DIDEM ERK

HOME IS A PLACE CALLED NEVER
CONVERSATION
DİDEM ERK & IŞIN ÖNOL

Home is a place called never.
“Never”
Stepping outside and reading stories and poems out loud to the emptiness.
To the depths of the city in Cyprus and to mountains and seas in Datça.
I am thinking that there are moments when a camera is not recording this and how ephemeral those moments are.
Reading stories/poems out loud. For whom and what?
Maybeforthistobeastreamofconsciousnesslikeyoursineedtowritewithoutspaces.
Home.
Now, your turn!

No matter how ephemeral those moments may be, nature hears you! Sometimes you do not need anybody but yourself.

Under normal circumstances, reading is a solitary action, is it not?

Under normal circumstances you need solitude, but since I was not alone there and reading out loud, those who witnessed were trying to understand what I was reading and what sort of an experience I was having. They couldn’t assign meaning to it; why would something like this be carried out? Why would anyone need to do this? Just a voice filling your insides; a voice filling the insides of your body. Would that be spoken out loud?

Can you hear what you are saying? While you are reading, can you sense what you are reading the way we feel as we listen to you? And those rare moments when you can look about and see your whereabouts are the moments when you are chewing pages of the book. At those moments, can you step outside of the story and see yourself as well? I am curious as to what you are experiencing during those pauses when you gaze into the distance and start chewing the page.

To be honest, a strong sense of alienation, alienation from the text itself, alienation from myself, my own voice takes over. I neither notice the sound coming out of my mouth nor do I notice the page entering my mouth afterwards; it may as well be because of its absurdity. During those pauses, I thought the sea listened to me; I thought of how beautifully the sun set… I noticed the moment; there was nothing but that moment. There’s no such thing as time in Datça or Cyprus, just seasons. I could say that I felt the transience of time and the strangeness of being in between two different times and two different seas.

When you bring the page to your mouth in order to chew, I see how habitually this action is carried out. Your action, possibly because you do it over and over, has become an ordinary action for you. And so the page enters your mouth not as a foreign object but as an ordinarily edible object, it transforms inside and then comes back out with the same naturalness as a new object. What does the paper turn into?

The book page first turns into a sheet of paper and then an object whose content we can no longer access. An object that does not want to be traced in the archives. We cannot read it, we cannot go back and look at it, but it draws paths, it draws a map of paths. Maybe for those who have the courage to follow me, so that they can trace the path back home. But the paths don’t lead anywhere; they just become visible.

As you walk in Datça and Cyprus, we experience time stretch; the way minutes and seconds stretch and yield right there in contrast to a crowded city; how the time in walking, the time of the book’s narration, the time of the sea and the time of the space layer upon one another, each at its own pace. Then there’s the time of the video. A duration of 15-20 minutes. Your time and pace of life become superimposed with that of the viewer bustling about, the viewer who may be able to watch only 3-4 minutes of this video. Whose time do you think we watch the most?

In both videos, both the pace of the specific place (city or town) and my walking pace are relevant. I read stories in one and poems in the other. In one, my pace becomes more important because the poems have their own rhythm and I have to remain in harmony with their voices. This may be too slow for the viewer in haste; they may not keep up with all of it. But I feel the need to keep the videos a little longer so that we may experience the time of that place. The videos could have been hours long and so, unwatchable; and that would say something else. We mostly follow the time of the limits my body pushes. I choose to end the performance at the moment when I can no longer continue. There’s next to no editing in the videos and that’s a choice to preserve the naturalness of time and space. We can witness the sun rise and set in both.

With her walk hasty under the given conditions, her voice, her hair, her body, in Cyprus we witness a young woman as she reads stories. The Datça video beside it, gets to say more on time as we witness a woman in her thirties walk calmly with confident steps and read poetry. Time may push an artist to construct a similar language with a similar perspective. Despite similarities in the motivations for these two works, I believe they are separate. What made you take to the roads in Datça? 

Generally, continuity emerges among my works; I find a language, ripen it in time and use it elsewhere in another form. I spend a lot of my time in Datça simply staring and looking at the sea. What made me take to the roads was actually the sea and the sense of relocation, migration. Migration does not have to be from one place to another; it may also be perceptual. It may be by foot or by boat. It doesn’t have to be from point A to point B. It may not head anywhere but is in motion nonetheless. It is about being on the road. It’s in between the witness and the witnessed: in between. These two different works emerged in places where I felt in between, in limbo.

Can Yücel wrote one of the poems the day after an earthquake. I watched the video here, in Datça the day after another earthquake. It’s possible that you went out and read them on a day after yet another earthquake. This is the geography of lands where archaic rocks and ancient cities collapse into dust, fall apart and join other nations, other seas. “The Mediterranean is calm; we are the ones swelling and crashing about,” I think to myself as I remember all the forced migrations we have caused, and the traumas we witnessed before and after in growing despair. “The easiest pain to endure is that of others,” they say; possibly it’s the same pain of others that forges words regarding art. On the other hand, what makes us increasingly quiet, pacifies us, weighs our shoulders down and sinks our hopes is not the pain we endure and then grow strong, but the pain we witness and then grow weak. What does one do with her/his witnessing?

Witnessing is not a solitary act, it requires a second person. Someone to say that this is real.

Real life is too brutal to be real. When we look at the near and far history of humanity, we see that humans are far too “inhumane” a being to be real. But everything that is witnessed is so real, humans are far too human to be real. What Cyprus experienced before and during 1974, and even in the aftermath is too human to be real. This is humankind’s witnessing of humanity and bewilderment at it; the same witnessing of evil that is mind-boggling each time. Each time the victim’s obligation to prove this inhumane act of humanity that is just too real to be real: something as cruel as evil itself. In all this witnessing, what leaves us in the tightest corner is probably having to prove the tyrant his tyranny. After all, human is a being that has not learned not to torment, but has learned instead to hide and cover up his torment; human is the writer of official histories. When you reflect upon the concept of official history, Cyprus emerges as a very significant place. Lefkoşa/Nicosia, the only divided capital of today, is significant as well. Datça in between two different seas and Lefkoşa/Nicosia in between two different cities. What did you witness in these places?

Twin images, the construction of invisible walls. A monologue by itself, trauma, paranoia and mourning. Mourning is an individual’s transformation but in Cyprus, it seems as if people didn’t get to experience this healthily. Even if the walls, steel drums were to be removed today, it seems that those invisible walls have taken root inside the individuals. Like a lover never left behind, they couldn’t accept death. But they also refused to touch, skin on skin, and overnight, they burned the blankets sewn from clothes left by Greeks. The houses were given numbers; each number barred a house from becoming a home. It rendered the dwelling discomforting and fixed guilt a permanent feeling. On the other hand, there is no political form of existence in Datça, other than being in between two seas. And thus, it’s ordinary for all: the notion of hopping onto a boat and smuggling refugees while getting paid for the act. Of course it’s illegal but nobody is surprised by those carrying out the act. In Datça’s Gereme Cove, I came across pieces of a boat and collected them. Then I went home, and read in the news that bodies of refugees had washed ashore; apparently the pieces of the boat I had collected were the pieces of an escape. They kept yelling at me to not keep them a secret. I had to lend an ear. They drowned that evening and I had to remember that.

You recorded the video that gave this exhibition its name, “Home is a Place Called Never,” in which you stand still for 11 minutes 44 seconds as you hold flags made of print fabrics, on the Gereme shore as well. “What does the artist want to say in this work?” is an often laughable and pointless question since the artist is already saying what she/he wants to say. On the other hand, here you are communicating using a specific sign language and remaining frozen and hung in a single semaphore letter, an impossibility. What is your silent resistance saying with the semaphore alphabet here?

I never felt I belonged anywhere; that may be why I always look out to the sea. The seaside is like a threshold, you’re neither on land nor at sea. A place that belongs to no one. The semaphore alphabet is a language used in nautical emergencies; my gesture displays the code “to annul”. On one channel of the video, across from us is the Island of Symi, on the other emptiness. We see the backside of Symi; on the side facing Turkey, there are no settlements, just a prison. On the other, we see a woman looking into the emptiness at Gereme Cove and trying to stand still throughout the music. She’s alone, she has a message and colors in her hands. As the waves crash, she seems about to lose balance; the sun sets or dawns slowly. Whether it’s a call for help or a form of resistance is uncertain. The sea may as well have become a place of resistance, much like memory. She tries to forget what she remembers, those who went to sea, those who arrived on sea, those driven off their homes and soil. I care very much about the relationship between performance or the performative and memory; ontologically a performance exists right then and even the existence of its recording is against its nature. I may be providing an impression but the performance as a whole is hanging in that moment and there.

The memories of two different lands, Cyprus, a landmass that has clearly split off the gap of the Antakya (Antiocheia) Bay in Asia Minor with a powerful earthquake in prehistoric times, and Datça, coming up every now and then with projects of separating the area from the mainland, have come together in this exhibition. These two places come together not only with the “I Wish I could not be Traced in the Archives” videos, but also with the “Sprout from the Open Window out of Ashen House” and the “No Flag” photographs. These are not photographs of a moment but of memory, of conditions of the houses that have been waiting there for so long. Is sorrow the mutual spot in memories of Cyprus, separated by the Mediterranean, and Datça, the junction where the Mediterranean and the Aegean join; sorrow that also dominates the overall feeling of the exhibition? What unites Datça and Cyprus other than the Mediterranean?

The feeling of isolation is mutual in Cyprus and Datça. This association adjoining the sea and migration has occupied my thoughts for a while. I can say that I feel isolated in Lefkoşa and Datça both. I think that this is a mutual feeling in the people who live in these places. In both places, we witness traces left by the Greeks who had settled there and then had to leave. The exhibition started with my initial readings of the Greek and Armenian migrations and then developed as an answer to where I was. Closing the window. “Sprout from the Open Window out of Ashen House” was the photograph of an encounter in Kapalı Maraş (Varosha), but if we were to go there right now, the house would still be standing the same way. In a city frozen within time and wire fences, a nest stuck in limbo. It can neither be lived in nor can the old residents return. If it can no longer be lived in, can it be considered a house? “No Flag” is the photograph of a window from inside an abandoned house in Datça. Across, Symi and encountered graffiti.

Ece Ayhan’s 1956 poem, “Children’s Death Songs” may have been this exhibition’s equivalent in poetry: “The hour/ whatever it is/ children’s death songs/ the hour/ whatever it is/ children’s/ sprout from the open window/ out of the ashen house.” What about “Now, We Can Sink into a Deep Sleep”?

We have never been this lonely, that may be why I feel the need for an underground sanctuary for our existence. An ant may have worked, grown tired, and will return to the nest to sleep. Ants can have a single nest; they build it facing south. Unlike people, they do not set up their homes in addition to the existing system, they carve their homes out of the existing system, they adapt. Maybe we will escape the loneliness of our existence by discovering a sanctuary underground. The ant is alone like the woman in the other works and its home is its path.

The woman’s solitude and the definition of the loneliness of existence recalls “How Long Will Tomorrow Last?”, the lone work we come across at the end of the hallway at the exhibition. This is the only arranged photograph at the exhibition and parallels the video “Home is a Place Called Never”. What is the story of this work?

“How Long Will Tomorrow Last?” references Theo Angelopoulos’s film “Eternity and a Day”. The director often uses the connections between the sea, exile and the memory of water in his films. A woman holding her shoes in her hands greets the sea as if to challenge it. Across from her, a Greek island to which she cannot go, she cannot reach... Maybe she will reach the sea but never return. Maybe she will never be able to go. In the film, the woman looks here from Thessaloniki while holding her shoes; now it is time to look there from here. “Why did I live my life as if on exile? I am migrating to another shore tonight” says the man; he lives and tells his final day. No one knows how long tomorrow will last; it may as well be the woman’s last.


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“A Clandestine Passenger"
Başak Şenova

 

 

To become imperceptible oneself, to have dismantled love in order to become capable of loving. To have dismantled one's self in order finally to be alone and meet the true double at the other end of the line. A clandestine passenger on a motionless voyage. To become like everybody else; but this, precisely, is a becoming only for one who knows how to be nobody, to no longer be anybody. To paint oneself gray on gray.  

Deleuze & Guattari

 

Drowning in a never-ending sea of questions with the will to disseminate them to different lands. Can this will be performed? Didem Erk at first observes and experiences her own voyages. Then, she asks questions and disseminates them through performative acts. These acts articulate her questions; she internalizes them by adding layers. She brings sources along with her and during her performative acts she consumes these sources as a “binding” aspect between the lands she discovers and herself.

Her sources and her acts have become symbolic and abstract in course of her performances. For instance, in both of her works I wish I could not be Traced in the Archives (Secret Decipherer | Mistiko Spastis), 2013, filmed in Cyprus, and I wish I could not be Traced in the Archives (May Datça Be My Resting Place), filmed in Datça, Turkey, her act of walking while reading a book and the sequence of eating each page of the book after she completes it suggests a repetitive act that overlaps what we hear, what we see and what we imagine. The landscape, the language, the sound, and the act blend in each other. Nevertheless, the only witness of these performances is the camera. There is no audience. The act is never happens in the present, always archived. The locations of these works are quite important, as they not only form historical, but also political, social and cultural grounds for the works.

The same line of though can also be traced in Erk’s photographs; she ultimately adds another layer of translation of a performative act into photography with the ‘disappearance’ of the present by underlining a “decisive moment” in Bresson’s sense . “Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it” . In this respect, this tidal situation through the disappearance of the present by underlining a decisive moment produces the narration of the performative act that is only completed in the imagination of the audience. The details of the photographs gives hints to the audience to complete this process, hence, the stories are never told or never ends by the artist.  However, Erk gives another direction to these incomplete narrations with the titles of each photograph. Such as Sprout from the open window out of the ashen house, 2013 or Now, we can Sink into a deep sleep, 2017.  What is seen and being witnessed plunges into narrations of concealed fractions of memory.

Conclusively, with the two channel video installation Home is a Place called Never, 2017, the artist once again chooses a very specific location that would generate hundreds of questions and stories along with a repetitive performative act which inhabits different details and symbols that never work against the concepts of ‘possession’ and ‘state of belonging’.  With the repetition, the act becomes motionless and as a clandestine passenger, Erk divorces the facticity of narration from what she shows and lets the audience to complete this voyage by writing their own story.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p.218

Bresson explains the decisive moment as “photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression” in his book The Decisive Moment (1952), p. 155.

Cartier Bresson, Henri (1952). The Decisive Moment. New York: Simon and Schuster Press. p. 47

One of the closest and deserted spots of Turkish costs to the Greek Islands (in between Gereme and Symi).