Antonio Cosentino, Anhalter Bahnhof, 2017, tin, 19 5⁄8 × 22 7⁄8 × 28 1⁄2". From “An Exile on Earth.”

Antonio Cosentino, Anhalter Bahnhof, 2017, tin, 19 5⁄8 × 22 7⁄8 × 28 1⁄2". From “An Exile on Earth.”

“An Exile on Earth”

Two writers’ interpretations of exile define this show’s approach: those of Spanish author Juan Goytisolo (1931–2017), whose selected essays have been published in Turkish as Yeryüzünde Bir Sürgün (An Exile on Earth, 1992), and those of Tezer Özlü (1943–1986), who defined living as “the act of going.” These writers’ distinct outlooks on displacement—from movement as a personal choice to migration as a harsh social reality—manifested in the work of four artists: Antonio Cosentino, Manaf Halbouni, Hiwa K, and Zeynep Kayan.

The Syrian-born, German-based Halbouni showed documentation of sculptural interventions from his series “Nowhere Is Home,” 2015–17, and Monument, 2017. These involved, respectively, cars as temporary nomadic abodes and buses flipped on end. Photos of the works fail to convey the visceral effect of the actual installations, with their volume and presence. But even in this form the pieces are richly evocative, bringing to mind the symbolic use of objects in protests such as the Gezi resistance in Istanbul in 2013, where protesters seized a bulldozer and painted it pink; the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, where umbrellas looked like tents housing the protesters; and France’s present-day yellow-vest protesters, who use trucks and cars to block police intervention.

Hiwa K’s videos, originally commissioned for 2017’s Documenta 14, were visual poems rich in metaphor. In Pre-Image (Blind as the Mother Tongue), 2017, the artist makes a journey from Iraqi Kurdistan to Europe through Turkey, Athens, and Rome, adopting the guise of a wanderer: a figure balancing on his forehead a set of mirrors attached to a pole, an alternative mythological hero, a counter-Narcissus who knows he is not the center of the world but rather understands and is burdened by impressions. View from Above, 2017, is yet another work rich in metaphors; in voice-over, Hiwa K narrates the story of M., whose identity and story are both real and fabricated, just like the “safe” or “unsafe” zone he is from or bound for.

Cosentino and Kayan are artists from Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey, respectively, who were on a residency at the Zilberman Gallery’s Berlin outpost in 2017. From 1996 through 2009, Cosentino was a member of the Hafriyat Group, hafriyat being the Turkish word for material excavated from construction sites. Here he contributed a map depicting an imaginary Istanbul Wall that would partition the city, separating people into opposing camps, as well as a tin model of the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof. The station has an unsettling history: It was from here that, starting in 1941, many of the city’s Jews were deported to Theresienstadt, and thence to other concentration camps. Kayan’s video and photographic series “Studies for staying in the middle, or changing quickly from one state to another” 2017–18, communicated a sense of being stuck in between, in a limbo where the body seems constrained by intangible and shifting walls. The artist’s head is left out of the frame; the apparent limitations of movement seem to be a deliberate response to being in a nonexistent or undefinable space and state; frustration becomes a mutual response for both artist and viewer.

Curated by Çelenk Bafra, “An Exile on Earth” amounted to a spiritual and intellectual reflection on migration. In the exhibition catalogue, writer/translator İlksen Mavituna opens the discussion further by bringing in notions such as kinanthropos, Czech philosopher Jan Patočka’s term for an individual as a being with movement, and hypokeimenon, Aristotle’s word—often translated as “substance”—for the underlying essence of a thing. None of the works are crude representations of displacement; they refer to personal accounts, inner reckoning, and, in Halbouni’s case, forms of resistance seen in social protests around the world today.

––Mine Haydaroglu