Scattered across the floor of Cyprus Realism at Pi Artworks are a series of dried-up pomegranates that have been painted gold. The orbs rest upon pieces of crumpled up newspaper, which are covered in photographs of rotting fruit. The decaying images contrast with the pomegranates resting above them, as they glisten in golden splendour, with the metallic element preserving the fruit from ruin. This sense of dichotomy runs throughout the exhibition of new work by British-Cypriot-Turkish artist, Mustafa Hulusi (b. 1971), at Pi Artworks.
Hulusi’s display – which encompasses painting, sculpture and installation – conveys a feeling of subversion throughout. The viewer is immediately struck by a series of vibrant, larger-than-life paintings depicting the flower of the Oleander plant. The petals are a beautiful bubblegum pink yet, despite its beauty, these flowers are toxic. Some of these paintings, including Oleander 1 (2019), are split in two. One side of the canvas depicts botanical imagery, while the other presents an explosion of colourful abstraction, a psychedelic sense of energy that – in terms of ambience at least – is in stark contrast to the calm of the beautiful, innocent-looking flower painted against a pale-blue sky.
Besides these paintings, a huge ceramic tile installation – Ambient (2) (2019) – fools the viewer into believing that they were hand-made according to traditional Middle Eastern tile techniques. In fact, a computer made these strips of yellow, blue and green ceramics. A subversion of sacred geometry, which would only ever have been rendered and designed by hand, the work was generated by a digital procedure, removing the human element from tradition.
Across a series of photographs too, our preconceptions about nature are challenged. Nightclubs in Nature (2019) is a series of black and white images that depicts lone buildings standing in the middle of isolated fields, with playboy bunnies and words like “FUNKY” and “KINGS” attached to their exterior. These constructs signal that these places of relative calm, may actually become the complete opposite once night falls.
Perhaps the most attention-grabbing work on display however, is Mood Reel (2016), a multi-channel video work comprising eight cathode-ray televisions. Each screen offers eight points of observing occurring simultaneously, including clips of Elizabeth Taylor in orientalist scenes. Many of the films are sequences extracted from Third Cinema films – a Latin American film movement from the 1960s and 1970s, which decried neo-colonialism, capitalism and Hollywood as mere entertainment to make money. Taylor’s beauty allows us to gloss over what is happening underneath, while at times the screens throw up black and white swirls, as the televisions move from one film to another. These surreal “glitches” are reminiscent of Bridget Riley’s work, and almost have a hypnotising affect on the viewer, as they are lead into an unsettling state of the unknown.
In Cyprus Realism, Mustafa Hulusi presents viewers with a beautiful exhibition, which aesthetically pivots around his roots in Cyprus. This layer of beauty lingering above the surface of the work however, is a thin one, masking a more complicated, machine-influenced story that lies beneath it. Questioning the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, as well as the natural and the constructed, Hulusi asks us to consider how technologies are being co-opted by dominant powers.
Mustafa Hulusi: Cyprus Realism is on display at Pi Artworks, 55 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8EG until May 2019