Osman Akan, was born on the Black Sea coast of Turkey. Since 1995, he has been living and working in New York, United States. In 1998, he received his master’s degree in “Critical Studies and Integrated Media” from the California Institute of Art. Having received education as a new media artist, Akan started to print 3D model “virtual” sculptures in 1997. His interest in embodying sculptural works in relation to virtual landscapes led to working with optical fibers in 2005. He founded his first major fiber optic works in 2006 in Franconia Sculpture Park. Akan received the New York State Art Council (NYSCA) “Individual Artist Scholarship” for the realization of the “Third Bridge”, a commission for the 40th anniversary celebration in New York City Parks. Akan received a special commission from the Denver Cultural Affairs Office in 2009 to place a large-scale permanent sculpture in the Denver Botanical Gardens entrance atrium. Osman Akan, one of the rare artists producing works in public spaces, continues his studies in New York where he lives.
What can you say about the art journey that you started years ago?
Whether you give it in drum or harpsichord, there are children who can play, I was one of them. People of this type get bored easily, often question and want to find their own truth. If we evaluate it like this, I can say that I have had an extraordinary life, which has been in search until the end of the forties.I studied design at Bilkent early 90s, those years were the years when mixed with graphic design on each other’s traffic design in Turkey. In my last year, I ranked in a competition opened by Les Ateliers in France and went to France. In the same year, I went to America from there and started taking C ++ coding lessons with the advice of a teacher at MIT MediaLab. It was a time when the topic of media studies was very new, if you have such interests, you had to take a lot of lessons from different departments.
There was a disastrous snowstorm in New York on New Year’s Eve, which was 1995 when I arrived in America. So much so that it took me cold and I moved to California. First, I took classes at the Art Center in Pasadena, then I was accepted into the CalArts (California Institute of Art) where I received a scholarship and did two masters. CalArts was a great place, you can’t find so many talented people anywhere else. More importantly, the school allowed or even encouraged you to take lessons from different departments. I had a master’s degree in Critical Studies and Integrated Media, my mentor was Dick Hebdige. Eventually I became a multi-displiner media theory graduate who knew animation, audio and video, and coding. I think that I started to produce artworks in the public sphere and use materials such as dichroic filters that carry different values at the same time.
Today, we can say that some concepts such as movement, change, accessibility and multiplicity that were used prominently in my works were based on those days. Light is a material that has internalized all these issues I mentioned. Something that has both speed and can look idle at the same time and includes abilities such as frequency, reflection, and refraction. Therefore, it is very suitable for creating a complex language with different layers, in a sound-like manner.
You are known for the extraordinary materials you use. Apart from the forms you create, the light you use is very impressive. In this direction, would you describe your understanding of art?
Light is a strange material that people can relate to very quickly. One thing that has a huge impact on the definition of the area we are in is light. This may be a geographical definition, for example, let’s consider Alaska, where I have my work, the daylight here is very different from the daylight we are used to. It is possible to turn this into a cultural narrative. Let me give an example. I was asked for a commission for a library in Alaska. In sub-arctic regions, daylight is almost non-existent in winter. This causes anxiety especially in young people. In order to alleviate this situation, I did a job that carried daylight in New York there. Of course, I chose the colors here and coded it into a server. You can ask how you code these colors. Daylight is actually cold and light blue in the early hours of the morning in terms of heat, it is never white, it approaches white as it heats towards noon. In the afternoon, it turns orange, then red and purple depending on the season. In the evening, it passes from blue to dark blue. If you have taken lessons such as film theory, animation or computer animation, you will be taught the color of light as well as color theory. Of course, it is up to you as a post artist.
As I mentioned before, we perceive light through the surfaces it reflects and breaks. In this way, light is one of the subjects that art history emphasizes the most. Whoever comes to your mind, from Rembrandt to Rothko, from James Turrell to Josef Albers, has dealt with this issue. In a way, I started to use light as a material, when I was in California, when I started using fiber optic cables. I used to make video projections before, but it was an underdeveloped platform at the time. The fiber normally serves to transmit information at the speed of light, but there is no rule that this light will necessarily contain information. Moreover, you can touch this light without worrying about electricity and heat. If we approach in this way, we find ourselves facing a material that we can control the color on the one hand and the texture on the other. I can say that the optical fiber works that I used in the first public domain were the works I took the first step in this field. In my work called “The Third Bridge” in Brooklyn, the colors were in green tones depending on the concept of the job. Nowadays, I am more concerned with the relationships of colors. Do you believe that the dichroic filters and fiber optic cables I use are completely colorless! All the works I do take color with refraction, reflection and coding of light.
How do you construct the relationship between architectural space and your artwork?
The work done in public spaces is quite different from the “white box” works that we call the gallery by nature. There is no pre-constructed “view of art” profile in such areas. To put it more precisely, the main function of your place may not be to look at the works of art. When you do business for such a place, the questions you ask are different. It is precisely at this point that sometimes people fall into the illusion that this subject is far from artistic concerns that it is suitable for architecture. However, as Gordon Matthew Clark said, my main concern is never electrical or plumbing.
By accepting that each artist is different, I can say that my own approach is generally related to the speed of perception. How can I control the perception speed of the people who use this space and pass through it? This is one of the many questions I ask. If we think of space as a content given to you before, you can think of it as symmetrical or asymmetrical. Naturally, your work will reflect this. In this way, every new project is a chance to relate to a brand new.
Let me give two examples of my distant works as content, one is the children’s museum in Denver and the other is the United Nations Park in New York. If these works show some similarities, this is mostly the reflexes of the artist. I would like to say briefly that I look at each new project as a chance to try something different and I try to use this chance as smartly as possible.
Is there a contextual relation with the library function of the building whose installation you are editing? What is it?
El Paso (The Pass) means pass. A cross between hills and mountains caused by erosion caused by Rio Grande River. In today’s world, a border crossing is now between the United States and Mexico due to the borders. I was intrigued by the name of this city, which metaphorically points to a connection both in a tectonic and diplomatic and cultural sense, like a tunnel. In this context, I can say that the library, whose function is to establish a communication between local and universal, is a transition area and using fiber optic cables whose task is to transfer data at the speed of light has formed the base of the “Voids”.
What kind of dialogue took place between the volume of the existing architectural space and the voids you created? What is the conceptual basis of the work?
This commission came directly to me. It is not a business that has come through a convention or a project. They have seen the work I have done before, they said we want to work with you in this project and we started. By this way, of course, the tip was open. When I was involved in the project, the space was still in a plan. Since I work in a digital environment, it is very easy to integrate into this type of architectural plans. If you think about it, the building was not physically present, but it was there for information. The point that I was considering for this project was the transition between this dilemma. Interestingly, the building consisted of two wings, the library and the cultural center, and an atrium connecting these two wings. I said I wanted to do a job in this atrium. They didn’t really like this idea, because they wanted a more monumental job in front of the building. I was arguing that the atrium is ideal as it is completely sheltered and facing the front and back of the building, as it is completely glass facade. Finally, I convinced them of this idea and we started to make the “Voids”.
As I mentioned, this is an area that is between the two buildings and has an atrium with ten and a rear facade of glass. Due to its high ceiling, a form suspended from the ceiling was an approach that the area naturally suggested. The relationship between the tectonic and digital forms that I was talking about allowed a perspective where we can look up and down. If you look at this region in the south west of America, you will see that the erosions that form the canyons leave natural forms with horizontal lines behind them. These are similar to the height lines we use in cartography in time. “Voids” is a job created using this information and of course built by me.
Interview: İrem Efe