SELECTED CRITICAL TEXTS
In a conversation in February, Ergin Cavusoglu explained why he wanted to quit painting in 1992: “I was no longer interested in perspective, rendering the human body, or the depth of colour—but instead what the image could say about itself on a conceptual level.” The premise of Adaptation – Cinefication lies in this recurring question, as the artist has a reflexive distance from his mediums, be it painting, photography, sculpture, video or installation. Exploring the very idea of ‘image-making’ and thus ‘art making’, the exhibition consists of two parts: “Adaptation” includes a selection of paintings and sculptures that inquire into the memory of images, and “Cinefication” presents a compilation of single channel video works in a screening room setting, which strengthens the sense of proposed disparateness that is commonly observed between the other works on display.
Instant, 1998, an early series of five canvas board paintings, shows Cavusoglu’s penchant for image-making as a thought process. In this work, the artist portrays images of mundane interior and exterior spaces in the unique twenty-four inches Polaroid-size format, enveloped by blackened frames or obscured by black squares. Depicting a gloomy hospital room, a messy bathroom, or a dim aircraft cabin, the images evoke snapshots, or rather instant photographs that do not carry any personal references, thus becoming generic visuals. The act of painting, however, is in stark opposition with the cold and measured quality of these images. Cavusoglu reverses the idea of immediacy as he takes on a slow, meticulous, manual process to recreate his source material (or imaginary scenes).
In the complementing pair of paintings, he swaps the image areas thus replacing the surrounding black frame with images of landscape, and rendering the parts where the interiors are painted in the other two images as black squares. The two-fold approach invites the viewer to imagine the missing, blocked, or denied parts on the canvas, toying with the memory of images, especially in the absence of familiar references, including time and place. Then what makes these particular moments monumental?
The artist poses a similar question in his small-scale sculptures on display. While the Instant series calls for the unpredictable and the intuitive, the ready-made and ‘nature-made’ sculptures present a more calculated gesture from the artist’s side. In works, such as Time to Think, 2014, Fit to Think, 2013, Sleeping Time, 2013, and Le Grand Peigne, 2012, Cavusoglu uses familiar objects, including pieces of broken ceramic, an alarm clock, or an antique mask, and flips their meaning with simple interventions—scrawling a Duchampian signature or flipping the object upside down, making it useless. The artist thus releases the found objects from common use and dislocates the sense of likeness, as he designates new thoughts and interpretations for the possibilities that the objects can carry with themselves.
In “Cinefication,” Cavusoglu shows a selection of single channel videos that also shy away from resolved meanings or definitions. The male character in And I Awoke, 2012, gives clues about what links the films in this room: He is suspended in mid-air, or rather a dark abyss, lying on entangled ropes that merely and defiantly support his body’s weight against gravity. After the moment of awakening and realisation, he starts moving his body—either to break free or to adjust himself to a secure position. The artist changes his camera position continuously, and uses jump cuts to show the character’s twist, move, and struggle with the ropes around him, disrupting the sense of time and space. He thus delays an anticipated resolution or a cathartic ending. As in this work, other films also refrain from constructed narratives or linear temporalities, rather creating a feeling of suspense.
The dark gallery space where Cavusoglu presents his film sequences is set-up and furnished like a film-theatre. He thus choreographs the act of looking at his moving images, which hints at the term “Cinefication” that refers to the government-initiated cinema distribution scheme in the 1920s Soviet Russia. Collectively the veracity of works on display in relation to the conceptual framework and the particular set up of the exhibition emphasize Cavusoglu’s critical view on the current modes of art production and consumption. Moreover, the exhibition acts as a self-reflection about his agency as an artist—what is the gap between the act of making images and the way to present and disseminate them? What are the potentialities that exist in between?
Though the landscapes of globalization have by now become an established genre of contemporary art, less familiar is the problem of how to apprehend such landscapes in their making. Made, that is, not just by the large-scale, highly-financed transnational networks that order the systems of globalization and its experience but also by artists and curators in their presentation, reflections and contributions to globalization. And this not in the sense that the contemporary art system is itself a capsule, relatively low-cost version of the globalization wrought by industry, government, commerce, a generalized migrancy, and so on, but in the sense that contemporary art and its presentation proposes images of globalization that do not simply affirm its prevalent logics, manifestations and ideologies (as, say, big-money movies do).
In contemporary artists’ film and video practices there are, perhaps, two distinctive and contrary approaches. One strategy is to make your work as much like mainstream, or art-house, narrative film as possible, in its look, its sound, in its editing, its attention to story, in its imagination and use of time. Indeed, the artist might even aspire to make their own feature films – as Julian Schnabel, Steve McQueen and Sam Taylor-Wood have all done. The other move is to try and remove film from the register of cinema, to redeem it from linear temporality, melodramatic narrative and plot, and spectacular scale. The first tendency I have outlined accords with the general trajectory of art under the aegis of late-capitalism since the mid 20th century, in which the history of art is no longer as significant to the making of art as the history of advertising and popular culture – so that art is nothing more than part of the entertainment industry. The second tendency is, perhaps, the path of a subaltern, dissident art that has inherited the lineage of modernism and its utopian notions of art’s critical responsibilities towards subjectivity and history. Ergin Cavusoglu is amongst the artists who are making this move: in his case turning towards the theatrical and the gestural.
The narrative feature film uses the theatrical as a narrative code that always produces a particular ending; its typical three-act structure of stasis, disruption and recuperation, inherited from 19th century melodrama within the theatrical circuits that early film replaced, still going strong and powering the economy of entertainment. Cavusoglu isn’t interested in this guaranteed eschatological moment: his concern is with the provisionality of theatre, its procedures of rehearsal and differing interpretations. Where narrative features, and their mirroring products in the world of art, are all about surface, about finish, about a sense of completeness and cohesion, Cavusoglu wants us to see process, incompleteness, the subject coming into being. This is clear in his recent adaptation of Chekhov’s The House with the Mezzanine. Cavusoglu’s film – his “finished piece” – is the rehearsal of Arnold Barkus’s script by professional actors with a director. The work remains definitively unfinished: there is no final and definitive performance, either in the theatre or on film. Nor is subjectivity sealed off as it is in a conventional entertainment narrative; rather Cavusoglu’s rendering leaves identity open, always to be determined. When we look at the role that borders and boundaries play in his work, and given those limits, border crossings, this sense of migration between opposing spaces, and of identity emerging between them, is crucial. And central to The House with the Mezzanine is a tension, typifying that opposition, in which warm sensuality and dry factuality are played out. This establishing of antitheses in the structure of the work is perhaps the defining feature of Cavusoglu’s oeuvre. What is distinctive about it, however, is that he not only sets these relationships up within the filmic narrative, but that he uses them in the physical structure of the installations themselves. Form and content both play roles in establishing possible meanings, rather than the former simply supporting the closed, complete surface of the latter.
The Pavilion Downtown Dubai presents a solo show by Ergin Cavusoglu consisting of a large-scale interactive vinyl perspective floor drawing in Gallery 2. The artwork functions as a manipulation of perception and space and also provides an astute commentary on issues of real estate and labor.
Contemporary artist Ergin Cavusoglu is renowned for his aesthetically beautiful yet complex film and video installations and sculptural works that explore issues pertaining to post-migration, geographies and informal architectures. Drawing from a highly conceptual and theoretical position Cavusoglu’s practice has been greatly influenced by the work of literature, theatre and iconic artists Marcel Duchamp and filmmaker Robert Bresson, which he has referenced in to create an incongruous meeting of brute reality and slight-of-hand to reflect on the arbitrary order within the classification of art and rationality.
THE LOCAL IS THE GLOBAL
In her book Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (2006), Saskia Sassen has pointed out that much of what we might still experience as the “local” (an office building, a house, an institution in our neighborhood or downtown) is a micro-environment with global span insofar as it is deeply inter-networked. Such a micro-environment is in many senses a localized entity, but it is also part of global digital networks, which give it immediate far-flung span. In his multi-channeled video installation Tahtakale (2004), Ergin Cavusoglu shows us that in a global world the corner of an old city market, as being a landscape of exchanges and flows, can be inflected by the global values, power systems and orders within which it is embedded. Tahtakale is a four-screen video and sound installation, focusing on scenes from the everyday urban environment of an informal, nevertheless hugely significant currency market within the edifice of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The screens appear to be positioned arbitrarily, scattered around the room, but actually they form a very particular architectural assemblage, which is to guide the viewer through the work. Two of the screens show the daily activities of market traders, dealing with currency and gold by using their mobile phones. Whereas the third screen presents a scrolling text, which depicts the traders’ conversations randomly, the fourth screen shows the hamals (the public porter) carrying goods on their backs to the shops up into the market, pretty much as it has been done for hundreds of years. Since the traders have developed their own sign and verbal language, their activities remain inconspicuous to the general public:
-I buy all sorts.
The traders perform very private acts in a public space, an alleyway, and on another level the space they occupy becomes a temporal domesticated environment. The volume of their trade often affects the value of the local currency on global scale simply by the deficit or surplus of currency and gold they can create on the market. Global formations therefore occur partly in the micro-spaces of daily life rather than on global level. Even though Tahtakale market is in a location which is very far away from Levent, the financial district of the city, we witness an “economic productivity” of the street environment in the old city close to historic and now touristic sites, such as Hagia Sofia, The Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace.
Unlike any other global cities, Istanbul has always been a world city. As being the biggest mart in the region, merchants and travelers arrived from all over to buy and sell goods: everything could be found in its markets, brought from China, India, Persia, Caucasus, Russia, Egypt, and Syria, and then from the Balkans, Genoa, and Venice, and points to the West. For most of its imperial history, its location made it the largest permanent market place in the area between India and Western Europe. Since Byzantine and Ottoman Empire, Tahtakale has been a trade area as it is located in the Golden Horn, a splendid natural harbor. Today, this historical market, which was called, before the 1980s, “Tahtakale stock market” (Tahtakale borsas?) is still an active, informal trade area that indirectly informs and influences national fiscal policy playing a major role in arranging foreign exchange rate. Known as “ayakl? borsa” (mobile stock exchange), on average some thirty million dollars are traded here everyday. Thus emerges an economic configuration very different from that suggested by the concept of information economy. We recover the material conditions and place-boundedness that are also part of globalization and the information economy.
Global financial markets inhabit national territories by giving new meanings to what has been known as national in the historical sense. Even though they, as being the electronic market for capital, house significant components of the global, they produce localities by denationalizing the national in specific and partial ways. In this sense, they can be seen as constituting the elements of a novel type of multi-sited territoriality, one that diverges sharply from the territoriality of the historic nation-state. The territoriality that gets instantiated in these centers and localities has been relodged into new organizing logics. Paul Virilio proposes a term in order to conceptualize new global urban space: “glocalization” Virilio uses this term to name the apparent paradox of a mix between the local time of an activity and the global time of generalized interactivity. He points out that “glocalization”
applies not so much to “multinationals” which are capable of managing their affairs in the two, equally globalized, dimensions of production and distribution, as to this virtual world-city that already contains within itself both the “geographical” centre of the set of real agglomerations it brings together and the “temporal” hypercentre of telecommunications that enable it to exist remotely. This it does, by making itself present to the other cities, thanks notably to the feats of the time-sharing that today supersedes the geopolitical sharing-out of territorial space, since from now on every real city is only ever the remote periphery, the great urban wasteland of this virtual city that rules over it totally, or, better still, “glocally”.
What Cavusoglu’s work shows us is that Tahtakale is a “glocation”. Through the soundtrack with the combination of Byzantine male choir and animated transactions in dollars and euros, Cavusoglu’s installation disorients center and periphery, global and local, old and new, past and present, here and there. The economic globalization constitutes new geographies of centrality that cut across the old divide of poor versus rich countries, or the global South versus global North divide. There is no longer an authentic locality that can be preserved, no longer a fixed territory that can be bordered. In the globalizing connectivity, “world is a plural condition. There is no one world -only many worlds. Worlds share no single logic, but proliferate as multiple monotheism of retail or trade in a totemic market. They maintain their logics, fictions, and boundaries by limiting and excluding information- remaining righteous and pure”. In these worlds, cities have become a strategic terrain where globalization processes get into concrete, localized forms. The installation hints the fact that the cross-border networks constructs a “transboundary site” where the instantaneous transmission of money around the globe. This instantaneous transmission enables “nowhere” to materialize in “now-here”, when the issue is national territory. This temporal homogenization reflects upon one aspect of globalization: global regimes often “performative” when they enter the national domain. Performativity is about effects and temporal or frequent situations. Cavusoglu’s camera captures the “mobile brokers” talking on their mobile phones. Their presence and conversations allow an action or occurrence to take place. Paul Virilio has pointed out that the world is “temporarily circumscribed by the instant interaction of ‘telecommunications’, another name for [the] sudden confusion of near and far, inside and outside whereby media non-separability deeply affects the nature of the building, the figure of inertia and therefore the morphological stability of reality”. Place is a passage. It is no longer a material for big events that make up the fabric of the landscape, but for small incidents, minute facts. There is a “new primacy of real time over space, of instant interactivity over customary activity.” Through Tahtakale, we witness a certain mode of urbanization: “real time urbanization” thanks to the instantaneous telecommunications. Tahtakale market takes place in “now-here” through the intersections of specific economical and social relations. “Nowhere” is more about time, “now-here” is about space. The “now-here” is the site of a becoming, of a process. Its time is not the linear time, but the time of change in the perpetual present. It is not a localized or particular change but the change of transition and the transitory. But this change has already been programmed. In the age of globalization, life is trapped in an intermediary zone between cyclic and rational. It is made of recurrences, linear and cyclical repetitions.
Dr Brigitte Franzen - Director of the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen
A border crossing between Bulgaria and Turkey provides the starkly austere setting for the 2009 two-screen video installation, Liminal Crossing, a work nonetheless raised to a new plane through its use of two central elements. Firstly, there is the group of people dressed in everyday clothes who are slowly pushing a piano. They are obviously not a professional team from a removals firm loading the instrument onto a truck, but members of a group, a family perhaps, who appear to have lost almost everything apart from the piano. The somewhat harsh setting for this action, the Captain Andreevo border checkpoint, is defined by the colour of a storm, now abating as day slowly turns into night. The tarmac is wet and dotted with numerous big puddles that reflect the golden colours of the sky, the setting sun and the lights: the appearance of the border crossing is characterised by the twilight that marks the liminal point between day and night.
The next obvious step would be to compare Ergin Cavusoglu’s biography with his artistic output. Born in Bulgaria in 1968, he immigrated to Turkey in 1990 following his family’s move to Istanbul in 1989. Cavusoglu has been closely involved with the arts since early childhood, having begun to study art in Sofia before continuing his education in Istanbul and later in London, where he lives today. However, it would be misleading to search his CV for anything more than “possible” reasons or “possible” impulses for certain aspects of his work. His interest in transitional and life-changing situations cannot be entirely traced back to his own personal experiences. We can, however, identify turning points of an epic, political and aesthetic nature and metaphors that directly link his artistic work with the core questions of human existence. Liminal Crossing does not tell a specific story. Instead the power of its imagery is upheld because, on the one hand, the film seems as normal as taking a long look out of a car window while waiting at a border crossing when going on holiday. On the other hand, and to continue with the image, this is not a view that would be forgotten in a hurry, but which would remain long in the memory for the way it completely transforms an otherwise utterly ordinary scene. The piano acts as a sort of trigger for Cavusoglu to make a series of discoveries, starting with the choreography of the characters, the architecture, and the way the border crossing is staged, and leading on to the manifold reflections and the relationships formed through the associations between the trees, the sky, the light. The breathtaking aesthetic power encompassed within this most ordinary of settings is what lends the work such strength, especially when combined with the irony and absurdity of the scene – the start of a new life leading into the night, the protagonists on foot, like pilgrims almost, the slow pace at which the group is only able to shift the heavy instrument while modern cars speed past.
For Turks, the tragic story of the periodic migration of the Turkish minority population from Bulgaria between 1923 and 1991 remains as fresh as ever in the memory, even though it has never become part of the collective consciousness of Western Europe. Following years of aggressive assimilation policies, some 400,000 people were made to flee Bulgaria in 1989 just months before the collapse of the communist regime. Ergin Cavusoglu and his family were part of this wave of migration. Strange to say, this exodus was scarcely noted, particularly in Germany, due perhaps to the fact that at that historic time the German nation was focusing most of its attention on the incredible events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall. But now, 20 years on, Liminal Crossing has taken on an even more explosive effect as a result.
The fact is that Cavusoglu’s biography represents a highly complicated structure of interlinked ideas and artistic works. It only becomes curriculum vitae he shares with many others) in retrospect, where it forms the logical starting point for a wide-ranging artistic oeuvre. His subject matter never appears to have been staged or drawn from newspapers or from the maelstrom of the media world with its lurid images. Instead it has the authenticity which is characteristic of a real person moving between two different worlds.
Place after Place (2008)
As with the two installations referred to previously, in Silent Glide (2008) and Point of Departure (2006) we see transitional situations being created and elements of expectation arising from the interplay between near and far. In various ways, Cavusoglu crosses elements of the silent film movement known as the Kammerspiels with the genre of landscape painting. The care he takes in selecting his actors is in keeping with the high filmic quality of the work and fits seamlessly into the context of the increasingly sophisticated video installations, with their wildly differing content, that have been produced over recent years (works by Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Candice Breitz, Douglas Gordon, Arnout Mik, Steve McQueen, Stan Douglas, etc, for example). This type of professionalism, if we want to call it such, is concerned not only with technical advances but also with developments in the art market, and in exhibition practices, where video art is now regarded as a serious genre in its own right. The evolution of the genre can be traced back to the Sixties, when a large number of video films from New York were shot with a single camera that was passed around and shared by groups of artists. These days, videos made by the artists mentioned above, and many others, are financially viable and technically sophisticated productions. It is no longer the statement or the new medium that is the topic, but the overall image of society.
In these works, the experience of being immersed in the film plays a major role. Apart from the multi-screen projection format, the works also differ from the short film genre, to which they are related, in their use of spaces that have been carefully crafted by the artists. The short film leaves the director and finds a temporary home in more and more uncontrollable black boxes. For Cavusoglu and his colleagues, if the layout and the size of the space in question are not fully defined as part of the installation, they are carefully adjusted to the requirements of each new screening venue. Every time an installation is shown, not only does the artist demonstrate his formal intention, he also continues to develop it. In this respect, Ergin Cavusoglu defines the dimensions of his projection surfaces and their relationship with the surrounding space with great architectural sensitivity. He plays a special role in this, along with Arnout Mik. Both not only use a multiplicity of screening surfaces and position them next to each other, they also create environments that continue the illusionist space of the film in the real exhibition space.
The observer stands in the middle and is able to move around freely without having to ask himself how long he needs to remain in a stifling black box. Yes, he could move on but is encouraged to stay by the persuasive power of the work. Thus he finds himself in a setting of which he himself forms a part.
Silent Glide (2008)
Discussing another film by Cavusoglu, Melissa Gronlund wrote: “The video (There is No Road) addressed Romanticism by running it into the ground – letting it tire itself out on its own loop of rehearsal, steadily losing climatic and symbolic potential in an ever-growing build-up of constraint and claustrophobia.” (Frieze, April 2009). Thus she refers to the fractured Romanticism in his work which creates a glimpse into an unattainable and unattained far-off place in which private and political lives repeatedly jostle against each other in different ways.
The scent of romance is at first gratefully received by the viewer only to be questioned a little later by the density of the dialogue and the images, holding up, as they do, a mirror to the educationally elite to show them their own self-constructions of the absurd, of near and far, of home and adventure, of bonds and freedom.
Point of Departure (2006)
Prof Tim Cresswell
Ships move, ghostlike, between two shores. Some of these ships carry oil. Some carry containers full of the things we consume. The two shores are often cast as the shores of Europe and Asia. They are the shores of the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul. It is night time. We can see lights across the waterway. Some of the shots are from one shore and some from the other. The ships move both ways – right to left and left to right. There dark hulls and superstructures move across the lights of the other continent, momentarily blacking them out. All of this is happening on four large screens that the viewer is invited to walk through and engage with. The viewer is mobile like the ships, looking right and left as we negotiate our own passage. We hear sound too. The sounds of radio transmissions concerning the regulation of maritime mobilities. Ships are the vehicles that make the world work. They seem unremarkable: invisible even. Ships are old. Almost as old as humanity. They move across the earth’s surface relatively slowly. They do not attract the attention of the theorists. But the vast majority of the world’s “stuff” moves on ships.
Poised in The Infinite Ocean
Across three video screens a story unfolds. Night descends. A lighthouse flashes its warnings across an increasingly wild sea. A large old house stands against the storm. A city shuts itself up as the elements rage. Out on the ocean, in the midst of the storm, a ship sails towards its doom. We know this because we hear a narration concerning a ship making its way through the Bay of Biscay. This is the south west coast of France. Near Biarritz. The narration tells us of an old, un-seaworthy cargo ship making its way north to the bay and getting caught in a storm. This storm. We hear of the ship slowly falling apart. We do not see it. The images are full of impending doom.
Images of place and mobility pervade this piece. The chateau seems solid and homely. It is easy to imagine a large family inside curled up and safe. Or perhaps the family has left and this large space is now the home for a single elderly person rattling around the too-large space. The city too seems well protected against the storm. The lighthouse is a fixed point in space. Its metronomic signal tells the sailors and ships to stay away. This is a dangerous point for them. There are rocks just under the fluid turbulence of the water. Against these fixities we know the ship is moving. It has moved from the south. It contains stories that transcend space among its cargo. And yet the ship is also a place. Places are supposed to be richer, more profound, versions of locations. But having a location does not mean being still. A ship has a location. Now a GPS system would be able to tell us where it was. But not then. This moving location is also a moving place. Particular forms of sociality mark ship life. Levi-Strauss told us this on his journey to Latin America. Malinowski noted the boat born placeness of the Melanesian sea-farers. Foucault described the “ship of fools” as a special place – a heterotopia, or place outside of place that is both sealed from the world and yet part of the “infinity of the sea” – the Infinite Ocean. As the narrator reminds us, the ship “is something of a fantasy, floating free of the realities at sea.” In recent years we have seen ships act in this way. As places for the extraordinary, the fantastic, outside of the normal territorial definitions of what belongs and what does not belong. Garbage ships have crossed the world full of the crap of civilization, looking to unload their toxic cargos in the marginalized places of the developing world. Ships full of refugees have sailed the Mediterranean and the Pacific looking for a way in to more secure worlds. Ships have anchored at sea, just beyond the jurisdictions of nation-states offering tax-free cigarettes and abortions. Ships can be marginal places. But ships are also the instruments of normality. They are the lifeblood of the modern world system. They carry the stuff we consume. They carry oil to keep us moving. Ships of navies still patrol the seas demanding conformity, policing borders and imposing the will of the mighty on others.
Ships and the sea then are fluid places. They do not conform to the hard certainties of land. They are both beyond place and places in and of themselves. They are spaces where we are able to project our fantasies of freedom. A world of pirates and permanent transgression. Yet also the places of slavery, of trade, of the regulation of the world and the imposition of order.
The sense of the sea as an outlaw space is necessary to construct its other. The space of home. Home is firm and bounded. Its rootedness forms a site of attachment. In Poised in The Infinite Ocean Cavusoglu works with this world of presence and absence. The home of the chateau and the home of the city seem snug and enclosed. Spaces of stable identity and familiarity. They do so because of the wildness of the sea and the storm. Without the calamitous ocean these places would be less homely. Similarly the unfolding story of the other place – the heterotopic ship would seem less otherworldly if it were not for the reassuring stabilities of landlocked homes. At the same time the places we see – the homes of the city and the chateau become ship-like. The story of the ship out there is told as we see homes bound tight against the weather. These homes will not sink but the threat is there. We can imagine being bound in the ship, hemmed in by the Infinite Ocean. The home seems singular and specific – a point in an Infinite world that is stretched forever in all directions. And the home (whether the ship-home or the house-home) gets its power through its contrast with the unknowability of infinity –the space Aristotle called kenon – the void of nothingness.
A question for artists is how to record a world torn between place and motion. On the one hand there is the possibility of using art to resist a mobile world. To insist on the value and authenticity of place. To establish roots. On the other hand there is the possibility of denying place. Of reveling in a world in motion where nothings stays anywhere for very long. The magic of Cavusoglu’s work is its refusal to embrace either of these easy extremes. Instead, much of Cavusoglu’s work meditates on the notions of place and mobility as they interrelate and give each other meaning. He appears to be perpetually caught in a world on the move, on the sea, in airports, in the places of the migrant. Spaces such as these are key spaces in the modern world. The world has always been one of both roots and routes. But now this tension is becoming ever more evident. Issues of migration may be among the most important of our age,. Governments act in reactionary ways to make the place of the nation more like a fortress. Meanwhile the outsiders, the strangers, the foreigners are stuck in movement, on the margins, in The Infinite Ocean. Their places are precarious. In the margins of the cities, under the highways, in vegetable trucks crossing continents. At the same time a kinetic elite inhabits a carefully regulated space of flows – the airport lounge, the business centre and the first class cabin. As a Turk, brought up in Bulgaria, living in London he inhabits in-between spaces. This is reflected in this world of homes formed, however precariously, in a mobile and sometimes threatening world. Non-places are inhabited. A particular kind of authenticity comes form the ability to inhabit many worlds with some degree of comfort. Some places are doomed, such as the ship that is poised in The Infinite Ocean. Some places are safe for now. But danger always seems to be only deferred, not defeated.
Ergin Cavusoglu's work is always both an investigation and a construction of space. His multi-screen video installations, the prime medium in which he works, separate and recombine the places he films and exhibits in. As a result, we find ourselves exploring these places from a variety of perspectives, as if we ourselves were moving through them – and simultaneously reading them as abstract formal configurations. Ergin Cavusoglu's exhibition at Kunstverein Freiburg enhanced these characteristics. A former 1930s swimming pool, consisting of a large hall and a first floor mezzanine gallery, the building was a perfect match for the artworks it housed. Allowing views onto the hall from the upper level and from one side of the gallery across to the other, the architecture reflected and emphasised the simultaneity of time and place inCavusoglu's work. Just as he exploits the moving image in order to express the fragmented nature of contemporary reality, in which our minds and bodies are exposed to parallel experiences, the setting for this exhibition demanded our simultaneous perception of various works and the connections between them.
The fundamental premise for the exhibition was the wish not only to juxtapose Cavusoglu's most complex video installation to date (Point of Departure, 2006) with his newest two-channel video (Silent Glide, 2008), but also to present the videos alongside a luminous sculpture and a selection of large scale drawings. Although video remains at the heart of Cavusologu's practice, he is paying increasing attention to the sculptures and drawings that explore in other ways the themes and conceptual concerns inherent to his work with the moving image, and the processes of image-making in general.
The principle theme informing Ergin Cavusoglu's practice is that of notions of and attachment to places, and the different modes of mobility that have in the last few decades so fundamentally changed the way we live. This investigation is influenced by the artist's own experience of growing up as part of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, of moving to Istanbul and subsequently to London to study. The protagonists of his video installations reflectCavusoglu's movement, both physical and intellectual, between cultures, their stories inextricable from the places of transit – airports, harbours, train stations – in which they are set.
Point of Departure
Point of Departure is loosely structured around the journeys of two individuals, a male, Turkish researcher from Trabzon to Stansted and a female, English journalist from Stansted to the east. Although they meet by chance and he helps her with the translation of a letter she needs at her destination, the plot is less a complete story than a construct to draw attention to the details of their different environments. Like allCavusoglu's work, Point of Departure is a meticulously edited collage of perspectives that, whilst reflecting the multi-faceted character of modern reality, are structured so that each of the six viewpoints is clearly coded. While the two outer screens show close-ups of the actors as they are processed through the airports, the inner screens focus on the work of the staff. The middle screen almost exclusively shows footages from a bird's-eye view, (The middle screen is occupied almost exclusively by bird's-eye views,) as if filmed by surveillance cameras, and the x-rayed contents of luggage flow continuously across the floor area in front. Although the piece starts with both airports at dawn – like stages waiting to be occupied by the actors – the work is non-linear, sometimes showing the same character in both airports simultaneously. The chaos of airports is conveyed but also contained within an ordered structure so that, for example, fragments of conversation between customs officers and the two travellers define the latters' journeys. Like the security x-ray, the actors are always in motion without ever arriving as though travel were a permanent state; also required to walk round and through the screens, the viewer must also navigate the many points of view. Although this emulates the contemporary experience of taking in multiple visual impressions at once,Cavusoglu also draws consciously on the cinematic idiom of simultaneity. In connection with this, it is perhaps no coincidence that his early studies were in the medium of wall painting, a means of creating an image with a clear temporal chronology and developing narrative, as well as becoming an element within an architectural structure.
The jewel-like colours of the 'painterly' abstract image of the x-ray machine at the visitor's feet are an important aspect of the installation in enhancing the warm brown and orange tones that Cavusoglu chose for shots of Trabzon and the cooler blues and greens of Stansted. This distinction between colours is only one aspect of the particular constellation of carefully constructed details from which the specificity of place is developed in the work. Although airports worldwide share the same processes and machinery and are marked by a similar 'poetics of space', the viewer of Point of Departure gradually becomes aware of differences between the two in terms of dress, physionomy and language. It is these distinguishable identities that map out the vast tracts of the earth's surface that lies between Stansted and Trabzon, conceptualising movement in both time and place from one to the other. The man and the woman are the privileged travellers of the European middle classes, whose education bridges cultural difference. Their individual stories are set, however, against the scenes of large groups of collective travel, though we cannot be sure whether this involves migration or merely business and tourism.Cavusoglu distils this backdrop of social and cultural forces through the rituals of air travel that involve specific processes, sequences and rhythms.
Place after Place
Even more clearly than in Point of Departure, the viewer is aware in Silent Glide of the sediment of history beneath the contemporary. Where the ancestral city gates are replaced by airport security gates in the earlier work, Hereke's former fame as the centre of silk carpet production is alluded to here by a scene showing silk reels and weaving looms in the town's last surviving workshop. The male character's reading of Tolstoy is followed by the ring tone of his mobile phone, collapsing past and present, the aesthetic and the mundane into one glimpse into the complexities of the modern world. This synthesising of time is also explored formally in a scene in which the female character stands on an empty railway platform at night. with the passage of a fast train simultaneously the camera starts tracking behind her and after the train has passed, we see her standing on the opposite platform. At the same time the second screen presents the already projected image of herself on the opposite platform. When he tells her that he likes to count the car lights at night on the bridge and she copies this alone in a later scene, the image of light and dark becomes loaded with the sadness of this one remaining connection between them. This is, ironically, mediated by the very landscape that has pulled them apart.
In marked contrast to the fragmented structure of Cavusoglu's work, the Kunstverein's architecture provided one standpoint from which every piece in the exhibition could be seen at the same time. At the far end of the hall, on the gallery level, it was possible to look down into Point of Departure, directing ones gaze via Place after Place below and the drawings above to Silent Glide at the other end of the mezzanine. The works, their themes and the environment they were placed in became both object and stage.
Amongst the photographic souvenirs of my family’s recent past is a rather odd portrait of my brother and me. We’re dressed in our school uniforms and I must be about eight, which would make my brother eleven. We’re resting on a luggage trolley which displays the notice ‘London Heathrow’ and we bear the world-weary expressions of passengers in transit. And yet we weren’t travelling nor were we meeting anyone who was travelling.
This is a production still. We were extras on the set of the film International Velvet, a 70s sequel to the somewhat more memorable National Velvet with teenage diva Tatum O’Neal replacing Elizabeth Taylor as the equine heroine. The set was Stansted Airport, which in 1978 had yet to undergo Norman Foster’s transformation. Its fate as London’s third airport was announced the following year. I remember it as no more than an airfield bunker. Inside it had been dressed as Heathrow’s International Terminal – the site of O’Neal’s homecoming on winning her Olympic gold. In the late 70s, airports were still perceived as sites of privileged mobility, though the onset of low-cost travel had been signalled by the Laker Skytrain in 1977. The combination of film set and fictional jet-set led in this case to the performing of privilege, though mobility was strangely impotent. The ‘jet-setting’ was practiced through a series of exits and entrances that led ‘backstage’, an endless cycle of identical welcomes and farewells, all for a cinematic fragment that lasted only 50 seconds in the final cut.
Stansted Airport in this photograph is not immediately recognisable as the place of Marc Augé’s “fleeting, temporary and ephemeral” encounters or Iain Chamber’s “collective metaphor of cosmopolitan existence where the pleasure of travel is not only to arrive, but also not to be in any particular place” This was a particular place. A materially evident place of intersections between real and imagined experiences and histories, political and economic relations, grounded in a mapped location, as Simon Harvey indicates, 51?53’N, 0?14’E. This was, and was not, an airport. We were in, and out, of place.
Standing in Ergin Cavusoglu’s complex and multi-layered representation of Stansted and Trabzon, I have the same sense of disorientation rooted in the materialities and characteristics of those airports. Some 28 years later, the Stansted of Cavusoglu’s film still operates as a stage-set on which both spontaneous and scripted, real and imagined narratives are played out for the camera, and yet of course this Stansted is now the intersection of a new set of economic and political relations, with the aspirations of 70s airtravel giving way to the anxiety of mobilities and migration in a post 9/11 world.
To associate Cavusoglu’s mesmerising video installations merely with the conventions of non-place and to view his work solely through the prism of migration between East and West, would be to miss his engagement with the details that make up specific places in space and time. Reviewers refer consistently to the poetic and lyrical qualities of his work and to his ability to transcend the documentary in favour of something less tangible, less illustrative. Cavusoglu’s compositional approach suggests the artist is not interested in replicating the experience of the everyday, either as Michel de Certeau has discussed, from the totalising viewpoint of above, nor from the “oblivion” of the street. Rather, I believe him to be intrigued by the representation and remaking of place as understood by geographer Tim Cresswell as, “an event marked by openness and change rather than boundedness and permanence…in a constant sense of becoming through practice and practical knowledge”. To think about how and what these video installations signify about place, we need to begin by considering what we understand by the term ‘place’ itself.
In the 1970s, the work of human geographers such as Yi-Fu Tuan and Edward Relph posited a bounded notion of place, a moral converse to the rootlessness of mobility. Relph suggested,
And for Clifford,
Forced and voluntary mobility was occurring in the post-modern world, by what David Harvey has referred to, as unparalleled “time-space compression” in light of the expansion of telecommunications and transport routes. The politics of mobilities and the diasporic condition came to dominate visual art and culture in the 1990s, yet, as Cresswell suggests, with the proliferation of “nomadic metaphysics” came a
So how do such nomadic metaphysics relate to Cavusoglu’s work? By reading his landscapes of mobility and exchange – the port, the airport, the market, the station – simply as signifiers of the globalised flow of social relations, we are in danger of erasing the gendered, racial and social differences. Essentially we may forget about the power relations that are brought to bear on these gateways that distinguish one passenger, worker, tourist and refugee from another. Let’s take Tahtakale, 2004 as an example.
This four-screen video installation presents a crowd of men trading in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. An adjacent screen of scrolling text reports translated excerpts of their conversations on mobiles and cried out to each other. They are trading in currency and gold. The atmosphere is frenzied, yet informal. Tahtakale is distinguished from Cavusoglu’s other recent work by its intensity of focus and energy. There are no establishing panoramic or tracking shots here, but rather the artist embeds his camera in the crowd. It is here in Tahtakale that Turkish fiscal policy is set, economic relations are played out through the haggling techniques of the market. We could read Tahtakale as the representation of an historic site-specific practice which imbues the Grand Bazaar with its sense of the local. Or we could see the proliferation of mobile phones, the absence of traded objects and the westernised clothes of the traders as indications of Tahtakale as a deterritorialised zone. But of course the work is intent on the collision of both essentialized place and globalization (particularly through the soundtrack with the combination of Byzantine male choir and animated transactions in dollars). This work offers us a more progressive notion of place – one that is gendered (the artist intentionally immerses the viewer in the machismo of the transactions); practiced and performed (Tahtakale only occurs through the intersections of specific social and economic relations) and defined by conflict. Tahtakale is the event in progress theorised by geographer Doreen Massey back in 1993, in her ground-breaking article A Global Sense of Place. Massey proposed that, “what gives a place its specificity is not some long internalized history but the fact that it is constructed out of a particular constellation of relations”. We see this response to place develop through Cavusoglu’s recent multi-screen installations structurally, formally and conceptually.
The artist is still intrigued by the liminal spaces of the city that formed the subjects of his earlier single-screen works Impasse, Street Dance and Mountain Bike. Yet his use of multiple large-scale projections now fractures the single-point perspective, so that the installations envelop the viewer. This formal structure serves to heighten a sense of spatial displacement, but also alludes to the cinematic – whereby the projections act as split screens in a narrative from multiple perspectives.
Poised in the Infinite Ocean, 2004 and Downward Straits, 2004 utilise this formal structure to exploit the darkness across the screens. Architectural details are obscured, recognisable figures are absent, ships become shadows and the blackness of the water is set against the illumination of the buildings.
In Downwards Straits in particular, Hagia Sofia, Ortaköy Mosque and Kuleli Barracks – the institutions of church and the military - provide a static backdrop to the automated movement. The staccato wireless radio broadcasts and lapping waves cut into the solitude of the vistas set up between the screens. Michel Foucault famously declared,
The narration of Poised in the Infinite Ocean, captures this somewhat romantic notion of the ship as heterotopia, whilst the illuminated buildings acts as anchor points or nodes in the networks of movements through the Bay of Biscay. Cavusoglu experiments with darkness in both of these installations to shift the subject from the specifics of locations to their imaginative potential. The narrative cohesion of Poised in the Infinite Ocean gives way in Adrift, 2006 and Point of Departure, 2006 to a more complex multi-layering of time, mobilities and locations.
Adrift moves away from allusions to film noir towards observational montage which nevertheless still retains a certain unease. As far as I can tell there is no significant connection between Cavusoglu’s choices of locations here – Centraal Station in Antwerp and Carnegie Hall in New York, along with the outer neighbourhoods of the cities and Rhode Island. But the lack of a distinct narrative is important. The artist sets up a series of vignettes: the view of the skyline out of the train windows bumps and flickers with the movement of the carriage; the scale of people shifts from the miniature static figures of the architect’s model to the on-lookers who simultaneously move around and within Louis Delacenserie’s Centraal Station; a man in a yellow souwester jet-sprays the spindles of a external staircase inch-by-inch; gated mansions roll past echoing the architectural model; a disenfranchised figure sits by the roadside; a boy ‘monkey-swings’ on the scaffolding built around Carnegie Hall; stop-don’t-walk signs blink; a Buddha shines through an illuminated doorway; a shaky camcorder captures a descending jet plane. These are the connections Cavusoglu makes for us between the performing of place in these locations. It is impossible to see these representations without thinking about how the spaces of the city and its environs are coded; how and where transgressions and interventions occur. And how the artist let’s us see these spaces at one remove. The camera angles in Adrift are notable – the interchange from a window across the street, the skyline from inside a moving train, the sea from a boat. Cavusoglu positions us as passengers afforded glimpses of these events in progress. As Massey suggests,
It’s the artist’s astute use of two musical notes in the score for Adrift that, when repeated consistently for the entire duration of the work, create that sense of unease. The expectancy of the discordant combination becomes increasingly unbearable as the notes never reach their final resolution. Combine that base tone with alarm bells and the movement of trains back and forth and you have a piece which relishes its uneasy indeterminate state – an aural and filmic transito.
Cavusoglu is not interested in private, domesticated spaces, but rather in the intimate moments which lay claim to public space. The landscapes of mobility – the roads, railways, airports of Edward Relph’s placelessness – are public and somewhat anonymous. For Cavusoglu, these spaces offer the opportunity to think about how identities are constructed through social and material interactions for people and for places and how in turn these might affect the viewer in other spaces.
Point of Departure, 2006 is an ambitious development of these observational tendencies which coalesce to form a dialogue between the generic materials, gateways, movements and performances of Stansted and Trabzon Airports. At over 31 minutes, the piece can afford to linger, the static and tracking shots forming a kind of choreography of bodies and objects ambling across each screen. Cavusoglu has always been interested in the conjunction of darkness and colour, and here luminous scrolling x-rays and colourful, well-lit protagonists are played off against the dull tones of the mundane security activities.
Tim Cresswell asserts that, “ironically, while the concept of routes is supposed to make connections and link people across borders, travel itself, has often been driven by the desire to construct and consume difference.” Less ‘uneasy’ than Adrift, Point of Departure seems to be entirely caught up with the construction and consumption of difference. This is not a work about the methods of movement, though of course it is concerned with the politics and production of mobilities, nor is it concerned with ‘placelessness’ versus ‘destination’. Rather, it seems to me to be about the intersection and collisions of multiple experiences of place. The Turkish business traveller moves through a set of encounters which are coded, performed and surveyed, yet crucially his ‘mobility’ or capacity to move is differentiated from those around him. The security staff, pilots, local residents and other international travellers are all implicated in the power relations of the two airports. What Point of Departure leaves us with through its complex structuring of viewpoints and perspectives, languages and silences, is Massey’s extrovert sense of place. We can recognise some of the historical specificities of the places, whilst also seeing how players interact within these specified structures, how in effect place in produced in context.
Cavusoglu recognises the capacity of these intersecting points to reflect upon the contradictions of the postmodern world: one in which trading occurs in a gendered, historicised space; where the experience of European and North American cities is determined by cinematic and televisual representation; and where the place of the airport is still charged with the thrill of new beginnings and encounters, but still remains resolutely a fiction of border crossings. An event which is both in and out of place.
Claire Doherty is Senior Research Fellow at the University of the West of England, Bristol where she leads Situations, a research and commissioning programme which investigates the significance of place and context in contemporary art. www.situations.org.uk
An airport is never just an airport. As symbol and site, the airport is witness to the achievement of one of mankind’s greatest species-surpassing dreams in the everyday miracle of flight. As such, it has something of the utopian about it but, like all utopian spaces, it carries within itself its opposite, the spectacle of the dream realised as either a banal, instrumental or frightful fact. The history of air travel describes a trajectory from its heroic period in the early days of the twentieth century to the current age of anxiety, ‘from Lindbergh to Bin Laden’ as a cultural historian has put it, during which time the airport has become a global gateway combining the two great preoccupations of the present age: fear and shopping. Everyone is familiar with the attendant rituals and atmosphere of the modern airport. Make your way through the throat of the security check, fold your coat, unload keys and mobile phone, submit to electromagnetic scan and manual pat-down, and pray that your face is in favour with the database lest you find yourself being spirited towards some unmarked plane standing ready for ‘rendition’. Gravitate down long neon corridors of moving walkways towards the fingers of flight departure, musing all the while on how the processing of people replicates, on a different scale, the handling of baggage.
Ergin Cavusoglu’s film installation ‘Point of Departure’ is concerned less with flight than with the rites of passage involved in air travel, the dead time of check-in and baggage scans, the busy waiting in the sterile zones of cafés and departure lounges. It is a work that explores the airport both as an architectural structure, a machine for processing travellers and their belongings, but also as a space that lends itself to a certain poetic treatment. While it is tempting to conceive of the airport in an abstract Platonic sense it is important to acknowledge that, in its delineation of certain characteristics of ‘airport-ness’, Cavusoglu’s work departs from footage shot in two specific airports, Stansted in the south of England and Trabzon in the Turkish Black Sea region.
Space is never just space, least of all if the space in question happens to be that of an airport. Since the inception, in the 1980s, of the so-called ‘spatial turn’ in human geography and social theory the critical conception of space, or ‘spatiality’, has extended well beyond the now defunct project of post-modernism in which it once participated to inform the humanities and arts in general. It is, without question, one of the key concepts of the times through whose application the spirit of the age might be, if not revealed, then at least imagined. To invoke a ‘poetics of space’ is to allude to certain key ideas proposed by writers whose influence is fundamental, if only at the level of metaphorical suggestiveness. For example, there is of course Borges’s short story of 1945 ‘The Aleph’, referred to as the greatest metaphor for the impossibility of language, in its sequential progression, describing geography, where things are ‘stubbornly simultaneous’. Equally significant is Gaston Bachelard’s seminal 1958 study ‘La poétique de l’espace’, in which the philosopher of science presented a study of poetically charged domestic spaces such as the attic and cellar, the drawer, chest and cabinet. The Italian phenomenological philosopher Gianni Vattimo, too, has offered a compelling reading of this idea of ‘the poetic’ as regards space in relationship to Heidegger. Vattimo addresses Heidegger’s quotation of lines from Holderlin:
Voll Verdienst, doch dichterish, wohnet
(Full of merit, yet poetically, man
While one might now find Vattimo’s argument debatable – he reads Heidegger’s account of Holderlin in terms of the transition from modernity to post-modernity – he nevertheless has useful things to say regarding the phrase ‘yet poetically man/Dwells on this earth’:
To dwell poetically does not mean to dwell in such a way that one needs poetry, but to dwell with a sensitivity to the poetic, characterised by the impossibility, in a sense, of defining clear-cut boundaries between reality and imagination. If there is a passage from modernity to post-modernity, it seems to lie in a wearing away of the boundaries between the real and the unreal or, at the very least, in a wearing away of the boundaries of the real. […]Contemporary history is that phase of history in which everything tends to be presented in the form of simultaneity’
A characteristic of this poetic apprehension of space is the recognition of its Aleph-like capacity to embody ‘much in little’ (at one point in Borges’s fable the insufferable poet and keeper of the magical Aleph, Carlos Argentino Daneri, proclaims the Latin phrase ‘multum in parvo!’). It is evident, too, in the will to detect natural forms in man-made structures, as Bachelard does in ‘Poetics of Space’, or the ancient in the modern, as in Virilio’s description of the ancestral structure of the city gate being replaced by the airport security gate. One might go further and suggest that the poetic approach supplies figures and motifs by which it becomes possible to imagine particular spatial configurations in relation to the wider world, of which they are metonymic: for example, the relationship between, as Bachelard puts it, ‘the house and the universe’ where the house can contain a universe even while being contained by the universe. The ambition that is evident in Cavusoglu’s installation (impossibly overreaching, it has to be said, but still valuable and paradoxically modest in its execution) is to create a structure by which one might begin to imagine the world. But where does one start in this wish to embody totality? Where does one find a point of departure? If a house can become the universe then, surely, in the anxious environment of the present age, can the airport not become the world?
‘Point of Departure’ can be seen to be a work about space per se; that is, the experience and condition of contemporary globalised space as the relationship between specific places: the airports of Stansted and Trabzon, the installation itself and the space of its exhibition. This movement from the general to the particular, from space to place, is not constructed by the work as a set of oppositions (space versus place, etc) but as a series of imbrications, each being contained within and acting as a function of the other. Two images in Cavusoglu’s installation have a ‘poetic’ function that bears this out, those that show security gates and ‘tomograms’ of luggage as it moves through the scanner. They function to send the spectator-participant shuttling backwards and forwards from the realm of the real to the realm of the imagination and back again, from the world of the airport to the structure of the installation to the space of exhibition, and beyond, and back, again and again. The ‘gate’ is itself doubled in the work, featuring as an image and an element of the structure of the dispositif. The images of Trabzon and Stansted airports obsessively document the functioning and the protocol of the security gates (a process that is noticeably more rigorous at the English end than it is at the Turkish) and the attention paid to the form and function of such gates cannot but remind one of Paul Virilio’s seminal diagnosis in ‘The Overexposed City’ in which he describes how, since the 1960s, the city is no longer governed by physical boundaries but by systems of electronic surveillance, in ‘the exo-city’ the gateway gives way to the security gate at the airport:
From here on, constructed space occurs within an electronic topology where the framing of perspective and the gridwork weft of numerical images renovate the division of urban property. The ancient private/public occultation and the distinction between housing and traffic are replaced by an overexposure in which the difference between ‘near’ and ‘far’ simply ceases to exist […] The representation of the modern city can no longer depend on the ceremonial opening of gates, nor on the ritual processions and parades lining the streets and avenues with spectators. From here on, urban architecture has to work with the opening of a new ‘technological space-time’. In terms of access, telematics replaces the doorway. The sound of gates gives way to the clatter of data banks and the rites of passage of a technical culture whose progress is disguised by the immateriality of its parts and networks … Where once one necessarily entered the city by means of a physical gateway, now one passes through an audiovisual protocol in which the methods of audience and surveillance have transformed even the forms of public greeting and daily reception
In processing people and their baggage, these gates produce images as an adjunct to one’s passport, a kind of ‘Open Sesame!’ (it no longer being enough that one’s papers are, in the old-fashioned phrase, found to be ‘in order’; one’s images too must be in order). These images are therefore part of the gate, part of its structure and protocol and, so, Cavusoglu incorporates them into his work. He does so with a sly but telling inversion. At the heart of the installation’s architecture, which is also its ‘entrance’, two screens are suspended above the floor exactly facing each other and between them the CAT scan images are projected onto the floor. This combination of two facing screens and the floor-projection forms an approximation of a gateway whose arch is inverted. Again, Virilio comes to mind: “In this new perspective devoid of horizon, the city was entered not through a gate nor through an arc de triomph, but rather through an electronic audience system”. This arrangement of elements produces an interesting effect of interdiction; true to its shape of an inverted arch, it declares ‘Do Not Enter’ and it is surprising to see how few visitors to the installation dare, or deem it acceptable, to step over, into and across the CAT scan images. ‘Point of Departure’ is therefore not an environment that one moves within, but around which one orbits, stacked like airliners, busy waiting like passengers.
This image could be said to function as the work’s heraldic mise-en-abyme: the bags containing objects are themselves contained as they pass through the scanner. Likewise, the work itself has certain features (six screens, documentary images of its two locations, ‘character-types’ who introduce a certain horizon of fictional meaning) contained by its own spatial integrity as an installation (with the inverted gate at its core) itself contained within the larger space of exhibition. Both images (the gateways, the CAT scans) are therefore materialised in the form of the installation, they move from the space of the screen to contribute to embodying the work itself. This migration from one space to another is of a part with the work’s subject as well as its method and speaks of the movement within and between the work’s three levels of space: that of the image, that of the architectural form of the installation and that of the place it occupies within the space of exhibition (which the sound-mix helps sculpt).
Something needs to be said about the passengers we see milling about in the airport footage, in which a man and a woman come to our attention. In fact, we can’t help but notice them. There is something in their lightly worn self-consciousness that draws our eyes to them, this sleek duo of departure lounge-lizards, a quality about them that tells us they are actors: ‘He’, with his long aristocratic face and slightly leonine swagger; ‘She’, blonde and busy rewriting a typescript at her café table. Together, they perform cameos of what the political economist Susan George has called the ‘international fast caste’, frequent flyers and privileged migrants at the opposite end of globalisation’s food chain from the refugees and neo-liberal proletariat. ‘She’ is a journalist returning from an assignment, ‘He’ is a London-based post-graduate student visiting family in Turkey, which is as much as we learn about them from the sparse dialogues. But they have a function other than being representative ‘types’, they serve to draw our attentions not only to themselves but also on their surroundings and the people around them. They fall short, in other words, of being ‘characters’ but act instead as what the French would call ‘figurants’ or the British ‘background artists’. They are there to bring out the background, to set it off, but never to fully separate themselves from it. Cavusoglu’s decision to emphasise this pair introduces an element of fiction, an imaginary horizon to the locations, the suggestion of a background story to each, but no more than that. They are heading in different directions, their paths crossing en route to different destinations. This ‘background’ is also what hovers ominously behind any depiction of any airport nowadays, the low heavy thud of modernity’s migraine, terminal velocity, death from the skies. And the question: what will happen when the fuel runs out? In port cities where the maritime industry has declined, the rivers become the focus for regeneration campaigns, the docks become new temples of cultural tourism or museums of dead industry. Rivers and waterways are geological facts. Despite the territorial weight ascribed to them (think of the concept of ‘air space’ for example) flight paths are abstractions conceived in thin air. One can readily imagine certain defunct terminals mutating into out-of-town shopping centres, equipped as they already are with malls and cinemas, their duty-free status extinguished, grass pushing through the disused runways. But what of those whose viability has depended on the increase in cheap air travel, itself dependent on the vagaries of the international oil market? Will they become abandoned outposts of the imagination, populated by phantom pilots and ghostly passengers who, like characters from a J.G. Ballard story, take on the stubbornly survivalist attributes of soldiers who don’t know that war is over, the last survivors of a dying species?
The dead of night and the clamour of border are strangely inverted in ErginCavusoglu’s atmospheric four screen video installationDownward Straits. Black, menacing vessels silhouetted against the brilliantly lit city of Istanbul pass silently through the Bosphorus Strait, the border between East and West, Europe and Asia. Our mute traversal ofCavusoglu’s dark straits — we walk between the screens as if running the Bosphorus at night — is nevertheless brought alive by the chatter between ships and shore.
For more on the theory of ‘Making Strange’, or ostranenie, see Simon Watney ‘Making Strange: The Shattered Mirror’ in Thinking Photography ed Victor Burgin, Macmillan, London, 1982.
Standing in front of any of the four screens onto which Downward Straits is projected one notices the conventional flatness and scope of the tableau that puts one in mind of Twentieth Century mural painting. (It is no surprise, then, to discover thatCavusoglu, as an ethnic Turk living in Bulgaria back in its communist run days, was once detailed, as an army conscript, to paint social realist murals): a classical training.
Michael Taussig ‘The Beach (a Fantasy)’ in Walter Benjamin’s Grave, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 98.
Cavusoglu’s darkly silhouetted ships seem wholly detached until one hears the ‘familiar’ radio banter between ship and city.
There is the barest hint of a narrative in which a Turkish academic, travelling between Trabzon and Stansted then further west, encounters a British woman journalist heading eastwards.
ONE PLACE AFTER ANOTHER
In the conventional understanding of location, it is a site of absolute belonging, an enclosed and stable space where its physical qualities are framed and its designated activities in its boundaries are carried out. However, in his video-installation Downward Straits (2004) which was shown in 2004 Beck’s Futures Prize exhibition in the ICA London -he was shortlisted for the prize-,Ergin Cavusoglu, one of the leading emerging artists in the UK, decodes and encodes a geographical location. Revealing the presence of the unseen,Cavusoglu makes what is assumed to be familiar stranger, and urges the viewer to look at this location differently.
In the four-screen installation work Downward Straits, that form a channel-like corridor, silhoutted tankers and container ships pass silently but also menacingly through the Bosphorus Strait in the darkness of the night. During their slow passings in both sides of the screens, their shadow-images interrupt the bright light of ?stanbul. ?stanbul, because of its geographical location, has long been holding a symbolic ‘value’ on the ideological and political map; it serves as an arena through which essentialized oppositions, such as East versus West, Islam versus Christianity, local versus global, are played out for the world politics. However because in the viewing ofCavusoglu’s installation, there is a displacement, a disorientation, this upsets any attempt to make a clear statatement geographically. Are we heading from East to West or from West to East? Either choice can be made possible according to our own wishes and prejudices. Are we crossing from the Asian side to the European side or from the European side to the Asian side? We are in fact on neither side of the city; we are in-between space.
The dark, frontal moving images of the ships silently passing on the screens shadow the image of the busy metropolis. Being inside the channel and slipping through the city along with the silent ships, we, the viewers, can only manage to catch a glimpse of some of the landmarks of Istanbul, a mosque, a military school and a big football stadium, each being politically laden symbols of religion, nation and identity. We can also hear some conversations between the crew and coast guards. These conversations on the radio somewhat attach these ghostly ships to the city yet at the same time separate them. To recall the famous statement by Michel Foucault:
‘... the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in the gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilization, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development ...., but has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.’19
A ship is a closed box, a floating world within a fixed world. It is both here and there. It is both attainable and unattainable. It’s arrival also ensures it’s departure. The Bosphorus is the world’s geographical and imaginative crossroads; it is what connects Europe and Asia and at the same time what dissolves them. In their temporal, ghostly materiality, Cavusoglu’s ships break space-time continuum of the location and erase its geographic specificity. But the dark, two-dimensional images of these ships also recall the current stratified lansdcape of the sea, in the period of the fortification of the borders in Europe, where the water is criss-crossed by tourists, military, traders, smugglers and immigrants who are all holding different status and none of their routes, paths or trajectories intersect.
The art works that I have touched on throughout my*discussion in this essay take their own ‘journey in space’. Here, I am not referring to a measurable quantity of movements in space and time. On the contrary, the ‘journeys’ that I am refering to are the ones which are breaking into space, taking place without inhabiting any particular space, that is becoming-place that traverses all spaces. These works introduce alternative modes of spatialization in the manner of being in space, of being for space in Deleuzien terms.20
20Gilles Deleuze-Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism & Schizophrenia (London: The Athlone Press, 1988), p.482
“Don’t tell me nobody’s interested”, says one of the currency traders in Ergin Cavusoglu’s Tahtakale, “we’ve been going for two days”. The trader is, of course, talking about a specific deal, an exchange of perhaps $100,000 or more, but the video installation stirs up a slightly out-of-time atmosphere, and one could almost imagine him saying, “we’ve been going for hundreds of years”. The language is brusque and macho, as it has been, no doubt, for generations: just one of the rules behind the elaborate game he plays with other traders. If another trader is “interested”, and the negotiation successful, he’ll go to a stall within the bazaar, consult the gun-toting man who protects the safe that holds the hard cash. All in a day’s work. Tahtakale shows us a slice of Istanbul bazaar life, a cluster of contemporary men going about their daily business, and yet something else is at work beneath the tough talk and mobile phones – a network of cultural forces, ancient and deep, is revealed by the structure of Cavusoglu’s looped videos. Although the artist had to gain permission to film this secret world, the conditions that animate the events he captured transcend the specifics of the deal and the lives of the traders.
Despite working with moving pictures, a medium that brings with it the automatic suggestion of narrative, Cavusoglu shows us a picture rather than a story. As an artist who trained as a painter, his video loops develop expressive power by working within the strengths of painting – composition, rhythm, line and colour – while still exploiting the temptation of narrative offered by video. Tahtakale comprises two screens that show us men in the heat of flurried currency trading, a third, between these two, provides subtitles, while a fourth shows us men carrying heavy bottles of photographic fluid on their backs. In the background, a male choir sings a piece of Byzantine music, a touch that lends a sacred mood to the workaday proceedings. Cavusoglu says he chose the music because it was probably written within 200 metres of the bazaar, but also because it adds a “notion of timelessness” to the video. Without the music, the piece might come across as an incomplete, slightly confusing documentary; the music, and the loop structure, loosens the events from a specific time. The identity of the men scarcely matters, nor does the amount they trade. Tahtakale is about the ideas and cultural forces that animate the process of trading, and the men become ghosts of ancient traders in the midst of an endless, inevitable drama. Indeed, the tough talk probably acts to mask awareness of how little they determine their destiny. This looped, pictorial structure, in which the elements exist as a kind of immanent machine rather than a narrative, is essential to Cavusoglu’s method.
Poised in the Infinite Ocean, a three-screen video installation, has a similarly fatalistic and otherworldly mood. “The sailor’s life had not been the adventure he thought it would be”, intones the narrator in a deadpan American accent, “but he stayed with it for lack of choice”. The text is a segment that the artist lifted from The Outlaw Sea, a book about the anarchy of the commercial shipping world by American writer William Langewiesche. This particular segment takes place in the Bay of Biscay, where Poised in the Infinite Ocean was shot, and is meant to act as a complement to the three-screen projection rather than provide content for illustration. But the narration provides that essential hint of narrative: a life led, a character adrift in the infinite ocean seeking a destiny that is directed, ultimately, by forces that are unknowable and uncontrollable.
The phrase “lack of choice” haunts Cavusoglu’s work. Tahtakale and Poised in the Infinite Ocean may reveal that most of our lives revolve on a wheel of fortune that powerful natural and cultural forces control, and yet his work is also fortified by the artist’s faith in the revelatory force of pictures. We all have a story to tell, and though we probably don’t know, exactly, where we’re going or might end up, Cavusoglu’s videos helps us to see, for a moment at least, where we are.
Ergin Cavusoglu exposes the regions of urban life that lie between the
private and the public. He explores how personal and cultural identities
are negotiated in both spheres, yet frames these images of ordinariness
so that they become ambiguous. The videos employ an elicit voyeurism as
they follow the exploits of individuals, unaware of the artist’s
presence, who believe themselves to be out of sight, buried in the crowd
or undercover of darkness. City dwellers, stray dogs, adolescents searching
for their place in society all slip almost unnoticed over the boundary
between inclusion and exclusion. Dramatic scenes unfold as people perform
enigmatic activities at twilight: they play in wastelands, argue on the
street or create mischief as well as an inadvertent Duchampian sculpture
with a bicycle perched on top of a road sign. The video installation ‘Entanglement’
represents the point at which the divide between public and private, night
and day is transgressed, as helicopter searchlights sinisterly sweep the
night skies. Yet in the artificial, idealised gallery space the imagery
is an abstracted drama of light and sound; urban reality becomes a formal,
In figurative compositions, architecture, and urban landscapes he explores the relationship between humans and their environment, the multiplicity, diversity and ambiguity of the social landscape. Through the images personal and cultural identities are negotiated and located in urban everyday life. The images take ordinariness to the point of ambiguity, forcing the viewer to dig deeper and draw their own conclusions.