Füsun Onur, the artist of the Turkey Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and his work ‘Once Upon a Time…’

Representing Turkey at the Venice Art Fair with his visual tale entitled “Once upon a time…”, the artist is also the pioneer of conceptual art in our country. In his installation in the Turkish pavilion of the Arsenale, the artist has produced a work that corresponds almost exactly to the title of the Biennale “The milk of dreams”.

In our conversation with Bige Örer, Curator of the Turkish Pavilion, Director of the Istanbul Biennale and İKSV Contemporary Art Projects, Örer says: “When we appointed our artist Füsun Onur in 2020, the curator of the Biennale Cecilia Alemani had not yet designed the conceptual framework. Our curator, Bige Örer, tells us that the art exhibitions of the Venice Biennale have been postponed to 2022 due to the pandemic, that we are locked in houses, that we have entered a period where we feel very deeply vulnerability, that there is no green space, clean water and fresh air left in this world, and that it is time for the artist to end it together. He says that he produces his work by believing in it.


As we said, the work of Füsun Onur is a visual installation of a fairy tale, the story begins like this; The protagonist, the mouse Cingöz, one day encounters a notice at school that the world’s flora and fauna have deteriorated beyond repair. With the other mice, they intend to remedy this situation. But their worst enemies, the cats, also need your help, because this order can only be changed by a union of forces. The first thing they do is go to the leader of the cats, Zorba (Zorba, Füsun Onur and the beloved cats of his recently deceased older sister İlhan Onur). Cingöz tells Zorba that action must be taken against ecological destruction, that they came for peace, not war, that they believe that leadership should not be in one person, but must be divided equally, and that a decision must be made together. They agree. Mouse Cingöz gets up and goes there at the invitation of an artist friend in Venice, but a girl falls in love with a mouse. We, the audience, witness their dances in a carnival-like environment, having fun with boys and girls dressed in pink and green clothes, passing between them and turning around. We see the rooms they stay in, the friends they are with, the places they dance, as we sink together into the fairy tale.


How do you know? Because Füsun Onur brought mice and cats to life by bending and twisting the fine wires with his hands, wearing a ping pong ball on his head and a tutu with tissue paper on the bottom, creating sculptures and allowing them to relate to us. It’s as if we were turning the pages of a fairy tale book, witnessing the journey, the love, the dance and the life of these minimal creatures of the Turkish pavilion, some suspended at eye level and others lying on the ground. However, the artist preferred to leave the end of the tale in tension. Because in front of the window overlooking the Arsenale canal, an ornate gondola is ready, waiting for its passengers, no one has arrived yet. We are waiting for the formula that will solve world destruction.

I ask the artist Füsun Onur: Why don’t mice and cats get on the gondola waiting for them and return to their countries? “Who knows”, he says, “maybe they will show up in another job…” We hope that a new job will be created.

I ask Füsun Onur why the Turkish pavilion, rented for 20 years in the Armi room of the Arsenale, is a big room and why she keeps her figures so small. “Curator Bige Örer and architect Yelta Köm showed me the place from different angles. I thought if I enlarged my characters, it would look like a statue and its pedestal. Also, since Beykoz Shoe Factory is similar to our pavilion, we rehearsed there, we unanimously decided to display it at shoulder and eye level, and move the audience through the pages of this fairy tale book.


Cecilia Alemani, curator of the biennial, took the conceptual framework of the tale of the children’s book by the surrealist painter and British writer Leonora Carrington “The Milk of Dreams”. By coincidence, the day before I had visited the “Surrealists” exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. Of course, I saw surrealist paintings by Carrington, the favorite artist of French writer André Breton, the pioneer of the surrealist movement. If you have read the biographies of Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979), you will certainly come across the name Carrington. Because the Guggenheim rescued Max Ernst (1891-1976) from the Gestapo during World War II and smuggled him to New York. Previously, in 1936, Leonora had met Max Ernst when she frequented surrealist circles and they had fallen in love. Ernst was one of the most important artists of the surrealist movement. Leonora was 19 that year and Max Ernst was 46 that year. Léonora, daughter of a wealthy family, settles in Paris with her lover, despite her father’s objections. The Second World War broke out, Max Ernst was arrested and moved to New York with Peggy Guggenheim, who saved him. Leonora also fled to Spain, but unfortunately she had to stay in hospital for some time due to her nervous breakdowns. Then he went to Mexico. Leonora married a Mexican diplomat and Max Ernst married Peggy Gugenheim. This is the magazine side of the business.

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