Ayse Erkmen’s installation in the Barbican’s Curve, Intervals, consists of nine painted backdrops taken from recent plays that are lowered and raised on a pulley system, blocking the audience’s progress.

The title is a play between the traditional intermissions in theatre and the more general use of the word applied to gaps in both time and space. Time and space are referenced explicitly at the beginning and end of the installation, firstly with a backdrop from Lucia di Lammermoor, featuring a heavy distortion of perspective, then a map of the artist’s native Turkey, and at the end a backdrop featuring a clock face.

The intervening backdrops feature themes from different countries and different centuries, and although there has been some thought given to the order, with complementary colours red followed by green and blue followed by yellow, beyond this there is nothing to link the images. Erkmen’s art is a response to the surroundings of each installation, and here she responded to the Barbican’s theatre and the proximity of Guildhall School of Music and Drama, whose students’ work is featured here. The installation, then, is limited to what was available to Erkmen and her assistants.

…The intervals create the tension of an actor waiting in the wings…

Being stuck in a space with strangers for about a minute is a little like the sort of social agony you might experience in public elevators, and you might find that you occasionally duck under a rising backdrop rather than waiting politely. However, for those inclined to wait, one is treated to the aesthetically pleasing sight of having a curtain rise on a group of people as if they’re actors in a play. Erkmen has spoken about wanting to create the sense of being backstage in a theatre. The intervals create the tension of an actor waiting in the wings, and if you look behind you as a curtain rises, you will find yourself, an audience member, being gawped at by a group of expectant faces. 

The term ‘playful’ is often applied to Ayse Erkmen’s art by critics – a word that when describing artists often means interesting, but without anything very far-reaching to say. At the Venice Biennale Erkmen pumped water from the canals through the room in pipes, so that the audience was surrounded by the sound and presence of the water, but they could not see, much less drink it. A good idea, but when you see the pictures of a few coloured pipes, you think that perhaps it could have gone further. After the final backdrop rose in ‘Intervals’, one is treated to the distinctly underwhelming sight of the exit doors, leaving one with a vague thirst for something more.

Ayse Erkmen: Intervals at The Curve runs until January 5 2014. Tickets are free.

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