Behind the Curtain – Intervals by Ayşe Erkmen

The act of watching and observing art is one that has been scrutinised in the artistic consciousness much more commonly within the last decade. The museum visitor is no longer merely the thoughtful observer, and it is their own role in receiving art that is being referentially considered by artists. In her exhibition, Turkish artist Ayşe Erkmen seeks to have us become performers in her installation space, to create a better understanding of the narrative performance we unconsciously enact when viewing artwork.

Entering Erkmen’s installation was mildly unsettling, as you are met with a barrier of the first theatre backdrop. These series of backdrops are controlled by levers, which act as to overlay and overlap eachother in the overall landscape of the narrative sequence. Confused, I asked the attendant whether it was possible to walk under these theatre backdrops, both astoundingly missing and accidentally pinpointing the very essence of the exhibition’s narrative, tackling the taboo of walking onto the stage, under the backdrop, and unknowingly into the very aesthetic picture of the show.

The backdrops would rise and fall on an automatic basis, often trapping you between two backdrops for a matter of moments. The control of the installation experience was particularly intriguing, bringing a double meaning of the interval curtains and the intervals of liminal experience that you are forced to have, literally between the acts. The nature of the liminal space became almost as important to the sequence as the works themselves, trapping yourself between worlds, before the curtain rises and you hungrily attempt to discover another.

The works themselves represented many different aspects of theatrical styles. It was as if Erkmen had spent weeks and months rifling through the archives of some backstage boxroom and had chosen eleven of the most prevalent theatrical traditions. The first backdrop seems to descend into a dark corridor, asking us to walk through it, creating the first barrier of performance versus reality that Erkmen seeks to convey, something of which continued dropping its semantic hints throughout the exhibition.

The rest of the backdrops ranged from cloudy skies, exotic pastel backdrops of some faraway country, and the traditional velvet red curtain. A particularly contextually significant inclusion was a backdrop of the Mediterranean, including Erkmen’s home country of Turkey, significantly combining scenes of contextual reality and fairy tale like escapism.

The very last backdrop, depicting a large clock face against a harshly opaque background, was a humorous indicator that our time was up, as well as an intriguing contrast against the often situational backgrounds depicted before, veering instead into the abstract and determinedly symbolic.

Erkmen’s act of bringing the theatre backdrop to the installation space intelligently decontextualizes, with the intention of understanding the hidden motivations and reactions to certain objects and locations in a temporal and liminal space. Rarely is the backdrop at the forefront of our minds when we watch the performance, but as the performers ourselves we have no option but to take notice of it.

Rarely will you find an installation that controls your movements and treatment of the space in such a way, and this is what makes Erkmen’s work both innovative and conscious of theatrical tradition. Walking away, the performance over, you have to applaud Erkmen for bringing theatre and art together in a way that was never expected, so as to encourage a curiosity and wonder now rarely seen in the typical exhibition sequence of painting to painting. All the world really becomes a stage, and we have no choice but to become the players.

Intervals is a free entry exhibition at the Curve within the Barbican, running until 5th January 2014. For more information, visit here.

Backdrop based on a traditional theatre drape, designed and painted by Julie Perren. Photograph © Jane Hobson, courtesy Barbican Art Gallery.
Backdrop based on a traditional theatre drape, designed and painted by Julie Perren.
Photograph © Jane Hobson, courtesy Barbican Art Gallery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *