The State of Mind of Art: ‘Being There’ / Oğuz Haşlakoğlu

The State of Mind of Art: ‘Being There’

Oğuz Haşlakoğlu

The basic principle underlying Modern Art rests on Klee’s famous saying, “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” What this means is that art contains its own reality, instead of imitating an already existing reality in the images it produces. This radical perspective on art made its first stylistic appearance in Cézanne’s method of painting, and it made crystal clear what art must focus upon from then onwards: on the process itself, rather than the result; on formation, rather than forms; on becoming, rather than being. This is, to a large extent, the main point of departure for modern day art, and almost everyone in the field of contemporary art acts on this premise – regardless of how much they are able to understand this principle, or to what extent they can apply it correctly or adequately.

Although there is much allure to the expression ‘contemporary art’, it is through its inclination towards permanence that art holds significance that transcends time – and this is where its privilege of being art lies. Therefore, contemporary creative thought may be described dialectically as a conception of ‘being’ with a focus on ‘becoming’. After the point reached in the long discussions on modernism in the past century, this is, in fact, an open door to wholly new insights and developments in our century: namely, ground-breaking technological developments, which make it necessary for the ever-intensifying intersectional relationships between art and science to be channeled – to an extent never seen before – into production.

The discovery of entirely new universes of reality is a process that requires complete and utter creativity. Examples of this are unprecedented developments in ‘Information Technology’, taking place at dizzying speed, or the likes of ‘nanotechnology’ – which signifies designing matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Within these processes artistic imagination directly combines with scientific knowledge, in the dream for an entirely different future and reality, one that shall give rise to deep social and cultural transformations.

“Being There”. This expression, taken from Polish-born American writer Jerry Kosinsky’s novel and later novel-based movie of the same name, contains worlds of meaning that, in fact, reference the relationship between art and reality. Our hero is a gardener, who has spent his entire life working in the villa where he was born. The novel begins as he ‘crash lands’ upon the world, which he has only ever seen on a TV screen up until then, after the owner of the villa passes away – an event that evokes the story of expulsion from paradise. Yet he never leaves behind his life in the garden and his experience of gardening, always carrying this along as a perpetual a state of mind. As a result of a series of events, this brings us to see that humankind has, in fact, cast itself out of paradise, complicating everything by getting itself stuck in a spiral of fear and hope, caught between the past and future.

This is a declaration of our fundamental problem: the inability to just ‘be there’. ‘Being there’ is, in this sense, the definition of a holistic state of mind that has no before or after, a pure and simple mental climate. Within this context, reality is not something we are simply subjected to, it is a fully mutual interaction by way of which we take active part in its formation. This sheds light on the artistic content of this theme of ‘being there’ as well. ‘Making art’ requires realizing this act of ‘being there’, at least in terms of artistic performance.

Art, in this sense, does not consider transcending time, i.e. moving beyond past and future, as achieving a metaphysical ‘beyondness’. On the contrary, it sees the creative moment as an act of always remaining ‘there’ (or ‘here’), without separating between before and after, but rather combining the two in ‘this moment’ – and this is how it transcends the gap between past and future.
This reveals a whole new dimension of art, something other than its known aesthetic and cultural functions. Beyond being the expression or representation of a thought or emotion, a work of art, above and before all, offers a model, some kind of utopia for ‘life’ itself.

Taken from this angle, every true work of art brings us to the very meaning of ‘being there’, through the action that is its creation. This is so, because reality – despite of all the independent and contingent circumstances it contains – is the perpetually ‘creative’ stage of the act of living, within which we make our own selves.

What does the painting say? This well-known question is one we may hear from any keen art aficionado. The superficial meaning of this question suggests that art is somehow not adequate in and of itself, but rather requires further verbal explanation. When we look deeper, however, what we see is an ironic questioning of art – a questioning at the level of the very reason for its existence. What a painting says, what its meaning that may be put to words is, in fact, the reason for that painting’s existence. No matter how this issue of meaning seems to draw us into linguistic discussions, we are not in the position to outright refuse this fact: there is no painter or viewer of paintings independent and devoid of the concept of ‘painting’. In this case, it is only possible to understand how the concept relates to meaning when what that painting ‘says’ is unraveled further. Taken from this perspective, what we call art is the expression as ‘value’ of the context in which the form and content, where the ‘concept’ of painting finds individual expression, acquires universal meaning. As ‘the giver of meaning’, the viewer is an active stakeholder in this context that bestows value as art upon a painting.

With this in mind, Utku Dervent’s paintings may be said to come into existence within this kind of context, where individual expression gains universal meaning.

As soon as one sees that these paintings, based on abstraction, do not have static compositions with already completed forms, what they ‘say’ no longer leads us to some kind of literary narrative; but, rather right into the beating heart of the act of painting. There we find Utku Dervent engrossed in the infinite act: the painter, in his act of painting, is utterly one and the same with his painting.

The drama, however, which is a result of the very nature of the art of painting itself, is that once a painting is complete, as with the actor on stage after the moment of playing their part, the face and mask, which were once identical, must then part ways. The painter, as the one in possession of the face, departs from the mimetic stage of becoming, and in this moment their mask, which represents the role they have played, falls upon the stage as a painting. In this moment the viewer of the painting may either take on a passive position and gaze at this lifeless mask, interpreting it through the concept of ‘representation’ as a finished object to be judged by external standards, or actively place themselves into the painting by taking that ‘mimetic’ step of putting on the mask and reenacting the painting, from the painter’s point of view, in their own imagination. Unfortunately, we see that the way in which the concept of ‘Modern Art’ has above all transformed the relationship between the maker and viewer in art is something that is still not comprehended as should be, despite the fact that more than a century has gone by. This is due to a habitus (a web of sociocultural mental habits) that is based on the ‘finished product’. Yet an artistic reality that has gained independence from nature rather calls for a dialectical interaction, where the viewer ‘participates’ by way of the mimetic act of viewing/spectating that is of equal value to the artist’s mimetic act of creation, rather than a simple ‘gaze from a distance’. Moreover, what better position to perceive a painter’s skill than their own viewpoint?

Then let us ask without beating around the bush: what are these paintings and what do the say? The art of painting, just like any other art, is based upon the problematic of form. Therefore artistic action always expresses itself in some kind of form. Yet this is where things become slightly complicated, because what is usually overlooked while thinking about form is that form in art is itself, first and foremost, a piece of thought.
Artistic form has emotional depth that cannot be reduced to the workings of the mind. It is thus the sensual state adopted by the expression of a thought, which has not yet come to consciousness.

In this case, the act of a painter thinking on form and producing that thought on their canvas through the techniques and tools of painting is, in truth, an act of ‘thinking about oneself’ and even ‘creating oneself’. It must be mentioned that Utku Dervent has gone further towards this end in his artistic act, especially in his recent work. In this respect, and with regards to their potential as games, each and every source of inspiration – from ‘tangram’ to ‘origami’, from number forms to ‘typography’ and all the way to ‘graffiti’ – functions as a kind of ‘external stimulus’ that reveals forms/ways of thinking about oneself.

In his paintings, Utku Dervent treats this with the excitement of child in the midst of playing a game, yet also with utmost perfectionism. He paints as he feels, yet he makes no mistake whatsoever in terms of choice of material or technical approach. This is why the passion and fervour of the spiritual energy that dominates the pathos of his paintings displays a Dionysian dimension, as nothing short of a ‘festival of becoming’, while we are simultaneously reminded that there is always an Apollo at work in the backdrop, determined to preserve order and balance. For a viewer that ‘participates’ in Utku Dervent’s paintings, it is truly impossible to not sense, with great awe, the enjoyment this person, a professional who takes his job so seriously as to approach it with meticulous care, derives from painting. It is impossible to not be amazed by how his work exudes the joy and glee of child at play, yet in complete harmony with that devoted seriosity – as can only take place in art.

On the other hand, we may speak of a dynamism brought by the flow of forms in the state of becoming that governs all of these paintings. Although the existence of this dynamism does evoke a kind of ‘Kinetic Art’ in terms of perception rather than material object, Utku Dervent’s orientation is clearly mental and spiritual – not optical. In this respect, the use of colour is felt with greater intensity in his work as time goes by. Colour takes part in the possibilities of form that are in a constant state of becoming, by way of a strong interaction through which pictorial space achieves depth based on colour.

The result is that pictorial space gains pure pictoriality through the depth created by form and colour separately in their multi-dimensionality, and in this pure pictoriality rich plastic values are created. In this sense, while the artist’s paintings provide a visual feast on the one hand, something else, another element that is not at all visual makes its presence heavily felt to any careful viewer on the other: and this is musical timbre.

As an essential part of Utku Dervent’s lifestyle, music makes its appearance, and we get the impression that he, as a painter, has inevitably realized/externalized his own internalized timbre, with the plastic means of expression in his possession. This is surely closely related to the fact that the axis on which his stylistic approach is situated is independent from nature. Abstraction – by its own nature – brings visual expression closer to music. It must still be mentioned that Utku Dervent’s musical interest is reflected in his paintings as some kind of surprising rhythmic timbre that give them the impression of being a form of improvisational ‘jazz fusion’.
Yet, Utku Dervent’s profound relationship with other forms of art as a painter is not at all limited to music. The possibilities of form, which are in a constant state of movement in the structural assembly of his work, reveal the existence of some kind of architectural conception, in the rhythmic timbre of plastic expression under the impression of music. It is clear from the professional experience he gained by way of working in the field, the education he received for a certain period, and his personal interest that the artist has never severed his connection with architecture.

In this respect, it would not be wrong to say that Utku Dervent considers the art of painting a platform where one can be an architect, in the most ideal sense of the term, both actively and creatively. This is a clear demonstration of how architecture as a leading ‘plastic art’ in the Kantian sense may only make its true appearance on canvas, interpreted through painting.

Then let us finally confess: the answer to the question of ‘what these paintings are’ lies in the rhythmic improvisation – distinctively evoking the timbre of ‘jazz fusion’ – of the form and colour of a dynamic ‘plastic architecture’, fully based on the possibility of taking form.

This is exactly where the advantage brought by abstract modes of expression comes into play, and the artist’s self-pondering through painting finds artistic meaning: as musical architectonic timbre.

Utku Dervent proves us that, on the contrary to the common cliche by which architecture is defined as ‘frozen music’, it may after all be something quite ‘fluid’ that is capable of ‘participating’ within his paintings.