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March 09, 2008

Kutlug Ataman's Version of Paradise

Went to the Vancouver Art Gallery today to see an exhibit that had photos from the 1800s as part of a movement called Pictorialism.

I always find it so much better if my visit just happens to coincide with one of the talks they give because the people who lead those are always incredibly articulate and knowledgeable.

Listening to them gives you the kind of insight into the art, it's historical context, and the major artists in the movement in a way that you would never get just wandering around on your own unless you had some knowledge of art history.

But, the most interesting exhibit, for me, was on the third floor by Kutlug Ataman. It's called Paradise and Kuba.

One room is full of old televisions with chairs in front and on the TVs people are speaking and it's a bit of a cacophony as if you've just entered a room where 45 people are speaking all at once. You choose which television screen you might want to sit in front of and read what's being said off the screen. All the people on the these TV screens were from a community called Kuba located on the outskirts of Istanbul.

In the next room are 24 widescreen TVs with head phones. The 24 people in this room are from Southern California. It's as if you're sitting down at a speed dating event in which the person on TV is just talking to you about what their thing is and their thing might range from plastic surgery to porn star. The idea being that these 24 people are representative of some aspect of the mythology associated with Southern California.

You can listen to the guy who started the Quicksilver clothing line and hear how wonderful it was for him to grow up on the beach at Laguna beach and how surfing was/is his life.

You can hear a plastic surgeon speaking about how important it is to think not just about your face when you're getting a facelift but about your other body parts and how it all has to work together. Because if your face is perfect and you suddenly look 10 years young but then you bring your sausage-like, liver-spotted hand up to your chin, it's not going to work. The effect is ruined.

You can hear a women speaking about palliative care and another talking about how she can see auras and her experience of recognizing that she could do this one day and that was a talent she had that others didn't.

You can watch a laughing yoga group in action. You can hear a gay artist talking about his very specific special talent that has enabled him to make a living which he has done by videotaping himself and in complete privacy he has been able to make a living but, at the same time not take part in the porn industry in a way in which he may be exploited or have to exploit others. I was fascinated by what he had to say. The juxtaposition of his outward appearance and what he was talking about was really interesting.

When you're there, as in daily life, you find yourself making choices about who you want to talk to based on what they look like before you can hear what they're saying.

So, part of the fun is in looking at someone on screen and trying to guess ahead of time who they are and what they might be speaking about and then actually hearing what their subject is once you put on the headphones.

It's as if you've just spent the afternoon meeting 24 new people, voyeur-like, and you didn't have to do anything except listen to them and you've been given the gift of a glimpse into the reality of lives that you would never normally be privy to. I loved it. I could have spent all night there but it was closing time.

Worth experiencing for sure.

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