BODY AND STONE IN NURETTIN ERKAN'S PAINTINGS

 Lütfiye Bozdağ/İstanbul-Turkey 

In Nurettin Erkan’s paintings, we witness the coexistence of the bodily reality of a living creature and the physical reality of a non-living creature, namely the "body and stone." 

The metaphorical relationship between “body and stone” is one of the essential subject matters of the mythological stories and beliefs transferred from one generation to the next since the ancient times. Stones, which possess the secrets of life and history, had great importance in ancient civilizations. Stone has been the metaphor of magic and sacredness since the most ancient times in connection with divinity and has been the symbol of lastingness and permanence because of its durability and endurance. It has transformed the historical attestation of ancient civilizations into lastingness and is even today considered the metaphor of civilization because of its hard and durable structure. 

Stones, persevering against time, are the most permanent records of history.  Art works, created by carving it out, connect the past with the future and shed light on history as records bearing the handprint of mankind. They have been the home of many civilizations and are the documenters of history as well as always being important mimetically in terms of the artistic recreation of memory by contributing to the embalming of tens of thousands of years of historicity as a result of their ontic contribution to architecture. Throughout history, stone has represented the power in the instrumentalism of sculptures created for the purpose of worshipping, has been the worshipped cult in religious belief systems and the object of respect exhibited for the holiness of power. It has also appeared in religious rituals as an important object. 

The most famous legend narrating the metaphorical relationship between stone and body is the legend of Medusa, which is about a human being turning into stone. Medusa is such a beautiful young girl that all goddesses are jealous of her. Among these is Athena. On the other hand, Poseidon, the Sea God, is an admirer of Medusa. Poseidon gets so carried away that one day he rapes Medusa in Athena’s temple. Athena feels humiliated and punishes Medusa by turning her into a Gorgon. Now, Medusa has become beastly and her hair has turned into snakes. Those who look at her face turn into stone. She is a mortal since she is human. Athena deems that turning her into a Gorgon isn’t sufficient punishment for Medusa and has her beheaded.  The blood drops that spring from Medusa when she is beheaded fall on Libyan deserts and transform into snakes. 

The relationship between “mankind and history” and “body and object” display that both elements have a historicity of their own and contain a relationship of transformations in the instrumentalism of time in Nurettin Erkan’s “body and stone” series of paintings. 

While the solid structure of body forms a relationship that is in parallelism with the absolute reality of the stone, the spiritual and intellectual dimension of the body act as an instrument for the objectivity of memory, as a mimesis, in the same way that the stone creates historical memory. 

On the other hand, the artist emphasizes that the relationship between body and memory is a temporary one. The body only has a memory as long as it exists; the non-existence of the body is also the non-existence of memory. However, stone, which is an important object in terms of civilization, has an important place in it as the object of memory, ensuring the historical and cultural continuity that has been existing for thousands of years, with the artistic creation of the memory. 

The contradiction between stone’s durability and lastingness, and the impermanence of man, who has to constantly face death, also correspond to the contrast between body and stone. Stone, with all its permanence and durability, symbolizes existence, while body symbolizes an impermanence condemned to dissipate at any moment with death. 

Bodies, which are emphasized as a material mass in Erkan’s paintings, are depicted as objects that have been purified of any emotion and soul. Despite the round and soft curves of the female, bodies resemble non-living creatures rather than a living creatures or “bodies that have turned into stone” as in the Medusa myth, with their sharp, edgy and solid structures in the solidity of geometrical forms. 

The artist presents his female figures adorned with contemporary symbols in a sculptural monumentalism, while at the same time, questioning the struggle of the woman for existence and the relationship between nature and culture. In his paintings, the female figures purified of their sexual identities make reference to humankind rather than the image of the woman, which can not be considered an object of desire because it’s been deprived of female and erotic associations as a result being depicted as idle and static. 

He wants to release the bodies from bodily attributes and clichés, save them from a sexist appearance, by creating bodies that have no identities. This way, the body may exist in a plane of objective continuity as does the stone. Erkan, who doesn’t define his artistic approach solely as a means of expression, also exhibits that he can be provocative in terms of demolishing the traditional codes and forms. 

For centuries, the starting point of the concepts that determined the perception of body was sexual identity. In the middle ages, body was humiliated, exposed to the strict rules determined by religion and punished as the provocative object of sin. Body, which became the object of aesthetics with the Renaissance, turned into the essential idealized object of beauty for the arts of painting and sculpture. Later on, it began to be viewed as a machine as a result of the industrial revolution, was stripped off from flesh and bone and reduced to a working machine. Thus the body, which was abstracted from emotion, thought and intellect, became the object of the capital with its labor channeled solely for working and producing more. 

In his paintings, Nurettin Erkan presents the body in a fashion that is remote from individuality, in a collective existence together with other non-agent bodies. The body, which abandons its sexual identity in an existence that belongs to nature and universe, takes the viewer on a journey of inference taking the form of mankind...  

For the artist who points out the contrast between “body and stone”, the physical and chemical transformations taking place within the context of the laws of the universe are blows swung at the power and lastingness of the body. The body, which can not physically hold on to the permanence of life, also cannot, in terms of conscience, hold against the unrighteous systemization of life by ideologies. The body, which can not establish an internal and external relationship and a durable relationship of permanence with the universe in this sense, oscillates like a pendulum in the eternal emptiness of it. The silent and motionless body figures hanging in space are unsettling. The viewer, who watches the trauma created by these subjectless bodies, establishes empathy with himself or herself and has to face a deep and moving psychosis.  This image is like a theater stage full of bodies with no subjects or sexualities. In the emptiness of the stage, the bodies with no identities have played their parts, spoken all their words, the play has ended and an important process of questioning has begun in silence. 

In his series of paintings titled “Body and Stone,” Nurettin Erkan emphasizes contrasts such as internal-external, existence-non existence and impermanence-permanence as well as playing with the viewer’s perception of reality by creating a feeling of timelessness, emptying the objects and bodies and intertwining a new web of meanings over their new compositions. The artist carries the bodies, which he has adorned with metaphoric symbols of his own, from a historical perspective up until our present day and exhibits how he emulates a different form and meaning by emptying the form with the body metaphor. 

He makes a reference to the existentialist point of view that “ the body, as a state of this world, cannot be reduced to an objective structure imposed upon it internally or externally,” and with his series of paintings titled "stone and body” emphasizes that sexuality insignificant, tracing a more questioning approach regarding not only the woman issue but also life and the existentialist struggle by his concept of “the memory and the body”.