Pluralistic Order in a Heterogeneous Reality

Marcus Graf


Thoughts on the work of Burcu Perçin

Within the last years, Burcu Perçin has created a series of conceptually deep and aesthetically strong paintings, which review the disastrous and dystopian state of our post-industrial society. At the same time, and this makes her work outstanding and important in times, when critics and experts every now and then announce the death of painting, due to the formal, plastic and aesthetic character of her pieces, Perçin constructively contributes to the renewal and further development of contemporary painting.

Excurse – Painting after the End of Painting

In the face of overwhelming and radical changes within our visual culture, sooner or later, artists and art audience, who are aware of the strong impact of digital images, photographs, videos and movies on our perception of reality, come to the questioning of the conceptual and aesthetical character of painting today. How should the art of painting be executed in order to be able to compete with other media and fields of art and visual culture? How should its formal and conceptual cores be formed? What is its definite and certain element that distinguishes it from other fields of art and mass art? Mass art here refers to popular art produced and distributed by mass technology to mass audiences (Noel Carroll), which visual art and artists subversively or directly are exposed to and influenced by every day and everywhere. Does its characteristic matter lay in exterior (narrative) or interior (aesthetic) contexts?
The current creation and viewing of a painting is, due to society’s change from living with a text based culture to an image based one, totally different from the times before the digital revolution of the late 1980’s. We live in a world with more visual data than ever, as never before in mankind’s history has the individual received and produced so many images. This is the reason why artists, and especially painters, who besides the impact of the current visual bombardment, have to struggle with the weight of a long painting history as well, compete with a variety of actors from the visual industry for reaching a spectator and causing an impact on the audience.
So, what is the certain matter of painting that distinguishes it from other media and fields like photography, video, new media or digital art? I believe it is the immediate presence of the artist, where his craft leaves traces of his existence, that creates a difference. Even in minimal monochrome paintings, which are rather produced by workers than by the hand of artists, or pieces that are created in artist workshops, a human presence is always sensible. It might sound anachronistic or even conservative, but I guess that the aura that Walter Benjamin saw in the art of painting, and not in technical reproduced images, results from the touch of the human hand, which lefts its imprint on the work’s surface.
In spite of this, people mostly focus on the narrative site of a painting, where they try to find meaning, content, concept or a story behind the layers of paint. Some art teachers support this by explaining how to “read” a painting. Though, I believe that you cannot and should not read a painting. Reading is for texts, where strict and logical intellectual grammar syntaxes lead the reader to meaning und understanding. A linear sender-receiver-message model is not given in visual arts due to its different conceptual and structural attitude. Anyway, if the artist’s sole aim would be a direct communication, would he then not write a letter to the spectator?
Another characteristic matter of painting is its long and rich history. Especially the last century, which brought the birth, peak and end of modern art, marked the beginning of our contemporary state and brought up an incredible rich and intensive phase in art history, which functions as reference point for contemporary painting today.

The Work of Burcu Perçin.

Burcu Perçin is aware of the state of contemporary visual culture and painting. Her works reflect a deep understanding of the discussions mentioned above. The artist’s approach to painting is pluralistic, as she combines various styles and tendencies of visual culture and the art of painting in order to find an individual artistic way of expressing and reviewing her inner and outer worlds. That is why her work contains an exciting narrative and painterly artistic discussion, and shows a great balance between form and content, aesthetic and idea.

Let us have a closer look at the formal and conceptual characteristics of her work. Observing her paintings, a difference between their macro and micro level occurs. On the macro level, the spectator views the figurative and narrative dimension of the pieces. It tells him a story, which pulls him into the work. Like standing before a screen, or a stage, he watches the set up of a scene. Though, no sound, no movement, and no actor appear, so that the observer has to create the story by himself. Like a detective at a crime scene, he then has to connect hints in order to understand the event that has taken place in the location.
On the micro level, the textures, drippings, and colour-layers refer to nothing else but a painterly cosmos, the art of painting itself. Burcu Perçin is not hiding the process of painting. Instead of giving her works a polished finish, she provides them with a touch of roughness and crudeness. Against this aesthetic of a raw and expressive beauty stand the clearly formulated industrial objects and buildings, which sometimes appear concrete like a technical drawing, other times fragile like an illustration. They formulate counterparts to the abstract and expressive sections of the painting. In the end, her works reveal beauty in ugliness, as they give the devastated buildings a new look and meaning.
For the last years, her paintings mainly deal with abandoned and partly demolished industrial locations, buildings and interiors. Once temples of an industrial utopia, now, they became ruins of a modern dream, in which the screams of a cold silence echo against the naked stonewalls of the huge halls. In this dystopian emptiness, the presence of man is always sensible. It leads the spectator on the graveyards of modernity to integrate him in the work, and to participate in the completion of the painting. Until 2009, Burcu Perçin became known for her paintings of exterior areas like empty highways or parts of landscapes, in which industrial buildings and objects played a minor role. Later, around the year 2010 her works started showing interiors of various desolated factories.
       Perçin’s works are always bipolar: On the one hand, the narrative dimension of the pieces is striking, as the topics of unemployment, loneliness, decline of production, and downfall of society in the age of global economic, ecologic and political crisis are issues that everybody is exposed to and has to live with.
       Perçin’s works are always bipolar: On the one hand, the narrative dimension of the pieces is striking, as the topics of unemployment, loneliness, decline of production, and downfall of society in the age of global economic, ecologic and political crisis are issues that everybody is exposed to and has to live with.

Besides the conceptual dimensions, the aesthetic and artistic form of her work is equally important. The form of the narration, which is based on intensive images that look like clashes between classic American road movies, Wim Wenders sequences and apocalyptic eposes like Mad Max, is powerful. Also the way Burcu Perçin merges various fields like (abstract) expressionism, realism, photography and photo-collage into an individual approach gives her work a great artistic significance. Many artists find topics of interesting intellectual value, but not many are able to formulate a great work of visual art out of it. This is one reason, why many exhibitions today resemble a display of social science home-works. Many artists find nice scenes for telling beautiful stories. Still, an artist should not only aim at decorative beauty. I believe that a great work of art has a strong balance between form and content, and I see this equilibrium in the work of Burcu Perçin. I love the way the artist is mixing styles in order to find the suitable form of expression for her ideas and feelings. All together, the combination of a valuable intellectual concept, a strong and focused narration, as well as a beautiful and striking aesthetic is the reason for the power of her work, which, in the end, also means a valuable contribution to the renewal potential of contemporary painting.
Formally and conceptually, her paintings refer to the art of realism, as they present the spectator images that resemble the reality he think to know. At the same time, obviously, they go beyond a repetitive or flat reproduction-like version of realism by integrating breaks and distortions. Her works are not reproducing reality; they construct unknown and deconstruct known images of reality.
      Photo collages serve as the base and starting point for every current painting. These collages consists of images that she takes herself. Different from many other artists, she does not use ready-made images from printed or digital media, because it is important for her to visit, see and feel the spatial dimensions of the depicted buildings. Therefore, recently, she travelled to Edirne and Beirut for finding the right spaces for her current series. Also, while walking through the abandoned factories, she gets a feeling for the stories and histories of the buildings. Once filled with hundreds of workers being involved in a stream of energy, now, nothing remains but dusty furniture and machines as well as some personal belongings of the employees. Through her research, she gets a personal relationship with the factories, which leads her to the formulation of individual comments in the later paintings. This is one of the reasons why her works reach beyond any reproductive realism.
Back in her Istanbul studio, she reviews the photos, and constructs collages out of them. The parts do not necessarily belong to the same building, and can come from different spaces. Burcu Perçin composes them according to conceptual and aesthetical ideas. Not using any computer devices or postproduction programs, the artist creates the collages by hand, as she likes the physical and visual cuts that result from the clash of different photos. Sometimes, the edges of the different images stick out a bit, so that a slightly three-dimensional effect occurs. Through her photo-collage techniques, the artist creates her own spaces, which initially only existed in her mind and later gain concrete shape on the photo-papers of the collage.
Burucu Perçin’s painting style varies between being realistic and expressive, abstract and figurative, graphic and painterly, geometric and organic as well as technical and natural. Her works discuss the possibilities of painting, varying between rational approaches like colour field painting or realism to emotional ones like (abstract) expressionism. In some pieces, next to geometrical shapes, the spectator can find the grid, one of modern abstractions basic element. The grid aims at bringing order into chaos, as artists like Piet Mondrian were reducing life’s complexity to a simple formula, which should universally represent the world. In Perçin’s paintings though, the use of the grid is different, as it has a function within the composition of the painting and a descriptive connection to reality. In modern architecture, due to its grounding on simplicity and functionality, the grid is a basic structural element. During the painting e.g. of a large geometrical window-front, the grid becomes an element, which not only reflects the building but also organizes, like in a colour field painting, colour within the composition. Often, as a countermovement in the works, she sets expressive painted fields against them in order to create a strong tension and rhythm.
Burcu Perçin is aware of modern art history’s conflict between logic and emotion, in which two major notions of art were fighting against each other: The first one proclaimed a rational approach which is socially and politically engaged. Its’ artists believed in universalism and rationalism. As a countermovement, an irrational approach exposed an autonomous art for the sake of it, in which artists believed in individualism and emotional outburst. In Perçin’s paintings, she declines the various states of painting, so that in the end her individual version, in which a subjective expression takes shape, occurs.
Burcu Perçin’s current series introduces some new matters to her work. Still, we see deserted industrial buildings. Nevertheless, next to using a brighter scale of tones, sprayed signs, figures, and words appear on the walls of the interiors. Sometimes she sprays freehand with a can. Other times the artist uses the stencil technique for painting elements onto the walls of the buildings. The artist repeats forms and sign that she finds during her research trips on the streets and inside of deserted buildings. She understands these elements of an alternative, once sub-cultural visual language as anonymous statements against the leading socio-political status quo. In fact, Burcu Perçin gives these writings so much importance that the name of the current exhibition at Gallery Art On results from it, as she believes that graffiti functions for the mostly young sprayers as the only suitable way of expressing their thoughts and feelings. In a way, these wall writings inhabit therefore a potential for forming a counter expression against the clichés and false promises of the capital as well as our political and cultural hegemonies.

So, we understand that Burcu Perçin develops out of the visual pools of art history, media and various forms of reality images an individual approach especially to the art of figurative painting, where she critically reviews the world we live in. That is why her work contains a potential to contribute to the renewal of painting and refresh the way we experience the current state of society. Although Perçin’s work draws a close relation to the school of realism, her paintings do not represent, reflect or reproduce a given reality. Through distortion, enlarging, cutting, composing, colouring and the expressive use of dozens of layers of colours, she creates her own vision of reality, which at the same time critically comments on the existing one. That is why her work, without falling into the trap of artistic formalism, contributes to the development of painting, while at the same consists of socio-politically engaged pieces that criticize the world we struggle with.

Marcus Graf

(Assist. Prof. Dr., Yeditepe University, Arts Management Department,

Resident Curator, Plato Sanat)