“Once upon a time…”, a new installation by one of the pioneers of Turkish contemporary and conceptual art, Füsun Onur, is presented at the Pavilion of Turkey at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Commissioned and produced by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) and realised with the contribution of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, the exhibition is curated by Bige Örer.
Füsun Onur has pushed the boundaries of painting and sculpture for more than half a century, giving form to her art through instinct and intuition and creating a language beyond time. Uninterested in dominant art-world trends, Onur has continued to produce delicate and discreet works for decades, made from simple, everyday materials charged with autobiographical references. A highly influential figure in the contemporary art scene in Turkey, she has a global presence but has been under-recognised in the international art world. Her practice, which can be understood through the lens of feminist art history, draws on her private life and employs traditional and domestic mediums, such as weaving and textiles.
At the 59th International Art Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia, Onur exhibits a new installation titled “Once upon a time…”, in which she has created different characters and scenes by bending and shaping metal wire. It is as much a portrait of a time filled with anxiety, fear, and ambivalence as it is of the feelings of solidarity, love, and the joy of life. In “Once upon a time…”, the artist tells an evocative story using a minimalist approach, turning a critical eye on the contemporary condition and inevitably the pandemic, and the threats they pose to the future of the world.
Onur has worked for the past two years to create a fable that unravels over clouds spread throughout the Pavilion of Turkey exhibition space. In her installation, she depicts a struggle waged by cats and mice united against the governing logics of anthropocentrism, which harms nature and the planet by arrogantly ruling over them. Her figures, with their ping-pong-ball heads and colourful clothes made from crepe paper, dance, make music, travel, and fall in love.
Füsun Onur explains: “Wherever I go, I take Istanbul with me. Once upon a time… is a tale set in the pandemic, which starts in Istanbul and ends in Venice. I tell the story of a very smart mouse, who joins forces with a cat for a divine goal: to help save the ecosystem humans have destroyed. Together they unite and sail to Venice, where our main character finds love after the most difficult of times. It is a tale of solidarity, love and the joy of being able to stay together. And just like the fairy tales, we don’t know how exactly it ends… for now.”
Devised like the scenes of a stage play, the installation opens the door onto a new and exciting world. In a time when everyone’s life has been turned upside down, when all known truths are being questioned, Onur once again casts aside all expectations to establish her own scale, offering a masterwork about conceiving alternative worlds, creating new languages, learning from nonhumans, and loving and living together. Each scene can be understood on its own but together form a narrative that looks back on the present from several centuries in the future.
Onur provides straightforward notes for each scene that concisely narrate the story with poetic language. Narrative does not supersede the world experienced in the exhibition space; it merely accompanies the viewer, offering keys to enter into the fable. The ending is left to the viewer; it invites many possibilities and encourages us to imagine different narratives, adding new meanings to the exhibition by viewing it through our own relationship to the world, to art, and to Venice.
The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of İlhan Onur, whom we lost recently. She has been more than a beloved sister, supporting Füsun Onur throughout her whole life. She created the archive, photographed each exhibition and collected all the information. She was the one who searched for materials, supported the production and the installation of the works and celebrated Füsun’s creativity. We believe her memory will live together with this exhibition.
At Arsenale, Venice
until November 27, 2022