Singular Pluralities by Fatos Ustek

By Fatos Ustek, October 16,2011

A work of art attains a multitude of meaning in relation to the possibilities of approaching itself from various angles and viewpoints. In other words, a work or art becomes plural through the multiple dimensions of meaning spheres it tackles along. In this line of thought, such a piece addresses more than one issue at a time or embraces thematization and production of diverse action/response.

The ‘plurality’ of an artwork sources not only from the theme of the piece, the way the piece foretells its issue, the encounter of its audience, but also its position beyond the content-body, intention-encounter dichotomies. Moreover, the multitude of a piece lies on the expansion of the socio-spatial dialectic of the piece, where the social relations in production are both space forming and space contingent.

Ayse Erkmen’s practice proliferates the notion of socio-spatial dialectic, in a way in which her pieces not only reclaim a site (=the site of the artwork), a place within a place (the venue the piece takes place) while juxtaposing the two significant concepts of classical and contemporary aspects of sculpture: to be surrounded by and to surround, respectively. Moreover, Erkmen furthers the condition of ‘surround’ to the triggering of the liminal space between the work of art and the subjectivity of its audience (J, K & H, 2010; Iki Kardes, 2007).

Ayse Erkmen’s body of work can be defined as spatialisation of the sculptural whilst positing beyond the medium of sculpture; thus can be visited through various subject-matter: contemporary approaches to the notion of sculpture; the here-and-nowness of the work of art; the potentiality of a place; the authenticity principle of a work of art (-though Erkmen breaks the prerequisites of the principle through her act of ‘borrowing’); the ‘becoming place’ of an artwork; the possessive-submissive conditions of cities at large…

Plan B, 2011 is a site-specific installation that of which has been specially commissioned by curator Fulya Erdemci for the Turkish Pavillion of the 54th International Venice Biennial. As a special commission, Plan B exceeds the margins of an installation as a functioning water treatment plant, placed in Arsenale’s only room with a window looking onto the Canals of Venice within a choreographed entanglement of relations between its objects (the engines and the pipes). Water, that of which takes its significance in Erkmen’s various works, also finds its place when Erkmen is commissioned for a new piece in Venice. The condition of Venice as a city of canals, that of which is surrounded by water, rather than divided, or surrounding, influences Erkmen in a way in which she decides to reflect on the condition of water and its substantial position – not only geographically but also socially. With the technical support from the Berkefeld Company, the water treatment plant is reproduced in the light of Erkmen’s intervention. Hence the engines are placed far from one another whilst their function are distinguished with the extended pipes carrying various pantone colours (-which appears as another leitmotiv in Erkmen’s body of work). The water treatment plant sources its water from the sea, filters and clarifies its salt and minerals to the stage that it becomes drinkable supply and returns back to where it has sourced. The subject of the piece, water, circulates in the space, invisibly while the constellation of engines and pipes mark the place of the work. Hence the audience is left to imagine the processes in which water is going through while experiencing the mapped place of the ‘exhibition room’. Plan B, through its physical and functional means, redefines, modifies, transforms the place of the exhibition, which solely rests upon placing works of art on display. Moreover, its futile utilitarian function of treating water stakes its sculptural formation, its visual presentation while surrounding its audience in the sonic space of the engines. Erkmen, constructs a system of relations and more significantly makes it visible through experience of an audience (as a witness and as a visitor). Erkmen, with each and every intervention she realises in spaces, redefines space through social interrelations and poetics, while producing the place with and within its audience, making the possible use/function/socio-spatial dialectic of space, visible.

Fatos Ustek, 2011

Water for Venice by Brigitte Werneburg

DB ArtMag No.65,31.05.2011 - 08.09.2011

Her work for the Turkish Pavilion is one of the highlights of the 54th Venice Biennale. Brigitte Werneburg asked Ayse Erkmen about her new installation
"Plan B."

The café in the Arsenale is bursting at the seams on the 54th Venice Biennale’s second press day. While Ayse Erkmen and I look for a place to talk about Plan B, her work for the Turkish Pavilion, a skinny girl in a silver mini skirt is teetering around on eight-inch high-heeled platform shoes. The most fascinating thing about this girl’s admittedly fascinating garb is the high stiff collar she has put on as an accessory. Journalists don’t look like this. And artists don’t, either. But the daughters of collectors and gallery dealers sometimes dress this way. Observing Biennale visitors can be a lot of fun, and it’s an indispensable part of the huge international art event. The girl and her companion find a table, and we are left with two lonely chairs.

The first thing I ask Ayse Erkmen is how she’s able to surprise us again and again with works of such tremendous imagination. It’s more a compliment than a question, but I also have to tell her how much her Plan B convinces me on an artistic level. The work consists of a water treatment facility of the kind the German Federal Agency For Technical Relief brings to assist areas in conflict. But the difference here is that the construction appears in Venice as a contemporary sculpture. Ayse Erkmen connected the water tank, ultrafiltration, and pump system with meter-long purple, red, green, and turquoise-colored pipes and expanded it in size. The facility draws water from the canal in front of the pavilion and deposits it each hour back into the brackish water of the canal, meticulously cleansed of salt, purified, and remineralized.

How did she come up with the idea for this useless, but large-hearted action? "It was the space itself that gave me the idea. The Turkish Pavilion is the only room in the Arsenale that has large windows facing the canal. And because I come from Istanbul, a city that is just as defined by water as Venice, it seemed logical to make the water in front of the pavilion the point of departure for a site-specific installation. Whenever I discover water at an exhibition location, I always have the feeling that I should work with it. That’s how it was in Frankfurt too, when I conceived my ‘Shipped Ships’ in the context of the ‘Moment’ series - art projects in the public arena initiated by Deutsche Bank. The river divides the city there into two halves. I wanted to bring it as a living artery back into the city’s consciousness. That was why I shipped three passenger ferries complete with crew from Venice, Istanbul, and Japan on container ships to Frankfurt for them to resume their normal ferry service on the River Main."

Did she immediately come up with the idea to redirect the water into the pavilion? "Yes, I thought of that right away. I wanted something to happen with the water, to transform it into something else. That was because the room very much resembled a factory hall with its leftover machine parts and electric devices. And so I wanted the space to become a production site again. That’s how I came up with the idea of making drinking water."

But why is this project called Plan B—and what was Plan A? "At first I thought of a fountain, in the middle of the room, which visitors could drink from and refresh themselves in. But that seemed far too didactic to me. Visitors probably would have enjoyed Plan A. But that’s not what art is for. The installation isn’t supposed to fulfill a purpose; it should exist entirely without reason. That seemed closer to the idea of art. By the way, last week, in a bookstore, I found a study on sustainability titled Plan B.

The sculpture in the Arsenale is based on modern art’s grid, an aesthetic figure that derives from the building block principle of modern technical systems and takes its authority from that. Was this reference clear to Ayse Erkmen from the beginning? "Yes and no. The sculpture is a functioning system. The grid is indeed a byproduct of the necessity of the system. I didn’t add anything."

But the colors, at least? "That’s where I followed my instinct. Violet seemed like a good color to me for the dirty salty water. After the initial purification stage, the water flows through red pipes. In the green segments, the water is already clean and can be used for showering or to do laundry. For the drinking water, I didn’t just want to have a blue pipe, because I wanted to disrupt the harmony of the colors. That’s how I came up with turquoise for the drinking water."

We’re now free to take over a table. From the corner of my eye, I observe how the silver-colored girl and her friend leave theirs. But the energy it requires to change our seats now, in the middle of a conversation, seems too high. I notice many people strolling through the café with the bag from the Turkish Pavilion. Apparently, it’s a hotly coveted trophy. The extra-large bag, made from natural-colored cotton fabric, was designed by Konstantin Grcic, one of the most influential contemporary industrial designers. He added a bright yellow bottom part to the bag made from heavy rubbery material, which not only makes it stand out, but makes it look good even if it’s only holding very few things. At the same time, the bottom extends the life of the bag if it has to carry pounds and pounds of information material—as is usually the case at the Biennale.

How did the collaboration with Konstantin Grcic come about? "That had to do with the task itself. Each country and each artist here gets a bag to carry the catalogues. I wanted something special. If there has to be a bag, then it should be a part of the exhibition. I thought of Konstantin Grcic because I know him and because I knew that he always comes up with brilliant ideas for functional objects—besides which, although he has designed all kinds of things, he has never designed a bag."

A water purification facility is another challenge altogether, of course. How long did it take to transport it there and set it up? "At first I did some research with an architect and some engineers to find out which facility I need and where I can obtain it. All of the components come from Germany, from a company in Celle, where the firm rented a space the size of the Pavilion to set up the facility exactly as it would be in Venice in order to test whether or not it would work. Later, it was packed aboard a small truck and transported to Venice, where it took us ten days to install it. And when it didn’t work properly, the boss got in his car with an engineer and drove to Venice in sixteen hours and worked on the system for ten hours before they went to their hotel to finally get some sleep."

The canal water that is treated now in the Turkish Pavilion must surely be very dirty? "No. As strange as that might seem. I also thought it would be awfully filthy. But the engineers told me that this wasn’t the case, that the water is free of heavy metals, for instance. In one hour, the facility can purify 2,000 liters of water. That is a huge facility; I’m only renting it. After the end of the Biennale, it has to serve its original purpose again, of course, which is to generate hygienic water for areas in conflict. Before it was set up in the Biennale, it was installed in a sausage factory in Germany whose production was endangered by a flood. The facility wasn’t made for six months, but for hundreds of years, as the engineers told me."

Brigitte Werneburg , DB ArtMag, No.65

Kuenstler Kritisches Lexikon der Gegenwartskunst by Rainer Bessling

Ausgabe 91 / Heft 15 / 3. Quartal 2010

Für einen Monat gab Ayse Erkmen Frankfurt den Main wieder.
Die Skizze ihres Projekts liest sich ausnehmend schlicht: „Das Konzept besteht darin, kleine Schiffe aus anderen Städten nach Frankfurt zu bringen, wo sie für einen bestimmten Zeitraum auf dem Main in Betrieb genommen und dann an ihre Herkunftsorte zurückgebracht werden sollen.“ Auch in Betrieb pflegten die längst legendären „Shipped Ships“ Zurückhaltung. Den Aufwand, Fähren aus dem japanischen Shingu, aus Istanbul und Venedig in die hessische Metropole zu transportieren, sahen Passanten und Passagiere dem kleinen Flussverkehr im April und Mai 2001 nicht an.

Mit großer Selbstverständlichkeit kreuzten die Boote mit Besatzungen aus ihren Herkunftsländern zwischen den Mainufern und steuerten vormals stadtbekannte Orte an, die im alltäglichen Verkehrsstrom über die zahlreichen Flussbrücken keine Beachtung mehr gefunden haben. Der Fokus verschob sich von der Hochhauskulisse auf die Wasserstraße. Die Globalisierung, die das Finanzzentrum verkörpert, zeigte sich durch die temporäre Schiffseinfuhr vor Ort für die lokale Bevölkerung nützlich.

Dass nicht wenige Besucher des von der Deutschen Bank geförderten Projekts auf und zwischen den Fähren irritiert nach der Kunst suchten, gefiel Ayse Erkmen. Ihr war der Nutzen wichtiger als ästhetische Anmutung. Die Stadt „einmal aus einer anderen Perspektive zu sehen", stand für sie im Vordergrund. 1 Der Transport der Schiffe beförderte in einer den Objekten und ihrer angestammten Funktion gemäßen Weise eine Transformation von Handlung, Haltung und Wahrnehmung. Selbst auf dem Wasserweg überführt, trugen die Fähren im Gepäck einen kulturellen Import, der die Frankfurter ihre eigene Stadt neu und zugleich in einer historischen, ortsspezifischen Weise sehen ließen. Das Fremde wurde zum Katalysator für eine Wiedergewiinung des täglichen Eigenen. Waren die Fähren auch nur entliehen, blieb die Aktion auch zeitlich begrenzt, hielt ihre Wirkung doch an. Für Beteiligte und Beobachter hatte sich der urbane Raum dauerhaft als bleibender Gegenstand ihrer Wahrnehmung verändert. 2

Auch in Bremen sorgte Ayse Erkmen durch Über-Setzen für die Aufwertung einer lokalen Besonderheit. Sie legte öffentlich Bilder der Tiere aus, mit denen die Stadt weltweit identifiziert wird. Fotografiert waren Esel, Hund, Katze und Hahn allerdings in anderer städtischer Umgebung. Bremen bekam die durch Überfrachtung des Blicks abgenutzten Stadtmusikanten durch Re-Import zurück.

Kunst kleidete sich in Erkmens Frankfurter Unternehmen in unaufdringliche Funktionalität. Aber auch die Künstlerin trat hinter ihrer Arbeit zurück und blieb nahezu unsichtbar. Dies zieht sich durch ihr gesamtes Werk. Eher ungewöhnlich deshalb, dass Ayse Erkmen zu ihrer monumentalen Raumarbeit „Hausgenossen“ im Düsseldorfer K 21 zwei Objekte stellt, die auf ihre Autorenschaft verweisen: Eine Plastik, die Karin Sander durch das „Scannen“ einer von Erkmen gewählten Pose quasi als „Selbstporträt“ gefertigt hat. Und ein Netz aus einem Textilband, in das endlos „Ayse Erkmen“ eingewebt ist. Selbst in der sichtbaren Präsenz geht die Künstlerin durch die Arbeit der Kollegin auf Distanz zu sich selbst und offeriert dem Publikum ihre Dienste, beziehungsweise zeigt sich als Stellvertreterin der Betrachter. „Wo ihr Name steht, sollte jeder Name stehen.“ 3

Aber wer ist Ayse Erkmen? Auf einen Fragebogen des Kuratorenteams der Berlin Biennale 2006, der im hauptstädtischen Magazin „Zitty“ erschien, antwortete die Künstlerin nicht wie ihre Kollegen in Sprachform, sondern mit einem fotografischen Selbstporträt und vier skizzenhaften Illustrationen. Diese zeigen eine Frau auf dem Weg zur Arbeit, Passanten auf Rollsteigen, die in verschiedene Richtungen fahren, ein Gewirr aus farbigen Jahreszahlen seit 1993, dem Jahr, in dem die Künstlerin als DAAD-Stipendiatin erstmals nach Berlin kam. Die auf den ersten Blick kryptischen Notizen zeichnen ein anschauliches Bild: Eine Künstlerin unterwegs zwischen verschiedensten Orten, ihre Ziele und Richtungen offen, ihre künstlerische Arbeiten auf wechselnde konkrete Situationen hin organisiert, wobei sie in vielfältigen Formen, Materialien und Medien Gestalt annehmen. 4

Was in dem Selbstbildnis fehlt: Ayse Erkmen, 1949 in Istanbul geboren und seit den 90er Jahren zwischen ihren zahlreichen internationalen Gastspielen wechselweise in der türkischen Metropole und in Berlin sesshaft, zählt zu den bedeutendsten Künstlerinnen ihrer Generation.

Nicht nur die Liste ihrer Einzelausstellungen und Gruppenbeteiligungen in Museen, Kunstvereinen, bei bedeutenden Themenausstellungen und im öffentlichen Raum belegen den Rang der türkischen Künstlerin. Eine Retrospektive im Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin vermittelte um die Jahreswende 2008/09 einen umfassenden Eindruck von der Breite und Tiefe, Gedankenschärfe und Sinnlichkeit des Werks. Die Schau vermittelte bei aller Motiv- und Medienfülle doch formale Grundzüge und konstante Themenstränge. Sind die meisten Arbeiten Erkmens auch auf begrenzte Zeit angelegt, halten sie ihre plastische Energie und intellektuelle Schärfe noch lange in der Überlieferung.

Neben den Frankfurter Schiffen ist beispielsweise Ayse Erkmens Beitrag zu den Skulptur.Projekten Münster 1997 in bester Erinnerung geblieben. Dort ließ sie Plastiken aus dem Bestand des Westfälischen Landesmuseums von einem Hubschrauber über den Dom transportieren, vorübergehend auf dem Dach des Museums abstellen und dann wieder ins Depot zurückbringen. Eine Eroberung des Himmels, eine Mobilisierung statischer, von Kriegspuren gezeichneter Zeitzeugen, eine Metapher für die Mühen den Aufwand des Ausstellens, nicht zuletzt ein wirksamer Zug im Ringen mit der lokalen Kirchenmacht um Deutungshoheit. Denn ihr Vorschlag, die architektonischen Besonderheiten einer Domfassade zur Installation einer Uhr zu nutzen, die verschiedene Zeitvorstellungen veranschaulicht, wurde wie zwei weitere Konzepte vom Domkapitel Münster abgelehnt. 5

Auch Schriftzüge an einem Kreuzberger Wohnhaus, Fototafeln im Stadtbild Istanbuls, abgründige Auslagen in Schaufenstern von Kaufhäusern und Eingriffe in Kunsträume haben sich in das Gedächtnis eingeschrieben. Selbst permanent unterwegs, setzt Ayse Erkmen allzu Vertrautes und Unbeachtetes in Bewegung, thematisiert sie Spektakel auf eine geradezu aufreizend unspektakuläre Weise.

Tendieren die Arbeiten auch, einem minimalistischen Formideal verpflichtet, eher zur Verdichtung als zum epischen Ausgriff, wirken sie in Varianten fortgeschrieben, in Dokumentationen festgehalten, von Augenzeugen weitergetragen wie Kapitel einer großen Erzählung. Solchen Erfahrungs- und Wissenstransfer macht Ayse Erkmen in einer ihrer bekannten Installationen „Am Haus“, 1994 für ein Mietshaus in der Oranienstraße in Berlin-Kreuzberg entworfen, selbst zum Thema. Silben aus Plastikbuchstaben an der Hauswand zeigen eine bestimmte Vergangenheitsform des Türkischen, die signalisiert, dass ein Geschehen nicht selbst erlebt wurde, sondern von Dritten vermittelt worden ist.

Für alle, die des Türkischen nicht mächtig sind, blieb die Fassade ein bloß visuelles Ereignis. Die Türken in Berlin konnten die grammatischen Formen mit konkreten Wörtern anzufüllen. Sie gewannen damit eine öffentliche kommunikative Referenzfläche und einen Identitätsfluchtpunkt. Sie konnten sich zudem der spezifischen Qualität ihrer Sprache bewusst werden, einer Besonderheit, die nicht zuletzt den Rang des Erzählens in den Kulturen des Orients dokumentiert. Auf einer weiteren Ebene lässt sich dies als Verweis auf das kulturelle Gepäck lesen, das türkische Immigranten nach Berlin mitgebracht haben.

Diese Arbeit übertrug die Künstlerin unter anderem nach Istanbul. Bestandteil des täglichen Werbeprogramms auf einer elektronischen Anzeigetafel im Stadtzentrum, kehrte das Textbild als Video an seinen Ursprung zurück, wo alle der Sprache mächtig sind und die Installation die Gesprächskultur anstoßen konnte, auf die sie selbst verweist.

Auch hier drängte sich die Installation nicht auf: „Ich mag es und finde es auch wichtig, wenn ich nur ein Gast in einem Raum bin, wie es in dieser Arbeit der Fall war. Hier wurde der Film nur als Intermezzo zwischen dem normalen Programm der Anzeigenfläche gezeigt, der Raum war also nicht für mich bzw. für mein Werk reserviert.“ 6

Solch unterschiedliche Projekte wie „Shipped Ships“ oder „Am Haus“ treffen sich in Ayse Erkmens Grundkonzept des Über-Setzens und Übertragens, in einer Verknüpfung von materiellem Transfer, formaler Transformation, Migration der Formen und Verschiebung der Wahrnehmung.

Ayse Erkmen erschließt nicht nur Räume und macht Charakteristika von Architekturen und Plätzen sinnfällig, sie erschließt vor allem Situationen, verbindet Ort und Akteure, verknüpft den institutionellen Rahmen mit Handelnden und Betrachtenden. „Kunst sollte die unterschiedlichen Aspekte des Lebens wahrnehmbar machen, um den eigenen Platz, einen Standpunkt zu finden, um sich nicht vom Alltag aufbrauchen zu lassen. (...) Ich benutze die soziale Ordnung, ich gebrauche sie als Element. (...) Ich benutze Environment und Sozialsystem manchmal direkt, manchmal indirekt." 7

„Warm Benches", 1997 für das Kraftwerk der BEWAG in Berlin fertiggestellt, spiegelt den Systemgedanken wider und offenbart hinter minimalistischer Form und nahezu beiläufiger Alltagsfunktion Vernetzung und vielschichtigen Zeichencharakter. Röhren aus rostfreiem Stahl, die als Heizungen funktionieren, wurden an der Promenade zwischen der Spree und dem Kraftwerksgebäude installiert. Sie sind Teil eines Arbeitsprozesses: warm im Winter, wenn das Kraftwerk die Nachbarschaft versorgt, kalt im Sommer, wenn die Heizungen in den Häusern ausgeschaltet sind. Die Arbeit folgt technischen Prinzipien und natürlichen Bedingungen ihrer Umgebung, dem Zeitplan der Heizperioden und nicht zuletzt den Wetterverhältnissen. Auch wenn es sich um eine dauerhafte Installation handelt, ist sie eingebunden in den Takt vor Ort. Im Sommer verliert sie als bloßes Objekt ihre künstlerisch-installativen Eigenschaften. Die Begrenzung entspricht Ayse Erkmens Systemdenken: Einem Kunstwerk einen Arbeitsplan geben, es durch die Entscheidungen anderer bedingt veränderlich zu halten, verleiht dem Werk Energie, erhält es am Leben.

Die Einbindung in die Umgebung kann auch formal ausgerichtet sein. Die gleichfalls permanente Installation „Tünel Column“ hat die Gestalt einer Säule aus sechs übereinander geschichteten Eisenornamenten. Jedes Element besitzt ein eigenes Design, das dem der Ornamente an den Balkonen und Eingängen der Häuser rund um den Platz entspricht. Die Tatsache, dass alles,was für die Säule benötigt wurde, auch der direkten Umgebung stammt, weckt den Eindruck, als sei sie schon immer da gewesen.

Die beiden Beispiele weisen auf das bevorzugte Tätigkeitsfeld der Künstlerin hin: den Öffentlichen Raum, einen auch biografisch begründeten Hauptschauplatz.

„Für mich hat der Begriff ,öffentlicher Raum‘ eine andere Bedeutung, denn ich habe seit Jahren nur im öffentlichen Raum gearbeitet (...) einfach weil ich dort wo ich gearbeitet habe (in Istanbul) gar keine andere Möglichkeit und keinen anderen Platz gab, um meine Werke zu zeigen.“ 8 Die Künstlerin musste ihren „eigenen Raum suchen“ und ihre „eigenen Mittel und Wege finden.“

Der Öffentliche Raum empfiehlt sich nicht zuletzt deshalb für die Erforschungen, Aktionen und Installationen von Ayse Erkmen, weil er belebt und mit Bedeutungen sowie konkurrierenden Deutungshoheiten besetzt ist. Gesellschaft und Politik offenbaren sich im urbanen Geflecht, menschliche Beziehungen, Wahrnehmungsmodi und ästhetische Standards der Geschichte und Gegenwart lagern sich in Architektur und Skulptur ein. Wie finden soziale Kontakte statt? Welcher Raum zieht warum an, welcher stößt warum ab? Welche Geschichten erzählen Räume und Orte? Welche Funktionen üben sie aus? Wer oder was dominiert Ort und Situation? Der Ort wird zum Knotenpunkt eines komplexen Beziehungsgeflechts, in dem sich sprachliche, literarische und kulturelle Ebenen miteinander verbinden.

Ayse Erkmens Kunst zielt auf Konstellationen zwischen dem Werk, seinem Standort und vielen damit verbundenen kulturellen, historischen und psychologischen Aspekten.
Am Anfang steht die investigative Auseinandersetzung mit dem spezifischen Ort, seiner architektonischen Beschaffenheit, Geschichte, Funktion und ideologischen Bedeutung.
Dies ist bei jedem Projekt immer neu der Versuch, „den Ort zu betrachten, die Bedingungen zu erkunden und das Wichtigste zu finden, das dort gebraucht wird.“ Die Künstlerin selbst hat diese Phase einmal als den aufregendsten Teil ihrer Arbeit bezeichnet. 9

Erkmens Vorgehen ist analytisch, reflektiert und sensibel zugleich. Intellektualität und Einfühlung befördern sich hier wechselseitig. Wie sie sich ihrem Objekt annähert, beschreibt sie selbst anschaulich: „Indem ich den Ort sehe, indem ich im Raum bin. Durch Erforschung und den Versuch, einen Raum zu verstehen. Indem ich aus dem Raum, auf und unter den Raum sehe, seineTemperatur spüre.“ 10

Warum Ayse Erkmen einen bestimmten Ort wählt, hat etwas mit äußeren Bedingungen zu tun, mit der Einladung oder dem Auftrag, aber auch mit persönlicher Disposition, individueller Entscheidung und zunehmend auch mit einer inneren Logik des Werkprozesses, in dem sich bestimmte Motive, Themen und Formen ihren Platz zu suchen scheinen. Dabei werden die Grenzen zwischen gegebener Situation und künstlerischer Intervention und Inszenierung auf eine spezifische Art durchlässig und bleiben in Bewegung. „Ich schätze es sehr, wenn mir der Raum alle Möglichkeiten zur Arbeit bereit hält. Die perfekte Situation und Ausstellung ist für mich, wenn ich überhaupt nichts von außen hereinbringe.“ 11

Als Strategie entwickelt sie daraus ein nachahmendes Verfahren, das sich in Grundzügen bereits in frühen Arbeiten erkennen lässt. Bis 1977 studierte Ayse Erkmen an der Staatlichen Kunstakademie Istanbul. Von 1977 bis 1987 nahm sie dort an Gruppenausstellungen unter dem Titel „Neue Trends in der Kunst“ teil. Entsprechend vertraut sind ihr die örtlichen Gegebenheiten. In der Installation „Uyumlu Cizgiler“ (1985) führt sie einer Architektin oder Archäologin gleich eine grafisch-skulpturale Bestandsaufnahme des Raumes durch.

Sie vermisst buchstäblich jeden Winkel und entwickelt ein Modul aus einer Standplatte und einem aufgerichteten Stahlrohr. Die Höhe des Rohrs folgte der Linie, die ein Objekt in den Raum zeichnete, ein weiteres Rohr betonte die Formen von Gegenständen, die den Raum bestimmten. Sowohl vermeintlich leere wie auch belebte Räume werden von der Künstlerin auf deren Vorgaben und Spuren hin untersucht. Verwandlung schafft über Distanzierung Möglichkeiten zu einer Aneignung, verweist auf Abwesendes, um Eigenarten der Präsenz zum Sprechen zu bringen. Einfache Details erweisen sich dabei als offener und besonders beredt, „kleine Dinge“ stoßen bei Ayse Erkmen häufig auf die größte Aufmerksamkeit.

In den Installationen „Taklit“ (1987 und 1988) bringt sie ihren eigenen Erkundungsradius ins Spiel: Sie stellt skulptural eine Straßensituation nach, die, begleitet durch Karte und Text, auf die Route, Seherlebnisse und fotografischen Funde der Künstlerin zu einer bestimmten Zeit und an einem bestimmten Ort unweit ihrer Wohnung verweist. 12

Aufgrund des programmatischen Anschlusses an den jeweiligen Raum und Ort und die jeweilige Situation stellt sich das Werk Ayse Erkmens als Vielfalt von Konzepten, Formen, Medien und Materialien dar. Dennoch schälen sich Leitmotive heraus. So installiert und inszeniert die Künstlerin häufig Barrieren und Blockaden, um den Bezug des Betrachters und Besuchers zum Raum sinnfällig zu machen. In ihrer Berliner Installation „Das Haus“ in der DAAD-Galerie hängt sie Neonlampen auf Brusthöhe der Besucher ab und präsentiert so anstelle von Kunst räumliche Ausstattung. Sie entlässt die Lokalität aus ihrer Ausstellungsfunktion und befördert sie zum Zeugen ihrer eigenen Geschichte. Der anfänglich formale Verweis auf das Haus setzt sich auf inhaltlicher Ebene fort, indem Filme in einem weiteren Raum an die ehemalige Bewohnerin Henny Porten erinnern, eine bekannte, während des Nationalsozialismus aufgrund ihrer Ehe mit einem Juden bedrohte Schauspielerin.

In der Installation „i-ma-ges“ für den Arnsberger Kunstverein, später in veränderter Fassung in der Kunsthalle Recklinghausen präsentiert, versperren Werbe-Fotos von einem sorgenfreien, sonnigen Leben die Türen. Was den Betrachter suggestiv im Alltag begleitet und unmerklich führt, stellt sich ihm hier spürbar in den Weg. „Portiport“, 1996 vor dem Portikus, der Frankfurter Ausstellungshalle für zeitgenössische Kunst, installiert, nimmt die architektonische Eingangssituation, damit zugleich auch die Geschichte des Hauses und den Zutritt des Publikums auf. Zwischen den Säulen des Vorbaus der klassizistischen Fassade, Relikt einer im Zweiten Weltkrieg nahezu zerstörten Bibliothek, schleusen Sicherheitsschranken mit Metalldetektoren die Besucher ins Haus. Die Rahmen lassen die Monumentalität der Säulen umso deutlicher werden, markieren aber auch eine Passage, die je nach kulturellem Hintergrund als beruhigende Sicherheitsmaßnahme oder als bedrohlich empfunden werden kann. Zudem pointiert die architektonische Nachahmung das Gewaltthema, von der Geschichte und Fehlstellen des Hauses erzählen.

Das mit den Barrieren und Blockaden verbundene Passagen- und Schwellen-Motiv bildet einen weiteren Strang. Übergänge und Grenzen werden neu markiert und abgesteckt, Objekte neu platziert, Passanten im öffentlichen Raum und Besucher von Kunsteinrichtungen neu positioniert. In der hausfüllenden Installation „Kuckuck“, 2003 im Kunstverein St. Gallen realisiert, lässt die Künstlerin Tierpräparate über Türschwellen fahren. In der Animation zu Schauzwecken pendeln die Exponate zwischen den Zeiten und zwischen der Kunst- und Naturkunde-Abteilung des Museums. Natürlichkeit und Künstlichkeit werden hier mit dem Verweis auf Schweizerische Präzision und Pünktlichkeit in der Mechanik der Kuckucksuhr heraus- und immer wieder umgekehrt.

Eine Schwelle, auf der sich Passanten zwischen Akteur und Zuschauer bewegen, bestimmt die Video-Installation „The Pink Sweater“ in einem Kaufhaus auf der Frankfurter Shopping-Meile „Zeil“. Ayse Erkmen macht in der Bearbeitung einer Sequenz aus Wim Wenders‘ Film „Paris, Texas“ Shoppende und Schaulustige zu Dialogpartnern von Nastassja Kinski. Die einseitig einsichtige Trennscheibe einer Peepshow-Kabine aus dem Film wird zum Schaufensterglas, der Voyeur zum Angesprochenen, vom Filmausschnitt in Annäherung und Zurückweichen, Vertrautsein und Entfremdung verstrickt.

Gleichfalls in einem Schaufenster, und zwar in einem der luxuriösen Berliner Galleries Lafayette, stößt der zunächst ahnungslose Passant auf Holzobjekte, die eine besonders perfide Maskierung offenbaren. Die Künstlerin ist in einem Katalog des Roten Kreuzes auf Abbildungen von Landminen gestoßen, die, Spielzeug ähnlich, ein verführerisches Aussehen besitzen. „Objects of Mine“ lautet der Titel der Präsentation im Kaufhausfenster, die mit der Mehrdeutigkeit des Wortes „Mine“ spielt. Die Verführung zur Besitzlust im Possessivpronomen wird hier zur explosiven und tödlichen Offerte. Schönheit und Schrecken sind die beiden Seiten einer glänzenden Oberfläche. Transformation und Metamorphose, die auf unterschiedlichen Ebenen zur Werkstrategie Erkmens gehören, erweisen sich hier auf der Inhaltsseite der Objekte als gefährliche Verkleidungen. Enthüllung wird zur Überlebensstrategie.

Kein anderes Motiv hat die Künstlerin häufiger wieder aufgenommen. Eine Variante eröffnete die Installation „Busy Colors“ im New Yorker „Sculpture Center“: ein Bodenbelag mit Abbildungen der maskierten Minen, die wiederum an Videoarbeiten anknüpften. In New York wurde der Besucher nicht nur mit Verrätselung des einzelnen Objekts konfrontiert, er konnte die gesamte Anordnung nicht überschauen und trat buchstäblich auf die Minen. Solche Beispiele machen deutlich, dass das Gesamtwerk vielfältig vernetzt ist und die einzelnen Arbeiten auf unterschiedlichen Ebenen aufeinander verweisen.

Neben motivischer Vernetzung und thematischer Stringenz bündelt formale Konsequenz das verzweigte Werk. Dem Ideal des Minimalismus verpflichtet, offenbaren die Objekte und Räume, aber auch die Aktionen und Interventionen einen skulpturalen Grundansatz. Wenn auch manche Orte mehr mit Geschichte und Geschichten als mit Form besetzt und aufgeladen sind, bleibt die Künstlerin doch immer Bildhauerin und wechselt nicht ins Lager der Chronisten und Erzähler.

Ein prägnantes Beispiel ist die Installation „Wertheim-ACUU“, mit der sich Ayse Erkmen an der von René Block kuratierten 4. Istanbul-Biennale beteiligte. Die Schau kreiste um die Themen Reisen, Migration, Begegnung von West und Ost. Ein Ausstellungsort war eine Lagerhalle am Bosporus, die früher der Zollabfertigung diente. Erkmen wählte einen Lastenaufzug als Ort und Exponat zugleich. Sie kleidete die Innenseiten mit glänzendem Wellblech aus, dem Material, aus dem ehemals die Container bestanden. Die Versandkiste wurde umgestülpt und Innenfutter des Aufzugs. Solche klaren formalen Verfahren finden sich häufig selbst bei den ausgreifendsten Projekten der Künstlerin. Der Aufzug zeigte sich nach der Ober- und Innenflächenumkehrung als bewegte und sich selbst bewegende Kiste, die offen stand. Transportmittel und Transportweg verschmolzen miteinander.

Erinnerungen an die betriebsame Vergangenheit des Gebäudes wurden wach, aber auch die heutige Leere und Funktionslosigkeit sinnhaft. Das Werk oszillierte zwischen Verfall und Reanimierung, altem und neuem Zustand und Zweck.
Geschichte wurde bewegt, ein schlichter Aufzug, im eigentlichen, zweckhaften Betrieb nicht wahrgenommen, wurde im künstlerischen Dienst zum Mittelpunkt der Aufmerksamkeit befördert. So war er in Betrieb genommen, gleichzeitig aber auch außer Betrieb gesetzt. Man konnte ihn nicht betreten, sondern, von einem Seil museal auf Abstand gehalten, nur anschauen: ein manisch zwischen den Ebenen vagabundierendes rares Relikt, in seiner Aufgeregtheit ein Portal zur Besinnung. 13

Neben der Veranschaulichung von Nutzungsformen und -möglichkeiten, bei der die Zurückhaltung der Künstlerin Visualisierung befördert und der Ort über seine soziale Funktion ein Selbstporträt zeichnet, öffnet Erkmen den Blick für teils versteckte, von anderen Dimensionen überlagerte Eigenschaften von Räumen. Dabei erschließt sie die Beschaffenheit im Kontrastverfahren, enthüllt durch Hüllen. In Busy Colors befestigte sie zwei flächendeckende Tücher an einem schweren Industriekran, der die magenta- und grünlich-blau-farbenen Seiden- und Nylongewebe auf- und abwärts bewegte. Der Stoff ließ die Raumdimensionen ertasten, der Wechsel der Farben machte die atmosphärische Palette der Halle samt deren Einflussfaktoren spürbar. In der „Hausgenossen“ betitelten Arbeit für die K 21 Kunstsammlung NRW in Düsseldorf fuhren, dem Material des Baukörpers angemessen, metall-farbene Bänder die Ausdehnung und Linienführung der zentralen Glaskuppel nach.

Erkmens situative Eingriffe am „Organismus“ der Architektur, des Raumes, des Ortes lassen diese als ein leibhaftes und autonomes Gegenüber erscheinen. 14

Skulpturale oder objekthafte Bewegung machen die bildhauerischen Grundkategorien von Raum, Zeit und Energie körperlich erfassbar. Zeit spielt nicht zuletzt aufgrund der begrenzten Dauer eines Großteils der Installationen eine zentrale Rolle in Ayse Erkmens Schaffen. Selbst komplexe und meisterhafte Arbeiten bleiben temporär, weil Beständigkeit nach Ansicht der Künstlerin zu einer Abnutzung des Werkes und der Wahrnehmung führt. Auch permanente Installationen sind in einen zeitlichen Rahmen eingepasst, um Veränderungen möglich und deren Nutzen erkennbar zu machen. Die Künstlerin arbeitet hier gegen Gewöhnung, gegen das Abschleifen von Aufmerksamkeit. So gewinnen die Interventionen eine anhaltende Wirkung aus ihrem ephemeren Dasein. Alltagswirklichkeit und deren Wahrnehmung gehen aus der vorübergehenden künstlerischen Erschließung verändert hervor, womit sich Permanenz nicht in Ort, Raum oder Objekt, sondern in den Dialog zwischen Subjekt und Objekt einlagert.

Ayse Erkmen verhandelt auch solch fundamentale Daseins- und Erkenntniskategorien wie die Zeit auf leichte und humorvolle Weise. Ihre St. Gallener Raumarbeit „Kuckuck“ spielt augenzwinkernd auf die kolportierte chronometrische Leidenschaft der Schweizer an. Zugleich wird jedem Tier ein eigenes Zeitmaß zugesprochen. Mit dem Nachdenken über den Versuch, Zeit anzuhalten, Vergängliches zu konservieren, verbindet sich die Reflexion über das museale Unternehmen, die wesenhaft in zeitlichen Rhythmen, in Epochen organisierte Natur in die Statik einer Schausammlung zu verpflanzen. Der Verweis auf verschiedene Zeitschichten am Ort, im Werk, bei der Wahrnehmung, auf Überlagerungen und Interferenzen zwischen zeitlichen Ebenen zählt zu einem der konstitutiven Spannungselemente im Werk der Künstlerin.

Bleiben Ayse Erkmens Arbeiten schon durch die zeitliche Begrenzung ihrer Eingriffe in Bewegung, sind viele der Installationen auch durch das Moment der Bewegung selbst gekennzeichnet, allerdings nicht im Sinne schlichter Kinetik. Vielmehr zeigen sie ortsbezogene Situationen als Prozess. Indem Ayse Erkmen den Kontext nicht verändert, sondern auf ihn verweisen will, werden ihre Arbeiten durch Puls und Rhythmus am Ort in den Zustand einer sich permanent verändernden Skulptur versetzt.

Dabei werden vielfältige Themen, Motive und Zeichen bewegt. Die Energie der Bewegung hält Perspektiven im Fluss, neue Balancen der Wahrnehmung entsteht. Orte und Situationen werden in ihre Geschichte getragen, ein Wechselspiel von bildhafter Verdichtung und gedanklicher Öffnung kommt in Gang. Auch hier reicht die Bandbreite von der spielerisch anspielungsreichen, sich bescheiden überschaubar gebenden Raumarbeit bis zur monumentalen Aktion und Installation im öffentlichen Raum.

In der Göppinger Arbeit „Choo Choo“ bewegt eine Modelleisenbahn monochrome Farbtafeln (Gelb, Rosa, Hellgrün und Hellblau). Das Zitat aus einem Freizeitvergnügen vermischt sich mit dem Verweis auf Kunst, wobei zugleich Tafelbilder und bewegte Bilder wie Duchamps Rotoreliefs oder Tinguelys Zeichenmaschinen assoziiert werden können. Die Referenz an die Kunst fällt mit der an den Ort zusammen: Hier produziert der Modelleisenbahn-Hersteller Märklin. Das Unternehmen zieht in Göppingen stadtprägend seine Kreise, und es bringt als Sponsor von „Choo Choo“ auch Kunst auf den Weg.

„Sculptures on Air“ scheint auch einen formalen bildhauerischen Ehrgeiz widerzuspiegeln: Statische Bauplastik wird bewegt, Schwere aufgehoben. Die Leichtigkeit der Aktion und des Formanspruchs, die allen Aufwand des Projekts vergessen lässt und zur gedanklichen Pointe wird, macht Ayse Erkmens Interventionen so eindrücklich. Der politische und soziale, der institutionelle Rahmen ihrer Unternehmungen wird über die skulpturale Sprache zum Thema. „Die politische Botschaft ist nicht direkter Bestandteil meiner Kunst“, sagt die Künstlerin, und: „Laufende Ereignisse sind nicht mein Thema.“ Sie benutze die soziale Ordnung, die politische Umgebung und das kulturelle Milieu als formalen Baustein, als skulpturales Element. „Vielleicht kann man von meinen Arbeiten sagen, sie seien gesellschaftlich einfühlsam, von einer politischen Sensibilität.“ 15

Dabei ist das visuelle Ereignis in unterschiedlichster medialer Ausprägung immer das unaufdringliche Portal für die Auslotung insbesondere historischer Tiefenschichten, die als Echoraum augenscheinliche Gegenwart zum Sprechen bringen. „Kein gutes Zeichen“, eine Installation in der Wiener Sezession, bringt über eine blubbernde Tassenoberfläche das kommunikative Spiel und die Schicksalsbefragung des Kaffee-Lesens, damit zugleich den Verweis auf einer historische Frontstellung von Orient und Okzident in der einstigen K.u.K.-Metropole ins Spiel.

Umgebung rückt Ayse Erkmen auch bei ihren Projekten in klassischen Kunsträumen in den Blick. Spektakuläres Beispiel ist ihre Innsbrucker Arbeit „Stoned“ aus dem Jahr 2003. Ein mehrere Tonnen schwerer Felsbrocken aus der Umgebung der Stadt schwebt über einer Glasdecke im Innenhof eines barocken Gebäudes, die Natur rückt in ihrem Bedrohungspotenzial, aber auch als Materiallieferant dem Besucher auf den Leib. An diese Arbeit schließt die Installation „Crystal Rock“ auf der Düsseldorfer NRW.Bank an. Dort zieht eine glänzende Edelstahlkonstruktion in Gestalt eines Felsen auf dem Dach des Geldinstituts langsam ihre Kreise. Impuls für die Künstlerin war der Grundrisse des Gebäudekomplexes, der sie an eine Rennbahn erinnert. Wettlauf und kaum merkliche Verschiebungen, aber auch Absturzgefahr erscheinen nicht zuletzt aufgrund der jüngsten Erfahrungen äußerst passende Bilder für ein Geldinstitut zu sein.

Die Künstlerin bedient sich auch der vorhandenen, meist unsichtbaren oder zumindest verdeckten Strukturen eines Kunst-Raumes, seiner eigentlichen Infrastrukturen, und nutzt diese wider ihre ursprüngliche Bestimmung für künstlerische Zwecke. So wird die Geste des Ausstellens letztlich selbst zum Inhalt der Ausstellung.

Bei aller Knappheit und Präzision, eindringlichen Visualität und unaufdringlichen Poesie, in ihrer durch intellektuelle Schärfe gut temperierten Sinnlichkeit offenbaren Erkmens Arbeiten eine überraschende Eigenschaft: „Sie besitzen eine anthropomorphe Qualität - nicht im formalen Sinne, sondern in dem Maß, wie sie sich als ästhetisch gestaltete Räume und Gegenstände zum Menschen in Bezug setzen“, wie sie für ihn Bedeutung erlangen, ihm Möglichkeit zur Auseinandersetzung bieten. Der Betrachter scheint dabei nicht primär in den Blick genommen zu sein, die Eingriffe und Objekte sind Angebote, nie Aufforderungen. Die Ansprache des Betrachters wirkt auf eine spezifische Art unausgesprochen.

Was Friedrich Meschede veranlasst, das Werk von Ayse Erkmen in eine „kleine Kunstgeschichte der Momente“ einzugliedern, „die dauerhaft im Gedächtnis bleiben“ 17, neben Beuys‘ 7000 Eichen, neben Haakes Venedig-Pavillon 1993 oder Rachel Whitereads Londoner „House“, findet sich in Worten der Künstlerin in charakteristisch einfacher Diktion wieder: „Kunst sollte die unterschiedlichen Aspekte des Lebens wahrnehmbar machen, um den eigenen Platz, einen Standpunkt zu finden, um sich nicht vom Alltag aufbrauchen zu lassen“. 18 Wahrnehmungskompetenz wird zur sozialen und individuellen Gestaltungskompetenz. Schönheit und Klarheit besitzen damit einen allgemeinen Gebrauchswert.

Erkmens Schaffen basiert auf dialektischem Denken, ist dialogisch organisiert und empfiehlt diskursives Handelns. Ihre Arbeiten stellen Reflexion gegen Gewöhnung, Blendwerk und Täuschung, dabei ist der gedankliche Rückraum immer kurzgeschlossen mit der sinnlichen Erfassbarkeit des Objekts. Neben formaler und konzeptueller Genauigkeit, neben einer Schönheit des Erschließens auf bildhafter und gedanklicher Ebene „ist Erkmens Kunst damit auch in einem menschlichen Sinn ereignisreich - sie offenbart nicht nur einen profunden Sinn für Ästhetik, sondern für das Leben überhaupt.“ 19

Auch wenn die Künstlerin für sich immer nach dem einzigen, sinnvollen, angemessenen Weg sucht, behauptet dieses singuläre Werk nicht starre Endgültigkeit, sondern legt den Transfer an andere Orte, in andere Situationen nahe. Sie macht im Brechtschen Sinne Vorschläge und bringt den Betrachter mit erhöhter Wachsamkeit und Sensibilität auf den Weg nicht nur durch den Kunstkontext. So sehr sie „Kunstanspruch“ auch zu verbergen sucht: „Ayse Erkmen zu einer Einzelausstellung einzuladen, gehört zu den spannendsten Momenten der Gegenwartskunst.“ 20

1 Ayse Erkmen. Shipped Ships I, 2001, 7

2 vgl. Aykut Köksal, in: Shipped Ships, a.a.O., 77

3 Catrin Lorch, zitiert nach Julian Heynen, Hausgenossen/Crystal Rock, 2009, 24

4 Kassandra Nakas. Ayse Erkmen, in: Above The Fold, 2008,13

5 vgl. Friedrich Meschede, in: Ayse Erkmen. I-MA-GES, 1997, 47

6 Ayse Erkmen. Kunst im Raum, in: Florian Matzner (Hg.). Public Art, 2001, 72

7 Manchmal wie ein Detektiv, in: Michael Glasmeier (Hg.), Erzählen, 119f

8 A. Erkmen. Kunst im Raum, a.a.O., 71

9 ebenda, 76

10 Manchmal wie ein Detektiv, a.a.O., 122

11 Ayse Erkmen im Gespräch mit Sabine Vogel, Das Kunst-Bulletin, Nr. 6/2002, 45

12 vgl. Bettina Schaschke, Weggefährten, 2008, 169f

13 vgl. Gregory Volk. Karnevals-Orte, in: Weggefährten, 2008, 145 ff

14 vgl. Nakas, Ayse Erkmen, a.a.O., 23

15 Machmal wie ein Detektiv, a.a.O., 119

16 Nakas, a.a.O., 24

17 Friedrich Meschede. Frankfurt am Bosporus, in: Shipped Ships I, 2001, 116

18 Manchmal wie ein Detektiv, a.a.O., 119

19 Gregory Volk. An der Verbindungsstelle der Dinge, in: Echolot, 1998, 4

20 Ayse Erkmen. Kuckuck, a.a.O, 46

Rendering Visible by Invisible Means by Dieter Buchhart

With her interventions, most of which are temporary, Ayşe Erkmen displaces our everyday habits of perception. Whether in the exhibition hall or in the public space, she sensitizes us to the structures and situations, both historical and contemporary, that are present at a given site. In the (retrospective) exhibition of her oeuvre held at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, in 2008, for instance, she recreated her work The House (1993/2008): she had the frostedglass panels covering the ceiling lights in one room opened and let the fluorescent lamps dangle by cables of different lengths. With a minimal intervention and using nothing but the lighting equipment already present at the site, she thus created a light installation that revealed the hidden structures of the White Cube. The visitors, who had entered the room after passing a metal detector, found their paths through the room blocked by the fluorescent lamps, an irritation as they were looking for the works that would form the artist’s retrospective exhibition—and this last idea is contradictory in itself: for Erkmen’s oeuvre never lends itself to purely retrospective contemplation; the artist always develops her interventions and installations out of an analysis of the situation she finds.

As early as the late 1970s, Erkmen began to work with found materials and architectural situations. In Imitating Lines, for instance, a work created for the exhibition New Trends held in Istanbul in 1985, she traced the sheer plan of a staircase with a green line mounted on a metal pillar; in 1987, she placed a ventilation cover—its dimensions matched those of the room’s actual covers—at eye level as though it were a painterly object. During a residence fellowship at the Berlin DAAD in 1993, the artist had already lowered the square-shaped lighting structures in five rooms of the DAAD’s gallery to various heights within the range of the human body. The lighting rails became barriers in the space, seemingly marking areas around the centers of the rooms not to be entered by the visitor and constraining his or her movement to corridors along the walls. Although the fundamental idea was comparable, this intervention, drawing on a very different spatial and technical existing situation, was markedly different from the confusion of fluorescent lamps at the Hamburger Bahnhof fifteen years later. Yet both works were alike in the way they compelled visitors to depart radically from the way they usually behave upon entering an “empty” room, sensitizing them to the space itself, engendering new perspectives and experiences of space. The fluorescent tubes are legible in this context as the (minimalist) objects the visitors to a gallery expect, and by lighting the room from below, they create the dramatic illumination that would stage an artistic installation in space. Yet they are also the same sources of light that, discreetly installed in the ceiling, are used to create what is considered ideal lighting in a museum, the neutral space known as the White Cube. The altered positioning of the tubes in the room attracts the visitors’ attention; their altered perception of the lamps, which clashes with an expectation of neutrality, lends them a sculptural quality. Erkmen disrupts the fiction of a neutral space: the proportions of a room, doorframes, windows, outlets, light switches, and lighting equipment—even when the designers of a space attempt to render them as imperceptible as possible—are never neutral, they merely fade into indistinctness in our habitual perception.

Yet the artist’s interest in the site as such was manifest not only in her deconstruction of the White Cube, which would seem to be possible in, and applicable to, most museum spaces, but also in historical references. These included screens in various corners of the rooms showing movies featuring the silent-movie start Henny Porten, whom the Nazis put under house arrest in these same rooms because her husband was Jewish. The “light barriers” were thus also legible as a reference to the (life-)threatening imprisonment Porten was forced to endure half a century earlier.

With the project Ghost, which she developed in 2010 for Thyssen- Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Erkmen once again addresses a set of historical issues. The reference is to Ludwig van Beethoven, who spent a number of months in 1806 at the Palais Erdödy-Fürstenberg in Vienna’s first district, which is now home to Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary’s exhibition rooms. Beethoven was close friends with Countess Anna Maria Erdödy, whose ancestor Count Georg Erdödy of Monyorókerék acquired the palace in 1714 and had it expanded between 1720 and 1724; in 1773, Count Christoph Erdödy sold the building to Landgrave Joachim Egon of Fürstenberg. The countess brought Beethoven in contact with noble patrons, who subsequently supported the composer financially. Beethoven dedicated a number of works to Anna Maria Erdödy, among them the two piano trios opus 70, composed in 1808, and the canon Glück, Glück zum neuen Jahr (WoO 176), written in 1819. Erkmen’s Ghost refers to the canon, although the first of the two piano trios, generally known under the title Ghost Trio and possibly composed at the Palais Erdödy-Fürstenberg, also seems to echo in its themes. Besides a web of speculations about the relationship between Beethoven and the countess, Erkmen refers to the rumor that the ghost of a young girl lives at the palace, which led the artist to arrange the canon Glück, Glück zum neuen Jahr for a single voice, a soprano. This soprano can be heard as a ghostly voice from nine speakers installed at the palace in a spacious room (it has more than 430 square feet) illuminated by twelve lamps. In more than one way, Erkmen’s work revolves around the question of immateriality, of the intangible. Not only does she take up the rumor that a ghost haunts the exhibition building, she also seems to refer, by association, to the piano trio’s nickname, which derives from a note on a compositional sketch in which Beethoven mentions William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a drama populated by numerous metaphysical apparitions. Yet we may also read the title of her work as an indication of its largely immaterial character, of the intangibility of both the voice and the light installation staging the room itself, which will be dissolved and disappear once the exhibition is over

Ghost is based on Erkmen’s analysis of a found historical situation at the exhibition building. By rearranging and contextualizing a composition by Beethoven, she opens new perspectives and invites associations that go far beyond the historically factual. In this sense, she not only transforms the many-voices canon, reducing it to a single soprano voice, she also dislocates it from its original domain of meaning. In a comparable manipulation, Erkmen in 1996 created a work entitled Image for the Kunstverein Arnsberg using five close-up photographs, selected from five different categories in an image database, that largely blocked the doorframes. This sort of highly versatile glossy photograph, an image from a world of ideal happiness, is usually ordered by advertising agencies and magazine editors, who then contextualize it with captions, writing, or other images and use it as a visual message transmitting a particular attitude toward life or a stereotypical idea or belief. Erkmen eludes these firmly established associations on the level of content by taking a patently happy couple at play in the deep blue sea—the photograph is taken from the thematic section “travels”—enlarging it to the format of a door, and placing it, without further comment, at the transition between the exhibition space and a neighboring room. There, the couple’s ostensibly ideal existence acquires a threatening aspect; its pushy and ostentatious display of happiness blocks the visitors’ passage to the next room, forcing them to literally surmount it. The oversized and technically perfect photographs, far from being innovative visual creations, follow simple compositional schemata to create standardized depictions of fantasies of escape and idealized everyday situations. In the sparse rooms of the Kunstverein, the artist thus unmasks the aspirations and yearnings of our lifestyle-hungry society, ideas that are almost aggressively pushed by the media, as vacuous, empty shells that do nothing but encourage unsatisfiable expectations.

As in Ghost, the artist always conceives her works as site-specific, taking into account not only the given architectural situation, but also historical and social circumstances. In 1994, for the project On the House she decorated the façade of a residential building in Berlin-Kreuzberg with fragments of Turkish words. These particles are grammatical constructs peculiar to the Turkish language: “Verbal endings that express events in the past—yet rather than describing occurrences the speaker has experienced himself or herself, they refer to events narrated to the speaker by another person. This builds an element of indeterminacy into the language that has to do with the versions of events as filtered through the mind of a third unnamed person or the speaker himself or herself—with a confluence of stories, a superimposition of perspectives.”1 The syllables remain abstractions even to readers who know Turkish, since they are not words that can be read as referring to concepts but a contentfree list from a Turkish grammar book. Erkmen marks a site where different cultures from different geographical regions intersect, playing, depending on the beholder’s perspective, with the concepts of the “foreign” or the “familiar,” but offering no legible intentional linguistic meaning to either side.

The great variety among Erkmen’s references to sites, histories, and materials, and the independence of her restrained works from a definite signature aesthetic, were in evidence in her extraordinarily demanding project Shipped Ships, created in 2001 as part of Moment, an art series sponsored by Deutsche Bank. She had ferryboats shipped to Frankfurt am Main aboard other, bigger ships: one each from her native Istanbul, from Venice, and from Shingu, Japan. Taking up the aspect of translocation from Sculptures on the Air, a work she carried out in Münster in 1997, Erkmen thus turned functioning ships into temporarily inoperable aesthetic sculptural objects. The three ferryboats were unloaded in Frankfurt and for one month served as ferries on individual routes on the river Main. Between Griesheimer Ufer in the west and Gerbermühle in the east, the ships connected altogether eleven stops, for which the artist used landings. The boats were operated by their “own” crews from their original locations, fostering cultural exchange—the Japanese crew had never traveled outside Japan—yet also creating the danger a situation in which these people would be on display. Fares were set to match actual rates in the various places of origin, so that a trip on the Japanese Kumano No. 59 was the most expensive, while the Defterdar from Istanbul offered the cheapest rides. A comparison of these fares indicated the value of labor and the level of economic prosperity in the different regions; even in her initial conceptual draft, Erkmen had selected exclusively western-oriented and fairly affluent countries. On the one hand, these temporary additional ferry connections served as a new (and popular) means of public transport. On the other hand, Erkmen played with the geographic displacement of a fragment of a “foreign” place that, while being used in its usual function in the everyday life of its new home, Frankfurt, was at once also an exhibit and a curiosity. As in the earlier work “On the House,” the artist addresses the concepts of the “foreign” and the “familiar”; what was foreign to some meant a piece of home to others, such as Japanese, Italian, and Turkish tourists and residents. Özlem, for example, wrote after a trip: “If they also served simit and tea aboard, I would say: I am in Turkey!” Shipped ships means geographic displacement and an interweaving and recontextualization of cultures, another passenger suggests, writing: “From Sachsenhausen to Griesheim, from Frankfurt via Istanbul to Japan—and all in one day!”

The Frankfurt project temporarily altered people’s perception of the city by filling the blank of a river that, while giving the city its extended name, sees very little passenger traffic, and opening new spatial as well as human perspectives. The arrival and departure of the ferryboats was “an important component of the project,” representing the geographic displacement that relieved the project of the burden of permanent presence. The journey from Frankfurt to Shingu took roughly the same amount of time the ferry spent travelling on the Main, so that the transports in total took up twice as long as the ferry’s stay in the German metropolis.

Yet the complexity and expensiveness of this project is by no means a defining feature of Erkmen’s site-specific interventionism. In more or less, implemented at the Kunstmuseum Bonn in 1999/2000, she created a new set of meanings with no more than a minimal alteration. As in Participation (Kunsthalle Bern, 1998), she exhibited the freight elevator, usually in service only during exhibition preparations and otherwise hidden beneath the exhibition hall, by having it stand out roughly eight inches above the floor. Opening a perspective on the inner mechanisms of the museum, she directed the visitor’s attention to those structures in the background of the White Cube that guarantee a smooth exhibition operation. The intervention involved no installation work or transportation of parts and could be altered or reversed at any time. By stopping the elevator for a moment, Erkmen succeeded in creating a literally temporary work that, unlike Ghost, required no new materials.

Working on the boundary between art and non-art, Erkmen displaces our habits of perception, directing our attention to disregarded spatial as well as social relations that disrupt our fixation on a certain horizon of experience. Her oeuvre is as multi-faceted as the many different contexts in which she develops her works. With great irony and wit, Ayşe Erkmen’s Ghost once again draws connections between the site, a tradition, the past, and society. Based on the premise that, rather than developing a defined formal language, she always works in site-specific ways and with—usually temporary—interventions, the oeuvre she has built over the past three decades is nonetheless highly consistent. Her works sensitize us, altering the way we experience our everyday lives and putting our habits of perception to the test, opening up new horizons and possibilities.

Entwined by Franziska Glozer

Supporting columns and pillars are generally disliked by any gallerist as they take up valuable exhibition space. This is why at art fairs they are mostly hidden in the small storage areas of the exhibition booths – tightly hung with small masterworks, reserved for exclusive viewings.

Ayşe Erkmen has chosen such a small room for herself at Art Unlimited. Using the bare white walls to create a sculpture, where previously nothing existed. Tied around a column is a silver and black silk ribbon, which, using the same technique commonly found in clothing labels, has the word “Limited” woven into it. Whether this is sculpture or conceptual art the work becomes even more engaging as the ribbon has its own story. For the piece “Netz” in 2006 Ayşe Erkmen ordered label ribbon with her own name woven into which she then had made into nets using a knotting technique familiar to the artist from fishermen in İstanbul. Depending on the space the nets are either thrown over white walls or hung uselessly off them. In her work for Art Unlimited the artist is “limiting” herself. The word “Limited” is tied across the column with the basic slip-knot used in knitting, weaving or knotting. The knots, pulled tight, form a seam down the column, to the left and right of which the otherwise uncovered column is unpretentiously exposed.

In her work Ayşe Erkmen can be seen as not literally accepting a given situation, but instead as giving it a visual independence.

Translation: Robert Hanson

So awesome: Ayse Erkmen at The Physics Room by Danae Mossmann

The Physics Room is no pure white cube space. It has large windows that look down onto High Street, Christchurch’s hip part of town. There is a sense of Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ voyeurism as visitors to the gallery spy down to the cafés across the road, watching the slow, steady, consumption of flat white after flat white. The windows are a draw card in this sense, a feature of the gallery space—and a focus for Ayse Erkmen’s installation awesome. At the gallery entrance, visitors are immersed in a diffused yellow light flowing from the window’s blind. Moving into the main gallery space one is surrounded by large, bold, textured colour fields that mask each of the gallery’s seven windows. The space is softened; mid-morning the warm streams of sifted sun flow through the monochromes, lighting the space with a pastiche glow. Running the length of the space is a patterned rug designed by the artist, and constructed by local artisan carpet manufacturer Dilana rugs, who Erkmen stumbled across while exploring the neighborhood. The rug is uncomfortably sized—it’s just a little bit too short, a little too slim. It is too narrow to be seen as a domestic rug, too short to fit another gallery space. Made specifically for this setting, relocating the rug would render it useless. It features a roughly-drawn sketch, a simple gesture that recalls the act of doodling when the mind is otherwise occupied. Perhaps a thought the artist had when staring from the gallery window down onto the High Street scene. Dull in comparison to the blinds, it is a natural, dirty cream through which black lines loop. The colour of coffee one might say, reflecting the common scent of coffee that rises from the street below. The rug becomes an oblique homage to Erkmen’s experience of High Street.

Before travelling to New Zealand for a six-week artist residency at The Physics Room in Christchurch, Erkmen began research. Interested in and aware of the clichés associated with New Zealand, she chose the abstracted landscape as the starting point for her thinking. Erkmen’s Scenic Overlooks is the result of her trawling an internet database that contained thousands of purchasable landscape images from around the world, mostly for use in advertising. The images are spectacular, yet generic, and retain little sense of place. Erkmen selected 84 images, and compiled them into a continuous DVD loop in which the sequence is slowly revealed, one by one, as if downloading from the internet. As viewers, we can’t recognise these sites as particular places. Instead they become romanticised ideas of place, a rather banal armchair journey, drawing our attention to the clichéd branding of New Zealand as a pure, untouched landscape.

The positioning of the gallery is the focus of Level Two, a video work Erkmen made during her stay here. Through a window on the steps up to the gallery Erkmen videos the gallery banner, where only the text ‘Gallery, Level Two’ is revealed. The banner had became unstitched from its pole in a bout of bad weather and thrashes around, the wind crashing it against the building. The turbulent slapping creates a violent noise, hinting that this is the role galleries should occupy, pushing against structures, pressing action in the current climate.

awesome is tinged with irony. The word is a common expression in the local vernacular, an idiosyncrasy that Erkmen enjoyed. As the title hints, underlying this installation is a wry sense of humour that sees the simple repositioning of something familiar into something somehow foreign. Erkmen’s practice is defined by specific geographical and temporal circumstances. She is not interested in permanence. She has developed exhibitions in many countries around the world; in each place a project develops site-specifically, responding to the peculiarities of the space she encounters. Each situation demands a different conceptual response, through which she works with ideas and materials that relate to the context. As Claire Doherty suggests, such imperatives bring a “new attachment to the actuality of site”1.

The temporal nature of Erkmen’s practice denies the circular mobility typically associated with art objects —her work is not transportable from one context to another. Once an exhibition is over only fragments remain. One commonality throughout her projects is a poetic aesthetic sensibility. The minimalist elegance of her work acts as an entry point to the context she explores. Erkmen’s response to space highlights her desire to consider its potential as both a critical investigation and an aesthetic experience. Her work presents a wonderfully poetic, witty, playful engagement with the environment in which she operates.

1 Claire Doherty (editor), Contemporary Art from Studio to Situation. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2004.

Trainspotting by Danae Mossmann

Als ich durch den U-Bahnhof Alexanderplatz hastete, stie0 ich zufallig auf die Klanginstallation .U8" von Aype Erkmen: Zwei große Lautsprecher schwebten über beiden Bahnsteigen, die jedes Mal, wenn ein Zug einfuhr, eine kurze Trailermelodie abspielten. Eine einfache Geste, eingefügt ins blassgrün geflieste lnterieur der Station. Ein Fanfarenstoß verkündete das Ende der Wartezeit. Ähnlich der klischeehaft, melodramatischen Spannung mancher Fernsehserien fand ein lebendiges und kritisches Spiel mit Fiktion und Wirklichkeit statt - ein episches Moment für ankommende und abfahrende Fahrgaste.

Erfüllt und untermalt mit dieser ,,Filmmusik" wird Stadtraum zur Kulisse und inszeniert sich selbst. Ein ähnlicher Effekt ist auch bei der Vermarktung von urbanem Lifestyle beteiligt, den die Omnipräsenz von Unterhaltungs- und Kommunikationselektronik, insbesondere von Handy und iPod, mit sich brachte. Sie isoliert Menschen voneinander und schafft hermetische Raume, die es dem Einzelnen ermöglichen, seiner Umgebung zu entfliehen - wenn auch nur symbolisch und für kurze Zeit. Ayşe Erkmens Installation arbeitet mit genau diesem Phänomen, kehrt es jedoch um und gibt ihm eine andere Richtung: Die Einspielung jener dramatischen Musik im U-Bahnhof am

Alexanderplatz Iädt zur kollektiven Teilnahme ein. Die Aufmerksamkeit wird auf die Quelle des Sounds gelenkt, der den U8-Bahnsteig übertönt. Durch die lnszenierung dieses banalen Ereignisses lost Erkmens Arbeit jene hermetische Erfahrung auf, richtet den Fokus auf den Akt des Wartens und trifft somit die Ängste unserer Freizeitgesellschaft. Dies war auch der Ansatz in Charlie Kaufmans Film The Truman Show, in dem die Hauptfigur nicht wei0, dass sich ihr Leben in einer inszenierten TV-Realität abspielt. Auch in Ayşe Erkmens Interventionen ahnt man solch paranoide Tendenzen; die hermetische Abkapselung des Einzelnen wird für einen Moment durchbrochen und eine unerwartete Möglichkeit zur Reflektion geboten.

Wohl kaum jemand empfindet das Warten auf öffentliche Verkehrsmittel als angenehm. In einer zunehmend von Zeitdruck geprägten Welt sehen wir Warten als Verschwendung an, und für die meisten ist die U8 sowieso blo0 ein unbedeutender Teil des alltäglichen Programms. Vielleicht aber geht es genau darum: die Möglichkeiten der scheinbar ungenutzten Zeit zu erkennen und sie um ihrer selbst willen wertzuschätzen. Die gegenwärtig übliche Einteilung in produktive und vergeudete Zeit macht es uns schwer, Pausen, Stillstand und Zwischenzeiten zu begru0en. Wie schon Gertrude Stein bemerkte: .Ein Genie zu sein, nimmt vie1 Zeit in Anspruch. Man muss so viel herumsitzen und nichts, aber wirklich nichts tun." Dabei konnte uns gerade diese Zeit so nützlich sein: um zu verschnaufen oder ganz einfach nur den Augenblick zu genießen. Denn eigentlich ist es beruhigend, dass diese Zeit weder Arbeits- noch Freizeit ist - sie ist einfach ein offener, unbestimmter “Freiraum".

Das Einfahren des Zuges beendet die ,,verlorene" Wartezeit, in der man von einem Fuß auf den anderen tritt und über den Tag oder die Stunden, die noch vor einem liegen, nachdenkt. Genau wie in Andy Warhals trockenen lnterviews, in denen banale, belanglose Gespräche mit Menschen aus seinem Urnfeld dokumentiert werden, gewahrt das Zusammenspiel des formlosen lnhalts mit der Belanglosigkeit der Zeit, in der diese Gespräche ziellos und ahne eine bestimmte Absicht verlaufen, intime und aufschlussreiche Einblicke in die Leben der Gesprächspartner. Und irgendwie entwickelt sich aus den endlassen und scheinbar unbedeutenden Details ein vielsagendes Porträt. Warhols Interviews sind gleichzeitig kritische und humorvolle Reaktionen auf die Absurdität der Verehrung von Berühmtheiten. Dennoch arbeiten sie einer konstruierten Wirklichkeit - im filmischen Sinne -entgegen. Schicht um Schichtwird freigelegt, um eine Art Wahrheit zu finden.

Ganz ähnlich wie bei Warhol dreht sich auch Erkmens Arbeit um einen Aspekt des täglichen Lebens, der leicht übersehen wird. lndem sie mit diesem Moment spielt und ihm eine filmische Dramatik verleiht, gibt sie ihm eine subtile Ausrichtung und eine neue Bedeutung. Die melodramatische Spannung, angetrieben durch die Musik, steht im Widerspruch zur Banalität des Kontextes - in klassischer Hollywood-Manier. Durch die ständige Wiederholung der filmischen Musik mit jeder Einfahrt eines Zuges wird auch diese selbst irgendwann banal. Wie das Geschwätz einer Menschenmenge ader bei der musikalischen Berieselung im Supermarkt wird die Musik zur Geräuschkulisse, verliert sich im Warten, und die Gedanken schweifen ganz woandershin. Sie wird zu einem Hintergrundgeräusch, das man schon tausend Mal gehört hat.

Ich schreibe dies auf dem Flug nach Neuseeland, inmitten eines leeren Raumes. Ich denke über die 30 Stunden Reisezeit nach, die vor mir liegen, über die ganze Wortezeit, und darüber, wie schon es wäre, Ayşe Erkmens Soundtrack genau im dem Moment zu hören, in dem das Flugzeug landet. Fliegen ist heutzutage derart reglementiert und gesichert, dass dies gewiss unmöglich wäre: In diesem paranoiden Reich von Plastikgöbeln und leeren Wasserflaschen wäre es einfach zu bedrohlich. Im öffentlichen Kontext des Bahnsteiges jedoch ermöglichte der Klang eine willkommene und geistreiche Reflexion auf die scheinbare Banalität des Wortens.

In einer Welt, in der Zeit an Kreislaufe von Produktion und Konsumption gebunden ist, und ungenutzte Zeit lediglich Unannehmlichkeit bedeutet, war diese Arbeit eine überraschend lebendige und kritische Geste. Wie in vielen ihrer Werke transformierte Ayşe Erkmen auch hier einen gewöhnten Raum, hob auf diese Weise einen absurden Aspekt des Alltags hervor und lenkte unsere Aufmerksamkeit auf scheinbar nichtige Momente, die voller Möglichkeiten sein können. Ayşe Erkmen spielt mit Zwei- und Mehrdeutigkeiten in der Sprache, greift in architektonische Gefüge ein und weckt ein fragend-kritisches Bewusstsein für die Strukturen, die uns umgeben.

Main Nehrinde ‘Yer’in Geçici Dönüşümü by Aykut Köksal

Almanya'nın önde gelen finans kurumlarından Deutsche Bank, "Moment" başlığı altında yeni bir sanat projesini başlatma kararı alıyor ve projenin 2001 yılında gerçekleşecek ilk çalışması için, çeşitli ülkelerden on iki sanatçı davet ederek öneriler istiyor. Sanatçıların önüne yalnızca iki kısıtlama konuyor: Çalışmalar, "Moment" adının da imlediği gibi geçici olmalı ve bankanın genel merkezinin konumlandığı Frankfurt am Main kentinde yer almalı. Başka bir deyişle, sanatçılara zaman ve mekânı önceden tanımlayan bir çerçeve sunuluyor ve bu anlam alanı içinde sanatçı özgür bırakılıyor. Sonuçta Ayşe Erkmen'in “Shipped Ships” başlıklı önerisi seçiliyor. Erkmen'in tasarısı, dünyanın çeşitli merkezlerinden yolcu vapurlarını çalışanlarıyla birlikte Frankfurt'a getirmeyi ve tarifeli seferlerini, belirli bir süre, Main nehrinin iki kıyısı arasında gerçekleştirmelerini amaçlıyor. Tasarının gerçekleşme sürecinde, yolcu vapurlarının getirileceği kentler belirleniyor ve İstanbul, Venedik ve Shingu'dan gemilerle nakledilen üç yolcu vapuru 28 Nisan - 27 Mayıs 2001 tarihleri arasında Main nehrindeki seferlerini gerçekleştiriyorlar ve yeniden gemilere yüklenerek kendi yerlerine (kendi topos'larına) geri dönüyorlar.

Erkmen'in Shipped Ships projesi, işin kendisi üzerinden ve Erkmen'in öteki çalışmaları bağlamında yeni okuma alanları açan bir çalışma. Proje, daha ilk bakışta saptanabileceği gibi son derece yalın bir kavram üzerine oturuyor. Yukarıdaki kısa özet bile neredeyse işin bütününün eksiksiz bir betimi. İşin gerçeklik kazanması ise kapsamlı bir çalışmayı zorunlu kılıyor: İlgili kentlerin yerel deniz taşımacılık kurumlarıyla ilişkiye geçilmesi, Main nehrine uygun yolcu vapurlarının seçimi, bu vapurların büyük nakliye gemileriyle Frankfurt'a taşınması, yolcu vapuru çalışanlarının Frankfurt'a getirilmesi ve Frankfurt'taki çalışma koşullarının oluşturulması, vapur seferlerinin örgütlenmesi ve sonunda yolcu vapurlarının yeniden geldikleri kentlere nakledilmesi. Bir yanda kavramı belirledikten sonra geri çekilerek yalnızca süreci izleyen sanatçı var, öte yanda kapsamlı bir üretim etkinliğini ve örgütlenmeyi zorunlu kılan bir çalışma. Hiç kuşkusuz, çağdaş sanat üretiminde sanatçının edim alanını kavramsal üretimle belirlemesi yeni bir durum değil. Ne var ki bu kez sanatçının ortaya koyduğu kavram, işe taşıdığı boyutla kendini kuvvetle görünür kılarken, aynı zamanda sanatçıyı da bütünün görünmez bir öğesine dönüştürüyor. Kuşkusuz bu da yine kavramın neredeyse bir motto'ya indirgenmiş içeriğinden kaynaklanıyor. Sanatçı müdahale sınırlarını belirlerken kendisini de bu sınırların dışında bırakmayı seçiyor.

Erkmen üç ayrı kentten üç yolcu vapurunu Frankfurt'ta biraraya getiriyor. Bir nesneyi kendi bağlamından kopararak yeni bir bağlama taşımak çağdaş sanatın çokça başvurduğu yollardan biridir. Nesne eski bağlamındaki işlevden, anlamdan sıyrılır, hem taşındığı yeni bağlamı dönüşüme uğratır hem de kendisi yeni bütün içinde yeni bir anlam kazanır. Genellikle bağlamından koparılan nesne geri dönüşsüz bir değişimin de içine girer. Yeni bir bütün kurmak için gerçekleştirilen iş geçici bile olsa nesnenin uğradığı değişim geçici değildir, artık eski işlevine, eski anlam bağlamına dönemeyecektir. Başka bir deyişle sanatçının bütünsel yapıtının kalıcı bir öğesine dönüşmüştür. Ya bu bütünsel yapıtın başka bir anında yeni bir rol yüklenmek üzere bekler ya da içinde yer aldığı çalışmayı belgeleyen bir öğe olarak müzeografik bir anlam kazanır. Ayşe Erkmen'in yolcu vapurları ise kendi bağlamlarından koparılmaz, ödünç alınır. Ödünç alınan bu öğelerde sanatçı dönüştürücü hiçbir işleme başvurmaz: Yolcu vapurları kendi işlevleriyle, kendi mürettebatlarıyla, esas bağlamlarını gösteren tüm anlamsal yüklerle birlikte yalnızca yer değiştirir. "Shipped Ships" adlandırması da sanatçının bu müdahale sınırlarını belirler, nakledilme yani yer değiştirme durumunu çalışmanın motto'suna dönüştürür. Ödünç alınarak yerleri değiştirilen yolcu vapurlarının, iş süresinin bitiminde kendi yerlerine geri dönüşleri hem bu motto'nun içinde yer alır, hem de müdahalenin sınırlarıyla zorunlu kılınır. Bu noktada karşımıza yapıtın kavramla belirlenmiş zorunlu geçiciliği çıkıyor. Shipped Ships projesinde geçicilik çalışmanın süresine ilişkin dışarıdan verilmiş bir karar değildir, çünkü tüm çalışma geçici bir durum üzerine inşa edilmiştir. Erkmen'in üretiminde yine ana kavramın belirlediği benzer bir geçicilik durumunu 1997'de Münster'de gerçekleştirdiği Sculptures on air başlıklı çalışmasında da görüyoruz. Bu çalışmada, Münster dışındaki müze deposundan bir helikopterle alınan heykel kent üzerinde bir tur attıktan sonra müzenin çatısına bırakılır. Helikopter yeni bir heykel getirdiğinde öteki heykeli de kendi yerine geri götürecektir.

Yolcu vapurlarının belirli bir yere (kendi yerlerine) ait olması, yer değiştirme durumunu daha da öne çıkarır. Bu yüzden, kendileri birer deniz ulaşım aracı olmalarına karşın ancak başka deniz ulaşım araçlarına yüklenerek taşınırlar. Yani bir yerden bir yere gitmezler, yine işin motto'sunun aktardığı gibi nakledilirler. Bu ise belirli bir yere ilişkin anlamla yüklü olmalarını getirir. Her üçü de deniz üzerinden yerel ulaşım işlevini görmelerine karşın ait oldukları yere göre farklılaşırlar. Venedik'te deniz üzerinden yerel ulaşım kentin yapısının getirdiği bir zorunluluktur. Bu yüzden Venedik'ten gelen vapur, yalnızca ulaşım işlevine indirgenmiş bir deniz otobüsüdür. Shingu'dan gelen vapur da öyledir. Mürettebatları da yalnızca işlevsel bir zorunlulukla belirlenmiştir. İstanbul'dan gelen yolcu vapuru ise ulaşım işlevine indirgenemeyecek bir biçime, donanıma ve mürettebata sahiptir. Çünkü İstanbul'un yolcu vapurları hep bir kültürel bağlamın öğesi olagelmiştir. Bu vapurlar önemli bir edebiyat da yaratmış olan ritüelleriyle birlikte yaşarlar. Frankfurt'a taşınan ve İstanbul'daki benzerlerinin en küçüğü olan yolcu vapurundaki kaptanın rolü de neredeyse bu ritüelle var olur. 1974'ten, yani Boğaz Köprüsü'nün yapılmasından ve ulaşım işlevinin bir zorunluluk olmaktan çıkmasından sonra İstanbul'un yolcu vapurlarının kültürel kimliği daha da belirginlik kazanır. Peki, üç ayrı yere bağlı bu üç öğe (mürettebatlarıyla, yere bağlı anlamsal yükleriyle, kendi ritüelleriyle üç vapur) nerede buluşabilirler? Ya da Michel Foucault'nun deyişiyle sorarsak "bunların sıralanışını dile getiren gayri-maddi ses dışında, yazıya döküldükleri sayfa dışında nerede karşılaşabilirler? Dilin yer-olmayanı dışında nerede yan yana gelebilirler?"1 Foucault bu soruyu Borges'in bir metninden yola çıkarak soruyordu. Aslında her edebiyat metni dilin yer-olmayanı üzerinden yeni bir olanaksız mekân sunmaz mı?2 Belki Ayşe Erkmen'in soruyu şöyle sorduğunu da düşünebiliriz: Main nehrini nasıl olanaksız bir mekâna dönüştürebilirim? İşte Shipped Ships’in şiirsel özü de burada ortaya çıkıyor. Tıpkı, ancak "o" şiirde yanyana gelebilecek üç sözcük gibi, "o" yerde üç vapuru buluşturuyor Erkmen. Sözcükleri değiştirmeden, o güne dek yüklendikleri tüm anlamlarla yeni bir yere (yani şiirin var olduğu yere) taşıyan ozan gibi, vapurları tüm anlamsal yükleriyle koruyor ve onları işin var olacağı yere taşımakla yetiniyor. Yine Sculptures on air’i anımsayabiliriz: Erkmen, burada da heykelle helikopterin beklenmedik buluşmasını Fellini'den ödünç alarak Münster'i olanaksız bir mekâna dönüştürüyordu. Ne var ki Shipped Ships yalnızca olanaksız mekânın şiirsel içeriğinden ibaret değildir. Asıl sözünü, giderek şiddetini daha geride duran ve okunmayı bekleyen, ipuçlarını ise Erkmen'in yapıtının önceki adımlarında gizleyen bir yerde yakalar.

Shipped Ships’te, sanatçının yer değiştirmeye indirgediği müdahale çalışmayı da anonimleştirir ya da daha doğru bir deyişle anonim bir bağlam oluşturur. Bu anonimliği görmek için belirli varsayımlar üzerinden yürümekte yarar var. Bir an için işi çevreleyen tüm iletişim öğelerini ortadan kaldıralım: 28 Nisan - 27 Mayıs 2001 tarihleri arasında Frankfurt'ta, Main nehrinde üç yabancı kentin yolcu vapurlarının seferleriyle karşılaşan kişi ne düşünecektir? Anlamlandırmada güçlük çekeceği kesin. Dahası bu kişi bir Frankfurt sakiniyse durumu bir tehdit olarak da algılayabilir. Ama her durumda özneyi (sanatçıyı) işaret eden bir sanat çalışmasıyla karşı karşıya olunduğu düşünülmeyecektir. Ya da iletişim öğelerini koruyalım ama sanatçının adı yerine yeni bir özne koyalım, örneğin Frankfurt yerel yönetimi. Bu kez kolayca anlamlandırılabilecek ("kentlerin buluşması", "kültürel alış-veriş"...vb.) bir etkinlik çıkacaktır ortaya, kimse de etkinliğin bu anonim kavramının arkasında bir sanatçı aramaya kalkmayacaktır. İşte Erkmen'in işinin asıl özelliği de burada, anonimlik üzerinden giden gerilimde ortaya çıkıyor.

Anonim bağlamların içine girme ya da anonim bağlamlar oluşturma Ayşe Erkmen'in yapıtının ana damarlarından biridir. İlk kez 1993'te D Sergisi'ndeki işinde anonim bir öyküden, "Üç Ayı Hikayesi"nden alıntı yapar, 1996'da Rotterdam'da modernist mimarlığın bir kült yapısının cephesine yine aynı öyküden bir alıntı yerleştirir. 1995'te 4. İstanbul Bienali'nde Wertheim ACUU başlıklı çalışmasında bir "konteynır"ın anonim biçimini yeniden üretir. 1996'da Arnsberg'de, Images başlıklı sergide, iletişim sektörü için hazırlanmış anonim kiralık görüntüleri müdahale etmeden yapıtına katar, image bank kataloglarından seçtiği hazır fotoğraflarla bir yerleştirme gerçekleştirir. Katalogların Work, Travel, Lifestyle, Sports ve Nature başlıklı bölümlerinin her birinden seçilen bir fotoğraf, beş odadan oluşan sergi mekânının her odasında bir tanesi yer almak üzere konumlanır. 1997'de ise Recklinghausen'de, Kunsthalle Recklinghausen binasının üç katına, boydan boya bu anonim görüntüleri yerleştirir.

Erkmen heykelsi biçimler yaratmaya giriştiğinde de kendi oluşturduğu biçimleri değil anonim bağlamlardan taşıdığı biçimleri kullanır. Bu dizilerden ilki 1996-1997 yıllarında gerçekleştirdiği "mayın" temalı çalışmalardır. Önce Berlin’de, La Fayette mağazasının vitrininde, sütunlar üzerinde konumlanmış ahşap mayın modellerinden oluşan bir yerleştirme gerçekleştirir, anonimleşmeyi nesne-mekân ilişkisine götürür. 1997’de, bu anonim modelleri seramikten çoğaltır ve bunları Kunsthalle Recklinghause’da sergiler. Aynı sergide, yapının cephesinde mayınların büyük boy fotoğrafları yer alır. Erkmen’in "mayın" temalı dizisinin üçüncü aşamasını ise animasyon tekniğiyle gerçekleştirdiği altı film çalışması oluşturur. Münster Heykel Projesi kapsamında Westphalisches Landesmuseum’da ve New York Apex Art C.P. sanat merkezinde, Deazzle Gradually adlı sergide gösterilen bu filmler, Erkmen'in kendi ifadesiyle "MTV'deki video kliplerden" yola çıkar3, başka bir deyişle müzik endüstrisinin ürettiği video kliplerin anonim dilini kullanır. New York’taki sergide, aynı zamanda, mayın desenleri işlenmiş beyaz fayanslar da yer alır. Bu fayanslar, sergi salonunun ofis mekânında, zeminde ve duvarlarda konumlanır. 1997'de bu fayansları ve filmleri İstanbul'a taşıyarak PFM-1 ve Diğerleri başlıklı sergiyi gerçekleştirir. 1998'de ise anonim mayın biçimlerinin yerini, bu soyut biçimleri andıran yeni bir anonim bağlam alır: Erkmen Stuttgart’ta, 7. Küçük Heykel Trienali'nde, Batman ve Diğerleri başlıklı çalışmasında, oyuncakların şeffaf plastik ambalajlarını hazır kalıp olarak kullanarak, sürekli hareket halinde olan, yön değiştiren üç “oto-mobil” gerçekleştirir. Ayşe Erkmen, 1999'da, Recklinghausen kent merkezinde yeni açılan Gelsenkirchen Meslek Yüksekokulu’nun cephesindeki kalıcı çalışmasında da anonimleştirme işleminin başka bir örneğini verir. Erkmen’in çalışması yapının giriş cephesindeki camların üzerine yazılmış bir dizi isimden oluşur. Bu isimler yeni açılan okulun ilk öğrencilerinin önadlarıdır, ne var ki bu önadlar cephede anonim isimlere dönüşür.

Erkmen'in özneyi gizleyen anonim bir bağlama katıldığı çalışmalardan biri de 1997'de Taksim Meydanı'nda yer alır. 1994’de Berlin Kreuzberg mahallesinde, bir evin ön cephesine yerleştirdiği, Türkçe'nin “-miş’li geçmiş zaman” kip eklerinden oluşan çalışmasını, İstanbul'un en hareketli meydanlarından biri olan Taksim Meydanı'ndaki elektronik reklam panosuna taşır. Burada yine seçilen medium'un getirdiği anonimliği, ama aynı zamanda zorunlu kıldığı geçiciliği görüyoruz. Çağdaş sanatçının karmaşık ve kaotik modern kente katılmasının belki de tek yolu olan geçicilik ve anonimlik, Erkmen'in hemTaksim Meydanı'ndaki çalışmasında, hem de Frankfurt'taki işinde ana kavramın en önemli özelliğini oluşturur. 4

Shipped Ships’in yerleştiği Main nehri, Frankfurt kentinin yerini belirlemiş olan doğurucu öğedir. Bugün bile Frankfurt, adaşından ayrılmak için bu nehrin adıyla birlikte anılır: "Frankfurt am Main". Geleneksel kentin varoluş nedeni olan Main nehri modernleşme sürecinde, kenti başka yerlere bağlayan ana ulaşım ekseni olma niteliğini terkeder ve pek çok Avrupa kentinde olduğu gibi kentin ikincil öğelerinden birine dönüşür. Main nehri kentin belleğinin önemli bir parçasıdır, ne var ki bir yer olarak nehrin, modern Frankfurt için anlam oluşturucu bir mekân olduğu da kolayca söylenemez. İşte Erkmen yerleştirme çalışmasına, yeni bir anlam yüklenmek için hazır bekleyen bu mekânı seçiyor. Peki, Shipped Ships bu hazır mekânda hangi dönüşümü gerçekleştiriyor? Main nehri, üç başka kentin yolcu vapurlarının yerleştiği bir mekâna dönüştüğünde nasıl anlamlanıyor? İlk elde, Erkmen'in, yolcu vapurlarını yeni bağlama eklemleyecek müdahalelerden özellikle uzak durduğunu saptıyoruz. Tıpkı bir havaalanında belirli bir süre konaklayıp ayrılan bir uçak gibi, vapurlar da kendi mürettebatlarıyla, kendi kimlikleriyle geliyorlar, kalıyorlar, ayrılıyorlar. Gerçi vapurlar bir ay süren tarifeli seferleri boyunca kent sakinlerinin kullanımına sunuluyor, ama Frankfurt, yerel ulaşımda, Venedik ya da İstanbul gibi su yolunu kullanan bir kent değil, bu yüzden vapurların Main nehrindeki kullanımı kent yaşamına kendiliğinden eklemlenmiyor. Başka bir deyişle, bu yolcu vapurlarına binmek yerden bağımsız bir deneyim oluyor. Sonuçta yerleştirmeyle ortaya çıkan yeni mekân, Marc Augé'nin deyişiyle, "kimlikleyici/özdeşleyici olarak da, ilişkisel olarak da, tarihsel olarak da tanımlanamayan bir mekân"a, "yalnız bireyselliğe, geçişe, geçiciliğe ve anlık olana vaat edilmiş bir dünya"ya, yani bir "yer-olmayana"5 (non-lieu'ye) dönüşüyor. Yine Erkmen'in çağdaş dünyanın anonim mekânsal bağlamlarıyla alabildiğine dolayımlı bir hesaplaşmasıyla karşılaşıyoruz. Burada yeniden 1996'daki Images sergisinde yer alan kiralık görüntülere dönebiliriz. Bu görüntülerin her biri, bir yer-olmayanı tarif eder: Bir tatil köyü, bir iş merkezi, bir otel, bir stadyum. Doğadan alınmış hayvan görüntüleri bile bu bağlama katıldıklarında ele geçirilmişlik, ehlileştirilmişlik duygusu yaratır. Erkmen 1996'da yine Frankfurt'ta gerçekleştirdiği Portiport adlı çalışmasında ise, sergi mekânının girişini, son derece vurucu bir biçimde, yer-olmayanın temel göstergelerinden biriyle donatır. Çalışma, 19. yüzyılda inşa edilmiş, 2. Dünya Savaşı’nda ise giriş portikleri dışında tümüyle tahrip olmuş bir eski kütüphane yapısının eski cephesine bir sergi mekânının eklemlenmesiyle oluşmuş Portikus’ta yer alır. Erkmen giriş portiklerine elektronik donanımlı güvenlik kapıları yerleştirir. Sergi mekânı, bir havaalanı ya da bir alış-veriş merkezi gibi koruma altına alınır. Augé'nin de belirttiği gibi, "yer-olmayanın kullanıcısı, her zaman için masumiyetini kanıtlamakla yükümlü tutulmuştur"6.

Shipped Ships yoğun bir iletişim çalışmasıyla çevreleniyor. İletişim çalışmasının bir bölümü doğrudan izleyiciye yani katılımcıya sunulan öğelerden oluşuyor. İşin yer aldığı mekânı kuşatan in situ bayraklar, kent mekânına dağıtılmış afişler, yolcu vapurlarının sefer programını belirten bir tarife, her vapur için basılmış özel biletler ve işi anlatan kapsamlı bir broşür bu öğelerin başlıcalarıdır. Öğelerin her birinde işin adıyla birlikte sanatçının yani öznenin adı belirtilir, böylece anonimleşme riski daha ilk başta ortadan kaldırılır. Aynı zamanda, izleyici bir uzlaşma önerisiyle karşı karşıyadır: "Shipped Ships" bir çağdaş sanat çalışmasıdır. Bilet alır, yani uzlaştığını bildirir ve katılımcı olmaya hak kazanır. Katılımcıya sunulan broşür işi bütünüyle, hiçbir boşluk bırakmadan tanımlar. İşin oluşma süreci, kavram ve sanatçı anlatılır, yolcu vapurları, fotoğraflarıyla, teknik donanımlarıyla ve çizimleriyle aktarılır, vapur seferlerinin yer alacağı mekân tanımlanır ve ayrıntılı bir harita üzerinde belirtilir, vapurların uğrayacağı on bir iskele gösterilir, bu iskelelerde konumlanan tur rehberleri özgeçmişlerine dek tanıtılır. Mekânı kaplayan metnin güdümü ve tur rehberlerinin yol göstericiliği, katılımcıyı özgür deneyimiyle değil kendisi için üretilmiş izleyici imgesiyle baş başa bırakır. İlk bakışta işin şiddeti yumuşamış, tehdit de ortadan kalkmış gözükür. Ne var ki tam da bu noktada işin asıl şiddeti ortaya çıkar, çünkü mekânın yer-olmayana dönüşüm süreci tamamlanmıştır. Burada yeniden Marc Augé'ye dönmek gerekiyor: "Bireylerin yer-olmayanın mekânı içindeki çevreleriyle bağını kuran ara-süreç, sözcüklerden hattâ metinlerden geçer."7. "Tek başına ama tıpkı başkaları gibi, yer-olmayanın kullanıcısı da, yer-olmayanla (ya da onu yöneten güçlerle) sözleşmeye dayanan bir ilişki içindedir. Bu sözleşmenin mevcudiyeti, sırası geldikte ona hatırlatılmaktadır (yer-olmayanın kullanma kılavuzu o sözleşmenin bir öğesidir): Satın aldığı bilet, ödeme gişesinde göstermek zorunda olduğu kart, ya da hattâ süpermarketin reyonları arasındaki boşlukta itelediği araba bile, o sözleşmenin az ya da çok güçlü işaretleridir."8 Artık Erkmen'in işinde bir tehditten söz edilecekse, bu, yerin yer-olmayana dönüşümü olacaktır.

Shipped Ships’in ne denli yalın bir kavram üzerine oturduğunu belirtmiştik. Bu yalın kavram (belki de böylesine yalın bir yapıya sahip olduğu için) çok katmanlı bir okumaya da tüm kapıları açık bırakıyor. Hem de Erkmen'in tüm üretimini içine alarak.

Sanat Dünyamız, sayı 82, Kış 2002, ss. 214-220 (28 Nisan - 27 Mayıs 2001 tarihleri arasında, Frankfurt’ta Main nehrinde gerçekleşen “Ayşe Erkmen/Shipped Ships” çalışması için basılan katalogta Almanca ve İngilizce çevirileriyle yer alan metin: "Die vorübergehende Transformation des 'Ortes' auf dem Main"-"The temporary transformation of 'place' on the Main river" in Ayşe Erkmen, Shipped Ships II, Frankfurt am Main 2001, ss. 76-91)

1. Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses, Paris, 1966, s. 8

2. Foucault yukarıdaki sözlerini şöyle sürdürüyor: "Dil onları sergilerken, düşünülemez bir mekân açmaktan başka bir şey yapmaz." Foucault'nun kitabını Türkçe'ye aktaran Mehmet Ali Kılıçbay ,"düşünülemez mekân"ı "olanaksız mekân" diye çevirmiş. Ama bu çeviri sapması yeni bir anlam alanı açmış. (Kelimeler ve Şeyler, çev. Mehmet Ali Kılıçbay, Ankara, 1994, s. 13)

3. Aykut Köksal, "Ayşe Erkmen ile Söyleşi", Arredamento Mimarlık, Mart 1999, s. 118

4. Geçicilik ve anonimlik durumunun modern kentle ilişkisi için bkz. Aykut Köksal, "İstanbul: Hazır Bağlam", Sanat Dünyamız, sayı 78, Kış 2000, ss. 91-94

5. Marc Augé, Non-Lieux, Paris, 1992, ss. 100-101 (Türkçesi: Yer-olmayanlar, çev. Turhan Ilgaz, İstanbul, 1997, ss. 85-86)

6. Augé, s.128 (Türkçesi: s.110)

7. Augé, s.119 (Türkçesi: s.102)

8. Augé, ss. 127-128 (Türkçesi: s.110)

From Semblance to Essence – Ayşe Erkmen and Imitation by Bettina Schaschke

“It is possible to affect a feeling so long until one actually feels it, and what began as semblance becomes reality.” (Edgar Wind)

Ayşe Erkmen has repeatedly spoken – when asked by her interview partners – of how she adapts her works to the conditions prevailing at the sites where they are created. Naturally enough, her works thus vary considerably from one another and so her oeuvre has no readily discernible outward appearance.1 Despite this lack of a visual style, the longer one observes and contemplates her works, the more their common features become apparent, or – with Erkmen’s words – her “similar approach in different situations.” 2 No other concept is capable of delineating the contours – covering over 30 years of artistic creation – of this “similar approach” pursued by Erkmen better than that of imitation, provided it is grasped in all its richly faceted variants, from mimesis, imitatio, simulation, appropriation, fake and mimicry through to transformation. 3

Appropriations and Approximations 4
The appropriation of words, images, signs, gestures, ready-made products or even spaces is part of this method. Entitled Taklit (Imitation), the installations in Izmir from 1987 and Istanbul from 1988 set the first accents in this direction. In each of these exhibitions Erkmen re-enacted a street situation resembling a sculptural configuration: a blazing fluorescent tube rose out of a pile of bricks, each of which had her initials imprinted on it. For the Istanbul variation, the bricks were encased in metal. This ‘scene’ was supplemented by a topographical map of the district of Karaköy and a photo of the same motif set in everyday urban life, creating a context. When related to her text in the publication accompanying the Izmir exhibition, which soberly describes how Erkmen left a flat near Taksim Square at 2.40 p.m. on 8 August 1986, walked through the streets with a camera, and came across this situation at the edge of a pavement in Perçemli Street, photographing it at precisely 4.20 p.m., the viewer could embark on an imaginary journey, approximately following Erkmen’s route and reliving her visual experience.

Almost 20 years later appropriation takes on different contours in Erkmen’s artistic practice: searching for a pleasing exhibition title rich in allusions she used the internet. There she came across the result of an international competition to find the most beautiful German word, announced by the jury of the Deutsche Sprachrat and the Goethe-Institut: “Habseligkeiten” (“possessions” or “belongings,” with overtones of the “few blessed things I have”). Erkmen appropriated the word for the title of her solo exhibition in the gallery Barbara Weiss, Berlin. As this example shows, the conscious steering towards coincidences, aligned with a receptiveness for stimulating ideas which are taken from the ‘outside’ and resonate ‘within,’ is also observable in her pictorial inventions. Erkmen’s approach may be related to the ‘Duchamp principle.’ 5 And yet this association touches only the surface. Behind the cheeky attitude of ‘helping’ herself to everything everywhere, behind the semblance evoked by imitation, resides Erkmen’s endeavour to locate and sound out the essentials of a thing. The artist once described her striving to get to the core in relation to exhibition spaces as follows: “I believe that everything is there in the place already and that there are so many possibilities and the hardest job is to choose the most urgent one and let the others stay.” 6

Representing Structures, Textures and Patterns
The artist’s self-reflection is evident from the very outset of her career in how she turns the variety of appearances unfolding from a fundamental idea into the subject of her works. The work Uyumlu Çizgiler (Imitating Lines) from 1985 (pp. 24, 203) is exemplary in this regard: 13 metal objects of various heights and forms ‘snuggle’ up against both the characteristic corners of an exhibition room as well as the things existing in it, such as other sculptures, exhibition architecture etc. In the early years of her career Erkmen imitated not only the forms and outlines of objects in space, but also the structure and texture of things and rooms, for example the floor in the installation Yerinde (At its Place, 1987) or the metal plates in her subsequent installation Yeşil Işık (The Green Light, 1987) both of which are unfortunately inadequately documented. Moreover, Erkmen quoted or replicated peculiarities and patterns of the everyday world, for example the colour of taxicabs in Burası ve Orası (Here and There, 1989, p. 27) and the structure of sewage lids in Yeryüzü Kapakları (Lids of Earth, 1988). Something was taken from outside, from the urban context, and brought inside, into the exhibition room, undergoing a ‘translation,’ which is more than a mere contextual relocation. Erkmen connects the imitation of structures, textures and patterns as well as the peculiarities of a room’s spatial dimensions to an associative rendering ofintellectual and emotional states. At times the titles of works refer to these states, without however, thanks to their playful subtlety, ever dictating to the viewer what they should be thinking or feeling. One example of this is the installation Dolananlar / Those Wandering from 1990 (p. 204), which – with its focus on the creaking parquet – gently draws attention to the history of the site and its onetime residents. A more recent example of how the title evokes such a translation from spatial into emotional experiences is the installation Aşağı Yukarı / Ups and Downs, (2008, p. 219) in Istanbul. In all of Erkmen’s works the viewer is induced, if not challenged to take part: to develop an enhanced sense, both physically and mentally, of self and of their self in the setting, to focus on the essentials, becoming consciously aware of how they perceive what they are perceiving in this moment, and finally to reflect on the whole process. In this way even moving elements in installations – like the wall in 9’45” (1999, p. 83) – intimate intellectual processes or patterns of human action in and through their imitation, for example the saying “to bang one’s head against the wall,” or explore feelings of exclusion/entraptment. Whilst the moving wall is a semblance, in the experiential moment of this fake wall moving towards or away from one, the person within the installation is simultaneously led back to their essential sense of self, to existence.

Evoking a reflective visualisation of a room was the key theme of her installation Bu Galeri (This Gallery, 1995, p. 206) in the Maçka Gallery, and was also pivotal for Half of (1999, p. 86). The latter reveals a further facet of Erkmen’s artistic practice of imitation. The form of the installation imitates the floor plan of the Galerie Deux in Tokyo, a copy of which the artist had received from the organisers in advance to help her plan her work. Imitation is not only the method most predominant in Erkmen’s installations however; it is also the approach she takes in many of her films, as will be shown in the following using the examples of Chambal and Deutsche Bahn.

Imitation’s Delight: Layers of Meaning
The main character in the short film Chambal (1999) is a lion, the ‘king of the beasts.’ With a grim facial expression he looks into the camera, tilts his head to the side, then backwards and upwards, before confronting the viewer with a ferocious roar. The artist created the film, lasting 14 seconds, for the Vienna venue of the exhibition Zeitwenden – Ausblick, more precisely: for the outside wall of the museum’s cinema. In a letter to the project director, she explained at the time: “On this wall I would like to show a very short video film, which I will make, inspired by and imitating the Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer ‘roaring lion.’” How are we to understand this imitation? What is it supposed to achieve? Or rather, what does it trigger in the viewer? Erkmen’s choice of the medium of film – as is evident from the quoted letter – was connected to the peculiarities of the exhibition location, a cinema. Once the viewer recognises the cinematic allusion, recollections of earlier times are activated, times when the logo of the US film production company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) graced the opening credits of almost every major film, sparking a sense of tingling anticipation: one was to be shortly immersed in another world full of opulent images. The roaring lion stands for the bold, glorious years of moviemaking – but soberly considered, also for an entertainment medium that lacks depth. “ARS GRATIA ARTIS” (art for art’s sake), the company motto, adorned the aureole film reel encircling the lion; the image of the lion sprang suddenly to life, his ferocious roar announcing that the film was about to begin. Such a corporate logo not only evokes nostalgic, personal memories, but moreover general ideas about art and its meaning and place in society. In this context the lion epitomises the idea of the freedom of the arts, of art that may develop unburdened by ulterior functions and exploitative misappropriation. The French idiom “l’art pour l’art,” coined in the early 19th century, is the familiar slogan given to this attitude. The ‘defiant’ belief resonating in the duplication of the word “art” – with all the ironic implications in the specific case of MGM given the commercial film industry – is the attitude Erkmen seized upon. Although the aesthetic slogan is not haloed around Chambal, the defiance stance it expresses is clearly evident in his facial expression. Even without recognising the source of inspiration, the intermeshed layers of meaning generated by mimesis are touched on. The longer the viewer watches the sequences, cut into an endless loop, the more human the animal appears. And this is not only because the wall in front of which the lion is positioned is recognisable soon enough as being that of a zoo, an unimaginable narrowing of the animal’s territory, but also because the lion holds up a mirror of recognition to his audience. Throwing back his head, Chambal’s gestures are those of someone enraged and proud, appearing to ask us – in his situation out of sheer defiance – disdainfully: “What’s up?” “What are you looking at?” Or, “what are you expecting of me when you look at me like that?” As she filmed the video Erkmen herself was the addressee of such questions. Once the film is then screened, the roles are shifted, and the artist – Erkmen’s zodiac sign is Leo – seemingly slipped into the role of the predator. The provocative gesture remains disturbingly amusing precisely through its endless repetition. Once the viewer becomes aware of the exchange of roles, and moreover should they catch on to the allusion to the Leo of MGM, then they may well sense more subtle, perhaps even mournful tones behind the roar. Perhaps they derive intellectual delight from the recognition. It is, however, left to the viewer whether this recognition is to be read in terms of a transformation of the quoted scene.

What is inevitably provoked in the viewer by the confrontation with the lion is the imitative instinct: the sheer delight in imitating. So as to get a real sense of the lion’s facial expression and what motivates it, one is tempted to put oneself in his position, to ‘ape’ the roar, to mime it. That we put ourselves in the position of an animal and detect human traits in Chambal, or project them onto him, is the genuinely provocative thrust of Erkmen’s confrontation. The other is suddenly oneself: we are at once a beastly-human and a human-beast.

Generating Alarm: Activating Insight
Deutsche Bahn (2002) is another video of extremely short length, lasting just eleven seconds. Nonetheless, the film weaves and holds the viewer in a spell, or more precisely leaves them holding their breath: accompanied by a deafening drone similar to that of a jackhammer or a helicopter, the video shows from above a section of a lighthouse which is about to be swamped by a surging wave. The precarious aspect of the situation: the viewer is witness to a frightening scene, with a man, tiny in the perspective of the camera, stepping out of the lighthouse door, completely oblivious of the danger he has just exposed himself to and so helplessly at the mercy of the fate about to befall him. But before the wave engulfs him, the film abruptly ends. For a few seconds there is a blacked-out sequence, and then the film restarts from the beginning. We have no idea how the drama ends.

Erkmen’s source is a magazine published by the German Railways, to which she indirectly refers with the title. The final shot, entitled “the calm before the storm,” was published in the December issue from 2001 with the following explanation: “Lighthouse keeper Théodore Malgon heard a helicopter through the blustering roar of the gale and stepped out of the door, unaware that behind him a giant wave was rolling towards the lighthouse. At the very last minute he was able to escape back inside, reported the magazine mare. The photographer Jean Guichard had captured from the helicopter the moment directly before. The photo became world famous and is unrepeatable […].” Which processes are triggered in the viewer when they remember the famous photo and compare their recollection with the film? At first, they may well ask: “What’s so special about taking such a photo and changing a few details? ” And a pensive moment later, the scales fall from our eyes: what Erkmen is imitating or simulating in the film is the all-decisive noise that took place in reality, out of which the photo first gains its poignancy. It was this noise – the accompanying caption states it clearly – that had put the life of the keeper at risk; it was the reason why he had stepped out of the lighthouse in the first place. But without the helicopter there would never have been a spectacular image. With the replicated perspective and the noise the viewer is automatically placed in the role of the photographer sitting in the helicopter. Besides imitation (borrowing an image), mimesis (the imitation of ‘nature’) is also at work in this film. Here mimesis serves to enable the viewer to relive – again and again – the scenario, contrary to the unrepeatable claim made by the magazine text. The imitation of reality and art induce us, on the one hand, to query the craving for sensational images; on the other hand, it appropriates for itself the obtrusive aggressiveness. It generates alarm, leaving the viewer perturbed. The repetition and the viewer’s recognition of mimesis set off a process, one that culminates in attesting art’s dangerousness. This art becomes ‘dangerous’ to conventional ways of seeing because it strives to get to the bottom of things, refuses to be content with surfaces, disclosing instead the squall of images one is exposed to, often unwanted, day in, day out.

Self-Reflection and Self-Referentiality
A further stage in Erkmen’s work resides in how she has progressively connected the self-reflection mentioned at the beginning of our considerations and the reflection on the standpoint of the observer, important in her aforementioned films, with self- referentiality. This is noticeable in Altın İşler / Golden Matters from 2007 (p. 134) as well as Entangled from 2008 (p. 140). Picking up on earlier employed forms and materials and setting them in new contexts has the character of an inner process, extracting a further, topical facet from their qualities. This is strikingly evident in a work developed for the Folkestone Sculpture Triennial, which brings the notion of mimicry, already implanted in Whitish from 2007 (p. 218), to a conclusion that seemingly exhausts its potential, only to then serve as an idea for further transformations later. For example in the Berlin version of Imitating Lines from 2008 (p. 12), which traces the peculiarly round form of the elevator in the Hamburger Bahnhof, picking up the idea of proliferating overgrowth employed in Folkestone and so not only referring back to its precursor in Istanbul from 1985.

Self-referentiality possesses an important ancillary function: it enables Erkmen to produce variants and so keep up with the ever-increasing invitations to take part in exhibitions. The artist is all too aware that this demands a balance between an enlivening and solidifying allusion to her earlier work. In this vein, she has accompanied the conception of the present Berlin exhibition, which ties into that of the catalogue as an attempt to provide a survey of her work, with skepticism, doubting whether an exhibition planned as a retrospective, which may match her created work in quality and quantity but not its essence, is capable of conveying and sustaining the newness of the unexpected. Together with the transitory sensual experience, this is ultimately still the most important facet for Erkmen: “I want to confront visitors with an unexpected situation. They are not to know from the outset how they are to deal with it. It has to seem as if it has come about by chance. As if something has happened.” 7

1 Cf. Andrea Schlieker, “Tigers, Ships and Helicopters. Ayşe Erkmen in conversation with Andrea Schlieker,” in: Ayşe Erkmen – Under the Roof, ed. by Nigel Prince, cat. Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Manchester 2005, p. 9.

2 Peter Herbstreuth, “Ayşe Erkmen. Mißverständnisse sind Teil des Werks. Ein Gespräch von Peter Herbstreuth,” in: Kunstforum International, 139, December 1997 – March 1998, p. 279.

3 For a detailed differentiation of the concept, see the thematic issue “Imitation und Mimesis,” in: Kunstforum International, 114, July – August 1991. The quote from Edgar Wind used here as a motto is taken from this issue, ibid, p. 70; see also: Mimesis und Simulation, ed. by Andreas Kablitz, Gerhard Neumann, Freiburg im Breisgau 1998.

4 Fatih Özgüven, “Space Artist,” in: Ayşe Erkmen – Kein gutes Zeichen, cat. Secession, Vienna 2002, p. 18.

5 Exemplary is the work Fountain, a urinal Marcel Duchamp – under a pseudonym – contributed to the first exhibition held by the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917.

6 Ayşe Erkmen, “Art in Space” (Lecture for the international congress on Public Art at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich, February 2000), in: Public Art. Kunst im öffentlichen Raum, ed. by Florian Matzner, Ostfildern-Ruit 2001, p. 81.

7 Herbstreuth 1997, p. 279.

Borders and Tresholds - Thoughts on the Art of Ayşe Erkmen by Brigitte Kölle

It is one of the key and, at the same moment, most touching scenes in Wim Wender’s cult film Paris, Texas (1984): Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) and Jane (Nastassja Kinski) meet again after years of separation. The circumstances are special and the meeting at first one-sided, for Jane, meanwhile working in a peepshow, cannot see the male customer on the other side of the mirrored pane of glass. This pane marks a (imaginary) boundary between the former lovers, signifying the distance between them, although they are only a few centimetres apart, and preventing them, despite this spatial proximity, from looking into each other’s eyes. In this interaction oscillating between painful alienation and a gentle drawing nearer to one another, the glass pane mirrored on one side is an ingenious device.

For a group exhibition held in 1996 along the Zeil, Frankfurt’s largest shopping mile,1 Ayşe Erkmen cut out the sequences featuring Travis and removed the sound. Via a monitor, the viewer could marvel at Nastassja Kinski alias Jane with her subtle facial expressions and pink angora sweater in infinite loop. Now it was no longer the glass pane of a peepshow cubicle but the shop window of a large department store on Frankfurt’s promenade and shopping mile which separated Jane from the persons watching and gazing at her. The editing out of the male film partner was a minor but extremely decisive intervention, involuntarily catapulting passers-by into the role of the film figure Travis and thus entangling them in a web of attraction and voyeurism, of coming closer and timidity.

As far as I am aware, Ayşe Erkmen has never again shown this work – entitled The Pink Sweater – and it is seldom mentioned in the literature on the artist. Nonetheless, it has left a lasting impression on me. Perhaps this is because here, with the help of the device of the one-sided mirrored glass, a motif – ultimately invisible! – was so marvellously positioned as the fulcrum, a motif that runs through the artistic oeuvre of Erkmen like no other: the threshold moment, and associated with it the experience of a boundary separating inside from outside, self from other, the familiar from the unfamiliar, the distinctly unique from the alien.

Façades, windowpanes, elevators, foyers, doors and passageways are the border and in-between spaces which are often mere places in front of the actual art location or exhibition space; and yet it is precisely these spaces which Erkmen prefers to choose for the site of her art. This was particularly evident in the work Portiport, which was shown in Frankfurt the same year as The Pink Sweater. Portiport was part of the opening exhibition in the series Zuspiel held in the Kunsthalle Portikus. In line with the conception of the series, Erkmen was to ‘exchange passes’ (‘Zuspiel’) with Andreas Slominski in the Portikus, only for this undertaking to prove somewhat more complicated and problematic as initially assumed, leading the artists to comprise and agree on a spatial separation of their works.2 Erkmen left the interior space of the gallery to her colleague; she wanted to position her piece outside, in the setting directly outside the building. For this purpose she chose seven industrially manufactured metal detectors and placed them between the Corinthian columns of the stylized neo-classicist portico to the former Frankfurt city library, at the time home to the Portikus, a gallery for contemporary art. Whenever a visitor wished to enter or leave the gallery’s exhibition space, they were forced to pass through one of the metal detectors, triggering in the process a piercing alarm signal and setting off the flashing red of a warning light. Most visitors interpreted the transposing of these security detectors into an artistic context as an allusion to a latent threat. For foreign visitors, who – like the artist herself – were used to the everyday surveillance of public places and buildings like hotels, bars and cinemas in their various native countries, the detectors had a more reassuring impact, conveying a sense of security. No matter how different the reactions calculated by Erkmen may have been, the work resulted in a heightened perceptual sensibility of the site itself, for in the moment of transition from one area to another it also marked modes of inclusion and exclusion. In the attempt to emphasise the specific moment of a site (in this case the columned entrance, the portico lending the art gallery its name) there resides an artistic strategy which runs through Erkmen’s work. “With my works I’m always trying to make noticeable again the concrete social and architectural contexts which one usually overlooks while one uses them,” 3 is how Erkmen described this approach in an interview she gave in the year Portiport was created. With her works the artist expressly refuses to invite the viewer to fantasise and imagine, seeking instead to engender a sensitivity for the concrete reality, for the here and now, because “actuality for me is what is really there. I want to form a condensation of reality.” 4

Ayşe Erkmen’s oeuvre is not underpinned by a stylistic principle, or a stylistic-formal denominator, nor is there a uniquely recognisable employment of materials or media. There are undoubtedly connecting elements and congruencies in her works, for example a certain visual reduction of the minimal artistic interventions, as well as frequent linguistic-textual markings. What connects Erkmen’s interventions and installations in the first instance though is the principle of their genesis, more precisely the context-related working practice the artist pursues. The actual works are preceded by an intensive study and consideration of the site, its history, its architecture and its social context. In order to be able to respond to the specific circumstances of the site intended for a work, the artist must first nurture and develop a feeling for this site. This is done by, as Erkmen has put it, repeatedly inspecting the site “like a detective,” investigating it and attempting to “learn what it says, what it wants.” 5 Such receptive scrutiny is guided by the belief that the site speaks of its own accord, and that the artist performs a supporting and mediating function: “I’ve always believed that places can tell and show us a great deal. And I want to be the person in-between who helps these things to become visible.”6 At the same time though, Ayşe Erkmen is well aware of the subjective nature of her approach and intervention when she says: “In any event I’ve reasons for creating a work at a specific site. Of course these do not have to be logical reasons, they are my reasons.”7

That a subjectively determined starting point does not inevitably result in a work bearing solely personal traits but can develop a scope and focus with enormous political brisance is exemplified by İki kardeş (Two Siblings, p. 137), a work created in 2007 for public space in Istanbul as part of the group exhibition Sanat Sokağa Taştı!, İki kardeş comprises four posters in offset printing which were presented on both sides of illuminated advertising boards located at two sites in the Turkish metropolis. The posters feature portraits of a young woman looking thoughtfully and aloofly at the camera and a pensive young man smoking. Both persons are relatives of Erkmen, her grandmother and great uncle; they were separated in the wake of the political events triggered by the genocide of the Armenians around 1915, during which their father was killed. While the sister stayed in Istanbul, the brother emigrated to Khartoum in Sudan. Erkmen’s grandmother had lived in the vicinity of the sites where the posters were exhibited, one a small side street in Nişantaşı, the other at Taksim Square, a traffic hub and the key location of the Turkish Republic where a monumental heroic monument at the centre of the square commemorates its founding in 1923. Official ceremonies are held here on national holidays, so too demonstrations in support of various causes. The name “Taksim” derives from an Arab word for separation and refers to the original function of the square as an important distribution point for the city’s water supply. In her work İki kardeş Erkmen draws on the idea of separation and places it in a (auto-)biographical and historical-political context, for the siblings were separated as a result of a chapter of history shortly before the founding of the Turkish Republic, a chapter successive Turkish governments have steadfastly avoided addressing and coming to terms with. Between 1915 and 1917 almost a million Armenians lost their lives, but Turkish authorities have refused to recognise that the murders and expulsions of this period constituted genocide, deploying any means to prohibit publications claiming the contrary. For example, the Turkish writer and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has been charged with “insulting Turkishness” due to his open criticism of official historiography, advocating detailed historical analysis, and urging that Turkey finally assume responsibility for its historical legacy. The charge was later dropped on the grounds of a legal technicality.

With her work İki kardeş Ayşe Erkmen cuts to the quick of the denied and conflictridden history of her country. Although she employs posters in advertising boards, her artistic intervention in public space is anything but loud, intrusive or attentionseeking; once again it is succinct and precise, the means are extremely reduced, her artistic strategy subtle, indeed subversive. While the artist has revealed the fates befalling the portrayed persons in an interview with the journal Radikal, and so disclosed the historical-political context and the political brisance of the work, not every passerby needs to know about the complexity of the work or indeed understand it. For many, İki kardeş is only a minor change of the usual and familiar cityscape, a moment of uncertainty, disruption or estrangement. But precisely in this moment of irritation lies a ‘side effect’ the artist certainly wishes to trigger: that we begin to query what we see and believe to know and admit the (disconcerting) intellectual possibility that whatever is purportedly self-obvious and familiar could be more complex, perhaps even completely different as hitherto assumed.

The duality of seeming harmlessness in a pleasing appearance and a delayed, startling understanding is a characteristic trait of Ayşe Erkmen’s work; it has however probably never been so visually, so graphically realised as in the work PFM-1 and others (1997, p. 59). Erkmen had seen illustrations of various types of landmines in a Red Cross catalogue and artistically reworked them in a diverse array of variations: produced in wood, cast in ceramic, embossed on tiles, computer-animated, employed as a screensaver like in to save, staged as a seductive consumerist object in shop windows. In 2005 Erkmen even employed two enlarged images of her ceramic edition, glistening like jewels, to cover the floor (p. 154) of the courtyard to the SculptureCenter in Long Island City, N.Y., so that it was already ‘too late’ when the visitors finally realised on what they were actually standing. The explosiveness of these works is ignited by a delayed-reaction mechanism, “mines in the mind” as Friedrich Meschede has aptly put it. Works like PFM-1 and others or İki kardeş would seem to infer that Erkmen is a political artist. While not entirely incorrect, it is inadequate as a description of her core concern. Erkmen is not a political artist in the sense that she takes stands on ongoing issues or current events. She would find that too populist and superficial. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that her works harbour a certain political potential: they raise politically relevant questions and do not shy away from politically controversial issues and areas. “Perhaps it is possible to say that my works have a social empathy, a political sensitivity. Or more correctly: they reach people who are politically sensitive,” 8 is the answer Erkmen gave when asked about the influence exerted by politics on her artistic work.

As Erkmen’s works are mostly dependent on the site where they are developed and ultimately presented, they are almost inevitably of a temporary nature, meaning that they exist only for the duration of an exhibition. That they thus do not accrue the characteristics of the eternal and strive for perpetual presence suits the artist however, because from the very outset she has found all that is permanent and firmly established in art to be suspect. It is no coincidence that she moves back and forth between her abodes in Istanbul and Berlin, between the cultural worlds of the Orient and Europe, and is also very much on the move around the globe realising her projects. The dimension of time and change over the course of time play an important role also in terms of the contents of Erkmen’s temporary interventions, for her works often refer to traditions, retold narratives and stories as well as language as a medium for transmitting traditions, communicating and constructing reality. The fairytale of Goldilocks was a source of inspiration for a number of works in the early 1990s and its theme is one the artist has continually referred to when elucidating her artistic practice. The fairytale tells the story of the little girl called Goldilocks who enters the house of a family of bears and, in their absence, goes about sampling their porridge, sitting on their chairs and even trying out their beds. As the bears return home, the baby bear exclaims “somebody’s been at my porridge!” But we are told nothing about this ‘somebody,’ Goldilocks, where she comes from, what she wants and to where she then ran away. The fairytale has been variously interpreted as a warning to respect the property of others and their privacy. For her part, Erkmen has proposed a completely different reading and compared the figure of Goldilocks with that of the artist: “The figure of Goldilocks has always reminded me of the role of the artist, who goes inside somewhere, interferes with things as they are and changes how people perceive things.”9

The artist as an uninvited guest, as intruder and mischief-maker, who without being asked turns things upside down and sends our familiar perceptual and cognitive structures into disarray. Whether Goldilocks or Ayşe Erkmen, both raise questions about the distinctions drawn between the familiar and the unfamiliar, about the relativity of what is considered to be intrinsically unique and what extrinsic and alien, about the border running between self and other(s). There it is again, the threshold moment. In her artistic work Ayşe Erkmen continually draws on it in a variety of ways, as if she wants to say that this is the very stuff life is made of: crossing thresholds, traversing borders, entering unknown terrain. At the risk that the new ground is full of mines.

1 18 international artists, includ- ing Ayşe Erkmen, On Kawara, Franz West, Susanne Paesler and Henrik Oleson, presented their works in and in front of 13 shop windows along the Zeil: Zeil ^ Kunst. Zeil-Fenster 96: Kunst im Schaufenster, curated by Kasper König, Brigitte Kölle, Florian Waldvogel, Frankfurt am Main, 29. 08. – 14. 09. 1996.

2 Brigitte Kölle, “Formen des Zuspiels. Ayşe Erkmen und Andreas Slominski im Frankfurter Portikus,” in: Zuspiel. Ayşe Erkmen und Andreas Slominski, ed. by Siemens AG Kulturprogramm and Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, cat. Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, Ostfildern-Ruit 1996, unpag.

3 Matthias Winzen, “Eintritt frei. Ein Gespräch mit Ayşe Erkmen,” ibid.

4 Sabine Vogel, “Manchmal wie ein Detektiv. Berlin – Istanbul: Ayşe Erkmen im Fax-Interview mit Sabine Vogel,” in: Erzählen, cat. Akademie der Künste, Berlin 1994, p. 124.

5 Ibid, p. 122.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid, p. 119.

9 Winzen 1996, unpag.

Two Works, 2008 and later. by Julian Heynen

Julian Heynen
Translated by Fiona Elliott

When the former Ständehaus in Düsseldorf – home to a succession of regional parliaments for over a hundred years – was transformed into a museum in the 1990s, one of the main architectural challenges was to find a viable solution for the roof level. The historic roofs on the four wings of this neo-Baroque building had been destroyed in the Second World War and replaced with a flat roof. In anthropomorphic terms, ever since then the body of the building had lacked a head. The solution devised by the architects Kiessler + Partner was to create a single flattened steel and glass cupola, correctly, a ‘barrel vault closed by coves’, spanning the entire roof area. With this deliberately modern structure, the upper levels of the Ständehaus once again terminated in a fitting manner. At the same time the cupola created a completely new space – now the internal courtyard is a high-ceilinged hall, flooded with light and extending from the ground floor right up to the glass roof. This new space, soon known as the piazza, is not least a major asset for the building’s dual function as a museum and a venue for representative events connected with the regional government.

On entering the piazza one has an immediate sense of the space under the glass roof, but after progressing upwards from the ground floor through the numerous, medium- sized exhibition rooms, visitors are taken aback by the dimensions, the bright light and the architecture of the cupola space. It was not by chance that Joe Scanlan – who showed his project Passing Through in this space in 2007–08 – compared it with an airport check-in hall. Like the latter, as he said, it is designed for large numbers rather than for the individual, and the patterns of behaviour adopted by its users are comparable to those of the flâneurs in a shopping arcade. Aside from the sheer expanse, the light and the ‘lack’ of direction, the cupola space is dominated by the actual roof construction. The ingenious geometry of the double steel frame of isosceles triangles and other technical structures, such as lift shafts, maintenance platforms, lighting rigs and retractable awnings, create an atmosphere that is very different to that of the direct, almost intimate confrontation with individual works of art in the collection rooms. This space self-evidently has a different function; one accepts it as an appropriate roof space for this large building with a ground plan measuring almost fifty by fifty metres. And regardless of where one is facing, the attraction is the view out over the city. It is as though the museum were crowned with a viewing platform.

Even before K21 was opened, it was clear that this cupola space could not be used like some run-of-the-mill exhibition or gallery space. It’s not a white cube, in which anything is possible. On the contrary, works of art – whose presence here must never be merely coincidental – have to relate very precisely to its dimensions, its form and the particular nature of its use. These conditions eliminate much of the contents of the collection. Instead, the decision was taken to invite individual artists to develop projects especially for this space. Although the idea may have seemed a little absurd at first, it was only by treating by far the largest space in the building as a ‘project space’ that it could be meaningfully integrated into the museum. Using it as a project space means presenting the artist with as few stipulations as possible and being prepared to accept their interpretation of the space – and the work they might create in a space of this kind. Although these projects may be experimental, the intention is that they should be substantial enough to stand the test of at least a certain length of time. After careful consideration, it was decided that cupola projects should run for approximately one year each. While this is longer than usual for an exhibition, it is not the same as a permanent installation. Besides the size and nature of the space, this time frame also presents the artists with a challenge. To come back to Joe Scanlan’s project again; he responded by deciding that his Things That Fall Pavilion should, as it were, move around in the four different wings of the space. At regular intervals he changed not only the position of his modular pavilion, but also its form and its contents, namely the works of art presented in it. Anyone who visited the project just once saw a single ‘snapshot’ of the piece, those who looked in more frequently witnessed a free, evolutionary process.

For Ayşe Erkmen, too, this relatively long time span for the cupola project she was invited to create crucially affected the way she developed her initial idea. As is the case for most of her works, she first carried out a precise objective and subjective analysis of the space, or rather, of the situation. In her view a work that was to exist in this place for an extended, yet finite period, would have to perform a particular balancing act. On one hand, in making its mark, the work should not outstay its welcome as a special, temporary attraction. Nothing is sadder than a party that goes on too long. On the other hand, the work should not be fully integrated into the place, as though it were a permanent feature of the architecture. It was also important to Ayşe Erkmen that it should maintain the characteristic lightness of her art, the discretion that is inherent to a delicate balance between situative belonging and autonomous gesture. Time plays an important part not only in this installation for K21. Just as most of Erkmen’s works are less about material constancy than the moment of the experience, the time span of their existence also has a role to play and varies from situation to situation. Two examples: the tall, narrow yet transparent metalwork sculpture at Tünel Square in Istanbul (Tünel’e Heykel, 1994) (fig. p. 19) has a permanent home. Paying subtle homage to certain details of its urban setting, it visually overlaps with it and tends towards a form of invisibility, only occasionally looming into sight for passers-by engaged in their daily round. The sculpture’s comparatively minimal material and structural impact on the place is in direct proportion to its unlimited temporality. By contrast, Shipped Ships, 2001 (fig. p. 18) had a quite palpable impact on life in Frankfurt, but only for a strictly limited ‘season’. Three boats from Venice, Istanbul and Shingu, with their own Italian, Turkish and Japanese crews, provided a temporary ferry service on the River Main, as it were returning the river to the townspeople and giving them back a view of their own city from this perspective, a feature that had been lost to recent urban development schemes. Erkmen asked the question, ‘What’s missing here?’, and it was only by virtue of its limited duration that her artistic action could demonstrate the desirability of just such a specific use of the city’s resources. By definition the ‘spectacle’ had to be brief for it to be recognized for what it was and to remain in people’s minds.

Through her analysis of the cupola space in light of the extended time frame for the project, the artist finally established a very simple, but definitive precept. What more obvious course of action is there – when one is faced with a space that is both large and difficult to evaluate – than first attempting to measure it out? This is precisely what our bodies are doing when we walk this way and that, pacing out the distances. And an architect does the same thing when he surveys a structure. Like him, Erkmen marked the main lines and distances of the cupola space on its ground plan and then used this to devise a way to realize these findings as a spatial material work. Her final choice of material was a (synthetic) fabric of the kind used for architectural sun shades. Eight of the lines marked on the ground plan were as it were lifted up into the air – in the form of long lengths of fabric – and suspended at various levels from the steel roof spars. The resulting work is an exceptionally light, seemingly playful configuration of crisscrossing bands that hardly puts one in mind of the precise process of rigorous measurement that was its genesis. The bands of fabric in various widths curve downwards across the distances – some quite considerable – between their points of suspension. The ends hang loose, with some cascading through different levels of the roof construction. Although the open network of these bands retains the right angles of the design drawn over the plan, it is not a slave to it. The building’s dimensions have been noted, but are also played down by the work, so that the actual point of departure only makes its presence felt here and there as a memory or a possibility. While the work is dependent on and suspended from the architecture of the cupola space, it also holds its own as an autonomous gesture, as an independent addition that does not deny its inspiration and point of reference.

What does this intervention do to the space? Although the original design shows variously coloured fabrics, in the end the decision went in favour of metallic tones, ranging from anthracite to copper. As such the fabrics are more in tune with the muted colours of their surroundings, the dark grey of the floor, the blue-grey of the glass and the matt white of the steel. Nevertheless, the work alters one’s perception of this exposed space. The geometric regularity of the roof construction is interrupted by the irregular distribution of the fabric bands. The varying curves of the lengths of fabric counter the rectilinear nature of the technical elements. Since the work is suspended some considerable distance under the roof like a second, or third stratum, it seems to reduce the size of this vast space, which now almost seems more manageable. Not only do the supple textiles counteract the rigidity of the steel and glass, they also marginally affect the light conditions and – depending on the strength of the sun – the colours in the space under the cupola. All this contributes to an unobtrusive yet perceptible ‘climate change’ in the space. While the cupola sometimes almost appears as though it has been placed on the building like a futuristic, sci-fi crown on a classic design – something from another world – it is as though Ayşe Erkmen’s works draws it back some way into the atmosphere of a building with its own long tradition. The title of the work seems to point in this direction. The sweeping bands are Hausgenossen – fellow lodgers for a limited period, who influence the character of the place as much as the landlord. Erkmen has a fondness for old-fashioned German words of this kind and has used certain examples as titles for her exhibitions in Germany: Müßiggang [Sloth], Habseligkeiten [Goods and Chattels], Habenichts [Paupers], Weggefährten [Companions]. Behind this is not just the more ornately narrative nature of her native language, Turkish, but perhaps also the desire to point in passing to something that is now missing.

Even although Aysşe Erkmen responds to every situation with a new answer, with different media and forms, there are two or three installations from the past that do in a sense relate to Hausgenossen. Several times since 1999 (summertime) she has used strips of fabric made from particularly resilient materials, of the kind used to make car safety belts. In each case a number of pillars in a particular space were bound together with horizontal and crosswise strips, so that part of the space was closed off. In works of this kind, a countermovement is set in motion that disturbs one’s perception of the space with the optical confusion of the crisscrossing belts inducing a sense of dizziness. At the same time, a tension is created in the space that centres it in an unusual way. It acquires a rootedness that it may not normally have. This is seen particularly clearly in a new version of Tidvatten (2003), made in Berlin as Gezeiten (2008; fig. p. 23). In another case, (Under the Roof, 2005; fig. p. 22) the ceilings of three church-nave-like spaces were ‘lowered’. These light, translucent false ceilings were made of countless silicone threads stretched side-by-side across the space. The height, the direction and the colours were different in all three rooms, so that each had its own atmosphere, although all three were similarly concentrated. Lastly, there was Busy Colors, also of 2005: overhead travelling cranes shifted almost room-wide lengths of fabric to and fro, so that the apparent dimensions of this former factory space, the views of the walls and the intensity of the colours were constantly in flux. – Hausgenossen also unsettles one’s perception of the space, giving it a new aspect that modifies its crystalline, technical character and makes it more accessible in the process. Bearing in mind the sheer size of the cupola space (and the time frame of the presentation) this intervention is less comprehensive and decisive. Despite the length and number of fabric bands, as it were connecting and linking the main points in the space, the work looks more like a drawing, like a foil that has been introduced into the space. On another level, one might also talk of a new rhythm shaping one’s experience of this place, giving it an entirely different spatial musicality. Unusually, Ayşe Erkmen has included two additional objects in this piece. In the middle of the cupola space, the roof area of a large cube extends like a balcony into the air-space of the piazza. Now two sculptures stand here, vis-à-vis, their modest dimensions creating a singular contrast to the work above them. Under a Plexiglas cover on a slim plinth there is a figurine no taller than the width of one’s hand. It gazes out into and beyond the expansive space. Meticulously formed, it has the shape, the face and the clothing of a woman. The work presented here is a portrait of Ayşe Erkmen by Karin Sander, one of a group entitled Personen 1:10 (fig. p. 26). These tiny figures were made with the aid of a body scan that can create a three-dimensional likeness of a person in a pose of their choosing. Following this, the relevant data are fed into an extruder which constructs a synthetic figure, layer by layer, that is perfect down to the very last detail. The figure itself is painted using an airbrush. Although Karin Sander conceived the series, she does not interfere at all in the attitudes of the figures, and hence describes them as self-portraits by the models. Some distance away from this sculpture a Plexiglas box stands on the floor. Inside it is a folded net, knotted from narrow cloth tape (Netz, 2006/2008) (fig. p. 24). It is the type of tape used for labels in items of clothing, for instance. Woven into this in green and white is the endlessly repeated name, AYŞE ERKMEN. So, right in the midst of Hausgenossen – and yet also on the margins – there are two self-portraits. Although that word seems a little too weighty in this context, for in reality these are more like quotes that as it were add inverted commas around the artist’s persona. She is distancing herself from herself by, in one case, introducing a work by a colleague and, in the other, presenting an endless, inflationary repetition of the identification tag of her own name. Both works can be regarded as signatures for the main work, only here they are not used to verify its authenticity or to underpin the myth of the artist, but rather as a pointer to the artist’s deliberate withdrawal. In a similar context one critic remarked, ‘Where her name is, every name should be’ (Catrin Lorch). Ayşe Erkmen appears merely to be keeping a place in her own work for all those who will come to see Hausgenossen. It is as though she is setting up an idea in a situation that will only be realized when other people move around in it and experience it.

CRYSTAL ROCK. A mere two hundred metres away from K21 is the Düsseldorf headquarters of NRW.BANK. This building, which the bank has occupied for some years now, consists of two wings and a connecting central section. The wings, facing west, open onto an area extending as far as the Rhine with a few, relatively large buildings and numerous roads with underpasses and flyovers. It is at this point that the older parts of the city centre merge into the former docklands which have been transformed in recent decades into a business and leisure quarter. The taller of the two wings of the bank is a fifty-metre high block, with a ground plan of seventy-two by sixteen metres. Ayşe Erkmen’s work for this building arose from an art competition for selected, international participants. As a state development bank in the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia, the still young NRW.BANK wanted to stake its first claim on the cultural front and, in so doing, also symbolically take possession of its new home. The competing artists were asked to create a work for the building’s exterior – which included the forecourt, the façades and even the roof. However, they could only consult the architects’ plans since, at the time of the competition, construction work had only just begun. Erkmen took her inspiration from the elongated shape of the larger wing and the fact that the ground plan reminded her of a racing track. From the outset, therefore, her design had that element of movement that was to be so crucial to the work. The second element of the sculpture – its form – arose from the notion of contrast. The overall shape of the building, with its gridded façades, is minimalist, even sober, one might say. Its dynamic nature is largely due to the angle of the two wings to each other and to the varied surroundings. Erkmen reacted to this with a form from a very different world, which adds a certain menace to the neutral reliability of the architecture. In some respects Crystal Rock is a direct descendant of a work realized in Innsbruck in 2003. In the inner courtyard of a Baroque building a huge rock from the local Alpine region, weighing several tons, was suspended on steel cables above an internal glass roof. The sense of immediate threat emanating from this massive rock was particularly telling in the exhibition space under the glass roof and was perfectly captured in the work’s title, Stoned (fig. p. 35). The direct connection with Crystal Rock is the shape of the piece. For the earlier work Erkmen sent a drawing to Innsbruck, so that the exhibition organisers could seek out a suit- able rock in the mountains. She then took this real rock as the basis of the work for Düsseldorf, translated it back into a drawing and developed this. In fact the process leading to the final form was even more complex than that, involving a series of transfers from photographs to hand-done sketches to computer drawings. This not only tells us something of Ayşe Erkmen’s approach to her craft and the methods she uses to optimise a form, it also casts light on the relationship between the work and its author. Here, too, she creates a certain distance, as in the case of the ‘signatures’ in Hausgenossen. The focus is on creating an object from the original idea, on transposing this into a real situation, and not on making personal statements or gestures.

As the title, already present in the first sketch, suggests, the original intention for this work for the Bank was that the form of the rock should be created from cast glass. A technically daring idea, which at times did seem to enter the realms of the possible, it ultimately had to be abandoned by the artist in favour of a stainless steel construction with an im/nulate, extremely highly polished surface. Although the effect of these two materials, used in these circumstances, would certainly be very different, the notion of a rock made from crystal is still present in the final version. The almost fantastic contrast between this body and the pragmatism of the architecture was achieved despite this change of material. – The horizontal Crystal Rock was placed on the roof in such a way that one third of it extends beyond the edge. It is securely mounted on a trolley on tracks that constantly, slowly but perceptibly, transports it around the edge of the building. From a terminus at the rear of the building, the sculpture travels once clockwise along the track, and returns anti-clockwise. The speed is set so that the work does not immediately appear to be moving, yet the casual observer – glancing a few times in this direction – will register an initially confusing change in the rock’s location. Only when one’s gaze is concentrated on the object can one see its constant progress, and in the end one can even predict where it will be when, as one walks along beside the building. Movement plays an important part in many of Ayşe Erkmen’s works. An empty lift lined with shining steel travels slowly up and down in a former repository (Wertheim ACUU, 1995); elsewhere every visitor to an exhibition passes through a detector and sets off a warning signal (Portiport, 1996); long, flat coloured beams glide across the floor in magical circular movements (choo-choo, 1999; fig. p. 37); an entire wall of a room advances slowly towards the viewer before retreating again (9’45“, 1999; fig. p. 36); light fields pass to and fro across a glass cover (Kein gutes Zeichen, 2002); stuffed animals move, in a strict rhythm, one after the other, along tracks in an art museum (Kuckkuck, 2003); transparent, hovering plastic balls rise up and down at irregular intervals because there are strings connecting them to other balls, bobbing in the river outside the window (Bis August, 2004); not to mention Erkmen’s moving images and videos. Sometimes the processes that generate the movement in the works are natural and uncontrollable. However, in most cases motors or other propulsion devices cause the various changes to occur. The artist does her utmost to ensure that every stage of the production and every detail of a work of art is as efficient as possible. The very precise, sometimes highly complex devices that instigate movement in these pieces, are generally not specifically on view; usually they are hidden. Thus the mechanism driving Crystal Rock is only visible from certain, rather high viewpoints or from the rear, narrow end of the building. It is invisible on the main viewing sides of the work. But there is nothing very mysterious about these hidden motors; in most cases viewers unquestioningly accept the reality of the movement because they understand its origins from other, similar everyday situations. Erkmen’s predilection for moving works is not merely a love of spectacle. On occasion the movement may be the initial attraction that draws one into the work, but often the element of movement is so slow, intermittent or subtle that one only fully registers it after some time. These temporal and/or spatial changes, generated by mechanical devices, are ultimately one of her artistic methods for, as it were, meeting the given situation head on. Before Erkmen creates the particular situation by means of her work, there was already a real situation that supplied the parameters for her piece. But in this context, the word ‘situation’ – be it in a gallery space or in a city square – refers not only to the static configuration of the space, but also to its use by human beings now and in the past, as it may be expressed in memories, for instance. Situation means experience and moment and implies change. The motion inherent in a work of art takes up this idea, extending and accentuating the real situation. Like life, the work is also in transition.

The stone on the roof is truly a foreign body. One’s first response, on noticing it, might well be amazement: should that be there? What do that thing sparkling in the light and the building have to do with each other? The surface of the sculpture is so irregularly faceted that, incessantly in motion – and given bright enough conditions – different gleaming faces are constantly, momentarily catching the light. Even at night on the least brightly lit sides of the building, street lamps and car lights reflect in it. Almost like a supernatural being, its form disappears into the darkness leaving only an aura of gently pulsating lights. In addition to this, depending on the time of day, the weather conditions and its position at any given moment, the rock also changes its colours, ranging from gleaming-cool silver to an almost dull, inward anthracite. If one stands close enough to the building, for a split second one can make out different features of the surroundings in the reflective facets, a little as if through a telescope. And if the sun is in the right position, and one is standing just in front of the façade with one’s head thrown right back, a very particular effect ensues – the protruding section of Crystal Rock is reflected in the glass frontage directly below it, and the eye joins the object to its mirror image to form a single, elongated form magically hovering in the air. Since the object at the edge of the roof responds so intensely to the changing light, its size and weight are disguised by optical effects. The sense of menace, that certainly emanates from it – because one cannot see how it is secured up there on the roof – is balanced by the lightness and mutability of its visual appearance. And it is astonishing to discover that the sculpture itself is only 375 centimetres long, 200 centimetres wide and 150 centimetres high. From the street, from a distance of fifty or a hundred metres, it looks much larger. The slow but constant movement both heightens the menacing effect and gives it a somewhat unreal aspect. Particularly when it travels around the corners of the bank – suddenly appearing and seeming to be setting out along a curve – it almost looks like an alien creature that has taken possession of the building. However much the two – the building and the sculpture – are self-evidently products of the same high-tech civilization, even on closer examination they appear alien to each other. Accordingly the symbiosis that they have nevertheless established is highly charged and quite discomfiting. Ayşe Erkmen once spoke of the relationship of Crystal Rock to the banking system – although not too much should be made of this. She talked about the journey of glass to crystal, whereby the skilled polishing of the raw material adds value to it and it attains a new, higher cultural status. A bank, and particularly a development bank at the service of the region as a whole, is engaged in similar processes. The raw material money is to be turned by expert handling into a more valuable asset, namely socio-economic progress. An association of this kind does not turn the sculpture into a symbol for the bank, but it does clearly show that on this level, too, the artist has responded to the implications of the real situation.

NEIGHBOURS. The two works Hausgenossen and Crystal Rock are now neighbours for fourteen months, although they are wholly independent projects. Neither the two institutions nor the artist planned or realized these as connected installations or as an artistic entity of some kind. Each work responds to its own given situation. It may seem a little banal to say so, but it may be that there is nevertheless a link in the sense that both are in elevated locations. The glittering rock and the lengthy bands of fabric are out of reach, high above the heads of passers-by and viewers. One pits itself against the dimensions and potential indifference of a so-called public space. The other remains within the realms of art, that’s to say, within a museum, but on the periphery, almost in a transition zone where categories are no longer so clearly defined. Both works are comparatively reserved, even ephemeral interventions, that in no sense impose themselves on the viewer. Moreover, it is almost as though they take cover as part of the décor, for this may be what they seem to be at first glance. Many of Ayşe Erkmen’s works make just such remarkably powerful understatements, quite independently of their size or location. Some are so discreet that they require a second glance to be seen at all; others are immediately apparent but appear so simple, so straightforward or obvious that one might assume they are all too quickly dealt with. Could one even be so bold as to suggest that calculated disappointment is built into them, albeit a form of disappointment that is itself something like a vehicle for a different mode of perception and cognition? The response, ‘surely that’s not all!’ prompts a closer examination of the work, with the decisive stimulus being the precision of all parts of the work and its formal logic within the given situation. However, one should not imagine this process of appropriation as a clear sequence of single steps within a particular period of time, as some kind of a logical visual deduction. On the contrary, something like familiarity plays a crucial part in all of this – not in the sense of some necessary but tedious routine, but rather a gradual convergence of one’s own experience, sensitivity and thinking with a work of art, or, to indulge in a moment of pathos, through living with each other. These works have a subtle strength that comes into its own with time and grows on one, metaphorically joining one as fellow lodgers and companions. As such they show once again that they are truly situative works, artistic influences on real situations that neither induce stasis nor rigidify into monuments, but rather set an accent that is both willful and mobile. Ideally, the author retreats into the background so that the work has the chance to fully become space and work of art. As Jorge Luis Borges once said of his writing, the good thing about some of it was that it no longer belonged to some individual but rather to language itself and to tradition. In Ayşe Erkmen’s case, all one need do is replace ‘language’ with art and ‘tradition’ with situation.

From the Outside to the Inside by Britta Schmitz

in Zigzags, Backwards and Forwards – On the Move with Ayşe Erkmen’s Companions

“You could say that I use the hidden history of a site.” (Ayşe Erkmen) 1 Alone the exhibition title of Weggefährten (Companions) is a signpost leading us to an appreciation of Ayşe Erkmen’s artistic practice. With this semantic readymade the artist has metaphorically arranged a large part of her previous work. For many years now, Ayşe Erkmen has pursued an artistic conception that in principle harbours and produces a complex self-referentiality. Precise as they are rich in allusions, serene as they are paradoxical, mischievous as they are saturated with experience, her interventions exist in the first instance for the time of the respective exhibition; thereafter they are memories. But the memories abide. They accompany the works, alter them, and turn them into companions. The deeply human aspect of her art – which incidentally reveals a great deal about fidelity and continuity – lends the works, formally often intentionally austere, their peculiar conscientiousness, a quality that always sustains good art.

For every work a different site, a different form, a different dramaturgy. Not a trace of torpor or rigidity. Along with a diverse array of experiences, all sorts of stories are told, stories one gladly listens to, at times in wonder. As the artist herself relates, people in Istanbul revel in telling stories, speak about what has happened to them, what moves them, and although the events often heard about are then changed a little, they nonetheless remain true. Her oeuvre is just as multifaceted and free of constraints. Based on lore, tradition and research, at the same time her works reveal respect and interest. They exist across continents and fashion the topography of a world whose iconography is deduced from the context. Ayşe Erkmen does not deconstruct; she seeks out the connecting element or thread, produces connections between things and places and explores the idea of connection itself. This focus determines the leitmotifs evident in her oeuvre.2

With no time/no flower (2008, p. 7) the exhibition opens on the façade of the Hamburger Bahnhof, formerly a railway station which the Nationalgalerie has used to showcase contemporary art since 1996. The museum’s external architectural features are defined by the transept with portico positioned in front of the main historical hall and the round-arched portals. The towers flanking the portal contrastingly reciprocate in their lower section the structure of the building, while in the upper section they repeat the round-arched motif of the portico. The emblematic character of a city gate created by this architectural conception highlights the centre section, the museum building’s distinctive feature. Despite numerous building alterations, the clock set in the eastern tower and its companion piece, the decorative rosette in the western tower, have survived and retained their original functions. The work no time/no flower accentuates these two circular elements by overlaying each of them with a thin red zigzagging line made of metal, gestural in its execution. With nonchalant playfulness Erkmen succeeds in rendering the history and the present of the building both readable and visible.

The clock is the only element that indicates the original function of the building, it links into a past which had little to do with art. With a minimal gesture Ayşe Erkmen unfolds a prolific reference system and almost immediately one recalls a kind and thoughtful gesture, the custom of welcoming or sending off travellers with a bunch of flowers. While the clock once performed an extremely important function at the railway station, for today’s museum it has served its time. The artworks exhibited and stored in the building’s interior fall out of time, they have been passed onto – albeit when only temporarily – the hands of eternity.

The briskly drawn and snazzy zigzag lines of no time/no flower illustrate more than this however: It is not only the museum as a location preserving and presenting art, but also the museum architecture which assumes a key role in the practice of remembrance. This is particularly the case for the Hamburger Bahnhof, for the metaphorical line running between its origins as a commercial station and its current utilisation as a museum housing contemporary art can hardly level the discontinuities marking its architectural history. Ayşe Erkmen, tracking down the connections at a site, implicates at once the building’s interior as well, from which the historical decorative elements have been largely removed to enable neutral exhibition spaces.

With an analytical eye for the peculiarity and a sense for the connecting narrative qualities of a site, Ayşe Erkmen points out two further site-specific aspects of the museum’s entrance area. Since its opening in 1996, the untitled work by Dan Flavin (1933–1996), fluorescent tubes in blue pointing outwards, green ones inwards, has inscribed the building like a signet in Berlin’s urban space. Commissioned by the Nationalgalerie as part of the extensive renovations, Dan Flavin’s work luminously highlights the upper arcade of the main section in blue and the arches of the forecourt wing constructed in 1910 and 1914/16 in green, both of which represent the key connections in the building structure.

From the exhibition Zeitlos, curated by Harald Szeemann and staged in the then ruins of the Hamburger Bahnhof from 22 June to 25 September 1988, a work by Niele Toroni (b. 1937) has survived on the upper open loggia, which closes the arcade highlighted by Dan Flavin from the rear. The imprints of a paintbrush were originally planned as a site-specific work for the exhibition. Subsequently though, the exhibition organisers ‘forgot’ to remove Toroni’s work, and as no-one was willing during the long renovation phase to destroy an artwork, it became en passant part of the museum. A conflict arose shortly after the Hamburger Bahnhof opened, for Niele Toroni felt that the positioning of Dan Flavin’s work violated the ‘space’ and visible presence of his own. In the meantime this conflict has been resolved and both works lead an engrossing coexistence.

Ayşe Erkmen, whose work is conceptually close to both artists, brings to light this little-known background story through the seemingly lapidary no time/no flower with self-assured ease. She is the first artist with enough self-confidence to seek and explore a connection with the two permanent artworks. These display analogies to her own approach in so far as both are closely tied to the history of site-specific sculpture, which emerged in the mid-1960s and led to a host of exhibitions and projects devoted to this theme in the 1980s.3 Artists of Erkmen’s generation formulated a new concept of production, whereby the site itself became a piece of sculpture thanks to the artistic intervention. Publicly accessible for only a limited time, the consciously ephemeral character of these works represents a critique of monuments and the monumental, categorical qualities of sculpture for centuries. The numerous biennales across the globe to which Ayşe Erkmen is invited first developed out of this shift in artistic practice.

All of the interventions in Ayşe Erkmen’s extensive oeuvre arise from a genuine intuition for the congenial. She has formulated her approach with careful deliberation: “I make sure that the different objects don’t become envious of one another.”4 Compelling is the impression that the form ultimately chosen is never forced into following a signature style, but rather always has to answer to life, the independent existence of the objects, and thus entices the stories to be told out of the hidden recesses, discretely and pertinently.

To enter the exhibition the visitor has to pass through the security gates Portiport (1996/2008).5 The metal detector bleeps and shows the ticket controller where a metal object is to be found on a visitor. This ‘check-in’ is familiar to all of us today; it slows down and obstructs the normal flow. It is a passage and marks the line between safety and something else. Everyday life is left behind, and one enters the protected zone of art.

The visitor stands in the first exhibition room and is irritated. Just a few manoeuvres suffice and the whole arrangement is out of joint. For Das Haus / Ev / The House (1993/2008, p. 8),6 around 60 shielding opaque glass panels are removed from the illuminated ceiling. The installation provides a glimpse into the gutted construction. At the same time, the original height of the rooms and the architectural interventions in the old structure are revealed, all its secrets lifted. The fluorescent tubes otherwise hidden in the illuminated ceiling are lowered on their own cables to various heights so that they become barriers, once again slowing down the normal tempo of a museum visit. The usually invisible lighting fixtures can now be seen, becoming an exhibition object while the walls remain vacated. The House is thus full of allusions to the presentation forms dominant in contemporary exhibition practice. The lighting design of an exhibition site is one of the most contentious elements of museum architecture. The lowering of the lighting fixtures radically changes the intensity of the light in the room – the function of lighting is reduced to an absurdity.

Within the museum’s structural layout, the exhibition room itself is a connecting, transit space accessible from four directions. It has to be passed through if a visitor wishes to view all of the museum’s exhibitions and collections. Erkmen has emphasised this peculiarity, blocking simple accessibility with her intervention and hindering the flow of the normal exhibition routine. Various presentation forms overlap and interfere with one another. This discourse, triggered without the ponderous seriousness of theory, is carried further by 9’45” (1999/2008).7 Here even the exhibition wall itself is abducted from the usual course; in an otherwise empty room it becomes a moving sculpture. Immanent to this “setting-into-motion,” 8 symptomatic in the contextual transfer of objects, is the connecting gesture and the associations it evokes. To reach the large exhibition hall on the first floor of the eastern forecourt wing from the groundfloor rooms of Weggefährten, the visitor has to use a staircase or an elevator. Ayşe Erkmen connects the floors in a simple way at first. She places a temporary wall extending from the floor to the ceiling in front of the busy entrance to the café; this wall then continues on the floor upstairs, at the entrance of the exhibition. The two posterlike photos of a bather and beach volleyball player, acquired from an image data bank, are divided horizontally into two sections and only ‘visible’ as a whole when the visitor takes in both floors. The glossy images of leisure time activities seem like foreign bodies, instantly evoking the question how they fit in with a museum exhibition and what is their function. With their restricted period of utilisation, regulated by a fee to be paid to the agency, they possess the double character of the marketplace and the exhibition. The museum is not a site where art is to be separated from social reality. Works which enter a museum are tradable objects. The art trade is a decisive factor shaping the landscape of contemporary art, while being an artist is a profession. Ayşe Erkmen, who intensely explores the presentation forms of art, develops a specific syntax for the format of the gallery exhibition, evident in how Ring (2004/2005, p. 216) and other works featuring silver broach the theme of “economic production and value.” 9 In doing so she points out the centuries-old tradition of silver processing in Turkey. Silver was, and is, a popular and expensive commodity, and along with spices and textiles it formed the economic backbone of the whole Orient. Erkmen had the rings, originally designed as wedding rings, produced by the jewellers Raffi and Levon Şadya in Istanbul. At the first presentation, during the :mentalKLINIK-04. in Luxembourg, they were sold singly, a year later in the Galerie Weiss in Berlin in the form of a chain, becoming subsequently part of a museum’s collection. With these objects Ayşe Erkmen forsook the strict adherence to a site-specific setting and addressed the discourse about the status of a work and the value of artistic work. If the strict anchoring of installations in sites over the last 20 years has contributed decisively to expressing the social impetus of artworks, for her part Ayşe Erkmen now dispenses partially with this linkage and presents autonomous works in commercial exhibition spaces.

The exterior walls of the elevator in the Hamburger Bahnhof are turned into exhibition surfaces on both floors through Imitating Lines (1985/2008, p. 12).10 The curved form of its exterior was chosen by the architect to keep the elevator as inconspicuous as possible, successfully as it turns out because very few visitors use it. One third of the curved exterior protrudes into the large exhibition room of the upper floor. By virtue of the Imitating Lines, the elevator is not only perceived as a connective element between above and below, but also outside and inside. Its sculptural form prises open a distance with austere, green metal rods affixed to rectangular base plates, which capture the form like shadows and bring it to life. The Imitating Lines belonging to the companions clearly allude to the benchmarks set by space-related works typical of Minimalism.

In the large exhibition hall the visitor is greeted by the white-tailed wildebeest from the exhibition Kuckuck in the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (2003, p. 9).11 The taxidermy model with the benign gaze moves back and forward on a pedestal at ten-minute intervals. The dead animal is lent a communicative function. For this welcome Ayşe Erkmen has found an unusual ritual that evokes a special moment when entering the exhibition, a sense of being in good hands. The auspicious ‘lively’ prelude is underscored by the overlaying sound mix ringing out from the interior of the room, generated by 17 video monitors. Ayşe Erkmen, who loves the range of sounds emanating from the ships, the sea, the birds, the mosques and traffic congestion of her home city of Istanbul, brings into the room a wall of background noise through the video works placed in its centre, undermining the usual static stillness of museum presentations. Free-standing in space, the monitors fixed on pedestals draw their electricity from the illuminated ceiling. Similar to The House, a number of glass panels have been removed. The cables visibly connect the ceiling and the video monitors; they are pulled through the work Gezeiten (Tide, 2008, pp. 10–11)12 which spans over the visitor’s head. The second ‘ceiling’ comprises of 15 crisscrossing grey-blue safety belts, each of which has a length of 87 metres. Through this industrially-manufactured, everyday material the artist practically binds the work Gezeiten together with the room, gives it a centre, free of any triumphal gesture. The two rows of rectangular pillars which dominate the exhibition room are energised and interconnected. The metal tighteners stabilising each safety belt – a part of every automobile toolbox – are visible, static in their function, ‘exhibited’ on a pillar. The viewer’s attention is directed towards the centre created by the work, the walls recede into the background. As its name indicates, the work evokes associations with the ebbs and flows of tides, the moon and the sun, the domineering motion of the world. The ‘intermediate’ ceiling, a metaphor for the sky, is a zone of tension and traction. This implies motion, a new beginning and an end, nothing stalls and breaks away, and so everything is interconnected. The alternating motion washes objects hidden at high tide onto the shore, while by low tide they may remain stranded. It is like what happens in stories and exhibitions – they are there and leave something behind. One is even tempted to say that Ayşe Erkmen salvages these artefacts, establishes a relationship with them and creates connections. The artist transforms these into a space that embraces her experiences in this process and their metamorphosisinto art. The meditative reflection leaves open all the possibilities of experience.

The whole exhibition Weggefährten demonstrates that Ayşe Erkmen is a sculptor with an unerring eye and intuition for alterations in space and spatial dimensions. Moreover, as a conceptual artist she keeps a cool head. By nesting artworks in one another and giving them a form apposite its site, Ayşe Erkmen points out that all life is interconnected. In this sense, it is a privilege that Ayşe Erkmen introduces us to her companions here in Berlin.

1 Sabine Vogel, “Manchmal wie ein Detektiv. Berlin – Istanbul: Ayşe Erkmen im Fax-Interview mit Sabine Vogel,” in: Erzählen, cat. Akademie der Künste, Berlin 1994, p. 124.

2 To emphasise the leitmotif principle of connecting in the oeuvre of Ayşe Erkmen, the catalogue of selected works (pp. 23–142) refers in detail to those works which represent variants. For Erkmen’s oeuvre in general, see: Friedrich Meschede, “Ayşe Erkmen – ) >uçucu< / =şimdi= ( / )> temporary< / =contemporary=(,” in: Ayşe Erkmen – Aşağı Yukarı / Ups and Downs, ed. by René Block, cat. Kazım Taşkent Art Gallery. Yapi Kredi Cultural Activities Arts and Publishing Inc., Istanbul 2008, pp. 9–79.

3 See Claudia Büttner, “Annotated Bibliography. Art and the Public,” in: sculpture projects muenster 07, ed. by Brigitte Franzen, Kasper König, Carina Plath, cat. LWL-Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte (Westfälisches Landes- museum), Münster, Cologne 2007, pp. 479–539.

4 Peter Herbstreuth, “Ayşe Erkmen. Mißverständnisse sind Teil des Werks. Ein Gespräch von Peter Herbstreuth,” in: Kunstforum International, 139, December 1997 – March 1998, p. 285.

5 For the precursor work, see: p. 50ff.

6 For the precursor work, see: p. 39ff.

7 For the precursor work, see: p. 83ff.

8 Konrad Bitterli, “Den Kuckuck künstlerisch in Bewegung setzen… Zum Schaffen von Ayşe Erkmen / The Art of Setting a Cuckoo in Motion … On Ayşe Erkmen’s OEuvre,” in: Ayşe Erkmen. Kuckuck, ed. by Konrad Bitterli, Roland Wäspe, cat. Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Nuremberg 2003, p. 27.

9 Peter Herbstreuth, “Ayşe Erkmen. ‘Müßiggang.’ Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin, 24.9.– 30.11.2002,” in: Kunstforum International, 163, January – February 2003, p. 281.

10 For the precursor work, see: p. 24ff.

11 For the installation Kuckuck: p. 104ff.

12 For the precursor work and its variants, see: p.110ff.

Ropes, Ribbons, Silk Threads by Catrin Lorch

In German there is a phrase for the one single fundamental idea that runs through a work: the ‘red thread.’ It is no easy task to determine the thread connecting the works of Ayşe Erkmen. Her oeuvre reveals no keynote features – there is neither a material nor a technique one could consider to be particularly characteristic. Moreover, much of what Erkmen has done exists only in the memory of its viewers or is documented in photographs; Ayşe Erkmen works like someone producing a play, or like a military engineer who builds a bridge only to dismantle once the river is crossed. Here the ‘red thread’ is not of a specific length, nor a specific tinge, while its twining follows no set structure.

For a long time I imagined these ‘red threads’ as a kind of bookmark. As a piece of woven red silk, one that is not however inserted lengthways between the pages, but stretches horizontally from page to page, here marking a word by underlining it, resurfacing elsewhere in the margin to highlight a particular passage. As askew as this idea may seem, it steadfastly remained anchored in my mind before I then came across the German origins of the phrase ‘the red thread.’ In his novel Elective Affinities, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe employs it as a metaphor: “There is, we are told, a curious contrivance in the service of the English marine. The ropes in use in the royal navy, from the largest to the smallest, are so twisted that a red thread runs through them from end to end, which cannot be extracted without undoing the whole: and by which the smallest pieces may be recognised as belonging to the crown.” 1

The novel is about two men and two women – a married couple living on their rural estate and their guests, a young woman and an old friend. Married, related, friends: the characters are connected to one another in a number of diverse ways, a feature Goethe underscores by giving them names in which an “Otto” is interlaced in some way: Charlotte, Eduard, Ottilie. During the day the characters preoccupy themselves with the layout of a park, planting trees, aligning them in avenues, setting pavilions at prominent places. During the parlour games in the evening they gush over wooden letters of the alphabet, play music in continuously changing line-ups, re-enact scenes depicted on engravings, play charades in lavish costumes. If the human character has such a ‘red thread’ as the one Goethe alludes to, then a great many loose ends need to be bound together.

In the same year as Elective Affinities was first published in the month of October, in 1809, to meet the great demand for engravings, Anton Ignaz Melling bought a printing workshop in Paris. This contemporary of Goethe had lived for 18 years in Constantinople, enjoying close contact with the court household as an architect and fitter to Hatice Sultan, the sister of Selim III, who sought a landscape designer for her garden. Born in Karlsruhe in 1769, the sculptor and mathematician had Italian and French forefathers, and it is perhaps for this reason – after Napoleon’s military campaigns – that he fell out of favour at the court. In Paris he translated his sketches and paintings into engravings, generally regarded down to the present day as the most precise pictorial testimony of this opulent epoch. At first, 48 engravings were produced in a loose series, before being collected in 1819 to form Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore. Engravers are astonished at the precise observations, a map attests to the geographical accuracy, while the attentive, deft touch evident in the detailed rendering of the gardens, buildings, palaces and interiors is still admired today – even the harem scenes, writes Orhan Pamuk, are drawn with an unobtrusive and delicate hand.

For Orhan Pamuk, the vision of the painter trained in the West and resident in the East creates the most engaging and so authoritative image of Istanbul’s grand past. The individual engravings – and even more so when viewed in series – drift meanderingly into a single scene, the plates, writes Pamuk, whose uncle, a publisher, featured the Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople in his programme in the 1950s, have no centre, no focal point; they sprawl, and thus run contrary to the panorama that became so popular at the end of the 19th century, which sought to capture the viewer by employing tricks of perspective or conjuring the illusion of an allround view.2 The panorama encloses, whereas when following the unfurling of the pictorial scroll the eye glides – as when enjoying an outing on the water – smoothly over the sights.

Ayşe Erkmen grew up in the same neighbourhood as Orhan Pamuk, attended the same primary school. While teaching at the Städelschule in Frankfurt she won a competition for a temporary work in public space sponsored by the Deutsche Bank with her project proposal Shipped Ships. “First of all the project has something to do with how I am from a water culture,” 3 she explained in an interview.“The first thing that came to my mind is that Frankfurt is a name that has a river in it, Frankfurt am Main. It is very important that this city has a name signalling water. And the Main River crosses the city, dividing it into two, but nobody in Frankfurt uses the river anymore, a bridge is always just a minute away. I wanted to re-establish this water culture for a limited amount of time and so my proposal was to bring ships – and something definitely from Istanbul – on other ships to Frankfurt. There they travelled on the river as ferries. A possibility to see the city from another geography, from another point of view, because to see a city from water is to see it from another distance. The city becomes something else.”4

Shipped Ships was a resounding success – not only the art public wished that the crews would stay and continue to service the routes after the intervention came to an end. Although the existing Frankfurt transport system and infrastructure – bus, underground, roads – is quick and reliable, the ferry passengers wanted to keep the routes on the waterway which zigzagged between eleven landing stops; but the art project was complicated and costly – the transporting of the ships, the wages, the research involved… Nevertheless, Shipped Ships insists on lightness, as if it is nothing special to load ships onto ships and ship them to the other side of the world for a few weeks. The accompanying catalogue documents the action soberly, showing the transporting of the ships and plotting in photographs and long texts the shoreline kilometre for kilometre, its forgotten havens, a Jewish lido, historical restaurants and inns popular amongst day-trippers. For those who placed their trust in the Shipped Ships from Ayşe Erkmen as guide, Frankfurt as a location at once slipped away from them while being constantly referred to.

Ayşe Erkmen always places her audience before a situation. Her interventions create distance, enable a new perspective – and the effect is dramatic, even when one is not aware of the sensation at first. As when following Anton Ignaz Melling’s voyage along the Bosporus, one remains detached, can observe, single out an aspect and focus on it. Some of her earliest sculptures insist on distance as a possibility, as potential, as a place in itself, most prominently the Uyumlu Çizgiler (Imitating Lines, 1985, pp. 24, 203), where Erkmen created networks of green-lacquered piping and set them just a few centimetres from the interior walls of the university building, had them run up and down the marble staircase as a miniature banister, or positioned them in nooks and corners.

Anton Stankowski decisively influenced design in the public space of the past century, from colour coding through to corporate design; the Deutsche Bank bears his logo. As he was asked in an interview with the journal werk und zeit in 1978 what his favourite pastime is, he answered: “Inventing!” What particularly interested and stimulated him was “to produce models that cannot be reproduced”: “it is for example not possible for me to visualise cybernetics entirely; I can only do this up to a certain extent: I am speaking about controlling and feedback. Orders of succession in scientific/ technical matters have grown enormously and we have become used to ignoring them. This is the reason why I often present contemporary models before all else and this is what I like doing best. I am surprised that contemporary artists are still overlooking this problem. They may plan early Victorian motives and rough drafts, thereby behaving as if today’s world did not exist.”5 Ayşe Erkmen is certainly one of the few sculptors whose contemporary reality is not only comprised of stone, wood and metal or plexiglass, chrome and plastic, but traces its contours in carpets, standard-sized containers, flight paths, detonations and radio waves.

This dovetails with how, as Gregory Volk has remarked, Ayşe Erkmen possesses the distinctive ability “to establish possibilities between artistic genres or categories, such as between sculpture and performance, between video and sculpture, between architecture and installation, between installation and language.”6 The artist says that she tries to be “modest” with her work. Whether she hangs strip lights lower, has taxidermy models roll through her exhibition on a track system, collects and mixes video images, or as recently in the Basle Kunstmuseum, has brightly coloured plastic foil billow out of trapdoors: no matter how surprising and unexpected her art actions may seem, even when they bring together the heterogeneous, she always tries to realise her projects with technically appropriate concepts.

Ayşe Erkmen has ‘lettered’ the façade of a building in Oranienstraße in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg. Am Haus (1994, p. 44) has an odd look about it, for the letters are adorned with flourishes and twirls. They are Turkish word endings, verb inflexions which are unknown in Western languages in this variety. Whenever these endings are used, one is reporting from hearsay. Something is being passed on that one had heard from someone else – and this source has in turn heard it from someone else again. In front of the building local Turks can now explain something to the Germans, at least if they still have a good command of the Turkish language. Ideally, relations between locals and immigrants are reversed in front of the Turkish building blocks made of words. Incidentally, Erkmen, who names Berlin and Istanbul as her abodes, feels that the differences between the cultures of her home city and her German ‘home’ are not intrinsic: “And I think the expectations in the West of somebody coming from the East is to bring something very different. And I cannot do this because I don’t feel so different.”7

The exotic is not an efficacious category to an artist who has lead a nomadic existence for years (neither is the boisterously debated globalisation). On the contrary: where her work mediates between cultures, in turn it insists on and adheres to a position beyond the poles, exactly in-between. Here it is so, there it is different – it’s not about a divide, anyone can gain a sense of self through comparison. One of the pronounced strengths of Erkmen’s oeuvre is that her works lack seductive kitsch, the souvenir or sentimentality, which also means that one way of seeing is never pitted and played off against the other.

Upon completing her studies at the art academy, Ayşe Erkmen carried the works she had hitherto created to the waterfront and threw it all into the sea. She explains that all the students did this, simply for the reason that they had no storage space at their disposal, most of them not even a studio. “I’m used to finding spaces, because in Istanbul I always had to work in different spaces and there was not much possibility to work in an art space. So you had to find your own space, a church, a garden, nothing is given to you.”8 Her favourite fairytale begins: “Once upon a time there was a girl called Goldilocks.” Goldilocks goes into the woods. She soon comes across a house. She knocks on the door and as there is no answer she simply goes inside. Three bowls of porridge are on the kitchen table. Goldilocks is hungry.

“Do you recognise the story?” Ayşe Erkmen asks the curator Matthias Winzen. – “No.” “But it’s a fairytale by the Brothers Grimm! No one knows it in Germany, while everyone in Istanbul recognised it as I wrote its text on a store window for an installation.”9

After Goldilocks has eaten from all the bowls and sat on all the chairs, she looks for a bed and falls asleep. But the bear family – father, mother and baby bear – returns. Startled and scared when they wake her up, Goldilocks flees to the woods. And she never comes back to visit the house of the three bears.

In the interview with Matthias Winzen, Erkmen remarks that the figure of Goldilocks reminds her of the role of the artist, who enters a place, meddles in what is there, and so changes how people perceive things. That Goldilocks never returns is an end which pleases Ayşe Erkmen because she considers any “institutionalising setting for works of art” to be problematic at the very least (a scepticism that leads her to be consequential in limiting the length of her projects). “And we hear nothing more about the girl,” she says, almost contented.10

But in fact the story is missing something. It is startling, impulsive, motiveless, scarcely interpretable – is it about theft, is it about triumph? Nobody is punished. Nobody wins. Solely a brief disorder remains. It is astonishing, perhaps also meaningful that Ayşe Erkmen attributes this fairytale – one without a clear moral message – to the Brothers Grimm, considers that they would be capable of such a story, for it was penned by the Englishman Robert Southey. Goldilocks resembles Snow White (possibly the reason for Erkmen’s mistake) – but Snow White seeks shelter in the dwarfs’ house, whilst Southey eschews inventing a melodrama which would justify the girl making herself feel at home. In other versions she breaks one of the chairs. It is said that Robert Southey’s narrative style inspired Lewis Carroll to his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where a parallel world opens up behind a small door. But how does the story continue when the doors are locked, when someone stands in the way?

“Dear Professor Bußmann,
After the board meeting, during which I introduced your two new project proposals and their accompanying sketches, I must inform you that the Domkapitel would not care to accept the second proposal, which directly affects the rose window. Also, we cannot agree to the first project, ‘Allee’ (‘Avenue’). Should this project be placed on the Domplatz’s city property, these plans would require the agreement of the Domkapitel, which would most certainly not be granted.
I ask for your understanding regarding this decision.
With friendly regards,
Yours Josef Albers
Dompropst.” 11

The answer is formulated in abundantly clear terms. The Catholic Church in Münster rejected Ayşe Erkmen’s proposals for Skulptur. Projekte in Münster 1997 and refused to tolerate any others – the provost forbade the artist from using the central cathedral square, over which he reigned sovereign. Ayşe Erkmen was permitted to neither transform the reconstructed façade, where small round windows are arranged in a circle, into a giant clock-face, nor was she granted permission to lay a broad avenue of streetlights leading to the side entrance. Undeterred, she nonetheless created a work for the square – without ‘trespassing’ on the ground that was declared off limits. Art learnt to fly. Heavy stone figures from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, moored on steel beams, were hung from a helicopter. Then they circled above the city centre – until they were carefully parked on the roof ledge of the adjacent state museum. From there they gazed across at the cathedral façade, a small troop, upright and unshakeable like demonstrators.

The idea is quite simple, but the planning must have been just as complicated as for Shipped Ships – very few artists have ever dared to call in a helicopter, and it is certainly no coincidence that the tumultuous, gyrating action recalls the film partly shot from the air which shows Robert Smithson working on Spiral Jetty. Both in the salt lake in Utah, where in 1970 Smithson left behind an inward-coiling jetty made of massive rocks, and in the row of figures on the museum roof, a certain tranquil sculptural situation, discontinuing all lines of movement, remained in its heavy, immovable presence almost negating the preceding racket, the rotating commotion.

Ayşe Erkmen inscribes sites with different, alternative routes – whether on land, on water, in the air. She defines thresholds, finds shortcuts, sets destinations. That one day the markers she sets disappear, the ferry line is terminated, the parade of stony figures placed back in the cellar, the security gates dismantled, the lowered strip light hoisted to again shine above head height, does not undo what was – visitors, passersby, flâneurs have all (re-)oriented their attention on the plans of the artist for long enough, so that new paths are inscribed in the city, along the street, on the building. Whilst in the installation the visitors can find themselves again for a moment and become aware of their position, their background and where they belong geographically or socially, the figure of the artist remains diffuse. As if forging ahead, she frequently starts with an assertion (“I come from a water culture”) – but then withholds any further information. She neither narrates nor describes in detail; she insists on one of many points. Her grandmother was a seamstress – and so she weaves a net out of labels into which the name “Ayşe Erkmen” is interlaced. Or wraps a green-white belt around a pillar like recently in the Basle Kunstmuseum for First Column. Or spans belts crosswise through a room.

It seems as if she does not wish to unduly burden her work with her own person: as if she swiftly departs the stage after making a statement. The video Emre ^ Dario (1998, p. 74) shows her son Emre in the role of the singer Dario Moreno, who, born into a Jewish family, his father a Turk, his mother Mexican, grew up in an orphanage. From the Jewish quarter of Izmir he made the leap to Paris, where he starred next to Brigitte Bardot and Yves Montand and pursued his career as a musician. With its refrain “Istanbul c’est Constantinople,” the song Istanbul, about the intermixing of cultures, was a hit in Turkey in the mid-1950s. Having died young, Dario Moreno remained an ambivalent figure of longing. The charade staged by Ayşe Erkmen dispenses with costuming and decoration: dressed in normal street clothes, Emre dances in front of a white background, the playback seems out of sync, but as if a spotlight briefly highlights the scene, from time to time there are flashes of the macho mimic and jittery aura of the star. In this way the video insists on historical distance, it foregoes illusion – and it is thus fully logical that the title bears two names. Nonetheless, the viewer comes no closer to the figure of Emre: he plays a role, but wears the clothing of his time.

The contradictory aspect of such scenes is a narrative volte-face: Ayşe Erkmen presents herself as a representative – where her name appears any name ought to appear. When her son dances, then anyone could do the same, or even better, any son. The interwoven self, one’s own name, is a placeholder, a succession of letters which can be mixed anew, supplemented, extended. The ‘self ’ is not a big fish caught in this loosely stitched net. And the artist is not a fisher who interlaces his name in the net.

The idea of the signature, the name tag, of the star, voice pitch and style, and character is that something individual booms out in the artistic style, a hallmark becomes apparent. Identity is a seal that marks, a foot that leaves behind an imprint, the resonance of a name, the sound of a step – but what if memory shifts a metre or two, if the counterpart says “I” and means “anyone.” If anyone could take the place of another and no-one would be lost (in Elective Affinities it is the child who results from the double-conceived escapade and drowns). Ayşe Erkmen’s art does not halt at such intermixing however. It can unfurl the fixedness of a building with a carpet and loop each fibre from the thick rope calling itself identity, like a spool of silk ribbon.

1 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Elective Affinities, Boston 1872, p. 163.

2 Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul. Memories and the City, London 2005, pp. 55–67.

3 Interview conducted in English between Ayşe Erkmen, Lena Inowlocki and Felicia Herrschaft; (03. 06. 08) Omissions are not indicated.

4 Ibid.

5 Quoted from an interview with Anton Stankowski, “Ästhetik ist Ordnung / Aesthetics Means Order”, in: Jochen Stankowski, Zeichen – Angewandte Ästhetik / Signs – Applied Aesthetics, ed. by Martin Stankowski, Cologne 2005, p. 12.

6 “At the Juncture of Things,” in: Echolot: oder 9 Fragen an die Peripherie, ed. by René Block, cat. Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel 1998, p. 29.

7 Interview with Inowlocki and Herrschaft, op.cit.

8 Ibid.

9 Matthias Winzen, “Eintritt frei. Ein Gespräch mit Ayşe Erkmen,” in: Zuspiel. Ayşe Erkmen und Andreas Slominski, ed. by Siemens AG Kulturprogramm and Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, cat. Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, Ostfildern-Ruit 1996, unpag.

10 Ibid.

11 Quoted from: (03. 06. 08)

“… the Unprepared Mind” by Fatih Özgüven

Ayşe Erkmen’s first application of the past tense suffix “-miş” in 1994 was on the front façade of the House Number 18, which she named Am Haus, in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, where the Oranienstraße meets the Heinrichplatz. For the Am Haus project, her choice of displaying a group of the past tense suffix “-miş” written on black plexiglass on a building in Kreuzberg, a district where especially many Turkish people reside, had been interpreted by some people as a desire to attract attention to the relocation of a group of people belonging to a certain culture through the use of a grammatical mood specific to that culture; and on a more ‘fairy tale’ level, to refer to their past through ‘hearsay.’ The sudden appearance of Ayşe Erkmen’s Am Haus in the middle of Berlin (rumour has it that it is still there) had apparently surprised many people. Articles about the building, which appeared in 1994, vary from perceiving the building as a ‘timid’ attempt to establish an association with the 1001 Nights Tales, and an invitation for an opportunity leading to cross-cultural friendship.

However, in reality while they are looking down at us from that house, with their preceding rigid dashes and the authoritarian terminating periods, these “-miş.”s and “-müştü.”s suggest the physical violence of separation, and resemble the definite expression of a finiteness, an inability to return, a consumed state, rather than the fairy tale characteristics of their narrative mood. They have a quiet, dictating certainty, wanting to tell us that because of this rupture nothing can be ‘connected’ anywhere anymore.

So was the Berlin adventure of Ayşe Erkmen’s “-miş.”s. Now comes the really exciting part; the same “-miş.”s above the waters in the Taksim Square will be twinkling on the lighted advertisement panel “everyday, throughout the day about every 10 minutes.” And so the “-miş.”s will have come home. As is well known, Taksim-Beyoğlu is where the cultural pulse of the city beats and so on and so forth... Certainly, when the “-miş.” enters the scene one is immediately reminded of things that relate to the history of the place: “… once upon a time there had been a block under the Kristal Büfe diagonal across the lighted advertisement panel which had not been there yet, and the buses continuing down next to the waters had barely made a twisting turn from a narrow street towards Tarlabaşı between that block and a row of houses which had not been demolished yet, and even more astonishing, just behind the waters, which is now a parking lot there had existed a huge district –” To continue in this vein can only bring us to write our own recently discovered variation of 1001 Nights Tales; straightforward Istanbul nostalgia ...

I don’t think Ayşe Erkmen intended to reminisce about “the long-gone, beautiful days,” but rather might have decided to place her “-miş.”s thinking of the photos of the ‘missing people’ that were broadcast on this same panel in the last years. Then what might the meaning of the “-miş.”s at Taksim Square be for us, the ‘ordinary’ passersby?

When we are undecided about something – even if that something feels like it is something we are indeed very familiar with – it is useful to take a look at the related literature. I came across the following: “Events which enter unprepared minds are encoded by the -miş particle. There are some kinds of events for which one is always unprepared – events which partake of a quality of unreality or otherworldliness. Thus the -miş form is always used in such narratives as myths, folktales, and fairy tales, and this is the form used for recounting those parts of dreams which are most alien to everyday experience.” 1

Throughout February 1997, everyday, throughout the day about every ten minutes, the “-miş.”s and their siblings will be reflected on the rising lighted panel in the Taksim Square which has for years witnessed many states this society has gone through; can they be telling us something about a confusion that we can not control? A painful memory? Usually reflected onto our “unprepared minds” with the strange unreality of the “-di” form (already happened), and the swish of the suffix “-yor” (it is happening now) that are somehow not sufficient? Do the “-miş.”s, in Taksim, have a fairy-tale certainty then, almost a contradiction in terms?

I hope that Ayşe Erkmen’s firm and broken “-miş.”s that will be blinking in the cold and dirty winter air above the passive crowds that keep flowing through the Taksim Square will be mournful and provocative.*

1 Dan I. Slobin, Ayhan A. Aksu, “Tense, Aspect, and Modality in the Use of the Turkish Evidential,” in: Tense-aspect: Between Semantics and Pragmatics, ed. by Paul John Hopper, Amsterdam, 1982, p. 198. I would like to thank Eser Taylan who has drawn my attention to this text.

* Translated, slightly altered excerpt from “ ‘… Hazirliksiz Zıhın’,” in: Konuşmalar – Ayşe Erkmen, cat. Maçka Sanat Galerisi, Istanbul, 1997, unpag. Editorial note: for purposes of readability, omissions in the original are not indicated.

Carnival Sites by Gregory Volk

Every now and then an initial encounter with work by an unfamiliar artist basically stops one in one’s tracks, because it is excellent on many levels, but also because it signals an artistic vision that is acute, startling, refreshingly eccentric, and altogether convincing. That’s what happened with me, when I encountered a work by Ayşe Erkmen for the first time. This was in Istanbul, at the 4th Istanbul Biennial in 1995 – an admirable and prescient exhibition, as it turns out, curated by René Block, with themes of voyaging and migration, West meeting East and vice versa, which have been explored and re-explored by subsequent curators countless times. Part of the exhibition occurred in the Antrepo, a large warehouse on the Bosporus which formerly served as a customs house for the shipping industry, and which had been empty for quite some time until it was converted into an exhibition venue. Erkmen’s Wertheim – ACUU (1995) wasn’t in any of the building’s prominent spaces, and also wasn’t really in a humble, out of the way freight elevator, but instead was the freight elevator, after a straightforward, but thoughtful and coolly spectacular transformation. Erkmen covered the interior of this elevator with gleaming sheets of corrugated steel – the same material once used for the shipping containers that passed through the building as a matter of course. Some kind of reversal or inversion occurred, something inside out, something “topsy turvical” to borrow a term coined by Vladimir Nabokov. An elevator that once carried metal shipping crates was now a crate itself, but an exceptionally luminous, even magical one; also one that wasn’t closed off from, but instead completely open to, its surroundings. In this new context of an art exhibition, Erkmen’s elevator succinctly evoked the building’s deep history, its memory: all that shipping and commerce through the years, all that corresponding mingling of people and cultures. It also juxtaposed decay and renewal, past and future, and the building’s own transition from one state and use to another.

Erkmen’s cubic, monochromatic sculpture made of metal revealed connections to Minimalism and Donald Judd, but also, perhaps, to opulent architectural treasures, say from the 16th century Ottoman reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. Moreover, it was thoughtful, comical, wilfully ridiculous, and visually riveting, as well as richly, complicatedly human, and this is a characteristic of Erkmen’s site-based works altogether. While rooted in a precise manipulation and transformation of the site’s own forms and functions, Erkmen’s works have an uncanny ability to probe human matters which are close to the bone: our aspirations and frustrations, our aptitude for wonderment and frequent unease, our interest in freedom and our experience of limitations and restrictions.

Once upon a time, back when the customs warehouse was thriving, and crates from the world were constantly entering and departing, this little elevator had a big job, and a hard one: lugging those crates upstairs and back down from morning until evening. Others had the authority and received the accolades, and other parts of the building were always much more noteworthy, but this humble elevator was the one doing the really heavy work. Years later, and after it had long since settled into neglect, Erkmen singled out this elevator, lavished attention on it, decorated it with special metal, gave it, so to speak, an impressive new suit, and made it seem, however temporarily, important and esteemed, like a janitor who is honoured by the bigwigs with speeches and a feast after thirty or forty years of gruelling, largely unacknowledged service. One is also reminded of age-old legends and fairy tales which give people hope: a poor farmer who is magically transformed into a prince, a humble yet talented village seamstress who is whisked away to the splendour of the Queen’s court, which of course enrages her jealous brothers and sisters. For the duration of the exhibition, Erkmen also prevented anyone from using this elevator, by stretching a bar across its entrance, as if it were a rare treasure made of pure silver. You could look at and admire it, but not enter, which scrambled the viewer’s expectation of how things usually function in a given space (and this is something at which Erkmen excels), but which also made a great deal of sense from the elderly elevator’s perspective: enough of the cargo, basta with the heavy lifting, I need and deserve a break. Of course, there was something humorous, even whimsical, about all of this, but there was also an implicit note of bristling social critique, concerning questions of who’s on the inside and who’s an outcast, whose work is honoured and whose is deemed marginal, who has got power and who does not.

Had Erkmen left things like that – a freight elevator operating as a bedazzling geometric sculpture – it would have been an excellent work, but she took things a surprising, giant step further. As you gazed at her shining piece, it slowly disappeared, because it constantly shuttled between the two floors of the building. The work was hilarious – a sizable metal sculpture that periodically showed up, stuck around for a little while, and then departed – and motion is a recurring motif for Erkmen. There was also something restless, manic, and oddly contemplative about this sculpture-in-motion, which marked the ‘in-between’ as a locus. Erkmen’s work evoked arrival and departure, desire and loss, presence and memory – even the awkwardness you can feel when you’re in a room full of strangers and unsure of whether you really belong there. I, and a great many others, took note, and immediately sought out other works by Erkmen, mostly through documentation, because most of her works, no matter how much they decisively alter a given space, are temporary and ephemeral. In a time when the art world and a raging art market concentrate on collectable and saleable objects, Erkmen was then and remains an entirely maverick figure, making complex, masterful works that happen, then vanish, after achieving their dialogue with, and transformation of, extant sites and spaces. I took note, for instance, of Erkmen’s Das Haus / Ev / The House (1993, p. 39). In the rooms of the DAAD Gallery in Berlin, she lowered the overhead lights to a point midway between floor and ceiling, and also used the gallery’s own sound system to import actual sound from the famous Café Einstein, which is below the gallery at street level.

Suddenly, this exhibition space took on wild card attributes; rather than acting as an autonomous and confident space showcasing artworks, it was nervously eavesdropping on the café conversation below, while its lights were seriously awry, refusing to follow the most basic of architectural expectations and rules. In lowering the lighting structures, Erkmen formed suspended horizontal planes in each room, which were interesting sculptures in their own right, but which also challenged, however implicitly, all sorts of power relationships. Lights, which most visitors to a gallery hardly notice, even though they are essential and responsible for illuminating the art on the walls and floors, were suddenly prominent and unavoidable, and they also acted as brazen barriers, forcing viewers to acknowledge and physically respond to them. In Istanbul’s famous Suleiman Mosque there are also suspended lighting structures near the entrance; maybe Erkmen was smuggling a little bit of Turkey into the gallery of the German Academic Exchange Service. There was also a note of comical aggression: an installation that doubled as a slapstick accident waiting to happen. As viewers futilely looked for art on the walls or floors, they could easily bash into these lighting structures in an embarrassing Buster Keatonish way. It seemed to me – and this has only increased through the years – that Erkmen has a rare ability to invest basic architectural forms with complex and surprising connotations, and an equally rare ability to approach matters of utmost seriousness with goofy humour and a sense of the absurd.

My next encounter with Ayşe Erkmen’s work was at the Skulptur. Projekte in Münster 1997 exhibition, featuring works located throughout the city. Erkmen chose as her site Münster’s famous Catholic cathedral downtown, and submitted first one, then another, then a third intriguing proposal, all of which were turned down by church officials. It became clear that all further proposals would likewise be rejected, whether because of Erkmen’s art or, as some suspected, because that art was being proposed by a woman from a Muslim country. In a kind of gorgeous exasperation, she came up with a novel solution: to use not the church itself, but the sky above and around the church, after determining that the church’s legal jurisdiction only extends to a certain height above its steeple. For Sculptures on the Air (1997, pp. 62, 187), 15th-, 16th-, and 17th-century figurative sculptures from the Westfälisches Landesmuseum’s storage facility were fitted into a harness, attached to a helicopter and towed through the sky, hovering for a while above the church before being deposited on the ledge of the nearby museum’s roof, where they stood like watchful sentries. One was reminded of the famous helicopter scene in the beginning of Fellini’s La dolce vita in which a statue of Christ is towed through the sky above Rome, along with Christian ascensions, angels in flight, and fantastical dreams. In effect, Erkmen engineered her own miracle, which also doubled as an aerial circus act or a daredevil stunt, and while it had an element of mischief and irreverence, it was also exuberant and deeply touching.

Based solely on these works (although one could easily cite many others) it would be reasonable to assert that Ayşe Erkmen is one of the most innovative contemporary artists working with space, usually (but not always) architectural space. Over the last 25 years or so, and in many different circumstances, she has worked with rooms, walls, floors, ceilings, windows, doors, basements, building façades, roofs, overhead lights, skylights and elevators, among others, and rather than introducing autonomous artworks into a space, she tends to recast and transform what is already there, including its most basic, rudimentary structures. Her approach to such spaces is cerebral and analytical, involving a great deal of research and investigation into what the possibilities are, and her concept of site includes the physical structure, but also its use, history, and its various cultural, political and psychological connotations. Still, this cerebral, much-investigating approach consistently yields works which have a streak of wildness and disruption; elegant, seemingly minimal works which have a note of gleeful perversity and alarm; and crisp, to-the-point works which are also freakish and outlandish.

No matter how outlandish, these works start from something so familiar and mundane that under normal conditions we’d hardly give it a second thought: elevators go up and down in warehouses and museums all the time, overhead lights illuminate gallery spaces all the time, and museum’s routinely transport works from off-site storage facilities to exhibition spaces. Many government buildings and industrial facilities, for that matter, have outdoor benches affording moments of respite for both employees and visitors, although you wouldn’t expect to find such benches directly outside an immense power plant next to the Spree River in Berlin. For Warme Bänke (Warm Benches, 1997, p. 65), one of Erkmen’s few permanent works, she made eight outdoor benches out of shiny steel pipes, and they look like a wacky hybrid of furniture and radiators. They are storing dissipating heat of the cooling circuit of the plant, and as you pleasantly sit, you’re actually connected to the looming power plant directly behind you and the vast energy it produces, which makes this familiar activity at once peaceful and unnerving. In exactly this way, throughout Erkmen’s art routine things get intensified, manipulated, exaggerated, and utterly disrupted from their usual conditions. As a result, the space or object as it normally is, and as Erkmen has altered it, coexist simultaneously, leading to a thorough conflation of the mundane and the bizarre, orientation and disorientation.

Here it is worth considering the great Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin,1 and specifically his theory of the carnival, which he applied to literature (especially to Dostoevsky’s novels) but which can also be fruitfully applied elsewhere, for instance to certain kinds of visual art. In Bakhtin’s terms, the “carnivalised moment” or the “carnivalised situation” are those moments when the normal rules, values, hierarchies, and modes of apprehension are temporarily suspended in favour of a brand new freedom, which can be simultaneously ungainly and exhilarating, bewildering and liberating. These carnivalised moments do not seek to transcend normal life; they don’t try to substitute a keen new consciousness for an enervated one. Instead, both mundane and carnivalised life exist together, and one moves between the two, entering the carnivalised situation in order to be tested and transformed and then returning to one’s normal life – perhaps shaken, perhaps deepened – with some of the wisdom that one gained. I’m not suggesting that Erkmen is somehow beholden to Bakhtin, which in any event is not that important. I am suggesting that an eccentric carnival impulse – one which involves free-spirited play and buffoonery, which, in Bakhtin’s terms, “combines the sacred with the profane, the lofty with the low, the great with the insignificant, the wise with the stupid” and which temporarily replaces normal life with all its rules, categories, hierarchies, and stratification – is essential in her work, and indeed is a major reason why her space-based projects are so unusual and cathartic. And then there’s the fact that many of Erkmen’s projects really have a carnivalesque appeal and excitation, an element of raucous sideshows and thrilling circus events. Erkmen’s 2002 exhibition in Essen, Germany featured two live tigers, named Ketty and Assam (p. 212), who lived in a specially outfitted section of a former coking factory for a month. A factory in Germany’s industrial heartland suddenly doubled as a zoo, leading to a startling mix of work and entertainment, and it’s also tough to imagine a more extreme nature/culture collision. Speaking of nature/culture collisions, more animals (this time taxidermy ones) were the star attractions in Erkmen’s Kuckuck (2003, p. 104) at Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland. A griffon, zebra, pronghorn antelope, caiman crocodile, white-tailed wildebeest, and lioness, transposed from the science museum to the art museum, were motorised and set atop model train tracks. At precise intervals and for set durations, receiving signals from the transmitter near Frankfurt am Main, they kicked into motion, entering and then withdrawing through various doorways like clockwork, but really like clockwork, because this was Erkmen’s extravagant version of a cuckoo clock. Dead animals sprang to fabricated life, wild animals became eerie automatons, dead wild animals were like a demented parody of a circus act, and in the meantime everything conspired to tell time exactly, in a send-up of punctuality and reliability as solid virtues.

Erkmen’s acclaimed 2001 project Shipped Ships (pp. 95, 181) in Frankfurt am Main, which inaugurated Deutsche Bank’s series Moment – temporary art in public spaces, very much had a carnival air of license and adventure. With this work, inspired in part by her status as a Turkish part-time resident in Germany, Erkmen arranged for three foreign ferries from Turkey, Japan and Italy, complete with their uniformed crews, to be shipped to Frankfurt. The photographs of this voyage, with small ships piggybacking on big ones – which Erkmen has likened to children “sitting on their mom’s lap” – are an important part of the project, as is the fact that these hardworking boats, which carry people all the time, were themselves carried, treated to a luxurious cruise and graciously invited to be guests, or guest workers, in a major German city. In Frankfurt, these boats took up residence on the Main, offering regularly scheduled excursions conducted in the respective languages of the crews. Residents of Frankfurt could experience their city from the perspective of foreigners, while tourists expecting an authentic German experience were suddenly whisked into an unfamiliar elsewhere. For all its humour, this project forcefully addressed fractious issues in Germany, and indeed throughout the world, having to do with national identity, mixing cultures, majorities and minorities. Rather than commenting on these issues, Erkmen created a real-life situation, which was also a kind of spectacle and collective performance, in which people could live and think differently and more openly, temporarily unfettered by the usual rules, temporarily unburdened by ingrained biases and rigid habits of thought. For Bakhtin, the crucial role of the carnival – with all its antics and parody, odd costumes and abnormal events, excess and freedom – is to draw life out of its “usual rut,” to suspend “socio-hierarchical inequality” as well as “all distance between people” in favour of “a free and familiar contact among people.” That’s exactly what Shipped Ships in Frankfurt accomplished, while it also turned the river which divides the city into a link with far-flung peoples and cultures.

All three of these works, with all their eccentricities – a factory that was also a zoo, a museum that doubled as a cuckoo clock, local sightseeing boats that took visitors on a tour through the world – also invited a total alertness to the specifics of the sites, and that’s another characteristic of Erkmen’s work: it persuades you to be where you are more fully, to notice things more intently and to consider the implications more extensively. This was certainly the case with Erkmen’s 2005 exhibition at Sculpture- Center in New York, which (belatedly, in my opinion) was her first large-scale exhibition in the city.

SculptureCenter is located in a former trolley repair shop on a side street in Queens. After being redesigned and renovated by artist/architect Maya Lin and architect David Hotson, the building retains much of its rugged look, including massive brick walls, a labyrinthine basement, exposed metal beams, pipes and other industrial apparatus, and a very high ceiling. With its non-art related history and unusual installation opportunities, the structure proved a perfect site for Erkmen. Her spare yet complex response to the building, which traversed both its new design and its historical traces, was altogether wonderful and unorthodox.

Titled Busy Colors, the installation began outside in the courtyard, with a huge, specially designed flooring rising a few inches above the ground. Erkmen fitted the entire surface with the self-adhesive vinyl cover that one could walk upon. The cover was actually a digital print, with a background half in blue and the other half in yellowish gold; it featured two large images, mostly green, but with other colours factoring in. These dual, giant-size images were baffling and ambiguous, difficult if not impossible to view in their entirety. They could have been machine parts, repair shop gadgets, some kind of toy, or a design invented by the artist. In fact, they were images of land mines – or, rather, Erkmen’s highly mediated adaptation of land mines. Several years ago, working from a photograph of an actual land mine, Erkmen crafted a sculptural version, which she digitized and incorporated into weirdly hypnotic videos (p. 59) of various bouncing, rubbery land mines making an endless, strange parade. At SculptureCenter, the digital images were related to this film project.

To enter the museum, one literally walked across the land mines, which were curiously colourful, festive and appealing, and which also looked a bit like paintings, or perhaps spray-painted graffiti. Land mines, or similar ordnance, explode all the time in Iraq and around the world, killing or maiming thousands. They are manufactured in some of the countries that have so assiduously positioned themselves as fighting terrorism, notably the United States. As with everything else having to do with Erkmen’s work, however, the land mine images resisted straightforward interpretation. While they conjured amok geopolitics and multiple wars, they also looked like playthings or some computer-designed science-fiction prototypes. Vivid and enticing, the colourful land mines made for a strange mix of menace and seduction.

Inside the site, Erkmen focused not only on the main exhibition hall, where largescale sculptures can be shown, but also on peripheral machinery 25 feet above the floor. Two great expanses of translucent fabric, one magenta Polysilk and the other greenish-blue nylon, were attached to an overhead, 20-ton gantry crane remaining from the building’s industrial days. When the gantry crane kicked into noisy motion and began moving on its track from one end of the room to the other, one fabric expanse, which had been descending toward the floor in a gracefully curving arc, stretched out, elongated, and rose high up, while the other slowly descended on the opposite side of the room. That’s how it went, an austere system of rising and falling colours, at times conjuring theatre curtains, billowing flags, parachutes, and circus tents, and at other times forming vertical, rectangular expanses that suggested an admixture of walls and monochrome paintings.

The play of colours was enthralling and meditative. It was best to spend considerable time with the work, to be there in the morning, afternoon and at dusk, to notice how the colours responded to the changing natural light from clerestory windows and, intermittently, the open garage door. As with space and light installations by artists such as Robert Irwin and James Turrell, here a minimal device becomes expansive, enlisting the whole environment. The dual colours glinted in upstairs windows as reflections, as if emanating into the space. The grinding, metallic sound of the gantry crane resounded, and when it periodically stopped, quietude seemed intensified. One was easily persuaded to be open and attentive to both the work and everything else about the space, including its volume, walls, windows, light, upstairs office partitions and palpable history.

As is usual for Erkmen, Busy Colors had multiple resonances, some lovely, others troubling. There was something elegant about this aerial dance of ethereal hues, but also something manic and obsessive. Erkmen’s fabrics operated as barriers, restricting the space, and they also felt slightly threatening, especially when bearing down on the viewer. At the same time, they functioned as marvellous thresholds, radically enhancing an experience of the space and acting as a ritual pageant of fluctuating concealment and revelation. Ayşe Erkmen’s carnivalistic art is a substantial extension of spacebased art with roots in the 1960s and 1970s, but it goes considerably beyond that to become among the most idiosyncratic and compelling achievements of this era.*

1 All quotes from and references to Mikhail Bakhtin are from his Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Minneapolis 1984, pp. 122–124.

* Parts of this essay were previously published in the following publications: “At the Juncture of Things”, in: Echolot: oder 9 Fragen an die Peripherie, ed. by René Block, cat. Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel 1998, pp. 4–29; “Seeing through Sites: Erkmen’s Altered Views”, in: Art in America, 94, 1, January 2006, pp. 94–97, p. 151.

Seeing Through Sites: Erkmen's Altered Views by Gregory Volk

Turkish artist Ayse Erkmen is known internationally for her provocative installations. For a recent exhibition at the Sculpture Center in Long Island City, she transformed the main space with huge swaths of colored fabric, and the courtyard with digital prints of land mines.

Ayse Erkmen is hardly a familiar figure in the New York art world, or anywhere else in the U.S., for that matter. Prior to her recent exhibition at the Sculpture Center in Long Island City, she had shown only once in this country (in a 1997 group show that I curated at Apex Art in New York), and her work has rarely been critically addressed here. Internationally, her reputation is much broader. The Turkish Erkmen, who has long divided her time between Istanbul and Berlin, has exhibited extensively and been widely acclaimed for mostly impermanent works that temporarily, yet decisively, transform pre-existing conditions, be they architectural settings or social situations.

Erkmen's materials have varied widely--lighting fixtures, walls, columns, a huge rock suspended just above a museum's glass roof, two live tigers, several taxidermied animals that mechanically danced, sightseeing boats on a river and statues dangling from a helicopter in flight, to name a few--and probably her chief medium is thought itself. Erkmen extensively researches her sites before devising intelligent and oftentimes eccentric responses that both utilize and disrupt what is already there, and that also come with a host of psychological, cultural and political connotations. Throughout Erkmen's work, familiar things assume new roles and take on new meanings, peripheral details that you'd hardly notice at first glance assume unexpected prominence, and startling elements appear to abruptly shift the entire context. When the exhibition concludes, the work very often vanishes, to be preserved only in documentation--which means that Erkmen is a contrarian figure in a time when built-to-last art is prized by a resurgent market.

I first encountered Erkmen's work at the 1995 Istanbul Biennial, at a time when her career outside Turkey was beginning to grow. A section of that biennial occupied a large warehouse on the Bosporus, formerly a customs house for the shipping industry, which had been empty for quite some time before being temporarily converted into an exhibition space. Erkmen covered the inside of a freight elevator with gleaming sheets of corrugated steel--the same material once used for the shipping containers that passed through the building as a matter of course. Turning this otherwise undistinguished elevator into a luminous sculpture--it was not otherwise accessible--was already impressive, but Erkmen took things a step further. As you gazed at her shining piece, it slowly disappeared, because it constantly shuttled between the two floors of the building. The work was hilarious--a large-scale sculpture that periodically showed up, stuck around for a little while, and then departed. There was also something restless, manic and oddly contemplative about this sculpture-in-motion (and motion is a recurring motif for Erkmen), which marked the "in-between" as a locus. Erkmen's piece evoked arrival and departure, desire and loss, presence and memory--and the awkwardness you can feel when you're not sure where you belong. It also conflated such interior consciousness with the rhythms of shipping and commerce, so integral a part of life in Istanbul. With this work, one discovers a favorite tactic of the artist: a mundane, non-art element is accentuated and diverted from its usual purpose, so that it acquires a surprising, transformative power.

Although she has often worked with ordinary architectural features, Erkmen's transformations can involve an outlandish streak. A 2002 exhibition in Essen, Germany, featured two live tigers, named Ketty and Assam, who lived in a section of a former coking plant for a month. This ex-factory in Germany's industrial heartland suddenly became a zoo, and it's tough to imagine a more extreme nature/culture collision. The project provoked lots of impassioned debate on a variety of issues, from animal rights to the piece's status as art--but Erkmen is no stranger to controversy. For the 1997 "Munster Sculpture Project" exhibition, featuring works placed throughout the city, the artist chose as her site Muster's famous cathedral. She submitted first one, then another, then a third reasonable and interesting proposal, all of which were turned down by church officials. It became apparent that all further proposals would likewise be rejected, whether because of Erkmen's art or, as some suspected, because that art was being proposed by a woman from a Muslim country.

Instead of taking no for an answer, Erkmen determined that the church's legal jurisdiction only extended to a certain height above the steeple. Thus, for Sculptures on Air, 15th- and 16th-century figurative sculptures from the Westfalisches Landesmuseum's storage facility were fitted into a harness, attached to a helicopter and towed through the sky, hovering for a while above the church before being gingerly deposited on the ledge of the nearby museum's roof. References included the famous helicopter scene in the beginning of Fellini's La Dolce Vita, as well as angelic flights, Christian ascensions and fantastical dreams. In essence, Erkmen engineered her own "miracle," which involved a great deal of disturbance and com motion, and outfoxed the fuming officials. Flying through the air and later precariously standing on the roof, Erkmen's figures were both magical and ungainly, and her piece became one of the signature projects of the exhibition.

Erkmen's most elaborate work to date, called Shipped Ships, which in 2001 inaugurated Deutsche Bank's "Moment" series of public art projects in Frankfurt am Main, was inspired in part by her status as a Turkish part-time resident in Germany. She arranged for three foreign sightseeing boats from Turkey, Japan and Italy, complete with their uniformed crews, to be shipped to Frankfurt. The photographs of this voyage, with small ships piggybacking on big ones--which Erkmen has likened to children "sitting on their mom's lap"--are an important part of the project. The sightseeing boats took up residence on the river, offering regularly scheduled excursions conducted in the respective languages of the crews. Residents of Frankfurt could experience their city from the perspective of foreigners and of other cultures, while tourists, perhaps expecting an authentic German experience, were suddenly whisked into an unfamiliar elsewhere. For all its humor (and humor is pronounced in Erkmen's deeply cerebral work), this project powerfully addressed fractious issues in Germany, and indeed throughout Western Europe, having to do with national identity and immigration, familiarity and otherness, "us" and "them."

With projects like that in the background, Erkmen's exhibition at the Sculpture Center was a welcome opportunity for a U.S. audience to experience her innovative work. In 2002, the center moved from its longtime home in Manhattan to a former trolley repair shop on a side street in Queens. After being redesigned and renovated by artist/architect Maya Lin and architect David Hotson, the building retains much of its rugged look, including massive brick walls, a labyrinthine basement primarily used to showcase emerging artists, exposed metal beams, pipes and other industrial apparatus, and a very high ceiling. With its non-art related history and unusual installation opportunities, the structure proved a perfect site for Erkmen. Her spare yet complex response to the building, which traversed both its new design and its historical traces, was altogether wonderful and unorthodox.

Titled Busy Colors, the installation began outside, in the courtyard, with a huge, specially designed platform rising a few inches above the ground. Erkmen fitted the entire surface of this platform with a self-adhesive vinyl cover that one could walk upon. The cover was actually a digital print, with a background half in blue and the other half in yellowish gold; it featured two large-scale images, mostly green, but with other colors factoring in. These dual, giant-size images were baffling and ambiguous, difficult if not impossible to view in their entirety. They could have been machine parts, repair-shop gadgets, some kind of toy, or a design invented by the artist. In fact, they were images of land mines--or, rather, Erkmen's highly mediated adaptation of land mines. Several years ago, working from a photograph of an actual land mine, Erkmen crafted a sculptural version, which, in turn, she digitized and incorporated into a weirdly hypnotic video of various bouncing, rubbery land mines making an endless, goofy parade. At The Sculpture Center, the digital images were of Erkmen's fabricated device.

To enter the museum, one literally walked across the land mines, which were curiously colorful, festive and appealing, and which also looked a bit like paintings, or perhaps spray-painted graffiti. Land mines, or similar ordnance, explode all the time in Iraq and around the world, killing and maiming thousands each year. They are manufactured in some of the countries that have so assiduously positioned themselves as fighting terrorism, notably the United States. As with everything else having to do with Erkmen's work, however, the land-mine image resists easy or straightforward interpretation. While, as a lethal device, it conjures amok geo-politics and multiple wars, it also looks like a plaything or some computer-designed, science-fiction prototype. It might also be a tongue-in-cheek reminder of Erkmen's own role as an occasionally controversial and incendiary artist who comes to both beguile and disturb. Vivid and enticing, the colorful land mines make for a nice mix of menace and seduction.

In researching the site, Erkmen focused not only on the interior space of the main exhibition hall, where large-scale sculptures can be shown, but also on peripheral machinery 25 feet above the floor. Here, inside the building, two great expanses of translucent fabric, one magenta Polysilk and the other greenish-blue nylon, were attached to an overhead, 20-ton gantry crane remaining from the building's industrial days. When the gantry crane kicked into noisy motion and began moving on its track from one end of the room to the other, one fabric expanse, which had been descending toward the floor in a gracefully curving arc, stretched out, elongated, and rose high up, while the other slowly descended on the opposite side of the room. That's how it went, an austere system of rising and falling colors, at times conjuring theater curtains, billowing flags and parachutes, and at other times forming vertical, rectangular expanses that suggested an admixture of walls and monochrome paintings.

The play of colors was enthralling and meditative. It was best to spend considerable time with the work, to be there in the morning, afternoon and at dusk, to notice how the colors responded to the changing natural light from clerestory windows and, intermittently, the open garage door. As with space and light installations by artists such as Robert Irwin, here a minimal device becomes expansive, enlisting the whole environment. The dual colors glinted in upstairs windows as reflections, as if emanating into the space. The grinding, metallic sound of the gantry crane resounded, and when it periodically stopped, quietude seemed intensified. One was easily persuaded to be open and attentive to both the work and everything else about the space, including its volume, walls, windows, light, upstairs office partitions and palpable history.

As is usual for Erkmen, Busy Colors had multiple resonances, at times lovely, at other times troubling. There was something elegant about this aerial dance of ethereal hues, but also something manic, obsessive and unnerving. Erkmen's fabrics operated as barriers, restricting the space, and they also felt slightly threatening, especially when bearing down on the viewer. At the same time, they functioned as marvelous thresholds, radically enhancing an experience of the space through a constantly fluctuating concealment and revelation.

"Busy Colors" was on view at the Sculpture Center, Long Island City, New York [Sept. 10-Nov. 27, 2005].

Gregory Volk is a New York-based art critic and curator. He is also associate professor at the School of the Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.

Mine Field: Ayşe Erkmen’s Work with Sites and Spaces by Kassandra Nakas

Prior to the 2006 Berlin Biennial, the curatorial team posed “Five Questions” to a group of “culture producers” living or working in Berlin at the time.1 Published successively in the magazine Zitty, the answers of the 24 international artists displayed varying degrees of seriousness and elaboration, but all were in the conventionally expected medium: they were framed in language. Ayşe Erkmen was the only one to answer the stereotypically repeated questions—who are you, what are your objectives, why and when did you come to Berlin— with a photographic self-portrait and four sketchy computer-generated illustrations: for once, the columnar format of “Five Questions” was transformed into a refreshingly original strip of images.

At first, Ayşe Erkmen’s replies do not seem very elaborate: a woman on her way to work, people on escalators heading in different directions (an allegory of still possible future goals), a jumble of numbers for the years since 1993 (the year when the artist came to Berlin as a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program), as well as an illuminated light bulb— industrial symbol of good ideas and ingenuity. In their colorful lightness, these images at first seem to lack the seriousness that we inevitably associate with (professional) verbal pronouncements. However, the illustrations are anything but a refusal. Entirely incidentally, Ayşe Erkmen’s equally charming and programmatic statement opens up a discussion of expectations and disappointments, plans and coincidences, destinations and deviations, which comprehends the existence of the artist in a quotidian context and yet under the conditions of the exceptional, the concrete moment, the unique situation and the “luminous idea.”

In this respect, we are given a particularly suitable portrait of the artist, who is perpetually en route between Istanbul and Berlin and all the other places where she realizes her works, mostly conceived with an eye toward the concrete situation and executed in various materials and forms. In her interdisciplinary practice, drawings and photography are among the less often employed media; spoken or written language is also utilized only once in a while, most pointedly in 1994 in the installation Am Haus (on the house) in Berlin. In Oranienstrasse in Kreuzberg, in the center of the Berlin district with the highest percentage of Turkish residents, Ayşe Erkmen “inscribed” the façade of an apartment building with fragments of Turkish words. These owe their calligraphic allure to a grammatical particularity of the Turkish language (which was written in the Arabic alphabet until the 1920s, when in the course of secularization it was replaced by Roman): the punched plastic letterforms with dashes designate verb endings and describe events in the past that were not experienced by the narrator, but were conveyed to him or her by a third party. Thus, these are the accounts of another, not present, and are identified as such through the suffixes: accounts that ultimately may or may not be faithful to the way it really happened. As is well known, an essential characteristic of the oral transfer of knowledge and experience is the strongly subjective coloring of what is being told by the one speaking. In this way, the letterforms indicate the overlay of narrative voices in a story, the (original) author of which remains absent.

The motif of absence returns consistently in Ayşe Erkmen’s work: it can be considered an essential conceptual characteristic of her artistic practice. Her works are often conceived solely for the duration of the exhibition and “disappear” after it ends, resisting being channeled smoothly into the recycling circulation of the art industry. The artist herself as author and authority remains scarcely graspable, ghostly behind her interventions into spatial and social situations, which nevertheless always result from her concrete engagement with and presence on the site. Indeed, with her formally reduced interventions she inscribes the architecture or the site of the particular context markedly and distinctly. These inscriptions achieve their effect beyond the present moment precisely because of their ephemeral existence. They intervene by crossing over to the absent, the no longer visible in the foundations of the museum, the gallery, and all the other showplaces of the “art system,” in which, despite the (conceptual, institution-critical etc.) insecurities of recent decades, very clear conceptions still prevail as to how art and everyday life are to be kept separate. These boundaries of art, its points of contact with the every day, form the mental cartography along the coordinates of which Ayşe Erkmen has developed a body of work since the 1990s that seems difficult to grasp in its material polymorphousness, although its individual aspects are nevertheless constantly brought into association. At the house on the corner in Kreuzberg, this ex-tervention into the sphere of everyday reality is manifest: the ornamental letterforms, distributed at regular, close intervals across the building façade, not only beautify the building but also communicate with the street and its residents. In this particular case, the objective is not temporary but is a still existing work, which reclaims from the passersby in the busy street a moment of suspension and of self-questioning, as only a portion of them are in a position to understand the Turkish words. To those versed in Turkish, the passive narrative mode and the existence of an absent one displayed in the suffixes evinces a fundamental experience of migration. Thus, the aesthetic dimension of absence—graphically condensed here “on the house” in the obliterating function of the dash—is informed by a correspondence in the psychosocial, in the area of the individual and societal experience of loss, loss of home and foreignness.

The reciprocal conceptual associations of her artistic interventions and objects become particularly clear in this example when it is considered that Am Haus belongs to a trilogy of exhibitions and works begun in 1993-94, shortly after Erkmen’s arrival in Berlin, with Das Haus (the house) in the DAAD gallery and followed by Zum Haus (to/concerning the house) in another Berlin gallery.2 All three works resulted from Erkmen’s investigative engagement with the respective exhibition location, its history, function, and ideological significance. The motif of physical blockade instrumentalized in the DAAD gallery through lowering the lighting system, which framed the otherwise empty exhibition space from within, illuminated it and prevented visitors from crossing through it, has subsequently been taken up by the artist numerous times and modified in view of the respective exhibition situation: in the light-flooded spaces of Galerie Brigitte Trotha in Frankfurt, she extended white bands horizontally between eight slender iron columns, forming a definite, clearly structured weave (Summertime, 1999). Reaching from the floor to the ceiling, this intervention of illuminated diagonals blocked the narrow passage between the columns situated in the middle of the space. Thus, Ayşe Erkmen foregrounded the segment of the room with the dominant columns, which according to the customary preconception of the “white cube” could be considered disruptive. Her work enables the flat, space-spanning bands to evoke fragile (exhibition) walls, but also the threads of an oversized weaving loom, which, where they overlap, give rise to fine moiré effects.

Even subtler—and paradoxically more radical—was Ayşe Erkmen’s occupation of the available structures of the exhibition spaces in the Taxispalais in Innsbruck. She arranged for a massive hunk of rock to be lowered onto the transparent glass roof of the underground gallery building, causing the showroom below to be cordoned off for safety reasons (Stoned, 2003). While the emptiness of the space did not give any sense of the physical and constructive effort required in the placement of the rock in this unusual location, it did provoke an upward glance—at the façade of the interior courtyard, into the sky, and particularly at this piece of rock, brought (almost) into the exhibition space as a placeholder for the Alpine landscape. Thus, “with a single blow,” the topography of the city of Innsbruck with its cultural significance as a locus of bucolic Alpine yearning and stronghold of sports tourism became the semantic backdrop of the installation, and the imposing stone confronted the closed-off sphere of culture with the unaccountability and implacability of a sublime nature.

The opposition of nature and art also subliminally marks the installation Kuckuck (cuckoo) which Ayşe Erkmen realized in 2003 at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen. There, she directed her focus not at the topographic and cultural context of the institution, but at the holdings in the repository of the natural history museum located in the same building. She installed four taxidermied animals in the passages between the four temporary exhibition halls of the classicist building. Mounted on gray plinths and rails of various lengths, each animal moved back and forth at a particular time in a fixed sequence. The relocation of the taxidermied animals from the repository into the exhibition space and from the naturalscientific to the art-historical realms of the museum demonstrated with one stroke the three traditional objectives of museums in general: collection, preservation, and exhibition. With the quasi-performative staging of the dead creatures on runners, not only did the act of exhibition become a demonstrative gesture; the artificial setting in motion of the animal specimens—which in the context of the museum exemplify didactical demonstration and nearness to nature—also made their artificiality ironically apparent. Set in rhythmic motion through (invisibly) broadcast time signals, the extraordinary menagerie alternates between natural science cabinet of wonders and safari theme park. Despite the familiarity of the animal forms and the playful staging of their movement, which for the viewer may evoke stories of confrontation between humans and animals, for this work, too, decidedly formal aspects were germinal for the artistic engagement with the site.3

This formal, or more generally, aesthetic interest in space becomes clearer in the work 9’ 45” of 1995. On the occasion of the exhibition Chronos & Kairos at the Museum Fredericianum in Kassel, starting from the “naked” determinants of the given situation— floor, ceiling, walls— Ayşe Erkmen installed a mobile rear wall that slowly moved forwards and backwards. This caused the space to close, open, close again, etc., and the familiar space of the “white cube” to mutate into a bizarrely animated spectacle. The exaggerated word “spectacle” may help to situate Erkmen’s other, earlier artistic engagements with space, or also with the object in space. So in her analytical view towards a given architecture or situation, in her almost anatomizing view of the size, proportion and function of individual spatial elements and not only towards the physical structures but also towards the history and iconography of a place, the ideas of an institution-critical art can be detected, as they have arisen since the late 1960s out of the deliberations of minimalism. If minimal art always thought of the specific spatiality of a presentation context from the object outward, the form and materiality of which were placed in the foreground, so the site-specific works of Michael Asher or Daniel Buren, for example, made their dependence upon the situation of their realization into an explicit theme.

While Ayşe Erkmen seldom makes autonomous objects that are relatively independent of the context of their realization and presentation—the edition work Mine of 1997 may be cited as an example—all of her objects and interventions are marked by a “minimalist” aspiration towards formal reduction; her materials “are not art at the outset” and are closely connected with the form of the respective work—characteristics that Donald Judd brought into currency for his Specific Objects.4 Erkmen’s works, too, aim for the transparency and the self-evident nature of visual and occasionally of acoustic perceptibility. At the same time, she holds the viewer at a distance; it is only the strictures of the site that her interventions seem to obey. In their clear aesthetic manifestation they represent a suggestion—and never a demand—that the viewer bring these strictures and all their (psychosocial, historical, cultural) implications into consciousness. The previously mentioned blockade element that is applied in her work again and again points to just this experience of distance on behalf of the viewer, which has been found at fault by critics such as Michael Fried in the “selfsufficient objects” of minimal art.5

We encounter the motif of distance again in the work Wertheim ACCU, realized at the fourth Istanbul Biennial in 1995. Ayşe Erkmen clad the cabin of an unused freight elevator inside the Biennial exhibition building (previously a customs clearing building and storage facility) in shiny silver corrugated metal, normally the material of the shipping containers that had been stored in and dispatched from the building. The elevator cabin was put back into service in this new, shining form and for the duration of the exhibition it went up and down, noisily and without pause, between the two levels of the building. The partial, temporary “renovation” of what had been a central artery of traffic in the old storage facility brought its history into consciousness; as an exposed site, literally “brought to light,” the metal-clad cabin also functioned as an aesthetic form and played unmistakably on the industrially finished cubes of minimalism. Absence of content and (semantic) void were two of the maxims of Donald Judd’s Specific Objects; the artist sought to eliminate any potential for association and any anthropomorphism and make the objects capable of being experienced as pure form.6

Ayşe Erkmen’s “cube” is ostensibly empty, reflective and nevertheless full of playful associations: its noisy motion calls attention to itself; the cabin “ascends” majestically to the sublime heights of the upper story and plunges abysmally into the depths of the lower. It “appears” to the exhibition visitors, who did not expect in this exact location—between two open doors, where just a minute ago was a dark void—to encounter a work of art. The permanent shuttling between the floors implies the uncompleted period of activity in the building, which was in fact consigned to be forgotten. Not least, in the unusual redefinition of a normally unnoticed place, the practice of exhibition, the “struggle” for curatorial and public visibility, is reflected in itself: “But in general this project was about showing an artwork which is ambitious—the politics of exhibition making—because we all know artists want to show their work in the best way possible. So this was also about exhibiting.”7

As an equally subtle and humorous play on the “spectacle” of exhibition making, Wertheim ACCU declares the aesthetic and art-historical sovereignty with which Ayşe Erkmen, who completed her degree in sculpture in 1977 at the National Academy in Istanbul, advances her engagement with space and place. The employment of moving parts brings with it the acknowledgment that the sphere of kinetics in twentieth-century sculpture has been considered not entirely serious or not entirely to be taken seriously, a deviation in service of playful entertainment rather than conscientious aesthetic reflection. Nevertheless, the sculptural or object-based moment of movement gives rise with great self-evidence to a specific situation of perception in which the central categories for sculpture—of space, time and energy—can be made experimental on an immediate, physical level.

This becomes even clearer in works that extend in space, in which the playful moment inherent in movement comes into unusual contexts and, in its aesthetic implications, lays claim to the observer’s entire bodily capacity for perception. In 2005 at the Sculpture Center in New York, Ayşe Erkmen realized the installation Busy Colors. In the former trolley repair shop into which the institution had relocated three years before, she mounted two large lengths of fabric, magenta polysilk and blue-green nylon, under the ceiling on an old, enormously huge 20-ton crane. According to the functioning of the crane, which moved back and forth under the immensely high ceiling, one of the two oversized cloths was extended horizontally while the other hung down low in the exhibition space. Then, with the retrogression of the horizontal crane element, the second fabric banner was stretched out under the ceiling and the first piece swayed towards the floor. From below, the unfinished concrete ceiling with its many metal supports and suspended lighting elements was concealed from view by the colored fabrics.

The conspicuous opposition, grounded in the physical circumstances, between the massive industrial apparatus and the filmy fabric was emphasized again through the cloth’s gentle, simultaneous swinging backward and forward in the depth of the space, and its slow upward and downward motions, which were accompanied by the noise of the crane’s operation. The daylight entering from above was caught in the lengths of cloth and contributed to a richly atmospheric “coloring” of the site that varied with the time of day. This was achieved in its entirety as perceptible to the senses: the noise of the industrial crane and the “dancing” movement of the lengths of cloth like flexible walls addressed the visitor’s sense of sight, hearing, and even touch as he or she reacted to the suspended, billowing cloths, also occasionally having to move out of their way. In this elegant, though also disturbing choreography—disturbing on account of the dimensions and permanent loud noise of the crane—the space itself became a sculpture, attested to its (prior) function and transferred this into the new, transformed context of the exhibition space. In the process, however, as is usually the case for Ayşe Erkmen—as opposed to Robert Irwin, for example, who intervenes in architectural structures with colored spaces and light installations—the space never becomes an image, but intends in its parameters and individual strictures to be measured with the eyes and experienced with the body.

Ayşe Erkmen’s situative interventions in the “organism” of architecture or of space allow these to appear as a bodily and autonomous counterpart, which, through the always extremely precise, formally reduced additions or subtractions of individual elements, reveals its character and (possible) ways of functioning. Just how consistently she proceeds from the situation as encountered can be demonstrated in two examples: By paraphrasing the uniform grid structure of the artificially lit, tiled Maçka Gallery in Istanbul with round wood and plastic forms placed on the floor and the walls, virtually brushing her fingertips over it, she brought out the narrow, confining geometry of the space; she also reflected the indexical character of her “tracing” in the exhibition title This Gallery. By contrast, the New Zealand exhibition space The Physics Room is defined by its large windows looking onto a lively street; the colorful, commercially available shutters that Ayşe Erkmen had fitted into the windows simultaneously accentuated their function and undermined it. With their varying colors and structures of segments, they not only resembled backlit monochrome color panels but also directed the gaze back into the space, which they bathed in a luminous, warm atmosphere. The banal word “awesome” (the exhibition title, meaning either “formidable” according to its traditional or “great” according to its slang usage) may also have escaped the lips of gallery visitors, who saw the familiar space literally “in a new light.”

It is a specific sensibility that fundamentally conditions the encounter with—or better, the exploration of—the particular place to which Ayşe Erkmen has been invited for the exhibition or realization of a work. The artist herself has repeatedly emphasized the significance of this intensive engagement with the site the inception of each of her projects involves.8 At the same time, in her process she insists on the beauty of her interventions and objects. Her site-specific works always also have a compelling visual presence; indeed, they touch us as viewers—even if they would apparently hold us at a distance—on account of their particular aesthetic quality. In this curiously understated address of the viewer inheres the difficulty and fascination that also characterize discussions of Ayşe Erkmen’s work. How can you describe the immediate physical and visual effect of a silver-clad freight elevator going up and down, or the impression of lengths of cloth that rise and fall like displaced theater curtains in an old industry hall? What about the effect of a subway train arriving in a crowded station that is accompanied until it stops by melodramatic trailer melodies? In 2006, the entire platform of the Berlin subway line 8 Alexanderplatz stop became the showplace of Ayşe Erkmen’s artistic intervention U8: the arrival of the train, in itself banal, appreciated into a particular, emotionally laden moment and the train itself became the “star” of an urban daily soap. Here, too, the artist did not address the viewers—those waiting on the platform—explicitly; the intervention in public space proceeded incidentally and unexpectedly, and touched those who in their big city lives maintain a sensibility for the (aesthetically) extraordinary—indeed, touched them to the very center of their consciousness.

In this “touching” and “affecting” the viewer—in a specific situation, at a specific place and for a limited time—a surprising characteristic is revealed in Ayşe Erkmen’s economical and precise works: they possess an anthropomorphic quality—not in the formal sense, but in the extent to which, as aesthetically formed spaces and objects, they place themselves in reference to people, acquire meaning for them, offer them possibilities for engagement. Georges Didi-Huberman (with reference to Michael Fried) attempted to trace and to interpret psychologically a similar form of anthropomorphism in the works of American minimalists, who indeed made the overcoming of this type of analogy into their masthead.9 Picking up where he left off, it would be possible with respect to the perceptible sensibility of Ayşe Erkmen’s architectural and situative works to speak of a “processed” or “deferred” anthropomorphism that can be recognized in a conception of space as an autonomous, if multiply conditioned, counterpart to the human. As a designed, undeniably present counterpart, it consistently challenges us to investigate and discover the possible locations of art.

As an attempt at a semantic fixing of Ayşe Erkmen’s ephemeral works, such an interpretation may be on unstable ground—similar to the visitors in the entry area of the Sculpture Center, who suddenly found themselves in a “mine field”. But you might as well accept that in the art of Ayşe Erkmen, you have to be ready for surprises.

1. “Zitty: Fünf Fragen/Five Questions”, in Von Mäusen und Menschen/Of Mice and Men, exhibition catalogue, 4th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, ed. Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, Ali Subotnick (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2006) pp. 62–79. The contribution by Ayşe Erkmen can be found on p. 73.

2. Ayşe Erkmen picks up the motif of the suffix again in her works Chatter and Conversation.

3. Cf. Konrad Bitterli, “The Art of Setting a Cockoo in Motion: On Ayşe Erkmen’s oeuvre” in Ayşe Erkmen: Kuckuck, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen 2003 (Nürnberg: Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2003) pp. 24-45, especially p. 39 ff.

4. Donald Judd, “Specific Objects”, in: Arts Yearbook, 8, 1965, pp. 74-82.

5. Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood”, in: Artforum, Vol. V., No. 10, Summer 1967, pp. 12-23.

6. Donald Judd, “Specific Objects” (see note 4).

7. Ayşe Erkmen, quoted in: “Tigers, Ships and Helicopters: Ayşe Erkmen in conversation with Andrea Schlieker,” in: Ayşe Erkmen: Under the Roof, exhibition catalogue (Birmingham: Ikon Gallery, 2005) pp. 9–35, here p. 16.

8. Cf. for example Sabine Vogel, “Manchmal wie ein Detektiv” (interview with Ayşe Erkmen) in: Erzählen, exhibition catalogue (Berlin: Akademie der Künste, 1994) pp. 118-124.

9. Georges Didi-Huberman, Was wir sehen, blickt uns an: Zur Metapsychologie des Bildes (Munich: Fink, 1999) The concepts cited below can be found on p. 126.

Ayşe Erkmen )>temporary< /=contemporary=( by Friedrich Meschede

No rules or strategies lie behind the success of artistic careers - only secrets. The secret surrounding the international acknowledgement of Ayşe Erkmen’s oeuvre is at the same time the secret that is inherent in each of her works. Should one ask what is characteristic of her art, the answer could only be: it is the continuous vicissitude, the permanent change. There are neither characteristic materials nor a definite, classifiable aesthetic nor a continuous message as regards content. For each work - and these are usually site-specific projects - Ayşe Erkmen utilizes the means necessary to achieve the desired result, and this result can indeed be a political message or it can be about human concerns, like her video installation “PFM 1 and others”. Hence, every new work becomes a surprise for those who have been keeping track of her activities for years and an experience to share with those encountering Ayşe Erkmen’s art for the first time. As her works often reflect existing social, historical and/or architectural facts, this experience consequently begins with the deciphering of each new work, the decoding of the logic hidden behind the outer form.

I had already become acquainted with this experience in 1994 in Berlin during our first joint project within the ISKELE exhibition. The artist furnished the facade of an apartment building in Kreuzberg (the part of town then favored by Turkish immigrants) with the syllables that hang on Turkish verbs as conjugations, but left all potential statements open by omitting the verbs. Completely different was our second joint venture just one year later at the 4th International Istanbul Biennial, when Ayşe Erkmen chose for her contribution a scruffy old freight elevator in Antrepo, a deserted former customs warehouse situated directly on the Bosphorus. Having been repaired, the inner walls of the elevator were covered with shining silvery corrugated iron sheets, the same material used for the shipping containers whose contents once used to be stored there, which were still being loaded from ships to trucks and from trucks to ships outside of the building. Not only did this minimal physical change refer to the location, the wide-open elevator also was constantly moving up and down between the different levels, becoming a huge silvery mobile that also unmasked the absurdity of the permanently global movement of goods. In his text for this book, Friedrich Meschede takes a closer look into many of Ayşe Erkmen’s sublime artistic statements, which have taken place primarily outside of Turkey. And her interview with Fatoş Üstek reveals the relevance of Ayşe Erkmen’s position as a medium for Turkish culture, especially between the generations. She thinks and works out of the context of this culture, and Istanbul always has been - and will be - the place she returns to, even though Berlin has become a second home and Kassel and Frankfurt have hosted her as a teacher at their academies.

Istanbul has become a hotspot in the international art world not only due to its biennial but mainly due to artists like Ayşe Erkmen who are addressing significant international positions. One of the intentions of this series of monographs about Turkish contemporary art is to impart this exciting spirit of an art scene on the go to a wider audience.

Fragen nicht stellen, auf die es Antworten gibt by Florian Matzner

Als ich sechs Jahre alt war, sah ich einmal in einem Buch über den Urwald, das ‘Erlebte Geschichten’ hieß, ein prächtiges Bild. Es stellte eine Riesenschlange dar, wie sie ein Wildtier verschlang. In dem Buche hieß es: ‘Die Boas verschlingen ihre Beute als Ganzes, ohne sie zu zerbeißen. Daraufhin können sie sich nicht mehr rühren und schlafen sechs Monate, um zu verdauen.’

Ich habe damals viel über die Abenteuer des Dschungels nachgedacht, und ich vollendete mit einem Farbstift meine erste Zeichnung. Meine Zeichung Nr. 1. So sah sie aus:

Ich habe den großen Leuten mein Meisterwerk gezeigt und sie gefragt, ob ihnen meine Zeichnung nicht Angst mache. Sie haben mir geantwortet: ‘Warum sollen wir vor einem Hut Angst haben?’ Meine Zeichnung stellte aber keinen Hut dar. Sie stellte eine Riesenschlange dar, die einen Elefanten verdaut. Ich habe dann das Innere der Boa gezeichnet, um es den großen Leuten deutlich zu machen. Sie brauchen ja immer Erklärungen. Hier meine Zeichnung Nr. 2:

Die großen Leute haben mir geraten, mit den Zeichnungen von offenen und geschlossenen Riesenschlangen aufzuhören und mich mehr für Geographie, Geschichte, Rechnen und Grammatik zu interessieren. So kam es, daß ich eine großartige Laufbahn, die eines Malers nämlich, bereits im Alter von sechs Jahren aufgab. Der Mißerfolg meiner Zeichnungen Nr. 1 und Nr. 2 hatten mir den Mut genommen. Die großen Leute verstehen nie etwas von selbst, und für die Kinder ist es zu anstrengend, ihnen immer und immer wieder erklären zu müssen.”

Mit diesen Worten beginnt Antoine de Saint-Exupéry seine berühmte Geschichte ‘Der kleine Prinz’, ein Buch ebenso für große Kinder wie für kleine Erwachsene und gleichzeitig eine einleuchtende Abhandlung über die zentrale Frage in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts: Der Frage nach dem Verhältnis des Bildes zu seinem Abbild sowie nach dem Verhältnis des Produktes zu seiner Rezeption im Sinne des ‘Offenen Kunstwerkes’ von Umberto Eco: Auf eine Frage gibt es viele Antworten, abhängig davon, wer sie stellt und wer sie beantwortet.

“Die Antworten nicht kennen, Fragen nicht beantworten, Fragen nicht stellen, auf die es Antworten gibt”(2) Mit diesen Worten hat Ayse Erkmen in einem Gespräch die Frage nach der Funktion der zeitgenössischen Kunst beantwortet und ebenso wie Antoine de Saint-Exupéry eine andere Antwort bekam auf seine Frage, als er sie erwartet hatte, so stellt Ayse Erkmen mit ihrer Kunst Fragen, auf die es ebenso keine wie doch tausende Antworten geben kann. Beispiel Singen: Die merkwürdige Form des ‘Stadtberges’, des sogenannten Hohentwiel, einer Gesteinsformation vulkanischen Ursprungs, ist im Laufe der Zeit zum Wahrzeichen Singens geworden: Die Silhouette dieses Berges (Abb. 1) ist deshalb zum städtischen Logo avanciert und prägt auch das Erscheinungsbild der ‘Landesgartenschau Singen 2000 Management GmbH’. Allerdings haben hier clevere Designer die Umrißform des Berges in ein saftgrünes Blatt (Abb. 2) transformiert, das die Gartenschau erfolgsträchtig bewerben und vermarkten soll, während Ayse Erkmen hier die, vor mehr als 60 Jahren publizierte Kinderzeichnung einer Schlange (Abb. 3, 4) wiederentdeckt, die unverdaut einen Elefanten verschlungen hat - das Bild eines Vulkans hat unvermittelt mindestens drei Abbilder bekommen, nämlich das Blatt, den Hut und den Elefanten.
Und weil dieser Berg, den auch die Besucher der Landesgartenschau in Singen sehen, eben nicht die Silhouette eines in monumentale Ausmaße transformierten grünen Blattes oder eines grauen Hutes ist, sondern die eines versteinerten Elefanten, der seit Millionen von Jahren hier ruht, weisen Verkehrsschilder den Weg zu einer neuen Touristenattraktion Schwabens: Billboards verschiedener Größe zeigen im Stadtgebiet Singens die Photographie eines Elefanten, am Parkhaus, Hauptbahnhof, am Autobahnkreuz, am Rathaus. Diese Hinweisschilder - ebenso Werbephoto wie Verkehrszeichen - weisen dem Besucher den Weg zum Hohentwiel, mitten auf den Rücken des Elefanten also.

Das Verhältnis von Bild und Abbild, von Frage und Antwort ist der zentrale Aspekt im Werk von Ayse Erkmen, die in Deutschland erstmals 1994 durch ein ebenso stringentes wie rätselhaftes Projekt im öffentlichen Raum bekannt geworden ist. Die Künstlerin hat im Berliner Stadtteil Kreuzberg - mit dem wohl höchsten Anteil türkischer Bevölkerung in Deutschland - die Außenfassade des Hauses Oranienstraße 18 mit merkwürdigen Wortfragementen versehen (Abb. 5): Silben und Suffixe aus ihrer Landessprache sind in gleichem Abstand über die Mauerfläche verteilt, so daß diese aus größerer Entfernung wie ein ornamentales Muster wirken. “Die Worte sind als Begriffe nicht lesbar, sie veranschaulichen in der Wahl der Silben Phänomene der türkischen Grammatik, die einen Sinn erst aus dem sprachlich-internationalen Zusammenhang heraus bestimmbar werden lassen. Somit bleibt diese Arbeit in Berlin-Kreuzberg sowohl für die deutsche als auch für die türkische Bevölkerung abstrakt und nur deutbar als ein Phänomen von Grenzerfahrung und Fremde.”(3) Und Ayse Erkmen hat in einem Interview dazugefügt: “Man kann sich selbst erfinden. Man kann sich in einem bestimmten Licht erscheinen lassen. Was gesagt wird, ist nicht sicher, und das ist dem Zuhörer klar” und weiter “Alles, was gesagt wird, ist zu erkennbar ungewiß, um als Lüge tauglich zu sein.”(4) Dies gilt im übrigen auch für die Arbeit der Künstlerin in Singen, wenn erklärtermaßen unklar bleibt, wer Recht hat: der Berg, das Blatt, der Hut - oder der Elefant!

Bildsprachen und Sprachbilder - mit diesem ebenso gesellschaftlich und geschichtlich geprägten wie persönlich und individuell assoziierbarem Spannungsfeld arbeitete Ayse Erkmen auch 1996 auf der ‘manifesta 1' in Rotterdam (Abb. 6), wenn sie wiederum Architekturen mit Zitaten ‘ausstattete’ und damit die Gebäude sprechen ließ: “Oh, what a nice house! I wonder who lives there? I must go in and see!” stand in roter, zeitgeistbestimmter Schrifttype der 90er Jahre auf der Außenfassade einer Bauhaus-Architektur der 20er Jahre, die inzwischen zu einer Inkunabel der europäischen Kunstgeschichte geworden ist. Einem berühmten und deshalb anonym gewordenen Haus wird seine individuelle Geschichte zurückgegeben, nämlich seine Bewohner. Doch beim Betreten entlarvt sich dieser Wunsch als Fiktion, denn es gibt keine Hausbewohner mehr, sondern museal gestaltete, unpersönliche Ausstellungsräume, deren Beliebigkeit durch den Erbauungsstil eine Individualtität vorgeben, die sie schon lange verloren haben: Das Bild der Architektur ist zum Zeichen geworden, das gleich eines Logo ‘Etwas’ zu transportieren sucht, denn nicht nur “in der Architektur geht es verstärkt um Stile und Erkennungszeichen. In der Wissenschaft spricht man mehr von Sachverhalten, von Problemstellungen, von Vorgaben und Lösungswegen. Aber natürlich bin ich keine Wissenschaftlerin, sondern Künstlerin.”(5)

Ein kühle, in diesem Sinne geradezu wissenschaftliche Auseinandersetzung hatte Ayse Erkmen auch zu ihrem Beitrag für die Doppelausstellung ‘ZuSpiel’ mit Andreas Slominski im Frankfurter Portikus bewogen: Während Slominski im Innern einer subtil-ironischen, manchmal zynisch erscheinenden Tätigkeit während der Dauer der Ausstellung nachging, transportierte Erkmen dieses Motiv des Absurden in den Außenraum.(6) Hier kontrollierten zwischen den Säulenstellungen der Eingangsfassade angebrachte Metalldetektoren den zufälligen Passanten ebenso wie den zielstrebigen Ausstellungsbesucher (Abb. 7). Die in der Flughafenabfertigung inzwischen selbstverständliche - im buchstäblichen Sinne des Wortes - Offenlegung der eigenen Intimssphäre wird hier unvermittelt zu einer geradezu peinlichen Situation. Der scheinbar freie, weil öffentliche Raum wird plötzlich zu einer geschlossenen Zelle, zu einem Gefängnis, in dem jedermann den Inhalt seiner Hosentaschen zu überprüfen hat: Gleichzeitig erhält der Besuch einer Kunstausstellung den gleichen Stellenwert wie das ‘Boarding’ einer Lufthansa-Maschine - der Portikus als Hochsicherheitstrakt.

Ein banales Einzelbild ist auf Grund seines veränderten Einsatzortes zu einer vielschichtigen Aussage geworden, die der Betrachter in seinem eigenen Kopf zu einem Puzzle eigener, intimer Assoziationen zusammensetzt, zu gänzlich neuen Bildern also, denn - so die Künstlerin - “meine Arbeit wird letztlich nie ganz fertig, nicht perfekt und nicht vollkommen. Denn ich fühle mich auch verantwortlich, was um die Arbeit herum geschieht.”(7)

“Bilder” - hat Ayse Erkmen einmal gesagt - “sind sehr real und gleichzeitig sehr irreal”(8). Dies aber gilt nicht nur für die privaten Bilder der Kunst, sondern vor allem auch für die öffentlichen Bilder der Alltagswelt und der Freizeitkultur, der Medien ebenso wie der Werbung, die Ayse Erkmen 1996 in der Kunsthalle Recklinghausen(9) in den traditionellen Kontext eines Museums (Abb. 8) ‘verpflanzt’ hat: “Ich leihe mir Bilder von einer Image-Bank.(...) Diese vermietet Fotos für Werbezwecke. Der Preis hängt davon ab, wie lange, wofür und in welchem Verbreitungsradius man sie verwendet. Danach gibt man sie wieder zurück und sie können wieder von anderen für beliebige Zwecke verwendet werden. In den Angebotskatalogen sind die Motive in fünf Kategorien unterteilt: Reise, Sport, Lebensstil, Natur, Geschäft/Arbeit. Auffallendstes Merkmal dabei ist, daß es weder Leid noch Krankheit in diesen Bildern gibt. Für die Ausstellung habe ich ein Motiv von jeder Kategorie vergrößern, jeweils horizontal in drei Teile schneiden lassen und in den drei übereinanderliegnden Räumen vom Boden bis unter die Decke als Bildwand einsetzen lassen. Der untere Teil des Bildes ist in der untersten Etage, der mittlere in der mittleren Etage und der obere Teil in der obersten Etage.”(10)

Ayse Erkmen hat hier Walter Benjamins inzwischen sich selbst rasant überholende These von der ‘Reproduzierbarkeit des Bildes’ wörtlich genommen, denn das Bild trifft - abhängig von seinen Rezeptionszusammenabhängen - unterschiedlichste Aussagen, wie auch das Projekt für die Landesgartenschau in Singen belegt, denn auch dieses Bild des Berges und seine anschließende Verwertung als Blatt, als Hut und als Elefant läßt sich bemerkenswerterweise in die eine oder andere der oben genannten fünf Kategorien aus dem Angebotskatalog der Werbeindustrie einordnen - ein Bild, das verschiedene Sprachen spricht, egal ob es eine Skulptur, ein Gemälde oder ein Foto, ein Gegenstand oder ein Mensch, ein Haus oder eine Stadt ist.

“Eine stumme Mauer, die sehen, aber nicht sprechen kann.”(11) So hat Ayse Erkmen die Westfassade des St. Paulus-Domes in Münster beschrieben, für die sie im Rahmen der ‘Skulptur. Projekte in Münster 1997' eine Arbeit vorgeschlagen hatte, die allerdings am Veto des Domkapitels scheiterte. Durch die Kriegszerstörungen und den veränderten Wiederaufbau nach 1945 seiner architektonischen Identität und Funktion als prominente Eingangsfassade mit großem einladenden Portal beraubt, bietet sich dem Betrachter heute in der Tat eine hochaufragende, hermetisch geschlossene Wandfläche, in deren Zentrum insgesamt zwölf äußere und vier innere Fensteröffnungen die Position eines ehemaligen reichverzierten gotischen Rosettenfensters andeuten sollen (Abb. 9), eine einzigartige Form der Denkmalpflege und des Wiederaufbaues, die man - wie Erkmen - auch als “minimalistisch” beschreiben kann: “Das hat mich interessiert. Die Wand war stumm. Sie sollte sprechen”(12) und weiter: “Diese riesige, klar umrissene Wand ist nicht fertig, sie braucht eine Funktion. Die 12 runden Fensterlöcher sind perfekt angeordnet, um den äußeren Kreis einer Uhr zu beschreiben, als ob sie nur darauf warteten vervollständigt zu werden, als ob die Zeichnung/Konstruktion der Mauer mittendrin abgebrochen wäre. Sie bräuchte zwei Zeiger, einen Stunden- und einen Minutenzeiger. Ich schlage vor, einen Stunden- und einen Minutenzeiger, die in der Mitte miteinander verbunden sind, an der Mauer in der Mitte der vier kleineren runden Fenster anzubringen. Ich möchte, daß diese Zeiger gleich lang sind, ein abstraktes Kreuz, ein orthodoxes/byzantinisches Kreuz (crux quadrata). Das würde das Ablesen der Zeit schwieriger machen, weniger spontan. Trotzdem würde die Uhr genau gehen und die richtige Zeit anzeigen. Um zu wissen wie spät es ist, müßte er/sie an seinen/ihren Standpunkt in seinem/ihren Tagesablauf denken. Er/sie müßte seinen/ihren individuellen Zeitplan prüfen, um herauszufinden, wie spät es ist.(13) Hier wird die Zeit sowohl die Perspektive als auch die Position des Betrachters verändern. Auch wenn man sich nicht bewegt, wird man sich bewegen. (...) Auf diese Weise, könnte man sagen, erhält die Mauer des Westflügels zwei wesentliche Dinge auf einmal, ein Kreuz und eine Uhr. Die Wand hat jetzt etwas zu sagen und zu geben, etwas zu sagen, über sich selbst/ihr Inneres und über das Äußere/den Tag. Sie wird Licht und Dunkelheit haben, Nacht und Tag, jede Sekunde vom Morgen bis zum Abend wird bekannt sein. Die Mauer wird angesehen, gebraucht werden. Sie wird ein Zeichen haben...”(14)
Die Westfassade des Domes und seine merkwürdige, ja skurile Erscheinungsform, dessen “minimalistisches” Rosettenfenster die Münsteraner Bevökerung ebenso liebevoll wie spöttisch als “Seelendusche” betitelt, hätte Ayse Erkmen mit dem ‘ausstatten’ wollen, was typisch für eine Sakralarchitektur ist: Der Uhr und dem Kreuz, in einer allerdings ebenso selbstverständlichen wie ungewöhnlichen Formensprache, denn: “Ich möchte Besucher mit einer unerwarteten Situation konfrontieren. Sie sollten nicht von vornherein wissen, wie man damit umgehen kann. Es sollte erscheinen wie Zufall. Als sei etwas passiert. Das ist wichtig. Das bringt die Arbeit dem Besucher näher. Man muß dann darüber nachdenken. Als sei einem etwas passiert.”(15)

Allerdings scheint die Kirchenverwaltung bemerkt zu haben, daß es Ayse Erkmen um die Entdeckung des Subtilen im Banalen ging, sonst hätte sie nicht dieses ebenso wie die folgenden zwei Projektvorschläge der Künstlerin kategorisch abgelehnt, die sich ebenfalls auf den Dom beziehungsweise den in umgebenden Platz bezogen.(16) Jedenfalls wurde einmal mehr deutlich, daß der sogenannte öffentliche Raum so öffentlich gar nicht ist,(17) sondern im Gegenteil durch eine Vielzahl privater Interessen reglementiert wird,(18) so daß der Künstlerin als letzte Instanz nur noch der Luftraum zur Verfügung stand, “eine Lösung, wunderbar einfach, auf entwaffnende Weise poetisch und ungeheuer intelligent”:(19) In Anlehnung an eine Filmszene aus Federico Fellinis ‘Dolce Vita’, in der eine Christusstatue per Hubschrauber durch Rom zum Petersplatz transportiert wird, ließ Erkmen in regelmäßig stattfindenden Aktionen Steinskulpturen der Renaissance und des Barock durch einen Helikopter vom außerhalb Münsters gelegenen Depot des Museums abholen und nach einem Flug über die Innenstadt dann auf dem Dach des Landesmuseums am Domplatz absetzen. Die von der Künstlerin ausgewählten Skulpturen, vor allem Apostel- und Heiligenfiguren, waren nach den verheerenden Kriegszerstörungen nicht mehr an ihren Originalschauplätzen an und in Kirchen verblieben, sondern fristeten seit nunmehr 50 Jahren ein tristes Dasein in einem verstaubten, dunklen Museumsdepot: ”Die Skulptur wird auf dem Dach des Museums stehenbleiben und den Domplatz überblicken, bis die nächste Skulptur eintrifft, um ihren Platz einzunehmen.”(20)

Ayse Erkmen hat einer ‘toten’ Steinskulptur in der kunsthistorischen Funktion als Abbild eines Menschen ihre Geschichte und damit ihr Leben wiedergegeben, die Künstlerin zeigt der Skulptur nach einem halben Jahrhundert ihren ‘Lebensort’ wieder, den sie seit dem 15. oder 17. Jahrhundert innehatte und den sie durch ihre Präsenz ‘belebte’.

Das Motiv des Lebens und Belebens, ja der Beseelung von Gegenständen und Objekten, die ebenso wie Menschen beredte Zeugen ihrer Zeit sind und damit nicht nur historisch bedeutend sondern vor allem gegenwärtig verbindlich sind, hat Ayse Erkmen in einer permanenten Arbeit im Rahmen eines Kunst am Bau-Projektes 1998 in Berlin verbildicht: An der Köpenickerstraße hat sie an der Uferpromenade Parkbänke aufgestellt, die aus Stahlrohren geformt sind und den Eindruck von überirdisch verlegten Versorgungsleitungen erwecken (Abb. 11). In Wirklichkeit aber wird durch diese Rohre die Restwärme des nahegelegenen Heizkraftwerkes geführt, die bisher in den benachbarten Fluß als verlorene Energie abgeleitet worden war.(21) Die ‘Warm Benches’ - so der Titel der Arbeit - spenden damit den Spaziergängern an der Uferpromenade im Winter angenehme Wärme, im Sommer dagegen Frische und Abkühlung. So als seien in diese Parkbänke die Urkräfte der Natur aus dem Innern der Welt an die Erdoberfläche katapultiert worden, scheinen sie plötzlich zu pulsieren, sind gleichsam zum Leben erweckt.

Wenn es stimmt - wie Bruno Latour in einem anderen Zusammenhang einmal formuliert hat -, daß “Dinge handeln, Menschen passieren”(22), so folgt Ayse Erkmen nicht nur “dem Anspruch, daß die Dinge sich selbst zeigen”(23), sondern behandelt unsere sichtbare Umwelt als gigantisches Bildarchiv, in dem gesellschaftliche und psychologische Aggregatzustände versteckt sind, die es offenzulegen gilt.

Dabei kommuniziert die nebulöse Vergangenheit mit der aktuellen Gegenwart, der undefinierte Raum mit dem konkreten Ort, der zentrierte Mensch mit der grenzenlosen Peripherie, das Subjekt mit dem Objekt - und trotzdem: Ayse Erkmen spürt immer wieder die Gemeinsamkeiten, die Schnittstellen auf, besetzt Leerstellen. In ihrem Beitrag für die Ausstellung ‘Arte all’Arte’ 1998 in der Toskana(24) hat sie der ebenso selbstverständlich wie merkwürdig anmutenden, geradezu ‘eingefrorenen’ Vergangenheit dieser mittelalterlichen Städte die Inkunabeln italienischen Designs des 20. Jahrhunderts gegenübergestellt: Der ‘Sacco’ von Teodoro, Paolini und Gatti (Abb. 12) , die ‘Donna’ von Gaetano Pesce waren genauso vertreten wie Sitzmöbel von Michele De Lucchi sowie von Afra und Tobia Scarpa. Allerdings hatte Erkmen den weichen Knautschsack ebenso wie die anderen Möbelstücke in hartem Alabaster, dem ortsüblich verwandten Material der Kunsthandwerker, reproduzieren und anschließend in ebenfalls traditionellem Verfahren einfärben lassen. Die nur wenige Jahrzehnte alten Klassiker standen somit provokativ der ehrwürdigen Kunstgeschichte des Trecento und der Renaissance entgegen. Sie waren damit ebenso wie die Architekturen - im buchstäblichen Sinne des Wortes - zu Denkmälern ihrer selbst ‘erstarrt’: Was ist die Vergangenheit? Was ist die Gegenwart? Was ist eine Hommage an das andere? Was ist (die bessere) Kunst? - Aber: “Die Antworten nicht kennen, Fragen nicht beantworten, Fragen nicht stellen, auf die es Antworten gibt” hat Ayse Erkmen als die Funktion ihrer Kunst bezeichnet.

Und trotzdem: Die Wand einer Kirche spricht, der Stein einer Skulptur blickt, das Metall einer Bank pulsiert, der Berg einer Stadt lebt. Ayse Erkmen spürt dem Leben der Dinge nach, um den Menschen ihr Leben bewußt zu machen, vielleicht auch deshalb, da “wir gern die Wirklichkeit sublimieren, oder nicht? Es ist nicht das Wirkliche, was da ist - da ist, was wir für das Wirkliche halten”(25), wie die slowenische Künstlerin Marjetica Potrc formuliert hat.
Und deshalb glaubt auch Ayse Erkmen,”daß Kunstwerke eine Lebenszeit haben”(26) Vielleicht geht es ihr wie dem sechsjährigen Jungen in ‘Der kleine Prinz’, der inzwischen erwachsen ist und “gezwungen war, einen anderen Beruf zu wählen”, und der trotzdem oder gerade deshalb sein Leben lang unbeirrt an dem Glauben an seine Kunst festhält: “Wenn ich jemand traf, der mir ein bißchen heller vorkam, versuchte ich es mit meiner Zeichnung Nr. 1, die ich gut aufbewahrt hatte. Aber jedesmal bekam ich zur Antwort: ‘Das ist ein Hut.’”(27)



1 Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de: Der Kleine Prinz (1937). Zit Aus der deutschen Ausgabe Ulm 1983, S. 5-6.

2 Ayse Erkmen, Statement zu Matzner, Florian: Was ist die Funktion der zeitgenössischen Kunst? - eine Künstlerumfage, in Metzel, Olaf: Basisarbeit. Akademie der Bildenden Künste. München 1999, S. 182.

3 Meschede, Friedrich: Minen im Kopf - Zum Werk von Ayse Erkmen, in Kat. Erkmen I-MA-GES 1997, S. 47; siehe dazu auch Volk, Gregory: An der Verbindungsstelle der Dinge, in Kat. Echolot Kassel 1998, S. 7-8, und: Kat. Iskele 1994, S. 34-35.

4 Ayse Erkmen, in: Mißverständnisse Kunstforum 1997, S. 284.

5 Ayse Erkmen, in: Mißverständnisse Kunstforum 1997, S. 279.

6 Siehe Kat. ZuSpiel, Portikus Frankfurt 1996, insbesondere das Gespräch zwischen Ayse Erkmen und Matthias Winzen.

7 Ayse Erkmen, in: Mißverständnisse Kunstforum 1997, S. 279.

8 Ayse Erkmen, in: Mißverständnisse Kunstforum 1997, S. 276.

9 Siehe allg. Schwalm, Hans-Jürgen: Ayse Erkmen, Bilderwelten - eine Installation in der Kunsthalle Recklinghausen, in Kat. I-MA-GES 1997, S. 42-44.

10 Ayse Erkmen, in: Mißverständnisse Kunstforum 1997, S. 276.

11 Ayse Erkmen, Projektbeschreibung, in Bußmann / König / Matzner: Skulptur 1997, S. 144.

12 Ayse Erkmen, in: Mißverständnisse Kunstforum 1997, S. 282.

13 Durch die identische Länge und Form des Stunden- und des Minutenzeigers wäre dem Betrachter nicht klar gworden, ob es beispielsweise “zehn nach zehn” oder “zehn vor zwei” ist.

14 Ayse Erkmen, Projektbeschreibung, in Bußmann / König / Matzner: Skulptur 1997, S. 144-45.

15 Ayse Erkmen, in: Mißverständnisse Kunstforum 1997, S. 281.

16 Siehe die umfassende Dokumentation der insgesamt drei Projekte ‘The Clock’, The Covers’ und ‘The Lights’ in Bußmann / König / Matzner: Skulptur 1997, S. 144-49 sowie Volk, Gregory: An der Verbindungsstelle der Dinge, in Kat. Echolot Kassel 1998, S. 4-5.

17 Eine - noch nicht publizierte - Studie des Autors belegt, daß in Deutschland Kirchen und Friedhöfe in den verbindlichen städtischen und kommunalen Katasterplänen als Privatraum ausgewiesen sind, die damit der Öffentlichkeit expressis verbis nicht zur freien ‘Verfügung stehen’, während diese Bereiche und Gebäude etwa in Frankreich und Italien als sogenannter ‘Öffentlicher Raum’ bezeichnet werden und entsprechend markiert sind.

18 Diese Problematik hat die Berliner Künstlerin Maria Eichhorn zu ihrem Beitrag für die Skulpturenausstellung 1997 in Münster gemacht: Siehe dazu die Projektdokumenation in Bußmann / König / Matzner: Skulptur 1997, S. 133-41, sowie meinen einführenden Aufsatz in diesem Band ‘Kunst und/oder/gegen/mit Architektur’.

19 Volk, Gregory: An der Verbindungsstelle der Dinge, in Kat. Echolot Kassel 1998, S. 5.

20 Ayse Erkmen, Projektbeschreibung, in Bußmann / König / Matzner: Skulptur 1997, S. 149.

21 Siehe Volk, Gregory: An der Verbindungsstelle der Dinge, in Kat. Echolot Kassel 1998, S. 6-7.

22 Siehe dazu meinen Beitrag in diesem Band ‘Unter Umständen entwickelt sich aus einer guten Ballannahme gleich eine Ballmitnahme’ - Zum Werk von Olaf Metzel, Anm. 9.

23 Bismarck, Beatrice von: Ayse Erkmen in Berlin, in Kat. Erkmen Berlin 1995.

24 Siehe Matzner / Vettese: Kat. Arte all’Arte 1998, S. 64-79.

25 Potrc, Marjetica, Statement zu Matzner, Florian: Was ist die Funktion der zeitgenössischen Kunst? - eine Künstlerumfage, in Metzel, Olaf: Basisarbeit. Akademie der Bildenden Künste. München 1999, S. 187.

26 Ayse Erkmen, in: Mißverständnisse. Kunstforum 1997, S. 282.

27 Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de: Der Kleine Prinz (1937). Zit. aus der deutschen Ausgabe Ulm 1983, S. 6-7.

Ayşe Erkmen and Andrea Schlieker in Conversation by

Goethe Institut, London
Monday 11th April 2005

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: Ayşe, we first met about ten years or so ago in Berlin and I have followed your work ever since. One of the most remarkable things about it is that you straddle all kinds of different disciplines and genres. Your practice involves sculpture, installation, photography, animation, intervention, but what is really compelling about your work is that it changes, or appears to change, very radically every time a new project is made. It’s as if you’re reinventing yourself with every location that you show in, be it inside or outside. Yet I think there is a lateral logic that seems to connect all these diverse works, and that’s very much what I’d like to talk to you about this evening, because it seems to me that there are a number of recurring themes or strategies that run through your work. Maybe we could start by discussing some of your most dramatic and well-known pieces, which to me seem to come together under the theme of displacement or relocation. The most spectacular example is Shipped Ships, made in Frankfurt in 2001. Maybe you could say a little about this extraordinary project?

AYŞE ERKMEN: First of all I would like to say something about your initial statement concerning works changing as if I reinvent myself. You are right. This is something that I’ve chosen to do, and every problem and every space becomes a new beginning for me. I find it gives me a lot of freedom so that I can do anything I like. I don’t have to be connected to a style or a form of art or anything. And this is a freedom that I have chosen by not having a ‘visual style’. My work always comes out of something I like or would like to do, and these don’t happen to have a place all the time. They can be waiting at the back of my mind. So with the Shipped Ships project there is one ship in Istanbul that I like to use so much, to travel with. It’s a small ship that goes from Bebek to Hisar on the Bosphorous. This boat makes me so happy. Unintentionally and without thinking, it was as if I had been trying to find a location for it or an opportunity to use it in some way. So when this project was proposed, that I could do something in the city of Frankfurt and, without any restrictions or financial concerns, the first thing I thought about was the name of Frankfurt, i.e Frankfurt am Main. It’s even in the name, this river, that’s separating the city. The starting point was this small boat from the Bosphorous, this water, and the name of Frankfurt. The work comes from this symbol, these kinds of things.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: But it wasn’t just a boat from Istanbul. It also involved a vaporetta from Venice and a ferry from Japan.

AYŞE ERKMEN: That was because the boat needed friends. It couldn’t stay there all alone.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: I find it very interesting that you’re using the word “friends”. It indicates a very anthropomorphic way of dealing with these boats. The extraordinary thing is not just that these boats have made a journey and are offering people completely new perspectives of their own city. But it’s also that their own local crews have been shipped with them, making it a truly cross-cultural experience. Most importantly I think for you was the fact that these boats were shipped by other ships. I think you said it’s as if they were cradled by their ‘Mothers’.

AYŞE ERKMEN: That’s why the name of the project is Shipped Ships, because in it what’s more interesting, what I like most is that these boats had a chance to travel on another boat; that another boat was carrying them. It’s like a holiday for them, that they are going to Europe for the first time in their lives. The same was true for the crew also. The Turkish crew, all except one of them, had never been in Europe, had never been out of Turkey, and the Japanese crew had never been out of Japan. So for the ships it was essential that the crews came with them, they needed the crew because in shipping this is very important, it’s like their home or family. At least it is like that in Turkey. Every ship has a crew and it never changes. The boat is theirs. This fact links the project to another aspect of German society as it reverses the idea of the ‘Gast Arbeiter’, the guest worker.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: Another important aspect of this work is that it is what Nicolas Bourriaud calls ‘relational’. In other words, it’s participatory, inter-human, functional. A lot of people didn’t realise it was art, and I think this seeping into the everyday is an aspect that pleased you particularly.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes. For example it answers your first question. And also the ship has friends, because it has to have friends. If it was just one it would be too much an artwork. When it has friends it becomes one amongst many, and therefore less of an artwork. I think I like to go in-between when making an artwork - that the artwork I make is in the borders. In a similar way I don’t like to say I’m an artist. I want to be somebody in-between also. This is very important for me. I like it when people get puzzled, when people misunderstand the work, when they take it to be something else that I had never thought about, or when people just don’t see it as art.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: The utilitarian and functional aspect of Shipped Ships is repeated in another work, Warm Benches, which is a permanent outdoor work in Berlin.

AYŞE ERKMEN: This is also a problem for me. When it’s a permanent work it frightens me. Permanency is difficult for me, because I think every artwork has to have a lifetime; it should not be old and become a boring object. It has to finish. When I have to make a permanent work, I try to give it a schedule; that the work is functioning in a real sense. In the case of Warm Benches, I placed them in front of a power plant in Berlin. The benches are warmed by the excess energy from this complex. In the summertime the benches are not heated because the heating in the district stops. I didn’t want them to heat up all the time, so they keep the identity of being an artwork and follow the rhythm or schedule of the power plant. In wintertime when people realise the benches are warm, it suggests to them that it’s an artwork. But in the summertime when they are not heated up they are just normal benches. This is something I do intentionally.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: It’s also very much to do with this notion of site specificity, which we’ll come to later. I just want to go back briefly to the idea of dislocation, because there are two other very spectacular pieces, real examples of coup de théâtre which it would be good to discuss. One is the Münster piece, Sculptures on air, where sculptures are displaced by a helicopter; the other one is Ketty & Assam, where you relocate two tigers.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Ketty & Assam is very similar to Shipped Ships because again it was a way of giving them a holiday. The tigers, Ketty and Assam borrowed from a keeper in Lübeck, are friends, which is really unusual according to their owner. I brought them to Kookerei Zollverein in Essen. This is a huge gallery, and my project occupied a space of around six hundred square metres. This was arranged so that one half was used by the tigers and the other half by the visitors. The tigers had much more room there than where they were normally kept. Also Ketty and Assam had private rooms. These two tigers lived there for almost three months with their owner, Mr. Farrell, so it was a kind of holiday for them. They had their toys, their food and their private chambers. Because it’s a cat family you can’t control them. You can’t tell them to come out, they do whatever they like, so if they were in their rooms at the back of the space, the visitors would not be able to see them. This was a way of putting them at the same level as the visitors.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: Apart from giving the tigers a holiday, what was the reason of bringing the tigers to this specific site? What was the link between the tigers and the space?

AYŞE ERKMEN: Essen is in a coal mining area, in the Ruhr district, and the building had been used for this industry. It was a very, very strong building, incredibly big and heavy, and it needed a matching powerful presence. I thought tigers, with their beauty and their danger, could deal with the space. I felt the tigers could work there because of my previous experience of working with animals in other projects, and because of the way we prepared the space to be as powerful a presence as that of the tigers. I wanted to create a balance between what I put in a space and the space itself.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: I’d like to talk a little longer about this notion of dislocation in relation to a work that probably most people know you for, which is Sculptures on air in Münster. This project really arose out of your dispute with the local church authorities.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes, this was part of an exhibition that is repeated every ten years, Skulptur Projekte Münster. It’s a large exhibition which focuses on the idea of sculpture in the urban context. I was invited to make an outdoor project for this very Catholic city and the place I initially chose to work with was the dome of Münster. The first proposal I put forward was to make a clock from an Orthodox cross, which is totally abstract, unlike the Catholic Christian cross which is based on the proportions of the body. My idea was not to make a statement about the differences between the religions, but about time that could not be read so easily. Therefore by using the form of an Orthodox cross as a clock, which has all its parts equal to each other, one would not be able to read the time so easily. People would have to think about their own body clock or the time of the day to understand what the actual time was, which was my intention. This idea was refused and so I proposed two further projects, also about time.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: And they were also refused…

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes. And the authorities of the dome wrote a letter to the co-ordinators of the project stating that if I made another proposal for the grounds of the cathedral square, which is right in the city centre, they will refuse permission for everything I put forward. The curators then advised me to abandon that place and propose something for the outskirts of the city. But it occurred to me there was another way of engaging with the space, by flying over the cathedral square, by flying over the city, so that the work would avoid touching the ground. At that moment I had a vision of the first scene in the film La Dolce Vita, where a sculpture of Christ is flown above the city and people are fascinated by the sculpture hovering in the air. But the sculptures I chose to be carried by the helicopter had nothing to do with religious figures. They were medieval sculptures from the museum storage. It was very easy to make the work because a helicopter could land on the store and then fly the short distance to the roof of the museum by the cathedral square. The sculpture then stayed there for a period of time, one week, sometimes a little less - it had a schedule - and then another sculpture was picked up, brought to the roof and the other one taken back. And so the project was about shifting and being exhibited, and also touched on how art institutions, how museums are working. Often artworks are waiting - sometimes in the space, sometimes in storage. With this project, they are arriving, or waiting for the other one; they want to show themselves. It’s about showing and being transported, about being in the museum.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: Apart from anything else, I think this project for Münster certainly shows your sense of perseverance, rigour and ingenious lateral thinking when you want to realise an idea but find your path blocked by circumstances. Furthermore, the two projects we have talked about so far reveal another recurring aspect of your work, which is movement. You have made many other pieces, where this can be observed. For example, to name just a few, the industrial lift you activated for the Istanbul Biennale in 1995, the freight elevator More or Less in Bonn which just moved slightly up and down, the model trains in choo-choo, the Kuckuck installation in Kunstmuseum St. Gallen where stuffed animals moved on a track backwards and forwards, or Eudora, your contribution to the Berlin Biennale in 2001, where you projected this computer signal that moved around like the hand of a clock, which reminds me slightly of your initial proposal for Münster. What motivates this fascination with movement? Is it a way of grappling with metaphors of time and time passing?

AYŞE ERKMEN: It changes from one project to another. We have to generalise in discussing this. I think it has to do with my concern about being stable, with staying in one place. But it changes from one project to another. The Istanbul Biennale was in a large industrial hall with two floors. The lift would go up and down continuously and as a presence in both worlds. Of course there are other things to it. This lift was a part of a building which had been empty before the exhibition, so I made it function again. I also lined the lift compartment with the same metal as a shipping container as this was what the building was originally used for. Previously it was a dock building and containers came in and out all of the time, going out into the city via these lifts. So, there were all these practical aspects which are also part of the work. But in general this project was about showing an artwork which is ambitious – the politics of exhibition making - because we all know artists want to show their work in the best way possible. So this was also about exhibiting.

Kuckuck was about time, because the venue was in Switzerland and the idea of Swiss precision became a consideration for the work. Again there were other practical opportunities which presented themselves. The stuffed animals were in the museum already. They were in storage, so all I had to do was bring the animals upstairs to the exhibition rooms and then to make them move according to a regular time pattern. Each animal had a particular pace; for example the bird moved continuously, marking out every second, the zebra moved every five minutes and so on. So in order for this whole installation to work very precisely, each animal was connected to a central track and that created a big surprise for me. My initial idea was to make something about the idea of the precision of Switzerland but the central clock is actually elsewhere, so it turns out that all Swiss clocks, all Swiss regularity is governed from a central clock which is in Frankfurt.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: And what about choo-choo ?

AYŞE ERKMEN: Choo-choo had to do with the specifics of a city. The gallery was in Göppingen, a small town in Germany where the world-famous Maerklin model trains are made. I thought I should do something with them. We placed four circular tracks on the gallery floor, with the trains running around them. And on the trains I placed huge structures which turned continuously around with the trains.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: Because these structures were flat boards, each painted a different colour, the work became almost like a painting in motion.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes. Colour seemed appropriate to the playfulness of the trains and the gallery was convenient for that because it had four spaces in between columns, and in each space I placed one train working with its own colour.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: Apart from these works, which all involve movement, there is another body of work that features blockages or obstacles. This is apparent, for example, in the early work, das Haus, where you had dramatically lowered the lighting track. Or in a very recent work Habseligkeiten/ Possessions, also in Berlin, where you hung a chain made from silver rings across the entrance to a gallery. Also the animals in Kuckuck were actually blocking the entrances to the various gallery rooms. Maybe you staged this blockage most dramatically in 18”11’ at the Friederizianum in Kassel, where a wall actually moved towards you as if you were about to be crushed. What motivates you repeatedly to create works about obstacles and blockages? Does it stem from a kind of institutional critique? Are you engaging with the politics of space and questioning the role of the gallery?

AYŞE ERKMEN: It’s about the art institution perhaps. It’s about spaces that give me the impression they can be blocked. It’s true that this consideration keeps returning in my work. It’s also about exhibiting because some art institutions are supposed to be open, open to the public, open to the artwork, and I think it’s a challenge for me to close them sometimes. In the case of the piece using silver rings, for example, I closed the space, but by closing it I’m also showing a work and therefore closing it with a piece that is really very aesthetic and visual; it’s in between closing and showing. The work that’s closing the room is also a work that’s very much showing itself because it’s so ornamental. 18”11’ is a discrete work, because the change is happening so slowly. People standing in the room would not immediately realise that the wall was moving towards them. So sometimes it’s like that. It’s about going from one place to another; it also has to do with the movement of the viewer from one place to another.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: This brings to mind some strategies developed by artists in the 60s and 70s, especially Robert Barry’s ‘Closed Gallery’ piece of 1969 for example. That’s a subject I’d like to return to in more detail later on. I would like to come back to the notion of site-specificity and your rigorous, uncompromising use of it. When you make a new work, you start out not only by researching the location, history and social context of the gallery or outdoor site, but also, in many cases, of the city or even the country as a whole. So your engagement moves from the particular to the general. For example, we discussed Kuckuck where you work with something that is given locally - in this case, the stuffed animals in the museum. You then make a statement about the whole country or the cliché that we all have about Switzerland and its clock-making. There’s also the installation you made in Vienna, Kein gutes Zeichen, where you showed video projections of coffee. And of course coffee has great resonance for Vienna’s famous ‘Café Kultur’. The fact that the Ottoman Empire once reached all the way to Vienna means that coffee was originally brought there from Turkey. Another, literally breathtaking, example is Stoned, your installation in Innsbruck of a huge and rather threatening rock. Could you talk about that piece?

AYŞE ERKMEN: Stoned was installed in Taxispalais in Innsbruck.The city is closed in by rocky mountains on every side. It occurred to me that this particular gallery was a very fragile space. It has a glass roof without any protection over it; a big beautiful room with a glass ceiling. So I arranged for a huge stone to be quarried from the nearby mountains and installed outside, hanging over this glass ceiling of the gallery from a crane. The room underneath was empty and all that could be seen was this dangerous object. I think of the rock firstly as a very beautiful, and I must say here that I consider everything I do as sculpture. My work is almost always about sculpture. So this stone was a very beautiful sculpture, but a dangerous one, and of course this element of danger, like the tigers in Ketty & Assam, lends beauty to the piece. After making a drawing of what kind of stone I would like, the curator passed on photographs for me to select from. When I chose the stone, not just any stone would do. It had to be beautiful. Size, colour and shape – everything about the form mattered in order to make it interesting and effective.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: And often your work seems to have an inevitability about it: that these particular decisions could only have been taken in this place and time, that these works could only have materialised in that particular space and nowhere else.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Well, I had never seen any other place like this - a glass ceiling that has no protection over it. So this was a space that presented a special opportunity. You could not do anything else. As an artist I would never have any other chance in my life to make this work in any other place. So it created an urgent situation whereby I had to do this.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: And maybe equally urgent is the work Bis August, which you made in Bremen, because the Kunstverein there is right on the river Weser, which is tidal.

AYŞE ERKMEN: This is also a kind of place that an artist doesn’t come across very often. It was a perfect situation. The river in Bremen has tides, which change its level by six metres every six hours. With all the windows open, the gallery connects to the site. For this project I placed buoys on the river and connected them to balls - rather like those used for gymnastics - inside the gallery. So every time a ship passed or something happened in the water, the balls started moving. Of course they also moved with the tide, so throughout the day they were continuously changing their places.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: It’s also a beautiful piece that shows the inside and outside at the same time, and the way you articulate the ebb and flow of the river, seems to me to be another symbol for time.

Let’s talk about a more recent project titled Durchnässt (Soaked) - you have a knack of finding very evocative and poetic German words for your titles! This was made for the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, which has a very grand, clean rotunda space and you filled it with….

AYŞE ERKMEN: ….with earth, with mud that was irregular in shape and level, so it also had pools of water. This work stems from an experience I had a short while ago. Recently I was in Kosovo and the streets were just mud and puddles of water, but its not that people were despairing or lacking anything. You can go to a nice restaurant, but have to walk across terrain like this; you can go to a bank, a boutique, the women are really beautifully dressed, they have high heels and yet they walk over and through this mess. I was fascinated by the beauty of this contrast. So when I was offered an exhibition at Schirn Kunsthalle, it occurred to me that everything about this space is exactly the opposite. It’s very slick, the shows are always very clean and glamorous. It’s a perfect place with a lovely glazed dome above. So I thought water would reflect this in an interesting way throughout the project. Durchnässt is a very dirty work. It looks ugly but at the same time, because of the reflection, it became very photogenic and people were…

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: … blocked again!

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes, they were blocked. Visitors got really dirty going into the exhibition rooms, because the foyer was muddy. I want to come back to this time or duration issue, of how an artwork should live. I requested the gallery to display this work for only fifteen days, because something that makes people work can become tiring or at worst it just becomes part of the institution. I wanted it finished before this happened. It could become a nuisance, so it was just installed for two weeks.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: But this work leads to another topic I wanted to discuss with you, that of political elements in the wider sense, of concerns more to do with social reality rather than politics with a capital ‘P’. As you said, this project was inspired by a visit to Kosovo, even though you weren’t picking up on the gruesome history of the place, but more on impressions of an almost frivolous everyday.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Of course the recent history of Kosovo made it like that. You can find such places everywhere, but the whole country was like this. In the political works I do, I never want to say that these people are desperate in any way. I always want to communicate the politics of a place indirectly. I think when you make a strong and aesthetically successful work, then this is the most effective way to speak of the political.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: Well, I’m thinking in particular of the project you did in Frankfurt at Portikus, Portiport, and also the series of works you made on landmines. Portiport involved the spectator in a direct way - one had to actually walk through the work. Security gates are of course familiar from airports, but by forcing the viewer to move through them in front of a gallery it caused a powerful physical awareness, which is another aspect that is important for your work. It also seemed to be about security within society, surveillance, control, and a heightened perception of our surroundings.

AYSE ERKMEN: When I made that work in 1996, it was a very dangerous and critical time in Istanbul. We were having a series of bombings. Nowadays it is better, but then each time we wanted to go to a café, hotel, or any institution, we had to pass through security gates. But in the rest of Europe there weren’t so many security gates outside airports at that time.

Again, this could be seen to be a work about institutions because it responds to the special circumstances of Portikus and the way the building had been bombed in the Second World War. Many years later it was made into an art institution with a temporary space behind the colonnaded façade. That was the only thing left of the original building. You entered the gallery, which is just a portacabin, through these grand columns. So my work was to do with Portikus itself, with my perspective coming from Istanbul, and of course in more general terms, it had to do with art and art institutions and how an artwork should deal with being an artwork. A further aspect of it is to do with the idea of risk in an artwork; the risk of making and seeing it. If you entered the space through these gates, the whole physical experience is important. Of course we go through these systems in airports and think nothing of it because it’s routine. However, when you go through security gates at an art institution, then you question much more what is happening, what these barriers mean, what role such a system has in our society.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: These security gates, as well as practically everything we’ve talked about so far, have one thing in common. The formal language that you use is mostly very austere, very simple and pared down, often just using what is there, what is given in a space without adding anything. This reminds me of the language established by minimalist and conceptualist artists. For example, Wertheim ACUU, the lift piece in Istanbul could almost be a Donald Judd box, Bound 2 in Mönchengladbach made me think of a Nauman corridor, Stoned and 18”11’ appear close to the sense of threat in Richard Serra’s work. Under The Roof, currently at Ikon in Birmingham seems to recall the spirit of Dan Flavin in the way you make each room glow with almost evanescent colour and light.

AYŞE ERKMEN: But there’s a difference. Because they are objects. I don’t make things in the same way as those artists you are comparing me to. My projects or interventions are not objects, they don’t stay; they are temporary. So it’s just a visual similarity. Conceptually they are not related, although I am fascinated with some of the examples you have given.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: I realise that, but is there something aesthetically that interests you about these historical positions?

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes, it interests me. I consider what I make sculpture, although the work ceases to exist after the exhibition has finished. The sculptural quality of it is very important to me. The three boats for example, were very different from each other, and all had perfect classic sculptural qualities, as taught to us in school. So of course it has a relationship in that sense.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: But Shipped Ships and many of your other projects remind me of a quote by Douglas Huebler where he says, “The world is full of objects more or less interesting. I do not wish to add any. I prefer simply to state the existence of things in terms of time and place”. This position of not wanting to add another object seems to be quite close to your own thinking.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Well, I feel the work is most successful when I don’t bring anything into a space; that I have the courage not to bring anything. For example when I lowered the lighting track in the DAAD Gallery, I brought nothing in from outside. The idea was not to bring anything to the space because it already had things that I could show. For the lift piece Wertheim ACUU, I lined it with steel used in constructing containers - it was like dressing up the space. For More or Less in the Kunstmuseum Bonn, where the elevator was a platform in the floor going up a little bit and then down, I added nothing. I just manipulated what was already there, so that it moved a little upwards then down. It no longer worked as a lift but as a platform. Its function changed nothing else.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: So they’re just slight shifts. Revealing mechanisms that are normally hidden.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes, these are the works where I feel most content.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: It also reminds me of Michael Asher’s famous caravan work, begun in 1977 and continued in ‘87 and ’97, where he simply moved the vehicle every week; an existing object, relocated to different sites, and then it disappears again.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes. We were in the same exhibition together. He made this caravan piece when I was flying the helicopter.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: But it’s obviously something that you do have sympathy with conceptually.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes, very much.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: Ever since you were invited to the DAAD Residency Programme, you’ve made your home both in Berlin as well as in Istanbul. I wanted to ask you how that has affected your sense of identity as an artist, as well as a person. It seems that there are a whole range of works that you’ve made, some we’ve talked about already, that make specific reference to your Turkish background, some more veiled, some more obvious - the Bosphorous ship, the coffee images in Kein gutes Zeichen, as well as Am Haus, the permanent installation in the Turkish district of Berlin, where you’ve used fragments of Turkish language on the façade of a house. Are these works an attempt to explore your own Turkishness and perhaps create more understanding of your culture? The language pieces, for example, are very specific and celebratory, I think, about the Turkish language, as is the boat. They seem to portray a joyous or emotive sense of national identity or memory, personal memory maybe.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes. These are things I like, but it’s not that I want to intentionally use something to show my Turkishness. It is something that I think is international. I don’t think of it as just being Turkish. This boat is beautiful and it could be a beautiful boat anywhere. It just happens to be on the Bosphorous, and I know the spot because I live in that area. I’m not really trying to use my Turkishness, because I don’t know how Turkish I am either. With text works such as Am Haus, for example, there is a tense in Turkish that is so particular, it has no equivalent in English. This is very difficult to explain because it’s a special tense in the Turkish language where the person does not specifically say what she or he is speaking about. This indirect way of talking, almost as if in the third person, offers a lot of space for different interpretations in a very simple way. Sometimes you can use this for teasing yourself or for regulating the tone of what you are saying. With something so special, you search for it when you are speaking in other languages. It creates a kind of softness when you are speaking, and it is very artistic, because it leaves so much room for imagination. You can lie a lot with it, because you can always blame the third person, you can gossip about it. It’s a very imaginative way of speaking. So it has a connection to art. My biggest concern is art, not specifically being Turkish, but of course I can’t escape the things I know. I like to drink Turkish coffee very much and I miss it, so in this sense when I have a chance to talk about what I’m missing, then I use it in my work. It’s very personal.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: And yet the Turkish language used in Am Haus would only be understandable to people who speak Turkish.

AYŞE ERKMEN: Yes, to the Turkish community it would immediately understandable, as if part of their identity. For others, because of the visual quality of the endings of the words - so many “i’s”, “u’s” and “s’s”, with tails, and lots of dots over them - it would be a work they understand visually.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: Your film Dario & Emre is the only work of yours that features people. More important, it addresses questions of cultural identity in a playful, light hearted way.

AYŞE ERKMEN: This work was made for Iskorpit, an exhibition named after a special poisonous fish found exclusively in Istanbul, which featured only artists from Istanbul. Usually I refuse to take part in exhibitions such as this, because they can focus too exclusively on issues of nationality. But this time I agreed, as I thought I could make sense of it. The film is of my son Emre dancing exuberantly to the music of Dario Moreno, an Italian-Turkish singer born in Izmir (Smyrna) who lived in Paris. The song is in French, the boy is dancing in a studio which could be anywhere, and the only word we hear is “Istanbul”, repeated continuously. So this forms a very direct statement about these types of exhibitions. The film is also about dislocation, because an unknown boy is dancing in an anonymous space, and although the song is about Istanbul it is in French.

ANDREA SCHLIEKER: So in a way this film becomes a metaphor for your own sense of national identity and cultural dislocation. And that brings us back to where we began our conversation.

Fatoş Üstek - Ayşe Erkmen Relatings II by

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.

F.Ü.: Why?

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

Sabine B. Vogel - Über Kaffeeschaum und Hauptakteure by

Interview mit Ayse Erkmen von Sabine B. Vogel

Sabine B. Vogel: Ihre Ausstellung in der Wiener Secession heisst «Kein Gutes Zeichen» – worauf bezieht sich der Titel?

Ayşe Erkmen: «Kein Gutes Zeichen» bezieht sich zunächst auf die Diaprojektion im Foyer, die Fotografien von Kaffee in einer Tasse, ohne dass die Tasse allerdings sichtbar ist. Kaffee wurde vor mehr als 500 Jahren aus der Türkei nach Wien gebracht und von hier aus weiter in die Welt verbreitet. Kaffee – das ist eine historische Verbindungslinie zwischen meiner Heimat und Wien. Die Kaffee-Fotografien, die in der Rosette über dem Eingang des Hauptraums zu sehen sind, zeigen die Bläschen auf dem Kaffee. Dieser Kaffee-Schaum hat in der Türkei eine spezielle Bedeutung – kleinblasiger Schaum bedeutet Geld, Gesundheit, gute Neuigkeiten. Die grossen Blasen dagegen werden «böse Augen» genannt. Sie kündigen Unheil an. Bevor wir den Kaffee trinken, zerstören wir die grossen Blasen mit dem Finger – und damit das drohende Unheil. Daher der Ausstellungstitel, der natürlich auch auf unsere spannungsgeladene Zeit, die politische Situation anspielt. Der Titel ist aber vor allem sehr konkret umgesetzt.

Im Hauptraum sieht man dann die Lichter, die sich unter der Glasdecke horizontal bewegen. Hier entsteht eine andere, abstraktere Spannung – man weiss zunächst nicht, was hier eigentlich passiert. Mal bewegen sich die Lichter fliessend, dann wieder stockend und zögernd. «Kein Gutes Zeichen» ist eine Ausstellung über die Spannungen unserer Zeit.

SBV: Bezieht sich der Titel auch direkt auf die Kunstinstitution?

AE: Nein, der Titel ist genereller gemeint.

SBV: Der Titel klingt pessimistisch, denn Sie zerstören die Blasen ja nicht…

AE: …man kann nicht verhindern, was kommen wird.

SBV: Warum zeigen Sie die Werke in zwei verschiedenen Räumen?

AE: Das Foyer ist perfekt geeignet für die Kaffee-Situation. Das Foyer ist nicht so minimalistisch wie der Hauptraum. Hier bereiten sich die Leute vor, um in die Ausstellung zu gehen – sie schauen herum, informieren sich, kaufen die Tickets. Es ist eine kommunikative Situation, so wie auch Kaffeetrinken. Innen sind wir dann im white cube. Zwischen diesem Raum und der Decke besteht ein merkwürdiger Gegensatz: Für die strenge Klarheit des white cube und um ein perfektes Licht zu erhalten, ist ein immenser Service-Aufwand zwischen Glasdecke und Dach der Secession installiert. Über der Glasdecke befinden sich zwei bewegliche Plattformen, die ausschliesslich dazu dienen, die Glasscheiben zu reinigen oder auszutauschen. Ich lasse diese Plattformen jetzt kontinuierlich routieren gemäss ihrem eigenen Programm – ich bestimme keine Richtung und keinen Rhythmus.

Dazu übertrage ich die Motorengeräusche in den Ausstellungsraum und habe an die Unterseite der Plattformen Lichter installieren lassen. Die Plattformen sind jetzt fahrende Lichtboxen. Die beiden Seitentrakte kommen ohne Plattformen aus, also ergänze ich hier einen Service. Ich projizieren zwei Filme auf die Decke, zwei weisse Kreise, die wie eine gerade durchbrennende Glühbirne flimmern. Die Projektion steht über der Deckenkonstruktion. Die Gitter im Kreis sind die Gitter der Konstruktion im Dach. Der Film ist also nur der weisse Kreis.

SBV: Ist die Jugendstil-Architektur der Wiener Secession ein Thema oder hat sie einen Einfluss auf Ihr Ausstellungskonzept?

AE: Ja, denn der Kontrast zwischen dem Haus und auch dem Foyer zu dem Ausstellungsraum spiegelt sich auch in der Installation. Einerseits in den Kaffee-Bildern – einem sehr aufgeladenen, komplexen Motiv, das Geschichte, Aberglauben und Zeit einbezieht. Andererseits in den Plattformen und dem Film, die beide so einfach sind.

SBV: Im DAAD, Berlin, haben Sie 1993/94 die Lichtschienen tief hinab in den Raum gehängt und die Geräusche des Cafes über Lautsprecher in den Ausstellungsraum übertragen – sehen Sie da eine direkte Verbindung zur Installation in der Wiener Secession?

AE: Ja. Ich schätze es sehr, wenn mir der Raum alle Möglichkeiten zur Arbeit bereithält. Die perfekte Situation und Ausstellung ist für mich, wenn ich überhaupt nichts von aussen hineinbringe. In Berlin wie auch hier in Wien sind die Service-Einrichtungen die Hauptakteure der Ausstellung. Normalerweise verstecken sich die Plattformen über den blinden Stellen in der Decke und kommen nur für den Reinigungsvorgang heraus. Darum habe ich auch den Raum komplett leer gelassen – jetzt arbeiten sie nur für sich selbst. Jetzt dürfen sie sich zeigen.

«Kein Gutes Zeichen» in der Wiener Secession ist noch bis zum 23.6. zu sehen.

Zur Ausstellung erscheint eine Publikation in deutsch und englisch mit einem Text von Fatih Özgüven.