Swimming Pool, in collaboration with Alma Mater Gallery at the Cultural Center of Sofia University as well as the National Library, is pleased to announce the exhibition What We Know by Ankara-born, Berlin- based artist Esra Ersen. The exhibition shows, for the first time in its entirety, Ersen’s long term research, culminating in the two-part film installation Possible History I+II (2013-2015). At the intersection of documentary and fiction, the work interweaves Turkey’s past and present with that of several Balkan states, while directly engaging with Bulgaria’s cultural history and historiography.
What We Know is an inquiry of what we call “truth”; it also inquires into the relationship of what we think we know and what we could know. It features two films that are constructed as historical investigations conducted by a fictional character named E. At Alma Mater Gallery we present A Possible History I: When Thinking Some Play with the Mustache, Others Cross Arms (2013), a film installation developed for Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin. In this story, E goes to Sofia on a quest to search for traces of the Ottoman travelers and literary figures who travelled to the Balkans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the style of a PowerPoint presentation, the film mixes diverse visual material, including Ersen’s drawings, texts and collected photographs. We are confronted with the uncertainties and oddities in the way the Ottoman past has been treated in Bulgaria over the last century. While during the communist regime Bulgarian historiography entirely ignored this part of history, after the changes in 1989 there is a renewed scientific and cultural interest, which is explicable in the context of strong geo-political considerations related to concepts of a supranational Europe or to categories such as the Global South. Yet this are also times of rising nationalisms that seek to build narratives to manipulate the readings of the past. Ersen’s filmic narratives resonate with such attempts to make sense of the past;at the same time, they defy any objective reading precisely because they are so openly subjective. Thus, it seems their main aim is to mediate between politically manipulated, researched-based and personally experienced subjective history-making.
At Swimming Pool we present A Possible History II: Turkish Heroes, Chinese Knick Knacks (2015), which was produced for the 14th Istanbul Biennial, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. The film focuses on the political project of building a Turkish nation, which (like all other nation-building projects) is an imagined construct and space before it turns into a geographical place. Тhe film explores this subject through visual culture, looking at how some of its aspects are displayed while others – those that are politically inconvenient – are concealed. Here, A Possible History II shows a “war of images” that unfolds everywhere: in TV series, comics and textbooks, museums and public institutions.
In addition to the two-part exhibition, the National Library in Sofia will present books and documents from the collections in its Oriental Department, which Ersen visited during her research in Sofia. It has one of the largest collections of oriental literature and documents from 17th to 20th century, however largely unknown to the general publics.
At both exhibition spaces, Ersen creates specific installations reminiscent of classrooms from the recent past, placing the visitor in the position of a student. Thus, the exhibitions speculate with one of the ways of promoting an ideology, but they also offer everyone an opportunity to recognize her or his own complicity and responsibility. The choice of venues is not arbitrary: While the first part was literally filmed around Sofia University and comments on how science treats history, the second part, shown at Swimming Pool, examines how art and visual culture are used for myth-making, as well as how museum institutions themselves indeed contribute to this.
What We Know is curated by Viktoria Draganova.
Esra Ersen’s works have been widely shown internationally, in various solo- and group exhibitions at institutions including Salt Ulus, Ankara; The MARCO Foundation, Sapin; Moderna Museet, Sweden; Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt; Kunsthaus Baselland, Basel; OK Center for Contemporary Art, Linz; Richmond Art Gallery, Vancouver; Tanas, Vehbi Koc Foundation, Berlin; Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel; TBA 21 Thyssen Bornemisza Contemporary, Vienna; Augarten Contemporary, Wien, Queens Museum of Art, New York; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; CCS Galleries, Bard College, New York; Museo Tamayo in Mexico; Bregenzer Kunstverein, Bregenz; Bild Museet, Sweden; Arter Vehbi Koc Foundation, Istanbul; SMART Project Space, Amsterdam; Casino Luxembourg, Luxemburg; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven;Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea, San Sebastián;Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig;Walker Art Center, Minnepolis; The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, Lieu Unique, Nantes,
Esra Ersen has participated in: 14th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul (2015); 27th São Paulo Biennial (2006); the 4th Liverpool Biennial (2006); 8th Istanbul Biennial (2003); The 4th Kwangju Biennial (2002); Manifesta 4, The Europеan Biennial of Contemporary Art, Frankfurt (2002); 4th Istanbul Biennial (1995)
Most recently she has been awarded a fellowship at the German Academy Rome Villa Massimo for 2019. The fellowship at is one of the most important awards offered to extraordinary artists for study abroad.