Considering subjects as diverse as Turkish space exploration and women who wear wigs, cinema and visual art provided a vehicle for cross-cultural dialogue at the hand of artist and filmmaker Kutlug Ataman in his lecture Tuesday night at the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts.
The event included remarks from Ataman in addition to an excerpt from his most recent feature film, "Journey to the Moon," presenting a portrait of an artist who is constantly testing the boundaries of filmmaking and contemporary art.
Ataman fled Istanbul at the age of 18 during the military coup of 1980 and fled to Los Angeles, where he began studying film at the University of California at Los Angeles. He completed his masters in 1988, after which he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, worked at Warner Music Group and Disney and served as a personal assistant to Prince.
"Eventually I went back to Turkey," he said. "I thought that I should go back to my own culture and create there."
He rose to prominence in international film circles with his first feature, "Serpent's Tale," which sets a story of violence and intrigue in a decaying neighborhood of his native Istanbul. He has since made three more feature films.
Ataman is also well known among high art establishments. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Gallery, and he has given major international exhibitions including the Venice Biennale. In 2004, he was the recipient of the Carnegie Prize and a nominee for the Turner Prize.
Straddling these two worlds is not something Ataman ever intended, he said. "I went to San Paolo, and coincidentally the Biennale was taking place, so I remember walking around ... and thinking 'Oh I could do this,'" he said. "It was really a very unconscious entrance into the art realm."
Chira Delsesto, assistant director of the Creative Arts Council, cited this genre-bending body of work as a topic of special interest at the Granoff Center. "We try to highlight interdisciplinary work, and Kutlug really is a groundbreaker," she said. "He really blends the lines between media."
The CAC was able to bring Ataman to Brown through a connection at the Sperone Westwater gallery in New York, where he is currently exhibiting a show called "Mesopotamian Dramaturgies," she added.
The audience was treated to a 20-minute excerpt of "Journey to the Moon," a mockumentary that presents the story of a village in Eastern Turkey that tries to go to the moon in the year 1957 as a factual retelling.
To legitimate this imagined history, he filmed unscripted interviews with real Turkish academics, including a sociologist, a physicist and even a food historian, who improvised plausible supporting details. "With the right evidence, from people who are from positions of authority, suddenly it becomes real," he said.
The film alternates between the standard, talking-head style of documentary and a series of black-and-white stills - supposedly uncovered photographic evidence - over which a voice-over provides narrative content. The juxtaposition of these two styles is disconcerting at first, but after a few minutes of adjustment the story telling becomes quite fluid, distorting our understanding of authority and mythologizing the past.
Later in the program, Ataman jokingly offered some perspective on the American election, the results of which several audience members nervously monitored on their smartphones. "I wouldn't vote for Romney, but then again I am fascinated by people who genuinely believe in certain causes," he said. "As an artist, I am fascinated by people."
The audience, some of whom hailed from Turkey, reacted to the film in highly personal ways.
"I enjoyed the film quite a lot," said Eda Soylu, a senior from Turkey in the painting department at the Rhode Island School of Design. "It was well thought out, very honest and very true."