March 2008, Berlin
Fatoş Üstek: Our coincidental meeting at the café made a pleasant start. It will be nice to continue the talk we began there, in detail. I think it will be meaningful to approach this interview from various angles. The exhibition at the Kâzım Taşkent Art Gallery is your first solo exhibition in Turkey in a long time besides the exhibitions you had at Galerist. In this context, the publication is also significant. Going through the interviews made with you, texts published about your work and the information on you on the internet, it struck me that apart from your major works, your artistic practice is not widely known in Turkey. The sculpture in Tünel is your best known and most widely discussed work. Thinking along these lines, I hope this interview will be significant in making visible the dynamics of your production. Additionally I aim this interview to take place in a conversation-like basis instead of the monotony of question and answer. I will try to evoke issues relating to your works, tendencies in art production and general concepts in relation to your art practice. Whereas usually writers, critics and curators define your production by the varieties of media (sculpture, photography, video) and practices (animation, intervention), I find it helpful to start with the assertion that your production is sculpture. You elucidate the notion of sculpture by using various media. In an interview you conducted with Andrea Schlieker1, your practice is more precisely defined as displacement or relocation, movement and blockages or obstacles.
Ayşe Erkmen: Yes, I think what I produce is sculpture. Whether the work I make is a sound installation or a found stone placed in an art context or a young dancer in a film, all these productions are sculpture, or a production on sculpture, and therefore on art.
F.Ü.: The strongest example of your work on sculpture is arguably the project you realized for the exhibition in Münster, in 1997. This work actually emerged as a result of a project you wanted to make in collaboration with the Catholic Church in Münster. You have proposed a clock with hands of equal length to be hung on the façade of the church and your proposal was refused, and when you came up with a second proposal, the board of the church contacted the exhibition curators to announce that if you come up with a further proposal, they would prescribe a regulation banning you from realizing any project what so ever within the territory of the church. That’s when you decided to carry out a project above the church—in the air. You exhibited sculptures from the storage of the National Museum on the roof of that museum opposite the Catholic Church—some for four days, some for a week, some longer. These sculptures were transported to the roof by helicopter. Each time a sculpture was brought to its position, it was passing over the church.
A.E.: “Münster Sculpture Project” is a large-scale sculpture exhibition that takes place every ten years. The project you mention is directly related to sculpture. Considering the functions of sculpture, its inner formation, the placement of the sculpture and the processes it passes through during all these actions, I came up with a work on the adventure of a sculpture which travels from the storage of the museum to the city, to the museum and from the city back to the storage. The positioning of the sculpture atop the museum indicates the place it came from; their exhibition for certain periods, their mode of waiting there, refers to an artwork’s waiting in the museum. The transporting of the sculptures on air makes their journey, back to where they came from, visible. Since there is always a return: For an artwork to be in the collection of the museum also includes its being stored during the times it is not exhibited. In this sense, this work also renders visible an art institution’s operational process and the institutionalization of an artwork. Many of my works are built on similar patterns. Production evolves around the transformation it goes through in the process of your thought becoming presentation and with the layers it gains.
F.Ü.: You didn’t present the sculptures of the National Museum in a static way. Instead of exhibiting the sculptures after shipping them in special boxes, you have chosen to transport them uncovered and unprotected, in the air. Can this be considered an example for the transformation you mentioned when you defined production?
A.E.: Of course. If, as you say, the sculpture had been directly positioned atop the museum, there would be fewer layers of meaning involved in this project. It is important that its transport to the roof of the museum, that the transport of the sculpture or the work of art from one place to another is visible and in the context of this particular project, it was significant to counter refusal and prohibition. Transport by helicopter also refers directly to the history of film, namely Fellini’s “Dolce Vita.” That was the inspiration of the form of the piece. For me productions from the past or with a past are important, too. The helicopter scene is the opening scene of “Dolce Vita.” The women sunbathing by the pool are anxiously surprised when they see a statue of Christ being transported by helicopter. A similar reaction occurred in Münster. People looking up to the sky for the strong sound of the helicopter, watched on in surprise and curiosity to recognize the sculpture that is being carried. This project engendered an interesting encounter and connection, a conjunction between the women in the film and the audience in Münster.
F.Ü.: Making the production process visible, to the actual point where the process becomes the production itself, has gained significance with the advent of conceptual art. Yet, for a contemporary spectator to perceive a sculpture carried by a helicopter as the actual art piece is still less likely, than him or her assuming that a sculpture is merely being transported from one place to another in order to be exhibited. In this work, “Sculptures on Air”, only the process and its functioning are visible, instead of the presentation of a product.
A.E.: We can speak of revealing the process bare and in detail, because normally an artwork is never transported unless packed and placed in sturdy boxes. Of course, it is the anomalies that make it a work of art. The other important point for me, within the scope of this work, is what happens to an artwork: being in a collection, getting exhibited, being transported and viewed, waiting to be replaced by another artwork, being taken back to the storage, etc... Moreover, to be liked and to be “beautiful” are important for this work, too...
F.Ü.: Your work has a remarkable visual strength. It is a refinement of your thoughts, which have gone through subtle stages of preparation. Your art production is a product of a subtle sense of aesthetics as the language of visual form (‘or’ visual form?), irrespective of any connotations of high art or elaborations on taste. Let’s consider, for example, your solo exhibition “Stoned” at Taxipalais in Innsbruck in 2003. This work is akin to your work at Münster. “Stoned” is an installation using a rock from the mountains of Innsbruck and placed above the glass ceiling of the exhibition space. The strength of this work was stemming from the size and the amorphousness of the rock, its powerful aesthetic.
A.E.: The rock was specifically searched for, found and selected. It was important for me that the rock had a strong appearance. I drew and faxed the image of the rock I had in mind. They tried to find a rock in the mountains of Innsbruck similar to my drawing and sent me various photographs. And I selected one of the samples they sent. Therefore, the rock placed on that ceiling is not just any rock, but a rock that has been worked on and brought there after certain steps. Wim Wenders explains why “Easy Rider” is a very good film: “‘Easy Rider’ is a very good film because Dennis Hopper is a very good director, Peter Fonda is a very good scriptwriter and actor and László Kovács is a very good cinematographer.” I think, it is vital to make every stage of the art production as efficient as possible, no matter if the final outcome is of high quality or lacking quality. I shall work hard on the production. But it is still impossible to be sure. The impact of just any rock and this particularly selected rock would not have been the. If you are trying to present your idea in a precise manner, you have to think and work on each aspect of your production. For this exhibition danger was the concept; and for the danger to be perceived in its uttermost presence, a rock which would communicate the feeling of danger was required. In the selection process I was searching for a ‘beautiful’ rock, meaning an effective rock, which would claim the exhibition dangerous with its presence.
F.Ü.: One reason I want to talk about aesthetics or the concept of the beautiful is the fact that the aesthetics of production harbours a sense of responsibility. Once the artist defines his or her production as ‘a work of art’, I find it more meaningful to accept this claim and to discuss further what the artwork does or does not produce. At this point, aesthetics takes on an important role. so that the artwork is a part of the artistartwork - audience tricothomy. Everything we encounter and the perception of that everything is no longer only a moment or sensation we experience and pass by, but a perception we bear, a perception, which leaves a trace in our memory. Therefore it is significant: the aesthetic tendencies which the encountered work produces.
A.E.: The aesthetic tendency your work produces varies according to its requirements I think the artwork must be effective, it must induce excitement. It must trigger the viewer, shall assert itself and be attractive. And of course, to make all these possible, it has to be able to evoke feelings in the viewer. These feelings do not have to be only positive sensations; they can be negative sensations or gloomy sensations. For instance, I particularly like boring films or boring works of art. The least entertaining or the most beautiful take least of my attention. The artwork shall not be the pleasurable visual experience for the viewer. For example, music; when you include music in an artwork, this initially appeals to the viewer, in a sense, it charms the viewer. Of course, when necessary, music can be used. I have used music many times too, but still I abstain from giving very positive sensations, from producing hasty appreciations.
A.E.: To continue with the example of music, it is the most compelling field to create situations to which everyone can easily connect and gain pleasure. It is impossible for the viewer not to be affected when you accompany a work with music. If a film begins with an impressive piece of music or a road scene, I am effected, too, I like the film till the end, even if it’s not a good film. This is my weak point. Therefore it feels a bit like exploiting the viewer.
F.Ü.: Perhaps we can define it as the preparation and determination of the pleasure to be taken from the work?
A.E.: Yes. There is also the danger to underestimate the content of the work. I have used music in many works. For example, I always received positive reactions from viewers of my video—“Emre and Dario.” It has been constantly invited to exhibitions and has travelled from one country to another. It is being exhibited in a few exhibitions even now. The dance and music in the video charm the viewer. However, there are other issues the work points to.
F.Ü.: You produced this work for the “İskorpit” exhibition (1998) curated by René Block as a critique of the nationalisation of art practice.
A.E.: Yes, the exhibition only included artists from Istanbul. In this work a young boy, Emre, dances in front of a white, abstract background, accompanying a song in French in which the word Istanbul is frequently repeated. The original of the song Istanbul is sung by American singer Eartha Kitt, and in this video it is sung by Dario Moreno, a singer from İzmir of Italian origins. Languages, countries and places have merged. In addition to this complication, the almost too much repetition of the word Istanbul throughout the song was also an important criterion for me. As if to say: “Alright, since this is an Istanbul exhibition, here you have Istanbul!”
F.Ü.: The need of regionalizing art practice is a distressing issue which shall be questioned. A situation we still face, 10 years after the “Iskorpit” exhibition. It is very important to underline the fact that art production does not stem from a single source, but comes out as a togetherness of various aspects as in “Emre and Dario”. Another exhibition curated by René Block was the 4th International Istanbul Biennial. The concept of the biennial titled “Orient-ation” was based on evaluating the present through the etymology of the word orientation which is highly used in the West. Orientation is derived from the root orient and it implies that the determination of position is made according to where East is. You made an installation titled “Wertheim ACUU” in this exhibition.
A.E.: I produced a work on the condition of the artist and the work of art. A large-scale exhibition is being organized in Istanbul and more than 100 artists are being exhibited together, in close proximity. Each artist tries to find a place for his/her work in the best possible way. In this environment, I wanted to produce an ambitious piece that would also refer to the title of the exhibition. I chose one of the two already existing lifts in Antrepo, got it repaired and then covered its interior with shiny metal sheets which are used for containers. So that the lift in a shining dress was constantly going up and down between two floors and was trying to show off to the audience on both floors. Wertheim ACUU is a very ambitious and covetous work, revealing the state of the work of art in large scale exhibitions.
F.Ü.: Bruce Nauman says ‘art shall raise questions’.2 Your production also raises many questions for the viewer. In your solo exhibition at the Sculpture Center in New York, the audience would pass the courtyard, walking over enlarged landmine images, and enter the room. There the audience comes across with the moving installation placed on the ceiling executed in two different colours of fabric. The landmine images are semi-recognizable due to the fact that they have been oversized and manufactured. The installation raises many questions too.
A.E.: I think the work of art should not provide answers. It should not be an easy response to something, should not know the answer to its question, or shall not show it. In fact, the work shall not give the answer to the question it raises. Not knowing the answer prevents the artwork from being educative and having only a single acknowledgement. With an artwork, I am telling you certain things and these are what I have been thinking while I produced. The artist should not be the one who knows, therefore, should not give answers and should rather ask questions. If an artist does not work on how to make her idea visual, she will find herself in a self-justifying or didactic position where she fails to ask or trigger questions. The exhibition at the Sculpture Centre has two domains: The exhibition space and the courtyard. Faced with these two equivalent, yet different, spaces, I decided to use the floor of the courtyard and the ceiling of the exhibition space. Using the ceiling structure of the exhibition space, I placed two different-coloured, curtain-like pieces of cloth. These moving structures, with the tightening of one of the curtains and the dropping of the other and the continuous interaction of them redefined the exhibition space each moment. The exhibition space had another entrance apart from the courtyard entrance, and by also using that door I intended for the curtains to occasionally block this entrance too, or to create a new border. Each entrance produced the possibility of a different experience of the exhibition. As to the colours for the curtains, I preferred to use one warm and one cold colour. I find it difficult to select colours. There are a lot of options and I seek shelter in the idea at the heart of the work, or a coincidence, or a technical detail. The way I found shelter in this work was to choose colours only from the first page of the Pantone catalogue, the primary colours section.
F.Ü.: Is this also the reason you used the three primary colours in “The Gap,” the outdoor installation in Salzburg (2006) where you placed three large balls between two buildings in a square in Salzburg, one yellow, one red and the other blue?
A.E.: Yes, once you get into secondary colours there are thousands of different colours and possible combinations. At this point, my understanding of colour and the pleasure I derive from colour would come into play, and I want to keep that out of it.
F.Ü.: If the work you produce, ensues from your ideas, why shouldn’t your taste become a part of that work?
A.E.: I think this is a personal issue. I don’t know either why I abstain from choosing colours, from reflecting my taste in colour. Perhaps I don’t want to be peremptory. I want to keep myself completely outside the colour issue; I think it’s a huge responsibility to select one among thousands of colours. Perhaps I don’t want to take responsibility regarding this point.
F.Ü.: For the “Time Present Time Past” exhibition at Istanbul Modern, you used the colour gold to coat the logo of Istanbul Modern. What was the reason for you choosing this colour? Were you influenced by the glory that gold represents?
A.E.: The exhibition “Time Present Time Past” curated by David Elliot and Rosa Martinez was based on previous curators of the Istanbul Biennial being invited to propose artists from previous biennials. I was invited to the exhibition upon Beral Madra’s proposal. And having decided there was no point in repeating the brass installation at Hagia Irene, that I produced for the 2nd International Istanbul Biennial, I wanted to come up with a new piece. It was important for this new work to relate and to refer to the old work. Therefore, I wanted to carry the gold colour from the brass plate installation to the new work. The fact that it is reminiscent of gold brought about many layers of meaning, like a humorous splendour; the communication of the present, since gold was the in colour of the year, and many others. Coincidence also played an important part: The quality of the fabric of the silver skirt I had bought around that time influenced my determining the type of fabric I wanted. Istanbul Modern is in quite a windy area. I wanted to cover the logo with a delicate, light fabric so it moved slightly, swelled and sunk with the slightest breeze. The fabric was custom-produced for this piece and, again in line with fashion, the letters were clad loose in smocking stitches. I produced a kind of haute couture for letters.
F.Ü.: Looking at the solo exhibitions you have realized in the last three years, your use of blinds attracts notice. In exhibitions like “Scenic Overlooks”3 and “Awesome”4...
A.E.: I first used blinds in my work at the “Scenic Overlooks” exhibition I held at Galerist in Istanbul. Centering the video that gave its name to the exhibition, I decided to divide the space in two. The space opened on to the sides from the middle, it was like looking at a single view... For both sides of the room I selected views from a series of toys: grass, mountains... I enlarged the views and installed them in the rooms on both sides of the room in which the film was shown. The space the room opened on to on one side looked upon the city, and the other upon the Bosphorus. By positioning the blinds on the windows in these two end-rooms, I wanted to present options of seeing or not seeing the sea view or the city view.
F.Ü.: Can we read this installation as a proposal towards an interior-exterior dialogue?
A.E.: Of course. It’s actually a game, and when blinds are involved, the colour issue comes in, too. You have coloured windows seen from the outside, colours lined up, and from the inside you again have colours, materials and many elements intermingle, like the opening and closing, the light of the room and the use of walls. Whereas the art space in New Zealand called “The Physics Room” had six rooms opening onto different perspective views. At that exhibition, too, concern over colour and the thickness of the blinds were elements that determined the exhibition. At my exhibition at Galerie Barbara Weiss the blinds did not fit the windows. The blinds I used had to be produced in the city where the exhibition was held at. The fact that “Scenic Overlooks” was a gallery exhibition meant that the products were open for sale, and the person who bought those works would be buying a set of blinds which fitted the gallery but not their own home. In a sense, the buyer would be moving the gallery to his or her home and buying a “work of art” that did not fit. The Barbara Weiss piece was the transition to a second stage. The blinds were already smaller than the windows of the gallery; therefore they fitted neither the collector’s home nor the gallery. A slightly more equal situation.
F.Ü.: You took half of a space in two different countries, in “Half Of” in Japan and “Half of Each” in Germany.
A.E.: I realized my work titled “Half of” at Galerie Deux in Tokyo in the year 2000. I placed half the gallery space in the gallery space, and then a half of the half, then a half of the half of the half... This installation was produced using Washi paper which is used for illumination in Japanese architecture. Five models of the gallery in different scales were hung from the ceiling of the gallery. Whereas in “Half of Each” I took half each of five other rooms in the exhibition space in a group exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and placed them in my room. In this installation, too, the new rooms with half the space were again hung from the ceiling. The material used here is again the same paper, but the construction material was produced using kite-building material unlike the wooden sticks in Japan.
F.Ü.: By taking half of the room away, in a sense, you render visible that which isn’t seen but sensed and experienced. This seems to refer to Kantian sublime. In your site-specific works many concepts materialize in different works. Your decision to produce with what the space proposes or may present, is in collision with Agamben’s definition of the potential of the space. Potential is not infinite possibilities, the potential of each position, each state is defined with its own infrastructure, its history, in other words, with its past and present.
A.E.: Working with the space, I like to make do with what is already in the space, without bringing in something new, something from the outside. The unique details and irregularities of rooms... Each space has things it can do in itself. For example, the only thing I had to do for the exhibition titled “Das Haus” at the DAAD Gallery in Berlin was to lower the lamps. I didn’t even have to carry out any additional technical work to lower the lamps. The spare cable folded above the lamps was enough for them to be lowered; it was almost as if they were waiting there. When I thought about what I could do for the backroom in the DAAD Gallery, I departed from the fact that a film artist had lived there before, unearthing the potential you mentioned. This led to my transformation of the room in to a film archive by placing three films of Henny Porten there. In this manner, I re-created an archive room from a room that was already being used as an archive room. Whereas for the piece titled “More or Less” I did for the Bonn Art Museum in 1999, I activated the delivery lift concealed in one of the rooms for the duration of the exhibition. The lift went up a little to form a platform, and came back down to ground level again after reaching a certain point. This room in Bonn had this different potential than other rooms. That’s why I chose this room. The reason the lift was there was the fact that the room was exactly in the centre of the museum and that the artworks were carried with this lift and then taken to other rooms. Like “Wertheim ACUU” for the Biennial, I predetermined which potential I was to use. Whereas in Kunsthalle Bern, in the exhibition space with a full glass ceiling, I only broke the sections with stars and opened up the secret room above the ceiling used to let in light.
F.Ü.: Could we say that you prefer to bring something into the space from the outside when the space is very powerful, when it does not allow you to use what it contains, when it does not allow you to transform it? For example, in your work titled “Ketty and Assam”, you took two tigers to Kokerei Zollverein and you arranged it so they spent the whole summer there with their keepers. You also came up with a protective design for one of the Zollverein’s balconies so that the tigers could go outside and the viewer could see them from behind a wiring.
A.E.: That balcony was actually opened for the tigers to see outside and watch the view. The reason I took the tigers to Zollverein was, as you point out, the fact that the space was very powerful. It was a place where fire had been produced and I had to take something that was as dangerous as fire, something that could compete with it, something as effective as fire. The power and danger of tigers and the fascination it brought about... This work is also about moving. The tigers were moved to this place and they lived there for three months, with their keepers. It was like a summer holiday for them.
F.Ü.: I believe it is important to show sensitivity towards the space before organizing an art exhibition or producing art in that space. Spaces that temporarily or permanently host an artwork have a certain infrastructure and expression. For example in Istanbul, the use of the Yerebatan Cistern at biennials posed quite a demanding situation for artists. To position contemporary artworks in a space with such a powerful aura required artworks powerful enough to compete with the space and its resistance—and only then would the space perhaps be transformed.
A.E.: The work you describe as powerful doesn’t actually have to be majestic and have large dimensions, it could also be a secret work positioned there.
F.Ü.: You once brought railway tracks into a gallery space. 5
A.E.: This was directly related to that particular city. I found out that the super toy trains (Märklin), which are the dream of children, were produced in that small city in Germany. That impelled me to produce a work with trains in that space. I wanted to use those trains.
F.Ü.: Film shots were being shown in another room.
A.E.: I customized one of my previous works for this exhibition. This work was composed from short parts taken from various films. People walking along railway tracks. I produced a new film formed of all these scenes by including the colours of the railway tracks I installed in the actual exhibition space. The name of the exhibition is taken from the Arctic Monkeys’ song, “Choo Choo Train.”
F.Ü.: In your productions based on place and space, you reproduce many concepts like control of the space (“Portiport”), its redefinition (“Das Haus”, “Under the Roof”), its endangerment (“Stoned”) and its restriction (“9’45””6, “Summertime”).
A.E.: I don’t make huge changes in the space to realize all you have just listed. I don’t actually have the desire to close or divide spaces. In “9’45” I do open and close the space, but it isn’t a full enclosure. The narrow and long room seemed to invite this work. The space is perhaps a personal problem of mine; I don’t actually worry about showing the viewer the other possible faces of the space.
F.Ü.: In which sense is space “your personal problem”?
A.E.: I don’t know the reasons why I chose to work with space; it may have to do with my personality or the habit of working without space—as an artist from Istanbul. It may be the result of the deterritorialization of the times when there weren’t adequate gallery and exhibition spaces, a state that persists even now. On the other hand, you can’t overlook space. I can’t transport a work, an installation I have done before, from one exhibition space to another exhibition space in the same manner. Even if the same work can be comfortably taken to another place, it changes along the way. Space is like the crust of the work, it enters into dialogue with the work, like a box holding the work. Another reason for the change I make might be not to bore myself and repeat myself.
F.Ü.: Speaking of the production of art, one has to speak about the work of art and its expression too. The easily understandable work of art is rendered monotonous and easily consumable.
A.E.: But on the other hand understanding the work makes the viewer happy. I have understood what I have encountered and I know what to do with it, therefore I can own it; this is the sensation it produces. Especially with collectors—let’s not generalize and forget the really good collectors—most works that are sold are works that buyers know what to do with. For instance, you buy a glass and you know you will drink water from it. It requires greater courage to buy or appreciate a work you can’t exactly tell what to do with.
F.Ü.: I think we must also add the requirement of theoretical and visual knowledge to anticipate the point at which the artwork can be analysed or its multilayeredness understood. Stuart Hall states that all visual production builds on a certain coding and decoding and that this is not only valid for works of art but for all objects. When we look at the work of art today and consider the production surrounding it, we see that the relationship between coding and decoding is mostly realized on a 2-dimensional platform. Especially in the production, presentation and perception of conceptual or contemporary art, expectations and conservative prejudices play a part. The importance of the object is positioned above the sensitive foundations of thought and transformation. Needless to say, a totalizing judgment on the topic would be equivalent to this conservatism I pointed to. What is at stake here is that, today there is a massive production of information that is more than we can consume; so that works of art which enforce the audience to produce knowledge are considered to be dull and meaningless in comparison to works of art which produce instant pleasure.
A.E.: There is also an expectation of information via instant pleasure. A witticism or a grumble, or the artist positioned as the victim in some political works, bring rapid perception in their wake. These products call upon the viewer’s basic emotions like sadness, elation and happiness; at that point a requirement such as the expectation of information for the work to be understood does not arise. Information is readily included as a flat message in the work. Forgetfulness emerges in situations like this where information is not that urgently required. A lot of things get mixed up, like what has been produced before, or whether a work has been done before. There are actually many problematic situations this confusion can lead to. For instance, when you make a joke, you shouldn’t repeat a joke made before or a joke your listener has already heard, and if you do, and if your audience already knows the joke, you will find yourself in a foolish situation. You talk about a comical situation, but it’s been told before, you transmit some information, but it’s been presented before, you grumble, but everyone knows your problem already; you see, at this point the transformational potential of the work of art disappears. It’s like speaking the same language as the media, or to produce the same thing as documentaries on documentary channels or short bits on stand-up comedy programs. It’s not easy for art production to compete with these examples.
F.Ü.: I believe that one of the greatest advantages of knowledge in art history is not the capacity to quote more widely in intellectual terms but to train your eye, and to increase the awareness for the visuality and perception you produce. The lack of memory is not the lack of attachment to a certain history or movement in art, but the lack of the definition of a yesterday and today. Memory and history are automatically formed when days and periods follow each other. Both art training and the training of the eye, like knowledge of history, are not realized in a single dimension. What are the methods you use when teaching art, how does an artist benefit from teaching art?
A.E.: It isn’t actually good for an artist to teach for a long time. It is very enjoyable and beautiful to teach at certain times and intervals. You spend time with young people; you witness how they think and how they live. Teaching art brings with it tolerance towards all types of artworks. Each student comes with an idea; you have to try to listen to, understand and assess each idea and each thought in detail and be very considerate, like assessing an artist. The teacher helps the student most in the process of adding a visual language to thought. The relationship between them, the student and the teacher, is like two people touching each other; a wide discussion has to be made to obtain a certain form. An artist has to be permanently open to various ideas to teach over a long period of time, she has to understand and indulge these ideas. Add her own ideas to the process and it can become extremely demanding.
F.Ü.: To get stuck between ideas, to be congested in thought may provoke retreat from the production of art. In a sense, the danger of thinking you are thinking, thinking, dreaming about producing, yet failing to produce and to express yourself. In addition, another unfavourable or suspicious situation is the student resembling the teacher, becoming the model of the teacher.
A.E.: This hasn’t happened with my students, but it does happen quite often. I think it would be very boring and in fact, very frightening for my students to repeat me, to resemble me! Resemblance and imitation happen as a result of idolatry; I’ve never wanted my students to idolize me. The concept of instructing for me is for two people to construct an equal situation and to work together in that field and to exchange ideas and thoughts.
F.Ü.: This attitude is important in building a productive relationship. You build a different and perhaps more comfortable dialogue with people you feel equal with. Idolatry is at the same time the product of an authoritarian positioning, and authority itself is the product of a flux and reflux between respect and fear.
A.E.: I hope none of my students have idolized me. That would have been a rather unhealthy relationship both from my own perspective and from the student’s perspective.
F.Ü.: In the majority of critical texts on Contemporary Art, the writer or the critic tries to explain what the artist is trying to convey. Sometimes this effort is made with a wording which won’t connect with the reader. When reproducing the work of art in the text, the writer has to refrain from adopting a discontinuous narrative, a classical description. At this point, it might be meaningful for the critic to transmit the work of art the way she experiences it, or perhaps this approach is a starting point... In your works which operate via the notion of movement, the viewer has to be there and experience the space, the animate objects and forms. The viewer’s visit to and presence in the space, her spending time and finally her exit are part of the primary structure at each exhibition. Your exhibition “Cuckoo” and its relationship shall be observed and understood.
A.E.: Observing is perhaps necessary to feel, rather than to understand the work better.
F.Ü.: Rather than comprehending the meaning, sensing the proposition by observing at what time intervals the zebra and the alligator move. Even to experience this proposition the viewer has to spend time in the space, commit her time to the exhibition.
A.E.: For instance, if you want to see the entire “Cuckoo” exhibition in motion you have to spend an hour and forty five minutes there—and that is not possible for all viewers. The work is impossible to be seen in its entirety. It’s enough to see a part and understand the formula—it has a simple formula: hour/time. I try to do the same in my films. I think it is unnecessary to force the viewer to remain in the same place for a long time. If it is necessary to have the viewer watch a film from beginning to end, this can be done at a solo exhibition or in a cinema environment. Whereas what I want to do is to get the viewer to quickly understand what’s going on in the film and stay as long as she likes. The “Landmine” films or “Emre and Dario” and the majority of the rest are like this.
F.Ü.: When we look at large-scale exhibitions or biennials, we often see a great number of video works. This means that long visits have to be made to the exhibition, contributing something like eight hours per day for two days to see the exhibition in its entirety.
A.E.: If all the video works can be seen in 8 hours, that’s still a reasonable duration. One of the few biennials in which I managed to see all the films to the end was Dan Cameron’s Istanbul biennial, perhaps because of the orientation and curiosity of the exhibition set-up; otherwise to ask for the viewer to watch everything, all the films, is to demand a huge interest from the viewer, or you have to find a way for it. That’s the kind of work “Wertheim ACUU” is, it says ‘oh, I don’t want anyone to miss me.’
F.Ü.: We have mentioned the importance of education and memory. However, this is not only about graduating from school or a memory based on memorization. Our point is about the training of the eye, and therefore an accumulation of knowledge to serve as a source whilst viewing, observing and producing. Progress might be the awareness of different approaches and different viewpoints and the ability to critically view your own production.
A.E.: It’s not possible to be informed about everything; sometimes being unaware can be interesting, too. For me, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on at the time, in fashion, design, politics, etc... It’s a matter of curiosity to a certain extent.
F.Ü.: When the word political enters art production at the point of the distinction between political art and nonpolitical art, an unfavourable picture emerges. Keeping the fact that everything is political, in mind; perhaps it is meaningful to define art production with a direct political stance or alluding to the political situation by implication. And of course the concept of political art has installed itself in our memory, sometimes it is healthier to have a new look at structures and the functioning and to reproduce them with new definitions. I’m thinking of your work titled “Let it Flow”7 you made in Jerusalem...
A.E.: That’s a work that explains well what I understand from being political; I find it more effective and more forceful for the political message to be hidden or to be conveyed in a circuitous manner rather than directly, as if it were a news item. When I went to Jerusalem to produce the work you mention (Let it Flow) the thing that most attracted my attention was the fact that I was in the middle of a magnificent geographical area where winds were blowing from all directions. The ease of circulation in the air was in contrast with the lives of people living there. I wanted to produce a work about this contradiction and didn’t want to create a melodrama. There’s no point in repeating the difficult and grave situation there. In direct contradiction, I thought of producing a work that appeared “cheerful” but underlined the difficulty of circulation there. The exhibition space was an old water depot left over from the Ottoman era, therefore a hollow area. It was exposed to winds from all four directions. So I placed eight orange-coloured balls approximately the height of a human being in the space, which would wander among the works of art with the help of the winds. There was a possibility of the balls gathering in a corner, but they didn’t and they started to turn and stir in the space, to wander freely among the works of art. It also became a work that could transform into art politics, like “Wertheim ACUU” going up and down between two floors to push itself forward. I think the work shouldn’t directly convey its meaning. It should awaken a sense, an emotion about the meaning it tries to convey.
F.Ü.: In a land cumbered with socio-political cul-de-sacs, the presentation of a visuality indirectly referencing the situation, also means the presentation of a new viewpoint.
A.E.: Otherwise, you enter the same blur. I come from the outside and I feel that I don’t have to enter those waters. When you suddenly arrive from the outside, you are taken aback like the orange ball.
F.Ü.: The free circulation of the balls in that area points to the restriction over the daily lives of the people who live there. When you leave the position you’re in and come across something else, the person you turn and look back at is again yourself. The movement of a thing, of a ball becomes the description of your inaction. Another installation of yours where movement is determined by external factors is “Bis August”8.
A.E.: I tied the buoys I placed in the river to the balls in the gallery. The difference between this work and the one in Jerusalem was that this one was based more on nature. Of course, it was also about interior/exterior, gallery/art/space. The gallery’s position on the river was a rare situation one doesn’t often come across, it was an opportunity. So I wanted to use this opportunity to the utmost. The slightest movement or stir on the river made the balls in the interior space move, therefore the action outside reflected physically in the gallery. And the six-hourly tides on the river elevated and sunk the balls.
F.Ü.: For me this is a work that visualizes associations. Sometimes when we enter certain situations, we do not see the connections of those situations with the outside or the surroundings, or that everything is connected to each other.
A.E.: Yes, like Pilates, everything is either related or moves by coming and continuing through each other.
F.Ü.: Giorgio Agamben, in the chapter titled “Example” of his book The Coming Community states that society realizes itself via images and that these images are in a sense the image, or in other words, the example of what society wants to become. I want to consider the possibility of art production or the work of art being an example. When we approach the subject by considering that everything we encounter occupies a place in our memory and has a sense and perception to itself, I believe the work of art occupies an important place and is the freest area to trigger change.
A.E.: I hope the position of the artist in society is as positive as you explain it.
F.Ü.: Yes, I am probably an optimist; I used to have a more pessimistic viewpoint. My change in viewpoint had a great influence in my wanting to produce a new outlook on art.
A.E.: I hope it’s like you think. Of course, this is valid for some, but these people form a small percentage of the population. Art is the most complex cultural field and it addresses the least number of people. I make an analogy between art and science. There isn’t a huge external demand for either of them. You have to find what you want, search for and discover what you want to find. Like a scientist carrying out research in a field where there is no expectation or a starting point, you are dealing with a topic which only a minority is interested in. An optimistic approach in the field of science can result in concrete inferences and examples.
F.Ü.: Science can produce tangible results but it can also err and make mistakes.
A.E.: In fact, art is based on making mistakes; the artist is a personality who has made a mistake from the start. She becomes an artist because she is a character who has failed in her relationship with her environment, with the world. A person who has lost track of the rights and wrongs. The rights I mention here are relative rights.
F.Ü.: In this sense, failure is liberating and presents a platform to move on.
A.E.: Freedom and the ability to move make the artist. One of the positive sides of being an educator is the acquisition of the faculty to differentiate between people who are artists and people who aren’t. Artists can’t do anything but produce art; others can work in other fields too.
F.Ü.: Can she who failed draw the one who hasn’t to her side? That sounds like a riddle.
A.E.: It’s possible; in fact, the one who hasn’t failed might be more successful. She might calculate her progress better in the contacts she establishes. This division has become confused today. It might have been possible to speak of a more innocent environment in the past, but today the world of art is not as innocent as people assume. That is why I said you were optimistic.
F.Ü.: I’m actually going through a challenge of my optimism, I’m still observing and I want to remain optimistic. You said that you prefer your production to be temporary and that you abstain from producing lasting artworks. A sculpture9 you made in the 90s and placed in Tünel was covered with Styrofoam by Kemal Önsoy for the “Istanbul Pedestrian Exhibitions: 2” and was damaged when it was set alight by vandals. What’s your view of these events?
A.E.: The Tünel sculpture was remade for a number of reasons. Before being covered by Kemal Önsoy and being damaged, the sculpture was to be removed because of roadwork and renewal plans in Tünel. A group of artist and intellectual friends, without my participation, made an effort for the sculpture not to be removed and they were successful. They also worked hard for the remaking of the sculpture after it had burnt down. I don’t get a lot of interest in Turkey and neither does my work, but this particular sculpture attracted a lot of attention. The curators of the exhibition which caused it to burn down lent a lot of support, too. I grew up in Tünel and Beyoğlu, and when the sculpture I made for this neighbourhood received such great attention I saw nothing wrong with it being reproduced. The same goes for the “Am Haus”10 installation in Berlin. Am Haus was made for a month-long exhibition. At the end of the exhibition, with the insistence of the people living in the apartment, the decision was taken to keep it until the next maintenance of the apartment. The text has been there for about 13 years now.
F.Ü.: “Am Haus” has become a landmark in Berlin.
A.E.: Yes, people who live there say, “on the right, across the street from the house with the suffixes...” Because it has entered use so much, this work might have gained a certain degree of liberty.
F.Ü.: You repeated the “Am Haus” installation at the “Modern and Beyond” exhibition (on Turkish art from 1950 to 2000) which opened at the SantralIstanbul campus of Bilgi University last September. Why did you choose to repeat this installation in a single-line format?
A.E.: The exhibition at SantralIstanbul is a purely documentary exhibition on Turkish art. I think it would be correct to define it as a retrospective exhibition for which works by artists were selected by curators. They asked for a few of my notable works. The curator aimed to represent my artistic practice using works including a work on language, a political work made using the video animation technique, an installation on visuality I made using stock images, and another work on space. A reason why the façade installation was done in a single-line format was that no intervention to the building was allowed and sometimes this type of restriction is a good thing. The letters were placed in the indent on the façade of the building. Possibilities and impossibilities can be a starting point for me. The facts that the area where I have to position my work and the wall I have to use at the exhibition is defined clearly restrict me and leave the decision to where and what kind of work I am to produce to chance and I like that.
F.Ü.: Even if it is a retrospective exhibition, the curator of the exhibition and the selection and taste of that curator play an important role in forming the profile of that exhibition.
A.E.: My installation “Scenic Overlooks” was included in this exhibition too. It’s one of my favourite works. I sometimes like some of my works a lot and often these are works others don’t like at all. Fulya Erdemci (the curator of the exhibition) is one of the few people who like the work. “Scenic Overlooks” is my final work using stock images. I have used stock images and sounds many times before, each time in a different form.
F.Ü.: When we look at the history of conceptual art, we see that objectless art was quite widespread and accepted, especially in the 60s and the 70s. In objectless art, thought does not turn into absolute matter and enter into dialogue, but thought is transmitted via the constructed, produced form. In your production object and thought have equal importance. In your projects or works of art we read that both these fields have been through a detailed process. The aesthetics and expression of the art product supports your thought and your thought supports the art product. It renders itself reproducible in dialogue.
A.E.: Yes, the object is important for me, to find the most urgent form of expressing thought. Although it is not always easy for me and the viewer to find the relationship between that form and thought.
F.Ü.: An example to this situation might be the deconstruction Joseph Kosuth’s installation titled “One Chair and Three Chairs” suffered after being bought by a museum. The museum authorities couldn’t decide in which department to store the installation; so they separated the installation, which was formed of a photograph, a text and a chair in three and removed the photograph of the chair to the photography department, the chair to the design department and the dictionary definition of the chair to the library department. Can you inform us about “Indian Elephant”?
A.E.: I made this piece for a large group exhibition organized in Brugge, Belgium. Brugge is a big tourist attraction famous for its museums, chocolates and lace. There’s lace everywhere; they even have lace stuck on postcards. I purchased one of these lace postcards with the image of an elephant and by imitating it I had a print made with holes forming the shape of an elephant. The city has a population of 15.000 by the way. This amount was also the print run and the print was distributed to everyone living or registered in Brugge. Even to babies! Everyone had a ‘work of art.’
F.Ü.: You also produced an embossed print for “Pedestrian Exhibitions: 2” in Istanbul titled “Antique Granny” and “Bread and Fish”.
A.E.: I produced leaflets to be distributed in the street in Bremen, too. They featured photographs of the animals in the Bremen Town Musicians tale. I chose these animals from street animals living in Istanbul. A cock, a cat, a dog and a donkey. Different animals were distributed on different days in Bremen. I made “Antique Granny” for my own antique granny who brought us up and now lives with my grandmother. She used to buy me a pyramid cake every day and the pastry shop she bought it from was very close to here (Nişantaşı). That’s why it was distributed as a leaflet at the street exhibition in Nişantaşı. In “Bread and Fish” I tried to continue the same leaflet distribution process in Karaköy.
F.Ü.: The signature on the work of art adds a written contract to it, but if it is not signed, it doesn’t mean the work doesn’t belong to the artist. Signing is actually a topic we could discuss in great depth. How do you see it, especially considering you signed the 15 thousand prints you made in Brugge?
A.E.: I find signing a bit difficult. But it changes depending on the situation; the signature can be a part of the work sometimes. Like the piece in Brugge. I signed those 15,000 prints there. It took three days to sign them all. A complete work of art always bears the artist’s signature. I wanted the people of that city to own a ‘real’ work of art each.
F.Ü.: 15 thousand signatures; the process of the work has a performative layer. It also refers to the relationship between the original and the copy. Could you elaborate on your piece “Weather Report”?
A.E.: “Weather Report” is the work I showed at the exhibition titled “Under the Same Sky” organized by the Kiasma Art Centre in Helsinki. The general concept of the exhibition was four seasons, four artists. I chose the time that was most alien to me, winter, when the climate is at its most violent and cold. I positioned four different video projections in the four windows at the entrance of the large building that was one of the spaces offered to me. The work could be viewed over 24 hours. This was helped by the fact that the day is mostly dark during the winter in Helsinki. The work I showed there was related to the weather, a bit like the piece I did in Jerusalem. I made four films by running the symbols—symbols of all imaginable weather conditions—used in meteorology one after the other. The only difference between the films is the editing technique; like fade/swipe/cut. The films begin at the same moment but because of the time differences of the techniques, their parallelism is distorted after a while and turns into a constantly differentiating choreography.
F.Ü.: At your latest exhibition at Barbara Weiss you produced an installation composed of letters and numbers, an installation where all the letters and numbers from 0 to 9 were distributed in the space. When we describe your piece “Weather Symbols” as a work where all the weather symbols are used and another piece “Habenichts” as a work where all the symbols of language are used together, I read both your pieces as works that decipher the symbols of concepts and approach the concept it deciphers via deconstruction.
A.E.: Colour is also involved at the exhibition at Barbara Weiss. For me, letters have colours. A is always red, E is always dark navy. This exhibition is composed of this personal condition, of personal colours. It is a work about my own colours. When letters are personalized, they can be loaded with other meanings. It was a very personal exhibition for me.
F.Ü.: Talking of your exhibitions at Barbara Weiss, you used silver in both exhibitions.
A.E.: This is something which comes from these exhibitions being gallery exhibitions, from the relationship between the gallery and the work of art. I produced a piece about the work having a value within itself and by itself. Silver is precious even if it isn’t a work of art.
F.Ü.: What is the reason for you bringing “Scenic Overlooks” and the chain of rings together?
A.E.: The rings are also silver. They form a chain to close off a room of the gallery. There are two types of closing off at that exhibition, one with a chain, the other with a wall. I wrote “the small back room” on the window of the room I closed off with a wall, to be seen from the outside. I want continuing exhibitions or exhibitions held in the same space to have continuity, the way I distributed leaflets at both street exhibitions held in Istanbul. For instance, I have had two exhibitions at the Kunstmuseum Malmö. I used the same wall for both the first and second exhibition. I think I thought there had to be a meaning for me to take part in two exhibitions at the same museum in the same rooms, like sitting in the same place when you enter the same room.
F.Ü.: You have another permanent installation in Berlin apart from “Am Haus.” “Warm Benches” is composed of steel pipes and is heated by the waste energy of the thermal power plant it is situated in front of.
A.E.: Yes, it is a permanent work, because the benches are always there, in the same place. And the thermal power plant is behind them, heating them as it does the entire neighbourhood. Here, I wanted to come up with a work that was permanent but also sheltered temporality within. That’s why I synchronized the benches with the program of the thermal power plant. The benches are heated only in the winter and in cold weather, in the summer, when the heating of the houses stops, the heating of the benches stops simultaneously, the heating to the benches is cut off. The warm benches in the winter months have the property of being works of art because they are warm, but in the summer, since they are no different from any normal bench, they lose their characteristics as works of art.
F.Ü.: The title appears as a dimension of its own accord in your works.
A.E.: I think that’s about the effort not to leave the work without a title. I really spend a lot of time on the names. Sometimes I find the same kind of names in related exhibitions, like in consequent exhibitions. For instance at the exhibitions at Galerie Barbara Weiss I have formed myself the tradition of finding a beautiful German word: “habenichts,” “habseligkeiten,”... It’s important for me that the word sounds nice here, the title and the exhibited work do not have to be related, and the title becomes a part of the exhibition.
F.Ü.: It’s inevitable that the title determines a certain orientation and prepares a layer of meaning. John Berger explains this in Ways of Seeing with the example of a Van Gogh painting.
A.E.: I don’t want exhibition or work titles to be related one to one, anyway. Like “Let it Flow,” let it happen, leave it alone... I make sure that the titles are indirect and do not explain the work too much. For instance, what is “Wertheim ACUU”? Wertheim is a lift brand, but what about ACUU?
F.Ü.: ACUU looks like the abbreviation of a long sentence, or a brand.
A.E.: In the installation, the relationship between the corrugated sheet I placed in the lift and the sheet used for the containers... I added the four letters I saw on one of the containers outside the exhibition building to the word Wertheim. If I had called the installation only Wertheim, it would have referred directly to the lift, but when I added the letters ACUU, the title became abstract and meaningless. Rather than describing the work, the title becomes meaningful for me when it contributes to its abstraction. The plastic sculptures made from toys which I exhibited at Galerist in Istanbul are titled “Ice and Other Places.” When all those sculptures were toys, they were each a place. One of them was a glacier, one of them grass, another a bush. When we say ‘Ice and Other Places’ it is understood that each sculpture is a place, because of the word place. I made the ice in a warm colour, in orange. This removed the work from its title. This removal is something I know, but the viewer can’t know it. But no one thinks too long about the titles, so it doesn’t become a problem.
F.Ü.: Yes, perhaps you’re right. For me, the addition of the title to the visuality of the work allows me to conduct a new reading. You are presented with an angle on the relationship between the production and meaning of the work. Let’s take the “Portiport” installation you made at Portikus. Porti is short for Portikus, and the word Port evokes a port.
A.E.: Port also means gate. I tried to do something that rhymed, like the gate of Portikus. “Portiport”. The title of the piece I did at the Robinson Crusoe bookshop was “Robkit,” like this one...
F.Ü.: When you placed Xray scanners between the columns, this was interpreted as a criticism of the institutionalization of Portikus in various articles. The same critical stance continued for your piece titled “Durchaest” (Soaked”) shown at the Schirn Kunsthalle.
A.E.: I had been in Kosovo before I made the installation at Schirn Kunsthalle. All the streets were drenched in mud, even though it was summer. Beautiful women in high heels were jumping from one mud hill to the other, trying to get to their destination without getting themselves dirty. Schirn Kunsthalle is a sparkling clean art institution; it’s always hosting cheerful and smart exhibitions. A perfect exhibition space where the famous works of famous artists are exhibited. I wanted to distort that perfection a little. There is a semi-open area in the entrance of the Schirn Kunsthalle where there is a wide dome on tall columns. Light filters in to this area from the dome. I wanted to produce a muddy, burdensome entrance, but I came up with a very photogenic work with the dome and the sun light reflecting there. People who came to see the exhibition inside had to pass through this area and go in all muddied. A perfect exhibition space was intervened with, not only by me, but by every viewer that entered, constantly.
F.Ü.: What’s the reason you placed the X-ray door at Portikus?
A.E.: There are many reasons. Portikus is the city library that was bombed during the Second World War. The only structure remaining of the library is the entrance formed of columns. This entrance was transformed into an exhibition space, with the initiative of the Frankfurt Academy, by adding a container at the back. There is a grand entrance at the front, and a simple exhibition space, a white cube at the back. I can list subject headings including the idea of holding an exhibition in a bombed building, the bomb attacks and political events in Istanbul at the time, and the entrance structures carrying out x-ray scans installed in cafes and public places as a precaution against all these events and the politics of art an artwork must carry within itself. We still go through those entrances a few times every day. Then there are the risks a work of art must carry within itself, you have to go through those entrances to see the work of art. Your passing through those entrances protects the work of art and you are ‘protected’ from that work.
F.Ü.: Saying that the space you step into is safe, or that those who are stepping in are safe?
A.E.: The work of art must have certain risks if you have to go through those entrances. There must be certain risks existing inside, requiring the installation of that entrance there. It refers to certain risks art contains. The reason hotels have those entrances is because they have been bombed before or because they have risk potential. And when you pass through these doors, you feel your body; your body makes a sound. Sometimes you make a sound even if you aren’t carrying anything (metal) on you.
F.Ü.: Self-reflexivity is another topic which stands out in your work. When we consider “Shipped Ships”11, the piece you realized in Frankfurt in 2001, the departure point of the project was your experience and your taste, it developed from your dreams.
A.E.: Although Defterdar, the ship that travels from Bebek to Hisar seems like the first point of departure, the real beginning was the invitation letter sent to me by the curators. They told me they had a bigger budget than they expected and that they could realize whatever project I wanted. What they really wanted was for me to propose a project that I wanted to realize in my imagination but would not be able to, if not this opportunity. I first thought of the city for the project to be realized in Frankfurt: Frankfurt am Main is a city founded on both sides of the river, the geographical position of Frankfurt immediately reminded me of the Defterdar ship, I greatly enjoy travelling from Bebek to Hisar with that ship, and to drink tea during the trip. I proposed the Defterdar operating in Frankfurt, and for two ships, one from a city in Europe, and the other from far aw