Still Here

Solo exhibition, Apartment Project Berlin, 18-05/14-06-2018

Installation view, exhibition Still Here (2018), Apartment Project, Berlin
Iron pieces in various sizes, acrylic on wall
Foto: Henryk Weiffenbach

Still Here (2018), working process, Werkstatt44, Berlin

Ceren Oykut’s solo exhibition in Apartment Project, Still Here traces the artist’s move from her home city Istanbul tot Berlin and the mental consequences accompanying this move. The starting point of the wall painting, which is placed on one of the corners of the exhibit space, was a notebook Ceren Oykut kept during her introduction courses into German language. The enlarged doodles that are taken out from or inscribed on iron panels give clues about the psychological impacts of her geographical shift, such as confusion uncertainty and the urge to make sense of the new environment. The material form of these inscriptions constructs distinct contrasts between light and dark, heaviness and lightness, which marks the daily life in the city of Berlin. Her series of engravings plays with the changeable quality of the original image and presents a sequential narrative reminiscent of the frames from an animation film. In this series, a simple portrayal of the studio in Istanbul where the engravings were produced coincidentally transforms into the subjective chronicle of a coup d’etat that happened in Turkey during thedays of its production. The last part of the exhibition is composed of Oykut’s double drawings that bring together city-scapes of Istanbul and Berlin, and are populated by real people, phantasmagoric monster-creatures, dream-like events, and circular machinations. In an euphoric projection, they parade self-sustaining struggles in the urban environment, survival tactics of the daily life and enduring symbols of urban memory (Erden Kosova, Berlin, 2018)

Ceren Oykut in conversation with Erden Kosova // Apartment Project, Berlin, June 2018

Erden Kosova: The last occasion when I saw a work of yours was the solo exhibition you had at Galata Greek Primary School, back in 2015. After this exhibition, there were changes in your life. To start with, you came to Berlin. When I first saw your exhibition here at Apartment Project, I came across three totally different works, which, at first, somehow, did not read as a coherent group. They were three completely different pieces, based on three different kinds of material, and three different types of spatiality. One of the works played with shadows and works in 3-D. Another was a projection, and in the center, you’d hung traditionally framed drawings. In terms of the use of time, we also saw three different modes. The installation with steel panels and inscriptions conveyed a chaotic temporality. You could see scribbling, and then, at the back, there were also traces of deletion or correction, whereas the projection consisted of a sequence of images. It was almost an animation. Lastly, in the drawings in the center, things seemed to happen simultaneously: different kinds of events and locations came together in single compositions. Perhaps you’ll talk about it too, but there was also a circularity hidden within the center of these drawings.

Ceren Oykut: Yes, these two drawings actually exemplify the basic ideas that I want to reach.

EK: In the wall installation, one could easily understand that it was about scribbles noted during a language course.

CO: It’s not about a language course. It’s the starting point of the piece.

EK: We could see initial contact with the German language, and could detect that they were taken from a notebook.

CO: Language is the focus of that piece. Language is like environment. When you change it, you also change theenvironment. I was trying to describe the changes in the environment. I have to grasp the environment first, before I can start to draw things, so I was trying to depict the new environment that I found myself in, which was the language.

EK: All of the three works are interesting in and of themselves, but it seems as if there is also an overarching bridge between these separate pieces and stories: the changes you experienced in these last two years, namelyyour switch from one city to another, and the psychological transformation you have experienced with the shift from Istanbul to Berlin. You told me that the installation and the projection were mostly the representation of your real life experiences, but the two central drawings were more like fantasies and projections for the future.

CO: Drawing is composed of two basic things, ink and paper. If I can’t draw I feel completely lost and distressed. As a medium, it’s very portable. I can carry the things with me easily everywhere, and I feel comfortable using drawing to speak about things wherever I go. But, of course, there have been periods, months, in which I couldn’t do any drawing. I’d already started preparations for Berlin when I was in Istanbul. I started learning German. I still might not express myself in German very well, but I have a relationship with the language. I tried to look at, grasp, and feel certain words from different angles. For more than six months, perhaps a year, the notebooks I used during the course filled up with doodles and signs of my struggle with the language. When I arrived in Berlin and was invited to participate in exhibitions here, I only had these notebooks, so I decidedto start with what I had on hand. As I started to work on the notebook, it evolved into this wall painting. So what you see here in the exhibition is not fully complete yet. It stayed in the gallery space for a year. But, in the mean time, there have been many exhibitions in the gallery. At times, other artists have covered it with papers and had to struggle with this thing placed in the corner of the room. I waited to re-work it until this exhibition because I felt something was missing. There was something that couldn’t explain my experience here in Berlin. A heavier3-D addition was needed. So I started to work with iron, which requires a completely different process. I was introduced to the material by a metal sculptor, KAI, who works on kinetic sculptures. He opened his studio and showed me how can I come up with these metal panels for the exhibition. With a heating device and a soldering machine, I cut all these letters, doodles, and shades that I projected onto the metal sheets.

EK: There are a lot of contrasting elements here: heaviyness and lightness, dark and light, the bulkiness of the metals and the weightlessness of the shadows. You said once that this stark contrast is something that you’ve been experiencing in Berlin, right?

CO: Yes, these contrasts exist in Berlin. I can’t detail it conceptually, but this is something I experience and feel in daily life here. I cannot explain the reasons because I still don’t know the city very well, but my experiences have led me to these formal choices.

EK: Can you tell more about the etchings?

CO: This is actually the last piece I did in Istanbul, in the etching studio of Mimar Sinan University. There are only a few editions in the series, but each of them took so much time to produce. After finishing the second print in the series, I flew to Berlin for five days in mid-July, and while I was here, a coup d’état happened back in Istanbul. Later, a lot of people told me what they experienced that day. But because I was here in Berlin, I couldn’t make out what had really happened in Istanbul. When I got back there, I found everything changed: the people, the studio… Some windows were broken, people were traumatized. They were not able to properly speak, or tell their experiences.

EK: Turkish flags everywhere on the streets…

CO: Yes, I found a completely different country. People couldn’t explain, and I couldn’t fully grasp it–but it was obvious that something big had happened within these five days. So, the prints I continued to produce also changed. Yasemin Nur Erkalır, from the etching studio in Mimar Sinan University told me, “Perhaps no one knows what happened here, but your plateknows,” because my plates were standing next to the windows, looking over the Bosphorus. And they witnessed all these fighter jets flying above, all the windows smashing. They heard all the noises coming from the clashes on the Bosporus Bridge, and the massacres all around. So, this plate carried the memory of that period, that I could not have witnessed. It became the symbol of the events for me.

Kurukazı/Drypoint, installation view from the exhibition Still Here (2018), 9 monoprints 16x14cm, animation video, Apartment Projct, Berlin

EK: And you continued to work along with the memoryrecorded on the plate…

CO: A friend of mine, Can Aytekin, who is the professor in the etching studio in Mimar Sinan University, had memories about the smashed glass in his house. But he didn’t photograph them. So, I put these smashed pieces into the composition. As I said before, I was in the process of moving to Berlin, and I was nervous. Since the practice of drawing was so connected in my mind to Istanbul, I was wondering whether I could keep on drawing in Berlin. The two drawings are the outcome of my Berlin period.

EK: The one on the left relates to the social struggle to avoid the destruction of the Emek Movie Theater in Istanbul. You wanted to come up with a composition which would not limit itself solely on what has been experienced but also link to what is coming in the future.

CO: Before the Gezi Uprising, the political dissent had started with the Emek Struggle, which was the beginning of the events to come, and the gathering of the first crowds. After the Gezi Days, like everyone, I started to think about what happened. So many things had changed that people needed to absorb what they’d experienced after the breaking point of Gezi. For example,I have friends who were shooting films, and then halted their projects and started with new ideas and films, even after two years. I realized that I’d been concentrating only on the negative sides of daily life and that disturbed me. What was coming out were dystopias. So, after Gezi I started to think about what would have happened, how it would look if I tried to compose my utopias? It was a difficult task. So, I used the Emek Movie Theater as a space that is occupied by artists, Gezi activists, or people who want to live in a peaceful and utopian environment, in which they have time to create things and workon things they actually like. This was what I concentrated on in this drawing. There is actually a previous version of it that I started in Istanbul. In it, the monster in the middle was holding a piece of paper in its hand, and a girlwas projecting an image onto the paper. When I got to Berlin I took the two motifs, the monster and the Emek Movie Theater, from that version and reworked the composition. Werkstatt 44, the metal studio where I was working, snuck into the work. A circulation of electricity appeared between these two, and after I’d gotten the image of this power organization, the drawing started to work for me.

Here I and II, 30×42 cm, ink on paper, 2018

EK: These are residues that came from Istanbul. We seealso your Berlin experience.

CO: Yes, I also draw the neighborhood I’m living in. The projection system in the composition needed an energy source. So after thinking about it for months, I decided to locate the source in my own neighborhood and I felt really relieved by making this connection, the the drawing started to work. I don’t like compositions that don’t function. Somebody is filming here, the creature is falling down, and the people around the reconstruction in the background are also showing a film loop and chilling out. This is my utopia actually, a relaxed and efficient workplace. I could live in such an environment.

EK: Constant struggle, which renews itself, and being split between two cities, and also creating a bridge between them…. when we consider the three parts of the work to gether, we can trace the psychological switch between the two cities, two geographies, two cultures. The title of the exhibition is Still Here. I was actually wondering about what the “here” in the title meant.

CO: My solo exhibition that I had in Bremen, Germany, right before I moved to Berlin, was titled You Are Here. It was like the signs attached to the maps to tell you exactly where you are. But where? And Still Here doesn’t have the answer about the where. Still “here,” but where? I don’t know.