Fences and bar­ri­ers

David D’Arcy

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page -

Cevdet Erek stands in the mid­dle of his in­stal­la­tion, Çin, in the Turk­ish Pav­il­ion at the Venice Bi­en­nale. Lo­cated in the Sali d’Armi, the weapons room of the Arse­nale, up­stairs from the UAE Pav­il­ion, his work fea­tures a set of frames and bar­ri­ers. The im­pres­sion given by the min­i­mal con­struc­tion is it is a work in progress. Erek ac­cepts this is one way of look­ing at his project.

“It’s not about build­ing a wall, he says, turn­ing to­wards the South African Pav­il­ion on one side and Sin­ga­pore’s on the other.

“We have a plat­form on top of a path be­tween neigh­bour­ing pavil­ions and then we climb there with stair­cases, which we are sit­ting on now. Also, there are ramps climb­ing the stair­cases for per­sons in wheel­chairs. They might be dis­abled or, as our first vis­i­tor was, a mother with a baby, which we saw as luck.”

At the top of the wide stair­case, which looks like a set of benches for spec­ta­tors, there is an ar­ray of long, hor­i­zon­tal pan­els that are, in fact, au­dio speak­ers. The pan­els, from which Erek’s mu­sic plays, are sleek, stream­lined, mod­ernist forms.

“There’s an ab­stract fa­cade, or­na­mented by sound,” Erek says. “It’s dec­o­ra­tion. In­stead of the or­na­men­tal pat­terns, we have sound – sound re­places cal­lig­ra­phy.”

Erek, who is also a drum­mer, calls the project Çin be­cause the word con­jures up a per­cus­sive sound – like “ding” in English. In Turk­ish, Çin is also at the root of the word for re­ver­ber­a­tion and of the word for tin­ni­tus.

Behind the speak­ers is an­other en­closed space, which ex­tends to the back wall. Within that space there is an en­clo­sure that is chained shut. If this is de­signed to evoke an at­mos­phere, that at­mos­phere is op­pres­sive.

“The author­ity – me – wanted to have some part of the pub­lic space closed, as a re­minder of our ex­pe­ri­ences in many places which are closed to the pub­lic be­cause of se­cu­rity,” Erek says.

The in­stal­la­tion, and the de­ci­sion by an artist to close a space to vis­i­tors, begs the ob­vi­ous ques­tion about whether the en­clo­sures are a ref­er­ence to any present-day place in par­tic­u­lar.

“Many places, in­clud­ing Turkey,” Erek says. “Lots of coun­tries are at war or un­der threat. Di­rectly, in his­tory to­day, but be­fore also, in his­tory or in the fu­ture.

“Ru­ins,” he adds. “Some peo­ple who were here thought about the ru­ins of a Greek Tem­ple, es­pe­cially with the vis­i­tors’ ramp. And this build­ing it­self is a ruin, be­cause it’s an old Arse­nale.”

As for his in­stal­la­tion being in an old fort, he says: “It makes sense be­cause this was a place that was used for wars, in his­tory, im­por­tant wars. Even Turkey was a part of those wars over the Mediter­ranean be­tween Venice and sail­ing na­tions, trad­ing na­tions.”

Erek is not being cagey or coy. Çin, as a con­struc­tion, is empty space and, there­fore a place that can ac­com­mo­date all sorts of per­ceived mean­ings. There is all the more room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion be­cause vis­ual images are re­placed by space – Çin is more of a frame, or a series of frames, than a fin­ished struc­ture.

And Erek is not about to tell vis­i­tors how they should re­act.

“It’s not like rice that’s put in your mouth by your mother,” he says.

“En­gage­ment is needed. Ev­ery­where is full of ready-made images to en­ter­tain you, to teach you,” he adds, with an ex­pres­sion of dis­gust. “I want to re­mem­ber things that we did with our will, to dis­cover the world, to be cu­ri­ous about some­thing.

“Ev­ery­where is full of that ready im­pact. So why not lose some of the pub­lic if they’re not in­ter­ested.

“My back­ground is in ar­chi­tec­ture, the art of space,” he says, re­fer­ring to his pro­fes­sional train­ing as an ar­chi­tect.

The ma­te­ri­als of his project – chain­link fence and in­ex­pen­sive wood, calls to mind the sig­na­ture ma­te­ri­als of the early work of the ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry, the de­signer of the Guggen­heim Abu Dhabi, who built his rep­u­ta­tion on that kind of lim­ited artis­tic vo­cab­u­lary.

“I was also prac­tis­ing sound arts, or mu­sic,” Erek says. “I’m com­ing from noise art, from hard­core, from punk. As a stu­dent, I was al­ways work­ing in a band. I was a drum­mer and an im­age maker, in­clud­ing record cov­ers.”

Erek even looks like a Turk­ish ver­sion of guitarist Jerry Gar­cia, the late leader of American psych-rock­ers the Grate­ful Dead. His de­sign for the in­stal­la­tion’s brochure is in the form of a record al­bum.

Erek chooses to see the rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Çin more uni­ver­sally than echoes of war or re­pres­sion. The locked space on the far side of the in­stal­la­tion seems to him like the part of a sta­dium where sup­port­ers of a visit­ing sports team are kept to pro­tect them from vi­o­lence.

“But it could be blocked pub­lic space or any­where where peo­ple are di­vided from each other,” he says. Un­der­neath the two ad­join­ing sec­tions of Çin is a lane of in­verted tri­an­gles that form a walk­way through the in­stal­la­tion.

“I call this a vaulted route be­tween mil­i­tary land­scapes, this axis,” Erek says.

With so much talk of mil­i­tary sym­bols and war, is Erek speak­ing for the gov­ern­ment of Turkey?

“You can imag­ine that I’ve given that ques­tion a lot of thought,” he says . “I’m do­ing this work in the pav­il­ion of a coun­try but the most im­por­tant thing is not the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a coun­try as a diplo­mat, but the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a coun­try in the arts. It’s like say­ing that a rec­tan­gle rep­re­sents Turkey’s borders.”

He notes that he was com­mis­sioned as the artist of the Turk­ish Pav­il­ion by a com­mit­tee of artists un­der the author­ity of a cul­tural foun­da­tion in Is­tan­bul.

“Be­sides, how can I, alone as an artist with very par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ests and bi­og­ra­phy, rep­re­sent a coun­try like Turkey, or any coun­try?” he says. “It’s such a com­plex thing. But I’m rep­re­sent­ing a per­son from Turkey, that’s for sure. I spent most of my life there, I was ed­u­cated there, I speak that lan­guage, I live there.”

Erek stands near the back wall of Çin. Through a win­dow – an­other frame in his site – small boats sail across a wide canal built cen­turies ago for mil­i­tary craft. Shades on the win­dows soften the sun­light, so that the boats look like the fish­ing ves­sels in the Vene­tian la­goon that the pain­ter Vit­tore Carpac­cio de­picted in the 15th cen­tury. The soft tones of light on the dark green wa­ter – el­e­gant and ra­di­ant – are all the more grace­ful in con­trast with the aus­tere ma­te­ri­als of Erek’s project. Erek points to the win­dows. “They were closed and I opened them,” he says. “Maybe in a few days, I’ll find that this scene is super-beau­ti­ful and then I’ll make this ugly – I’ll close the win­dows.”

He turns back to Çin with its fences and en­clo­sures.

“This is not a work that I made in Is­tan­bul and brought here,” he says. “I’ve been imag­in­ing this work for one year. I’m try­ing to un­der­stand it.”

The Venice Bi­en­nale con­tin­ues un­til Novem­ber 26. For more de­tails, visit www.la­bi­en­nale.org

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