A few thoughts on the current work of Buğra Erol
Art history means for the artist both a chance and a burden. On the one hand, the artist is automatically part of its evolution in the same way as every human being is part of the history of man. Millions of stories combined make history. In English, the connection of the personal and the political is obvious through the linguistic relation of the words story and history. The German language makes the connection between the private and the public even more visible. Here, the term “Geschichte” means both story and history. This conceptual interrelationship was strongly exposed by the ideas of Postmodernism, when a shift from a pseudo-objectivist history writing towards a more multi-layered understanding of the past became noticeable. While traditional history writing was based on the ideologies of political and cultural hegemonies, contemporary ideas, which underlined that every history writing is constructed by man with certain aims and motivations, started to dominate the discussion in the social sciences. The critique of the grand narratives proved that there is no absolute truth in the formation of history, as there is no total objectivity given in the review of the past. So, the interrelation between story and history was finally established. Today, the design and communication of history is accepted as a highly complicated process, in which we all actively take part in by shaping it on various micro and macro levels. As a result, the production of our knowledge about history, present and future is depending on our involvement and engagement.
Art history is a subdivision of the history of culture which itself is a subdivision of the general history of man. It is about the theory and practice of art and its various disciplines. Its 30.000-year-old evolution is primarily shaped by artists, and secondarily influenced by art historians, art theorists, art writers, art critiques, curators, art managers, gallery owners and collectors. The production of art and the numerous fields in its scene are intertwined, as art and its contexts are deeply interconnected. The academic fields of Science of Art and Aesthetics (Kunstwissenschaft) and Cultural Studies have recognized this a long time ago. In order to understand a work of art, iconography and iconology have to go hand in hand during the analysis, as multiple aesthetic and conceptual references to art, its history and its socio-political environment have to be considered.
Artists feed on art history, learn from it, refer to it and try to become a visible part of it by propelling its evolution. A goal is to find a place between the known masters and to leave an individual mark. Only if the artist is recorded and visible the oeuvre matters. That is why art history can be a burden, as it resembles a race or an arena full of competitors. Like a gladiator, in order to stay alive, to be remembered, to become important, the artist must struggle in order to survive.
Art history can be frightening, it can be overwhelming with all its heroes and giants. From Raphael to Gerhard Richter, as well as from Michelangelo to Anish Kapoor and Duchamp to Damian Hirst, the list of masters seems infinite. So, how shall a young artist find an individual path, unique approaches, and original concepts. Yes, Postmodernism’s “Anything Goes” and the critique of originality underlined that nothing can be totally new anymore. That is why it favored a DJ-Culture, in which remixes and retro-approaches became common.
Still, the problem of visibility in the context of history-writing remained. This is one of the reasons, why so many artists, since the middle of the 19th century created contemporary works in relation to the past. Since then, the concept of art appropriation steadily gained influence in the development from modern to contemporary art. Today, besides current socio-political topics as well as issues of visual culture and media realities, reviewing, questing and criticizing the history of art plays still an important role. Some artists make fun of it, some deconstruct it, and some destroy it to rewrite it. Art history can be either your enemy, or friend. In any case it cannot be ignored. That is for sure.
Buğra Erol sees art history as a companion, with which he can get along with. Often using ready-made images as well as art historical references in his multi-disciplinary oeuvre, in the current series, he works with images from the history of modern and contemporary art in Turkey. His collage-like pieces draw relations to the past in order to open up ways for creating art today.
From the beginning of his artistic career, a figurative but deconstructive approach is noticeable in his oeuvre. Erol’s early painterly work is characterized by a rather graphic aesthetic, and by photographic images of everyday scenes, which he artistically loads with weird and strange interventions. Applying deformation and alienation in his paintings, absurd stories of human beings, sometimes funny, other times tragic were set in fragmental urban locations. Later, integrating other disciplines like video, objects and photo-slide-lightboxes into his oeuvre, the interrelationship between man and nature as well as man and animals became a major issue. In these works, he revealed his critical attitude towards environmental and humanitarian crimes. In the current series, entering the sphere of art appropriation, Erol creates his works by using images of other artists. So, his focus is now laying on art itself, as well as the questions of how to be an artist and how to produce art today.
In the current exhibition at SCAG, Buğra Erol presents a new series of slide-lightboxes and paintings. Using photographic reproductions of other artists, Erol confronts his work with the history of fine art in Turkey. In the past, he used the original archive of Greenpeace, or slides that he bought second-hand to produce his light-box-works. In these series, besides the collages of multiple visuals, typography and language were of importance. At his current show in Vienna though, he works with slides of the art historian Burcu Pelvanoğlu, who gave Erol her personal archive of art reproductions that she had used in numerous art history classes at various universities in Istanbul. Now, the artist is using them as material for setting his work in relation to hundreds of historical masters. Always putting two slides on top of each other he formulates an abstraction process that causes an alienation effect. The former artworks on the slide become blurred and appear ambiguously. They loose to a great deal of their ability to communicate clear conceptual matters. So, the visuality of the works becomes the main interest of the spectator.
After concluding his complex matrix out of numerous slides, on each collage, the artist paints a minimalized image of a mountain to symbolize the burden of climbing to the zenith of art and its history. Though, Buğra Erol does not understand this mountain as a frightening opponent. Influenced by the ideas of the professional mountain climber Nasuh Mahruki, for the mountaineer, the mountain can never be understood as enemy but friend. Otherwise, it will never allow the mountaineer to climb up to the top. His book A Mountaineer’s Diary (Bir Dağcının Güncesi) has influenced Erol during the conceptual development of the slide-series. The works now depict in a formally beautiful and conceptually striking way the struggle for individual artistic production as well as the difficulty to gain recognition and appreciation as artist.
The paintings seen in the show follow a similar approach towards the history of art.
Here, a graphic character is dominant, as painterly textures and gestures are reduced to a minimum. This act induces the spectator to mainly focus on the scene and imagery of the work. Out of existing works of important Turkish artists, her creates his own painting by melting the original images into each other and changing the all-over composition as well as the original general colouring. Again, a collage-like attitude deconstructs the given pieces and transforms them into visual material, which he uses for his own works as he wishes.
In the end, Buğra Erol’s exhibition is a great example for art appropriation and the remix-culture in contemporary art. It underlines the complex and often difficult relationship of today’s artists with the past without being nostalgic of pessimistic. Erol understands art history as a vast pool of countless forms, aesthetics and concepts, from which he gains knowledge, as well as the chance to produce works that reflect on both the history and present of art. That is why Erol’s works are transhistorical, as they go beyond the traditional way of creating and presenting artworks. This is the reason why they matter in the present.