One of the greatest and most destructive censorships in history can be considered as the burning of the Library of Alexandria. Even today, the destruction of the library is such a sting for humanity. Beneath the burning books many thoughts, researches and inventions have been lost and turned into stardust. This incident, which is known to have taken humanity and civilization at once backwards, is put into practice even today in different forms either explicitly or in disguise. In fact, this condition infiltrates our lives insidiously. Different structures such as state institutions, arts and culture platforms, and funders sometimes take steps to support censorship, or even take the leading role in its application. In particular, people and institutions in power consider it a feat to restrict certain thoughts and expressions of freedom, on the pretext of protecting public order or on the excuse that they fail to fit the societal order.
Censorship leaves on a person an impression of darkness, ambiguity and uncanniness. Yet, such a system where information and thoughts are not freely conveyed and where humane feelings are suppressed, is destined to collapse. Even thinking about people burning books out of fear in their homes and the black smoke coming out of the chimneys provokes shivers. In spite of the tangible regression experienced by the society caused by such suppressions, marginalizations, or exterminations the reaction to them comes explosively to the surface when the society can no longer be silenced and is no longer fearful of resisting. During the suppression, unfortunately most of the books disappeared along with the thoughts in them. Yet some others take their well deserved places back and are able to shine today with their presence as a symbol of victory against all their maltreatment. Perhaps, their worldly and material absence alongside suffering, turns their memories into cultural icons. Although the memory which is lost with the disappearance of books and with the banishing of freedom of thought, creates a black hole in the public mind, Didem Erk recalls this memory, underlines it, rewrites it in the minds and even adds a new body to them through her physical intervention in the books.
In her series titled Black Thread, Erk’s source of inspiration is the Bebelplatz Square in Berlin, where tens of thousands of books written by opposing writers were burned under Nazi rule in Germany in 1933. The artist comes to terms with the reality of the unfortunate past of the books in her unique way. In this series, she references the books that were forcibly destroyed by burning in city squares or in the homes and bases her own choices upon authors with bitter predicament such that they ended lives in exile. Erk illuminates the darkness of the period by addressing a shamanic healing ritual. While tying together each word in the books by sewing them with black threads, the artist makes the book unreadable and actually ties knots on each word. Through this method, the artist almost anchors time by her long lasting, grueling and meditative performance and reverses the act of persecution against thoughts. Placing some shamanic rituals into her practice, she recalls all the negative energy that the object and everything it contained radiated across the universe while being destroyed, and reintroduces it to the atmosphere, space and time in a positive way.
In her Black Seeds series, Erk goes over each word in the books with her own manuscript and renders it once again completely unreadable. The metaphor of “blinding the eyes” caused by censorship becomes stronger when the book’s readability gets lost. This performative act in which she applies stream of consciousness, underlines the torment they were exposed to.
In these series the artist handles the books and converts the objects into something different. By doing it, she submits them and gives back to humanity who has been the subject of their destructions and deprivations. In fact, the truth lies not in the ashes of burned books winding in the air but in the human mind that can not be silenced. Therefore, physical destruction shall always be incapable of shackling thought.
T. Melis Golar