Review of Ege Berensel’s Exhibition ‘Dinamo Mesken’ at SALT Ulus in Ankara, Turkey
Exhibition Review for RCA Writing MA
Photograph: Burak Taşdizen
A set of thought-provoking posters displayed on the facades of various bus stops in Ankara, show football players posing proudly to the camera, with typographic texts placed in the foreground, which are challenging or redefining the traditional definitions of football terms such as penalty area and offside.1 By hanging these posters at bus stops, some of the city’s strategic public spaces, it is made sure that the motto-like sentences regarding football, the most popular sport in Turkey, are read by each and every one.
The exhibition, Dinamo Mesken, invites people of Ankara to Ege Berensel’s video installations tracing back the history of a local football club in Turkey that was ordered to be closed because of its name,2 which also gave its name to the exhibition. Dinamo Mesken runs from January 27th 2014 until March 14th 2014 in SALT Ulus,3 and is curated by visual researcher and video artist Ege Berensel through bringing together his video works with photography works of Cemal Karadağ and Hikmet Ildız, all dealing with the issue of football, and its relation to public space and politics. The exhibition is comprised of two main parts to be found in ground floor and 1st floor, in each of which there are separate rooms.
As entered into the exhibition space, visitors are welcomed with the manifest of the football club in the form of a flyer, which stands strong against discrimination of any kind, fascism and the commercialisation of football. The manifest of the football club written by Vedat Vermez, draws the audience more into the political context, before moving further into the exhibition. The next room strikes the eyes with a reproduction of a banner carried by the Gençlerbirliği supporter group Karakızıl during Berkin Elvan memorial.4 The banner reads “Bırakın Gençler Oynasın”, that is, let the youngsters play, an idiom still common among the older members in the Turkish neighbourhood culture. The contrast created through the black and white colours and the application of single-line writing, create a look similar to that of supporter scarves with one slight difference: It sets a certain discourse above all notions, rather than favouring or showing support for only one club. Being installed on the wall looking across the glass windows overseeing the traffic and Gençlik Parkı5 (Youth Park), this reproduction is illuminated at night outside exhibition hours, and therefore is raising a highly radical voice through the employment of a common, harmless phrase day and night. So, what has been reproduced beside the banner is this tactical act, first employed by Gençlerbirliği supporter group Karakızıl. In the exhibition, through the reproduction of this banner in the form of an installation, this tactical statement is gaining a brand new visibility, going beyond the boundaries of the isolated, white cubicle exhibition space by standing across Gençlik Parkı (Youth Park). Thus, both the original banner and its reproduction in the exhibition aim to integrate different football clubs and supporter profiles under one big agenda, that is, uniting the youth to reclaim the public space, which was taken away when Dinamo Mesken faced closure during the 1980 military coup in Turkey.
In the same room, there are also two video installations showing the 1978-79 Labour Day marches in Turkey and the field where Dinamo Mesken football players did their training. They are next to each other, one placed with a slight angle looking to the other, which enables watching two videos simultaneously, reminding the visitor of the relation between football and politics. This relation becomes ever more clear, with the two books presented in the space, on the covers of which appear the stamps of approval dating back to 1978 and 1982, before and after the 1980 military coup. The covers read Modern Futbol (Modern Football) and Takımımı Nasıl Hazırlayabilirim? (How to Prepare the Team). However, inside these covers, books6 by Lenin and Mahir Çayan, which were then banned due to their political context, are inserted. The arrangement of the space underlines the relation between football and politics and pops up questions in the minds of the visitors regarding the nature of this relation in between.
Photograph: Burak Taşdizen
The next room is devoted to the photography works of Hikmet Ildız dating back to the late 50s and a slide show comprised of found photos. Ildız’ photographs show various supporter profiles in the football stadiums. The black and white photos of supporter groups, document women and men in civil clothes, devoid of any commercialisation of football as we know it. They seem to be enjoying the game sitting in their seats as a leisure activity. Placed between the photographs of this supporter profile is another kind of watching football, which took place in duhuliye,7 which means entrance and entrance fee in Ottoman Turkish. These photographs tell the story of football from a class-based perspective, possibly to trigger debate on the underlying factors of the highly politicised football culture of 70s. Placed at eye level, all lined up next to one another, these photographs lead to a slide show of found photos of football clubs that were shutdown after the 1980 military coup in Turkey due to their political affiliations.
Having visited the first part of the exhibition, visitors are invited to delve into the murder of Cemal Karadağ8 through his photography works documenting the Mesken neighbourhood. One slide show projected on a wall runs one by one the photos he took, whereas, simultaneously on one screen a video work of Ege Berensel runs interviews conducted with Mesken people, where they talk on Karadağ’s photographs, and the memories they brought about. Newspaper banners are hanged on the walls as supporting evidence, reflecting the echoes of the murder of Karadağ in the local media beside the oral history documented in the video. Another room at the second part of the exhibition is devoted to two wide screen videos placed opposite each other. One of them shows the current efforts of the Mesken people, trying to re-establish the football club, whereas the other runs interviews about the locals’ memories after the shutdown of the club. These two opposite screens create a very sharp contrast of hopes and disappointments.
The exhibition ends with Berensel’s video work, Biber Gazı Oley! (Tear Gas Ole!), showing scenes from the Gezi Resistance where football supporter groups are present. An interesting scene from the video is of a protester hitting a ball towards the police. The ball, apart from its physicality as a possible weapon, is loaded with highly symbolic political meanings, which might have been building up from the late 50s on, witnessing class differences embodied in football stadium in the form of duhuliye. Could it be said that being partly deprived of enjoying a game in the football stadium, people of lower classes perceived football field as something like an agora where they declare their individual views, which might lead to a collective force? It is apparently so, considering the shutdown of Dinamo Mesken, because of its so-called threat to national values. However, the efforts of the locals in the re-establishment of the club, as written by Vedat Vermez in the club manifest, indicate that:
Dinamo will forever live on
in the hearts of the people of Mesken.9
- One of the posters designed for the exhibition reads: “Offside is to stay alone at the edge.” [Ofsayt, en uçta tek başına kalmaktır.]
- Dinamo, as explained by Maksim Gorki and interpreted by Tanıl Bora, is a term that was employed extensively in Eastern Bloc countries and Soviet sports culture. It indicated the force that would destroy anything that stood in the way of a thriving socialist working class culture. Mesken is the name of the neighbourhood. Bora, T. (2013, August 8). Dinamo ve Dinamolar. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://www.radikal.com.tr/yazarlar/tanil_bora/dinamo_ve_dinamolar-1145332.
- SALT Ulus is the Ankara branch of SALT, which is centralised in Istanbul. The venue was the annex of the former Ottoman Bank and later Garanti Bank, and has been hosting exhibitions since its opening in 2013.
- Karakızıl is a socialist supporter group of Gençlerbirliği, who showed their support for Berkin Elvan, the young boy who fell into coma after being hit in the head by a gas canister during Gezi protests in Istanbul in June, 2013.
- Gençlik Parkı is a significant landscape project at the heart of Ankara, designed during the Early Republican Period of Turkey when Ankara was thriving.
- These banned books are “Mahir Çayan: Bütün Yazılar” [The Complete Works of Mahir Çayan, the leader of THKP, the People’s Liberation Party-Front of Turkey] and Paris Komünü Üzerine [On the Paris Commune] by Lenin. Thanks to their harmless covers, these books managed to get into the prison and reach the prisoners during a highly political era.
- Duhuliye, is a space under the stands where people can perceive the game with a whole different perspective, which might be claimed by some to be deficient in perception. Yet, people of working-class background who couldn’t afford the normal price tickets did watch the games at this basement level behind a wire fence.
- Cemal Karadağ,
known to be a leftist photographer in the neighbourhood, was murdered in his photography shop by two men asking to be taken their portrait photos.These are the last lines of the club manifest,
emphasizing the immortal spirit of Dinamo, that is intertwined with Mesken culture.