Burkut Kum is currently based in Istanbul, and his practice spans a variety of media from painting to digital art, sculpture, and installation. Often conceptual in nature, his work is ongoing and intertwined with the daily interactions in the studio. He reads and studies tirelessly, applying ideas and thoughts to a constant stream of making, often in intense bursts. Read this fantastic Q&A and then follow along with more work in progress at his online sketchbook, link at bottom!
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What first interested you in making art? Did you begin with one medium and change/blend it with others after time, or have you always experimented with various methods and media?
Well, I was first introduced to the magical world of visual fiction through reading old Batman comics from when I was very, very young — I mean, I’m talking about a 3-4 year old kid losing his head on foreign language semi-adult superhero comics. I sort of spent all of my childhood creating little projects with big ambitions, like VHS remakes of famous movie series, drawing comic books, and getting my mum to write in the speech boxes until I learnt how to spell. I left home at the age of 13 for Bryanston School, a boarding school in England that put emphasis on arts education, which was the place where I first decided to focus on Fine Art. Painting has been my first medium of work, and I could say it still is my predominant medium, as I can’t seem to get over the mystery of two-dimensional pictorial space, and the almost esoteric possibilities it holds, but I have also experimented with and use photography and film, as well as sculptural installation.
The term ‘intermedia’ is becoming more common, and I often see it associated with digital or electronic media; how do you describe your relationship with this genre or style?
What I mean by the term intermedia when I use it to describe some of my practice is a crossing platform of stimuli-generating objects, imagery, sound and/or anything in between. I see all media as a united means of expressing a metaphysical poetry that’s beyond metaphor, and exists only and infinitely in the present moment. It’s a communion with the artist of sorts. I believe the relationship between the artist and the audience is synonymous with the strength of an artwork. Any work of art, beyond its given purpose, inevitably transcends their subject matter and starts existing in a more allegorical space, and uniquely in each viewer’s mind. I believe the generational gaps of cultural perception between different viewers should be considered, and more contemporary, maybe digital ways of realization could be included in the execution of poetry to strengthen the relevance that the work of art proposes.
All this said, the issue of ‘medium’ isn’t the actual issue I’m delving into. In fact, I think many contemporary artists of our time are over this issue. I’m going to use the term ‘post-conceptual’ to help my point even though the world of so called ‘post-conceptual’ artists rightfully denies of any such tags.
Tell me a bit about some of your recent work. You explain that your work “explores religious and traditional themes of sexuality and human existence” by delving into digital media, which you also describe in terms of a “landscape.” How do traditional themes of religion and sexuality factor in?
Throughout my life, I’ve spent a lot of time losing my head on the question of what this alien form of communication we call ‘art’ was. i just never seemed to be able to fully comprehend its function and the very reason of existence in our society. No matter the amount of heavy reading or writing on the subject I just kept sinking deeper and deeper in this cultural phenomena to a point of actually questioning what this four dimensional experience we call ‘life’ was. When I say this I’m not necessarily talking of an existential questioning in the philosophical sense but a less analytical process of questioning, more profound and definitely scarier. This was sort of a turning point in my thinking as I started to see myself leaning away from my then-materialist and more Marxist views on art that had dragged me from Stirner to Fischer and then to the hopeless conclusion of art’s inevitable self-destruction.
I had to conclude my meditations at one point and as soon as I came to a state of almost not being able to produce anything, an interesting analogy struck me. The weight of the big question, the ultimate truth, is very similar to what a person experiences in the pre-relationship with a lover, or a chosen sexual partner of reproduction. The prolonged period of obsession and the man’s long seeking of the truth are close states. The question of life is just too big of a question that we keep delving into it and never seem to stop. This life, Earth 1.0, the place we land when we fall from Plato’s heaven or our mother’s womb, is an inevitable and brute experience that is pretty much all about going back to the womb, or going to heaven; back and one with the absolute spirit.
I just think the most human and internal concepts such as love, happiness, sadness and sexuality have very big links with the most cosmic, with the religious, the outer space, or the immaterial. I only try to act as a connector between what I call Earth 1.0 and the audience. Recently I’m thinking a lot about the academic and historical significance of mythological painting, and still trying to figure out the relationship between archetypal meta-narrative and the actual story of our everyday lives.
What is your studio or workspace like? Do you have any routines or rituals associated with your time spent there?
I’ve recently moved back to Istanbul from England and set up a new studio space here in an old industrial building, which is weirdly located at the very center of Istanbul. Coming to my methods and routines of working related to my studio, the place functions well with my antics that only an old industrial building could allow, as I can get very loud and violent when I’m doing three dimensional works. However most of the time I’m really just reading, writing, drawing, and waiting for those usually 5-hour sessions of realization and painting between dreamy periods of weeks. Also to mention I listen to very loud music and try to lock myself in my own head, especially when I’m painting. The studio is pretty much a projection of my mind, or you could say it’s a safe zone as far as my boundaries of safety’s concerned.
You’re currently working on an exhibition; how is that going? Are you facing any interesting challenges or questions due to the nature of your work on the boundary of digital and analog?
Thanks for asking, I’m getting more and more satisfied with the upcoming show every day. It’s set to open on the 20th of December at the new OJ Studios in Istanbul, and it will be called ‘Max Stirner Memorial Danger Zone,” a name which has a creepy story of its own and was written on an image I randomly saw on the internet after a week of reading Stirner, and it just felt right to name the show that. I’m still working on the last touches, and I can say say it has become much more personal in the recent weeks, which I believe reflects strongly especially on the found object installations. I can agree that my work plays ball with ‘analog’ and ‘digital,’ yet I don’t think there’s much difference between these concepts.
I feel a permanent shift taking place right now in Mankind’s collective reality, just like the concept of ‘time’ did when it was first conceived, the internet is reshaping reality, and we seem to be causing this collectively as an evolutionary instinct. The juxtapositional gaps of context between concepts such as abstraction and representation, fact and fiction, volume and flatness, or even ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in aesthetic are shortened to dissolution on the flat yet metaphysically profound surface of the internet. This, I believe, is making it harder for us to experience the world and perceive imagery as solid as our parents have perceived it.
Until very recently my mind was swimming in more conceptual and even political waters of the ‘digital age’. I used to believe the Modernist values of aesthetic informed by modesty and genuine emotion were less important than the contemporary question of how, in a world of digital data and generative art that recreates the divine harmony perfectly, could we possibly carry on believing in ‘the autonomous action of art’? However, I now find it much more convincing to believe in magic these days. I think the period of ‘deconstruction’ is over and we need to reconstruct; to heal, to show the ‘more real’. So digital and analog now both serve me as different language words in my poems.
What do you consider to be the most challenging thing about pursuing your art?
The area where my studio is located used to be a very popular and busy neighborhood that was mainly inhabited by local and international artists until couple of years ago. I ended up moving here in a really strange and violent time in Turkey’s political history, and the neighborhood of Galata now is almost completely empty. However, starting out in the post Gezi Istanbul of a continuously increasing number of horrible diplomatic scandals has sort of allowed us to rebuild from the ashes. Working with a local group of artists and curators we’re now in the middle of turning my studio building into an artist-run gallery called OJ Studios. It certainly is very difficult to be able to live happily and financially comfortably as a young artist in Istanbul, but there is also definitely a spark, a small gap of light between the gothic cracks of chaos that is Istanbul, which we intend to assist.
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