Cevdet Erek


at Kunsthalle Basel


Cevdet Erek breaks time—and thus our experience of life—into units. Based in Istanbul, the young Turkish artist studied architecture, has a PhD in music and plays drums in an experimental rock band. His temporal dissection at the Kunsthalle Basel began outside, where red lights on a dot matrix screen suspended above the elegant doorway to the institution could be seen blinking the word “WEEK” (WEEK, 2012). The electronic panel jarred with the stone facade, particularly given that the Kunsthalle is nestled in an area with old buildings housing staid cultural institutions.

The exhibition continued inside, where the artist constructed a zigzag passageway that transformed the normally open, skylit main gallery into a warren. After navigating this, visitors entered a larger corridor lined from skylight to floor with white curtains, creating a mausoleumlike, sacred space. At the end stood a tower of dark speakers, which emitted a loud, looped soundtrack. Regular drumbeats were followed by a male voice naming the days of the week from Monday to Sunday, a list the voice then repeated without the identifying prefixes. The track ended with a musical equivalent to this calendar: sequences of seven notes, the final two at a higher pitch (perhaps indicating the weekend). In the same gallery outside the curtained section were two supplementary works on the walls: a pen drawing of two drums, and a row of seven panels removed from the Kunsthalle’s floor during Erek’s architectural intervention in the main gallery. The whole installation was similarly titled Week (2012).

The Kunsthalle is located near the city square, where young people gather on weekends. As the press release pointed out, the Kunsthalle appeals to a different audience than the bars. The sign above the institution’s entrance ambivalently marks the threshold between art and nightlife, issuing an invitation that does not clearly identify with work or play. Erek’s work inside is also equivocal, for as much as the amplifiers and repetitive beats might evoke a club or concert, the soundtrack’s short duration (3 minutes) and the brightness from the skylight precluded a hypnotic atmosphere. Despite the contorted entrance passage, this inner sanctum suggested the monotonous rhythms of the workweek more than the Dionysian abandon of the weekend.

One final piece, titled Day (2011), was installed in a small gallery. What appears to be no more than a blue strip is made up of LEDs that turn on and off incrementally in accordance with the changing daylight.

By examining our consensual divisions of time, Erek may be mocking status quo systems and broad cultural assumptions about the use of time, in which art institutions participate. Yet his work offered a framework open for multiple possibilities.

Photo: View of Cevdet Erek’s installation Week, 2012, sound system, curtains and mixed mediums; at Kunsthalle Basel.