A self-described “nomadic artist”, Alper Aydın spent most of his life in Ordu in northern Turkey, a geography that is intertwined with nature. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that his constant observation of the world and his immediate surroundings, his perception of them, and his way of communicating with us through land art are the legacies of the geography he grew up in. In an attempt to understand and hear nature by observing it on every piece of land he ever visited, the artist invites us to reconnect with nature through his works, and to remember that we, ourselves, are nature.
Aiming to re-establish a bond with Mother Earth, Aydın’s artistic interventions and installations with found objects capture the damage and traces left by humans. Among what these practices fundamentally convey is how humanity has inflicted this violence upon itself; to the Earth which it is a biological part of. As we look at Corpus Membratim, there is a feeling that we are seeing a body part, snatched from a body not unlike our own. A piece of driftwood suspended from a metal strand; the artwork makes this self-infliction very visible. Corpus Membratim is a concrete reflection of the key concerns that are posed in the “At the End of the Day” exhibition: the destruction of nature, the loss of ecological balance, and the human/nature relationship.
We talked with Alper Aydın about Corpus Membratim and Land Art.
This conversation is available in the podcast form in Turkish.
You describe yourself as a nomadic artist. What do you mean by the word “nomad”? Whereabouts are you located right now and how much do you travel?
(Laughs) Actually, I settled on the word “nomad” recently and now I simply want to keep using it. There were different places in which I worked, produced and exhibited in the past, and I lived in four or five different cities to survive. Therefore, I thought it would make sense to use the word "nomad" instead of using the names of these cities. The fact is I am not fully attached to any place, I do not have a “home” anywhere. For example, right now I am here in Ordu with my family, I produce some of my works here, but I know that I will not be here in two to three months. I will be in another country, then somewhere else, then in another geography for a new artwork... Therefore, I can say that I lead a nomadic life.
I would like to talk about your work Corpus Membratim, which is currently a part of the exhibition at OMM. In this work, which evokes the image of a butcher as soon as we see it; there is a found driftwood resembling a piece of meat hanging from a metal construction. Can you tell us a little about the work and your process?
Of course. First of all, I would like to explain that "Corpus Membratim" is a medical term from Latin which translates as “body part”. My family lives in Cape Jason in Ordu. This is also where I lived as a kid, where I grew up. With the increase in the frequency of storms and floods within the last seven or eight years, rivers continue to overflow and as they overflow, they also take in whatever is around—trees, houses, animals that live there, etc.—and bring it to Cape Jason in our region. They accumulate here because this is a point that divides the Central and Eastern regions of the Black Sea, and is the outermost land in the open sea after Sinop. Because of the tides and the fact that it acts as a natural harbor, everything that comes with the current piles up here. In this seven or eight year period, I collected and evaluated the pieces of wood that were brought to this area, the skeletons of dead animals and other parts that I can use in my art practice. Corpus Membratim is a piece that originated as part of this process. Usually, I form my art practice around two different conditions: Encounters and works built around an idea. I can say that this one was an encounter. I saw the wood on the beach. I was very impressed with its form and texture. I wanted to make it a part of my work, and it finally came out as a single work, Corpus Membratim.
So when you first found the piece of wood, did you visualize the work as it currently is? Or did you just want to take it with you at that moment?
The first time I saw it, I saw an artwork. It looks like the leg of an animal, cut at the butcher's shop. In other words, the form was informing me a lot, I just had to decide how to go about in terms of exhibiting it. As soon as I discovered the crane system that is used to lift vehicle engines, the work was complete.
In this work, you show us the violence that humans exert on nature through the memory of an object. I know that the human-nature relationship is something you've been thinking about for a while. Do you think the use of nature and environment in art has changed in recent years, after we started to feel the effects of the climate crisis and the depletion of the planet's resources more intensely?
To respond to this question, one must revisit the history of modern art. We can see the first examples of “Land Art” appear in the 1960s. The first exhibition using this terminology opened in New York in 1968, by Virginia Dwan at Dwan Gallery, under the name “Land Art.” After this, new works began to appear. When we look at those works and why they were produced, we see that there was massive destruction happening in the U.S. at that time, in the Nevada Desert. Drilling for oil caused large amounts of industrial waste. Artists could not remain indifferent to this, and wanted to bring these lands back to their original state. Many artists emerged at the time who adopted land art as a practice. At that time, ecological destruction was carried out only in that region, because such technologies had not yet arrived in our part of the world. However, the damage is everywhere today.
When we look at those works and why they were produced, we see this: Drilling for oil caused large amounts of industrial waste. Artists could not remain indifferent to this, and wanted to bring these lands back to their original state.
When we look at those works and why they were produced, we see that there was massive destruction happening in the U.S. at that time, in the Nevada Desert. Drilling for oil caused large amounts of industrial waste. Artists could not remain indifferent to this, and wanted to bring these lands back to their original state. Many artists emerged at the time who adopted land art as a practice. At that time, ecological destruction was carried out only in that region, because such technologies had not yet arrived in our part of the world. However, the damage is everywhere today.
You wrote your thesis on “Land Art in Turkey”, and land art is divided into different groups and schools of thought within itself. Some artists prefer to produce their works outside of galleries and museums as a protest of these spaces, some artists stand against the commercialization of art, some artists think that art spaces and materials limit their productions, and some artists work with nature due to ecological concerns, as you just mentioned. Where does your production stand in relation to this, and what is the status of "Land Art" in Turkey as the finding of your thesis?
First of all, when I stand on top of a piece of land, I try to go beneath its layers in a cognitive sense, beyond just the appearance of that land, that geography. I try to acquire geological, archaeological and sociological knowledge and derive a practice from this pool of combined information. At the same time, I think there is a spiritual side to it, because having this information is also related to the past. This knowledge guides me in my attempt to find an answer to the question; “How can I establish a dialogue between humans and nature?” How can I show and explain that we are part of nature? This is my aim. In doing so, I do not make use of a single discipline.
The subject of "Land Art" in Turkey is as follows: While I was writing my thesis and reading about the topic, I noticed that there was a great deficiency in our knowledge of "Environmental Art" in Turkey. Yes, there was information; but it was scattered. For example, we see that this subject was first published in literature in the USA in 1968, but the first study on this subject in Turkey was carried out by a gentleman named Yücel Dönmez in Trabzon in 1974. In fact, I found a Turkish book with the title "Environmental Art" in the Istanbul University Library from that time (1974 - 1975). I wanted to bring this information together under one source. These were very important, and I thought I should share the work that had been produced until that time. That's how the thesis came about.
You just mentioned the human-nature relationship. We gather that you think people should not confront nature. What are your thoughts on this subject?
I definitely think that humanity is not a construct against nature, but a biological part of this planet instead, just like other beings in nature, like animals or plants. When you look at the history of human existence on Earth, scientists trace it as far back as 280000 years ago. When we consider the history of the world, we see that it has existed for four and a half billion years, and has gone through six different periods until today. We are now in the sixth period, and many beings have come and gone during these five distinct periods. For example, dinosaurs existed in the fifth period. I believe that humanity is actually a type of structure that passes through this world like other beings. As a matter of fact, we have existed as a thinking structure for 280000 years, but when we go down to the level of our DNA, we encounter the following: We are a structure that has existed for two and a half billion years in the context of microns, and humans are not the only life forms in these microns. All other beings in nature existed in equal proportion. It would therefore be wrong to say that humans are independent of nature, or that we are beings in opposition to it. On the contrary, we are one of its biological parts.