Hakan Eren und Elke Backes

Hakan Eren

Hakan Eren und Elke Backes
The waker-upper-stage

Photos: Natascha Romboy

Walkabout in the Düsseldorfer Akademie, Class of Katharina Fritsch. Hakan Eren is on the verge of his final exam. Clearly nervous, he tinkers with the final details of his presentation. Here, the term “tinker” hits the nail on the head. The creations mounted on the walls spontaneously remind me of technoid construction models for advanced hobbyists in a toy shop of a long gone era.

Hakan Eren

Ropes, turntables, toothed wheels, screws, joints, cranks or struts connect various individual units often made from wood. It is obvious that a sequence of movements is likely to be activated. What is not quite so obvious, however, is what exactly is going to happen or may happen.

I am looking forward to the demonstrations.

Hakan Eren und Elke Backes

Hakan starts with a sculpture that ends in a hammer.

“For a start, it can be adjusted to the body height”, he explains while I must stand under the centre of the hammer. I am slightly uneasy about what is going to happen. A short inspection, and – action! Hakan activates the crank, the hammer moves up and is made ready to hit ….. and stopped, thank goodness, just before I am knocked out. Phew! “The sculpture is called the Waker upper (Wachmacher)”, I am told. Very fitting. I sure am awake.

We are having a look at the next object. Starting with a switch module on the front wall of the room, a stretched out, articulated drive belt construction connects a total of three figures with each other. My first impression is that they are harmless playing pieces of a puppet theatre. But their outfits and group formation show that this is not a harmless setting. One of the figures looks like a dervish, although its outfit has a print of the American flag on it. Another figure is headless. It merely consists of a shaped prison uniform, to which a yellow star is attached. The third figure, mounted upside down, is cloaked in a black burka and has a stick in the back.

Hakan Eren

So what is going to happen now: The second demonstration starts – no, not yet. Something has to be adjusted. Now!

A tinny, Arab-sounding female voice comes out of a radio. Then the figures start to perform. The group starts to turn as in a dance, and what is the burka figure doing? It starts doing sit-ups. All in all a more amusing and bizarre picture. When I turn to Hakan, my face is one huge question mark.

Hakan Eren: “Well then – let’s start with the music: It is Kurdish, song by one of the most successful singers of the Arabic world. Her success is surprising insofar as her lyrics deal very much with women’s rights. Regarding the figures: With the outfit of the dervish I refer to the political events of the founding period of the Republic of Turkey. At that time, President Atatürk had banished everything Ottoman from the country, determined to accelerate the modernisation of the country along Western lines; in that context, he drove out all Sultan families who lived there. Many of these families have emigrated to the United States, whose successive generations continue to shape the image of society there. The prisoner with the star does not need any explanation, I think, nor does the burka figure. Perhaps a word regarding the stick: It symbolises the proverbial stick up one’s ass.”

“So therefore a rather provocative staging of the current political events. Is it your Turkish background that challenges you to grapple with such topics?”

Hakan Eren: “Let’s rather say that it is always also my story that gets woven into my work. I am interested in almost everything that is happening in the world, I am continuously “tuned in” and allow everything to rain down on me. From this jumble, ideas spring intuitively for new works which are ultimately caused by my reflections and therefore are intimately connected to me. However, I do want to avoid any heaviness in my art. I do not want it to be art with a wagging finger. It can also be fun.”

“Talking about fun: In addition to your artistic activities in the academy, you also travel as a very successful balloon artists. Depending on the occasion – children’s birthday, work party or competition – you design the most imaginative creatures.”

Hakan Eren

These are not also little balloons, are they?” I ask cautiously, having a closer look at the third sculpture in the room. It is a kind of bust, sitting enthroned atop a pedestal under a glass cover, engulfed by pink and purple blossoms. I immediately think of a water ballet scene from a Hollywood film of the nineteen fifties.

Hakan Eren und Elke Backes

Hakan Eren: “Yes, the blossoms are formed by balloons. This used to be a dress in a normal woman’s size, but it has shrunk to this size. Although I influence the passage of time with the use of the glass cover, the process of the shrinking is a very important aspect of this work. It is obvious, from the start, that there will be nothing left in the end.”

“Does the subject of impermanence play a part in this?”

Hakan Eren: “Yes, but not with a view to impermanence in nature. Rather, it is an allusion to the impermanence of the value of an artwork, which is often only determined by the art market. What is the value of a work, which will dissolve or is technically put together in a dilettante manner?”

“What is the story of these graphics,” I ask him, while I am looking at the series presented here. The motives and also the manner in which they are drawn remind me, at first glance, of innocent pictures for children’s books. Each picture shows a huge bunny, with a small child sitting on its lap. However, when looking at it in more detail, what appeared to be cute turns out to be scary.

Hakan Eren

Hakan Eren: “It is indeed a sinister, almost evil work. Some time ago I discovered via Facebook posts that the fathers of small children dress up as bunnies at Easter. I found this idea very disturbing and it became the driving force for this series. Drawing is very important to me. That is the reason I decided to show some of it at my final presentation.”

I have another look around the room.

As diverse as the works are, they do have a common thread. The entire presentation has a waft of nostalgia and also something of ham-handedness.

This artist seems to refuse to bow to the digital age. Everything is hand-made, filigree work in the minutest detail, all mechanical parts have been deliberately left uncovered.

Only at second glance does it become apparent that the playful façade hides the artistic examination of politically charged topics or philosophical issues.

I wonder, though, whether the conveying of critical messages is the deciding factor here. Of what relevance is the seemingly out-dated construction method and the experience value of this art? By using the latest technology it could all function much more simply and more perfectly. A push of a button would be enough to get the machinery going. Nothing would get stuck or would need to be readjusted. The artist’s presence would no longer be required.

So, is the staging as such with its overabundance of experience value not perhaps a strategy and thus an important part of his work? To get our attention, Hakan Eren sneaks through the backdoor of entertainment, he wakes us up and so creates the precondition for an examination of the content.

In short – Hakan Eren creates a waker-upper stage which invites us to look behind the scenes.

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