Is it Istanbul or Constantinople, or Spike Island?

Alt Üst: Cevdet Erek

I was very excited to see Spike Island’s latest exhibition – Alt Üst, from the Istanbul based artist, Cevdet Erek.  This excitement was prompted by my recent trip to Turkey’s cultural capital; a bustling, pulsing, changeable and exhilarating city.  Arriving in Taksim square, navigating the hectic Istiklal street to my apartment, I was initially dubious as to Istanbul’s merits, but after just one day, I never wanted to leave.  The monumental, historic beauty of mosques, hamans, palaces, bazaars and winding streets was overwhelmingly enchanting.  This was contrasted and augmented by the festival-madness of nights on the ‘European’ side of the Bosphorus – encompassing riots (tear gas and rubber bullets included), musicians, mezze and copious thriving bars.

Stepping into Alt Üst, I was instantly reminded of this feeling.  A pulsing, throbbing, dancing beat, meets the viewer.  It emanates somewhere, from the (as yet unseen) centre of the exhibition.  Erek’s practice is informed by an interest in space, sound, time and rhythm; it is life lived and experienced – not just viewed.  The show begins in a relatively uncontroversial manner, displaying ‘Ruler and Rhythm Studies’; measuring time, key events, interpretations of histories, even the working week, on wood, rulers and perspex.  These created calendars are interlaced with directional speakers, forming grids of sound; resonant patterns through which the viewer moves through and interacts with.  Like the city itself, the installation is a brilliant cogitation on the nature of time, human events and the spaces we inhabit.  I particularly enjoyed the new addition, created with Bristol craftsman Alex Philips, made from local cedar wood, using the growth rings to mark time since 1914.  It combines official commemoration, human artifice and conception, with a beautiful, naturally occurring object.

Moving deeper into the exhibition, through further interlacing grids of sound, one eventually comes to ‘Alt’ (Turkish for ‘below’); an underground cavernous space, furnished with a pulsating 4/4 techno beat, lit with a single LED strip.  The blue light grows and shrinks in the dark space, representing the continuing, reciprocal transformations from day to night.  Here, again, time is translated into space – space into experience; with each LED bulb representing one minute; the daylight hours in Bristol during the exhibition.  For a show dedicated to time, it was amazing how, for the occupied viewer, the consciousness of time dissipated.

From here, one encounters a giant pair of hands (Erek’s) attempting – and failing – to type out a sonic representation of life events.  The speaker is set far away from the video though, and as you move closer, a traffic-light set (yet another form of abstract sound communicating information) – ticking at second intervals, provides the rhythm.  This is followed by another audible piece, marking out the days of the week, collaboratively created with Bristol/London experimental musicians ‘Empty Set’.  From here, through a wall of white-noise, the culmination of the exhibition is accessed up a rickety ramp made of wood and scaffolding; ‘Üst’ (Turkish for ‘above’).  It’s a massive, bright white space, lit radiantly with natural light, with the low, pulsating beat from Alt(below) threatening the floorboards.

For me, this truly immersive exhibition was best appreciated at speed!  Pacing rapidly through the different grids of sound, space and light, Erek’s installations enveloped and invited you in.  It strongly reflected and represented the beauty, historicism and irresistible excitement of Erek’s home city; a wonderful experience which made me think anew on audible art and the gallery experience itself.

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