Kutlug Ataman: Paradise and Küba
Vancouver Art Gallery
February 9 to May 19, 2008
Riding the narrow elevator to the third floor of the old courthouse, it was impossible to escape the echoing cacophony emanating from the Küba installation. All that was missing were the sights and sounds and smells of the marketplace to provide a more hospitable welcoming. And then, you discover your self midway in a small sea of recycled televisions and broken down seating, seemingly stripped from the Turkish community itself. Being attentive to the subtitles requires intense concentration to block out the competing voices, even though for most, they will be unintelligible. Since the video content totals twenty eight hours, listening or reading becomes a hit or miss affair and how one chooses may reflect ones own personality or beliefs. Allotting myself an hour, I listened (read) to twelve story lines for about five minutes apiece, trying to balance between male and female, young and old, and three or four simply because I was drawn to them for unknown reasons. Without benefit of the history of the shantytown or the Turkish nation during the period the town came into existence makes it difficult to attain any truly coherent understanding. However, what came across for me was the sense that the interviewees were surprisingly content, and even happy, considering the circumstances of living in a shunned neighbourhood. Much of the narrative concerns family, its importance, its ability to bind people together and the continuance of life in spite of hardship. Whether this is merely a façade to sublimate underlying resentments or a chance to enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame with the artist or is truly a reflection of their everyday existence remains a mystery unless the viewer chooses to decide.
Meanwhile, across the rotunda awaits the sterile village of paradise: twenty four silent plasma screens, flawless titanium-like supports and identical benches to support the earphones. Again it is a hit or miss affair choosing a screen, donning a pair earphones, closing off the outside world and retreating into the closed communities of one. Most of the denizens of Paradise displayed coolness with the subtle warning to keep at a distance because only the worthy are welcome. Here, individuality runs rampant, freedoms are relinquished to permit living in the bardo worlds or astral planes, and table flower arrangements more important than the meal. The disparate members of this society do take comfort in knowing there are others out there almost like them, but exude relief at never having to touch or suffer the indignity of having personal space violated. But throughout there is an undercurrent of whining and dismay at having yet to achieve the perfect happiness. Never-the-less, the exhibit should draw in the Boomers by the SUV load to permit their egos to connect to the center of the universe.
In reality, comparing and contrasting the two installations may be unfair as I doubt this was ever the intention of the artist. Counter pointing Küba with a middle class working town or even an upscale enclave in California would not draw American patrons into the galleries – it would be like gazing at one’s reflection in the early morning mirror. So instead we are treated to the caricatures of the ‘West Coast Dream’, a mythology existent in California since the dawn of the Hollywood lifestyle, the talkies and the spectacular. However, in keeping with the artistic nature of the exhibit, recalling the final character in the Californian tableau solidified the legend of the west coast, as he quietly exhibited his pride in his suppleness to enable his performance of auto fellatio. The epitome of Paradise turns out to be the ability to be both self-loved and self-absorbed.