Documenting DOCUMENTA: A haudenschildGarage Project with Matthew Schum

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Raster Rhythms: Interview with Istanbul artist Cevdet Erek


In Cevdet Erek’s art, units of measurement, as official calculations, are reprised as art interventions. At Documenta 13, looped fragments of low hissing digitalized rhythms alter the unity of a commercial interior on the unfinished top floor of a department store. Room of Rhythmsis an immaterial intervention that confounds the familiar metrics of art by moving away from the measured space of a white cube gallery and the objects that tend to fill them.

At the last Istanbul Biennial, Erek gave out a small ruler to visitors marked with dates (not centimeters) that served as a surrogate history of modern Turkey (if you already knew Turkish history). This simple move isolated historical developments from shared world history and other corresponding dates on the Gregorian calendar. Scale was left to precipitous events on the timeline itself without intersection.

Measurements, then, express what Erek calls “sonic timelines” that are always manipulatable and though they are sounds, they relate to visual strategies previous conceptual artists have used: starting in 1913 when Duchamp started construction on his Three Standard Stoppages or when Walter de Maria installed his Vertical Earth Kilometer for Documenta 6 in 1977, to name two relevant examples.

Cevdet Erek, ‘Room of Rhythms’

In the Documenta 13 work, visceral beats and pulses introduce units of overlapping measurement that enclose the viewing subject in the otherwise vacant installation. The result is a break from the immediacy of graspable signs, images or objects found elsewhere, in the street and the exhibition.


: Was the Documenta installation the largest space you have worked in? 

Cevdet Erek: Yes. I have installed work in bigger spaces, such as exteriors or in performances and gigs, but as a defined space, yes, this is the biggest so far.

MS: Did you feel that the work resonated with the department store environment that one had to walk through to reach the work on the top floor of the mall in Kassel’s town square? 

CE: Yes, absolutely, that was one of the main strategies—to construct a fast shift between realities. There are two entrances to my space, Room of Rhythms. The first uses as an emergency exit stairway leading directly from the street. Someone taking this entrance finds her/himself in the department store after touring the space.

The second entrance, which seems to be the one that you used, enters from the children’s section of the department store. There’s no ticket control this way, so some of the people who go to the shop to buy stuff for their kids (not for kunst) may suddenly find themselves in the installation space. As far as my observation in the first week (I am back home [in Istanbul] at the moment), the shift—taken from either direction—creates some kind of alienation in terms of where you come from and where you go afterward.

MS: The consumer environment had what kind of effect upon what you created? 

Second entrance to ‘Room of Rhythms’

CE: It had many. The Reduziert signs come from there. On one of the signs I printed, “chronocracy” (a word I bumped into in a text by Peter Weibel), another one reads, “für immer reduziert” or “this section is closed on Sundays.” All of these deal with time plans, sales seasons and, in general, time measured as value.

MS: Could explain further your idea of “sonic timelines”? 

CE: Yes. Simply imagine you are trying to create a timeline, a simple representation of chronology or of dates and times in sound, not in visuals.

MS: Was there any specific “sonic timeline” that you had in mind when you made your work for Documenta 13? 

CE: Yes, a few. First, a structure or a set of grids in a loop. For example, a week equals a seven-beat measure. Documenta equals a five-beat measure. To be able to talk about this five-year cycle of über-planning (remember the biennial ruler [12th Istanbul Biennial, 2011]) was always in mind. There were sounds gathered from the urban context, such as the traffic beeper for the blind from a street in Kassel (this equals a second) among others. They are all synchronized to each other at the scale of 60 beats per minute; but then all (except the beeper) are introduced to some attacks of arrhythmia (as in a heart) via a filter. After providing this structure (grid, ruler, millimetric paper, but translated into sound), I introduce the final rhythmic layer, which consists of some sounds referring to select events (again, both historical and everyday). For example, I play a short bit of a Mayday song each 365 hits (once every 365 seconds, which transforms a day into a second). As the piece evolves, I will be adding some more events on the timeline.

Cevdet Erek, ‘Room of Rhythms’

MS: Is it possible that there is something extra sonic about Istanbul that is also in your work—perhaps it’s refined and retransmitted, but there nonetheless? 

CE: Probably. I have spent my life here listening to it (even while doing this interview). I have studied, performed, recorded and shouted here. It is quite a sound culture and place, at all times. But, I don’t really choose to analyze or structure the effects of my ambient environment.

MS: Did you study music and did any other training lead you to sound-based artworks? 

CE: Yes. Formally, I did a MA and PhD in sound after studying architecture at the academy and I have been studying all sorts of interesting stuff in this area, myself, since childhood.