Thursday, March 30, 2006

Antwerpen and Kutluğ Ataman

Antwerpen's Center for Contemporary Art, Extra City, is hosting Kutluğ Ataman's project Küba. Interview extracts make me think it's something I'm going to have to go see for myself.

Kuba is a project by the Turkish video artist Kutluğ Ataman. On 40 old television sets stacked up in an old harbour warehouse, an equal number of people tell their stories about a unique society in the slums of Istanbul. All sorts of people live in Küba: criminals, drug addicts, teenage delinquents, religious extremists ... the poorest of the poor rub shoulders with one another there. Nobody is able to tell us precisely where Küba is or how it got its name. Some think that it is on the south side of Istanbul, others situate Küba near the airport. What is certain is that sometimes life can be pretty hard in Küba.

Ataman went in search of the origin and actuality of Küba, letting forty residents speak at length. The majority of those interviewed leave a lasting impression with their arresting stories of sometimes tragic, sometimes bitter events. Does Küba provide us with a picture of shared adversity, freedom and collectivity? Or is the language of violence the connecting factor in this imaginary enclave? With Küba Ataman seeks to fathom the boundaries – both geographic and mental – of an urban area. In the background Küba also goes in search of the relation between a place and individual and social desires or anxieties. Do the collectivity and solidarity evoke echoes of Castro’s cigar republic? Is Küba a section of a city with its own laws and boundaries, or is it a lawless, unbounded state of mind? The name Küba refers to a zone with secure houses that appeared in the 1960s. They provided protection against violent assaults and political terror. Today Küba consists of several hundred temporary refuges that provide shelter for a handful of non-conformists of all kinds. Whether the stories that the residents of Küba tell are autobiographical, or the product of pure fantasy, is something Ataman leaves up to us to decide.

Küba received its premiere in Pittsburgh as part of the Carnegie International. Following that, the production took up residence in an old postal sorting station in New Oxford Street in London in 2005. Ataman expended more than two years on the preparations for the project. For Küba’s stop in Antwerp, Extra City found a deserted harbour warehouse on the Kattendijkdok. Beginning on March 16, this will be a refuge for Küba’s 40 residents telling their video stories. In September 2006 Extra City will move into the building permanently.

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