An interview by Bircan ÜNVER

The exploration of space is in many ways just a new version of the young man sent away from his village.  Aliens are now our new goblins, monsters or fairies.  With the discovery of uranium, and creation of the bomb, now the post-apocalyptic landscape is a very much a part of our imagination, yet it fits right in with the story of the Bible.

What did you lead to the digital art world?

The kind of artwork I was doing already involved a lot of collage and photomontage, putting two or three slides on top of each other in the enlarger, then cutting up the prints and rephotographing, and on and on. These manual techniques lead you directly into Photoshop, which allows you to do these things of course with much more facility.  What took weeks to do, now you can achieve pretty much instantly, without having to coordinate a darkroom and get involved with all those chemicals.

What was your the most vivid memory related  with your childhood?

There are several odd things I remember--little lessons like, Think before you speak, or, If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything.  I'm a very shy person, and for some reason, these little lessons about politeness stick out.

How do you relate yourself with Turkish culture?

Being an American of Turkish origin...

It's a very strange feeling of being a complete outsider, yet intrinsically connected somehow, underneath, through your subconscious and early childhood.  As children me and my brother would spend our entire summer vacation's there.  It was like a fairytale, perhaps because I was seeing everything through a child's perspective, but still, compared to life in the States, everything was so beautiful.  The fruits and vegetables had color and taste you never found in the American supermarkets, and people were swimming practically in the middle of the city.  This was quite a contrast to New York and the gray East River.  And the bounty of the land seemed available to everyone, they were common riches.  It has been educational for me to see these changes that have been going on there, as in the US, things had already pretty much been lost and you don't really think about it when you are born into a situation.  It is simply the way things are.  Being an American of Turkish origin, I saw both sides, and wonder why so called progress has to entail losing all the richness that can be enjoyed collectively.

When you titled your exhibition as, "Fairytales Interrupted", did you feel that your cultural identity also interrupted as well any period of your life?

It is about cultural identities interrupting each other...

I suppose that is true, as culture shock was definitely a part of our lives, going back and forth from Turkey and the States.  We were disoriented, it did feel like a bit of a balancing act, as if focusing on one might keep you from understanding to your fullest potential the other.  But of course the two origins don't necessarily take away from each other, they just enrich you, hopefully, or turn you into something new.

But more 'fairytales interrupted' was about trying to use romantic and naïve symbolism and add a little note of reality to it, or to deal with cold uncertainty in a way that appears somewhat dreamy.  The fact that I use toys adds a somewhat safe distance to things.  And the figures are simplified, pared down, trying to operate on the symbolic level that fairytales operate on.  They are silhouettes, or their faces are cut out, their identities seem lost for the moment as they try to figure out their position between the past, in some images the Ottoman tradition, and the coming age of technology.  So I guess it is about cultural identities interrupting each other, coming together, the old and the new.  You might see the traditional crafts combined with references to technology, a circuit board as a background for a kilim, an evil eye chain supporting a globe covered in circuitry.  Very often a cultureís technological progress comes on the heels of its military pursuits, so you will see flying jets intruding on the calm peace of the interior of the Selimiye Mosque.  They are all just symbols of our inheritance coming up against the modern world.

How do you evaluate old fairytales in today's world?

Old fairytales and old images of females are very much about the princess, the perfect, kind, delicate lady, in need of a prince, who will complete her.  I think she is an empty symbol for us right now, and I guess some of the work tries to show the hollowness of some of these fairytales, how really they don't serve our needs anymore, and maybe in some cases are harmful.

Is there such a thing as 'contemporary fairytales' and how do you define or interpret them?

The images created by public relations and the media, they are all in a way fairytales.

Yes, I think fairytales are constantly evolving.  Hollywood constantly recycles the old ones, and occasionally tries to update them a bit, to make the female figure more independent, more strong.  In any case, as our world changes, so too does our shared symbolism and mythology.  You can call them fairytales, but they can take the form of movies, fashion photography (the supermodel as the new princess), music videos.  The images created by public relations and the media, they are all in a way fairytales.  Eventually they end up in our dreams, as shared icons.

At the same time as the symbolism changes the actual stories we create might be rather similar.  The exploration of space is in many ways just a new version of the young man sent away from his village.  Aliens are now our new goblins, monsters or fairies.  With the discovery of uranium, and creation of the bomb, now the post-apocalyptic landscape is a very much a part of our imagination, yet it fits right in with the story of the Bible.

Still, there is much we need to process in our experience, the growing industrialization, the loss of nature, and these all find their way into our stories.   You can call them fairytales, or our dreaming world, our collective subconscious, whatever it is, there is always a need for playing with the elements in our lives, the events, the people we meet or are involved with, whether it be physically playing with miniatures, toys, as objects in our hands, or dreaming about them as they take the form of powerful symbols, or manipulating them while creating a work of art.  This kind of activity allows one to think in a non-logical, non-linear way, which is essential for us to orient ourselves in the world in which we live, for making some order out of our raw experience, to rectify an imbalance, and grow.

I think probably modern fairytales are more ìinterruptedî by nature, or rather, 'inconclusive.'  They are just fragments of the new and old elements in our lives, trying to find a comfortable arrangement in our consciousness.

What was your previous accomplishment in art world?

I still very much feel like a beginner.  I've been showing for about four years in group shows mostly in the United States.  I've also earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University, and am still working on my first novel.

What are your main sources enrich your perspective and ideas?

All the darkness in our history, all the brutal violence, has been turned into a pretty pattern.

A lot of this work is influenced by pop culture and the mass media.  It is my subject in a way, as well as a part of my techniques.  I try to imitate the bold colors and graphics as a way of commenting on how things are sold to children, are packaged and commodified, and as artist Mur Hayman had said, ìcosmetized,î made cosmetically pleasing.  All the darkness in our history, all the brutal violence, has been turned into a pretty pattern. Cowboys and Indians is an amusing game, WWII soldiers are party favors. Guns are made in brightly colored plastics, in all sorts of science fiction fanciful designs, and all the latest in actual military weapons and technology is also readily available.  In this way I think young minds are acclimated to the aggression that our culture is founded upon.  Even if a boy grows up into a perfectly peaceful and responsible individual, who would never hurt anyone, he probably still sees the abstract need for war to be carried out, if not here and by himself, in some distant land, by some other people's sons.  So, these mass-produced objects and their implicit power fascinate me.

Other people who eternally inspire and encourage are the people in the pacifist line of thought, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, people who found a way to fight against incredible odds simply with the force of their gentleness.

If you could, what type of world would you created for children or tomorrow? Or if you have a power to change the entire World, what would've be the first three things you would've definently change as first?

Right now the Army is the only organization that offers a wonderful education sponsorship program.

Wow, what a big question, but I suppose I would have to say, give children a sense that they are cared for and loved.  That they have a sense of worth, so that they can in turn feel the same for others.  I don't mean give them a huge sense of ego, but a sense of worth that is not arrogant, that is also sensitive to those around them.  I guess ways of doing this is very much up to the parents, of course, who have to show love and engage their children and be in a constant dialogue with them, and somehow temper discipline with complete non-judgmentalness.  This is all very easy for me to say, not being a parent.  But if there is slack there, teachers and schools should be made to be sensitive to this, and worry also about teaching kids to be good people rather than just achievers.  I suppose religion took this responsibility for a while, but as we become more and more secular, we cannot just give up our morality and spirituality.  Education should be about teaching kids to be good as well as knowlegeable, or rather, capable of passing tests.

Another way to get kids to feel worthwhile is to offer them resources, workshops, afterschool programs that can get them involved in an art, an instrument, something to broaden their perspectives.  Music and the arts are the first things to go from struggling schools.  Education from primary school to university should be free and excellent, and equal in all communities.  There are some schools that don't have the money for textbooks.  The kids are studying from a series of xeroxes, and they're lost in overcrowded classes.

Defense spending completely dwarfs whatever we spend on education.

If we want to get a sense of what kind of importance we give to children we can look at our national budget.  I don't have the exact statistics, but Defense spending completely dwarfs whatever we spend on education.  I think we are very low on the list of nations when it comes to what percentage we spend on our children.  How can we expect that much from our children if we don't even invest in them?

Right now the Army is the only organization that offers a wonderful education sponsorship program.  These programs should be available without your having to align yourself with the military.  Can't we just extend them to the civilian sphere, and perhaps say that the only prerequisite is that you spend a certain amount of years doing community service.  There was talk of this early on in Clintonís first campaign, a sort of domestic peace-corps, though I'm not sure whatever happened to it... There are so many who want to be a doctor for altruistic reasons, yet don't have the resources to do so.  Anyone who wants to go into service of this kind should be able to do so.  It would be a dual-solution of providing a means for an individual to better their own situation, as well as that of a whole community.

Violence seems to be the only means for a lot of young people...

Even schools in the well-off communities are not producing particularly well-educated students, and it is in the white, privileged areas that there have been a series of shooting sprees.  Violence seems to be the only means for a lot of young people to feel a sense of their own self worth.  It is all connected with the atmosphere of bullying that I guess the teachers are unable to monitor or control, the pervading violence in our culture and entertainment, that makes it a big part of the young parson's imagination and readily transformed into action.  Who knows what other factors play into this increasing alienation?  The over-prescription of Ridlyn and anti-depressants?  Prosac for instance, has on its list of possible side effects, depression.  Some have said that it can induce feelings of indifference towards one's self and towards others, and even suicidal tendencies.  The culture as a whole, and it can only start on an individual basis, has to examine their own lives, their own priorities, and not look for shortcuts.  Why are we so ready to medicate our children simply for having what we think is too much energy or for being antisocial, or simply to make it easier for a teacher to regulate the classroom?  Can we get over our obsession with a magic pill to right something that is systemic and far-reaching, and instead of drugging our kids, try to get at the bottom of their problem.

I hate to sound puritanical but another thing that worries me is the typical diet that kids consume in this country.  Just look at what we serve in school cafeterias (not to mention hospitals.)  The fast food, the sugar, the bland produce that is a result of the great agricultural chemical revolution of the 50ís.  Now this type of food is considered the normal conventional food, and organic is terribly experimental, whereas it is just the opposite.  The food we have been eating for the past fifty years or so is the experiment.  And it has failed.  The land has been polluted...the topsoil has dwindled to a thin, unfertile shell of what it used to be ...we might have had more yield in the beginning, but that has required increasing amount of chemicals just to keep up with itself, and the quality has declined as the quantity has gone up, and we are exposed to carcinogenic materials in the process.

If the planet is ill, then so will we be... 

We need to move on from our destructive way of life that is completely at odds and indifferent to the planet which is our home, and which nourishes us.  If the planet is ill, then so will we be...  So after this diatribe, I guess what I'm trying to say is, how can we expect our children to be peaceful, loving people, when our whole means of existence is one of disrespect and irresponsibility towards the land, of simply scrambling after short term profit, with not much concern for our fellow people, creatures, let alone future generations.

So, I guess I will try to consolidate three things out of my diatribe.

1) In order to give children a sense of their worth: reprioritize our national spending, offer equal resources to all schools.  Keep after school programs, art and music programs available, libraries, sports facilities, should have long hours and be open everyday for kids to have somewhere to go... Make opportunities available for anyone with altruistic aims.

2) Rethink the effects of our lifestyle, from our dependence on fossil fuels, which is the source of most international conflicts, to the way we grow our food.  If the structure of our world is one that is responsible, and benign to our environment, this in itself would go a long way as an example for kids.  Not to mention providing a wholesome, nourishing place to grow up.

3) Of course large societal changes cannot come about unless it happens on the individual level first.  All I can suggest is that each individual try to live more consciously.  This can involve just taking a little time out from an impossibly busy schedule even to do something that one enjoys, to allow yourself to be yourself.  It sounds silly but I guess this ties in with the show's themes, the importance of play, which is a means of thought, of trying to figure things out.

A Profile of Julie MARDIN

Julie Mardin's "Fairytales Interrupted" was exhibited with an original music by Joe MARDIN at the MARMARA-MANHATTAN GALLERY. For more information:

BAHAR sayisi web'dedir.



@The Light Millennium magazine was created and designed
by Bircan ÜNVER. 6th issue. Summer 2001, New York.
URL: http://www.lightmillennium.org