February 23, 2005

Carnegie International Blog: Kutlug Ataman

This is the first installment of my promised review of the Carnegie International. The artists are arranged in a certain order for the tour, and I'm going to review them in that order. It'll be just like looking at the exhibits yourself! Except instead of looking at the art you'll be reading my blog.

1. Kutlug Ataman, born 1961, Istanbul. Kuba, a video and furniture installation.

(I will be making an effort to cover more than one artist per entry as this goes on.)

1. Kutlug Ataman. You enter the exhibit and see an array of TVs on rickety tables facing rickety chairs. You hear a low hubbub, a crowd of voices. Each TV shows a repeating loop of an inhabitant of Kuba, a shanty town in Istanbul.

To see what's happening you have to sit down and watch the videotape (and read the subtitles, if you don't speak Turkish). The speakers present themselves, with no overt intervention from behind the camera--a woman telling how things were in her childhood; a young man talking about where he works, the girl he loves there, and the trouble she has with her family; an older man with a beard screaming incoherently. Each gives the museumgoer a sense of a life that's very different from the one we live.

There is far too much to take in in one sitting--I'm not sure how long the loops are, but most of the ones I watched didn't repeat in the time I was there. One of my informants thought that the thing to do would be to watch one a day for a month. But in a way part of the impact is this sense that there's too much to absorb--there's so many people in the shanty that you could never have time to know them all. And I found very compelling the way in which one story impinged on another--I would sit at one monitor and look over to read the subtitles on the next. Though most people were filmed alone in a room, and sitting in a chair you were communing with one person, this gave the sense of everyone crowded together--parallel lives in a small space.

The artist's bio says "There is no indication whether the stories that Kuba's residents tell are straight autobiography or fantasy, because Ataman is interested less in separating truth from fiction than in presenting the complex intertwining of the two." Before reading this I hadn't thought anyone was presenting themselves as fictional--though the screaming older man (who I saw later) did seem to be playing to the camera.

Kuba reminded me of the installation of Chantal Akerman's d'Est a few Internationals back--that also had banks of TVs running a sort of documentary. And I didn't find the films in Kuba as captivating as d'Est; Kuba is more like a straight documentary, less aestheticized than Akerman's slow pans over (e.g.) waiting rooms and train stations, capturing what happens when nothing's happening. But d'Est was extraordinary--the comparison is not fair.

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 23, 2005 04:12 PM

Are you seriously going to blog every piece in the godforesaken show? Just checking.

Posted by: sarah at February 24, 2005 10:29 AM

Surely we shouldn't berate the boy for his interest in what is, undoubtedly, the most important North American survey of international contemporary art.

Although, at this pace, the next International will have opened before we virtually experience the whole exhibition through the heart and mind of Matt Weiner.

Posted by: Liz at February 24, 2005 12:57 PM

True, true, fair colleague.

Posted by: sarah at February 24, 2005 01:02 PM

[In the voice of Charlie Brown from the eponymous Coasters song] Why's everybody always pickin' on me?

I do intend to blog every piece in the show, at a faster pace. I happened to have more to say about this one than I will about some of the others. Sneak preview of my review of #3:

"R. Crumb you know, right? Right."

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 24, 2005 02:26 PM

I feel like someone should comment on the content, if only to get you riled up.

I'm just guessing, but my interpretation of Ataman's interest in fantasy and reality relates not to overt deception by subjects, but the more complex relationship of "truth", whatever the hell that is, in the telling of our own stories versus the kind of self-deception that is carried out in the ways in which we present ourselves to the world. This could manifest itself in any number of ways, whether we act smarter, more secure, more charming than we actally feel, or whether we skew narratives of our experiences to garner sympathy, or what have you. I think it is those kind of grey areas that his work traffics in, since the subjects seem to be presenting themselves (this itself is a fiction since the artist is the unseen and unheard interviewer) and are not overtly being constructed by editing (like any number of reality shows in which writers and editors "script" people's personas and realities for collective American delectation).

Posted by: curatrix at February 25, 2005 01:36 PM