Raised in Istanbul and now settled in Boulder, artist Belgin Yücelen built a wide practice that’s especially poignant right now, in the time of social distancing. Using sculpture, drawing, printmaking and film, Yücelen seeks to draw viewers into consciousness-building personal journeys, an idea that fits perfectly in Boulder, where she’s also created House of Serein, an interchangeable artist workspace, intimate performance venue, gallery and meeting place. Her latest project, Quarantine Diaries, is an Internet-friendly look at artists checking in from all over the world to share their work.
Follow along as Yücelen unravels her human art practice by answering the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Belgin Yücelen: With my art, I intend to enhance consciousness. I want the viewer to join me in reconsidering who we are and where we are going, so together we can achieve basic human wisdom.
For example, my sculpture series Journey of a Thousand Years, for which I used etched mirrors as visual metaphors for self-identity, was an analysis of how the self is shaped. This series was a request to contemplate who we are so we move toward our purpose without distractions.
The question of where we are going starts with individuals but applies more to humankind. If we don’t have the time to think about this most necessary question, we remain where we are. So I started with a most intricate concept — time. With my Time series, I intended to encourage being more present and aware.
I created a number of artworks, each with a questioning contemplative theme that would lead us to where we are going:
- Are we leaning toward a future with absences in our natural surroundings like the plants and animals which could be extinct someday? What Will be Left? is a multi-venue art installation in progress.
- How are we walking on this earth? Among Flowers in Bloom is a collaboration of dance, classical music and art installation with handmade flowers that appear to be rising at one end, suggesting disappearance and impermanence.
- Are we listening to each other? Words is an installation of floating transparent spheres that represent words.
- Are we thinking about the children in despair in remote countries in any way? Floating Children is an installation with photographs of Syrian children in war, and For Children Who Will Never Fly a Kite is an installation of bamboo and paper cranes alluding to the children in famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
- Do we realize that many women, especially in Islamic countries, have no rights? Overwritten Scripts is a print series elaborating on how the religious scripture was manipulated to empower men throughout generations.
In addition to enhancing consciousness, I intend to challenge imaginations by creating a fictional world beyond the existing, to conjure unrealized possibilities. In my Allegories drawing/print series, I created imaginary people with no definite time and place, not even a hidden meaning. With my What Will Be Left? print series, I encouraged the viewer to consider a future without most of the things we take for granted, such as snow, or certain species of birds, butterflies and bumblebees, by asking the question of what if?
Furthermore, some of my work is informed by my past and the desire to bring something out of the shadows of the past, such as my Clothes From the Past installation of sculptural garments inspired by dresses from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.
I want my art to communicate through its mere presence quietly and be recalled at a later time for slow evaluations. For all this, I must confess that I use the seductive beauty of art and also the higher truth that art is capable of conveying.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
How exciting to even to imagine that this can happen! I would invite Gertrude Stein, Mozart and Picasso. I would ask Mozart if he was happy because his music is always happy, but then I am not so sure somedays. I would ask Gertrude Stein how it was to live through these wonderful times and what she meant by “A rose is a rose is a rose.” To Picasso I would give a big hug and ask him the secret of being so prolific and at the same time stay like a child.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Best thing is that we have a number of artists, and the worst is that there isn’t much of a community. I am trying to change this through collaborative projects I am doing with local artists, such as Among Flowers in Bloom and Poems in Silk, a collaboration with poet Anne Waldman. I am also organizing artist meetings at the House of Serein that we call Salon for Creatives.
How about globally?
I am meeting some valuable artists from many countries through the projects I am doing, such as my recent documentary Quarantine Diaries, about 23 artists in ten countries. There are quite a number of fascinating artists who deserve a higher level of recognition. I want to provide opportunities for them to be more visible and create a sense of togetherness, as well, through such projects. As far as art is concerned, it is the best of times because we have access to many, but it is also the worst of times because this excess creates the sensation of getting lost (if I may borrow from Charles Dickens).
What is House of Serein, and why did you establish it?
For many years, I had a vision to create a community place where artists, writers, poets and other passionate creatives could exchange ideas and build connections. In October 2019, I founded House of Serein to fulfill this vision. House of Serein is both a community art space and a workspace for creatives. I host dance and classical music performances and occasionally hold poetry and philosophy evenings, and during monthly meetings, resident and local Boulder artists share their stories and ideas on creativity.
What’s your dream project?
I want to design an interactive space similar to an archeological site, where ancient remains are replaced by art installations. The viewers would be encouraged to drift through these artworks almost like a psycho-geographical stage, which aims to take pedestrians off their predictable paths and invites them into a new awareness of the urban landscape. I would design the space with playful strategies to present the viewers opportunities for quiet engagements with the artwork. The viewers will be asked to stay longer with the artwork through interactive components that will respond to each viewer’s presence. For example, sculptures will include external components set in motion by a viewer’s presence. Through this project, I intend to create a conversation between the viewer, the art and myself.
Boulder, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I wouldn’t leave this most beautiful city, as I am now so accustomed to seeing its mountains in snow, rain and fog in the morning and night.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
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I am creating a series of new work that expresses the grace of classical sculpture and employs high-tech components. The technology-mediated human-to-human interactions are replacing the traditional way of communication, which is the most basic human need. With this project, I will be questioning the intimacy of this new way of communication by deliberately introducing most unnatural ways of interacting.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Learn more about Belgin Yücelen and her art practices at her website and on Facebook. Find information about the House of Serein online.