If someone - like me - who has devoted her life to documenting the material culture of our country is writing for an issue themed ‘heritage,’ it is not possible for her to forego the concept of culture. Especially when the central topic is Ersa, which we can address with a view to both material and non-material culture.
Yazar: Pelin Derviş
I will not go into Ersa's history since it is already available on the website with milestones in chronological order. Instead, I will discuss topics that interest me based on my observations. In other words, this article does not intend to tell Ersa's history, and it can only be described as an attempt to make some determinations with respect to good intentions, and material and non-material culture.
We spend almost every moment of our lives in constructed environments, surrounded by various tools and devices in spaces or vehicles. And no one lives without these material assets. In the simplest manner, we lie in a bed or on some other form in which we can sleep, take a shower, brush our teeth, get dressed, try to get to one place from another, work, and attempt to communicate with the world. All of these happen within various spaces through a series of objects, vehicles and infrastructure. Even if we do not examine the background of these spaces and tools and the associated infrastructure in terms of their design and production with the curiosity of a researcher, we connect with them in various contexts. We rely on them, sometimes for making life easier or more beautiful, sometimes to express our status, and mostly for serving a purpose, but always for some vital function.
Let us imagine for a moment a person who spends the entire day looking at a screen, sitting at a desk. What is the space like where this desk placed, does it have a window, and if so what does it overlook, does it let in daylight and fresh air, is the outside noisy, or is it possible to concentrate on work? What is the desk made of, is it warm or cold, what color is it, what are some of its other features like height and comfort, etc.? What is the chair like, does it have armrests, is its height adjustable, does its swerve, is it on wheels or fixed, do wheels glide or get stuck? How does it make the back or neck feel, does it give headaches, or does it help work without noticing how time passes? What about lighting? Does it show the colors accurately, is it glaring or concealed, is the ambience dark or bright, are the lights dimmable? Is it possible to adjust all these fixtures, let’s say, according to changing climates or the mood of the user? Does the setting have objects with some spiritual or moral meaning? Like a wood box from a grandfather, a handmade chair or an accessory found somewhere?
These spaces and objects are in our lives today as a culmination of all the endeavors over several centuries. Even the latest and most innovative ones come from a long history with many objects we use and spaces we exist in reflecting the knowledge and wisdom of ancient civilizations, scientific and intellectual accumulation. The curves of a chair are shaped by aesthetic concerns as well as reasons and ambitions related to function, technology and materials. Can we equate a curve with the one that was made sixty years ago or the one that will be made ten years later? We can only understand this if we know more about what we look at. We can learn so much from a curve! An archaic function can go through complicated stages and later become a part of our daily life again. As users, designers, manufacturers and researchers, we all contribute to its existence on various levels. All contributions can make this cycle increasingly sophisticated, especially if they foster one another. Material culture is a concept about these contributions and exchanges.
With more than sixty years of history, Ersa is also a family business that continues with its third generation today as a corporation. And a corporate, institutionalized structure is also closely related to material culture. In my opinion, the stories of corporations have different meanings in relation to material culture. These differences are undoubtedly connected to both the relationships linked with the corporations’ roots and also the principles and objectives of being relevant today and building the future. Beyond preserving a name, and in fact regardless of it, I am talking about a principle of survival, a mission to carry a legacy forward with future generations in mind (first, those within the organization but more so, those on the outside) while recognizing, understanding, nourishing, updating, improving itself and its relevance as well as creating the resources to think about, work on, draw inspiration from, and develop. In this context, we see that Ersa has created its own lifecycle within a thought structure that fosters these pillars.
I would like to continue with a few personal notes and observations. My first – indirect – contact with Ersa was during the establishment of SALT. It was during the days when the idea of positioning SALT Research, as it is known today, which was the most public and – in my opinion – the precious aspect of the institution, at the heart of SALT Galata was beginning to flourish. The institution describes SALT Research as “a specialized library and archive of resources about visual practices, constructed environment, social life and economic history”. This function, which would create a “courtyard” among the common spaces and that could be accessed from all floors of a highly effective historical building, was constructed with a design approach that especially fed and enriched the architecture and design archive of the organization. In addition to the group (Architects and Han Tümertekin) that undertook the mission of giving function to the entire building, some spaces were addressed by other design groups. ŞANALarc, the urban design and architecture office that worked on this space, which could be defined as the heart of the building, addressed the notion of designing it to serve its new function in multiple layers, and invited new collaborations to the design and production process. “Rumi,” the chair that Sadi Öziş designed in the 1960s, the chair that was prototyped but never produced, was updated by the designer’s son Neptün Öziş with new materials and used at SALT Research. This new edition called the “Flying Rumi” would go on to be a part of karre design collection and later (2015) included in the Walter Knoll collection along with two other designs by Sadi Öziş. Mozaik Design, the Knoll distributor in Turkey, organized an event in their space in Ortaköy, Istanbul to promote these designs. At another event organized by Mozaik with a limited number of guests – if I remember correctly - a presentation by an expert took place, starting a discussion about updating modern furniture classics by offering examples of subtleties in such renewals. At this point, let me touch on a few other issues about updating designs. Today, we can follow how, for instance, the Eames Lounge Chair of 1958 was updated on the Vitra website, even if roughly. We also see that some other experts are working on the conservation and restoration of original works, and access the data to help us understand the sensibilities in the design processes as well as the theoretical and applied information. All of these can be possible by having and sharing knowledge and experience.
Going back to the beginning, ŞANALarc and Ersa designed a shelf system called Lin for SALT Research. In the years that followed, this design also came to life at SALT Galata’s Ferit F. Şahenk Hall, which caters to researchers seeking to benefit from the SALT Research collections with a records system. It would not do justice to Ersa if we simply see its role in this process as a pure shelf system manufacturer because the company has always been both a key player in the gradually developing design culture in our country including its contributions to this space and also a supporter of documenting the design-production practices. Ersa would go on to contribute to the X-Reads library of Studio-X Istanbul, and wholeheartedly support the efforts toward documenting a chronology of design in Turkey: As a result of a study that was launched during the third Istanbul Design Biennial by a group of researchers (self-named the “Curiosity Cabinet”), 13 flyers were created. These flyers attempted to record the evolution of design in Turkey in the last 200 years with milestones in a number of areas. The objective was to start creating a design anthology that would take these milestones as starting points. Ersa participated in the study meetings and offered various ideas about what its contributions could be. Ersa’s intention for contributing was based on its desire to document the stages of furniture production that evolved from a craft, just like the legacy of the company. In this respect, Ersa also supported Datumm that could be described as a project to document the history of furniture in the 20th century Turkey (Documents and Archives: “Türkiye’de Modern Mobilya” – Modern Furniture in Turkey). The talk series called “Our Design History: Library Get-Togethers” at Studio-X Istanbul was a continuation of the chronology studies. Ersa not only supported these meetings, but also took a respected step to remedy the lack of literature on institutionalized history, which was considered a major obstacle of the research, and hosted the fourth installment of the series. These get-togethers, titled “A Story of Institutionalization in Furniture: Ersa,” were conceived to offer a look into Ersa and the development of the industry in three sessions in a backward chronological order from present day to the past.
I would like to briefly mention this meeting as well. The first session involved a talk on the intellectual and spatial design approach of Ersa's Altunizade campus (2016). With the participation of ŞANALarc, the designers of this space, the talk focused on how Ersa, the idea of “Ideas House” that places design and architects, designers and artists at its core developed, how it came to life as a space, and how it was conceived to encourage their contribution to design culture. This session continued with a discussion on the thought process of the “Box in a Box Idea” initiative, developed in 2010 to create a spatial narrative for Ersa's exhibition space in Istanbul Terrace Fulya, combined with the first steps of the long-term collaboration with Ece Yalım Design Studio. This presented how Ersa, whose headquarters is in Ankara, took new roots in Istanbul with a structure open to the contribution of different players. The following session offered an opportunity to look at the industry from a wider perspective with talks by engineer Ercan Sayarı who opened a discussion about modular furniture with a view to the Kelebek Mobilya process, and technical instructor and teacher Fikret Umudum who spoke about the teaching process and the latest developments in standards and norms. In the final session, Erol Ata and Ercan Ata, the company’s second generation directors, and Yalçın Ata, a third generation executive, spoke about their journey from craft to industrialization after a 2011-dated video featuring the late Metin Ata, Ersa's founder, telling the birth story and principles of the company was shown.
I hope that my intentions about making this article about the different institutions, people, design, production and structuring as much as Ersa have been clear. My objective for sharing this personal journey down memory lane is to emphasize that we all have a share in the material and non-material culture, that each contribution goes beyond its individual characteristics and contexts and affects one another, and that these effects are strengthened to the extent that they are documented and shared. In this context, we need to address and give credit to the way that Ersa, which we know for its high quality products, documents and shares the relationship it establishes with its roots and development process, and how it initiates a discussion by inviting other parties, not only in terms of the company’s development but also the evolution of design culture. The credit that Ersa undoubtedly deserves is rooted in the way that the company upholds its heritage both as a family value and also a cultural aspect.