2009, multi-channel video installation
I. channel: 28’10“, II. channel: 21’16“
Developed for Vebi Koc Foundation, Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat, Istanbul and Tanas, Berlin


Passengers (2009), is a two channel video installation that projects two perspectives simultaneously: The Neighborhood (21:16 min.) and The Trip to Bosphorus (28:10 min.). The work looks at migration from within turkish society. The initial for this investigation was a newpaper article displaying the line that the migrants that came to Istanbul from the anatolian east, the coasts of the black sea and even further during the last 40 years have never seen the Bosporus, which is in fact quite unavoidable, the most praised picturesque element of the city of Tales. Behind this say lays the whole dramatic lack of interest and empathy that brands any polical debate between groups of interest in Turkey, not only in Istanbul. These new-residents of Istanbul and who do not live the city, but in their neighbourhood entangles various questions on the schemes of power and its distribution in forming and managing a city of eighteen million inhabitants.


For The Trip to Bosphorus, Esren approached a group of women who migrated to Istanbul 40 years ago, but had never stepped out of their neighborhood and took them on a trip to the sea. The trip stands as a metaphor illuminating the social disparities between those living on the periphery and those living at the center of society. Many migrants —Turkish or foreigners — come to Istanbul in search of a better life, which translates often as a passage to Northern Europe through the Bosphorus, a symbol of the hopes for the immigrants. The route the bus takes is rather unconventional: passing through districts alike, and places under construction as well as the financial district of skyscrapers and posh neighbourhoods. The viewer (the passengers, the audience) is not necessarily mesmerised by what they see. Possibly for the first time in their lives they pass through other lives (alike or different) like a flaneur: without relating to, yet not having the possibility of encounter. The bus takes its passengers through narrow streets, under giant bridges, on steep hills, passing by significant and insignificant settlements, places... Throughout the trip Ersen does not only focus on the reaction of the passengers to the outside they are irregularly surrounded by, but also collects the faces of Istanbul.


The Neighborhood, projected simultaneously with The Trip to Bosphorus, depicts the place where the migrants and their families live. Immigrants who settled in the periphery of Istanbul have created strong communities with their own social rules that function as a form of dystopia that opposes the idealized vision of Turkish society promoted by the ruling party. The camera acts like a scientific observer, gazing at the children playing on the street or at the street seller’s walkthrough, or at large scale wall paintings on facades of buildings, taking the viewer (the audience) to a trip creating a commonality with passengers. The wall paintings that occupy the neighbourhood are composed of images that represent nature, let this be a forest where a river is flowing through, or a sea reminding Istanbul with the boat, or a field where farmers are at work.


Ersen’s practice lays somewhere between documentary and fiction, a characteristic found in Passengers. The artist often embeds herself in a specific context and only after an initial period of research during which she shares time and experience with the subjects, does she starts filming. This involvement with the communities with which she collaborates results in works that combine elements of documentary and narrative formats to explore the tensions between the communities and their larger socio-political environments.