Bergama Stereotip: sound, architecture, and history
Artist Cevdet Erek has reinterpreted the Great Altar of Pergamon with sounding architecture. Curated by Selen Ansen, this site-specific exhibition offers a fresh take on the ancient monument.

By Yao Hsiao

Istanbul-based artist Cevdet Erek has created a contemporary interpretation of the celebrated Hellenistic edifice in the form of a sounding architecture. The idea was first brought to life in 2019 as Bergama Stereo, presented at the Ruhrtriennale Festival and Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Germany. Now, the artist has produced a variation of the same work for Istanbul’s Arter, dubbed Bergama Stereotip.

Originally located in the Bergama district in Izmir province, the Great Altar of Pergamon was built in the second century BC. Encircled by a white marble frieze, it depicted the mythological battle between the Giants and the Gods of Olympus. In the late nineteenth century, the remains of the frieze were transported to Berlin under an agreement between the German and Ottoman governments. 

The original site of the Great Altar of Pergamon and its remains in Bergama, near Izmir

In Erek’s Bergama Stereotip, which maintains the essence of the original work, the altar’s sculptural frieze in high relief is transformed into a wooden structure composed of loudspeakers. The main visual impression of the historical site is replaced with an audio experience of sound composition. While the physical structure of the modern work is an abstraction of the original, Bergama Stereotip offers a familiar—yet different—experience than that encountered at the historical altar in Berlin’s Pergamonmuseum. 

“With the language of music, especially the dance music of our times, I try to evoke the feeling without telling the story,” Erek told The Guide Istanbul during the exhibition’s preparation phase. Given his background in both architecture and sound design, Erek pays as much attention to the visual structure as he does to the rhythm. Because Bergama Stereotip was still being set up, the artist showed images of Bergama Stereo in Berlin by way of explanation. “There are both functional and fake loudspeakers on my frieze, just like the restored frieze in the Pergamonmuseum is missing some parts,” he says.

With a central staircase and a symmetrical structure just like the historical monument, visitors can walk around this modern version while listening to the sounds from different locations—either up close on the stairs or from a distance. 

Bergama Stereo in Germany’s Hamburger Bahnhof Museum

A moveable frieze

Erek hasn’t seen the original altar because the exhibit at the Pergamonmuseum has been closed since 2014 (it’s scheduled to reopen in 2023). But if the artists of Pergamon could depict the Gigantomachy (the battle between the Giants and Gods) without having actually witnessed it, so too can the artist create a rendering of the altar without ever having laid eyes on it. 

Just as images of the altar are easily transported (in the form, for example, of souvenir magnets), Erek decided to make “something that can be easily carried”—a reference to the controversial decision to relocate the original stone structure. And just as Greek mythology was depicted on a sculptural frieze and later turned into a sounding architecture, so the original altar was partially moved to Germany, and Erek’s contemporary version later displayed in Berlin. Now a variation of the same work has been brought into existence in Istanbul. 

Bergama Stereotip in Arter, Istanbul

Reviewing this history of the Pergamon Altar and Erek’s artwork, we can see the untranslatable aspects of temporal and spatial transformation. “For me, the most interesting part is what to do with the form,” Erek says. “What can I bring from my original work in Berlin to the new site? For instance, what is valuable, economic, or realistic to bring?” When asked about what innovations he planned to bring to the Istanbul version, the artist was reticent, preferring to let visitors enjoy the surprises he has in store for them.

Bergama Stereotip will not only be Istanbul’s version of Bergama Stereo, but a new, site-specific work, with the title itself reflecting a variant interpretation. Bergama Stereotip takes the Turkish word for the printing term “stereotype” (indicating the idea of duplicating an original)—a clever distinction from Bergama Stereo, which conveys the idea of solid stereophonic sounds.

According to Erek, visiting the work for oneself is better than getting bogged down in overly complex explanations. “I’m generally trying not to make a detailed documentation video about this type of work, because it needs to be physically experienced,” he explains. “One must go inside it to grasp it—that’s how both architecture and spatial sound work.” 

Bergama Stereotip in Arter, Istanbul

The exhibition is open until August 9, 2020. Arter, Irmak Caddesi No.13, Dolapdere; arter.org.tr

Dear Readers,

Our publication witnessed a lot of ups and downs in the last 29 years, but in 2020 we have faced truly unprecedented times.

Despite our best efforts, as of August 2020 we are pressing pause on our overall activity, thanking all of our readers, followers, and partners for their ongoing support and words of encouragement.

We will miss you, just like we miss the city’s uplifting energy that kept us motivated throughout the years.

Stay safe!