Ezgi Yakın - A Travel Essay: Questions and Silent Guests

In an August afternoon, I am walking with steps slowed down by the heat. I am at Sümerbank Printed Cloth Factory, very well-known in the past, but now so abandoned that we cannot even predict where the entrance is, and whose fame exceeds itself. The weeds had strongly surrounded the remnant of the solid modernist concrete building of its time, which is far from being ornamental and grandeur. What does a building without walls, ceilings or floors sustain? Or what can be heard behind the silence in this vast field covered by weeds?

This is a place where post-eighties generation will get closer through questions. A memory or motif captured from the childhood, perhaps an example that older people threw in a speech. Or the historical/theoretical knowledge of an unrivalled model inherited from those who were part of the experience. Its current place in the memory of the city is the unprotected silhouette of a derelict building that remains from an identity, once described with a social value, cultural environment and productivity, away from resembling its image in the archive photographs. The new residence constructions surrounding the ruins of the old industrial public buildings in the vast land of Halkapınar, on the other hand, now create the wide view on both sides of the road passing there. Vertical, metal-shine, opaque structures shadowed on the horizontal, gray-green ruins. I'm thinking; I am face to face with the distorted union of what the two images represent. What kind of a process are we part of between the physical ruins of the forgotten heritage and today's project that stands out with its attractive marketing? If we look at social ties through a venue and its productions (and production relations) that respond to daily needs, can we talk about a belonging relationship established with Sümerbank from the past to the present?

While questions raise questions, it is difficult to ignore the negative feelings it contains. It is hard to guess what one is looking for in this wreckage, almost stripped of its past (indeed, when the factory was closed and left to its fate, it has been robbed and anything with a scrap value was stolen) in the complex landscape of uncut weed. Terry Eagleton, in his book The Meaning of Life, argues that questions may not have direct answers, but that we can identify a certain focus. “It is true that they (the questions) do not have their answers tied conveniently to their tails; but they intimate the kind of response that would at least count as an answer. They point us in a limited range of directions, suggesting where to look for a solution.”1 Answers are also likely to consist of well-compiled information, but still, my attempt is to get closer to the issue from my own distance rather than an authority's answer. Because, as part of a generation that cannot escape the spirit of time, I look at the remains of this building that history refrains from keeping alive, with a sincere and worried curiosity.

So, returning to the key element in the question, I would like to explain what kind of belonging or non-belonging I am talking about. Sümerbank was operating in a very different line from today as the model of industry and development created by the Republican modernism. The structure of Sümerbank, which was established by the young Republic in different parts of the country starting from the 1930s to meet the production and consumption needs instead of the interests of the capitalists, contained many production channels in the field of leather, paper and ceramics, but especially textile products. Breeding a new working class from the agricultural production-based past of the majority of the society with the principles and ideals of the young Republic was within the framework of these industrial projects. Providing a large labor force, these facilities made basic needs accessible to all. Linens, pajamas, school uniforms, coats or dresses ... Sümerbank was creating an egalitarian platform where workers, civil servants and farmers could buy the same products. The mentioned Basma Industrial Enterprise, which is now severely destroyed, was built in 1946 at the Halkapınar Campus in the back of the port area of ​​Izmir, which would be the industrial zone of its time. Social facilities such as lodging, kindergarten and sports hall within the campus also operated in a way that supported the cultural transformation of the modern republic.

The lonely silhouette of this collapsed building today is actually just one of many similar others. Just like Sümerbank, there were many factories operating in various cities of the country, producing tobacco, sugar, iron-steel, paper, glass and various products that worked with local raw materials and regional labor until the 1980s. The privatizations that started in the 1980s, paved the way for a new process in which state-affiliated institutions changed hands or were completely closed and used for other purposes. These industrial structures, which could not adapt their production structure to neoliberal conditions, were gradually left to their fate. These developments were the harbinger of a social change in which production was somehow dominated by private companies and consumption was shaped accordingly. In these developments, which also describe the change of an identity, the narratives related to the classes come to the present day in discontinuities as accurately put into words in the description of the new working class or the poor in Latife Tekin's novel Manvescity2. The new worker who is subjected to performance-based evaluations, becomes unskilled as technology replaces human labor, or is compliant with "smart machines" and forced to work at the same speed. Blue-collar workers who do not have a fixed job, but move from work to work and who cannot unionize establish insecure ties with the institution and their friends. A rootless industrial town grows on “step” relations where everyone is "step colleague" to each other. (Actually, while Tekin's fiction depicts us the blue collar worker with details from life, it shows us that the blue collar worker is struggling with working conditions that are not much different from those of the white collar.)

While wandering among the rubble of Sümerbank, it is not only the absence of the preciousness of human labor within the new system of values ​​that causes me to relate to the striking reality of this description, beyond implication. The dominant feeling that the physical space I am in gives me is; being so unattended as to make one feel alien. Discarded space, time and people. Zygmunt Bauman uses the term "wasted", that is, "discarded" for the population that is no longer functional, needed, or deliberately deactivated in the global order created by economic progress. “’Discard' implies the unnecessity, needlessness, inoperative - the opposite of whatever the standards of usefulness and indispensability are. (...) One obvious reason for you to be there is that you have no legitimate reason to wander around.”3 This is why what is left of this derelict building are small traces of the past left by thieves because they could not set a material value for them, and the new habitue are the homeless, immigrants or the illegal people using the empty area as shambles.

Among the weary columns and palimpsest walls scraped off the layers of paint and plaster, there are also kind guests who pay attention to silence. Young generation artists who work in dialogue with the space, apart from being isolated from it, bring out their interventions in accordance with this physical landscape with representations and associations compatible with Sümerbank. While doing so, they include anything around that may be material in their work. The work that emerged in collaboration with what was left of the wreckage appears softly with a rapprochement almost equal to sadness, rather than revealing itself out loud. One of these works strangely brings together the ghosts of the past inhabitants of the place and the homeless of today. Therefore, the associations of the work entitled “Window” are quite intense. It would not be wrong to look for the remainder of the motion of the Sümerbank labor community in a frozen shoe pile embedded in cement. The shoe pile marks the loss in values ​​of the productive bodies of the discarded past and their symbolic expression. But at the same time, the pile marks an anonymous portrait of the marginalized, unsecured people of today who are avoided by others. From the unprotected legacy of the old proletariat (and the history of struggle), the unsecured and fragile abandum of today's precariousness ... These shoes that hold onto what is physically left of Sümerbank, emphasize that Sümerbank is unthinkable without the issues presented by these associations.

So, if we consider the elements that extend beyond the space and that are in circulation as we describe Sümerbank, other questions will undoubtedly find a place for themselves: Is the meaning of a business related to how the work inside the closed walls is technically produced-executed and economically measured? Is it not the items/products that interfere with the life there, touch the skin, see the wind, moisture, snow and winter, and share the experiences that build common memories? The printed cloth and flannel products, which entered everybody's home and met their needs, came out of the weaving looms of Sümerbank when they were easily accessible, cheap but durable. Sümerbank had stores * in various districts in Izmir, foremost being the one in Konak. For about a period of 60 years, the textile products, bought during the shopping at Sümerbank's stores as schools were being opened, during festivals and seasonal transitions, were considered to be the companions of the country’s people with their texture and motif.

The place of Sümerbank pajamas, skirts, suits, fancy dresses and printed fabrics in the lives of past generations is indisputable. The made to last products bought for reasonable prices at stores that have become venues of a shopping ritual are still in the mothers' or grandmothers' houses, as samples in chests. It is something we are not accustomed to today that these fabrics are completely local; they are produced with local raw materials and designed with their unique patterns that contain local elements. “Halıfileks” fibers created with ethnic rug motif attached to the wall in the collapsed structure behind Sümerbank; the work, "Motif I-II-III" tries to add locality to the consumed and dismissed pieces of today's industry. In fact, this recycling reinforces the sense of an irreversible authenticity in time with the performance on the artificial surface. The traditional implication of the images resembling Anatolian motifs gives the impression that one is not in the right place, time and form given the artificialness of the disposed fabricated material. However, contrary to this situation, the floral printed piece of fabric in the next work, allows the place to regain its originality with its common image in memory. The "flag" takes its place in a monumental fashion by hanging on one of the rubble pieces leaning against the brick wall. This is an ironic monument; almost about to collapse. It is no coincidence that the Sümerbank fabric finds its place in a piece of concrete that can collapse any time jumping from time to time, from hand to hand with the brightness of all its colors. There is a writing, that is not completely readable on the wall behind it, which is similar to the old signboard writing: "Domestic goods are the property of the country".

I walk across this dysfunctional hectare in a hot August day. The weather is above seasonal normals. The experience I have gained along this complex route that I have determined for myself tells me that I have entered a final turn where I will synthesize today's reality with what I have seen. We are now far from the self-sufficiency motto of the past. Izmir Printed Cloth Factory, which was closed with privatization in 2001, was destroyed by the weight of the last 10 years; what remains are rubble, earth, thistles, palm trees clumsy with dried branches and utterly garbage. The work entitled “Tepe Dünya” is so camouflaged with the site that you get stunned as soon as you notice it. This work records the ground surface of the land and traces, textures and whatever is crumbled find place on the fabric. It is like a different kind of memory study. In Sümerbank, micro-discoveries of the living and still nature reach to the ground by making a hill from where it is, as if it will expand in its layered and solidified state. Is this the scene that the human species will leave behind when their time is exhausted?

I am building these sentences with the return of the days when we cannot escape the global consequences of industrialization on the planet where the consumed cannot be replaced.

Then "Albatross" greets me. The ceramic skeleton of the sea creature that ate and died from plastic waste was accompanied by a fiction made of other garbage in the area. The current point of production leaves us face to face with a pile of garbage far beyond our requirements. The example of Sümerbank stands in a naïve place as the first link of modernist progress with its need-oriented, low and to the point production, in the face of today's incorrigible excess consumption industry. Considering today, it is understood that in this industrial age, which warms the earth with one degree (and causes the climate crisis), conscious production and consumption are a vital necessity. As the last stop, the work entitled "Samsara" reminds the cyclicality of nature. As I look at the remnants of the painful experience of different times in series, I think what Sümerbank can contain and teach for a new experience and way of existence.

* (An address that comes to one’s ears as the meeting point of the people living in Izmir since the past; In front of old Sümerbank, Konak is used as a description of the place, despite the store has not been there for about 20 years. This place, which is especially known as the address of political actions, is a means of commemorating the past by making an interesting connection with its own class history.)

Ezgi Yakın
September 2020- Izmir

1 Terry Eagleton, The Meaning of Life
2 Latife Tekin, Manves City, İstanbul, Can Sanat Yayınları, 2018.
3 Zygmunt Bauman, Iskarta Hayatlar Modernite ve Safraları, Çev. Osman Yener, İstanbul, Can Sanat Yayınları, 2018, s.24.

Ezgi Yakın (1988, Ankara), completed her undergraduate education in 2010 and her master’s degree in 2015 at Dokuz Eylül University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Painting Department. She still continues her Proficiency in Art education in the same department and works as a Research Assistant. Her solo exhibitions are “Juncture” (Tabacka Kulturfabrik, Kosice, 2019); "Strange Time" (Simbart Project, Istanbul, 2019). The group exhibitions that the artist participated, includes "Changing Perspective" (Simbart Project, Istanbul, 2020) "Traces" (Gallery Mod, Istanbul, 2019); “Young Fresh Different 9” (Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul 2018); “Atopos Project” (Versus Art Project, Istanbul, 2018); “Camus Was here” (K2 Contemporary Art Center, İzmir, 2017); “Bon Appetit” (12 th Survival / Arttransparent, Wroclow, 2014); “Footnotes” (LOTTE, Stuttgart, 2013); “... with all the changes that loomed far behind the horizon...” (Marsistanbul Artist Run Space, Istanbul, 2013). In 2019, she participated in the Kair Artist Residence program in Slovakia. She also has articles in various art publications such as Istanbul Art News and Sanat Dünyamız. She lives and works in Izmir.

This article is translated to English by Hale Eryılmaz

Hale Eryılmaz (1972, Denizli), completed her undergraduate education at METU International Relations Department and her master's degree in Bilkent International Relations Department with full scholarship. For 25 years, she has been working as a freelance translator in the fields of social studies, popular culture, human rights and torture prevention, culture and arts. She has also worked as a researcher, expert and manager in many institutions in the fields of human rights and civil society for 20 years, and has also been on the boards of many institutions. Some of these institutions are; ROMACTED European Council Program, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), Sivil Düşün, Women's Work Foundation (KEDV), Aegean Association, and UNICEF. Hale Eryilmaz is currently working in Izmir Cultural Platform Initiative and TOBB's Expert Hands Project (integration of Syrian refugees). In addition to numerous publications of articles and translations published on Platform, Sanatatak and Art Unlimited, Eryılmaz has a translation book of Martin Strokes, named "Arabesque Events in Turkey" published from İletişim Publications in the year '98.


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