by Basak SenovaNovember 16, 2011
Annika Eriksson’s “An exhibition by Annika Eriksson”
It is no coincidence that NON chose the Swedish artist Annika Eriksson to open up their new gallery space, located in a historical building (the renowned Misir Apartments) on Istiklal, the most crowded and renowned avenue of Istanbul. Previously located in the Tophane district, the gallery was subject last year to an organized attack by a mob armed with batons, bottles, and pepper spray during an opening—an attack which didn’t escape the other three galleries in the neighbourhood. The violence was initially considered merely a reaction to the gentrification process and significant increase in real estate prices, with the emergence of art galleries in that poor and religiously conservative district. The incident not only brought various contradictory political, economic, and cultural issues to the fore, but also revealed the gaping divide between the contemporary art scene and the greater public. Ironically, unlike the other galleries, NON prides itself on working with artists and curators with sharp political and ideological views, and, furthermore, the gallery takes special interest in social issues. In this respect, Eriksson’s work, which is mostly based on social investigations and urban situations, creates a basis for further discussions on the alternating relationship between the public and the socially-engaged practices of art in this context—specifically in Istanbul.
At NON, Eriksson presents numerous pieces related to four video works: Wir bleiben/The Last Tenants (2011), Maximum Happiness (2008), Wir sind wieder da (2010), and finally The Great Good Place (2010). Wir bleiben (“We Are Staying”)/The Last Tenants (2001) is a four-channel video installation, tracing the social transformations associated with gentrification after the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the screens surround the audience with long shots of the building’s facade and its surroundings, it is spliced with the considered opinions and the experiences of the tenants. This work directly communicates with the tension and actual motives behind the Tophane incidents, while giving us information about Berlin, its urban strategies and personal perspectives on gentrification.
Maximum Happiness is a video depicting a single wide-shot of a landmark council housing estate called Park Hill in Sheffield, England. It was built between 1957 and 1961 and was listed as the largest historic landmark building in Europe. Nevertheless, Park Hill has become a derelict monument for the social decline of the post-industrial city along with the failure of modernist utopia housing estates. Commissioned by Art Sheffield, Eriksson floodlit the façade of Park Hill during opening night of the biennial. The very simple act of illuminating the building shortly before it was renovated effectively transformed the building into a visible statement for the inhabitants of the city.
Wir sind wieder da (“Here we are again”) presents the flip side of the coin of Maximum Happiness. This time the work specifically focuses on people and makes them the center of attention by pushing the derelict setting into the background. The people in this case are punks sitting around on a sofa outdoors in the middle of the night passing time, drinking beer. The video has no plot but rather documents a casual gathering. In addition to the video, one could see seven photographs and a few related posters. And at some point, the video is intercut with a short fragment of footage: a Geisterbahn (ghost train) with a lone punk passenger riding it. (Ghost trains were the trains that could not stop at certain stations on Berlin’s U-Bahn and S-Bahn metro networks as they were closed during the period of Berlin’s division). This cut notably signifies a time shift; hence, the work oscillates between past, present, and future with the continual loop. What finally emerges is the sense of being trapped in a cyberpunk setting characterized by marginalized, alienated outsiders living in post-industrial dystopias.
In a like manner, The Great Good Place—a four-channel video work depicting a gathering of stray cats on a rug in the streets of Istanbul—documents a scene with the same feeling as the Wir sind wieder da video. In a subtle sense, while the actors (punks, cats) of both works, indeed, may be “free,” the works also indicate the inhuman process of urban development by means of its policies and economies. The way Eriksson documents and presents the works creates not only a physical distance but also a mental distance from the subjects of her gaze. The audience, however, is always surrounded by the work, passive. Inevitably, the audience becomes a witness and even a silent accomplice to the situations that Eriksson responds to in her works.
- 1View of, "An exhibition by Annika Eriksson", NON, Istanbul, 2011. All images courtesy of NON, Istanbul.
- 2Annika Eriksson, Wir Bleiben/The Last Tenants, 2011. Four channel HD video. 25 minutes.
- 3Annika Eriksson, Wir Bleiben/The Last Tenants, 2011. Still from four channel HD video. 25 minutes.
- 4Annika Eriksson, Wir sind wieder da, 2010. Black and white photograph. 13 cm x 17 cm.
- 5Annika Eriksson, Wir sind wieder da, 2010. 16 mm film transferred to BlueRay. 30 minutes.