A few years ago, during a visit to Istanbul in the residence of SAHA foundation, I was introduced to the world of Füsun Onur.
During the visit, my attention shifted to a miniature house reminiscent of a child’s toy. Placed on a small table, this model of a house – with windows, rooms, objects, different floors, stairs, and everything you would expect from a dollhouse – stopped my attention from all the rest that surrounded it.
This small house was an artwork by Füsun Onur, and carried incredible strength, as well as an inherent poeticism, two characteristics that – I would soon discover – are both fundamentals of her work.
Even without knowing anything about it, I felt the great intrinsic sense of memory it emanated; for me, it became the representation of the very definition of memory and connection to one’s own history.
On a later visit to Istanbul, I was introduced to her personally.
I went to see her in her quasi surreal house on the Bosphorus. Surrounded by excavations for new buildings, this two-story house painted in deep red seemed to come out of a completely distant era, resisting the passing of time.
Füsun greeted me at the door, and together we spent a few hours talking. Her home (the real one) felt like a human-size version of the small house I saw before, the furniture and objects, delicately worn walls, and decorations forming an encompassing universe.
Füsun opened a closet in her semi-cellar. It was filled with childhood objects, emanating remarkable dedication to something so fragile and precious as the past.
Her ability to transform personal history into the collective, to bring systems and balances into question, flooded my mind like sudden, unexpected, and loud hail – small, powerful messages with a force impossible to escape.
When I left, I kept thinking about her and this visit for days until I convinced myself to create a miniature gallery model out of cardboard and paper-mâché and send it to her by post.
At the time, I thought it was the most straightforward option to show her our gallery.
I understand now how much her language immediately influenced me, how much her model house I first saw stuck to my mind, eliciting a natural response to create a miniature of the gallery.
There was also a letter in which I asked her if one day she would fill this space with her art.
Several years later, Füsun was ready for the exhibition, a friend informed me. We got back in touch via phone and post to develop the show that is set to open this November in Berlin.
But despite my request to fill the space, Füsun filled nothing.
The gallery I sent her came back empty – devoid of objects, but indeed once more full of memories.
She sent a manuscript with words to be pronounced by someone else; a perfume to be spread in the space; and a request ‘to find a lost umbrella’– the only object meant to be in the room.
Füsun invites us to listen to the voice, breathe in the fragrance, and observe the umbrella, made for accompanying and protecting one’s path between one place to another, to shelter from rain or perhaps hail.
Left in the room is the memory of all that has been, her personal memories fading into everyone else’s, and the promise that this story will continue.
What Fusun did not know when she initially proposed her show was that this one would be the last in this space before we leave it, after many years and many memories, for a new home.
A critical text written by Defne Ayas gives biographical information on the artist’s creative practice and influences.
The exhibition is made possible thanks to the support of Füsun Eczacibasi and Merve Yeşilada Çağlar. Many thanks also to Cise Osmanoglu and “givaudan & glokal” for producing the fragrance used in the exhibition.
Füsun Onur (b.1938, Istanbul) is a Turkish artist who works between sculpture, painting, drawing and installation. Creating puzzles based on the inner logic of materials or objects, Onur seeks to make tangible the latent magic of being and the boundlessness of space, art and time. Her sculptures and built realms are often set to silent rhythms or take form in crystalized volumes, evincing a desire to unearth the secrets of the invisible and unseen.
Often choosing common or personal items as elements in her works, she attests to the enduring poetry of individual memory and lived histories, as a unifying bond that prevails over time.
Onur has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions at various institutions, including the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (2001); the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2005); the Augarten Contemporary, Vienna (2010); Istanbul Modern (2011); Maçka Art Gallery, Istanbul (2012); and ARTER, Istanbul (2014). She also participated in the 1987, 1995, 2011, and 2015 editions of the Istanbul Biennial, the 2007 Moscow Biennale, and the 2012 iteration of Documenta.
Füsun Onur will represent Turkey at the 59th Venice Biennale 2022; the Turkish Pavillion will be curated by Bige Örer and is sponsored by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV).
Photos by Andrea Rossetti.