this issue contains
>> Joseph Beuys and his students
>> Vik Muniz: Art in the Favelas
>> Ayse Erkmen's Interventions
>> German Pop Art: Thomas Bayrle

>> archive


Ayse Erkmen, Netz, 2006
Photo: Jens Ziehe
Courtesy Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin

Instead of producing transportable and hence sellable objects, the artist often creates site-specific interventions that only last for a short period of time. She often manipulates the preexisting things she finds in exhibition spaces and underscores them by adding or altering a few select elements: in 2004, for instance, she mounted lamps onto the cleaning mechanism of the roof of the Vienna Secession, transforming the glass ceiling into a playful arena of constantly changing squares of color. The chief feature of works like these lies in visualizing the exhibition situation and ultimately art's relationship to people. The works seldom, however, reveal their humanist component at first glance. They are above all offers made to the viewer: "I deliberately try to veil the work’s core so that people have to try a little harder to get to it."

Erkmen's conceptual approach can also be noticed in her teaching style. She taught at the Kunsthochschule Kassel and from 1999 to 2004 at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. Her Frankfurt class produced a broad spectrum of artist types like Dani Gal, Michaela Meise, and Dirk Fleischmann. Which is a sign that her teaching method is more about a particular way of thinking than some established repertory of handicraft: "Instead of supplying students with ideas, I tried to understand their own thoughts — even if they seemed uninteresting to me at first. I tried to understand where they wanted to go. I think that when you teach young artists, you have to open yourself up to them. And so I was able to immerse myself in their work and find meaning there. I think that's good for the teacher, too. I've learned a lot from my students."

Working this way naturally entails a great deal of discussion. "I have a lot of talks with my students about their concepts," Erkmen explains. "And the second step is about technical stuff. How they can express their ideas in the most precise and effective way." Erkmen's concept-oriented approach extends here to her teaching, and she's obviously not an artist to teach the technical skills needed to best design agreeable works of art for moneyed buyers: "I've always told my students that they shouldn't worry about the market," the artist says. "Maybe that's bad advice." For her part, she can't think of the art market. For a long time, Turkey didn't even have collectors of contemporary art. This prevented her from producing solid, market-oriented art products.

This insisting on the ephemeral must have driven the curators of her retrospective to the verge of desperation. How should one organize an exhibition like this, when all that remains of the artist's most important works is not much more than the original concept and a few documentation photos. "First, I made a list to establish what concepts are best expressed by which works of art," Erkmen says. "And then, together with the curator, I decided to create the works once more for Hamburger Bahnhof. With very few exceptions, none of the works were delivered. They were newly conceived for the exhibition spaces."

Ayse Erkmen, Under the Roof, 2005
Ikon Gallery Birmingham
Courtesy Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin

The result is less a retrospective than an elaborate remix. Fans can keep an eye out for their Erkmen favorites in a new orchestration. The references are not always so clear, such as the green lines in Hamburger Bahnhof that follow the contours of the disabled-persons elevator in reference to the earlier project Imitating Lines, in which the art student redrew the corners and niches of her academy in 1977. "For a lot of people, the exhibition will be a new experience," Erkmen says. And a fleeting experience at that — one that will dissolve back into the immaterial following the closing of the exhibition. Perhaps it was like this; but then again, perhaps it was not.

Ayse Erkmen: Weggefährten
Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
13. September 2008 - 11. Januar 2009

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