Rafet Arslan is an artist who constantly reads, questions and synthesizes, and who meticulously elaborates the intellectual references in his works. He builds his art on conceptual networks ranging from history to philosophy, and he tries to reach the purity of poetry in art. We invite you to a journey in Rafet Arslan’s universe of ideas and a meditation in his world of thoughts.
We know that you draw your inspiration heavily from Post-Modern literature and that in your works you often use the tension between utopia and dystopia. Who are the leading thinkers and books that inspire you within this framework? Can we define your creative process as “artistic research”?
“Artistic research” is an excessively technical term. For me, the artistic process is a spiritual one, with all the preceding cognitive preparation. This is why I do not see my readings as a preparation stage for a project or a field research. I think the reading/thinking process the artist initiates with the aim of establishing a connection with reality, his or her efforts to internalize that content and to try, departing from here, to understand the world with his or her own imagery, is very important. And, in my opinion, the consequences of these tendencies have a place in the process of creating aesthetic and visual forms. From this viewpoint, it is more than natural that I am interested in modern and pre-modern literature as well as the post-modern one. Specifically, post-modern literature is not something I can disregard since it tries to interpret the world of the present or the world that I was born into. Although I am inspired by a wide range of philosophical sources ranging from alchemy to Surrealism, from Frankfurt School to Science-Fiction, the influence of Baudrillard’s theories are particularly visible in my works.
Rafet Arslan, Geiger Counter Is Civilization
We live in a land extremely rich in cultural heritage and memory but also equally difficult because of the current dynamics. How do you think this is reflected in your art?
Especially in the last 4-5 years , it has become difficult to live, let alone to produce art in Turkey. As a society we are going through a traumatic process dominated by violence and manipulation. Here the artist as a creative individual is not far from the sufferings and traumas of the society and, what is more, he or she internally experiences them most deeply. Perhaps his or her difference from the man on the street emerges at this very point; he or she must bear witness to his or her own epoch, and to somehow place all this traumatic situation in his or her artistic practice. At this point the artist also has the function of finding those historical moments in that location in which brighter, more humanistic, spiritually encompassing moments that appeal to the individual’s free consciousness are present; of restoring these experiences as images into the therapeutic aspect of art. I think art has more to say during harder times. .
Collage is a very important technique for you. It has recently become a method that artists use very often, and we may even argue that it has become one of the “fashionable” trends that appear from time to time in contemporary art “market”. But is it possible to say that all artists are able to use this method with the same level of awareness and expertise? How do you interpret this phenomenon?
Collage and the aesthetic of montage in its generic sense is truly at the center of my artistic practice. This is not only to tell stories by cutting and pasting paper, but it can also develop as assemblages made of objects, transformed into three dimensional or moving collages. In art, collage is a form of avantgarde expression that emerged to break the constraints of the decorative and retinal taste, to create a new viewpoint that also involves the idea and the story. Unlike anything you create by grabbing a pair of scissors and a magazine , it is an aesthetic that questions, that carries in it the thought and the imagery. I can personally say the following: I have been using collage and montage techniques for the last 10 years, also aware that they are not that well undersood in our country. At this point, as someone who not only produced art but reflected, wrote, spoke and initiated research in this realm, I am happy to see the young artists approaching the aesthetic of collage and producing work in this field. However, it is probably beyond my reach to provide an answer in what sense it has become fashion or how much place it has in the “contemporary art market”.
Rafet Arslan, Moon Strike
Can you describe your works featured in the “Treasure Room” exhibition?
I prepared a small selection of my works from different periods, having reflected on the exhibition concept as well as the architecture and the historical texture of the venue, Adahan. The common denominator of these works is their relation to history, myth and fantasy. In selecting them I also considered their relationship to the space, the exhibition’s text and the supporting readings. I can say that I am personally satisfied with the exhibition and the installation I did in it.
You state that for you, art is a way to reach pure poetry. In your opinion, who are the artists that managed to approach the “pure poetry” state as closely as possible? And why?
At the end of the day, the art we create, the imagery we propose and the ideas at their basis are somehow related to the cultural heritage accumulated for thousands of years and that we actually call humanity. From the viewpoint of the memory of human civilization, poetry was the purest, the earliest state of art. It was the point of departure that caused the human being to question who he is, where he came from, where he is going to, what his place in the universe is, what his relation to eternity is. In ancient times, the artist was probably his clan’s shaman, healer and poet at the same time. And I probably try to reestablish this connection my ancient colleagues established with reality. And within this framework, the question of what pure poetry is, a question that ranges from the German and British Romanticists to Symbolist poets, from Surrealists to 21st century Cyberpunks and Techno-Shamans, stands at the center of my practice. I also see contemporary art production as a way to extract poetry from verses.
Can you talk about the independent art initiatives you are part of, including “Periphery”? Do you think the developments in Turkey in this realm are positive? Or to what extent can such initiatives reach their objectives especially in terms of sustainability? What can be done to reach them?
I and my artist colleagues have been naming Periphery as a collective rather than an initiative for a long time. Our earlier collective and independent artistic experiences were part of a process that involved Sürrealist Eylem Türkiye, Şebeke and their exhibitions, printed fanzines and publications, forums and performances. During this process we finalized certain memorable works like Yıkım 2011 and Gerçeklik Terörü. But in the last few years I do not think Periphery can be called an art collective; it is rather an art group that tries to trigger collective movements and collaboration. In a country like Turkey where collective thinking/production culture is very weak, the sustainable existence of independent art is in itself a problem. It requires plenty of patience, hard work and stubbornness. On the other hand, the thing called the “art market” can hardly recognize the contribution of independent maneuvres and their role in the direct delivery of art to the masses. I can immediately think of Amber Platform, Pasajist, Açık Stüdyo and Halka Art Project as those “sustainable” examples continuing their activities as initiatives despite everything.
The projects you would like to realize for the future?
First I am plannning a solo exhibition for late 2016 and I am focused on that. I think the therapeutic and cautionary role of art should come forward especially during the moments of social crisis. Now I am after new aesthetic languages and images that can address this situation without the banality of an exhibitionist attitude and without disregarding reality; I am working on it. Moreover, I want to continue on my hand-made book series I call “image book” that are very excited to produce. I want to realize my dream of creating a book about the poet Rimbaud.
How did you meet Art50.net? How do you interpret the future of online platforms?
The Internet has been in our life for a while now and became part of everyday life. Within the dynamics of our era I think the online ways of rendering art accessible and available for sale to greater masses are important. I follow such platforms both in Turkey and abroad. I saw Art50.net as such a platform in our country trying to do this in a correct way and we have been collaborating for a while now.