The Process of Being and Anonymization 

Levent Çalıkoğlu  (2003) 

Despite all the first-impression meaning resolutions and formal references that one gets from them, I think that the amorphous  body images seemingly forever pregnant with genesis and birth that appear in Nurettin Erkan’s paintings in actual fact point to quite a few imaginary conceptual voids that go beyond themselves. Now swaying in a void, now emerging three-dimensionally from the surface as if they were going to leap upon us, these imaginary bodies, which are reminiscent of a state of mobilization against every sort of ontology that rejects abstract intelligence, take us back to the primary states of thinking and to a pictorial act that wants to turn into its counterpart. These skinless bodies, whose carcasses are clumped together in terms of line and paint and which acknowledge prospects for “other” states that are external to themselves, provoke the different states of reality and spirit that can emerge in perception. These anonymous bodies, constantly moving in order to exist, encroach upon one another in a way that not only emphasizes the notion of “human” contact but also activates a grand chain of existence of which touching is the cause. And it is precisely at this point that there is manifested a Borges-like autobiographical question-one aspect of which extends as far as ourselves-pertaining to these heroes concerning whose roles and identities we cannot advance even a single suggestion: “Who was I? Was it today’s bewildered me? Or yesterday’s? Some forgotten tomorrow’s? Some unforeseeable one? Or yet another that is observing them all in a mirror?” These bodies, which sometimes become lost in a confusion of paint and sometimes stand out individually as some sexless image, assume different roles. Multiplying the question marks, they appear to be emphasizing what is fundamental whereas in fact they are the immediate cause of our disentanglement and distancing. 

This stream of associations, which some readers might perceive as a kind of postmodernist mental gymnastics, could be regarded as a meaningless strategy for analysis. I must myself make it clear that I don’t want to see Nurettin Erkan’s paintings engulfed by conceptual waves. Nevertheless one perceives such a degree of ossification between formal language and suggested atmosphere on the one hand and sociocultural concepts and discourse on the other that it does not seem to be very wise to ignore one point while analyzing another. For this reason I am going to try and point out the rationale for the appearance of these bodies as a first step and then indicate the levels of discourse with which they coincide and which they trigger-even if that was not the original intention. 

In my opinion what confronts us here is a pictorial language that is guided by a desire to discover the basic structure that lies at the root of an infinite and invariable knowledge of the body. These bodies stripped of their skins are the products of the imagination of an artist who knows that change creates a fragmented and chaotic flow of consciousness and who is striving to resist its heavy force because he knows it. Of course Erkan’s aim is not to arrive at universal and literary truths by plumbing depths. He is a classifier and he is aware that narrative styles that give discourses outside his own no chance to live are generalizations. For this reason, he stays away from meta-languages, meta-narratives, and meta-theories that say that everything is bound to a single ideal or that it endures thanks to one. He thinks that the deep chaos of modern life can only be withstood by focusing on the techniques and opportunities provided by his own line of development. Even in the minor options (such as line, color, contour, and so on) he tries to be himself. He regards the body as the fundamental element of his work because he knows that the body is where all forms of oppression, coercion, and resistance must ultimately manifest themselves. To his way of thinking, insistence on the body as a place of resistance in order to extirpate all forms of totalitarian force that the mind might direct is an indication of a kind of defiance. For this reason the body, which contains within itself the invariability and infinity of substance, is transformed into the main and only purpose. He strives insistently to sanctify the knowledge of body in the face of the fleeting ephemerality of modern life and against the power of change which at some point renders the justification for starting out meaningless. These bodies thus become the symbols of a stance against the threat that the glitteringly promised values of change will destroy everything that we possess. They turn into a metaphor for the desire to confront a perpetual unraveling, renewal, and chaotic change. Erkan is also aware that he is obliged to make his discoveries and definitions related to this metaphor, which is undoubtedly a vehicle for pointing to many other things as well, from within a vortex of change that affects the terms not only of what he is trying to show but those of the debate as well. For this reason he purges his production of fortuitous elements in order both to confirm the existence of body-imagery and to remind us that these bodies are tightly enveloped with information. He focuses on areas of his own purview, for which he proposes an atmosphere purified of any details and mundane references. This process of purification achieves such a degree of refinement that we begin to think that the dozens of images that we have been looking at perhaps entirely for that reason are in fact a single body and its avatars. To put it another way, the body turns into a sort of vortex which swallows up everything but which, at the same time, becomes lost in what it is swallowing and transforms it into a part of itself. While a structure that is amenable to both possibilities may imply its own integrity in some cases, as an image-body it begins to distance itself from being central as its opposite becomes apparent. It turns into a non-existence or a “thing” that is streaking away out of reach and sight. Freed of having to be a source of meaning, power, or action, it assumes whatever identity the viewer decides to invest it with. 

It is apparent then that these bodies whose existence has been left to the mercy of the viewer on the road towards their becoming subjects are the means of analyzing a phenomenon of power of such a nature as to remind one of real life. For this reason, the viewer’s power of judgment turns into a sort of mirror in order to remind him of an instance of power. By means of these bodies, which have not had any success whatsoever on the path of their becoming subjects, Erkan lays out for study the relationship between power and human corporality as well as the organizational and descriptive force of power, thanks to which he also raises the issue not of the formal external impact of power on a subject but rather of the manner of its internal influence upon the ego. All possible conditions under which particular gestures and acts of a body can be transformed into a “vehicle” with which to render visible the forms of bodily relationships and power itself are brought to life by the artist. This is an act of defiance against the existence of a power which in appearance does not exist but which, as an artistic individual, Erkan currently feels breathing down the back of his neck and weighing on the tip of his brush in every move he makes. Within the systematics of these complexly associated relationships, Erkan justifiably perceives himself as an object in power’s gaze and he has recourse to overseeing the bodies he has produced as reflections of his own ego. Clearly as the conscious mind continues to operate on the body, it is forced to come to rest as an individual act of resistance against this pressure that does not openly manifest itself. 

Even though they are not explicitly named as distinct identities and individuals, it is possible to suppose that these bodies are also experiencing a process of physical existence that takes place among them within the bounds of the time during which they are together. One could say that they have built an extremely tight bond as metaphorical reflections of reality-even though that might not have been what they wanted to do. What is more crucial is that, for their maker who imprisons them at some indeterminate point between subject position and individual, the most important justification for each of these bodies to suddenly turn into a single human being is the notion of contact and touching. It is thanks to this that the dialog that they experience among themselves at some border where flesh ceases to be becomes real and they eliminate any question marks that might arise concerning the absence of any resemblance between their shared spaces and world as we perceive it. On the other hand, these figurative heroes seem to be carrying the burden not so much of living and dying as that of understanding. This is the reason why they stand around and look about as if they are constantly trying to hear and call to one another. Moreover, the pictorial atmosphere continuously reminds us that this desire to understand and the process of attaching meaning are a fate that the figures are obliged to suffer. That reminder inspires a feeling that the bodies could be one of us by giving birth to a process of mirroring and identification from the standpoint of ourselves as viewers. Nevertheless the difference between the relationship among the figures on the one hand and what we are confronted by in the world on the other looks like being a kind of relief that comes of the more direct and closer association with one another of bodies that are not strangers but rather friends who share the same fate. They are experiencing within a setting that they have almost got memorized the comfort that comes of having memorized bodily contacts as well. Bodies lacking in centralization and acknowledging the right of one another to live and exist softly interact without any attempt to show off one’s ego and exhibit a secure togetherness that is the exact opposite of those conditions in the material world that leads to distinctions with respect to scope and quality. Thus the precondition that every image-body accepts in order to breathe, question, and listen in their two-dimensional space is this: if there are many types of acts that my body is able to perform in response to the body-images that are all around me, the same thing ought to be true for all the other bodies as well. That way my body will not respond suspiciously to the presence of other bodies, even if it interprets their actions through touching and contact. That is because it knows that our senses, which are characterized by qualitative differences, belong to the material world. Any kind of object that might suggest such a possibility and any process of subjectification that might inspire a feeling of unity or togetherness are features that this two-dimensional space avoids. If one is to experience a process of becoming identical that is separate from bodily identity or sexuality, that can only take place within the boundaries of a pictorial time and space. This is because in the world of real power, individualization strategies provoke diversity, differences, and demands for particularity and thus there is a need for some kind of mechanism that will oversee their operation in order to resolve the resulting complexities. As a first move, the effort is made to keep the body under control and to rein it in. The implication is that the body is a region of potential violation or rejection. 

In my opinion, Nurettin Erkan denies all possible differentiation and diversity out of his awareness of this relationship and thinks that differing copies of external appearances will give birth to a power relationship even if they are within himself. And it is precisely for this reason that he believes that there actually is no such thing as “power”. That is because the roots of power relationships lie in social networks: in the relationships that involve individuals or groups of them. The possibility of diversity is a part of the game of power and this is rightly so. Power encourages, provokes, and seduces; but it also forbids. The forbidden on the other hand inspires desire and thus does the chain of possibilities multiply and grow. By way of conclusion therefore, in order for power to have a say of its own, it must not and will not possess any existence outside that of a subject that is striving to be a subject. Nurettin Erkan remains utterly faithful to this notion through paintings that are reflections of his ego.