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Performing for the Camera

Artists break the molds of video and film, and broaden the boundaries of art.


Wonderland

Halil Altindere
(Turkish, born 1971)

2013. Video (color, sound), 8:25 min.

Since the mid-1990s, Turkish contemporary artist Halil Altindere has been producing videos, sculptures, installations, photographs, performances, exhibitions, and publications through which he challenges the power and policies of the Turkish government and the repressive beliefs shaping the country’s society. “Governments always want the representation in art to move in the direction of the national state ideology,”1 he says, a desire he refuses to satisfy in his work. Among his projects is Wonderland, a rap video/documentary stemming from his concerns about the government-led urban renewal plan currently changing the face of Istanbul.

Wonderland begins with the piercing wail of sirens and flashing lights of a police car. Beyond the car, a young man races away on foot from the policemen who drive after him in pursuit, while the camera follows this chase through streets filled with rubble, past the empty shells of buildings slated for demolition, and walls covered with graffiti. This is the historic neighborhood of Sulukule, home to Istanbul’s Romani population since the Byzantine Empire. Since 2006, it has been succumbing to the wrecking balls and bulldozers of the TOKI, the Turkish government’s Housing Development Administration. As a result, the Romani are being displaced.

The young man in Wonderland’s opening scene is a member of Tahribad-I Isyan (“Rebellion of Destruction”), a group of activist Romani rappers, who use hip-hop to protest the destruction of their neighborhood. Impressed with the group’s work, Altindere collaborated with them to make this video. “They’re at the gates to knock down our neighborhood,” they rap, against a heavy bass backbeat mixed with the sharp staccato popping of traditional Turkish drums.2 The group runs through their neighborhood, clashing with a patrolling policeman and withstanding bullets. The camera follows, capturing it in panoramic, panning, and close-up shots. “Let art and music be your armaments,” one of the rappers instructs the others. “Dissent for destruction, stop the demolition!”3

Halil Altindere, quoted in “In Conversation: Halil Altindere and Vasif Kortun,” m-est.org, http://m-est.org/2013/03/19/in-conversation-halil-altindere-and-vasif-kortun/.
Halil Altindere, Wonderland, 2013, video.
Halil Altindere, Wonderland, 2013, video.
Halil Altindere, Wonderland, 2013, video.
Halil Altindere, quoted in “In Conversation: Halil Altindere and Vasif Kortun,” m-est.org, http://m-est.org/2013/03/19/in-conversation-halil-altindere-and-vasif-kortun/.

A recording of moving visual images made digitally or on videotape and available for immediate playback.

An unbroken view on an entire surrounding area.

To pivot a movie camera along a horizontal plane in order to follow an object or create a panoramic effect.

An empire of the eastern Mediterranean region, dating from AD 395, when the Roman Empire was partitioned into eastern and western portions. Its extent varied greatly over the centuries, but its core remained the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor. The empire collapsed when its capital, Constantinople, fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists.

The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).

A form of art, developed in the late 1950s, which involves the creation of an enveloping aesthetic or sensory experience in a particular environment, often inviting active engagement or immersion by the spectator.

Gentrification or Urban Regeneration?
Whether programmed by the government or spurred by shifting populations, gentrification is not unique to Istanbul. Cities like New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, and Beijing also feel its effects. Works like Wonderland highlight the human costs of this worldwide and age-old urban phenomenon, often centered upon issues of income inequality, ethnicity, power, and disenfranchisement. The lines rapped by Tahribad-I Isyan could serve as an anthem for the displaced everywhere: “Time’s running out. They’re taking from the poor and giving to the rich.…You call it urban regeneration. It’s the downfall of the city.”4

Form Follows Idea
Working in many different mediums gives Halil Altindere the creative freedom to address the social, political, and artistic issues with which he is concerned. “When you are thinking about designing a work, you push your brain to thinking multi-dimensionally,” he explains. “What kinds of discourses and languages are employed in the world? How could I handle a specific topic in a different way using new media? These questions enrich both the form and the medium.”5