Hafriyat (excavation) is an independent civilian group movement around which painters and sculptors that share the same concerns come together. This group exhibits in the most unlikely spaces, publishes catalogues and organizes discussions. It invites artists and rejoices in their contributions. By examining life and the street, it has succeeded in transcending painterly clichés. It cracked the conservative wall between painting’s subject matter and its style. It painted with a local concern, the images of the individual and the environment. It stood in the way of self-censorship. By showing what artists can do when they gather around a common idea, it collapsed the taboo that one cannot exhibit without approaching certain people in the art market. It started the trend of themed or concept shows.
As Hafriyat, our common point is urban painting. Images of the city are moments and memories we experience individually. They enable us to communicate with the viewer’s and society’s memory. Our eyes are focused at issues, spaces and traces that are kept unseen, degraded or falsified by Art. Art reveres itself so highly that the sparkling often causes blindness. In that sense Hafriyat became “alt-culture” (sub-cultural) movement, by thematizing “daily” realities pushed aside by Turkish Art, and by exiting the elite space of the studio for the street. Instead of painting shantytowns for the sake of their pretty colors, we attempted at formulating an insider’s view –in any case, the street is a much too complex multiplicity to be reduced to the symbol of a shanty. Thus, we preoccupied ourselves not with what ought to be, but with what is. We are after explorations, not inventions. We make exhibitions by collecting lost toys, as treasures from the streets, like the “flaneur” wandering through the crowds.
The examination of the city is not just a question of subject mater; it is also a texture and a feeling. The speed of life in the city is equal to the rate of consumption of the TV zapper. In the fragmented space of contemporary life, events consumed too quickly. In addition to the painting’s subject, Hafriyat’s insistence on the “Moment” also marks this speed. We whiteness the new taking the place of the old and its constant disturbance. The chic appeal and extravagance of the new perceived against its environment reveals a tragic “dichotomy”. That the new is already a jerrybuilt imitation creates in us an image of itself as already worn out and frayed. Urban plans, architectural arrangements, jerrybuilt attachments, the continual mending of the buildings and never-ending excavations (hafriyat) are signs of our industry of assembly and our make-and-fix mentality. The city is the setting of modern life, and Hafriyat traces the process of modernization in Turkey. Thus, we base our works on this oblique geometry, change at the threshold of speed and incompleteness. Instead of clean-cut formalism, we try to develop a tone that is messy and patched, yet one with an insider’s voice.
Light and color is a natural outcome of our reflections on the possibility of a style that is specific to this geography. Photography is primarily a means of documentation. It freezes the moment so as to constitute our collective memory. What is captured by photography is, in fact, light rather than form. Considering that the new technologies of our age are based on the photographic image, –from cinema onwards- we can say that its icons, the TV and the computer, are sources of light themselves. The illusion of this technological artificial light can be found in Hafriyat paintings. What this Cezannist approach produces, pushes the painted surface away from the underlying canvas, and is also similar to the landscapes painted from photographs by Şeker Ahmet Paşa. This illusion makes the painting look like it too is a light-emitting object.
Glorifying the real is the essence of realism. I am not after such a glorification. Reality has been a point of reference for many artists. Some try to elude it, or deny it, and some claim that art is the only reality and thus, perceive and present it solely as a kind of simplification. They take the subject or the psyche as the only reality for art. In fact, everyone -not just the artists- has an idea of what reality is. Today, illusion and reality have become highly confused. While illusion is perceived as reality, reality is presented as an illusion. I am aware that the pieces we paint are not real; they are merely images. The space we share the images of daily life in our collective memory is social as well as cultural. Photographs from newspapers are shared everyday –and often, used as wrapping paper. These documents that constitute our memory are signifiers of the mundane. The reaction against these signifiers has become automated because they provoke that which is real. This reality becomes the reality of the viewer’s stimulated mind. That is the natural outcome of facing social reality. The social reality of our era can also be called capitalist reality. We can include the art of today within the mechanism of communication called the Culture Industry. This mechanism is formulated upon the idea of “populist utilitarianism” gathered around the ideal of communication. The more reality becomes fragmented, the quicker it can be consumed; in the end one’s hold on reality and all belief in reality is lost. It also becomes easier to make a person, who has abandoned his questions against life, believe that the more “products” he/she consumes, the more of a person he/she will become. Social schizophrenia dominates life. My regard of such a reality is suspicious. Skepticism is the manner of examining reality.
It is natural for an attitude that focuses on dualities to contain black humor, for humor feeds on dualities. My interest in caricature comes from my affinity with comics and caricature since childhood. I have been introduced to the art of painting through these. But most importantly, it is rooted in the fact that caricature is the furthest-reaching language of visual arts in Turkey. It is the truest sub-cultural mode of production. In societies of constraint, people have often found escape in satire. There is also a considerable body of work in this area in Turkey. Black humor distinguishes itself from the sit-com due to its very nature, and assumes a critical position. It is necessary to pursue one’s life experiences internally. The duty of art is not to come up with solutions; let’s leave that to the engineers of life. In our global world, it is possible to trace the failed or incomplete project of modernity. In that sense, we can talk about an affinity that contemporary art has with sociology. An artistic persona that prefers to be the “observer” as opposed to its ideal of being the “observed” like a mega-star must be furthered contemplated.
As Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar who talked about the psychological effects of discontinuity in our reality since the administrative reforms of 1839 (Tanzimat Fermanı) and the resulting inner crisis of the individual, wrote in 1951:
The reason for the crisis that causes us to doubt not only our own acts, but also, the principles that govern them, that preoccupies us with light trifle instead of vital and more important issues, or that turns these crucial and vital issues into a joke is the duality caused by our transformation from one civilization into another.
Hakan Gursoytrak, 2004
Translated by Sibel Horada