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The work of Kutlug Ataman
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 23 Jul 2008 Wed 09:45 pm

Istanbul Skin of the City

De-Regulation with the work of Kutlug Ataman
MUHKA is pleased to present an ambitious exhibition project which brings together a body of work by the contemporary Istanbul/London based Turkish artist, Kutlug Ataman including 7 multiple and single screen installations by Ataman: Never My Soul, Vicious Circle, Twelve, 1 + 1 = 1, TV Room, Martin is Asleep, and Women Who Wear Wigs.

This is the first time a range of works by this innovative artist have been assembled together in continental Europe. Having been one of the revelations of the last Documenta, Ataman went on to win the prestigious Carnegie prize and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2004. Last year KUBA - now presented parallel to ´De-regulation´ in Antwerp – was deemed to be the most important art event of the year in London.

The vibrancy of this project stems from it’s conceptualization as an exhibition that shifts from being about Ataman’s work to the question of what his work makes possible. It is rare that a body of artistic work generates a research project in which theorists and other artists can also engage.

In this exhibition we have created an open field which collates many materials; a thoughtful visual essay by the German artist and theorist Stefan Roemer, Istanbul based theorist Nermin Saybasili has gathered together an archive of wedding culture among the many different ethnic groups in the city, while London based academic and conceptualiser of the exhibition Irit Rogoff has assembled film posters from Turkey’s rich film culture and numerous images of Ataturk, which are a prevalent feature of the Istanbul urban landscape. At each level of this work, the touristic stereotypes of an exotic East are dispelled as the place and its people become more complex and more contemporary.

It is because of the importance that MuHKA attaches to Rogoff ‘s vision of audiences as active and dynamic participants in an exhibition project, that it sponsored her concept and reflective presentation centred around the work Kutlug Ataman. This presentation adds numerous entry points into the exhibition. These are not ‘didactic’, nor ‘contextualising’. The ‘essays’ offer reflections on how art works can extend beyond themselves through numerous levels of association and identification. As such this concept forms part of the mediative practice the MuHKA wants to develop, in order to counter didactic and contextualising approaches that talk at audiences. Instead MUKHA offers a speculative mode that talks with audiences and trusts them to make a substantial contribution .to the exhibition through their engagement.

The exhibition is entitled De-Regulation and is concerned with the de-regulation of experience. This refers in part to the experiences of the subjects of Ataman’s video installations, but it also refers to the de-regulation of the experience of the exhibition viewer. None of the work assembled here offers a definitive account of a place in the world or a definitive account of it subjectivities. Ataman’s own work focuses on the possibility of giving voice to those whose experience society does not recognise or know how to categorise; the migrant, the defiant and rebellious, the deviant etc’. Positioned between documentary and fiction, the many people in Ataman’s video installations address the viewer of the exhibition insisting that they not only have something to say but that they also have a voice to say it in and a narrative structure to convey their experiences. The four women in Women Who Wear Wigs ; a well known journalist, a former political dissident who was on the run for many years, an angry university student and a transsexual prostitute who is also a human rights activist, each tell the story of why they wear a wig. Their reasons range from vanity to camouflage to protest and each story lays out a complex modern life that completely defies all the narratives that the West tells about women in the East. In “Twelve” six villagers from Adana, the original Arab area in South East Turkey, believe that they have died a violent death and have been re-incarnated. What is so surprising about their narratives is how matter of fact and low key they are. They don’t claim a spiritual status through their re-incarnation but simply a continuation of a life in the proximity of their old one. As a result they each have two pairs of parents, spouses, children etc’ and so six people have become twelve lives. In their narratives we see the possibility of re-scripting a life from the most humble sources, not great flights of fantasy about amazing achievements but small scale adjustments of writing yourself a slightly altered reality. In each piece the protagonists talk to us the viewers, telling us of their lives in intimate detail and engaging us in their experience as if we had shown great curiosity.

In this way the work becomes an ‘address’ involving the viewer in a more direct way than most art work would allow itself to, and demanding a response from the viewer.
The narrative is always personal, always told by the individual story of the speaker, and thus becomes an insightful vehicle for engaging with complex issues of identity and displacement. What emerges is a composite map of contemporary Turkish subjectivities; not necessarily facts about the country but the numerous perceptions of a place and its dominant concerns that people actually live out every day.

Ataman, who is both a film maker and a video installation artist, plays with both the tradition of documentary, of the interview and of the filmic melodrama, a film genre of great importance in Turkish cinema. In contrast Stefan Roemer’s photographic essay of Istanbul, works in the field of artistic reportage, not pretending to be an in depth investigation of the city. In refusing all the exotic stereotypes of touristic publicity, the work tracks the modern city in its numerous commercial facades, small waste lands, inventive signage and rich contradictions between contemporary bustle and traditional habits. The other materials gathered in the exhibition images of weddings, of film posters and of the photographic culture of Ataturk all acknowledge that the surface of Istanbul , what we are calling “Istanbul – Skin of the City” is rife with contradictions between modernity and traditionalism, between divergent cultural groups, between conflicting desires and that each layer of this skin is in dialogue with the others.

Following Ataman’s own emphasis of shifting from framing a place for exhibition publics and towards sketching all the hidden dramas beneath its surface, allows us too, the exhibition makers and its viewers, to understand that we always invent a place as we encounter it. Instead of exotic fantasies about Eastern cultures we begin the perceive Turkey as a hugely dynamic place of movements; migrants pouring both out of it and into it, radical histories reflecting both inwards and outwards, which is as at once part of the landscape of Europe as well as the very limit lines of Europe.


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