Esra Ersen

Esra Ersen, Perfect (installation view), 2006

Esra Ersen, Perfect (installation view), 2006

Esra Ersen’s (b.1970, Ankara, Turkey) work takes many forms: video, photographs, installations and architectural essays. Waiting Area (2004) proposed a redesign of the Citizenship section of the Municipal Building in Innsbruck, Austria, in order to subvert or reverse the power relations literally built into this situation. Through anthropological observation and documentation, Ersen has also created mises-en-scene to analyse the indeterminacy of situations, an exercise that highlights the over-determination of everyday life.

Esra Ersen’s concern is with cultural diversity and the identity of marginalised communities and individuals – or more precisely the individual’s use of cultural ammunition in the fight to resist the social force and dominant ideology of the majority. Her method is to focus on the small incidents and events (of language, behaviour, social interaction) that encapsulate larger meanings. Her process involves acute sensitivity to the context in which her work is presented, and the range of meanings that it will have for different audiences as a result.

The transformation that took place in Liverpool in 2006 – the process officially known as ‘regeneration’ – provided a starting point for many of the artists in International 06. For Esra Ersen, this deliberate attempt to create a new identity for Liverpool connected suggestively to her ongoing interest in questions of personal and social identity and the complicated ways in which ‘identities’ are formed and reformed.

In her piece for International 06 entitled Perfect (2006), Ersen transferred the process of ‘regeneration’ from a city to person, performing a makeover on a longstanding resident of Liverpool. Ersen challenged us to question the whole idea of ‘regeneration’: when change is imposed from outside rather than being organic, what really changes, and what stays the same?

Ersen was struck by the radical transformation taking place in Liverpool at the time and the impact upon its inhabitants. Regeneration promised a new identity for the city in the run-up to being European Capital of Culture. Ersen’s work is a critical examination of the universal process of ‘regeneration’, where typically the change is not organic but grows out of decisions made by governing bodies rather than residents.

Acting as a kind of urban planner, transferring her methods from city to person, Ersen performed a makeover on a long-standing resident of Liverpool. The person chosen was close to her community and part of its history. By changing her, Ersen provoked questions about the changing city as a whole. The result was a document of the process of transformation.

The work revealed the contradictions inherent within visual regeneration, and thus became a metaphor for its processes. Just as with a makeover, it is only the façade that is transformed. The internal structures remaine the same.

Esra Ersen at Liverpool Biennial 2006

Perfect, 2006
DVD projection
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool