Vienna

Ayse Erkmen

Secession

Nothing disquiets the Turkish quite as much as large bubbles in their coffee.

Small bubbles are good and portend health or fortune, but the big ones are a bad sign. And so one must burst them before drinking. “Killing Space” is how Ayse Erkmen, a native of Istanbul who lives part-time in Berlin, describes this bubble-bursting. Space vanishes and with it, misfortune. In the foyer of the Wiener Secession, a slide projector beams large circular images onto the rosette in the entryway: Cups filled with Turkish coffee, photographed from above, invite us to participate in the foam-blowing oracles. With this reference to the Ottoman lifestyle, Erkmen recalls Vienna's most enduring cliché, Kaffeekultur. Vienna's coffee culture arises, historically, from the fact that just a few centuries ago the Orient reached all the way to the blue Danube, and the noisy feedback of “Orientalism” echoes there to this day.

For years Erkmen has been working primarily in the public spaces of different cities; when she mounts an exhibition in a traditional art space, she does so chiefly in order to work with the exhibition surface itself. As for the Wiener Secession, it is the first “white cube” in the history of modernity, an elegant, neutral central space from the year 1898, to which art history has attributed an “Apollonian rationality” (Michel Onfray). Erkmen concentrated her intervention—Kein gutes Zeichen (Not a good sign), 2002—on the glass roof of the hall's three naves. Her main actors were two scaffoldings installed above the glass roof for maintenance work. Erkmen mounted light sources on the undersides of these platforms, which moved horizontally across the entire length of the space, guided by software that included a random-number generator; like lurid light scanners, they seemed to feel their way across the half-darkness of the room's volume. A mysterious whir of motors filled the exhibition space—it emanated from the platforms, which were visible only by dint of the lights they carried. There was nothing soothing about this montage of image and sound from the “beyond” above the roof; despite the work's cool minimalism, it was at once bewitching and alarming.

Erkmen turned the system on its head in the side wings of the room. Here two circular lights seemed to be blinking in quick, rhythmic staccato across the ceiling. But this light turned out to be a DVD projection. Erkmen had filmed a white disk on a black background, and the flicker is the result of painstaking work at the editing table. Projected through the air above the glass roof onto its surface, architectural details of the roof's construction appear: an homage to early avant-garde film with its experiments in light and perception, and an oblique reference to the subversive productions of a Gil Wolman or Maurice Lemaître of the “manifesto art” period of the Situationist International. The myth of the white cube meets that of experimental film at the crossroads provided by the Secession's glass roof.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Sara Ogger