Details

Confronting the Work in Progress: An Experiment on Engagement with Contemporary Art

by Kocabag, Gunes, MA

Abstract (Summary)
In this study I will provide a discussion on the engagement with contemporary art and will argue that the open, de-regulated form of the art work enables it to be a means through which a knowledge pertaining to the nature of the audience is reflected. Following Losch, O'Hanlon, Lyotard and Maharaj, I will argue for art functioning at a sensuous level whether its effects find expression through verbalization or not. Building my argument on a little experiment in the context of Turkey, where postmodernism hasn't taken its full turn in the social consciousness, I will show that the difficulty in supporting uncertainty and ambiguity results in a reluctance to a critical engagement with the art work. Still, I will argue that the challenge posed by a confrontation with the art work is what lies behind art's critical potential as it is this challenge that subtly transforms the subject.
Full Text Links

Main Document: View

10-page Sections: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Next >

Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Christopher Pinney

School:University of London - University College London

School Location:United Kingdom

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:Art, anthropology, visual culture, open work, Turkey, contemporary art, art criticism, Losch, O'Hanlon, Lyotard, Maharaj, Istanbul modern, UCL

ISBN:

Date of Publication:01/09/2011

Document Text (Pages 1-10)

M.A. in Material and Visual Culture Dissertation

CONFRONTING THE WORK IN PROGRESS:
AN EXPERIMENT ON ENGAGEMENT WITH CONTEMPORARY ART

GUNES KOCABAG

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment
of the requirements for the degree of M.A. in Material and Visual Culture (UCL)
of the University of London in 2011

Word Count: 18,581

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY

1


Page 2

ABSTRACT
In this study I will provide a discussion on the engagement with contemporary art and will
argue that the open, de-­‐regulated form of the art work enables it to be a means through
which a knowledge pertaining to the nature of the audience is reflected. Following Losch,
O'Hanlon, Lyotard and Maharaj, I will argue for art functioning at a sensuous level
whether its effects find expression through verbalization or not. Building my argument on
a little experiment in the context of Turkey, where postmodernism hasn't taken its full
turn in the social consciousness, I will show that the difficulty in supporting uncertainty
and ambiguity results in a reluctance to a critical engagement with the art work. Still, I will
argue that the challenge posed by a confrontation with the art work is what lies behind
art's critical potential as it is this challenge that subtly transforms the subject.

2


Page 3

LIST OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ........................................................................................................ 5
INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................... 6
CHAPTER 1: WORK IN PROGRESS: THE ART OF KUTLUG ATAMAN ...................................... 7

The Open Work .............................................................................................................. 14
Relational Aesthetics ...................................................................................................... 17
Art as a Symptom ........................................................................................................... 19
CHAPTER 2: A SMALL INTERVENTION TO THE WORK IN PROGRESS .................................. 20

The Face of Modern Turkey............................................................................................ 22
The Enemy Inside Me ..................................................................................................... 25
CHAPTER 3: ANTHROPOLOGICAL CORRELATES.................................................................. 42

Generativity.................................................................................................................... 43
Exegesis or Verbalization................................................................................................ 47
Reflected Self-­‐Knowledge............................................................................................... 48
Contextualizing the Experience ...................................................................................... 50
CHAPTER 4: CONFRONTING THE WORK IN PROGRESS....................................................... 52

A for Libidinal.................................................................................................................. 53
De-­‐regulation and the Anxiety of the Subject ................................................................ 56
CONCLUSION ...................................................................................................................... 60
BIBLIOGRAPHY.................................................................................................................... 66

3


Page 4

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Figure 1: Kutlug Ataman’s Semiha b Unplugged, (1997)...................................................... 9
Figure 2: Paradise (2006).................................................................................................... 26
Figure 3: It’s A Vicious Circle (2002) ................................................................................... 27
Figure 4: Turkish Delight (2007) ......................................................................................... 28
Figure 5: Women Who Wear Wigs..................................................................................... 31
Figure 6: Stefan's Room (2004) .......................................................................................... 32
Figure 7: Four Seasons of Veronica Read (2004)................................................................ 33
Figure 8: 99 Names (2002) ................................................................................................. 35
Figure 9: Never My Soul (2001).......................................................................................... 39

4


Page 5

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This study would not have been possible were it not for the great support and inspiration
I received from Christopher Pinney. So I would first of all like to express my gratitude to
him as well as all my tutors in the MA program for the guidance and insight they have
provided. I would also like to thank all my fellow students that I have met during my two
years study for being such an inspiring community, for their solidarity and friendship. I
would like to thank everyone in UCL's Department of Anthropology for creating such a
welcoming environment during my study.

I would like to thank my family for their endless support during my endless education,
and my dear friends Kaan, Asli and Yaprak for being there always. And finally Jessie,
Werner, Freddie, Aycan, Gonenc, Hinde, Katy, Marie, Benoit, Elodie, Jody, Petri, Aalaa,
Voichi and all the lovely people who have made my life richer...thank you all.

5


Page 6

INTRODUCTION
Early in my study at UCL, we were asked to write an exhibition review as an exercise in
academic writing, for which I had reviewed an exhibition1 of the British-­‐Nigerian artist
Yinka Shonibare. As it was the first exhibition review I wrote, what fascinated me about
the exercise was the discovery of how much more I could read into an art work once I was
engaged with it through reflective thinking and pronouncing my thoughts in the form of
an essay. Thinking more on my own encounters with art works, I found it intriguing how
other people engage with art, especially in the contemporary age where fixed meanings
have lost credibility in the art context as well as others.
In this study I will discuss the reception of contemporary art from an anthropological
perspective. I will base my discussion on the notions of openness and ambiguity and take
the role of the audience in the formation of the work as my central problem. I will use the
work of the video artist Kutlug Ataman as a base to support my discussion. What I find
interesting in Ataman’s work is the multiplicity of meanings it allows, which, as I will argue,
is a distinguishing feature of the art of the postmodern age.
In Chapter 1 I will provide a brief discussion of Ataman’s work with specific reference to
Eco’s notion of open work and Bourriaud’s notion of the interlocutor. Following Eco’s
proposal that art is a symptom of its times, I will discuss Ataman’s work as symptomatic
of a change in Turkey’s bottom up modernization process.
In Chapter 2 I will provide a base for my later theoretical discussion through my small
intervention aimed at observing the audience’s encounter with the work of Ataman.

1

Yinka Shonibare, MBE's fifth exhibition ‘Willy Loman: The Rise and Fall.', October 15-­‐November 20 2009 at London’s
Stephen Friedman Gallery.

6


Page 7

Having conducted interviews with five people visiting Ataman’s retrospective exhibition
at the Istanbul Modern Museum, I will try to understand the match or mismatch between
theoretical accounts of contemporary art and the practical responses of the audience.
Although I do not intend to provide an analysis of the art context of Turkey, I will provide
a brief discussion of contemporary art in Turkey as a background for my study.
As I have conducted my interviews in Turkish, I have had to translate these accounts into
English for the purpose of this study. Moreover, I have had to rely on people’s
verbalizations of their feelings and thoughts on the works; and I had to realize the
difficulty or rather impossibility of a full expression. The problem of verbalization and
exegesis has been widely discussed in various Anthropological studies of Melanesian art.
Thus in Chapter 3, I will discuss the trouble with verbalization through analyses of
Melanesian ethnographies.
In Chapter 4, building on the work of Lyotard and Maharaj, I will discuss art as a libidinal,
sensuous experience disruptive of conventional discoursive modalities. I will argue that
this disjuncture from linear discourse and the confrontational possibility of multiple
readings is what lies behind the anxiety caused by an encounter with an open art work.

CHAPTER 1: WORK IN PROGRESS: THE ART OF KUTLUG ATAMAN

In this study I will be using the work of Kutlug Ataman as a case to discuss responses to
contemporary art within an anthropological framework. Before engaging a theoretical
discussion however, it will be useful to start with an introduction of the artist and his
work. Kutlug Ataman is a Turkish video artist born in Istanbul in 1961. At the age of 19,

7


Page 8

Ataman was imprisoned for more than a month for participating in and filming a leftist
demonstration against the 1980 military coup in Turkey, after which he moved to the
United States to study film at the University of California, Los Angeles. Graduating with a
MFA in 1988 he started working as a film maker and won the Peter Stark production
award for his short film Hansel and Gretel (1984). His first feature length film Serpent’s
Tale (1993) won Ataman the Turkish Critics Association Best Director, Best Film, Best
Screenplay Awards. However, Ataman’s breakthrough in the film scene was with
Lola+Bilidikid (1998), which was a look into the transvestite subculture inside the Turkish
community in Berlin. Lola+Bilidikid won the Teddy Special Jury Award at the Berlin
International Film Festival and the Best Film Award at New Festival in New York.
Having started his career as a fiction film director, Ataman’s shift to the art world was an
unintended one. After meeting Semiha Berksoy, the at the time 87 years old diva of
Turkish Opera, Ataman became interested in starting a project with her. This project
developed without a script, as an intuitive process and ended up with 27 hours of footage
of Berksoy in her bedroom surrounded by her paintings, old costumes and curious objects,
recounting and re-­‐enacting her life which spans the whole history of the Turkish Republic.
This footage was later edited into an 8 hours long piece. Throughout this eight hours
monologue, Berksoy gives an individual account of a century of Turkey and its
modernisation process while recreating her life by manipulating her memories. 2 As
Gregory Volk3 states, ‘the piece is not so much about Berksoy, as it is Berksoy’. Semiha b
Unplugged (fig.1), which doesn’t fit into any cinematic category, marks Ataman’s
unintended career turn from being a film maker to being an artist.

2

Emre Baykal, ‘From Feature Film to a Portraiture of the Century’, in You Tell Me About Yourself Anyway, ed. Rene Block,
(Yapikredi Publications, 2004), p.21.

3

Gregory Volk, ‘Captivating Strangers’, in Art In America, (February 2005), p.87.

8


Page 9

I was making a film that I later realized was supposed to be like an art film. I was
using my own concepts and everything, but it was never obvious to me that in the
art world it could have some sort of validity ... I didn’t really know much about the
art world. I met the curator Rosa Martinez who told me she was very curious
about my work and so I just showed it to her, just to be friendly, not because of
any professional reasons. She took it in the Istanbul Biennial...4
Semiha b. Unplugged was exhibited at the 5th Istanbul Biennial in 1997 and Ataman’s
career as an artist took speed after that with various international film and art awards. In
2004 his work Kuba

Figure 1: Kutlug Ataman’s Semiha b Unplugged, (1997)

won the Carnegie International Award. Kuba was a portrayal of a gated community in
Istanbul for which Ataman lived within the community for two years filming interviews
with individual members. The work was presented as forty television screens, each

4

Ataman quoted from Hans Ulrich Obrist, ‘Interview with Kutluğ Ataman’, in Kutluğ Ataman—Mesopotamian
Dramaturgies (Milan: Foundazione Maxxi, 2010), pp.53-­‐4.

9


Page 10

showing a different individual. The viewer was invited to choose and combine different
stories sitting in armchairs placed in front of each screen. As with most of Ataman’s work,
an image of the community was created through the juxtaposition of these individual
stories and due to the impossibility for the viewer to view all forty stories, the final
portrait each viewer got was defined by his/her own experience of the piece. The same
year Ataman was shortlisted for the Turner Prize with his work Twelve, in which he
interviewed six people claiming to be in their second lives, sheltering two stories of two
different identities in a single body.
Since his debut in the art world, Ataman’s focus in his work has been on problematizing
the notion of identity. In Ataman’s works communal identities are formed through their
individual components. What is presented to the audience is an individual, with his/her
own eccentricities, who does not fit into any stereotypical categories, but is still
presented as an element of a wider community.
Although the reconstruction of identity forms the main frame of Ataman’s work,
he adopts, instead, the view point of certain politics of identity aiming to
form a common identity, a viewpoint which places the individual at its centre and
keeps a distance to the generalizing tendencies of these politics. Therefore,
although they operate mainly through identity, Ataman’s works also perform a
deconstruction of identity politics.5
Ataman’s choices for the characters in his films are directed by an artistic interest in ‘the
exploration of the self through others who intensely resonate his own obsessions and

5

Emre Baykal, ‘From Individual Portraits to a Group Portraiture’, in You Tell Me About Yourself Anyway, ed. Rene
Block,(Yapikredi Publications, 2004), p.75.

10

© 2009 OpenThesis.org. All Rights Reserved.