Kutluğ Ataman surfing outside the periphery of the art scene
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Ataman is currently working on his new series “Fiction,” in which he turns the main focus on himself. ‘Since I have turned my camera on other people, I have faced hardships and problems. That’s why this time I have decided to turn it on myself.’
As an artist Kutluğ Ataman wants to create stories about others and about his own life, while trying remain on the periphery of the ever-developing art scene. Ataman is an artist who strictly refuses to exist in the “middle” of the art scene. He refuses to repeat artwork or ideas, and also refuses to brand himself in the so-called “explosion” of Turkey’s art scene.
“I do not want to exist in the middle of this art explosion in Turkey. I do not want to be a household name,” Ataman said. That’s why until now he has successfully “surfed the waves,” as he says, and existed on the margins of the art scene. “It is very hard to break the ‘branding,’ but I am trying my best,” he said. That’s why he has chosen to work with Gallery Mana in Istanbul. “It is very important for me that the galleries I work with have a good relationship with each other.”
Being famous and being a “blue chip” artist may sound good, but that is also challenging in an art scene like this one, Ataman said. Of course every artist would like to be “blue chip” and earn a lot of money from everything that he or she creates, but Ataman feels it is also very risky. “This may result from my own repetition of my [work], which is a situation I fear. Some big artists catch success and fame, and in the end they are retired by the art scene. For example, look at Sotheby’s Turkish art sale. I always knew that it would make Turkish art commercialized and banal. We have seen some of the best artists disappear because of these sales.”
However, Ataman is by no means over-confident about the marketability of his works. “My works are mainly video works. It is a discipline that makes it hard for the artist to become a household item,” he said.
Ataman is currently working on his new series “Fiction,” in which he turns the main focus on himself. “Since I have turned my camera on other people, I have faced hardships and problems. That’s why this time I have decided to turn it on myself.”
This decision didn’t stop hardships and problems for Ataman, however. “For example, my work in the 12th Istanbul Biennial, ‘The discharge papers’ [which consisted of military discharge documents]. I have been faced with some accusations that the papers were not real.”
“The discharge papers” was a health report signed by 13 doctors, stating that Ataman is a homosexual and therefore excused from military service. “I have received an enormous reaction from the LGTB community because of this piece. Many of them have said they are suffering with this situation, and I am turning it into artwork.” Also some have said the document is a fake. “They think I didn’t deal sensitively enough with the situation.”
The reality is that the document came to Ataman when he was making his work “Forever” for the Istanbul biennial. “The curator was also with me when I received the document, and suddenly we thought I should turn this document to an art piece. If it was made by me, it wouldn’t mean anything. The trick of the piece is that it was made by someone else. These other people defined me and signed a paper.”
Ataman’s “Fiction” series will not be based mainly on video work. “Of course there will be video, but the main focus will be on me,” he said.
Ataman hails from Erzincan, a province in East Anatolia, and his roots are important to him. “Erzincan is my hometown, and when I enter a house there I experience the old childhood smell in the houses of Erzincan. It is a special place for me.” Ataman is currently building a house of his own in Erzincan.
“I want to work on a long movie about Erzincan,” Ataman said, adding that this is part of his latest project. “For me Erzincan is a project. In all my works I have used Erzincan. ‘Journey to the moon’ was made there, and my other works have taken place there. I have used models from there.”
Ataman is very strict and serious when focusing on Erzincan, always trying to reflect the reality of the local people living there. “During the republican era artists went to Anatolia and painted large-handed, large-eyed figures, thinking they reflected Anatolia. We have many village movies, but they are not local. All of them are looking at Anatolia from Istanbul or Ankara.”
Erzincan has a story, according to Ataman. “It also has a contemporary story. There are many young people living there. You can see young men with earrings and piercings and women with short skirts. There are many people in Turkey, who would still think there are no such people living in Erzincan.” Erzincan is part of what’s behind Ataman’s ongoing urge to find himself in this world.
No political messages
Identity and the creation of identities have always been at the core of Ataman’s work. “But my works have never dealt with political identities. When you create artwork, though, it becomes independent from the artist and can be perceived in any way.”
Ataman has never tried to spread political messages through his works. “Political identities are always specific to a period. When I deal with the identity, I deal with character. This comes from my scenario-writing past.”
Ataman’s main focus is to look at how people make their own stories. According to Ataman’s theory, everything is artifice, or fiction, in the world. “When we look at it from this angle, we can say that we are all artists.” Ataman’s videos gather together many themes, including social life, language and philosophy. The people Ataman works with become part of Ataman’s self-portraiture. “I am interested in them as long as I find myself in them.”
Even though some of Ataman’s work raises eyebrows in society, he refuses to give up. “My work titled ‘Cuba,’ which is very well-known abroad, is hard to show in Turkey, because it includes people singing in Kurdish, and they [the Turkish government] thought it was Kurdish propaganda.”
Gallery Mana: On the rise with key artists
The owner of Gallery Mana, Mehveş Arıburnu, is a decisive and disciplined character, who hopes to have a high-profile art gallery in Istanbul. “As a gallery we never aim just to earn money. We also aim to contribute to the art scene in Turkey.”Presenting Kutluğ Ataman is a part of this goal, according to Arıburnu. “When we were founding the gallery, one year ago, we received enormous support from Ataman.” “We would like to be part of this scene, with key artists, and we also would like to put together shows that have no commercial aspect,” Arıburnu said.
The gallery is a kind of a program or art project for Arıburnu, who said there were many things to be done on Istanbul’s art scene. Mana is not only a gallery, but is also active as an art venue and an open space for new emerging artists and young people. “Each gallery has its own philosophy. We have never considered how we can be different. We would also like to play with the borders of the institutionalized art gallery.” Mana is a commercial gallery, but Arıburnu also plans to hold noncommercial events in the gallery. “We would like to gather different disciplines together in one platform,” she said. “Different disciplines” means many things for Arıburnu. “When we considered this, we thought about historians, sculptors, editorial works, art writers, art historians and many more possibilities.” Gallery Mana is a result of “inclusion” not “exclusion.”
Arıburnu, also a collector, does not like the word “collector.” “I like the term ‘art patron’ and I prefer to use that word, because a collector is a person who also supports artists and art.” As an art patron, living in London for 17 years, Arıburnu said she had always lived with and “within” art. Currently, Arıburnu is sharing her experiences and vision at Mana. Gallery Mana and Arıburnu are preparing for a new exhibition in September, which will gather young and established artists
together in one show.