Olgu Ülkenciler

Tasteful Disgrace

October 3 - October 26, 2013

According to Umberto Eco, the cemetery sculptures in “Cimitero Monumantale” (Milano), have created a hell. The ancient and majestic cemetery, although it is beautified with Antonio Canova’s – one of the great masters of classicism- sculptures, had such a vulgar aura that the hell appeared here. Eco has never mentioned that the sculptures were “ugly” or “disproportional”, he even emphasized the “beauty” of them at times. The hell was arising beyond the things considered “beauty” or “ugly” and it has to be an “evil” power hiding in the design/ conceiving of the sculpture: Like the “evil spirit”…

When we continue reading Eco, we begin finding clues about the “evil spirit” in question and first we encounter with the theme of “grief”. These sculptures are the monuments of grief and most probably the source of the vulgar aura. Yet, what kind of an emotion can we expect from a cemetery but grief. Surely wandering in the depths of grief, you take a breathe on the edges of mercy and forgiveness… And after, again a grief…

In that case, is it the suffering of the deepest grief among the dead what makes “Cimitero Monumantale” a hell? Then could the vulgar manner of Canova’s sculptures be justified by this feeling? At first, it seems like a satisfying analysis, but we should also consider: Why do we have to associate grief with vulgarity? No, we should search vulgarity elsewhere, away from grief; besides, all of us know that “evil spirit” has nothing to with grief either. If we take a glance at Eco again, he will give us the answer clearly in the following lines. “Conceiving of grief was not irrelevant at all. Yes, it was not irrelevant but it could at least be considered as uncouth; it has been vaguely ordering the right behavior to be adopted here, in this specific situation. Since the statue was directing us on how to visit a grave, it was preventing the individual expression that shapes our personal behavior and feelings.”

Vulgarity insists and this insistence creates the hell. “The hell” flows from a source apart from “beauty” or “ugly”; joy, peace or grief; clear or obscure; well proportioned or disproportional; the hell is defined from the vulgarity of insistence and the restriction of our emotions by this vulgarity… An emotional influence is prepared beforehand and presented to us in a clichéd form, which asserts: What you need as an emotion is this epitome of the clichéd form. “Sadness” is a portrait of a crying child; it can’t be anything else at that moment. “Enthusiasm” is a crowd bouncing and dancing in laughter; there is no need look for it in any other place. To depict heroism, flags are waved proudly (or the music hugs the rhythm of the march; one arm of the figure in the sculpture holds the sword up to the sky, the horse rears, the looks grasp the future.). “Freedom” becomes the composition of fists raised (certain slogans or signs can be inserted to the frame). “Happiness” is two people looking at each other with joyful eyes (now and then it is presented as a wide angle image of a young boy running in the fields, which is accompanied by the pastoral symphony… If it makes you think of a lover, it is sufficient to place a “heart” to a corner.) And there is a cliché for every feeling; so that these clichés have been settled in our memories and that “the feeling” is exactly in a certain form in front of us. As a result, the hell ties the infinite depth of our feelings and shallows it by exterminating all other possible emotions; the reverse is also viable: Chaining our feelings is the definition of hell.

Strange as it may seem but the hell gives a kind of pleasure. The different clichés of emotions that are lined up one after another can swiftly show you around among the superficial feelings. The profoundness has gone away but variety ( “rich variety”) replaces it. Moreover, each of these clichés provide some opportunities that define our feelings for us: The sea and the wind have drawn closer to each other unprecedentedly; the sea hurled its biggest waves to a small sailboat and it almost blows the breath of death to our faces, the wind exhibits its most explicit traces in the blue sky. The living rooms are filled with familiar stuff, which make us feel either wealthy or poverty. Bad people are so bad that you hate them, the good ones are so good that you are attached to them with passion; it seems impossible to transform their ‘extreme’ characters. The nature has never been damaged, the fields are amazingly green so that they spread peace and the forests have no other choice than having a magical atmosphere in order to be enigmatic. But it may be necessary to add some spirituality into the scene; and the piece ahead will work this out for you: The horizon will compose a misty view, the rain will fall or a rainbow will appear; a drop on the edge of the leaf will fall down on to a small animal living in the field etc.

What really matters is to reveal a poetic atmosphere; all sorts of poetic material has been arranged in a row, the audience does not need to show an effort since she / he is presented with a ready-made “poetical form” which has no depth of meaning and does not impel his/ her imagination. The poetry, for the ones who don’t have time or desire for a deep spirituality, has been invented by this way: Encountering with a ready-made poetry always gives a special pleasure. You know that you should not like it but still you can’t help it… The gratifying poetry of the common and ordinary: Kitsch… Literally, a “poetical insistence” or “evil spirit” of the art … As Hermann Boch would say: An element of malice in art.

Kitsch, according to the common idea of aestheticians, is not art but it is something that substitutes art; the audience is satisfied with certain symbols and do not wish to take any other path then the “only way” these symbols point at. They take pleasure without ever using their own means, Kitsch is a fancy resource of “direct influence”.

Within the scope of what has been written above, when we observe Olgu Ülkenciler’s works in her fourth solo show “Tasteful Disgrace”, we come across with almost the shortest and the most direct definition of Kitsch. Here, the artist uses the word “disgrace” as if she has a consensus with many theorists who had defined Kitsch as an “evil”, a “deficiency”, a “banality” and as an “artificial poetry”. However, she does not avoid inserting the word “Tasteful” next to “Disgrace”; making a direct reference to a situation the artist wants the viewer to recall for certain: To consider art through the general tendencies of the mass. It is not a complaint or an endeavor to stay away but an ironic approach… Discussing what “taste” is a complete irony of the hell—which the artist feels herself in it most probably—in other words the environment where “poetry” [not poetry at all, it is nothing but imposed feelings] mentioned among ordinary senses. Moreover, consistent adaptation of forms of kitsch or forms implying kitsch in her paintings shows that this context has also a pleasurable side for the artist as well, which doubles the irony.

Yet kitsch is not a point to be excluded easily and put away at once. Despite many unfavorable interpretations, no one can claim that Kitsch does not belong to artistic categories; besides it is out of question to encounter such a phrase that ignores Kitsch. Kitsch can be considered as a piece that can be installed to an aesthetic work; frankly speaking, like Boch would say “it is art’s son”. It is a means [Kitsch] condensed among intricate interpretations of art works and pleasure methods, which are difficult and complicated to analyze and that startle the audience. In this perspective, the forms of kitsch in Olgu Ülkenciler’s paintings should not be considered as odd.

However, Ulkenciler’s works take an unfamiliar stance. The artist, instead of startling the audience, adapts the details of kitsch in a composition as a “basic element”; she composes aesthetic arrangements by only using forms of kitsch, she transforms them into complex meanings that are susceptible to various interpretations. In this respect, Olgu Ülkenciler’s works seem to experiment kitsch pieces, based on an aesthetic ground, in a new unity.

Lastly, if we return to the example given in the introduction, we can obtain such an analysis: how can we get rid of the vulgar insistence—the visitors of the cemetery are exposed to—of the sculptures in Cimitero Monumantale without touching the forms of but making essential arrangements by small changes in their places? Or, what kind of opportunities can the audience grasp through this new arrangement while observing the forms of kitsch and exploring his / her feelings? In short, how can the compositions of release from hell (and “evil spirit”) be formed by employing kitsch?

Such a try, regardless of the results, is a fruit of a captivating idea.