Judith Raum’s comprehensive installation eser is one of ten artistic positions included in the exhibition program A Century of Centuries at SALT Beyoğlu. The program presents a sequence of solo artistic positions that have been formed in response to transformative events, traumatic experiences and social transitions of the past, which continue to resonate and shape the present.
Judith Raum began an extensive research into the construction of the Anatolian and Baghdad railways, after her fellowship at Platform Garanti, Istanbul, in 2008. Inspired by infrastructural and agricultural projects mentioned in old letters dug out from the Historical Archive of Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Raum made several trips across Anatolia to look for traces of the diverse activities undertaken before World War One. Her inquiry dealt with the involvement of Deutsche Bank and the policies of the German Reich in the colonialist opening up of Anatolia during that period. Hidden underneath those rather ‘official’ narratives she looked for stories of alternative economics and local resistance to rationalization and modernization, stories of a kind that tend to rarely reach the surface level of documentation and publication.
This intensive period of research was developed by Raum through diverse ways of dealing artistically with archival material, and the layering of autonomous aesthetic responses in different media following observations and considerations made on location. Presented previously in different permutations, at SALT eser comprises found photographs, textiles, sculptures and paintings that are composed around four strands of interest: the relationships between German engineers and local workers during Railway construction; German engagement in cotton production in Anatolia and the existing trade connections between the Ottoman Empire and German home industry; German efforts to modernize Anatolian agriculture and the local introduction of machinery and skills; and lastly the working conditions and the role the Railway workers’ Union played in an arising socialist movement in the Ottoman Empire and the workers’ strike of 1908.
The title eser comes from its use both as a term for a work of art in Turkish, and also from the way it was used in a conversation Raum shared with a gardener along the railway tracks in Vezirhan, Anatolia, in which he described a tree as “eser.”
eser is contextualised by an audio guide that recounts historical letters by German diplomats, bankers and businessmen; originally written in German, all documents have been translated into Turkish for the first time to document German endeavors in Ottoman economy and agriculture at the turn of the last century.
In working with the historical material that dates back to the first German engagement in Anatolia in 1889, Judith Raum’s work suggests that the gestures and rhetorics of power and domination, which she identifies in the project of the Anatolian Railway, are the consequence of an economic principle that did not end with the colonial era and in fact persist today.
An artist monography containing a wide collection of historical material on the subject matter as well as documentations of installations and works in connection with the project will accompany the show and serve as a resource.
The text was written to accompany the installation Judith Raum - eser within the exhibition A Century of Centuries, March - May 2015, at Salt Beyoglu, Istanbul.