we can put something on top of those things we learned. You get an idea from something else, then form it into an idea of your liking. That is the exact same in life…
S.A: Could you call it improving your visual culture?
M.B: Yes, to live on from and to be inspired. Our minds have a way and a rhythm of working. You cannot change this. Your art is affected by the behaviors you were taught at home, education you take from school and the life you form for yourself. Art, in general is life. At least this is how I see it.
S.A: Alright, well you work on plastic arts and music at the same time. How does this add to your works?
M.B: A very interesting thing happened. I was working only as a musician before. I was a drummer in some bands. Then I had my first exhibition and that gave me a lot of self-confidence. Now I’m trying to blend this self-confidence with my music. I can create new things in music as well. A musician and a composing musician are two completely different concepts.
S.A: That is the effect of plastic arts on your music, what could you say for the other way around?
M.B: I always listen to music when I’m painting and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to work this much. I wouldn’t be able to reflect that feeling and energy in painting. On the other hand, as a musician, I travel a lot, I go to so many different places. The cultures, the people and the lifestyles I discover are sources to my paintings in many occasions. At the end of the day, they go along in a parallel path. Sometimes I focus on painting, sometimes on music. I believe I have a quite alright balance in my life right now.
S.A: You talk about multicultural aspects in your works. Could we discuss that a bit? Your works are very satisfactory in terms of visual sensation. How about the subtexts under them? What are you interested in? What do you imply when you say multiculturalism?
M.B: Multiculturalism is not only living somewhere, but also learning the language and the culture. I like multicultural life. It is quite a colorful one. Going to a Chinese restaurant and try out the Chinese cuisine is a factor lifting up my life’s quality. When you think about the globalized world, many people could get inspiration from this sort of things – and in positive ways. Coming here as a tourist holds no importance next to talking to people, witnessing the real conditions, experiencing the real lives that are being lived. Me, I was thinking of totally different things in my first year in Turkey. After learning the mother tongue of Turkey, it became a totally different place for me. What I am talking about is more like this: you have to get into a place and work on it. I always had interest in different cultures and languages since my childhood. I studied at a Spanish high school. I had Spanish teachers. They were so different than my Polish teachers. A whole different world, ideas, behaviors… It perhaps was an era directing my entire life. I could call myself a world citizen. Borders do not hold any importance to me.
S.A: Let’s talk about your exhibition in ALAN Istanbul, April. Are you excited?
M.B: I’ve been working a long time. I am expecting a great exhibition. At the end, I will be displaying works of mine that I really love. There will be various surprises from my previous works. I am planning to include some videos in them. Not installations maybe but an experience where painting, video and music are intertwined. Associations closer to the subject, also reflecting my ideas. There will be an exhibition called “MULTI CITY”. We will be seeing the effects on different cultures, in way that is not only done through colors but also with music and dancing.
S.B: How do you integrate dancing into your works?
M.B: I used to dance a lot in the countries I was. I love to dance. Yet, I am so busy now that I barely have any time to dance – and perhaps none these days. I believe dancing to be an art unifying people. For example dances of different cultures are basically forms of art that brings warmth in between people. When I go to a new country, I immediately look for events to dance in. To illustrate, I would never have guessed how good the Chinese do Salsa. That perhaps is what multiculturalism for me. To be able to combine the best parts of different cultures without losing anything from your own being. Turkish dances are as well brilliant and they should be displayed to other countries too.
S.A: How do you position your works in general sense?
M.B: I think they are formed in time. I am young, and I believe I will be doing a lot more. My only hope is to be able to do the things I like my entire life, and especially just like I said in the beginning, without losing my own values.
S.A: Would you like to ask one question to yourself? What would you like to talk about?
M.B: I speak with my works. There are many that talk around – and without doing anything. That’s why I’m not a person that chooses to talk a lot. I believe my works are vocal enough.
S.A: I just thought of one last question, painting or music?
M.B: I started painting very early, almost 10 years ago. Back then I was also practicing theatre and dancing. I did not make any choices. I tried to be successful in everything I do and I gained my freedom. I think I also have to state that with all the work I feel that I belong to myself as a person. Youth have many problems these days, but one greatest is the expectations from them by their families. People never discover anything on their own. I did this thanks to music and painting. When a person discovers her/himself, then s/he can set the lifestyle and choices on it. I just want to live my life to the fullest, free and happy.
“So here I am, with a cup of coffeen thinking where will these new paints take me, what lies behind this door in front of me. I wonder.”
How would you tell us about the time period after you were chosen the young artist of the year in 2009?
There actually is a short but more important and more distinctive period of time before the competition. I was a fresh graduate; I neither had the time to worry about the future nor the opportunities pushing me to focus on what I do in a serious way. I was just enjoying what I was doing while trying to put forth something different that reflects me and differentiate myself from the academy. I tried for a time, various things; various materials came to pass in the workshop. Then I tried the airbrush for the first time and felt, strangely home. The first works of a project that is going to last three years were done this way. The competition was a confirmation of how good a choice it was to take place in where I feel comfortable. The rest just followed, as if someone pushed a secret button. I spent this period improving the thing I found in that weirdly comfortable zone.
You are preparing for your 3rd personal exhibition in ALAN Istanbul, in 2013. How would you describe it?
I’m in an era in which I am getting rid of the unreal comfort that this zone provided me, doing the same sort of works over and over again. I once again feel excited by everything I try. It is no longer about continuation, but perhaps about the excitement of the unknown. And that is why this exhibition is very important to me. I think more, I feed myself from sources even surprising me, I keep the preparation more intense while keeping the production more raw. This is where I will draw a thick line and say “and this and this happened after this and this.” Different references also push one into considering different techniques and materials. So here I am, with a cup of coffee thinking where will these new paints take me, what lies behind this door in front of me. I wonder.
Who are some of the artists you enjoy in the international platform? Why?
The only motivation I have currently to complete my Master’s project is that the subject is contemporary Japanese art. The same motivation was what made me take Japanese courses in a tiny class for an entire year. Well, the answer is contemporary Japanese Art, especially Takashi Murakami. Pop Surrealism is another current I felt close and followed. Some names I can think of right this moment are Audrey Kawasaki, Elizabeth McGrath, Greg Craola Simkins, Amy Sol…
What sort of a relationship and interaction do you have between other young modern artists?
To stay unique, one has to broaden her perceptions to the fullest, while also harnessing them it seems.
How would you describe your technique in painting?
I think I fulfill the “assorted technique”. I use acrylic, ceramic ink, markers and pencil. I thin the paint with coffee or tea. I love to randomly use not really on target intensity paint in my airbrush and sometimes to use dish sponge instead of a brush. Coincident and marks carried of the moment a work was made are notions that fit within my technique.
Your works are lively and positive. How would you describe this affects the ones around you?
Well I’m usually getting positive comments; this could be a pointer that the properties of the colors, objects and figures I use are a bit distracting. It is a bit like having hidden meanings in the things one says. Painting a gloomy feeling with phosphorescent tones of purple is somewhat like describing something that I know is disturbing with a wiser and perhaps sweeter choice of words. So at the end instead of the “She speaks about even the most disturbing things in a sweet and cute way” effect, I sometimes think I cause a “She tells about sweet and cute things” effect. There is, on the other hand, a situation in my paintings like I try things, and give up then I get distant and alienate myself then start to express myself in a virtual world where colors are brighter, images are sharper and end up living in there. The result, perhaps, is this highly attractive imaginary world and the unlikely intense happiness it creates despite its fake nature. I believe this is the residue my paintings leave behind on people.
As the space I get to act increases, I feel more comfortable with regard to the limits of frame, paper and canvas.
You currently have a large workshop in Istinye. Do you believe working in the workshop affects your projects?
The workshop atmosphere has a great influence on my paintings, and I actually am a person that consumesplaces quite fast. Especially in an isolated place like a workshop where the time spent is extremely intense and the energy within extremely exploited, this fact is more visible. That location, after a point, is “exhausted”. I can’t work after I get “used to”. The time it takes me to get to this stage differs, but as I just counted it’s my 9th workshop. Besides, none of the places resemble another. They range from a tidy apartment with cream colored carpets to a shop with broken windows. I sometimes feel I have to live in my workshop and sometimes I can’t stand the notion of staying the same room with my paintings. My current workshop, despite being in the parallel street of Istinye Park, has weird scenery with chickens, cats and goats wondering in through left open doors…
How would you comment on art fairs you attended up to this moment?
Fairs were events that I always eagerly await, even before I started to attend as an artist. Well, people visit them to experience works of great variety and count; something they can’t have every day. One jumps from one emotion to another. In every turn you experience different feelings, see different worlds sometimes even when you are under the effect of the previous one. Though, there is yet another feeling one can experience in fairs; that crowd, that chaos you enjoy sometimes become almost threatening when you attend as an exhibiting artist.