300 x 50 x 30 ell

With his installation, 300 x 50 x 30 ell, Dogan Dogan confronts us with the biblical story of the Flood, Noah and his Ark. According to the story, Noah's Ark was 300 ell long, 50 ell wide, and 30 ell high (ell=cubit). The same proportion between length and breadth is still used in shipbuilding today, and such an ark would have approximately the same size as the Titanic. Noah built the Ark to save humans and animals of the world.

Dogan Dogan was born in 1967 in Turkey, and lives and works in Germany. His work in Kunsthalle Helsinki’s studio space was done while he worked as a resident artist In Helsinki, hosted by HIAP —Helsinki International Artist-in-Residence Program, August - October 2007. His residency is part of an ongoing residency exchange between Frankfurt am Main and Helsinki, organized by the City of Frankfurt am Main, Department of Culture and Science, Frankfurter Kunstverein, HIAP and FRAME Finnish Fund for Art Exchange.

Kunsthalle Helsinki’s studio space, which is often seen as a black box, a darkened stage for video works, has now amazed viewers with its bright and shining whiteness. Even the floor of the studio space is covered with white carpet. The installation consists of four different parts with significant names; a painting on canvas, a video sculpture, a mirror, and a pencil drawing on photo paper. All parts represent different techniques of the visual arts and elaborate text, music and dance. Together they mould a harmonious entity, almost like a small model of an ideal world. The title and individual elements of the installation refer to the biblical events, but at the same time draw our attention to an explosive contemporary theme: global warming.

In his work, Dogan Dogan has focused in serious existential themes - war, natural catastrophes, genocide, and cruelty to animals. In 300 x 50 x 30 ell he plays with the story of a catastrophe. He wants to draw attention to global warming, which has been argued to happen largely because of human activity. The main reason is believed to be emissions of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. As a result of global warming, we see glaciers melt, experience wet weather in northern Europe, dry weather in southern Europe, witness the loss of plant types, and the rise of sea levels, all of which may threaten life on Earth.

The Chosen is made of a smeared mirror with a text written by the artist’s finger and telling the true story of a Dutch building contractor named Johan Huibers, who with his own hands built a replica of the Noah’s ark in Schagen. That ark is half the length of the original Noah’s ark, and a third of the width. Huibers built the ark because of a dream he had, in which Holland disappeared in enormous amounts of water, similar to the Tsunami in South-East Asia. But he is not the only one who has recently built an ark. In May 2007, Greenpeace’s environmental activists built a replica of Noah’s ark on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey, near the border of Iran. Building an ark on the biblical mountain - where the vessel is believed to have landed after the great flood - was an appeal for action on global warming. The ship built by Greenpeace reminds leaders of all nations that there is not much time left to prevent a climatic disaster and its devastating consequences. The story of John Huibers is almost impossible to decipher on the mirror of Dogan Dogan, but looking in the mirror is also the situation in which the viewer has to face the question of rights and responsibilities in everyday choices. Are we really chosen to do the things we are doing, and what does it mean to be chosen?

On the floor there is a video sculpture, The Sun Dance of Kurds, a white monitor showing an ancient looking black and white film in DVD format. The quality of the picture is intentionally robust, and looks more like an archetype of traditional dance than any special situation with details. The Kurds from Turkey are dancing endlessly to music played by a band in the background. Dancers are forming an opening and closing circle, reminiscent of the sun, to honour its power and importance in their lives. But the life giving power of the sun has also other meanings today. The power of the sun can be deadly to our planet because of critically low levels of ozone.

The third part of the installation is a large painting, Hope in the North Pole, which has been painted with white oil colour on a canvas covered with white ground. Figures in the painting are not easy to outline, but on the left side there is the figure of a polar bear and on the right side we can see a white unicorn running towards it. Both animals have white fur, providing them with an effective camouflage in an icy landscape. The unicorn is the only fabulous beast which is not conceived out of human fears. This mysteriously beautiful animal’s single horn is also believed to neutralise poisons. The polar bear has more to do with our reality - recently it has often been connected to global warming and melting polar icebergs. Scientists and climatologists believe that by mid-century, the projected decrease in the Arctic Ocean's ice coverage, caused by global warming, will reduce their population by two thirds. In Dogan Dogan's painting, there is a shadow-like oval form, like a hole, between these two beautiful and symbolic animals.

There is still one more piece in the installation. The Ark is a very minimal drawing on photo paper consisting of one single fragile line: the figure of the ark’s bottom. It can also be seen as a picture of a rising water line with an empty horizon - on the upper side of it there is heaven, and under it the sea. These two basic elements can also be seen as the starting point of all life on earth. Shall it also be the end?

Dogan Dogan’s works address serious themes but with subtlety, translating the issues into discreet images. In the background remains a certain thematic banality, and the ironic attitude of the artist. The gravity of the subject matter may not be apparent to the viewer at first, but the gradual transition from the visible to the inherent underlying themes makes this gravity bearable. By making such everyday conflicts of existence visible, Dogan Dogan poses questions concerning humanity, responsibility, and survival.

Dogan Dogan has said that the most important theme of his installation is hope. Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions all include the story of a great flood and Noah’s ark. It is said that when the flood subsided, Noah released a dove and the dove returned with an olive branch to show that land had been found. To this day the ark and the dove are symbols of hope. The mythical white unicorn also symbolises positive powers. In the installation, white is the colour of snow and ice, but in all cultures the colour itself has many meanings - new life and purity, but also mourning and death. White is one of the two opponents and the other, black, is needed to find balance.

The installation immerses us in a certain unreal atmosphere - filled with air and light. But the lightness can also be scary. Is it meant to open our eyes wide to see details, and to think about the story that lays behind it? Dogan Dogan is telling us a story which has not yet ended. Will we a need for a new ark to save life on earth again?

Written by Henna Paunu
Henna Paunu, MA, is an art historian, and has worked as curator at the Kunsthalle Helsinki and Rauma Art Museum, Finland. She has also worked as an independent curator and critic, especially in Finland and countries around the Baltic Sea.

 

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