In Ergin Çavuşoğlu’s Crystal & Flame, the transitory aspects of everyday existence acquire an enduring, almost elemental significance. Shot on location across London, it continues a long line of videos by the artist in which everyday rituals or actions are prefigured by motifs from well-known literary sources, in this case an especially lyrical passage from Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the New Millennium.
The piece comprises three sets of imagery: the first of which depicts the interior of a small Turkish café in North London – a home-from-home for its regular clientele, where the day-to-day sustenance of simple food (cooked on a rudimentary open grill) is amplified by the warmth of human company. Observing a party of friends at one of the restaurant’s tables, Çavuşoğlu contrasts the intimacy and spontaneity of their interactions with the cold, hard material form of a precious stone that is being cut and polished. A symbol of the ineffable and the eternal, and an index of worldly wealth, this glittering gem is also a reminder of the former diamond trade of the old East End; now almost gone, as the city, in the heat and flux of its continual transformation, has re-forged and re-made itself.
These parallel scenes are counterpointed by a third component that shows a group of actors rehearsing an adaptation of a short story by Chekhov. In the story, the Utopian political sentiments of its artist-narrator are examined against the harsh realities of peasant life and subsequently challenged from the perspective of memory. As the actors and director go back over their lines, adding extra nuance and emphasis, the naturalism of the language is itself polished and honed, in pursuit of a lucidity of expression that both reflects and goes beyond the reality of the moment.