Füsun Onur

1938 | Istanbul, Turkey
— Arter

Turkish Sculptor and visual artist.

Füsun Onur is a pioneer in Turkish art, bringing conceptualism into her sculptural practice and arriving at the installation form during the 1970s and 1980s. After studying traditional sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts of Istanbul, F. Onur went to the United States in 1962 with a Fulbright scholarship, earning a Master’s Degree in Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1967.
Starting in her early abstract geometric sculptures, F. Onur’s exploration of lines and planes grappled with the dualities of absence and presence, and the relationship of what is visible and known to what remains hidden and unknown. Using simple materials such as paper, cardboard and wood, her early works carry some of the core concerns that run through her entire œuvre, such as the relationship between form and process, an interest in themes and variations, and a reflection on space and movement which puts the viewer’s experience in a central position with regards to meaning and interpretation.

Nude (1974), a decorative plastic doll fragmented with broken mirror parts; and Life Is Beyond Walls (1975), an installation with Plexiglas planes, cut out figures and found objects, are some of the first examples of works in which F. Onur’s sculptural practice turns toward the use of everyday objects taken out of their original contexts and rearranged to underline their relationship to space and temporality. Her embrace of perishable, transparent materials (tulle, textile, lace, Plexiglas) and everyday found objects (furniture, wood, beads, figurines, flowers) collected from her home, her neighborhood and her hometown Istanbul, remained a constant in her practice, marking a conceptual as well as material rootedness in the domestic and familiar spaces of everyday life. Her sculptural practice gradually opened up to a spatial and temporal deployment in the form of installations. Third Dimension in Painting, Come Inside (1981) and Floral Counterpoint, Blue (1982) are both designed as immersive environments that encompass the viewer and flow in time and space. Arranged in rhythmic compositions, her installations are, in her own words, “rhythmic extensions of forms”, allowing for absence and negative space to intrude upon these forms.

Musicality became an increasingly prominent conceptual feature of F. Onur’s work in the 1990s and 2000s, as she received international recognition through successive participations in the Istanbul Biennial (1987, 1995, 1999 and 2011) and a series of exhibitions in Europe. Most discernible in titles and arrangements such as Note (1998) and Caprice (1998), her exploration of musical composition culminated in some her most majestic installations. Opus IIFantasia (2001), composed with knitting needles, braids, pedestals and small figurines, and conceived as the monologue of a single instrument, alongside Impromptu (2003) in reference to improvised piano pieces, operate like silent visual scores composed with found objects and perishable, light materials that resonate within the surrounding space, the music unfolding through sequential activations as the viewer moves through them.

F. Onur frequently accompanied her installations with detailed artistic statements and wrote several reviews questioning the art criticism of her time. Her writings attest to her extremely precise and controlled choices in materials and arrangements, all the while refraining from imposing meaning upon the viewer, inviting them instead to take part in the process. F. Onur’s works, but also her writing, challenged the predominant notions of authenticity and authorship, advocating for an inclusive approach to art and life.
The year 2012 marked F. Onur’s participation in documenta 13 in Kassel and the subsequent publication of a monographic book on her work: Füsun Onur followed by Through the Looking Glass, her largest retrospective exhibition to date, at Arter, Istanbul, in 2014. Füsun Onur’s works are held in the collections of the Tate Modern in London, MAK – Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst/Gegenwartskunst in Vienna, Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and Vehbi Koç Foundation in Istanbul.

Asli Seven

Translated from French by Asli Seven.

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