Separation by the Sea

Difference Screen – Summart, Istanbul 27 May 2015

Istanbulʼs main street, Istiklal, is a constant human tide across its width, flowing past shops, restaurants, and enticing side streets, all day and late into the night – like the Bosphorus itself which separates east and west.


Galatasari fans celebrate winning the League in Istiklal

We are drawn time and again into this human surge to take us into different parts of the city and, on one occasion, come across SALT Beyoglu. The space is filled with high, curling white walls which, it turns out, constitute a laser-cut reproduction of part of the coastline, an installation by Neyran Turan. His silent movie, Wanderer above the Tanker, tells of a dramatic disaster in which a 100,000 tonne oil tanker collided with a freighter which leads to a massive oil spill and environmental catastrophe (many such accidents have happened). The tanker is so huge it is stuck in the strait and cannot be moved. After several years it becomes part of the city-scape, and is colonised. I imagine shops and businesses set up on the decks and gangways, it’s marine architecture gradually being transformed into city architecture, but here and there a porthole or bulkhead doorway give away the area’s ship-origin. The Bosphorus no longer separates the European and Asian halves of the city, now it is easy to pass from one side to the other.


We are in the excellent Mephisto book and music store, also on Istiklal, with an impressive collection of legendary rock vinyl. Iʼm looking for a book to read, and pick up Orhan Pamukʼs The Black Book, recommended by our friend and host Denizhan Ozer, who has been instrumental in making our screening at Summart possible. Reading it later, I get to Chapter 2, and here is another iteration of the disappearing Bosphorus. According to a French geological journal, the Black Sea has been getting warmer and the Mediterranean colder. Tectonic plate movements cause the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus to rise – their waters draining into vast underground caverns. Daisies and grass start to grow on the newly exposed slopes, and new neighbourhoods spring up on the muddy wasteland where relics of history lie covered in dried seaweed.

When considering a programme for the grand, new Summart centre, we were mindful of Istanbulʼs raison dʼetre, sitting between two continents, separated, yet joined, this great crossing place of cultures. Separation and it’s antithesis: connectedness, communication and language:

In Mónica de Miranda’s film An Ocean Between Us ships become a stage of metaphorical transits; different worlds linked by an umbilical cord of maritime travel that reaches across oceans.

In his video Friends He Lost at Sea, Danish artist Henrik Lund Jørgensen takes up the subjects and compositions of two of nineteenth Danish artist Michael Ancher’s most well-known works: Will He Round the Point? (1879) and The Crew is Saved (1894). Both paintings are re-enacted in the manner of a tableau vivant, at the fishing port of Skagen in northern Denmark (home to the Impressionist Skagen Painters group), but the fishermen in Ancher’s painting are replaced with refugees from other countries, creating a contemporary dynamic of migration and separation in contrast to the heroic stance of the fishermen. (At Skagen, the waters of the Baltic Sea and North Sea meet – under certain conditions you can clearly see the waves from each sea coming together to create a line in the water.)

Michael Ancher-635272

Will he Round the Point? Michael Ancher

Migration is also implicit in Gesa Matthies’s excellent short film Hassan et Amira – Lettre/s d’hôtel/s in which hotel signs in Marseille’s run-down district of Belsunce share a split screen with a typewriter to spell out a letter that imagines the lives that have passed through.

The importance of language for immigrant communities – and its constituent signs and codes – is taken up in films by two New York based artists in the programme – Barbara Rosenthal’s Secret Codes and Shelly Silver’s 5 Lessons and 9 Questions about Chinatown, about which the artist talks of the complex linguistic texture of Chinatown, it’s vitality and the tragedy of its history, linking past, present and future.

Phil Dadson’s Echo Logo (Polar Projects) presents perhaps a more primitive kind of communication in which the calls and rock banging in a performance by the artist and Antarctic scientists’ echo against a huge glacial cliff. In my imagination I’m taken back to an earlier human existence, when ice sheets covered much of the world and small communities eked out an existence near the ice frontier in a frozen south European tundra.

Heavy rain before the screening had diminished our audience somewhat, but they were attentive throughout.


Ben Eastop, 26 July 2015

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