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Tulu Bayar’s ‘Playground Series’

An Artist at Play

January 1, 2012
By BRIAN BUSH ( , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Tulu Bayar is an artist whose work explores people, place, sensory experience, identity and memory, among other things. Bayar's newest exhibition, "Playground Series," will be on display at the Lycoming College gallery from Jan. 19 to Feb. 19.

Born and raised in Turkey, Bayar moved to the United States in 1997 to pursue an M.F.A. in photography and electronic media.

She has been a professor of photography and multimedia at Bucknell University since 2002. Bayar hails from Ankara, the capital of Turkey, but was frequently on the move throughout her childhood because she came from a military family.

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"I am an army brat," Bayar said. "So we moved a lot throughout Turkey. Although I was born in Ankara, I was raised everywhere in Turkey. Every two or three years we were moving."

Bayar's migratory upbringing continues to inform her subject matter and working method. Moving from place to place meant Bayar came into contact with new people all the time, sparking a fascination with people that pervades all of her work.

"You end up meeting really very interesting people," Bayar said. "It makes you really social even if you're not a social human being. It also makes you curious and makes you want to meet people, to see and understand what it's like to live in a new place. That really informed my work, I think."

Bayar is drawn to photography because it's a medium that requires the artist to interact with the outside world and, more importantly, with people.

"It's a perfect medium for me because I'm not so interested in burying myself in the studio - to be there for hours and be by myself," Bayar said. "Of course, initially, you need to do that, and there are times I need to be in the studio doing post-production. But the older I'm getting, the more I'm embracing the idea that art can happen anywhere. As artists, we need inspiration, we need new materials, we need constant stimulation and I feel like if I bury myself in the studio, then I'm missing something else. It closes down all your sensory potential. As raw material, I really like to work with people outside, listen to them, go to the places they live and see the life of each place with my own eyes. That's why photography is such a natural medium for me."

Although photography is central to much of Bayar's work, she also employs a range of artistic mediums to create a multi-sensory effect. Bayar's art combines visual elements (photography, film, sculpture, installation) with audio components (dialogue and ambient sound).

"Photography always plays a central part, but I don't shy away from trying and integrating different media if the idea calls for it," Bayar said.

When asked to comment on her multidisciplinary approach, Bayar said she wants her audience to experience her work in the same way they experience life: using all of their senses.

"When you observe life itself, when you experience it, you don't only use one sense," Bayar said. "In life, as human beings, we have multi-sensory experiences. I don't think we can really experience life as a whole without it. I truly believe that art should embrace multi-sensory experience. That's why I'm attracted to sound. I also do a lot of installations where I invite my audience to touch the artwork. That adds another dimension to the work."

To those who have visited galleries and art museums, this might seem like an unorthodox suggestion. Bayar, however, insists that touching is a necessary part of understanding her work.

"I don't subscribe to the idea that you cannot touch art because it is a precious object," Bayar said. "No, you need to touch art. You need to touch art in order to understand the surface, the material. Then you connect with the artist and you connect with the artwork. You also understand the process of how it became what it is."

The idea behind Bayar's latest exhibit, "Playground Series," came to her very suddenly and almost by accident. Simply put, "Playground Series" is a series of photographs of people taking photographs. Bayar traveled to major tourist attractions around the world to take pictures of people taking pictures. The idea for the project came to her during a trip to China in 2009.

"I'd never been to Beijing and I really wanted to see it. I was curious," Bayar said. "You know how it is when you go to a new place. You try to experience and understand the whole culture. I was doing both touristy and non-touristy activities."

"One touristy activity that I did in Beijing was going to the Bird's Nest Stadium, where the Olympics took place in 2008. It's such a tourist trap because they're not using it as a stadium anymore. It's just a tourist attraction, where you buy a ticket and go inside to see the empty stadium. As soon as I entered, I was fascinated by the amount of people taking pictures. I was fascinated by their gestures and by the whole act of photography. Everyone was constantly shooting. Every corner was being photographed. People were photographing themselves, each other, the stadium. It was such an interesting experience. And here I had my DSLR camera, and I looked at myself and thought 'I'm a photographer' and the whole thing turned into a playground for me. I started photographing the people. Some of them even turned their cameras at me and started shooting me, shooting them. So, the whole thing became like a playground. I ended up taking hundreds of pictures.

"When I came back to the U.S. and I was looking at these photographs, I realized there's so much potential in this. It's fascinating. It's not about the place, it's not about one particular city, it's not about one particular culture. It happens everywhere; it's a phenomenon. It's how we experience the world now. I thought, I have to go to major tourist destinations in major cities and do this. So I went to London, to Times Square in New York, to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, to Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, and did the same thing. It's an ongoing project."

"Playground Series" will feature photographs from all five cities. The photos will be displayed in an installation format. "They're not going to be framed or displayed in a traditional way," Bayar said. "There's going to be an installation element to it."

This exhibition contains many of the themes central to Bayar's work as a whole: memory, place, sensory experience, and - as always - people. Bayar is a born observer of the world, never taking anything she sees for granted. Indeed, much of her work seems to ask its audience to slow down and take notice of certain things; it asks you to pay close attention, to go beyond first impressions, to see even the most mundane activity in a new way. Her art is full of fascination. Bayar brings this fascination to bear on the people who become subjects in her work. "Every individual is so fascinating. I don't think boring people exist," Bayar said. "Each of us, as individuals, wherever we live, whatever we do, we're all so interesting. I think every life, no matter how mundane it might seem, is worth observing. I learn a lot from strangers, from people that I don't know. It makes you grow not only as an artist but as a human being."

This attitude, while difficult for most to cultivate, has served Bayar well. Her work has been shown all over the world, including major U.S. galleries in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and abroad in France, Germany, Denmark, Britain and Turkey. Despite having lived in Lewisburg since 2002, Bayar has never shown locally, and so was very excited about her upcoming exhibition at the Lycoming College Gallery. "After 10 years, I'm finally showing locally," Bayar cheered. "I wanted to exhibit my work locally, but the opportunity never came to me. I was thrilled and honored to be invited. I accepted in a heartbeat."

"Playground Series" opens Jan. 19 at the Lycoming College Gallery. An opening reception and artist talk will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 19. To view Bayar's work, including a sampling of her "Playground Series" photographs, visit



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