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CONTEMP ART ‘12

EFFECTS OF URBAN DWELLING ON CONTEMPORARY PAINTING ELİF ÇİMEN, GÜLŞAH EFE My heart content, I climbed the mountain, from which one can contemplate the city in its fullness, hospital, brothel, purgatory, hell, prison, where all enormity flowers as flower… Whether you are still asleep in morning’s sheets, heavy, obscure, sick with a cold or whether you strut about in the veils of evening, trimmed in fire gold, I love you o infamous capital! Courtesans, and bandits, to such you often offer you favors, which the common and un godly do not understand. Charles BAUDELAİRE(1863) Cities with rich imagery are the subject to arts such as literature, painting, cinema, and the results effects the community and individual. The ideas of the urban acquire a shape not only at the level of consciousness, they are also the products of subconscious wishes and dreams. Walter Benjamin declares the contemporary city as a central venue for modernity’s new output. David Harvey assumes the giant scale of urbanisation is a rich convenient ground for the modernist movements dealing with psychological, sociological, technological problems. According to him, modernism finds its natural environment in the cities (1997, p.39). Cities sometimes limiting and sometimes feeding the imagination, are stimulating areas for artistic creativity and imagination. Bridge and Watson emphasize that the cities are not only habitats in a material sense, but also areas which the power of imagination is represented in (2000, p.9). The city sometimes, is also identified as a source of stress and anxiety, and authority. On the other hand, the urban experience may estrange people away from imagination and creativity. Despite all the difficulties, imagination creates resistance fields even in the places of alienation where people are chained to the production line. System creates new architectural sites, environments, or satellite cities that prevent imaginative people to meet and to act in concurrence. These spaces are full of barricades against imagination, hence lead to alienation. Here lies the vibrations of a castle town structured upon the fear of violence and the “other”(Bridge and Watson, 2000). Urban space and structures forms the memory. Memory turns into the space. Memory is a part of self-improvement and awareness. Memory has a major role in the imagery of the cities. For example, the smell of a street or a piano sound we hear while passing in front of a house in everyday life may remind something of another time and environment (Bridge and Watson, 2000). The complex texture of the city, while providing a rich source for artists and citizens, may also hold elements that limit the imagination and creativity. Alienation and loneliness are some of the most 8


CONTEMP ART ‘12

important problems of modern life. Like everyone else, the artists take their share. The versatility of the capital and culture that is a result of the interaction between the shared imageries of the system, turns into a burden over the shoulders of the artist. In order to keep pace with the economic conditions of the city, the artist is often forced to compromise from their art and personality. This situation cripples the artist’s social leading mission. On the other hand, in an optimistic perspective, the cities can be seen as contributing to the artist’s subjectivity and sense of excessive liability due to the large amounts of complex sensory data they hold (Bridge and Watson, 2000, p.11). The city has inevitably affects the artist and provided source for production with the dynamic and aesthetic values it holds. “Memory shapes the city and is shaped by the city at the same time” says Walter Benjamin, perceiving the city as a focus of pleasure, and evaluates the crowd, toxicity and charm as a productive and creative source (1993). He declares the modern metropolis as the center of new manifesto of inconsistent imagery of modernity and the myth. According to him, dreams of progress and abundance realizes only with the passion for pleasure and consumption, while the dream world and bourgeois subconscious realizes with architecture, passion for property and fashion(Bridge and Watson, 2000). With the renewal of the urban transport systems and other technological developments, the city concept was discussed again in the 19th century. In a fresh understanding of the city center and social life, different people came together in passages, pubs, cafes and other places that open up and thus find their urbanized self in communication networks, sharing information and ideas in a creative environment. In fact, the situation that the city is perceived as a melting pot for creativity and fresh ideas, goes back to the historic origin of urbanization. The interactive state of the city helps the artist to replace conventional styles of thinking with new bright ideas. By the 20th century, governments, economic, political and religious institutions have undergone a structural change. One of the artists producing modern urban theories of Piet Mondrian in parallel with the important steps taken in culture and art, said: “Modern environment and lifestyle that’s not yet complete is not enough. Art is a shelter that we try to seek the beauty and harmony which is missing in this life and environment, in vain. Beauty and harmony, while they exist in the world of art, has become unreachable goals that are exiled from this life (1922).”(Benevolo, 1995, p.230) Mondrian, in one of his articles he wrote for De Stijl magazine, argues that the balance, proportion and harmony of color in an abstract picture is not unique just to the picture but also they are the key issues in the interior decoration and art of construction, and if these elements are applied to the architecture, there is no need to hang pictures (İpşiroğlu and İpşiroğlu, 1979, p.86). This wind of change reached a peak with the foundation of Bauhaus school under the leadership of Walter Gropius, where many artists and architects actively contributed to the urban life with the thoughts of molding art and technology in one pot. Modern city was founded and its functions were classified as living, working, body and soul care, communication(İpşiroğlu and İpşiroğlu, 1979). However, the 9


CONTEMP ART ‘12

second world war in the mid-century, caused the application of these ideas to halt prematurely, and as described by Hubert Damisch in his book Skyline, gave rise to the transference of many representatives of the modern movement to the United States also known as the “new world” (2001, p.100). The urban texture, while providing a rich source for artists, for immigrants it might represent something that pushes them out and takes away the sense of home and belonging. In the traditional urban perception, it used to be easier to identify the urban memory and comprehend the cultural, social, politic past and future of the city. It was a house, a shelter that the daily life is safely lived instead of a utopia, and landmarks of a city were significant symbols(Bridge and Watson, 2000,p.13). In this sense, the first feminists regarded the city as a home away from the constraints of sexism and patriarchal relations and as a source of self-awareness. City life became the opportunity to move away from the constraints of home life, contrary to its traditional reputation of being a cradle to indecency and intimidating environment. The recent cultural evolution generated the need to create new city stories and dreams. In these stories, the cities were defined as cosmopolitan, multicultural, spiritual, imaginative spaces. Most articles of this type, quoting the first period of modernist views of analysts, headed towards new paradigms. Postmodern writers however (such as Foucault, Lyotard, Baudrillard) focused more on cultural hiperrealistic perspective than the economic and materialistic angle. In such examples, the borders between the real and imaginary no longer exist. Concepts such as variation, dissociation, chaos, virtuality, hiperrealism, siberspace, surveillance are the new subjects of contemporary urban stories(Bridge and Watson, 2000,p.15).  According to Baudelaire, the artist who believes that dynamism is the key to creativity, discovers the starting point of modern art. Baudelaire, suggests concepts such as”fluidity” (“floating existences”) and gaseousness (“envelopes and soaks us like an atmosphere”) as symbols of modern city life (Barber, 1983, p.41). These will be the key elements to painting, sculpture, architecture, and design at the end of the 19th century. The ideal profile of an artist is characterized in the following lines of Baudelaire; “The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his proffession are to  became one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world- such are a few of the slightest pleasures of those independent, passionate, impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define ………. Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it where an immense reservoir of electrical energie. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoskop gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.”(1863 ) These concepts emphasized by Baudelaire, materialize in the 20th Century. They appear in paintings, collage, installation, film, architecture and cause the effect of a 10


CONTEMP ART ‘12

bombshell. Bauhaus, Expressionism and Futurism are the pioneering movements of the modernist era, in which city life was one of the main subjects of art production. Artists such as Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, E. Ludwig Kirchner, Robert Delaunay, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Fernand Leger, Nicolas de Staël painted striking aspects of urban lifestyle. As Harvey states, after the second half of the twentieth century, as opposed to the understanding of modern urban design and functional simplicity, postmodernism emerges. Postmodernism can not see the urban texture as a whole, saying it’s impossible to check all, chooses to address structures one by one. It gives priority to customer tastes, fantasies, local traditions, mixes all styles, and allows to use them in a fancy eclectic way. Postmodernist architects and artists, have different opinions about space. Individual interests overcome social objectives. Space is a autonomous area designed to serve various aesthetic purposes(1997, p.84).  Some of the artists who influenced the current postmodern painting of urbanscapes are Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Francis Bacon, neo-Dadaists like Robert Rauschenberg, the hyper-realistes such as Richard Estes, Don Eddy, Ralph Goings. These artists affected by urban life have carefully observed and described cities in their own unique ways. Issues that they dealt with were urban imagery, streets, buildings, groups of people, traffic, entertainment, shop signs, billboards, night life, post-war city life, and socio-political observations. Some of today’s contemporary artists who deal with similar issues of urbanism but with the implications of 21st century urban lifestyle affected by internet, siberspace, massive consumption, violence, isolation, and marginalisation are Robert Birmelin, James Doolin, Julie Mehretu, John Keane, Yvonne Jacquette, Mustafa Pancar, Hakan Gürsoytrak, Antonio Cosentino, Burak Arıkan, Haluk Akakçe, Franz Ackermann, Dirk Skreber, Sarah Morris, and Carla Klein. In conclusion, cities and urban life-style contain plenty of material that influence artists. There are an icredible amount of problematic facts causing harmony, contrast, dilemma, diversity, contradiction such as isolation vs. being in the crowd, individuation vs. social obligations, clarity vs. chaos, fast production vs. fast consumption, deception vs. credibility, spaces of euphoria vs. insecurity. What makes cities indispensable for artists is the fact that one gets bombarded with information embracing all five senses. All is left to do for the artist is to capture the material. REFERENCES Barber, B. R., 1983. The Artist and Political Vision. 2nd ed. New Jersey:Transaction. Baudelaire, C., 1863. The Painter of Modern Life. Translated from French by J. Mayne. Phaidon. Available at: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/architecture/ockman/ pdfs/dossier_4/Baudelaire.pdf [Accessed 01 March 2012] Benevolo,L.,1995. Avrupa Tarihinde Kentler. Translated from Italian by N. Nirven. Istanbul:Afa. Benjamin, W., 2004. Pasajlar.   Translated from German by A. Cemal. 5th ed. Istanbul:Yapı Kredi. Berman, M., 2005. Katı Olan Herşey Buharlaşıyor. Translated from English by Ü. Altuğ and B. Peker. 9th ed. Istanbul:İletişim Yayınları. Bridge, G. and Watson, S., 2000. A Companion to the City. London:Blackwell. 11


CONTEMP ART ‘12

Çimen, E., 2006. 20.Yüzyıldan Günümüze Kentsel Yaşam-Resim Sanatı ilişkisi. Ph. D. Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Damisch, H., 2001. Skyline. Translated from French by J. Goodman. Stanford, CA:Stanford. Harvey, D., 2003. Postmodernliğin Durumu.Translated from English by S. Savran. 3rd. ed. Istanbul:Metis. İpşiroğlu, N. and İpşiroğlu, M.,1979. Sanatta Devrim. Istanbul:Ada.

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EFFECTS OF URBAN DWELLING ON CONTEMPORARY PAINTING