SECOND NATURE IS FIRST NATURE by Mehmet Yılmaz

1

In the 1880s Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out that the ‘world’ was a “work of art that generates itself”. According to Nietzsche, this continuously dying but then reborn world that existed for no purpose, was aesthetic phenomenon. What made it an aesthetic phenomenon – a work of art – was without doubt, man, who endowed it with meaning through all kinds of language he created.

A uniform ever-growing world consisting of values and colors, emphases and perspectives, affirmations and negations is what Nietzsche meant. From this standpoint, Mona Lisa is a ‘work of art’ because it is said to be so; a view is ‘beautiful’ because it is said to be.

Can you imagine the first human beings watching the ‘sunset’ or any other ‘scene’ in awe saying ‘oh, how romantic, how beautiful a view this is!’ Maybe these natural scenes in fact are called beautiful or romantic just because of ‘beautiful and romantic’ works of art? If mankind has found natural scenes important enough to depict them, this certainly is because these scenes fascinated humans and humans attached importance to them (the principle of reciprocity). What does it mean when a scene is like a painting, a girl like a poem or when a tree dances in the wind? Obviously, the world–and everything on it– is an entity that is formed and made aesthetic through language.

Imagine you watched the world from outer space for thousands of years: an object on which a multitude of things are built and then destroyed, where billions of things move from one place to another, shine and fade out, such as skyscrapers, bridges, castles, monuments, trains, airplanes, ships, ditches, holes, organisms, concepts, thoughts, etc., – whatever we call them.  For a person watching from outer space, basically not much difference would exist between trees growing on a field and statues or buildings built in a town square.

Something plain turning into beautiful or non-art artifact turning into a piece of art: This idea looks quite familiar, one would say? Because Duchamp noticed this, he presented a urinary as a piece of art, and mocked people who attached more importance to the signature on a work than the work itself. The result? People bought his wolf ticket and accepted what he presented as an artwork. Who was its creator then, Duchamp or the people? This is what his followers Judd, Kosuth and the Art&Language group pondered.

As in the past, objects, today, appear in and disappear from different contexts. This is the ingenuity of mankind. ‘The transformation of a piece of junk into a piece of art’ can only be the verification, or representation of the ‘world’s transformation into a work of art’.

From the past to the present, the world has become a huge exhibition space to stage the ingenuity of mankind. Man has constructed temples, statues, opened far reaching roads and canals, dug into and taken apart the earth’s surface, in other words, has exploited it–and continues to do so. Everything man has built and added onto the world’s surface is a symbol or sign of their ingenuity– just as animals’ marking off their territory by leaving smells and traces. However, you know that no other living being is as aspiring to leave marks and demand possession as human beings. Yes, man is said to act rationally rather than instinctively, but also is so hard-driving with respect to claiming and using the earth’s surface that even his rationality cannot get ahead of this marking instinct. All over the World, man proliferates, produces, consumes, and creates wastes; both creates new organisms and makes others extinct–until when no one knows, but man is cornering himself and forcing his limits.  Fortunately, man covers these achievements with decorative sauces and ornaments such as religion, morality, art, and aesthetics, and as such makes us forget to some extent the negativities he himself and nature produced. And thus, one tolerates these.

2

Machine inventors’ aim was to enable manufacturers to produce heaps of standard goods in the fastest possible manner. This way, they would both make more money, and facilitate consumers’ lives. This was a mutual dependency with unforeseen surprises.

We no longer can live without technological products.  While using these products was a matter of choice when they first emerged, today one does not even have the right not to opt for them. Rather, we can only choose from among brands that are made available to us. We are encircled by technology. Assuming that we are people who long for the past, even if we can avoid some products, we are still exposed to thousands of them. When there is a power cut, our hands are tied. Now we have acquaintances who say “While until yesterday I wrote my work in pen, since I got use to the computer, I have become unable to write without it.”We have become unable to bear the failure of the appliances we use.

We have so much work to finish that we cannot allocate time to our close ones! Yet, we were supposed to be able to spend more time with friends and family while machines would do our work. In the past, we could only start a new task after finishing another.  Now, thanks to (or maybe we should say ‘due to’) appliances, we can deal with several tasks simultaneously and arrange our plans accordingly. We think we use them, but at the same time we are used by them. We were born into a dazzling speed and live within its grip. However, despite a small number of people who could envision the future, no one anticipated today’s circumstances at the start of the technological revolution.

Johan Wolfgang von Goethe predicted that science and technology would surpass the abilities of man, and therefore watched the developments with doubt. Similarly, Karl Marx, who was a child of modern thought and a harsh critic of Goethe, foresaw that modern technology would disturb social structure and overturn social values. However, Marx was not opposed to technology. For Marx, new production instruments would create new conditions and change the form and matter of class conflict within the society. This would necessarily turn the wheel of history forward— toward a classless society. These thoughts initially spread to England and France and then throughout Europe. In a classless society, people would be freer, have more time for themselves, create their own works of art, and maybe not need artists anymore.

Technology has really created a brand new World. The roots of the technological revolution lay in England, but in the field of culture, it yielded its fruits in France. Paris, where movements such as romanticism, realism, impressionism, fauvism, expressionism and cubism followed each other from the 19th to the 20th centuries, was the western world’s capital of culture. Futurism was also declared in Paris with Marinetti’s signature. This city would continue to be a center of culture for approximately forty years.

3

What is more fascinating, capturing an image with a machine or a hand and brush? The answer will of course depend on the person. If you ask the layman who is incapable of traditional handcraft, it is impossible not to admire and be fascinated by the talents of painters, especially those who meticulously worked on the illusion of reality. For those like me, it is a very natural human ability to create an image through painting – it is our work. Still, upon seeing good examples, who would not forget that it is a natural talent and admire the skill of the painter?

But I must admit that capturing a picture with a machine is far more fascinating to me. You press the button, and there it is! The only reason that capturing an image with a machine is considered an ordinary thing is the fact that everyone can do the magic.

Our actual admiration is for the inventors of machines, the creative brains; but most of us do not even think of this. Machines, the wonderful combination of aesthetics, meaning, and function. I can almost hear some saying “I understand formal beauty and function, but what is meaning? Machines mean novelty and revolution. One who creates a machine creates a world.  Whenever I need to go to an industrial site for some reason (and I am not in mechanics at all), I always admire the form and operation of machines. Theo Jansen is right when he says “the walls between art and engineering only exist in our minds”. Creating a machine is really a fascinating talent, an art. At the beginning of the 20th century, artists like Marinetti, Boccioni, Duchamp and László Moholy-Nagy had drawn attention to this.

4

“Boundaries have disappeared, the artist and the craftsman are being confused,” “people who have received no art education appear as artists in art exhibitions”, “some curators display things without subjects as works of art”, “it is not necessary to create art to be considered an artist”, “digital images and resorts to easy ways have spread, real talent has lost its worth”, “rather than creativity, pretension is in”, “humane, artistic, and aesthetic values have collapsed, the essence of art is gone” etc….

To some, these are factual statements, while to others these are conservative expressions. Maybe you agree, maybe you think the opposite, or maybe keeping calm, you try to understand the situation.

Concepts and terms with agreed on meanings and definitions with clear boundaries can relieve us for a while. At least, this alliance is necessary to be able to discuss. Definitions sometimes remind us of the content of something in the shortest way, and sometimes they only serve to distinguish one thing from another. These are words we resort to in order to understand practice, that is, what is going on, and to be able to communicate. And without doubt, they are useful to some extent. But then, there is the other side of the coin: Just when we say that everything has fallen into place (we have matched theory and practice), we suddenly realize that our premises have come down, or are no longer able to meet the new conditions! This is someting normal because life does not fit into theory.

The present situation in general lines, somehow, is reminiscent of the approach that prevailed from the old Greek to the 17th century: In Greece, there was no science/art/craft distinction. From grammar, rhetoric, geometry, and astronomy to fields like weaving, medicine, agriculture and equipment, every work performed was valued under the concept tekhne.     Tekhne meant both art and craft. The ancient Romans continued this approach, but instead of tekhne used the Latin word ars. In the eyes of the Greek and the Romans, grammar, rhetoric, geometry, and astronomy were free arts, while those performed through manual labor such as weaving, medicine, agriculture, and equipment, were considered ordinary (servant) arts (painting, sculpting and architecture were branches of equipment). During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the adjective ordinary (servant) must have come to sound rude, and they decided to call this group of arts mechanic arts. Free and mechanic arts were both considered ars; the distinction among art, craft and science had not yet been made. In the 18th century, free arts were included in the science category; the rest were called fine arts; eventually, the distinction between art and craft became more visible, and with the elitist attitude of modernism, the distinction became firmly established. This process shows us that it is ridiculous to say that “art has reached its ultimate meaning and form; it had better continue to be this way”. The content of art has continually changed, is changing now, and will continue to change.  Necessity, arbitrariness, and randomness pertaining to content and boundaries are intermingled.

Modern technology continuously presents new opportunities. From our desk lamp to the toys in our pockets, all products are the cheaper side products of space and military technology. Using photo and film technology used to be expensive and require expertise, and therefore was accessible to only certain groups.  Today we carry technology in our pockets.

One of the latest image technologies, the hologram, is rather expensive for now.  It requires expertise and a special laboratory.  Yet, there is no doubt it will become cheaper in time, and available for individual use. Holographic images exceed photographs and film with respect to illusion of reality. Like with photographs and film, light forms the basis of a hologram. But it differs from them in that a figure of light –a holoscuplture– shares the same space with you. You can walk around it; you can see its face, back and sides; and as it is made of light, you can walk through it.

5

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a computer. Yes, right, but once upon a time there also was no such thing as tree, honey or language either.  Through time, non-existence turned into existence. Here is our nature –the environment that we are hurled into, that we transform or transform into. Distinctions such as ‘first nature’ and ‘second nature’ are after all imperative abstractions.

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