Exhibition reminds viewers mountains do not have owners

You might respond yes or no since the question does not have a definite answer. But it is certain he would have added a note of irony after seeing how mountains are destroyed for purposes of industrialization.

Besides, Blake would not be the only one doing so. Maybe one of his devoted supporters would be İstanbul-based contemporary artist Burcu Percin, who is presenting her ninth solo exhibition “Mountains Have No Owners” in the art ON Istanbul gallery in Besiktas.

On display until May 24, the show features a new collection made up of 12 oil-on-canvas and oil-on-photograph works and one photo collage dealing with the issue of how mountains, one of the public realms, are becoming sources of revenue by being destroyed for coal and metal mining.

“Untitled,” a 2013 oil painting by Burcu Percin.

The idea to work on such a topic emerged in Percin’s mind when she visited and photographed some of the stone quarries in southeastern Turkey four years ago. “I have a special liking for mountains. They are also significant in religions and mythologies since they are among the symbols of sacredness. Thus when I saw how the mountains there were being destroyed, their appearance disturbed me,” the artist told Today’s Zaman in an exclusive interview at the exhibition venue on Thursday.

‘Feelings of lived in and deserted are important to me’

Percin kept the notion of creating such a series in the corner of her mind after the visit, but the artist began to take concrete steps in 2013 and decided to travel to different parts of Turkey to take photos of mines. She covered nearly 1,200 kilometers, starting from the southern part of the Aegean region and ending up in the Black Sea region during her preparations for the exhibition. In addition the artist went to some mines in İstanbul and Marmara Island.

Basing her series on the photos she took, Percin generally depicts deserted locations and thus does not usually include human figures in her work. “The feelings of lived in and then deserted in addition to the atmosphere the industrialized areas have are important to me. One can also see criticism of environmental problems in my work in this way,” she explained.

“Although my works have no human figures with a few exceptions, I like to include some manmade items in my paintings. So what seems abstract becomes closer to reality,” Percin noted in speaking about some of the paintings. The artist read part of an article written by Osman Erden, the president of the International Association of Art Critic’s (AICA) Turkey branch, for the exhibition catalogue to emphasize her point.

“Pablo Picasso used to include details such as pipes or glasses in order to indicate that some of the portraits he did at the end of his analytical cubism period were not in fact abstract,” the English-translated version of the article reads.

‘We are not aware that we are preparing our end’

The title of the show is a direct reference to an expression mountaineers use, the artist noted. “Mountains do not have owners in reality,” Percin noted, adding that people behave as though they are their owners while exploiting mountains.

“In the universe, all living beings adapt to and serve an ecological system. But we are harming nature for our self-interests. However, we are not aware of the fact that we are not only disturbing nature but are also preparing our end,” the artist commented.

While creating the series Percin constantly asked herself what would nature’s response to this irreversible human intervention on it be. “I also wanted to draw attention to the ironic situation that those who exploit mountains as though they own them forget they are mortal. In an attempt to highlight this issue of mortality, a mine worker wrote on the wall of the mine where he works: ‘No matter if you are a landlord or pasha, you will also go under the black earth’.”

The artist also pointed out that miners, who do one of the toughest jobs in the world, do not receive adequate recompense for the work they do and this shows just how much their lives are valued. “Another issue is that capital is the ‘owner’ of the mountains; yet, there is insufficient mine or coal for everyone,” she added.

“I liken the process of destroying mountains for mining to an operation conducted on these natural landforms. It is as though you see their bones and veins while you mine under them. I do not understand the logic behind this [because to me] even a rock possess a soul. So I will continue working on this theme and produce more artworks for the series,” Percin stated.