New York

Phil Collins

In the nearly two decades since the Smiths broke up, the band’s music seems to have become a lingua franca for teens the world over who suspect that life is one big hatful of hollow. Photographer and video artist Phil Collins can attest that fans may be found in locales as far-flung as Bogotá, Istanbul, and Jakarta—the sites of a multi-phase project for which Collins invites local adolescents to perform karaoke renditions of Smiths songs, capturing their moves and vocal stylings on video. The results thus far have been two exceedingly engaging (and unusually danceable) video installations: el mundo no escuchará (The World Won’t Listen), 2004, filmed in Bogotá; and, shown here, dünya dinlemîyor (The World Won’t Listen), 2005, filmed in Istanbul. (The Jakarta installment will be completed later this year.)

On view in the artist’s first solo exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, dünya dinlemîyor reiterates the leveling effects of globalization: Istanbul’s Smiths devotees wear the kind of trendy, hot-off-the-container-ship apparel that you might see in any big city, and Collins positions them against generic photo-studio backdrops (a forest, a beach). But the issue of national identity asserts itself in the work’s Turkish title and in the Turkish flyers pasted on the gallery wall; Turkey’s age-old status as a prime destabilizer of the idea of “Europe,” currently evidenced in the debate over the country’s EU membership, pressurizes the air bubble of placelessness. Within this fragile space, the unnamed singers use the well-known tunes as the basis of richly individual and frequently hilarious performances.

The other work on view at the gallery, a multimedia installation titled the return of the real / gercegin geri donusu, 2005, centers on a monitor-based video of a panel discussion that Collins convened at a hotel in Istanbul, in which ten people who had been on Turkish reality TV shows discussed their experiences. Some of the participants share life stories that are litanies of travails worthy of a soap opera: A man named Cihan’s problems (and televised notoriety) began when his preschool-age son accidentally killed a neighbor’s baby and the authorities arrested him for his child’s crime; a woman named Serpil was falsely reported to be a porn star by the tabloid press, and then raped. But others seem to have led mostly untroubled lives—having gone on television only to, say, get a nose job on a makeover show—and the counterpoint between banal and over-the-top becomes both disturbing and funny. In a separate gallery, five long interviews between individual panel participants and a Turkish television producer were shown (one per week for the five weeks of the show’s run). These dual-channel video projections were set up so as to implicate viewers, situating them between interview subject and interlocutor.

Collins—who has re-created Andy Warhol’s “Screen Tests” in Baghdad and staged a dance marathon in Ramallah—is known for works in which pop poetics blithely consort with weighty political themes. In a 2005 interview, the artist spoke of popular culture’s “potential as a political form” and admiringly noted that Rainer Werner Fassbinder was surrounded by peers who “chose to believe in the modes of documentary, socialist realist traditions. . . . But [Fassbinder] said no, I want to use melodrama.” Collins clearly has the same impulse, as in dünya dinlemîyor, in which pop music’s histrionics—contemporary melodrama in its purest form—becomes a kind of avenue to autonomy, however provisional. Conversely, the return of the real might be construed as a critique of an era in which melodrama—that is, the reduction of narrative to a series of ritualized emotive gestures—is increasingly and speciously proposed, via reality TV and infotainment, as the organizing structure of lived experience itself.

Elizabeth Schambelan