On Water was a temporary footbridge installation that was laid underwater in an abandoned basin on the Dortmund-Ems canal. Such was the scale of the project that it took the Turkish artist more than two years, several architects, the fire brigade and structural engineers, among other players in Münster.
This begs the question: What is On Water and what did Ayşe Erkmen intend to achieve?
With an intention to create the impression that people were walking on water, Erkmen sought permission to use Münster’s inland harbor as the location for her project.
She installed a jetty below the surface of the water. This jetty kinks the northern pier (Nordkai) and the southern pier (Südkai). She then invited visitors to walk across her bridge as though they were actors on her stage.
The best thing is when the place tells me what to do. But it’s even better if the space itself already contains everything you need and you don’t have to add anything else. I always try to find the simplest way into the situation and, at the same time, say as much as possible, albeit very quietly.
Meaning & Analysis
On Water highlights the divide between two different worlds. Erkmen had noticed how the harbor divided the northern side with its promenade and cafes from the industrial southern part. In essence, On Water is the bridge of the divide between work and pleasure.
Like her other site-specific installations, the bridge calls our attention to the overlooked harbor. Not just that. It calls attention to the concept of urban transportation and displacement.
Using the sunken containers to construct her bridge, she turned an unused harbor into an accessibility tool that Münster residents and visitors could use to walk between urban areas. By building a bridge under the water, she could call attention to the harbor, highlight the divide and bridge it at the same time.
On Water thus became a physical and metaphorical solution to the division problem. This helps start conversations about city planning and the essence of sociocultural access. It is also a commentary on borders.
It’s true that people like it when nothing additional comes between them and the information. But then it wouldn’t be a work of art, and you could also read the newspaper or watch history programs on TV.
In line with this particular installation, On Water is thus a great example of art in a public space that raises an issue. Like a lot of Erkmen’s works, it is a creation and occupation of spaces in a way such that the public can interact with them.
Not only can the public using her art interact with it but also, they are taken in by the water and the ducks and fish around the water, making it seem like quite the surreal experience.
The renowned Turkish artist is well recognized for her quirky sculptures and ability to transform both indoor and outdoor sites to reveal new potential. She has worked in many different sites to alter them by interfering with preexisting structures to expose an unknown view of the site or bring out something unusual.
Ayse Erkmen (b. 1949) graduated from the Department of Sculpture at Mimar Sinan University in 1997. Four years prior, she participated in the Berliner Künstlerprogramm, the DAAD International Artist Residency Program in Berlin.
She has since worked as a professor at the Kassel Art Academy and lectured at Frankfurt Städelschule between 2000 and 2007. Besides, she has won accolades and participated in numerous exhibitions earning her recognition, especially in Europe. Erkmen now lives and works in Istanbul and Berlin.