The Newspaper House - Work in Progress
Participatory public art project
Installation Gillett Square, Hackney, London - March 2008

Mixed media -used newspapers, plastic cable ties, wood
Dimensions: 400cmx480cmx620cm
Produced by Creative City.

Text by Suzana Vaz - July 2008

Sumer Erek's Newspaper House at Camberwell
As part of the MA in Theory and Practice of Transnational Arts degree show, Sumer Erek brings to the Postgraduate Building at Wilson Road a part of his Newspaper House, and shows photographs of this project at the House Gallery, New Church St.

The original participatory project ran from January to March in Dalston, with the making of a house made of newspapers, at St. Barnaba's Hall, later installed and unveiled at Gillett Square. Sumer Erek created a mould that shaped the elementary icon of a house, to be covered and filled up with rolled sticks and bundles of newspaper.

Within the participatory aim of the project, the public was invited to collect and bring old newspapers, then bundle them by hand with cable ties or roll them into sticks with the help of hand worked Stix machines. In the Newspaper House, information of every kind assumes a detailed minute materiality to make the predefined volume of a house.

There is an underlying idea of entropy, of overloading of data and of inversely proportional amount of time for apprehending it, a destitution of significance. This is suggested by the dramatic change on the original graphic (visual or verbal) content which results from turning tangible that which was seemingly flat, immaterial.

The rudimentary technology of the manual process is set against the stately detached technology of printed mass media. It allows the concrete experience of acting upon transitory expired graphic contents, renovating them into a raw material, pristine and direct in its even shape.

A numinous binding function
In the plastic and poetic contents of his work, Erek usually explores paradoxes and oppositions in order to reach an integrative sense for the several layers of meaning. An inversion of logic, enabling the aphoristic presentation of issues and conveying, by itself, a practical demonstration of intent and meaning, is an established device in Erek's work. Yet, what might be wrongly assumed as a conceptual approach to the process of art has, in fact, an important differential in a defining performative feature.

However literal or symbolical the inversion on display, such as it occurs respectively on 'Upside Down House' (2001) and on 'Resuscitation' (2003), or integrating both aspects, such as on the 'Raw Earth Project' (2005/2007), Erek's works imply the deployment of one's own body, in order to perceive and, through that experience, acknowledge the piece and directly access its core. To perceive scale, distance, depth, different qualities of space, and also temperature, the passage of time, energy, the channelling power of a particular position on the universe.

The Newspaper House is set within the background of references that previously originated these works, related with the uniqueness of a dwelling, its virtuality of linkage, and thus a nostalgia of belonging, of unification with the whole. As a recurrent icon on Erek's artwork, the house imparts that numinous binding function. It signifies the drive to retrieve a relinquished condition of integrity, as well as the archetype which this stands for: the return to the situation before the 'primordial fall', before the partition of consciousness that occurred with the acquisition of language, and the erasure of an embodied knowledge that placed man within the cosmological processes.

'Upside Down House' is a completely set, detailed and literally upside down house: as you enter the space a video system captures your image and an upside down TV set on the living room shows you on the space in real time, thus on an upside down image. The inability to immediately understand one's own image shown upside down conveys in an experimental way the trouble to build up a coherent self image matching with the space around.

Erek's biography is marked by the early event of expatriation within the territory of Cyprus, divided as a result of the 70's Greek/Turkish dispute. From this founding experience would emanate Erek's main interrogations and deepest insights: ontology and ethics, identity and belonging, the body as an ultimate area of belonging, the creative sensitive vehicle that enacts meaning and through which the latter may be shared. Fulfilling such intuitions, the artwork is envisaged as the syncretic ground that enables the accomplishment of meaningful processes of life and of living experience.

'Resuscitation' is a symbolical enactment of the sense of belonging, and a universal representation of 'dwelling'. It clarifies the dynamics of imagination by which one's own standing point is an ultimate area of belonging.

At the centre of a circle of wood on fire, a tall vertical column made of twenty burned logs of lemon-tree; each log is jointed to the next by a transparent plastic pillow with one lemon inside; drops of water fall from above, and water flows through the wrinkles of the logs, making up a circular mirror of water contained by the barrier of fire.

The morphological clarity of the piece brings to mind the archetypical image of the Central Pillar, or the Tree of the World, that the shaman uses to direct the shamanic trance down to the underworld or up to heaven, his travel marked by the successive stages that divide the pole. This representation of transcendency belongs to a pattern of images of 'the centre of the world', a complex of meanings that resumes men's desire of placing himself naturally and permanently in a sacred place, at the core of reality and, through a short cut, of transcending human condition. In this, the idea of dwelling is attached to the notion of a site for the change of the mode of being, for a qualified dynamics of consciousness, for the retrieval of an embodied knowledge.

With the circle of wood on fire, the iconography of 'Resuscitation' bears the idea of enclosure, the most ancient form of distinguishing a place or the partition between two areas of a different kind, which has the function of outlining a "supremely 'creational' place, because the source of all reality and consequently of energy and life is to be found there" (Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, p. 370, 382-383). The presence of opposing natural elements, water and fire, in a dynamic, simultaneous process, reveals the archetypical image of the 'conjunction of opposites', while the presence of at least three different kinds of water (the rain, the running water and the pool) opens to a complex of meanings regarding the sense of fertility and creation, rebirth and cleansing.

The 'Raw Earth Project' addresses both in literal and symbolical ways the idea of dwelling, its main icon a house. In a derelict country house in Cyprus, Erek installed a bathing pool, crossed by a wooden bridge. The iconographic complexity of the project, still in progress, includes a series of museological procedures, such as the labelling and recording of the material that resulted from the participation of the public. Invited to stand at the centre of the house, over the pool, using it as a 'centre of the world', the participant was given a small bag of clay to hold in the hand while engaged on the experience of being a conductor of telluric energy, sensing the body/mind/environment continuum.

The ideas of cleansing and rebirth, and of a site conceived for the change of the mode of being, which Erek recurrently tried out in previous pieces, gain with the 'Raw Earth Project' their full archaic meaning and potency, while the introduction of museological procedures states the autonomy of a dwelling-like artwork vis--vis the art establishment.

A threshold at Wilson Road
Sumer Erek adapted one of the entrance walls of his Newspaper House for the Wilson Road building, dividing with it a section of the ground floor. Presented in this way, the fragment of the house assumes a new iconographic sense. Brought to the inside of a building, and released of the commitment of participatory engagement, Erek's Newspaper House work shifts into the intimate dimension of the great cosmological images. Its quality as a site object, now prefiguring a portal, an entrance, resonates with images of passage and of commencement, thus of individual trial within a collective culture. Similarly, with the change of setting and of scale, the plastic details, the material and technological solutions, the artistic skill, and the empathy with the relentlessness of the labour are enhanced, and bring to the fore a previously withdrawn element of subjectivity.