THE WORLD TURNING INTO THE FACE OF EARTH

ZEYNEP SAYIN

Born in 1961, Istanbul,

Zeynep Sayın is a

literary and artistic

theorist and a professor.

She has published

several texts and books

on image theory.

I.

Yet, what becomes visible in ikebana is a form of existence of life […] which is cut

off from nature […] Because, in contrast to the life of nature, which is essentially

temporal […] [t]his flower, which turns its back on nature, hides its essence, but at the

same time, wants to overtake time through its inner transformation, when a sudden

manoeuvre restores temporality, which is its true essence […].

— Nishitani Keiji1

 

 

In the state of Shandong, north of the city of Tai’an, with its stairs ascending to heaven and its three-thousand-year-old tradition, Tai Mountain (Taishan) is the most sacred mountain in Chinese history. It is the mountain symbolising the road, the journey, grace, and the East… Before reaching the mountain, along the road, there are many workshops in which sculptors carve mountain-like forms into rocks taken from quarries… More stone than the stone itself, more rock than the rock, these sculptures are later restored to where they came from – to the mountain – after being patinated to appear “more natural than nature” but obviously through an unnatural process…

Rather than being transferred to or represented on canvas, on screen or in a still photograph, the stone and the mountain become the canvas, the screen or the still photograph; they contain the image in themselves, they show themselves through their own representation. Setting off on the road or being on the road; the beginning that doesn’t begin and the ending that doesn’t end – and now, the mountain that isn’t the mountain – there is always a double-play at work.

     The sacred mountain; the art of animating flowers, ikebana… Chinese for landscape picture: Shan

shui (mountain-water). Then there is lithography, the moment it finds its place on the mountain

again and when poems are carved on its surface, with the red of the ink that fills the slits of the

writing, with its writings that flow from top to bottom onto paper or cloth… The ivy that grows over

poetry; the negative of the poem that is written on the rock next to it, on its surface; the piece of

cloth which is the negative of the poem, hanging from the mount that isn’t a mount... Space and

perspectives of space are constantly shifting... [p. 105]

     It is a strange cut, a strange gesture that cuts the rock from the mountain and, after sculpting it, carries it back to the mountain again. Or the kind that carves poetry onto it, or makes a print of the poem on cloth or paper and then hangs it next to the sculpted rock (see p. 105). Or the kind that

recreates nature, purporting to render it more natural from the moment it cuts it from nature, from

the moment it cracks nature to produce a copy of it. The Tai Mountain of China, the Japanese rock garden, bonsai, ikebana… Uprooting an object, divorcing it from life, and the moments it is cut out, reintroducing it into life in an inanimate form, like a replica of its former state: every discontinuous action of the actor in Japanese Noh theatre, kata, kire… Life, once cut away from life, hides death within itself; meaning that it resembles kat’ı: interruption, cut, kire… If there is such a thing as continuity, then the term is used especially for the art of flower arrangement: the continuity of a double negative, the “not not interrupting” but interrupting, kire-tsuzuki...

     While natural life is temporal and, in order to protect itself, must fight temporality, it also needs to fight and resist life. Yet here, in this sacred mountain, or in the art of flower arrangement, the moment liveliness is cut from life and naturalness cut from nature – from the mountain, the flower, the square or the plant – their resistance against time is cut at the root as well… Kire, kata, bonsai, ikebana: the Turkish art of cutout, kat’ı, animating the flower by removing its vitality, by killing it. At the same time, there have long been sepia tones, pastel colours that have been used not only in the Japanese tradition but also in Akagündüz’ canvases… Erasing one’s own trace… Fading… Nature that transforms as it passes from life to death, towards the artistic realm… Art, which renders nature natural, not because Art dares to keep it alive, but because it dares to kill it… Art, which hides in the natural realm, which is more inorganic than the inorganic… Beauty, which comes not when cut from death but from life, which has always contained fading and erasure within itself, which emerges while passing to death through life. Again, think of the art of flower arrangement: keeping the flowers alive in death, in a limbo between the two states. Think of their dry vitality, or of fossilizing resin… This is not the imitation of nature, but the act of returning the organic to nature in a new way, by uprooting it, stripping it of its nature. In short, by its death. Picking flowers, drying them, and reanimating them in an unnatural environment, in glass, ceramics, metal, stone, textiles, paper and so on…

Ikebana, which becomes doubly natural, not through naturalness but by being unnatural… Nature,

taken away from its own place and time, which is in its own place everywhere and nowhere, which

is in its own time everywhere and nowhere, timeless, inter-temporal, between death, transformed

into art…

Contemporary art, also in Murat Akagündüz, a con/temporary life, intertemporal, interspatial,

between death and life, carrying its own finiteness within itself… The artist who cuts the stone

from the mountain in China, who carves the mountain and instead of imitating the mountain in art,

renders the mountain itself as art… The tantric yoga of nature: once all life has gone from the body,

once the body is cut off from sexuality, its sexuality is paradoxically heightened; even in death,

there is life…

 

I I .

The picture taken by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968, eight months before he set foot on the moon: "Earthrise" (see p. 105). Time cut from life, time touched by death, which is life; the picture of the earth rising from space…

     The story Sergei Eisenstein told about the art classes given in Western and Japanese schools: while Westerners expect the children to fill empty white pages with paint, colours and figures, the Japanese advise them to look around, to section what they see and draw these sections; triangles, squares, circles, rectangles that don’t get incorporated into seeing but get cut from the horizon of view. On one side, filling; on the other, cutting and subtracting… On one side, reduction through filling; on the other growth through cutting… The photograph that carries the trace of the section, of being cut from life, of being spliced into life through dying, of being sealed by being cut: Earthrise, Tai Mountain, ikebana... Rendering the natural space more natural through the photographic cut, by rendering it art, by “double folding”. Some painters cannot imitate nature when they return from it, but in their studios, paint the photographs that “cut” nature. However, in the late nineteenth century, in Paris, they had learned to paint by going into nature with their oil colours and easels… The photograph that cuts nature from nature, a painter from Darüşşafaka, who cuts the photograph from the photograph… Not only a veronica; the photograph is also an ikebana…

     Yet now, in the twenty first century, we have Google Earth: a world that we can see, but it cannot look at us. Yet, when we don’t want to represent the visible but we want to render it visible instead, the world shall look at us. Humans can only see the things that present themselves to our gaze. We can dissect the universe before us; cut out the mountains, flowers and photographs that we see. Yet Google Earth is software that shows the photographs taken by all the satellites of the world, simultaneously and in three dimensions. American Intelligence developed it and when it was first announced in 2005, the Russian Secret Service demanded it be detained, since it would be a convenience for those planning an attack… The screen doesn’t return our gaze. Digital, computer, integral calculations… The virtual universe in which nothing can be revived… Postmodern cartography swallows the photographic cut and instead of dividing up life and cutting it, represents it in a seamless live broadcast… It makes the world “placeless” by embedding everything, by representing all habitats and all space… I am between your two lips: the world between the thumb and the index finger broadcast live, untouchable, growing even as it gets smaller on the screen, shrinking as it is expanded…

     Even so, here, Murat Akagündüz cuts the flower but not the mount, cuts Google Earth but not the photograph of Yıldız Palace… Live broadcast, which de-animates and de-places; photography, which animates. Akagündüz, who reanimates and restores a sense of place…. Hence a reverse equation is established: a cut through Google Earth, which turns the dead wisdom of photography, ikebana and Tai Mountain into a live broadcast, which de-animates it and buries it in dead space; being Japanese in reverse, the insensitive coldness of death in the living, again, kire… Not the cut of a journey to the back of the canvas, to a metaphysical, placeless space, travelling from the visible to the invisible; but the cut of the Japanese teachers that allows them to receive something back from the space. Instead of conveying to the invisible or drawing the visible, it allows them to make the visible more visible. While Google Earth is temporal, in order to broadcast, it must race time and resist temporality. Akagündüz, on the other hand, must stop Google Earth’s race against time and withdraw its digital illusion from it (which isn’t life). Like the bonsai uprooted and essentially changed, the artist’s gesture cuts off Google Earth’s resistance against time; stopping its flow and sealing it within the painting… It takes the gazeless-ness from the image created on the computer and returns the gaze to Earth in reverse… The world is transformed into a non chronological division of temporalities and carries its own image within itself… The canvas renders Google Earth’s placeless proximity to life an absolute distance, but dissects life into a framed space on the wall… Life, cut from life’s broadest interface, Google Earth, and from death, which becomes visible again the moment it is resurrected from immortality… Beauty emerges at the moment of passing from life to death… White, transparent, volatile, slippery… The world, turning into time from timelessness, from infinity into finiteness, from gaze-lessness into gazing … Google Earth is dwarfed… Earth, which rises from the satellite, earthrise… Although he studied in the Academy of Fine Arts, he joins William Anders and Google Earth through the cuts of the painters from Darüşşafaka. He places satellite images obtained via photography between Nature and the canvas, or produces tradition/al installations which cut the satellite rather than Nature, saluting the law of continuity2 among interruptions… Continuous interruption, togetherness of times, place that opens space to the present, contemporary art, which can reach the present as long as it can escape contemporality: con/temporariness… Between and in the finiteness of life…

     Google Earth images, devoid of their colours, white to white, in the two dimensions of canvas. The third dimension is present in the thickness of colour… The artist is not painting the Earth, not capturing the world in an image, but de-earthing earth; through cutting and folding, he is rendering it more Earth-like, giving birth to the world again: Earth/photography/Google Earth/ornament/ painting… Negative/positive/negative/positive/origami/ikebana… Oil on canvas, waterbeds, oil fields, boron fields, energy fields, akupunktur fields, meridians, mountains seen at their peaks, ongons, pieces of earth… A dehumanised, anonymous nature: yet the artist (this human) is opening it up to the canvas, to art. Namibian dunes, shaped by the wind from the Great Sahara, once they give in to the malaria of heights and imitation… A hardly visible move in the white of the egg, a fine layering… The wind of the earth passing through the white of linen, the stamp of the earth in linen, sealed mountains… Akagündüz, who previously painted with resin, who treated the resin used in the base (that is used to bind the colours on the canvas) as the paint, and still manages to create the effect of a sepia photograph producing a sense of melancholy. When turning the resin, the trees protect themselves from wounds and illness, with which they fill their wound, into the paint on canvas, making visible the frozenness of life on canvas, and through the discrepancy or shift present in this frozenness, they present the fragility of life… He used to turn soil into soil through resin… Yet now, everything here has become white…

     What is it that Akagündüz makes visible, brings to life and flows into white? Like earth rising in space, the delicacy of life, elegance, transiency, obscurity, fragility… The commencement of death in life… The stainability of the canvas when touched and its ability to turn pale when exposed to sunlight… That fine voice that the yogis hear once they turn their ears from the outer world and inwards, within themselves… Nada… Nothing… The sound of absence, the audible voice of that which is not; the invisibility in visibility, on the threshold, which can only be photographed by Kirlian… The Japanese definition of beauty, shared by Murat Akagündüz: the ability to restore death and finiteness to death and finiteness, by removing the possibility of immortality. In other words: elegance…

 

 

1 Nishitani Keiji, “Ikebana. .ber dir reine japanische Kunst”, in Philosophisches Jahrbuch, 98/2 (1991); pp. 314–320.

2 Quoted from Paul Val.ry in Alexander Nagel & Christopher S. Wood, Anachronic Renaissance (NYC: Zone books, 2010), p. 11.