2005, video installation, 45’10”
21 Turkish school uniform, silk print,
Developed for O.K Center for Contemporary Art Linz
The work I am Turkish, I am Honest, I am Diligent, 2005 was realized with the 4th class of primary school in Linz. For the period of a week 21 pupils, accompanied by the artist, wore Turkish school uniforms and described their impressions by writing a diary. These experiences were printed directly on the uniforms and displayed together with the video documentation of the week.
As the word “uniform” already suggests they were once designed by the ultra-modernist State policies of Turkey to keep the young brains of the country within the moral constraints of a homogenous, “classless” nation. The title of the work, the first three lines of an oath that the children in primary schools have to shout out twice a week also reflects this strictly formative ideology of education.
The project was first developed in 1998 for a secondary school in Germany, and adapted in 2002 for the 4th Kwangju Biennial in Korea. Transferring the uniforms to very different school systems and the reactions to this became a fascinating study: whereas the pupils reacted to the uniforms in very different ways in Velen, they were accepted more positively in the hierarchically organized Korean school. In comparison, due to the low number of pupils and the close supervision by two teachers in the school in Teistlergut, the most intensive exchange developed there. With the active participation of teachers, there was a more dynamic interaction, students went to other classes to share and discuss their experiences.
The repetition of the same project in different cultural contexts renders visible a key strategy Ersen employs in her later works: creating a script or a mechanism for interaction between people, but consequently withdrawing to observe how people begin to shape this given setting, to approach their divergence from the initial script and reactions leading elsewhere not as a glitch, but as a complementary element.
One of the boys in Velen expressing that he felt like a gentleman in the uniform or one of the students in Gwangju saying that she can easily distinguish her classmates among other students in the school due to the visual likeness but complaining immediately afterwards that it is not possible to tell apart the ones in uniform presented the artist and the audience with pleasant surprises and unexpected responses.