Critics’ Picks

View of “Mesopotamian Dramaturges,” 2012.

View of “Mesopotamian Dramaturges,” 2012.

New York

Kutluğ Ataman

Sperone Westwater
257 Bowery
November 1–December 22, 2012

Turkish filmmaker Kutluğ Ataman’s first New York show in eight years begins with a cascade: Surging white rivers are projected silently onto four panels suspended overhead and askew to the ingress of “Mesopotamian Dramaturges,” creating a narrow passage of space. Titled Mayhem, 2011, the multichannel video sculpture calls to mind the perennial, life-sprouting waters of the Fertile Crescent as a site of cultural origin, advancement, and potential decay. It is an apt entrée to an exhibition that is focused on the “cradle of civilizations” amid the currents of modernization. The viewer is free to walk through the sculpture, immersing herself in a totalizing visual metaphor in which disparate times and passages, like the ancient watercourses themselves, converge into a single copious flow and then subside.

After the flood, labored and incoherent speech emanates from the proceeding hall in what sounds like a Babylonian dialogue. English as a second language, 2009, in fact shows two parallel wall projections of professionally clad Turkish schoolboys placed in desert landscapes, stammering through the poetry of Edward Lear with unintelligible delivery. On a third, perpendicular wall, The complete works of William Shakespeare, 2009, flashes the titular writings at lightning speed—here transcribed in their entirety by the artist’s hand. Upstairs, Journey to the Moon, 2009, a documentary-style video, presents a fictional account of a group of provincials who purportedly set off in 1957 for their lunar destination via a minaret-turned-spaceship, never to be seen again. Scripted voice-overs complement black-and-white photographic “evidence” at left, which are juxtaposed with interviews with contemporary Turkish scholars at right. Familiar and alien; obligation and longing; science and faith remain binary themes throughout the work. One of the scholars points out that from the moon, all Earthward views face toward Mecca. Teeming with the dreams and yearnings of its hopeful occupants, this unlikely vessel becomes a haunting visual as its blunt mass slowly rises and recedes into the distance.