Pastel Colors, Animations and Philosophy
Interview: Şener Yılmaz Aslan
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am an illustrator and animation artist from Marmaris. I studied Graphic Design at the Bilkent University and graduated at the top of my class. Then, I earned my master’s degree on illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) on Fulbright scholarship. In 2013, my works were selected for the yearbook of Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the world’s leading book fair for children. In 2015, I was awarded a research grant given to MICA fellows for my studies on robotics and Arduino. I also illustrated four books for Can Publishing House. The book I illustrated while in the USA was featured in several foreign media including P is for Pussy, Huffington Post, Bitch Media, DesignTAXI and BuzzFeed. And finally, my animation titled “Flow” has won first prize in the 2D animation category at the MICA Animation Festival, and been shown during many other festivals around the world.
How is it that you became so involved in animation when you studied graphic design? How did you combine animation with puppets?
I became interested in animation as well as three-dimensional works while I was studying graphic design in college. My first attempt with puppets was at a laser-cutting workshop during my master’s studies. In fact, I later shot a promotional video of those puppets. I think it was the first time that I combined my mechanical toys with animation. Later on, I used this combination when I made toys for my dissertation.
University, was there any difference that influenced you?
I had the chance to study under two very special professors at the Bilkent University: Özlem Özkal and Orhan Anaforda. I received a very strong classical design education supported with examples of the Bauhaus school. But my education in the USA changed my view of design, arts, science and philosophy. I went there as a children’s book illustrator and came back as a stronger individual interested in the new media, who enjoyed the intersections between design and science. I learned the importance of creating your own voice and the greatness of being different.
What can you tell us about the topic and contents of your thesis “Negative Pleasure”? How did your professors respond?
Philosophy came into my life during my high school years at a time of personal conflicts and struggles, which were affected by hormonal changes and developments in my thinking. In college, I took courses on the philosophy of art that introduced me to the academic side of philosophy. Later on, when I was studying toward a master’s degree on illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art, I produced the first work of the “Negative Pleasure” series. With this animation on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s book Eye and Mind, I was invited to speak at an arts and philosophy conference at the Stony Brook University in New York. My animation was regarded as innovative and humanistic because it did not involve a didactic rhetoric and attempted to observe the system that the philosopher created in his own mind, and received positive reviews. So I decided to create “Negative Pleasure” as a series.
According to Immanuel Kant, the pleasure of beauty is different than that of the sublime. The sublime experience can be painful in some way and yet it does still involve pleasure. In ‘negative pleasure’ there is a kind of ‘rapid alternation’ between the fear of the overwhelming sublime and the peculiar pleasure of seeing that overwhelm.
I worked with esteemed and visionary professors while I created the series. Our department head Whitney Sherman suggested that my creations pushed the limits of the conventional illustration concept and made people question the position of illustration between design and art.
For your exhibition at the Mixer Gallery, why did you decide to use motion sensors, animations, puppets and various engines to depict the theories of philosophers such as Deleuze and Nietzsche?
Philosophers such as Nietzsche, Deleuze, Merleau-Ponty discuss a process, motion, flow, and repetitiveness beyond a certain ending. This cycle in animations and toys with their constant circular motions coincides with these ideas, supports and highlights them. All the works in the exhibition operate on the animation principle. This cycle repeats itself in my animation exhibition in the flashing lights in the dark, in the women and men who are considered ugly ducklings as they float peacefully, and in the disturbing and hurting sounds that the engines make.
Philosophy today is seen as a whole of principles distant to the society and the people, and only appealing to a certain segment. I wanted to break this distance by telling the seemingly complex ideas in the form of toys associated with children, with animations and demonstrate the contrasts. Besides, the optical illusion toys I used also question the ways we see ourselves, and aesthetics.
The creation process of all your works seems to be fun but what do you enjoy the most when creating?
Working in different fields, learning in the process, the restrictions and liberties brought about by the nature of a technique give me great joy. I think, rather than a specific type, being able to create in diverse areas nourishes me, and my works.
What do you read, listen to and watch? In other words, what inspires you? Where do the images that lead you to this majestic burst of pastels come from?
Since I have been very busy creating and studying for the last three or four years, I can seldom read fiction. I usually prefer to read articles, essays and books on aesthetics and the theory of art. Lately I have been listening to folk, seventies rock, North African music mostly. I also enjoy watching short animated films and movies by my favorite directors. There is this concept of Negative Beauty about the peculiarity of the universe, melancholy of time, and the beauty in the details and flaws. The darkness of the works is perhaps due to the reality of these forms, and their closeness to us; maybe they seem like that to us from a place outside the visual world with low tolerance that we are accustomed to. Maybe I am balancing and enriching this darkness in Gestalt with colors.
Where do we follow you and your works?
I have my own website: www.meltemsahin.info
I also post my latest works on instagram: @meeltemsahin