Artist Spotlight with Hera Büyüktaşcıyan Stills from Infinite Nectar*, 2019, Video, 10 minutes 55 seconds. Lahore Biennale 02 , 2020. Courtesy: The Artist and Green Art Gallery Dubai. * In artistic and curatorial collaboration with Haajra Haider Karrar

Artist Spotlight with Hera Büyüktaşcıyan

Posted: May 23, 2022

ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Hera Büyüktaşcıyan as part of our Artist Spotlight series.

Hera Büyüktaşcıyan was born in Istanbul in 1984, where she currently lives and works. She graduated from Marmara University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Painting department in 2006. She was awarded the Emerging Artist Prize at the Toronto Biennial of Art in 2019.  In her multidisciplinary practice, she uses the notion of absence and invisibility to anchor memory through unseen and forgotten aspects of time, space and architectural memory, as a means of referencing ruptures in socio-political histories. Through her sculptures, site specific interventions, drawings and films, Büyüktaşcıyan dives into terrestrial imagination by unearthing patterns of selected narratives and timelines that unfold the material memory of unstable spaces.

Solo exhibitions include: On Stones and Palimpsests, Green Art Gallery, Dubai, UAE (2020); Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) Gallery, Berlin, Germany (2019); and Write Injuries on Sand and Kindness in Marble, Green Art Gallery, Dubai, UAE (2017). Group exhibitions include: Biennale Matter of Art, Prague, Czech Republic (forthcoming); rīvus, Biennale of Sydney 2022, Australia (2022); Soft Water Hard Stone, New Museum Triennial, New York, NY (2021); Once Upon a Time Inconceivable, Protocinema, Istanbul (2021); I heard it from the valleys, Haus N Athen, Athens, Greece (2021); What If a Journey…, Autostrada Biennale, Kosovo (2021); Permanent Spring, Delayed Bloom, Protocinema Open Air Screening Tour 2021, Multiple cities (2021); Reflections: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa, The British Museum, London, UK (2021); LB02: between the sun and the moon, Lahore Biennale, Lahore, Pakistan (2020); Every Step in the Right Direction, Singapore Biennale, National Gallery, Singapore (2019); The Shoreline Dilemma, Toronto Biennial of Art, Toronto, Canada (2019); among others.

ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice? 

Hera Büyüktaşcıyan: My works often derive from instances of erasure and forms of invisibility originating from contested narratives that shape our perception of history, space and time. As a point of departure, I often go back to urban structures and architectural fragments that become agents of recollections and embodiments of unseen traces that enable one to re-read social and personal histories through the unspoken that turn into vocalized palimpsests. Retracing these accumulated imprints of time, I think in many works of mine there is a sense of survey and a constant act of digging through these hybrid surfaces by observing their genealogies and the ways they evolve over time in relation to waves of people. In a sense, looking into what the ground remembers. 

Fluidity and the aquatic nature of memory is a recurring essentiality for me that activates and deconstructs elements from contemporary and historic timelines that are uncanny and reformed. In my sculptures, video and paper based works, there is always a sense of flow that contains states of duality and purgatory in-between statuses of being through a language of material forms and imagery, that mediates solidity and fluidity, weight and lightness, past and present to coexist. 

AE: Your practice is often rooted in socio-historical and architectural research, as well as the notion of absence as it pertains to memory. You use a variety of techniques and mediums such as sculpture, video, photography and site-specific installation. How does this multidisciplinary approach to creating and presenting your work convey different themes or intentions within your practice? 

HB: I guess they all anchor with one another through the language of form, material poetics and certain methodologies that complete each other. There is always a flow and a matter of duality in my practice, in the sense that materials or images of two different natures coexist.. I think this tension and connection between two different entities resonates with my own background and where I come from as well. Coming from a city as layered as Istanbul, one cannot deny the power of spolia, where the urban structure itself becomes a hybrid organism that is inter-temporal, as a surface where imprints of today and the day before respire together and become a mise en abyme that is reflective of multiple particles embedded within the memory of the city. There is also the cyclical repetition of erasure and rewriting that almost defines a repetitive pattern in its identity. I often think that I have incorporated the particular nature of what surrounds me and my own daily recollections within that, and that this has shaped my practice and my relation with materiality and space. 

Even though I work within different disciplines and with a wide range of materials, overall there is a common emphasis in my work of retracing the unseen through interventions of form, image and space that are in tur, generated between situations of existence and absence. I think my interest in Byzantine art, iconography and architecture has also been a great influence, both philosophically as well as aesthetically, by contributing to my understanding of the language of the imagery and form in relation to space and time. 

I have studied painting. Yet, even though I haven’t continued painting in a literal sense, I see my installations, sculptures and videos with an eye that has been trained in the tradition of painting. Within all my work, there is a common language of drawing and anchoring timelines and various elements through making and deconstructing the image. 

In this sense, I think of my paper-based pieces like collages and drawings. As for my sculptural and time based works, they share a tendency to dive into the morphology of the form, the surface, and the idea of the ground and the image with a constant flow of reconstructing and rewriting. 

AE: Can you elaborate on your approach to site-specific installations within your practice? How do you conceive and develop projects and finally decide on a location to install them?

HB: The spaces with which I have worked so far often “found” me, or we found each other, through an encounter I  had at the very spot, or through a gaze that resonated with my personal and collective memory; something that intrigued me to consider a closer relationship from which to unfold a site’s layers and understand what it had to say or why it appeared at that particular time.  

I often see spaces as living organisms that are embodiments of our existence and traces, that can be vocalized through a gesture or an intervention that is not invasive but rather collaborative. I am interested in interventions that enable both the space and one’s own self (or one’s own creation) to have an organic coexistence. Through this coexistence, the space as well as the work itself become an agent to a rather invisible aspect of time and a particular narrative that resurfaces through a movement, a subtle flow, or an element that reveals something unexpected. 

This gestural intervention sometimes forms through an instinctive process of playing with form and space, through a physical material that derives from the space, or resonates with the site. And sometimes, it consists of a longer process that requires both archival, oral and visual research that becomes a support element for the work to come to life. Yet of course, there is a huge amount of editing and deconstructing of this research that I gather throughout time and then keep  as echoes that sometimes give a direction to the piece while it gains a body yet maintains its own existence in sync to the site itself.  

AE: Your work Nothing Further Beyond (2021) was part of the New Museum Triennial 2021, Soft Water Hard Stone. Can you tell us about this work and the research behind it?

HB: Nothing Further Beyond is a sculptural installation that looks into the morphology of ruins through material poetics and surface tension by studying the dynamics of solidity and softness, resistance and surrender within matter in relation to power and architecture. 

The piece came to life through an encounter I had whilst I was having a stroll with a friend in the old part of town, where my gaze connected with a monolithic pile lying motionless on the ground at a distance, surrounded by a car park and push carts/trolleys. They seemed so otherworldly, as a sea of giants that were so invisible and camouflaged by merchandised goods hung on them, completely embedded within this urban setting in opposition to their scale and elegance. 

Following many other encounters with these lithic fragments, the installation that formed throughout this phase traces the layers of history that underly this invisible monument that was known as the Arch of Theodosius, erected in A.D. 395 and now situated in Istanbul’s Beyazıt Square. The columns came to be known as “the weeping columns,” for the teardrop-like pattern adorning them. However, I later discovered that these shapes were actually meant to represent the club of Hercules, which he had used during his twelve missions to conquer evil. The gate was founded by the emperor Theodosius to symbolically point to the Pillars of Hercules, which according to myth were installed by the demi-god in the far West to mark the end of the known world and guard it from sea monsters. Inscribed with the Latin phrase “Nothing Further Beyond,” the Pillars drew the border of Western civilization, labeling everything further as the “Other”  and the unknown as a potential threat which also resonates with the current power and architecture dynamics today.

The composition of the sculptures emulates the profound compression of narratives present in the ruins and surface tensions hidden within each layer. By etching and sealing the oblique patterns of the columns onto the industrial carpets, I wanted to draw out the formal ambiguity of the ornament, which is both reminiscent of petrified persistence and of state power. Each piece resembles geological strata as well as undulating waves, suggesting a fluidity and softness to the artifacts, in contrast to the solidity of its physical realm and its historical background. With its material poetics, Nothing Further Beyond studies the tension between petrification and softness, as well as destruction and recreation.

AE: Can you talk to us about your video Infinite Nectar (2019) and your process in creating this work? 

HB: Infinite Nectar is a piece that retraces absence in spaces that have gone through contested histories, divisions and exoduses by meandering between images that resonate with the past as well as with remnants of today, through a petrified ghost that tries to resurrect from the weight of history.

The piece came into being as a continuation of a long-term research I had undertaken on retracing post-partition (1947) memory within architecture and urban settings in different cities on the Indian side of Punjab. Titled Deconstructors, the collage series that came out of this phase operated as territorial maps that marked invisible currents within the city that filled certain gaps and absences. The work acts like a cartography of linear ghosts haunting the present from a forgotten timeline, in the form of angular cubic marks moving from unexpected corners, overflooding and meandering between everyday life and anchoring spaces and figures to one another.

Whilst working on Deconstructors and traveling between cities like Amritsar, Chandigarh and Patiala, I often wanted to see the unspoken part of the story by passing to the other side of the border. In 2019, I traveled to Lahore alongside curator Haajra Haider Karrar to undertake the second phase of this journey, which led to several site visits and archival research. The video  meanders between on-site footage and stop-motion sequences. It examines the poetics of space through the abandoned Sikh heritage buildings in Lahore that carry traces of 1947’s Partition. These spaces have been resilient in the face of power shifts, urban transformations and cycles of trauma throughout history. The video unfolds these layers through the textures, architectural juxtapositions, and cracks within these spaces. It overlays them with animated mosaic-like stones and caresses them with a fragmented marble hand of Maharani Jindan Kaur, the last empress of the Sikh Empire and a revolutionary female character, who returns back to her place of origin and renders throughout the city like a ghost that reminds the unseen. The piece refers to the representation of memory by creating a series of mirrorings through the lost and found elements of spaces that have become the embodiment of the invisible. It connects with the post-partition memory of spaces and renders this turbulent period through its remnants as a cyclical palimpsest. 

To me, it has been interesting to retrace a history and a geography from which I did not originate. Yet it had so many resonances for me, since all these ruptures, the void of the post-partition momentum and buildings as the embodiment of this absence and erasure is similar to what I know from where I come from. I think absence, loss, destruction and uncanny foundations form a mutual pattern that keeps repeating itself throughout history, everywhere we happen to be. Punjab felt very familiar, as if it was a continuation of my memory as well. 

 AE: Do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2022-2023? 

HB: Yes.Currently my piece titled Reveries of an Underground Forest is on display at Tate Modern as a part of the group display titled, A Clearing in the Forest that will be on view until October 2022.  After that, I will be participating in the Matter of Art Biennale in Prague, curated by an international curatorial group composed of Rado Ištok, Renan Laru-an, Piotr Sikora, and that will be on from July 21st to October 23rd, 2022.


Instagram: @heera.b.k