Art as Research
The Endings and Beginnings of an Appealing Story Called Life
Şifa Girinci is an artist who understands the relation between art and scientific research. She knows also about the interrelation between stories and histories, where subjectivism and individualism get mingled with objectivism and collectivism. Her work is always critically reviewing our world from a personal point of view. May it be the notion of terrorism, the impact of wild capitalism on society or the role of nature today, she always questions reality. Dealing with knowledge in form of texts, or infographics, the artist reviews the state of our world and the construction of truth from a personal angle.
I would describe her work as research based art, a term that became increasingly common for the last ten years. Today, it is an important field in contemporary art. After conceptualism became combined with realism, documentary and scientific research, more and more artists tent to understand art as an alternative for reviewing and researching reality. They believe that artistic creation can positively contribute to the production of knowledge by revealing insights in the world that go beyond the known, common and orthodox. Especially the overcoming of dichotomies between believe and knowledge, reality and fiction as well as sense and nonsense make artists of this field valuable intellectuals of our society. Often, their works are based on scientific research, and the results of their artistic projects can resemble scientific papers or presentations. Especially if aesthetic parameters are neglected, the border between art and science gets sometimes blurred and porous. Though, in the end of the artistic process, not knowledge is the main outcome but art.
The artist does not need to be right or scientifically correct, as there is no objective truth or wrongness in the artistic work. Only under such a premises research based art can criticize the known and go beyond it for proposing new views on reality. Also, whereas science is based on rather objective rules and measurable methods, art is related to subjective strategies and approaches. That is why, an artist’s oeuvre is personal and a piece is individual. The artwork cannot be torn away from social and historical contexts, as they are the spectator’s keys for the understanding of the work. Unlike Barthes and Foucault manifested, the death of the author did not happen yet, as we do not live in a world of anonymous cacophobia. It still matters who is speaking, because we never gave up caring about the speaker.
Şifa Girinci has internalized the given matters above, and that is why she is among the few artistic researchers, who can balance concept and form, analysis and aesthetic as well as study and beauty. That is why I believe that her work sets a strong example for other artists of this field. She proves this in her first solo-show at Gaia Gallery, where Girinci presents current results of a long-term project around the issue of migration. Turkey was always and still is strongly shaped and characterized through inner and outer migration. In this context, the artist reviews the story of the Yörüks, nomadic people around the region of Muğla/ Antalya. Being close to their culture through family bounds, the artist investigates the history of a social group in relation to her own past. Still, the work is neither nostalgic nor anachronic or didactic, but fascinating and inspiring.
Using the allegory of the Yakalı Kumrular, a bird that migrated to Europe during the 1960’s, exactly then, when the migration waves from Turkey and the from Balkans started, Şifa Girinci connects the story of the birds to the story of migrants. The artistic approach is minimal, and leaves space for interpretation. Only the heads of the birds are depicted before a light blue sky. On small canvases, painted in an illustrative manner, the artist has set up an ornithological portrait gallery, so that, with the help of informational texts, the exhibition visitor learns about the birds. Thus, the anonymous actors within a complex history of migration gain stories and so become individual characters.
Besides the migration stories towards Europe, another series of works relates to the Turkish history of inner migration. Displaying old stones within a clean white shelf, Şifa Girinci refers to the migration story of the Yörüks in South-Anatolia. Using stones that belonged once to the houses of people, she points in this piece to the endless circle of settling and leaving. When your set up a house for you and your family, you become a permanent resident. Still, settlements are never meant to last forever.
The artist focuses in this work on the story of the Yörüks. Coming from Middle Asia, although settling along the coast of the Aegean Sea, this social group never stopped moving. Girinci, which has family bounds reaching back to the Yörüks, has explored old and destroyed settlements, where she has found these old stones. After collecting them, she has now translocated these rudiments of culture to the gallery space in order to reveal the vanishing story of these people. The exhibition visitor can carry the stones home, so that – at least symbolically – the continuation of circulation and migration is ensured.
Her video works are related to the houses as well. In beautiful and meditative slow motion shots, right through the perspective of birds, the spectator can observe the environment and actual place of the old settlement. Now, while contemplating on the traces of history, the visitor can virtually travel though the region, in which everything and everyone was always in motion.
In the show, another stone plays an important role too. A large and old thumb stone, being displayed on a black pedestal creates a dramatic contrast to the light and poetic bird paintings, and the floating videos. The weight, and material give the work a strong aesthetic and grave aura. Still, also this piece contains beauty in the form of flower reliefs, which are carved into the stone. The contrast between its physical being, contextual meaning and formal elegancy is astonishing and highly attractive. The piece becomes within the exhibition a monument for a beautiful death, the end of an appealing story called life.
Flower motives play also important roles in another series that Girinci displays at Gaia Gallery. In small frames, knitted flowers in beautiful colors, are well set in formal and conceptual relations to the other works in the show. Though, they are much more than simple references to nature, or formalist ornaments. The flowers refer to the dresses and uniforms of the Zeybek people, which for Şifa Girinci were freedom fighters. So, through these small pieces she addresses history and present as well as culture and politics in a very simple but poetic way. This part of the show is a teaser for the continuation of her artistic research, in which she will further deal with the history, culture and current meaning of the culture of the Zeybek.
In the end Şifa Girinci’s exhibition proves that it is possible to interrelate past and present, story and history, society and biography, politics and poetics, as well as conceptual and aesthetical matters in art. Therefore, her work has significance today, and can function as example for other artists, which are interested in research-based art.