Vincent, Martin, Art Monthly
Kutlug Ataman Harris Museum and Art Gallery Preston January 26 to April 26
In Turkish Delight, 2006, Kutlug Ataman dresses as a female belly dancer, and performs for us on film. He is looking pretty good, considering he put on weight to make the work, but he has been in training to get the moves right and dancing keeps you in shape. Belly dancers need a bit of a belly, and when you have a strong core it is not a bad look. Ataman chews gum to look bored and maybe that is what it is like to be culturally stereotyped. The DVD is projected through a window in a piece of card bordered with gaffer tape. This gives a soft edge to the image and is endearingly homemade. It is otherwise a very readable piece of art and, though perfectly sound, the least interesting thing in this show.
Ataman is far better when pointing his camera at other people and letting them talk. His subjects, however misguided, self-involved, naive, pretentious or just plain nuts, are never boring. Either he has a very special gift or the discarded footage runs into miles. This show's ambitious centrepiece, Paradise, 2007, gives us 24 characters to ponder in a portrait of Orange County, Southern California.
The artist left the rather oppressive Turkey of the 70s for the earthly paradise of 80s California, where he studied film and stayed until 1994. Twelve years later, a successful filmmaker and artist, he returned to train his lens on the denizens of an area that markets itself as the Happiest Place on Earth. This claim implies a level of self-regard which is amply demonstrated by the subjects, ranging from the cream of the community (Dr Robert H Schuller, the churchman who commissioned the vast Crystal Cathedral; leftish political historian Mike Davis; William Knoke, self-styled futurist) to a couple of kids who like fast cars.
The 24 films are shown simultaneously on flat-screen monitors arranged, at the Harris, in two concentric arcs, each with a stool and a set of headphones. There is one screen in the centre facing the others with its sound coming from speakers as if, suggests the gallery handout, one character is addressing all the others. This character changes daily and, if we accept the premise then it must be significant that the others are not listening, but continuing to talk about themselves. …