Interfaces, icons, and still lifes

INTERFACES, ICONS AND STILLLIFES

Esra Aliçavuşoğlu

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Art theoritician Hal Foster states that the question of historical returns is an old matter regarding art history. He expresses that Renaissance, its lexical meaning being “rebirth”, is the founder of the concept of “return” related to its reference to Antiquity.[1] From time to time history, particularly art history, deliberately deals with and interprets these returns and constructs a new era. The most familiar among this question of return is certainly Renaissance, however, although this era makes use of ancient knowledge and elements, what it puts forth is not copying but reinterpretation and conversion. Themes and elements seem to be nourished from the same source and proceed from there, but it is a new genre and hence a new era that is being constructed.

This perpetuity of return which continues until the 20th century in company with various themes such as portrait, landscape, still life, religious and historical subjects is interrupted after this era, and art starts to be constructed contextually and stylistically with a pluralist language that cannot be defined in terms of a single dimension such as return. Aesthetical and visual perception changes, senses become ambiguous, and while new themes appear old forms of “painting” are dealt within different contexts.

Yağız Özgen’s recent works can be perceived within the frame of the above-mentioned returns as the representation of a new visual culture which, as an adaptation of the traditional context to now and today, has almost no connection to the past. In our day when the relation between art and nature in classical terms has been reset and the elements and concepts of daily life have substituted “nature”, Özgen produces his works by starting out from the dynamics of this transition. By interpreting computer interfaces and desktop wallpapers as today’s landscapes and still life themes on large scale canvases, the artist creates indeed brandnew, and in the strictest sense of the word, real still lifes out of this contrast of “natural/artifical”. These paintings are, according to today’s aesthetic and visual perception, the simplest forms of traditional themes, however, it should not be forgotten that they include the alienation effect of “artificial intelligence”. Today’s artist has scarcely any relation to nature in the classical sense for a long time, insomuch that the figure of the artist painting landscapes onto his/her easel placed in front of a view creates long since a ridiculous caricatural perception. However, who can claim that the artist producing works in front of the computer is very different from a landscape painter who became a cliche with a palette?

In this context, Özgen, like many of today’s artists, visualizes indeed the soul of his own era. Such as the artificial landscape in front of which one thinks, spends time, and relaxes is in fact the absolute reality of today.... Using traditional terminology, Özgen, through these paintings which make us realize a reality peculiar to our age, aims at problematizing what interfaces are or are not by treating them as still lifes or landscapes. The interesting point is that these artificial landscapes/still lifes are rendered unique on canvas and transformed into “objects of watching” by hanging on the wall. When considered from this point of view, indeed, the classical master who confines the landscape to the canvas seems to have no difference from today’s artist.

A match-up would show us that these new still life paintings to be hung on our wall and to remind us the transience of everything, i.e. vanitas[2], express themselves in user interfaces, while skulls and faded flowers of memento mori[3] yield their place to desktop files. One might attribute various metaphors to that such as the dissappearance or replacement of today’s desktop icons tomorrow.

These mechanical still lifes consisting of user interfaces and desktop wallpapers summarize today’s mechanical life style as well as production in the most simplest way. Furthermore, these images of which transformation is bound to its producer possess every kind of artificiality of an environment appearing to be sterile. Yağız Özgen’s present works in which he deals with indispensable objects, images, and arrangements of our daily lives in a way visually refictionalize the visual chaos, the phenomena, and the problems of today. Özgen’s desktop items are indeed a portrait of today’s stereotyped concepts and symbols.

Yağız Özgen’s other works in this exhibition are three-dimensional lightboxes. These are continuation of “interfaces” we watch on large scale canvases. “Icons” appearing as symbols on user interfaces which have been transformed into “objects of watching” by being stripped off of their instrumental qualities are this time treated as three-dimensional visuals which have attained independence. In a sense, the state of showing his own painting inside the painting which we observe in some of classical masters’ works steps in here as well. Images appearing in Özgen’s “still life” paintings as symbols come into being three-dimensionally in “Adam’s Prostheses” and “Garden”. While the artist remind us here that the user interface is only an instrument in the production of these images, he presents the visual of the state of both being an instrument and instrumentalized.

Yağız Özgen’s present works inform us that the relation between tradition and contemporary is so close but at the same time creates very different contexts with deviations and returns. They show the variability of concepts and themes, the replacement of instruments and mediators, and how a contemporary aesthetic is pursued in the meantime. In our day when nature and art has an almost non-existent relation and nature has the only function of creating colour and form, Özgen’s paintings construct striking landscapes regarding the “nature” of cyber world and questions today’s reality.

December 2010

Translated by Güher Gürmen


[1] Hal Foster, Gerçeğin Geri Dönüşü (Yüzyılın Sonunda Avangard), [The Return of the Real (Art and Theory at the End of the Century)] Translated by: Esin Hoşsucu, İstanbul, Ayrıntı Publishing, 2009, p. 12.

[2] Vanitas: Means “emptiness” in Latin. It is a type of still life painting which has emerged in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 17th century in particular.

[3] Memento mori: Remember your mortality.