2/19/2006

Fikret Atay Hammer Museum'de

Aşağıdaki yazı Los Angeles Times gazetesinde yeni yayınlandı. Hammer güncel sanatta Amerika'nın en iyi müzelerinden biri.

ART REVIEW

Little lessons in joy
The transformative power of art is the real subject of Fikret Atay's trio of brief videos at the Hammer Museum.

By David Pagel
Special to The Times

February 19, 2006

Fikret Atay's three short videos at UCLA's Hammer Museum are being promoted as "short vignettes of life in Batman, a Kurdish city near the border between Turkey and Iraq." But the young artist's wonderfully unassuming works are actually about the power of art. The grim, politically charged reality of Atay's hometown is merely the backdrop against which his low-budget, highly sophisticated videos enact their transformative magic.

"Bang! Bang!" (2003) is the shortest. At a little more than two minutes, it follows four little boys as they play guns among stationary freight trains. Squirming between wheels, clambering over couplings, crawling along tracks and leaping from ladders, the four energetic kids mimic the sounds of gunfire as they engage in a make-believe battle with plastic weapons.

They are not professional actors. More important, they pay no attention to Atay, who shot nearly all of the video in close-up - clambering, crawling and running to keep up with the pint-size protagonists. The herky-jerky movements of his hand-held camera capture the darting movements of the kids' rough-and-tumble game.

Such jittery, do-it-yourself, available-light, snapshot-style videotaping speaks the global language of Realism, in which tapes made by anyone, anywhere, at any time can be digitally transmitted around the world in little more than an instant.

Neither slick nor elaborately edited, this raw style exploits grainy images and blurry, ill-composed scenes to convey urgent authenticity. It can be seen, increasingly, in the look of network news clips, reality-based television, real-time websites, independent movies, big-budget Hollywood productions and many artists' videos.

"Bang! Bang!" is often interpreted realistically, as depicting the daily life of a Kurdish community in a harsh, economically depressed and politically explosive city where terrorism and government crackdowns are common. The boys' gun battle, around tank cars exporting oil from local refineries, is seen as a metaphor for the war across the border, their play tragically anticipating death, suffering and senselessness.

That may be true, but it's not the whole story. Atay's disarming video is not simply a one-dimensional critique of violence. It's too much fun to be that. And it's filled with too many astute aesthetic decisions to be reduced to a straightforward moral message.

The way it was shot recaptures the power of childhood fantasy - of powerless kids pretending to be powerful actors, blasting their friends to smithereens and getting up to do it again and again. The video gets into the kids' heads and lets us see the world through their eyes. It also recalls TV cop shows, which have their roots in movies about the Wild West but are now ubiquitous the world over.

Atay's work is an imaginary story of life, death and resurrection, which works in fantasy, drama and art, if not in the adult world, where the consequences of such acts cannot be undone so easily. "Bang! Bang!" is noteworthy because it interweaves fantasy and reality, fiction and fact, art and politics without reducing one to the other. Life's multilayered complexity is given fascinating form.

Short-lived artistry

Art's power to change lives is the subject of "Tinica" (2004), an approximately 7 1/2-minute video of a teenage boy who transforms garbage into artistry and then kicks it all over. The video opens in close-up, with the anonymous protagonist balancing a plastic paint bucket and a discarded sunflower oil can upside down on a pair of battered sneakers, and then arranging a neat semicircle of more dented cans and rusted container covers around them.

Taking a swig from an unlabeled 2-liter soft drink bottle, he sits on one can, picks up two short aluminum rods, twirls them gracefully and begins to beat out a rhythm like a rock star. He plays with fury and delicacy, wresting from the cans a solo with impressive range, control and subtlety.

Atay's camera zooms in on details. The battered cans dance. The makeshift drumsticks disappear in a deliriously syncopated blur. The teen's hands flail. His face is rapt concentration, lost in the moment.

The camera pulls back and lets viewers take in the setting: a hilltop overlooking the urban congestion of Batman to the left and green rolling hills to the right. Both are bathed in the orange glow of a dazzling sunset.

As casually as the boy began, he stops playing, stands up and pauses. He then kicks the cans down the steep hillside, where they come to rest in the dirt.

This part of his performance lacks the passion of his drumming. It is as if he is merely mimicking an instrument-smashing climax that the Who made famous in England in the 1960s. Or following Atay's direction.

The forlorn ending of his performance conveys frustration and sadness. These emotions suggest that music's transcendence lasts only as long the song and that the world we live in is a lot bigger than any of us. Even so, the video is neither depressing nor defeatist. Art's consequences may be fleeting and fragile, but that only makes their presence all the more important and worth fighting for.

Loosen up and live

Similar sentiments emerge from "Rebels of the Dance" (2002), a nearly 11-minute video in which two boys loiter in a bank's enclosed ATM booth. They are older than the kids in "Bang! Bang!" and younger than the drummer in "Tinica." At first, they squat near the radiator, warming themselves from the cold night. Eventually, the younger of the two stands up, wanders around and dances a few steps from a traditional Kurdish dance. The older one is too self-conscious to do much more than stand like a wallflower, nervously and awkwardly glancing around the brightly lighted enclosure.

The soundtrack plays folkloric songs, but the image quality is so rough that it's hard to tell if the boys are singing under their breath or if the music is being played from an off-camera boombox. In either case, the boys regularly turn their eyes toward the camera. It is as if they don't know exactly what they're supposed to be doing and seek direction or acknowledgment from Atay.

As time passes, the younger one gains confidence and warms up enough to dance sporadically, with playful charm and endearing unselfconsciousness. He smiles, first sheepishly and then without holding back. As he continues to dance, his look suggests his own surprise at finding the old-fashioned number to be so enjoyable.

His unembarrassed willingness to have fun is infectious. The older boy joins in. As a viewer, you'd have to be a real stick in the mud not to be rooting for the duo and enjoying the fleeting pleasures they wrestle from the night as they transform the booth into their little stage.

As a trio, Atay's videos attest to the power of dreams and the ways they are realized in theater ("Bang! Bang!"), music ("Tinica") and dance ("Rebels of the Dance"). Amid the image glut of modern life, his enchantingly pragmatic works make a place for imaginative freedom, its homemade fantasies and do-it-yourself satisfactions leaving the dreary drudgery of reality in the background without forgetting that that is where we live most of our lives.