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Interview with Ayse Erkmen

This conversation with Ayse Erkmen was conducted 2001 about her work„shipped ships": Japan, Istanbul and Venice on river Main, their crew, already existing boat landing points.

Lena Inowlocki: who is a migrationsociologist asked about the relation between Erkmens work and the topic of migration.


Lena Inowlocki:I come from a sociology backround not from an art backround, but working in sociology I pick always ideas up from literature and from art because it is quicker than sociology. I went from a ferry from Istanbul and there was an idea which was being captured in migration theory, but it is very difficult to put it into words. So I don't have a very specific question but I would like to maybe ask to say in which way this has something to do with migration for you?


Ayse Erkmen: First of all it has something to do with being from a water culture and as I am from a water culture and the project I wanted to make was for Frankfurt. The first thing that came to my mind is that Frankfurt has a name which is Frankfurt am Main. So Frankfurt is at the River Main. It is very important that this city has a name which is a water. And this Main river is just crossing the city just dividing it into two and I wanted to do something for the river and of course because of this very developed public transportation system in Frankfurt nobody use the river anymore - just a minute a bridge is available and all kinds of other public transportation was used and I felt that the river was a little bit neglected which was natural actually but I wanted to bring this water culture for a limited amount of time and my proposal was bringing something definitely from Istanbul because this is what I have seen and this is something what I know and a special ship which I use all the time it was okay, it was brought to and it was possible and than I wanted something from far away and then this Japanese ship and then something from Europe and a Venecian ship was brought and the ships, the way the ships were brought I think has to do with migration, because the ships were served by other ships, they were brought - they travelled to Frankfurt - they travelled not by themselves but they travelled on another ship, so I think this was one of the most important part of my project, because the ships were being brought as guests of another ship. And they came to, when they came to Frankfurt they were unnoted and they were guests of the city. They were guest of the city, but they had their crew inside them. So the crew was in a way guest of the city as well, they were guestworkers and at the same time, the City, the city, the Frankfurter people were their guest it was my intention, my interest was in this being the guest - travelling - having served and to serve and all these, playing with all these concepts and this concept of being a guest in a city and uh you don't know who is the guest at this time, because the people are the guests and they are the guests of the city and when they are coming to Frankfurt on their way to Frankfurt they are the guests of bigger ships so they are like passengers in the bigger ships so they have a leisure time and now they are going back on there way back to their home towns and now they are again guests. I this, this period of time I uh was a way of working with travelling, being transported being in another uh geography and things likes that.


Lena Inowlocki: Could you say as guests they brought with the crew also there own history?


Ayse Erkmen: Yes, their own history, their own geography, their own way of using the water culture, their own way of for example, as a very simple example we can give how they are tying the boat, how they are approaching the landing places. These kind of choreography were very important for me - how they are driving and how the boats were being adopted to the river, you know sometimes you have to jump and sometimes it was not solo, all these kind of things these traditions and the adaptations and the geography and to see the city from another geography from another point of view, because to see a city from water is to see it from another distance. The city becomes something else. If you have been on the Japanese boat it was so low that the city, the main river look like, it had a different colour. The city was seen from a lower point of view so each ship gave another point of view and all in all of course of being on the water is giving another perspective.



Lena Inowlocki: So the different perspectives that come about through migration are so to speak reflected in bringing the boat, in being on the boat and being?


Ayse Erkmen: And seeing your own city which you know so well from another point of view and then you can look on the places that you have been too from the water and recognize the places..


Lena Inowlocki: This is a perspective which is not usually taking towards migration, the inside perspective. Usually migration is seen as an outside perspective, you have to deal with. So you brought the inside perspective into a visible connection with everybody to see, so to speak, everybody could take the inside perspective and look even though it is not prescribed what you see but you can look at things from a new point of view.


Ayse Erkmen: Ja, this is very important for my work what you’ve said.


Felicia Herrschaft: How was the working together with the Deutsche Bank, was it difficult for you to bring your own idea?


Ayse Erkmen: No it wasn't at all difficult because “this moment”, is there new concept and they were open, they were very much open to any kind of proposal, this was what they asked for in there letter for invitation anyway. They made a letter of invitation to ten, twelve artists and this was in there letter, that they were open to anything. And I think until the end they were really sticking to that idea and very open and it was actually a very easygoing experience for me. It was easy, not so difficult, because they wanted that. They wanted I think they were asking for difficulties from the beginning when say said: “we are open to any idea” They wanted some challenges.


Felicia Herrschaft: They made a lot of promotion for there own for the new globalisation identity during “shipped ships”.


Ayse Erkmen: They made a lot of advertisement but this advertisement is made for other exhibitions from the Deutsche Bank as well. So I don't know why this was so visible this time, because they made the same kind of advertisement more or less for the Deutsche Guggenheim exhibitions and for my case I wanted people to use my boats, because the work would not have been complete without the people using it. It needed the people, because it was for the people of Frankfurt. And my whole concept would have failed if the people would not recognize it or didn't enjoy it, didn't use it and there was no communication and this would not have been complete. I brought people from there own countries and there boats from there own countries and they needed to be with people, because you can't expect people to notice things without advertisement. If you have a movie you have advertisement. If you have a concert you have advertisements, because people are involved, you want people to go there. So I think advertisement was part of the project and the advertisement that I have seen was posters, billboards and some taxicabs and I think the advertisement was very much part of the life of Frankfurt, also especially I liked it in the taxicabs, when they had this advertisement in the back of the driver and in the front seat. I thought this was in the taxis because this was really part of the daily life.


Lena Inowlocki: Possibly, there are different levels which have to do with the way the Deutsche Bank could attached themselves to it and to what is in the concept you presented and may be this is just an idea but possibly because migration itself has so many ways, there is of course the aspect of globalisation and of global capital and there are also people who migrated and so when it came together, there was no contradiction.



Ayse Erkmen: It was a project which was proposed, advertised and funded by the Deutsche Bank as a global project but it came to work as it came to be actually present in the river it needed people  to so it coul d function these are the two aspects which are usually kept apart that there are workmigrants on the oneside and global capital on the other side and usually there is a border or a gap  inbetween. They came together in this concept and this is very unusual because it is usually not thought togehter  but then it happens together.



Lena Inowlocki: Would you see some connection to your concept in bringing together the different spheres of migration?


Ayse Erkmen: Ja, but it is not intentioned, but it is part of my work, so it happens naturally and with this project, I think it is also very natural that this happens, because you are involving people in a very modest activity, because the activity is very modest. I think this modesty makes this connection. And that's why I like the advertisement, which are really modest and innocent, like the taxicabs in the back of the taxi-driver. It is so simple and it is so easy in a way, much better then billboards.


Lena Inowlocki: May be because of the transition between taxi and ferry?


Felicia Herrschaft: So you don't think that they work on a popularization of your person, for you the activity in the City is more important?


Ayse Erkmen: Yes, I think it is important. I can't say it is too much or too little, but it needs advertisement. And I don't think it gives my name a more popular aspect, I don't think so, because it came and it went. It is just like coming and going it is not staying. So the work does not stay and everything came for one month and then it is gone. I think this temporary quality of the work was also in the advertisement. So it is just something which has disappeared at a moment.


Lena Inowlocki: And were there no discussions to prolong it?


Ayse Erkmen: Yes, there were some discussions to prolong it, but I actually don't want it to be prolonged it, because when you prolong,  every work of art has a period of time and when you have it longer than that, than it turns into something else it becomes instituting itself and I don't like this institutionalizing of the work, because I think this work was good for one month a littlebit more than one month and then it has to go back. Because everybody has there business, the boats are coming, they weren't just touristic boats, they were really functioning in there cities and one boat is missing in each city, so it also has to do with the cities that they are coming from. Now they have to continue there daily life. There normal routine and it is not good for a work, any work, to exceed the amount of time, that it has to do.


Lena Inowlocki: In German there is a distinction between migrating which is the process of moving as you described the ships and of immigrating and then the whole problematic as seen in Germany from becoming apart of what is here.  Is there a distinction in your work between the two kinds or do you focus on the migrating aspects rather than on the coming and staying?


Ayse Erkmen: In these ships, well, as I said it is combined. They are coming and going back, but at the same time, they were working here, so they were workers here. As boats and as there crews. The whole work was for one and a half month migrating and at the same time they were immigrants, because they had a working licence. They were working, they were living here and they weren't just travellers, because they were part of the part of the community for the amount of time that they were here.


Felicia Herrschaft: Did you talk to the crews after finishing?


Ayse Erkmen: We had some dinners and we met and now they are back in there home countries and I haven't talk to them recently.


Felicia Herrschaft: And what did they experience? Or what kind of experience did they make?


Ayse Erkmen: This was also my concern, that they would not be happy and they would not know what to do, but I think it was good for them, because they were working very hard actually they were really working and they all enjoyed it, they all enjoyed it, because they were doing, what they were doing already in there hometowns. So it was not very different for them. No holiday, none of them had any holiday, so it was just away of doing it, doing what they are doing all of there life in another water and I think they enjoyed it. And apart from enjoying they really didn't feel strange about anything, because they were on there own boats. With there friends, who were there colleagues and they were doing the same thing, just the passengers were different, from another culture.


Felicia Herrschaft: May be interesting for the crews that they have the possibilities to work here and not to being seen as asylum-seekers.


Ayse Erkmen: Yes, of course, they had the freedom to really work without the restriction of being an immigrant.


Lena Inowlocki: And also doing the kind of work they were used to do, because very often immigrants have to lower there expectations and aspirations.


Ayse Erkmen: So they had the dignity of what they are doing of what they are good at. They had the dignity of using there abilities.


Lena Inowlocki: In a sense what migration could be like.


Ayse Erkmen: Should be like


Felicia Herrschaft: You started as an artist in Istanbul, is that may be a starting point for you to work with the political situation in Turkey or for your work here in the Städelschule? How important is it for you to teach here?


Ayse Erkmen: Well,  my education started 25 years ago in Turkey and I  had a very classical education  I studied sculpture and it was really very classical and it is very different from this Städelschule way of educating. It is quite different and I find some advantage for this classical education; because you are always dealing with forms and beauty and not thinking so much. But thinking only about forms and beauty this is a very good part of education, because it is one part of education. And the political side of the time when I was studying was more or less the same as it is in Turkey, so I actually grew up in this political atmosphere. And when it comes to political issues I was a little bit frightened to put it in a very strict and direct way. If there is anything political in my work, it is really in a very indirect way.  I always try to get rid of this direct way, I always try to get rid of this direct political ways of talking about in the work. The way you are bringing up your culture, so if it is with the work, I think the culture you are coming from, has to be inside. I don't think my culture were I am coming from is different from Germany, because I don't find it so much different.  I don't see there is a big difference as seen in Germany of another culture, of Turkey for example. Here it is told to be a totally different culture, but I am coming from there and I don't think it is so much different here. And I think the expectations in the West  of somebody  coming from the East is to bring something very different. And I can not do this because I don't feel so different.


 Lena Inowlocki: To talk about migration, is about making it strange. This is one of the basic phenomena. I would like to asked you, you said you developed the idea of shipped ships when you looked at Frankfurt. And in reading about your work generally I have the idea that you develop something out of a place, it is something like a local production. Can you describe what you are looking for what you see in a place?



Ayse Erkmen: Well, a space for me can be a very small space like a space I am sitting. It can be a room, it can be a city, it can be a gallery and I like to include and associated my work with the space and include the space in my work, because I feel, that you can't avoid the space. The space is there, you can't just turn your back to the space, because the work whatever you do, even if you do a work that stands on its own, an autonomous work, it changes from space to space and for example it changes from time to time as well. It is very much connected and when I am doing a project in Frankfurt than I think I have to think about Frankfurt. I can't think about anything else. And most of my work and the works I have done which I am really happy about, are the one, that are even more which have to do more with the space. I am using the elements of the space as much as possible and  maybe this comes from very much space orientated, because I worked in Istanbul for a long time and I always had to work in different spaces and there was not much possibility to work in an art space. So you have to find your own space, you have to find your place to show your work. It can be a church it can be a garden this makes you aware of the space you are in. Nothing is proposed to you nothing is given to you. You have to find it. –