Figures Suspended in their Inner Worlds: “Fugue” by Başak Bugay

Inspired by the phenomenon of the “fugue state”, Turkish artist Başak Bugay’s solo exhibition “Fugue”—that ran from December 16, 2021 to February 12, 2022 at Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul—featured mixed-media sculptures and ink drawings of figures suspended in their inner worlds, as in purgatory, as in dreams that are thought to be real.

“Fugue” takes its name from the psychological counterpart of “fuga,” which derives from the Latin “fuga,” meaning “to fly.” This “dissociative” situation carries the traces of amnesia, a type of memory loss, and indicates the separation, or fleeing from one’s identity.

There are feet here, faces there. A child in an old person’s position. Bugay’s suspended entities evoke different reactions. They inhabit a timeless and subconscious space, between imagination and fact, inside and outside. They are complex, frightening. You may also pity some of them. Contemplating them you can’t help but think of alienating moments in your own life where you too might have felt something similar. When your sense of day and night, body and mind, past and future, self and purpose all became mixed up and confusing.

Blackout, 2021, terracotta, stoneware, oil paint, 11 x 36 x 115 cm by Başak Bugay. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz.

The concept of fugue holds critical importance for the artist, it is a tool by which she understands the violent and bullying tendencies in the individual and society. She characterises the act of creating a self-isolating space for oneself not only as a personal, but also as a social pathology.

Composed of fabric, terracotta, and ceramics, Slope displays a figure whose feet do not touch the ground despite the sloping ground they are on and the load on their back. The individual who falters in the sloping structure of the ground they are on is disconnected from reality with their burdens, thus hanging in the air. The sculpture named Blackout qualifies as a document of escape. The feet are on the stage which are the carriers of the body that hides away in order to protect from the invisible enemy. 

Old city, 2021, terracotta; 24 pots and 350 face figures, variable dimensions by Başak Bugay. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz.

Twenty o’clock refers to the television announcement for the evening news. The person, crushed under the stratified tensions in the society that they are a part of, isolates themselves from the dinner table, spiritually drifting apart. Air Ballon allows the mind to float away like a balloon in an effort to capture and cure unmanageable problems, as a coping mechanism and a relaxation technique.

The work named Afenphophobia, which means the fear of getting touched, refers to the image of a woman holding the patriarchy upright like a tree with invisible strings. The artist criticizes that this feminine figure, which has been transformed into an immune monument, is neutralized and torn from its vitality. Why the Laugh? statue that does not alter its posture even though it fails to hold on to the floor, manifests the fragility of confronting victimization. 

I’m Not Dead Yet, stubborn and proud, stands ready for action as a mobile sculpture in the exhibition space. The Old City posits Anatolia’s geographical structure, memory, traumas, and “level with the ground” landscape in a form reminiscent of pits. The series of works entitled Comes when it’s over depicts a topographic surface and/or a society that constantly seeks to relate, but fails to integrate because of disconnection.

Twenty o’clock, 2021, wood, fabric, fiber, string, ceramic, terracotta, 70 x 79 x 74 cm by Başak Bugay. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz.

In her works in general, Başak Bugay explores ways to represent the relationship between the psychic constructions of the subject and the collective unconscious. Using a wide range of material and an ironic discourse, she puts forth themes like childhood traumas, denial and defense mechanisms, and sleep/death. Taking her relationship with material and process as organic, Bugay’s production process is shaped through the use of materials of fabric, fiber, plaster, and terracotta. Cut off from the outside world, isolated, confined to their own space the figures in their privacy do not directly interact with the audience. These figures are tough and distant and at once peaceful and familiar. Bugay lets the audience to figure out the hidden elements trapped in these spaces of privacy, breach into their secrecy and complete their uncanny and hidden stories. Although seeming safe and warm, in the environments and figures in her works is contained the possibility of an attack.

Born in 1979, Bugay lives and works in Istanbul. She graduated from the Painting Department of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in 2002. She also completed her masters degree in 2006 and Ph.D. in 2019 at the same university. Her recent solo exhibitions include: Fugue (Zilberman Istanbul, 2021) and It’s a Joy to be Hidden (Milli Reasürans Art Gallery, Istanbul, 2018). The group exhibitions she participated in include: Rounded by Sleep (Arter, Istanbul, 2022), Facing Windows (KOLI Art Space, Istanbul, 2021), Dancing Into One, (Yuvakimyon Greek High School, Istanbul, 2019), The Big Picture (DEPO, Istanbul, 2018), A Day at Hotel (Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul, 2018), Animal (Tophane-i Amire Culture and Art Center, Istanbul, 2012), Figurative (Alan Istanbul, Istanbul, 2010) and Where is Diyarbakır Prison (Karşı Sanat, Istanbul, 2011).

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I’m not dead yet, 2021, plum tree, fabric, lace mesh, glasses, terracotta, oil paint, 141 x 71 x 60 cm by Başak Bugay. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz.
Air balloon, 2021, wood, fabric, fiber, string, felt, terracotta, oil paint, 88 x 38 x 55 cm by Başak Bugay. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz.
Why the laugh?, 2021, air dry clay, fabric, string, wood, led light, oil paint, 71 x 43 x 66 cm by Başak Bugay. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz.
Slope, 2021, fabric, fiber, terracotta, ceramic, 237 x 50 x 80 cm by Başak Bugay. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz.
Aphenphosmphobia, 2021, wood, fabric, terracotta, 36 x 18 x 35 cm by Başak Bugay. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz.
Comes when it’s over series II, 2019-2021, ink on paper, 27 x 86 cm by Başak Bugay. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz.