01 July 2018

There is no season quite so connected with longings, expectations and memories as is summer. We met artists to talk about their favorite summer moments. Ayşe Erkmen remembers spending the warm months in an old greek village.

By Philipp Hindahl

“I like spending the summer in an old Greek village on the coast, close to Izmir. Shall I write it down for you?” “Please do.” Ayşe Erkmen writes in my notebook: Alaçatı.

We are sitting in the apartment of the 1949 born artist in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Fourth floor, it’s hot, the window is open, and the traffic rumbles on the street below us. A set of aluminum shelves full of exhibition catalogues covers one wall, in front of the other is a sofa. On her desk in the middle of the room there are more books, as well as a selection of small porcelain animals.

© Jan Buchczik

I ask Ayşe Erkmen about her earliest memory of summer: “Oh, there’s a nasty story there. When I was four years old, a friend of my mother’s threw me into the sea on holiday. That was how he got his children to swim. He thought this would work with me too, but I sank. Normally you don’t remember things from so long ago. Perhaps I only know because my mother told me about it.” Hence her fascination with the sea, the artist surmises. Does her work help her treating this trauma? She consents. “You never know how deep the water under the surface really is,” says Erkmen. Of course, this immediately reminds me of her installation “durchnässt”, meaning “soaked”, at the SCHIRN Rotunda and her contribution to the Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017. Wasn’t that a similar experience – crossing an invisible bridge in the harbor of the Westphalian city? “You have to trust the construction and the artwork. Then you can master the water”, says Erkmen.

 “Alaçatı”, I say, failing to pronounce it correctly. Not far from its coast is the point of the Aegean where Icarus fell into the sea and drowned, according to the myth. “What do you do in the village?” I ask.

For many years Ayşe Erkmen is spending her holidays in a specific hotel: They don’t play any music, no waiters to serve the guests. But there is a pool, – Erkmen: “I like swimming pools very much, these artificial bodies of water”, – trees and a beach, nothing else. People spend most of their time there reading.

I like swimming pools very much, these artificial bodies of water.

Ayşe Erkmen

And which book has she earmarked for this summer? “Every year I make an attempt to read ‘Ulysses’, but I never succeed.” I suggest that she stops viewing the book as a task she has to manage and more as an offering. “Ultimately, Joyce’s novel has more than one direction”, I say, “and actually it doesn’t really matter where you start, almost like a circular journey.”

In her work, the artist moves walls, visitors, sculptures. Her works are generally exhibited for a short time, then they disappear again. I want to know whether the concept of being on the road appeals to her. “My problem is that I get used to places very quickly. Are you familiar with the singer Anohni? She once said to me, I want to keep going but I don’t want to leave. That pinpoints it pretty well.” And is it coincidence that Ayşe Erkmen chose, of all things, James Joyce’s reworking of the story of Odysseus, the voyager around the Mediterranean, as travel literature? Certainly not.