In Paradise, Kutlug Ataman's new video installation at the Vancouver Art Gallery, 24 residents of Southern California narrate their personal stories on camera. Included among his subjects are the founder of the Laguna Beach Laughter Club, televangelist Robert H. Schuller, a 12-year-old girl who dreams of fame, and the world's oldest clown.
Paradise was cocommissioned by the VAG. The museum has paired it with Ataman's similarly structured 2004 work Küba, which won the Carnegie Prize, and is made from interviews with residents of a left-wing district outside Istanbul. Along with a rich lineup of gallery shows this season—especially a primer on young Vancouver artists called Exponential Future—the compelling and worldly VAG exhibition is a reminder that, however often you travel to Vancouver to see art, it isn't often enough.
Kutlug Ataman: Paradise and Küba is part of Vancouver's 2008 Cultural Olympiad, a seven-week-long event (ending March 21) held in anticipation of the 2010 Winter Olympics. In addition to the shows held during the Cultural Olympiad, the provincial government took the opportunity to announce a pledge of $50 million toward the building of a new VAG, one with dedicated space for the museum's permanent collections. As yet, there is no specific budget, architect, or location for the new building, but the museum's director, Kathleen Bartels, told the Globe and Mail that she's determined to see it open by 2014. (At her side was international power-house artist Jeff Wall.) Among the shows coming up at the VAG's current location are WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution and KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art, cocurated by industry innovators Art Spiegelman, Seth, Tim Johnson, Will Wright, and Toshiya Ueno and Kiyoshi Kusumi.
Vancouver boasts strength at the institutional, global level and at the local level of individual artists, as Paradise and Küba and Exponential Future demonstrate.
The Turkish district of Küba, like Southern California, has a certain mythology attached to it. It is at once a safe haven to those who resist state control and an impoverished community plagued by violence. Ataman spent more than a year there, collecting the stories of 40 of its residents and creating a cumulative portrait that ranges from personal tragedy to love for Enrique Iglesias.
Both Küba and Paradise use separate television sets for each story. For the Californians in Paradise, Ataman has chosen the newest flat-screen models and noise-canceling headphones, creating a quiet and intimate experience for the viewer. Küba is infinitely messier. Here, the subjects are less flatteringly framed in old clunky sets, and 40 cacophonous voices compete for attention. Strangely, both works captivate in the same way, prompting contemplation on the construction of self and place that has taken place in front of the camera.
For Ataman, Paradise and Küba are not about geographic locales as much as the experience of knowing. There is an openness in the structure of these installations, with no prescribed guidelines to lead us through them. Moreover, we inevitably enter most of the narratives after they have begun and, not knowing whether they will last 5 more minutes or 45 (Küba, in fact, is 28 hours in all), we are forced to decide if and when to stop listening.
In Exponential Future, eight Vancouver-based artists come together: Tim Lee, Alex Morrison, Isabelle Pauwels, Kevin Schmidt, Mark Soo, Corin Sworn, Althea Thauberger, and Elizabeth Zvonar. These artists may be young, but they're well-established.
Lee, for example, is everywhere right now. He makes witty photographs and objects that combine art-historical and pop-culture references (e.g., Dan Graham plus Peter Sellers plus Steve Martin, and Alexander Rodchenko plus Public Enemy), and he had a solo exhibition at Vancouver's Presentation House in 2007, was included in Charles H. Scott Gallery's recent group exhibition Trust in Me, and is currently showing in the Chelsea gallery Cohan and Leslie.
Like Lee, a number of the artists humorously resurrect the past for their subject matter. Soo's retro photographs (requiring 3-D glasses) of a Memphis recording studio recall where Elvis purportedly invented rock 'n' roll. Morrison's photographic diptychs, meanwhile, more conceptually consider the specificity of place, documenting the filmic dramatization of the Battle in Seattle (which recently unfolded in the streets of Vancouver).
But the video works are the most compelling. Thauberger's black-and-white video projection Zivildienst ≠ Kunstprojekt (Social Service ≠ Art Project) is one example, beautifully weaving a story through text and tableaux vivants. The work grew out of the artist's extended collaboration with Germany's Social Service (an alternative to mandatory military duty), and the group of young men that she recruited helped her to develop the story's primary themes: isolation, self-definition, and community formation.
On a more upbeat, though ambiguous, note, Schmidt's Wild Signals is the artist's re-creation of a concert-style light show. Placed in a remote landscape, the colored lights and the fog machine begin, accompanied by the artist's own cover of John Williams's theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In Schmidt's work, however, there is no climactic moment; after several minutes, the music, fog, and lights simply end.
Also recommended in Vancouver:
Process as Work: Roy Kiyooka, Damian Moppett, Jerry Pethick, Ian Wallace (Catriona Jeffries Gallery, through March 29); Lisette Model and Her Successors (Presentation House Gallery, through April 20); The Lecture: Rachelle Sawatsky and Dan Starling (Western Front, through April 19); Brad Phillips: New Works (Monte Clark Gallery, through April 12); and Robert Morris: The Birthday Boy (Simon Fraser University Gallery, March 29–May 3).