KUTLUĞ ATAMAN AND PARALLAX VİEW: NEVER MY SOUL!
Kutluğ Ataman is a famous artist who is born in Turkey. He can be considered both as a director and contemporary artist since he has both feature films and video art installations and projects. The most interesting thing about him is that although he is considered as a Turkish artist, he is mostly known internationally. His works are presented in most of the international museums, art galleries and biennales including Venice Biennale, Documenta XI and so on. He focuses on the concept of identity in his video art. How the identity is constructed by the subjects, how we can consider what we construct as the real and the essence independent from us and then reconstruct our identities in accordance with this concept of real are his main themes which is stressed in his artworks. In this paper, I am going to explain the parallax view which is a term used in photography and then show how he uses this term in his works to support his ideas about the blurriness of reality and fiction. I will try to stress this issue by giving examples from his curatorial and videograhic aesthetic strategies in Never My Soul! (2002).
First of all I want to start with describing briefly his works of art since visualization of them is too important to understand them. Let me start with Never My Soul! . Never My Soul! Is the life story of Ceyhan Fırat who is a Turkish transsexual lives in Switzerland and also a dialysis patient. Throughout the film, we see that Ceyhan Fırat is almost obsessive with Turkish melodrama characters especially Türkan Şoray. She is also look like her. We learn Fırat’s childhood and youth experiences from her private life such she is raped when she is a child by a close relative of her, she is beaten by her father and so on. We also learn some experiences she had in Istanbul as a transsexual like she is being arrested and held in police office in Beyoğlu. Ataman records all these things with a hand held camera, in the house she lives, with the light and costumes she normally uses and with her friends as supporting characters. These are the characteristic techniques of documentary. However, there is something which is breaking the rules of documentary in Never My Soul!. Ceyhan Fırat seems sometimes as acting and sometimes as being herself. But, most of the time, the audience cannot distinguish these two from each other.
Actually, blurring the border between what is real and what is fictional is very common in Ataman’s works. One of his interviews he said that: ‘What we call reality does not exist perhaps. Then life for me becomes artificial, like a play. By play, I mean fiction. When life itself is artificial, then life itself becomes art.’( Lebow, 2007, pp.74-75). This is the point on which Kutluğ Ataman’s works are different from documentaries. Documentaries are expected to reflect reality. On the other hand, Ataman tries to show the audience that what is considered as reality is nothing but a construction of us. That means it is artificial. Life of single individuals can be the subject of artworks since they are constructed thus artificial. He explains his difference from documentary exactly like this: ‘Using talking heads is something you’re not really supposed to do when you’re making ‘proper’ documentaries, but I allow my subjects to talk because only in actual speech can we witness this amazing rewriting of one’s history and reality.’ (Lebow 2007, p.74)
In first footage Ataman has, Ceyhan Fırat is asked to both play herself and a star of Turkish melodrama and she improvises. In the second, Ataman transcribes what Fırat improvises and ask her to act in accordance with that text. The piece we watch is the one which is edited by using these two footages. That is why we are not sure at some moments whether she is telling the truth or acting. These moments are the critical parts of the whole idea. How can an image which is improvised by the subject seem so artificial when it is acted for the second time by being bound to a script written based on that improvising? The question which is asked by the audience is visualized by Kutluğ Ataman in Never My Soul!.
Parallax view is the thing which is included to this project at these very critical moments. Parallax view in photography is explained by Emre Baykal as such:
‘Before the invention of the single-lens reflex cameras, the viewfinder was slightly above the lens, thus always produced a deviation between what the viewfinder framed and the final picture you took. As the angular view of the camera and that of the eye technically did not coincide with each other, what you aimed to frame while recording and what you actually got in the frame did never match.’ (Baykal 2008, p.34)
Parallax view is a great metaphor to explain what Kutluğ Ataman does in his works. Image of the same reality and the same is not consistent, if it is recorded by twin-lens cameras. Likewise in Never My Soul!, Fırat’s same moment first improvised by her and then acted by her basing upon a script which is transcribes in accordance with that improvising is not consistent. Moreover, by editing these two versions, which one is real and which one is acted also get blurred. The audience is deliberately put in an ambivalent position towards the film. Baykal says that: ‘the leading role is acted by a woman who is a man, the film is shot by a director who is an artist, the script is either absent or written after the acting is performed… The borderlines of real and fiction, truth and false never meet or overlap, and never give you an exact, clear picture of what you are watching.’ (Baykal 2008, p.35)
Actually, the main character of the film is also in an ambivalent position both in accordance with her being a transsexual and her place in the film. The supporting characters are the indicator of this. At one side there is Jessie, a representation of Western white male character which pulls the narrative to an erotic content based on an exorcized white male gaze. On the other hand, we watch İlkay who is another transsexual. Differently from Fırat, İlkay has difficulties on playing the role given by Fırat, she seems to find the role very artificial. When it comes to telling her real lifes tory, everything turns into a confessional realism with self confidence. The part İlkay tells the difficulties in her life as a transsexual is just like a conventional documentary about a Turkish transsexual. Thus, İlkay seems to pull the narrative into a more local context.
The single channel version of Never My Soul!, is both a mixture of improvising and re-enactment of improvising but it also an adaptation of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ based on Ceyhan Fırat’s own private life. Ataman in a way blurs what is real and what is fiction in a fictional story having its details from Fırat’s real life. In the exhibition in Istanbul Modern Museum, Never My Soul! is shown as a multi channel video installation. Ceyhan Fırat’s life parts are shown on different televisions in front of which there are armchairs. When they are watched separately, some parts like the one in hospital seems to look like more real. They are not so ambiguous about whether they are real or fiction. On the other hand, some parts are seemed so artificial that one may even think that she is mocking with the audience. When it is presented as a video installation, the blurriness of reality and fiction seems to lose its importance. What gains importance is the not the life as a whole but as parts. The understanding of life as a linear process seems to be stressed in the version of Never My Soul! as a video installation. The beginning and the end of it is not obvious. Likewise, which parts are real ones and which parts are more artificial seems blurred too. In the single channel version, the audience watches a life in which the subject sometimes making role and sometimes not. But in multi channel version, it is the life, itself, which sometimes becomes artificial and sometimes not. The audience can involve anywhere you like in Ceyhan Fırat’s life. Moreover, this involvement changes the audience’s point of view against her since s/he cannot evaluate her life as in a complete context.
Never My Soul! can also be considered as a speech act in general since all the narrative develops in accordance with what Ceyhan tells. There are two different speech acts: constative and performative. Ceyhan’s speech during the film seems a performative one. Judith Butler argues that gender is performative. When I say, I am a woman; I should also perform that statement. Ceyhan Fırat seems a great example to this. She calls herself as woman and performs this with all its acts and repetitive styles. The hair style of her, the make-up she wears, the clothes and underwear of her. All these are in a way that she tries to prove that she is a woman. Türkan Şoray and her moral rules is the stereotypic Turkish role model for Turkish women. The fact that Fırat has such adoration to Türkan Şoray can also be interpreted as the necessary performance she should perform just because she calls herself as a woman.