the bitmap landscapes (and soundscapes) of koray kantarcıoğlu
text by rómulo branco

Originally published in ‘fabrication of wonders issue 4.’

it is worthwhile to wait for a long time for something reassuringly original and fresh when one’s endurance is at the end of possibilities, when modern art is eating itself avidly and burping with delight, anthropophagic of contemporary delusions and ‘plastic’ cul de sacs. though i do think that aleister crowley was a contemptuous prick, he wrote in his autohagiography that he was “perfectly content to know that the vileness of civilization is rapidly destroying itself; that it stinks in my nostrils tells me that it rotting”. that was written more than a century ago, but still valid, at least to me. it is of no use to barter against modern art because it is a waste of time and space. art is a question of taste (and education and culture and access). i prefer picasso to matisse, and then? doesn’t matter. the fact is that in 2015 i was lucky to buy from the wounded wolf press, from ankara, a book that since has been a quiet and fulfilling companion. it is called bitmap landscapes by koray kantarcıoğlu, a turkish digital artist. the book is an extraordinary work of affection for and to books in itself, carefully designed and printed (500 copies, sleeve printed on 400 gsm charcoal paper and the body of the book is printed on 110 gsm bookwove paper). It came also with eight separate pages printed in tracing paper, two pamphlets, a magnifying card, and if it wasn’t enough, with a compact disc with soundscapes by same artist! Numbered and signed! that was the artefact that was worth waiting for. the book contains also two small essays by kristina kramer (independent curator) and luke keogh (environmental historian and curator) well worth reading and serve as introductions to the world of the bitmap landscapes by koray kantarcıoğlu. this art book and its works are presented in a chronological mode, from the first to last works of the artist, which helps to understand method and progression. to me, that i am preoccupied with memory problems, it is a perfect object d’art to hold and investigate.
bitmap landscapes is a work of transfiguration and inversion. we are told in the book that kantarcıoğlu works only with an out of date microsoft paint program from the 00’s to make his works of art. not that the technology and medium is that important (being the final result the thing to speculate upon), but for me it was interesting to know this fact (i use myself old programs and that very same one, or i used to): but here starts a certain archaeology of meaning; this modus operandi recreates, in principle, the act of hand drawing of the old masters and prefigures an exacerbated predilection for detail and feeling (feeling which is absent in all contemporary art). i know it is not fashionable, but allow me to re-quote mister crowley: “in those days one was not bored by people who had never seen a real skyline boasting of the outrage since perpetrated by insects. a mountain skyline is nearly always noble and beautiful, being the result of natural forces acting uniformly and in conformity with law. thus, though it is not designed, it is the embodiment of the principles which are inherent to design. new york, on the other hand, has been thrown up by a series of disconnected accidents” (idem p201).
bitmap landscapes is interesting because is the representation of these conflicting (hi)stories. though its matter is to represent landscapes drafted from geological processes, astrophotography and natural phenomena, thus from the ‘natural’ world, it is in act and finalisation a digital and computational product (though printed into paper). an inverse return to nature? can i ask the same question on seeing a drawing of a portrait of a landscape with its infinitesimal details made in charcoal or pencil? both techniques are, in the end, just a possible representation, not the thing itself. is a leonardo da vinci drawing better than one by kantarcıoğlu? is it correct to write that all art is a transfiguration of what the eye sees and the brain filters through the physical act of hands? (i use the term transfiguration without any kind of christian/religious meaning). or is it just unworthy a question, a taunted tautology contradicting the law of the excluded middle (revealed by Brouwer)? obviously nowadays no one thinks about, or asks these questions because abstractionism ‘freed’ the artist of any figurative or reality-like producing of work. the thing is that kantarcıoğlu’s (first) works are ‘figurative’, though they may seem as abstract, which indulges my pleasure and words. after all their title is: landscapes (though bitmap)! you see my confusion and delight!
obviously these words are about me in the same equation as are about this marvellous book. what is represented in kantarcıoğlu’s works, are these really real REAL landscapes? of course not, i think. it is an utmost gust of imagination and fragments of memory. i didn’t surf the internet searching for kantarcıoğlu’s biography and ‘facts’. i know nothing about him, except what is printed in the book. i do not need, or, better: i do not want. if i can’t make my own map and interpretation of his work (even if i am utterly lost to logic and very wrong), what is left of the interchangeable roles of artist and viewer, between the art and the absorber of it? so these lines can be considered a dissecting of my own personality confronted with art (or what i consider art). as a jotter and a scribbler i am always in awe of authors. i take it very, very, personally. what is the purpose of reading a novel and not getting involved on it? if you read fugitive pieces by anne michaels and do not enter the spheres within spheres (and this is a simple example) of the story, the geological strata, physical and immersive mental of the story being told, what? QUOTE: “it’s no metaphor to feel the influence of the dead in the world, just as it’s no metaphor to hear the radiocarbon chronometer, the geiger counter amplifying the faint breathing of rock fifty thousand years old. (like the faint thump from behind the womb wall). it is no metaphor to witness the astonishing fidelity of minerals magnetised, even after millions of years, pointing to the magnetic pole, minerals that have never forgotten magma whose cooling off has left them forever desirous. we long for place; but place itself longs. human memory is encoded in air currents and river sediment. eskers of ash wait to be scooped up, lives reconstituted.”
does a reader NOT have the obligation of being a witness and construct the story accordingly himself (herself)? why are there four gospels? the same story as (allegedly) witnessed by four different people. it is the same with art. think of Rashomon. in my own clumsy way i do not deny myself the privilege of being wrong and laughing stock of others (including the artists and authors i am writing about) when i write what i feel and think. i do wish to be part of it all. maybe it is just jealousy, but i think it is more than that: love. the fact is that the ones outside the final work of art are responsible, when being witnesses, to react. and that reaction is the thing: it has to do with all the past and present, and all prejudices and assimilated culture comes out then. when i see kantarcıoğlu’s work i go in a voyage. that’s it. and voyages have all to do with memory and its recoveries (to me, that is). “then why do people remember? so they can determine the truth? for fairness? so they can free themselves and forget? it is because they understand they’re part of a great event? or are they looking into the past for cover? and all this despite the fact that memories are very fragile things, ephemeral things, this is not exact knowledge, but a guess that a person makes about himself. it is not knowledge, it’s more like a set of emotions.”
these bitmap landscapes are products of a fertile imagination, locked in a room and flying into physicality’s gravity and reconstructions of massive volumes. you watch, observe, absorb the drawings and they are real for the time you compute them in your brain. these are works that want to be constructed in the real. these vales and mountains want to be real. “it has been argued that part of the power of leonardo da vinci’s painted landscapes is precisely that they contain a poetic memory of the landscapes of his childhood. according to his french biographer serge bramly, what we see in the backgrounds of his paintings is ‘leonardo private landscape’: a recreation of the rougher, upland topography of vinci (village), ‘the rocks, mountain streams and escarpments of his childhood… magnified by the lens of art and memory’. leonardo himself seems to touch on this idea in the trattato della pintura, where he says that looking at a painted landscape can trigger of memories of other, real landscapes ‘in which you once took pleasure’. in that fictive landscape ‘you can see yourself again, a lover with your beloved, in the flowering meadows or under soft shadows of the green trees’. the lover and his  sweetheart add a decorative touch, but the core idea is of landscape encoding and evoking a memory: ‘tu possi rivedere tu.’ (‘you can recall/revisit yourself.’)
kantarcıoğlu’s work inverses this line of thought. he creates these landscapes out of his imagination, for them to become a kind memory on paper (or on a computer screen). the first older original works (from 2003 onwards) are simple exercises, straight lines, broken triangles that evolve to be ‘decorated’ with additional black triangles, mountain tops covered by (black/shadowy) snow, cut in the middle by another white triangle coming out of the drawn flesh, yang and yin, male and female. there is too a simple hieroglyphic quality to them, a stylised contemporaneity that becomes, later, a chaotic miasma of representational topographic aerial views and codes in the physical earth. after 2007 the drawings are much more developed and intricate, the mountains become ‘real’ mountains; volumes are delineated with precision, there is a sea of detail. avalanches and snow flying. 2009 is an inverted world. blackness is pierced by the white of dots and granules. it is a night vision illuminated by the phosphorescence coming from the represented cones, mountains as auras of a recognisable world, but yet slightly alien, they could well be stars, oceans of stars, transfiguration and inversion once again. the pages are now wholly covered with mountain storms until blackness evades and disappear. after 2010 kantarcıoğlu’s work changes radically in what he calls ‘ClearType Series’: “colour palette and typographic elements derive from the sub-pixels that are automatic added to the outlines of the fonts used to increase readability”. we enter now a world of colour and of pixels and numbers and fonts, as if each square is a letter or a number, a signifier for decoding what comes next, which is beautiful. the contours and shapes expand, colourful in a synthetic way, form is almost abstract. the landscapes are there but transformed, you need to free yourself of the past black and white world, because this is full of computerised detail, dots becoming pixels/squares. blues, yellows, browns in orgies of lines, maps where one can see/imagine faces and hands, microscopic skin details. the blues confuses the eyes, ridges, boulders, escarpments, corrugated vales, iced crusts, a house? it is a world exploding, in movement, incessant waving and whirling, re-constructing new paradigms of what is/was/can be a landscape. tomography of extinct volcanoes. quantum computation. with all the modernisms gone and the vanguards non-existent, the work of kantarcıoğlu seems to travel through the ages and movements of art to become itself. when the brick ‘sculpture’ of carl andré ‘equivalent VIII’ needs a museum to be a sculpture (it would be a pile of bricks outside of it), the return to drawing seems desirable and omniscient, it makes sense in our age of gratuitous, self-indulgent (and self-sufficient?), facile and conceptual arts.
kantarcıoğlu does the opposite of the following: “deconstructive operations can result in images of remarkable naturalism, such as the famous fractal mountainscapes of the type used in science-fiction films but actual processes through which real mountains assume their craggy shapes – involving long and intricate procedures of deposition, uplift, fracture, collapse, fire and ice, erosion, etc. – cannot be adequately characterised in terms of the successive fractalizing of a basic mountain shape in the physical processes of nature. in such cases the relationship between the processes of nature is at best partial or oblique. perhaps the best we can say is that tendency of a given geological formation to fracture in a certain way endows them with a propensity towards fractal morphologies. it is also possible to arrive at a computer model of channel and river formation when rain falls evenly on a random landscape (i.e. rough, like sandpaper). in such a model, the topography of the mountainscape self-organizes so that successively wider tributaries pour into a main river, resulting in an elaborate landscape of peaks, ridges, and valleys. however, even this type of modelled process is indicative of a self-organizing tendency in just one of the many different kinds of processes at work in mountain formation.”
with koray kantarcıoğlu’s excellent book comes, too, a beautiful disc of untitled ‘soundscapes’ (‘contains a collage of selected soundscapes produced by koray kantarcıoğlu between 2002 – 2014’). i presume the disc is supposed to complement the drawings/book, but i do not see a connection between the sounds and the printed pages. which is not a problem at all. i was expecting a recording of glitches and bleeps, volcanic sounds and tortured drums, but no, the 37:45 minutes of the compact disc is absolutely divine and ethereal. maybe it is the music of the peoples who inhabit those bit landscapes (i like to imagine). it is, really, a counterpoint to the digital images. i am not expanding my thoughts on this recording because every time i listen to it the message is different and more images catapult out of the headphones (best heard on those, yes). let’s just say that it is worth just buying the compact disc per se, as it is a veritable work of art too. so, it is worth to spend a lot of time searching for something utterly special, and wait and wait. because when one least expects, it comes unannounced and perfect.

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