Istanbul

Cevdet Erek, Bergama Stereotip (Pergamon Stereotype), 2019–20, architectural construction with thirteen-channel sound, speakers, amplifiers, computer, audio interface, wood, metal, molton curtain. Installation view. Photo: flufoto.

Cevdet Erek, Bergama Stereotip (Pergamon Stereotype), 2019–20, architectural construction with thirteen-channel sound, speakers, amplifiers, computer, audio interface, wood, metal, molton curtain. Installation view. Photo: flufoto.

Cevdet Erek

Arter

Architectural interventions and sonic experiments are components in the work of Cevdet Erek, an Istanbul-based artist and drummer with the rock band Nekropsi. For Room of Rhythms, 2010–12, at Documenta 13 in 2012, Erek installed a monolithic tower of black speakers in the upper floor of Kassel’s C&A department store, transforming the vacant space with overlapping beats and the speakers’ gridlike sculptural presence. His SSS, Shore Scene Soundtrack, 2012, winner of that year’s Nam June Paik Award, comprised a synthetic carpet and an instruction booklet that explained how to caress its surface to produce a soundtrack—various hand movements yielded different sounds. For ÇIN, 2017, Erek built a wooden structure with stairs and a scaffolding ramp in the Venice Biennale’s Turkish pavilion, leading visitors to a thirty-five-channel sound installation whose looped sounds they perceived by moving in its architecture.

In Erek’s latest installation, Bergama Stereotip (Pergamon Stereotype), 2019–20, the artist uses some of the same elements—stairs, speakers, and sound conceived spatially—to ponder archaeology. The Great Altar of Zeus, better known as the Pergamon Altar, a Hellenistic edifice dating to the second century BCE, has inspired Erek since the 2016 attempted coup against the Turkish government. A grand frieze circling the altar (Christian sources claimed it was the “seat of Satan” and an ancient site for sacrifices) depicts the triumph of celestial Olympian gods over earthbound giants, echoing, however tangentially, vicious power struggles of the times. One of Erek’s inspirations for the work, Peter Weiss’s three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance (1975–81), makes this explicit as a group of teenage resistance fighters in Nazi Berlin contemplate the altar and debate its significance among themselves. In the 1880s the altar’s fragmentary relics were transported to Germany from Pergamon in western Turkey. Since 1930 they’ve resided in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, which was closed for renovations in 2014 and is scheduled to reopen in 2023.

A previous version of Bergama Stereotip was shown in Germany at the Turbinenhalle in Bochum and the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. Titled Bergama Stereo, 2019, and reimagining the altar as a sound machine, this earlier piece featured directional speakers and charcoal-black stairs—the latter a reference to Bochum’s history of heavy industry and coal mines that have since been closed. The word stereós means solid in Greek, and stereophonic music requires symmetrical placement of two single loudspeakers. In Erek’s work, this symmetry represents—really, solidifies—the Pergamon Altar and its two wings, famous for their symmetric architecture. Unable to visit the original edifice, Erek explored archival photographs and objects bought from souvenir shops to reimagine the temple. He noticed how, like the Eiffel Tower, the altar’s iconic shape was known more widely from images than experienced in real life. Its migration from an outdoor space in Pergamon to an indoor museum in Berlin was also politically significant. 

The Istanbul edition, curated by Selen Ansen, is a variation of that previous structure. Its thirteen speakers play short, rhythmic, repetitive patterns, a trademark of Nekropsi’s style, which transform the altar’s representations of war. These loops and repetitions build sonic structures from a metal vocalist’s death growl and samples (excerpted from the artist’s 2017 solo album) of a cylindrical double-skin drum called a davul. On a two-stepped base, curtains surround the main speakers, dividing sounds between elements that create echoes (the base) and those that absorb sound (the curtains). In place of the dark, steely visual aesthetic of the German version, Erek has used a cochineal hue familiar to him from Istanbul’s traditional wooden houses. But the Istanbul edition’s reduced size diminishes the impression of encountering a great altar and asks viewers to imagine, among other things, the “original” version of Erek’s work from which Bergama Stereotip has been varied, and from there the altar itself, which remains out of public sight.