1914-1918 The Centenary of World War I is the broader theme of the 4th International Canakkale Biennial held in the city of Canakkale, Turkey that is an important geographical point where Mediterranean, European and Middle-Eastern cultures intersect. This fourth instalment of the Biennial borrows its title and conceptual framework from Plato’s statement “Only the dead have seen the end of war”, with the aim to reflect on past and present political, social and cultural events that occurred as a consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman and Russian empires, and furthermore the resulting calamities of war in the region. The Biennial invited some leading contemporary artists (among which Maja Bajevic, Ergin Cavusoglu, Douglas Gordon, IRWIN, Anri Sala, etc.) to interpret the repercussions of cycles of war and peace and the following political, economical, social and cultural developments in Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle-East thus stimulating positive debates about the future of the younger generations. On the occasion of the opening of the Biennial I met Ergin Çavuşoğlu and had the chance to talk about his project Lundy, Louis, Barge and Troy created for the 4th International Canakkale Biennial.
Ergin Çavuşoğlu was born in Bulgaria as part of the Turkish minority and studied in Istanbul and London where he lives and works. He has enjoyed solo exhibitions in different spaces and countries including BM Contemporary Art Centre, Istanbul (1996), Haunch of Venison, Zurich (2007), Kunstverein Freiburg and ShContemporary, Shanghai (2008), Ludwig Forum Fur Internationale Kunst, Aachen (2009), The Pavilion Downtown Dubai – UAE (2011), Whitechapel Gallery, London (2011), etc. He represented Turkey at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and was shortlisted for Artes Mundi 4 – the UK's biggest international contemporary art prize and Beck’s Futures prize in 2004. He was also included in many group exhibitions and International Biennials as the First Kyiv International Biennial of contemporary art (2012), the 3rd Berlin Biennial (2003) and the 8th Istanbul Biennial (2003). He is well-known for his multi-screen video installations in which he explores and posits questions about our place in a globalised society marked by mobility and meeting between different cultures. In his artworks he reflected about concepts like space, non-place, liminality and the conditions of cultural production.
Lundy, Louis, Barge and Troy (2014) is your last masterpiece commissioned and produced for the 4th International Canakkale Biennial. Could you please tell something about this new project and its link to the aim of the Biennial?
Lundy, Louis, Barge and Troy is a two-channel video and sound installation that was commissioned and produced specifically for the 4th International Çanakkale Biennial 2014. The conceptual framework is twofold: one screen presents the shipwrecks of the fleet of the Allies that were sunk in the approach to the strait of Dardanelles in Turkey during the ‘Gallipoli Campaign’ of World War One. The second video channel shows the bustle of contemporary vessels crisscrossing the blue waters above. The work’s title is composed of the names of the ships and the edit of the footage implies that the battleships perished along the same axis one following the other. The camera tracks slowly over the length of the shipwrecks thus revealing them from an unfamiliar bird’s eye perspective. Their decaying remnants are both hauntingly beautiful and menacing. We cannot escape thoughts about the circumstances of their ill fate. However the work does not attempt to illustrate or narrate these uncontrollable conditions and acts of war. Instead, through a very particular filming technique of vertically scanning the seabed and the waters above, the work endeavours to signify the importance of the act of sombre remembrance and reconciliation. This is further emphasized by the installation that presents the cinematic footage over two large vertically positioned and set apart angled screens thus acting like gates of heaven and hell, past and present.
Between the artworks included in this edition of the Biennial which works have drawn your attention?
The biennial presents a diverse range of works including multi-media installations, paintings, sculptures and photographs. Among them I was drawn to Klaus vom Bruch’s performance and video piece entitled War Capriccio (2011), Douglas Gordon’s 10 ms-1 (1994), Murat Gok’s Low Approach (2009) video piece, Radenko Milak’s series of watercolours, Tunca Subasi’s paintings and the single-channel video of Akram Zatari entitled Letter to a Refusing Pilot (2013), among many others.
With reference to your artwork and the two different video channels (one presenting the shipwrecks of the fleet of the Allies and one the bustle of contemporary vessels) it seems to me a reflection on two different ideals and approaches. We are living in an age of fast and big changes as for an example the globalisation and the multiculturalism, do you think that the art can help us to reflect about these changes and rediscover a new sense of ethics or awareness of responsibility?
Art has always fulfilled multiplicity of socio-political roles depending on the framework, the stage where the artworks are presented and moreover the inner capacity of art to tell a story or comment on the everyday in a non-linear format. The fast-paced age we live in often requires kind of pauses, interruptions and points of reflection. Art in its current modes of production and dissemination often acts as an anchor, or a catalyst for understanding and responding to issues related to globalisation, multiculturalism, morality and indeed ethics.
“Limen” is a Latin word meaning a line, a boundary establishing an inclusion/exclusion relationship, a link between what is inner and what is outer. This is a long-time theme often present in your artistic practice. Why it is so important in your practice?
The broader themes of in-betweenness and liminality often resonate throughout the range of my artworks. The concept of liminality is central to my practice on a multitude of levels and experiences and my close encounter with various forms of expression that I have acquired throughout my extensive education in fine art from classical forms of expression to more contemporary guises. The separate projects are structured in several themes, which unfold different aspects of the conceptualisations of space, place and rhythm analysis in a broader sense. They often present different registers of mobility looking at the ideas on a progressive sense of place, patterns of ‘social spaces’, and the notion of borders from a number of perspectives. The architecture of the installations further emphasise and aid the understanding of these notions in the ways they are experienced by the viewer.
Turkey is a land that borders East and West and historically a stage for the negotiation and dialogue between different cultures and people. How much has this condition had a bearing on your formation as artist?
Lundy, Louis, Barge and Troy represents another instalment of my work in the pursuit of themes of estrangement and spatial geometry seen earlier in Downward Straits (2004). The liminal zone of the strait that separates East from West at the Bosphorus is now repositioned along the vertical axis looking down and upwards, so as to imply a proactive space between existence and non-existence. This inversion of space acts simultaneously as a point of reflection and spatial displacement.
How and when did your art passion is born and developed in these years?
I was born in Bulgaria and commenced my studies in Fine Art at the age of 14 at The National School of Fine Arts ‘Iliya Petrov’, Sofia in the early 1980s. However my father is also a professional artist and a scholar and I actually began preparing for the art school even at an earlier age. This was followed by an extensive art education in its modern and contemporary guises at the University of Marmara, Goldsmiths, University of London, and the University of Portsmouth. This extensive engagement with various forms of expression and thinking processes informed my practice on a multitude of levels.
What are your future projects?
As always I work on multiple of projects simultaneously. They range from large-scale video and film installations, three-dimensional sculptural works and site-specific anamorphic drawing installations to more conventional line drawings and sometimes just utilising or appropriating found, or what I call ‘nature-made' objects. The core of my practice is the layering of ideas thus attempting to map out the thinking processes that help us to comprehend socio-political issues, as well as introspectively addressing maters related to the conditions of cultural production and scholarly understating of art today. The pattern of literary references in my narrative works unfold a series of moral parables that have a hypothetical relevance to contemporary art and comment on the creative processes at large. I am currently collaborating with the New York based scriptwriter Arnold Barkus on a feature film entitled Ephemeral Patterns. This work stems from a major initiative by the then UK Film Council and Arts Council England in 2007 when I was asked to propose an idea and then commissioned to write a full-length feature film script based on the strength of my research into the narrative-based moving image. I am also in the production stages of a large three-channel video and sound installation project that was commissioned by Extra City Kunsthal, Antwerp, in a partnership with 0090 Festival, Belgium, FLACC, Genk, SAHA Istanbul, Spacex, Exeter and Z33 House for Contemporary Art, Hasselt. The collaboration will result in a series of solo exhibitions at each venue in the 2014 – 2015 period and an accompanying publication. The project is called Desire Lines - Tarot and Chess. The concept takes its cue from Italo Calvino’s book The Castle of Crossed Destinies (1973), and obliquely reflects on elements from Vladimir Nabokov’s book The Luzhin Defence (1930). One of the components will be a scene that depicts a poetry-reading event. The poems have been commissioned specifically for the project and I already have commitments from internationally renowned poets such as Jo Shapcott, T.S. Eliot Prize winner Philip Gross, the human geaographer and poet Tim Cresswell and Susan Wicks among others.