Plan B In Venice

Ayşe Erkmen Is representıng Turkey at the Venıce Bıennale 54th InternatIonal Art ExhıbItıon June 4 to November 27 wıth a project tItled Plan B. Everyone is agreed:

The Venice Biennale is a summit, far above most other art events in scale and scope. A macro cosmos, a higher universe where different worlds and realities intersect. A global festival that combines art and tourism in exhibitions, discussions, tours and other events. At the same time, the biennale is also a competition and a challenge. Not everyone has the requisite breadth and experience. What is expected of the artist is that he/she encapsulate all her knowledge and experience in a single statement.

Ayşe Erkmen is representing Turkey at the Venice Biennale 54th International Art Exhibition.  In the early days she was proud and happy, only later did she begin to worry if she was up to it. Then there was the question of getting the permission. Now her mind is finally at ease.

Before describing the project Erkmen has designed for the Biennale, let us look first at the location of the Turkey Pavilion, which is perched on the bank of the canal at the tip of the the Arsenale’s Artigliere building, the Biennale’s main venue. It is quite spacious with a large window overlooking the canal and doesn’t hide the fact that it was once a factory, a weapons factory to be precise. Why all these details? Because Ayşe Erkmen is an artist who produces works specific to their venue. The space the viewer physically     passes through is important to her.

Erkmen’s first idea, after going to Venice and seeing, measuring and researching the Turkey Pavilion, was to produce a work on the city’s complex and unavoidable relationship with water. She describes that plan as follows: “There are many historic venues in the city. People are tired of seeing exhibition after exhibition and touring so many historic places in a short time.

Starting from that, I first conceived of an installation that would offer drinking water to visitors. But I had to give up on that idea for technical and conceptual reasons.” She explains this in detail: “We would in a sense have put an end to the project the minute we gave people water to drink. We were going to set up a cause-effect relationship that would answer questions. But that’s not art! Art cannot be expected to provide answers to specific questions.”

Then Erkmen turned to a much more practical project, which she calls Plan B. It was born of the conversations between the artist and the curators. They had spoken at such length about the possibility of a Plan B during the phase of researching and securing permission for her first idea! At the same time Plan B is so much a part of life.

How many times have we said, “It’s going to rain tonight and the concert’s canceled, so we’ll to go the movies.” There’s even a book called Plan B that tries to answer questions like, where is the world going, how is it all going to end? Plan B is also a serious matter in the military and matters of defense. A serious concept that involves a sense of urgency.

The purpose of Plan B at the Venice Biennale is to turn the Turkish Pavilion into a complex water purification unit. This is how it works: Sculpture-like machines will take water from the canal, purify it and give it back clean. Making the spectator part of the process by taking him on a tour of a water purification unit might appear to be a vain endeavor. But it’s a meaningful gesture at the same time…

Curated by Bice Curiger, the Venice Biennale 54th International Art Exhibition is titled ILLUMInations. Eighty-two artists from 89 different countries around the world are taking part in the Biennale, which runs to November 27.

Born in Istanbul on August 7, 1949, Ayşe Erkmen graduated from the Sculpture Department of Mimar Sinan University in 1977. A faculty member at the Kassel Art Academy 1998-1999 and the Frankfurt Staedelschule 2000-2007, the artist has been teaching at the Münster Kunstakademie since 2010. Erkmen, who divides her time between Berlin and Istanbul, has taken part in the Shanghai, Berlin, Kwangju, Sharjah and Christchurch biennials and the Folkestone and Echigo Tsumari triennials.

Place specificity in one of the basic characteristics of your work. How is this perceived from the collector’s angle? What happens when a collector wants to purchase a work?
It depends on what the collector has in mind. Some of them can only purchase the idea. We give them a certificate and the show becomes theirs. The important thing is ownership and what is owned.

Can you give an example from your own work?
A project I did in Berlin was made entirely for the space. It consisted of tiny pieces put together like Lego. A collector bought it, put the pieces in a box and took them away. I don’t know what he did with them. Maybe he assembled them at his own venue and exhibited them. Or they might still be in the box. Art is not always a picture on a canvas. Anything can be collected.