Zara, Turkey, 1971
To Touch and To Look
“Why are we satisfied to speak vaguely of a red nose, without specifying what shade of red, even though degrees of red can be stated precisely to the micromillimeter of a wavelength, while with something so infinitely more complicated as what city one happens to be in, we always insist on knowing it exactly? It merely distracts us from more important concerns.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities
A graduate of the Mimar Sinan University Department of Painting, Nuri Kuzucan received his MA at the same department, and in addition to the numerous group exhibitions he has participated in, he has held five solo exhibitions. His solo exhibitions, “Open Space” in 2004, “Traffic” in 2006, “Are you Happy?” in 2008, “Plan” in 2010 and finally “Interior and Exterior” in 2011, all held at x-ist, each featured a distinct theme. The common point of these themes that focus either on the space the individual lives in, or on everyday life and the city, is a reaction against modernity. Kuzucan initially preferred acryllic on canvas in his paintings devoid of figures; however, the material he has used in more recent works has earned him a unique place in the field of painting. Here, the artist began to express his theme also in his choice of material, and the paper tape he uses consolidates the impact he seeks to create upon the viewer. This criticism carried out by Kuzucan, who develops his own unique interpretation of the art-historical theme of criticizing modernity from within modernism, can be understood in the context of the rupture the modern individual experiences as described in Nietzsche’s texts. According to Nietzsche, the modern individual is modern because of the unprecedented rupture between the inner self and the outer self. The rupture between the two spheres is most significant in urban life.
The subject matter of the artist’s early work is interior space. Interior space evokes intimacy. This intimacy is augmented in the paintings with the depiction of private belongings. The most fundamental act of private life is touching. In an interior space that belongs to you, you are allowed to touch everything. “Studio”, a painting dated 1995, and “Fridge” from 1998, are good examples of this. And “Ada’s Table” from 1998 and “Ferhat’s Studio” from 1999, seem like parts of the artist’s private life. ‘To live is to leave traces,’ says Walter Benjamin. Such traces are emphasized in the interior space. In the paintings of this period the viewer sees the spiritual aspect of the rupture of the modern individual. Another element that attracts attention in these interiors is the windows. There is, in almost all his paintings, a window. The window is a connection in the modern human being’s experience, within that rupture. It represents the transition from interior to exterior, and therefore, from the act of touching to the act of looking. We can see the transition from interior space to exterior space in the paintings included in the 2004 exhibition “Open Space”. In paintings like “Burcu’s Cupboard I”, “Burcu’s Cupboard II” and “Bicycle” that are reminiscent of his early work, we again see windows chosen as subject matter. However, the painting that stands out at this exhibition is “The Other Side.” The artist has begun his transition from interior space to exterior space. We first look at the traffic. Traffic is a subject about human experience that contains relative dynamism. In Kuzucan’s later paintings the theme is the appearance of the modern city, or in other words, the exterior space. In the exterior space, the modern human being refrains from touching. He or she speaks, hears and looks. Since the artist does not include human figures in his paintings, there is only the act of looking to speak of. In his most recent paintings, the human being is left completely outside the composition. The artist is content being a distant observer. The lack of contact is the fundamental problem that leads to the rupture experienced by the modern individual. For Hannah Arendt, the fear of contact means the lack of desire to live in the world. Thus, the question the artist asks the modern individual: “Are you happy?” The most striking painting in his solo exhibition titled “Are You Happy?” is “Construction-Destruction”, dated 2008. In this painting, where paper tape is the main material and creates the impression that it may depart from the canvas at any second and goes against the permanence of canvas painting with its fragility, the artist aims to underline the fact that the environment created by modernity could fall to pieces at any time and that it is fragile despite appearing to be sound. The environment that we live in, that influences us, shapes our experience and that we consider to be safe and sound because it is made of concrete and steel, is in fact made of paper. Despite the frosty impression the colours create, this is a dynamic painting, since it is not a collapsed structure that is being depicted, but one that is still in the process of collapsing. The artist by no means seeks to offer hope for the future by suggesting that the system we live in could be destroyed. Kuzucan’s issue is not to create an insight about the future, but an awareness about the present state. The topic is not the moment, but the process. The large dimensions of the canvas create an atmospheric ambience that increases the impact of the composition on the viewer.
The artist extends this lack of contact so far, that eventually, as in the paintings in the 2010 exhibition “Plan”, many paintings are shaped not by a gaze from within the city, but a bird’s-eye-view from as high up as possible. His most recent solo exhibition “Interior and Exterior,” dated 2011, displays a wide variety in terms of subject matter. The painting “Interior” sees the artist return to the interior space, however this space makes no reference to intimacy. We see exterior space in paintings such as “Refinery II” and “New Settlement: JW 1482”, but the topic is not the dense architecture of the modern city. The most striking works in this exhibition are “Nature” and “New Nature”. In reacting against modernity, the German Expressionists had dreamed of reclaiming nature. Yet Kuzucan depicts a complete disconnection from nature. In “Nature”, the only element that refers to nature is the sky, whereas in “New Nature” we are not even offered the blue expanse of the former. With this most recent exhibition, it seems as if the artist has finalized his leitmotif of the rupture of the modern individual.
Text written by Mr. Osman Erden. It was translated by Nazım Dikbaş.