Footprints of “fugue”
Meeting Başak Bugay’s work is akin to encountering evidence that vulnerability can be a (ironic but special) strength. You proceed uneasily and timidly, as if you have entered a secret and private space. Offering an invitation to introversion, this journey also encourages confrontation. Başak Bugay promises the visitor a psychological exploration experience in the Fugue exhibition at Zilberman. The mixed media sculptures and ink designs in the exhibition stage figures suspended in their inner worlds in purgatory, like dreams that are thought to be real. In addition to wood, rope and ceramics, the artist uses fabric that evokes covering, protection and privacy, and terracotta, historically reminiscent of archaeological figurines, in her sculptures. The sculptures are accompanied by ink patterns she produced in an abstractionist style inspired by landscape images. In the center of these multi- layered productions, it is possible to feel the wish of the individual to turn to his inner world in order to observe a significant change in society.
At this point, I find it meaningful to remind ourselves, our nature, to reconnect to the power of our nature, in other words, to be able to connect with who we are, as Pina Bausch, the pioneer of the Dance Theater movement, calls out “Dance, or we will lose…”. Making his valuable contribution to the catalog on the occasion of Başak’s creation, who connects with many disciplines such as psychology, theater and archeology, I would like to express our gratitude to Dr. Salman Akhtar for his striking text and thank Sami Özbudak for his sincere review.
In order to be ourselves under the sky and above the earth, Wishing to be equipped with the power of self-knowledge…
Naz Kocadere: During the preparation process of the Fugue exhibition, you benefited from readings in the fields of archeology and sociology. However, psychology is the main discipline you feed on in your artistic production. I would like to share an excerpt from the PhD thesis in which you examine the concept of Privacy in Visual Arts:
“Humans have sought ‘relationship’ since their existence and have found creative ways out of the contradiction of ‘to communicate or not to communicate’. Art production is one of such ways. The subject always exists with the other, at the same time holding the power to harm the subject.
“This might be why it is inevitable to hide, retrieve, or stay buried in a world of one’s own in order to have a relation object. It is not uncommon for visual artists to need a sheltered space physically and psychologically during the production phase.
“The work of art, which has found a dimension in privacy, carries the traces of the real self, but it is both hidden and manages to establish a relationship with the other. Like any relationship, the artwork is a meeting of privacies. The parties find each other through an object or situation in the intermediary experiential zone. For both, the assumption of the other makes the experience common.”
As per these notes from the conclusion of your thesis, which touch on the foundations of your artistic practice, can you talk a little bit about how your interest in psychology flourished?
Başak Bugay: It is, of course, something primarily about personal experience. Humans constantly change and life experiences lead to shifting one’s ground in order to find survival solutions. I myself tried to survive which I did with the help of psychology in part. First, I wanted to make sense of my environment. Questions of how, what, and why followed each other with a huge appetite for personality disorders, mental illnesses, and ultimately everything that makes a human being. I myself was included in this circle and started to examine my personality and actions, and therefore my art production. Then I learned that answering them was actually not crucial; they could have never been answered, and I just started enjoying the learning process.
Taking a new path in terms of art production and as a person came along together. Psychology and psychoanalysis gave me a whole new perspective. When you adopt the psychoanalytic thinking system, you come to interpret everything through those lenses. Psychoanalysis is a field of endless grays where there is no white and black. Grays are quite di cult to accept and ambivalence is the hardest thing for a person to bear. Maybe that’s why we want our rigid judgments not to be shaken, and we avoid it as far as we can.
Psychoanalysis is a field emerging from the clinic. It examines the ontology of conditions rather than exposing them. In this sense, cases can be both inspiring and shocking. Guntrip refers to a case in his book Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations, and The Self: A woman often gets herself to sleep inside a chest at home in order to ease her worries, and one day she dies of suffocation. She actually does not aim to die, she rather desires to be reborn as healed from that chest. Such an acute need for retreat and privacy is tragic, of course. As you mentioned, I propose that artistic production can be interpreted as an anxiety-driven and security- oriented withdrawal. What is reborn there may not be the person herself, but the artwork which transforms into a tool to establish an ideal relationship with others. And what is better if the audience responds to this… Maybe that’s why the artist is so fragile in front of the audience, taking personal their possible reactions to the work and paying so much attention. In fact, the audience also experiences a similar uneasiness, as if they were taking a test in face of the work and had to score high. Although both sides suffer from injury anxiety, when they meet, the pleasure is quite satisfying.
It is impossible to pinpoint the beginning of the artistic production process. Once it starts, everything gets intertwined and develops together just like the chemistry of the world. Therefore, making sense of the present through the past opens up an endless field of research. Reading pieces on archeology and evolution has also been a new beginning that has enriched my perspective. Actually, I’m still trying to make a psychological inference on these areas in terms of the evolution of the mind, or the reasons why civilizations have developed mental variations or disorders… It is possible to trace back most value judgments in today’s world as such. On the other hand, it is terrifying that we are still repeating the same primitive patterns.
N.K.: The exhibition takes its name from the psychological term “fugue”, which derives from the Latin “fuga” meaning “to fly”. The phenomenon of the “dissociative fugue” that you are inspired by implies a kind of amnesia and the separation of the individual from the self or “ flying away”. On the one hand, the fugue is also a musical term. In music, a fugue is defined as a polyphonic (contrapuntal) compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a musical theme introduced at the beginning in imitation and which recurs frequently in the course of the composition.
On the other hand, can we think of fugue as a kind of variable airflow or oscillation in music and reality? I would like to talk about the oscillations, pits and heights, and the scenes that you set up as part of the exhibition landscape.
In the episode you talked at Podium podcast series, you said that you thought of the entire exhibition as a work that expresses a single story. From this point of view, could you elaborate on your connection with theater as well as exhibition and stage design?
B.B.: When the word “fugue” started to occupy my mind, I made a fugue list for myself and started listening. My intention was not specifically to establish a connection with music, but I wanted to understand what the term corresponds to in music. As you said, creating a rhythm with pits and heights on a theme… It is a great analogy to make between pits and heights in fugue and the pit that formed the first ideas of this exhibition. Yes, the initial idea was pits. The experience I had in an area where only pits existed which, 100 years ago, were actually hundreds of houses making up a city has led me to this theme. We say “ flying”, right? These houses were gone, they flew! I still have not grasped the nature of such annihilation. It took me a whole day to drive and stop and look at those pits under the changing daylight. There were piles of stones in places, which made no sense, and this created a rather dramatic effect. As of the beginning, I thought of the exhibition as a stage, so I thought around such questions as how to provide that perspective, how to properly use the effect of light, whether or not to fill in the holes or, if yes, how. That is why I always looked at the ground for exhibition design and preferred not to use a pedestal to exhibit the works that I composed as a group.
Theater, performance arts and the stage in general have effects and possibilities that make me envious, I suppose. I am fascinated by shows that are able to demolish the barriers of a closed box spreading to alternative areas, skillfully using new media, where body and voice are prominent rather than language. It is a field that is so close to the audience and, on the other hand, has higher social diversity compared to ours. In this sense, I can say democratic interaction is more powerful there. As a viewer, I want my artwork to establish a relationship with the audience similar to the one I have had with those shows. I think I have, up to a point, succeeded in doing so with this exhibition: I invite the audience to a performative space. How this experience will be shaped is up to the person getting inside.
N.K.: In our conversations during the installation process, you mentioned that creating many of the works displayed in Fugue has been performative and therapeutic. In particular, the tactful volume created by the ropes of the Flying Balloon astonishes the audience. You use rope as a connecting element, a conjunction, in sculptures produced with mixed materials such as ceramic, wood, terracotta and fabric. This search for association and bonding also comes to the fore in your ink-on-paper patterns. Do you particularly focus on relationship building in your productions? How do you examine this focus on materials?
B.B.: My focus is entirely on relationships both in terms of form and content. I question what kind of situations and actions are caused by the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. In addition, the relationship of the elements in the plastic structure participates in this action formally. For example, a single point I make while drawing patterns triggers my curiosity and anxiety about what happens next, how they come together and what they form. It’s actually the conflict of coming together and pushing out each other… Just like the balance between vicinity and distance in a relationship. All repetitive actions, such as drawing patterns or weaving threads, are so therapeutic for me.
Using threads as a conjunction is such a great comment. Again, a clinical case comes to mind: A child with developmental problems is stringing together everything in the house. Children need a transitional object at the stage when they realize the mother is no longer a part of them beginning to separate from her. Either a toy, a blanket, or any object. They replace the object with mother and attach to it. The transitional object of the kid with developmental problems happens to be the thread, and it points to a pathological situation in terms of attachment. As a kid, I had nothing to do with threads, but now I do use them as a conjunction. Especially before I cook terracotta works, I make holes just in case, because later I may want to reeve or connect them with a thread. Hence the holes in Blackout.
I also use thread to create forms. It may be the last material that suits to creating form, but the effort I make for this cause is itself performative. Moving from one end of the workshop to the other for hours with long threads, untying the knots… My work is quite awed and unfinished because that’s the content. Spiritual unregeneration and inexperience, all disruptions in short are visible in the structure of the works. Maybe that’s why I like to get hands-on with new material and work with lack of experience. The important thing here is to not stop trying even though you know it won’t lead to anything.
N.K.: I would like to elaborate on your Eastern Anatolia trip, which you mentioned at the Podium Zilberman episode, the influence of your productions. In your observations of the trip, you talk about the escape of the land from its own reality. You note that you got inspired by the landscape to create your work entitled Old Town as well as ink patterns in terms of stones, textures and piles, and pits. What kind of symbols have influenced you and left a mark on you in the landscape of Eastern Anatolia? What traces do the volumes you create with light and shadow follow in your exhibition design?
B.B.: I am not sure if the landscape of Eastern Anatolia would have had the same effect had it not been for the social life I encountered. Aside from the archaeological remains of historical violence, there were also social traces. My depiction is not sociological, since I haven’t lived there long enough, but I got an idea through short observations and intuitions. I was so shaken because my reality and the reality of that place did not coincide at all. First of all, the time flow was different. In a way, coming out of my own dissociated state, I stepped into the time owing outside, thanks to which I saw inside. It’s true that the land had escaped reality there, but it was also quite visible. The trip has been a mirror for me as a whole.
Recognizing contradictions and commonalities gives me courage to act. I realize that there is not only one side to a situation, and this unfolds layer by layer. For example, the traces of bullying that I saw in Van are both social and personal. Can we say that bullying in the family house is different from the one on the streets? Bullying is an unchanging part of human history, but especially since Anatolia and the Middle East are the first centers of civilization and transitional geographies, they have also been one of the centers of bullying for thousands of years. We have internalized the victim/bully dynamic so much that we live without finding it strange. I interpret this indifference as a “fugue”. Only when you come out of the fugue can you see what you have really been exposed to and what your role has been in this situation.
I refrain from romanticizing Eastern Anatolia. My experience could have been the same at a different place, because the perceiver is me. That’s exactly why when I encounter a situation, I look for its projections. On me, on others, and on the society.