What is Weird and Who is Strange

Contemporary art critically reviews the current state of art and society as well as numerous ontological and epistemological questions regarding the world around us. Using myriads of techniques, media, and aesthetics, all of today’s intellectual concepts and artistic production methods are available to the artist.

This is the reason why the character of contemporary art is often kaleidoscopic and pluralist. It’s fields of interest range from the newest technology to traditional disciplines, as well as from avant-gardist and futurist ideas to time immemorial ideas, which occupy us since mankind started living on this planet.

In this context, Melis Buyruk discusses in her artworks the fundamental concept of nature in its relation to mankind. In her strong oeuvre, which consists mainly of beautiful sculptural objects in ceramic or porcelain, she critically reviews the interconnection between humans and nature. The artist questions the meaning of our heterogeneous being by clashing elements of nature with relicts of human existence and cultural habitus. Her ontological analysis of man’s role in the circle of life refers to various fields from philosophy to psychology and socio-politics. By using porcelain in her current works, on the one hand, she refines the formal character of her pieces which shift between reality and surreality. At the same time, this choice of material underlines her cultural criticism. For the cultivated and aesthetically sophisticated, porcelain is of high value in homeware as well as in decorative objects. Clashing its ornamental character with references to plants and human body parts creates an alienation effect, which brings the spectator to rethink his own relationship with nature.

The link between man and nature is problematic. It always was. When religion, philosophy and science started to search for the idea of nature and its relation to the being of man, it caused a split between us and our environment. As a result, the concept of “culture” occurred for describing all human actions and human-made objects. The first notion of an artificial and non-natural world occurred when humanity was set above all. As the weird structures of logic and reason became the only source of truth, mankind became separated from the world for supposedly standing above all primitive and all natural.

The history of man, and especially the story of modern man is about how we overcame the spiritual, intellectual and physical boundaries of the world. Mind over matter has led to a rationalism and culturalism that sets us over all that exists around us. A mechanic worldview has turned our focus onto egoistic interests for gaining maximum profit from our environment. Though, this way of life has recently shown its own limits and dangers.

Indeed, there were always other schools of thought against this anthropocentric world-view, which opposed the idea of a human separatism. Sophists questioned the validity of rationalism and universalism long before Plato would formulate his notion of the ideal world-order. In the East, Taoism proposed at nearly the same time a way of living in harmony with nature, the world and the universe.

Lately, Postmodernism questioned the grand narratives, and criticized the idea of absolute truth as well as any form of imposed objectivity. Today, instead of narrow perspectives on life, we start considering rather holistic worldviews, which prefer mutualism over egoism, complexity over linearity and equality over dominance. I guess we finally started to realize that we must reconsider our position in the world and our relationship with nature. Otherwise, we are doomed to extinction, or at least to a miserable existence.
I believe that no matter what, man is part of nature, and all we create becomes a part in the never-ending process called natural selection and evolution. Only if we see ourselves separated from the world, the term culture can uphold its meaning.

As a paradox, cultures strongest field of expression, art, can create awareness of this current imbalance, as it has always helped to represent and constitute individual and social truths. Since Romanticism, artists were fighting against the leadership of the mind in order to balance it with the senses. It cannot be a pure coincidence that exactly these artists also revealed man’s problematic relationship with nature. In the following years, several artists of the modern avant-gardes as well as post-war movements like Land Art, Environmental Art, Bio Art and Organic Art questioned the connection between man and nature. Later, many contemporary approaches to this discussion have influenced the artistic perception of the world. From being a spiritual and philosophical entity to becoming industrial raw-material, the interconnection between art and nature was always dynamic and heterogenous. This is the reason why still today, many artists review in their works the multi-layered relationship between man and nature in order to understand the essence of humanity and the core-structure of the world.

In this context, the work of Melis Buyruk is a fine example of an artist, who overcomes the notion of traditional nature constructions and their reflections in visual art. Her contemporary approach to this ancient topic relates to various formal and conceptual dimensions ranging from decoration to deconstruction, from beauty to horror, from realism to surrealism, as well as from traditional still life aesthetics to futuristic bio-fusions. Buyruk’s three dimensional pieces seem to come from another planet, where man and nature are melted in hybrid forms in order to coexist. Yet, their strange existence makes us question our own ideas about the reality around us, and therefore mean a chance to reconsider our world affiliation.

In her current exhibition at PG Art Gallery, she presents a new series of porcelain works dealing with hybridity and heterogeneity. Integrating elements of the human body and animal body-parts into floral arrangements, she clashes the world of flora and fauna as well as nature and culture. Her porcelain works look from a distance like a still life made of dried flowers. The lack of color supports the aesthetic of the Nature Morte, as the vividness of life seems to have been driven out of the highly detailed floral arrangements. Due to their white or black monochromy, the focus of the spectator solely lays on the physical and optic appearance of the works. The representative character of the initially naturalistic looking-like pieces makes the spectator at first believe in what s/he sees. Only later, after Buyruk’s fascinating reality distortion gets uncovered, a brilliant alienation-effect occurs, in which the works reveal an appealing surreal dimension.

The moment, the spectator discovers human body parts like lips or breasts, as well as animal parts like e.g. horns, a sudden change of perception occurs. It pulls the careful observer closer to the piece in order to satisfy a new-born curiosity. The works now appear strange, multi-dimensional and mystical, adjectives that also describe the psychovisual impact of Melis Buyruk’s art.

This quality is rare to find these days. In a world, where six-year old kids have already virtually seen the whole world on uncountable screens, the unknown has become a mysterious utopia. Though, Melis Buyruk’s works achieve the nearly impossible: Her pieces draw real attention and mesmerize the spectator by constantly giving him known and unknown insights in various possible and impossible reality constructions. Known flower-elements are mingled with known body parts. Both separately make sense and are accurately depicted. Though, the combination in a complex collage, where they form an unknown unite, is weird, unseen and a bit uncanny.

Indeed, we are afraid of the unknow. Things that we fear are mostly things we do not know or which we do not understand. Evolution is to blame probably. And evolution took care that flowers, animals and humans stay separate. In Buyruk’s current series, this separation is abolished. All three fields of nature are merged into one being. There is no logic that divides them, no ratio that creates hierarchy and no physical difference between them. The former mechanic structure of the world with man as emperor is dissolved. Instead, a new unity occurs, in which all elements appear as equal, and seem to exist as an alternative entity. So, the theory of a holistic worldview finds a physical realization in the work of Melis Buyruk.

In the end, the alienation effect of her work is supported by her extraordinary exhibition methods. By presenting the compositions in thick frames or in glass balls on sophisticated shelfs, the artist gives her pieces an autonomous habitat, where they are singled out from the chaos of our world. On the one hand, the Buyruk gives us so the chance to focus on the pieces with great concentration. On the other hand, the glass borders protect them from our world. Who knows what might happen to them without their own site?

Obviously, esthetic distortion, and symbolic alienation as well as the translocation of real objects into the field of art are production methods and conceptual strategies of the modern avant-garde. It is a fundamental ground for art’s power to cause a critical awareness regarding the being of our existence. The work of Melis Buyruk continues this important artistic act by questioning our worldview for producing alternative reality-possibilities. Her current series proves also that contemporary art is still meaningful for imagining different world-constructions by critically reviewing the current one we are living in. In the end, the glass walls also raise the question of who is observing who. Indeed, maybe we are the strange ones?

Marcus Graf