Kutluğ Ataman, 99 Names, 2002, video installation.

Kutluğ Ataman, 99 Names, 2002, video installation.

Kutluğ Ataman

Kutluğ Ataman, 99 Names, 2002, video installation.

Kutluğ Ataman first gained prominence when his eight-hour video installation semiha b. unplugged, 1997, was included in that year’s Istanbul Biennial. Since then he has occasionally shown works in Turkey, but, though he has been exceptionally well represented on the international art map—he received a nomination for the Tate’s Turner Prize in 2004—this exhibition, “The Enemy Inside of Me,” is his first retrospective in his homeland.

Featuring eleven works dating from 1999 to 2010, the selection incorporates significant productions that mark key moments in the development of Ataman’s career. Two works—It’s a Vicious Circle, 2002, and Paradise, 2007—fill the atrium that leads to the main temporary gallery hall of Istanbul Modern, which has been completely darkened to host the additional nine video installations. It is possible to enter this hall from both sides, but the left entrance, which begins with fff, 2006–2009, a constellation of videos presented in the style of a wall of family photos, seems more happily to open the show. The title stands for “found family footage,” and the work is made up of home movies taken by two British families in the 1950s and ’60s. The juxtaposition of scenes that include family outings, domestic playtime, and military practice jumbles memories together to create a new composite memory that, as in all Ataman’s works, subtly involves the artist himself—in this case, his attempt to grasp and adapt to the culture that he has participated in for many years since dividing his life and home between Istanbul and London.

The Four Seasons of Veronica Read, 2002, and Stefan’s Room, 2004, are both about personal obsessions and focus intently on the subjects who narrate their stories. The first charts an English gardener’s devoted interest in hippeastrum flowers as she does everything required to produce perfect blooms. Four screens encircle and capture the viewer within the daily routine of planting, bulb inspection, watering, and care. In Stefan’s Room, a setup of five screens floating at various angles cocoons us in another love affair, this time with moths, which Stefan breeds, poisons, and then pins into his collection. The most dramatic work on view, 99 Names, 2002, shows the repeated image of a man rocking back and forth with increasing velocity and determination as he recites the names of Allah in prayer, his exertions mimicked by a towering crescendo of screens that present him at varying angles to the viewer. The man’s emotion and piety are haunting, yet the rising installation of screens implying man’s movement from earth to heaven hyperbolically exaggerates rather than reinforces the point.

In an enclosed space, the direct simplicity and deep insight of Women Who Wear Wigs (WWWW), 1999, captivates without the support of a complicated technical installation. Projected along one wall are videos of interviews with four Turkish women: The first wears a wig as a disguise after being pursued for potential terrorist activities; the second, a journalist, is undergoing chemotherapy treatment; the third, a pious young woman forbidden by Turkey’s secular law from attending university wearing a headscarf, uses a wig to cover her hair; and the last is a transvestite whose head was shaved by the police.All speak in depth about their personal reasons for wearing a wig. WWWW embeds the exhibition in the local context, as, in a very different way, does Turkish Delight, 2007, a single-screen work that shows the artist himself belly dancing in full costume. It brings Ataman to the same stage as the people he interviews, dancing out a cliché he can never escape. The awkward amusement that arises from watching him writhe and shake his hips forms a suitable, yet surprisingly solemn conclusion to the show.

November Paynter