How a Primitivist Lives: The Sculpture by Burcu Erden


To encapsulate the works of an artist in a particular aesthetic or ideological movement is in itself anachronistic. The dominant postmodern cultural milieu harbors a complex diversity of new curatorial ideas about the placement of works of art in specific theoretical and institutional contexts. That said, sculptor Burcu Erden’s daring dedication to her work’s distinctiveness is particularly stimulating where conceptualism meets craftsmanship, as resonances of prehistoric creativity merge with references to ancient classicism.

Erden’s most recent pieces come out of the mold of his past exhibition at ArtOn in 2019, “Calling for the Mass”. At that time, his studio was located somewhere in the winding alleys of the old quarter of Fatih in Istanbul, near the cove of the Golden Horn. It fitted in perfectly with the mechanics of the streets and the working classes by erecting muscular wooden sculptures of wood, lining their outlines with black lines that looked like burn marks. You could say that her current show, “Seal”, has a more feminine expression.

The works that make up “Seal” are sometimes softer than Erden’s pieces presented during “Calling for the Mass”. They carry a sense of courage because they are less direct, more complicated, but more simple, illusory and practical. In this way, their unfinished and exploratory character approaches a conceptual framework closer to that of contemporary conservation in the global art world. Erden is a local artist who seems to locate her works deeper into the soil of Turkey, literally diversifying her medium from wood to ceramic.

It has also gone from arboreal forms to mineral forms. Her polyester sculpture series, shown at “Seal,” take the form of mountain boulders, and they are less anthropomorphic than her similarly designed pieces, which she produced by splitting and carving wood. She returns, it seems, on her creative path, within form, as it emerges from earthly matter, and in the artist’s hand, comes to express an idea. While theorists might rightly categorize his art as primitivist, there are some subtleties in his work, albeit more subtle.

Along finer lines

There are three basic designs that the artwork of “Seal” could belong to. A series of ceramic reliefs are accompanied by comparative engravings in cylindrical stones that vaguely recall statues found in Mongolia bearing the native Turkish script called Orkhon inscriptions. But cultures that used cylindrical stone seals span the expanse of Egyptian and Hindu civilization, as well as Mesopotamia, which is located within Turkey’s current national borders. Polyester sculptures that resemble layered sedimentary rock.


A work by Burcu Erden in
A work by Burcu Erden in “Seal”, 2021. (Photo by Matt Hason)

Erden’s polyester pieces appear to have been taken from a Paleolithic cave. One piece, untitled and dated 2021, resembles a bear, an eerie reflection of the subconscious connections that may have forced his creativity to enter this critical realm known as the primitive. “Seal” proved that Erden is not afraid to embark on a more explicit path towards the oldest of formal styles.

It is relevant to note that Erden’s exploration of form focuses on the contrast between the concave and the convex, a matter of space and its negative, reminiscent of painting in caves, the work of its curves, or the construction of ziggurats and other step pyramids. on the vast flat plains of the first cities. “Seal” is an exercise in the historical practice of establishing the mutual balance between concavity and convexity, as she hammered the slits and grooves of her cylindrical seals on wet clay and pulled the upward impressions.


A work by Burcu Erden in
A work by Burcu Erden in “Seal”, 2021. (Photo by Matt Hason)

In his rudimentary dualism, Erden etched anthropomorphic traces into the black, gray, and red chalk of his cylindrical seals and repeatedly rolled them onto the malleable clay. Despite the gains of early 20th century artists who broke new ground in the aesthetic perspective, changing the formality of art towards greater individual freedom, modernism could be defined as an act of industrial repetition, a best-known truth by Andy Warhol, but which Walter Benjamin prophesied in his essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production” (1935).

To tempt visuality

As scholar as Benjamin, essayist Ibrahim Cansızoğlu has written a brilliant catalog article detailing the scientific background surrounding Erden’s works during his career, which, while only just beginning, is showing promise. Cansızoğlu discusses Erden’s research at the Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the Istanbul Archeology Museums Group in Istanbul, as his archaeological artifacts served to inspire his creative turn from focusing on sculptures to generating a series of reliefs which further develop its conceptual arc.

Cansızoğlu continued his argument by talking about important moments in art history in relation to a theoretical understanding of Erden’s work. He began by revisiting an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which opened in 1984, titled “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern”, and its subsequent denigration by most great American critics who saw in its conservation a weakness for the wrongs of colonialist oppression, namely to eclipse the individuality and authorship of non-Western artists and their societies.


A work by Burcu Erden in
A work by Burcu Erden in “Seal”, 2021. (Photo by Matt Hason)

Erden, however, does not appropriate the cultural work of societies whose cultures and civilizations predate that of modern Turkey – unlike Pablo Picasso’s Neo-African cubism, or Paul Gaugin’s objectification of island women. of the Pacific – but on the contrary, his pieces intervene in the sources of technology ingenuity, towards an exploration of practical ideas that could stimulate his practice. Cansızoğlu wrote it acutely, that she “ignores the morphology of living things” and that with “Seal”, she ventured to encompass the sculptural potentials of geomorphology.

The appeal of ‘Seal’, in the context of ArtOn as a curatorial space, and given the progression of Erden’s works, is that it has taken a more courageous direction in terms of the relationship between marketability and criticality in Istanbul’s art world, a divide that divides its institutions and its workers like no other. Whereas before one could say that she had designed aesthetically fascinating, almost ready-made sculptures, she now tackles the notion of art as repetitive imperfection.

Erden addressed the issues of objectivity and originality by focusing on the process rather than the product. And as an artist, she makes her mark in this process. “The presence of the original is the prerequisite for the notion of authenticity”, writes Benjamin, who continues on the nature of the fake, more artistic when it is more technical, illustrated by photography, while it is less so. when Handmade. Erden, then, in her art, going back to pre-modern techniques, tackles themes in her own way, as special and unique as the etchings she sculpts and engraves like the relentless force of gravity.


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