First you hear the sound: The sound of sirens. Then comes the image. A group of men stands in the water. They are mute, but their garments and postures say an awful lot about those men. They are immigrants. Having set off from Africa or Syria, they arrived on this Edenic coast, contemplating an unsettling future. In mythology, sirens lure sailors, preventing them from reaching their homelands. Their magical voices help shipwreck sailors. But in Cengiz Tekin's "Just before Paradise," the shipwrecked sailors are immigrants. Shot on the shore of Kilyos, on the Black Sea, this immersive work features figures that are defined by their silence - a silence that is disturbed again by the chilling sound of sirens.
"There had been big waves of migration in the Middle East, following wars and massacres," Tekin had told me in an interview last year. "With the civil war in Syria, the pace of dramatic and traumatic problems that had been continuing for a long time changed. For a long time, migrants from Africa or the Middle East died from dehydration or drowned in the sea after crossing the desert. I had been watching this and so was not alien to what had been taking place."
This is my third encounter with Tekin's video. I saw it first at Maxxi Museum in Rome. There the video was screened as part of Hou Hanru's "Istanbul. Passion, Joy, Fury" exhibition. Next, "Just before Paradise" traveled to my neighborhood and I have watched it again at Pilot gallery, as part of Tekin's solo exhibition. Around this time, Çelenk Bafra, director of exhibitions and programs at Istanbul Modern, picked the work as Turkey's entry for Artists' Film International, an exhibitions program established by the Whitechapel Gallery in 2008. Nowadays Tekin's video is on view at Istanbul Modern. Since the program consists of 16 global partner organizations, which pick together recent moving image presented over the course of a year in each venue, there is a strong chance I will come across it again, in a different city, soon.
This year marks the program's 10th anniversary and curators have picked "collaboration" as this year's theme. "Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Artists' Film International this year, the videos in the exhibition focus on the subject of 'collaboration' and how different types of collaboration are reflected in the artistic production process, as well as the transformative power of 'collaboration' as a concept," the curators explain.
In Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler's "Occupy, Resist, Produce - Officine Zero," the focus is on the collaborative spirit inside an old sleeping cars factory. There, 20 workers had resisted to the decision when the factory was closed down. They occupied the building before reopening it as an eco-social factory. Their slogan, "Zero bosses, zero exploitation, zero pollution," provides an introduction to how workers can reinvent themselves while changing the rules of the workplace.
My favorite video in this year's selection was "Jurmala," an almost hallucinatory nine-minute video that features a group of women entering and exiting changing cabins on a beach. Laura Horelli, Nina Lassila, Agnese Luse, Angela Melitopoulos, Eleonore de Montesquiou, Tanja Ostojic, Meggie Schneider, Isabell Spengler and Gitte Villesen, the Berlin-based artists and filmmakers who produced "Jurmala" collectively, visited Riga in 2010 to present their films at a festival. As the week came to an end, the group decided to spend their Sunday on a beach and make a film with their Super8 Camera. There, each artist devised a one-minute long scene to the film. "The resulting film, 'Jurmala,' owes its dramatic composition to the idea of the refrain," the curators explain. "Each of the authors individually conceived and personally created a soundtrack to a one-minute film fragment. The cohesiveness of the film is rooted in the soundtrack montage, which relates to and reinterprets the picture track as it repeats itself."
"Ain't Got No Fear" by Mikhail Karikis is another strong work in this year's program. It explores the lives of a group of boys from South East England who uses the sounds of a power plant being destroyed as the background beat to their rap. Karikis discovers scenes of eerie beauty in the industrial marshland of the Isle of Grain as kids remember their past and imagine a future for their depressing town.
The muted beauty of Adrian Paci's "The Column" must have something to do with the patience of the artist. On the face of it, "The Column" is a simple work. It shows a block marble as it is extracted from a quarry in China and transported to a cargo ship where it is carved until it transforms into a classical style column. "In the work, the theme of travel is associated with the expanded economic strategies pursued by our society," the curators explain. Watching the journey of the column reminds us of its ancient history and significance. Like Cengiz Tekin, who references an emblematic work of classical culture in his video, Paci ends up linking contemporary concerns with ancient symbols, a reminder of how, in our violent world, the past remains to be the prologue.