Claire Hooper Nyx
Nyx, Claire Hooper and Lux, London.

British Council continues its efforts in cultural and art programs, which now extend all over Turkey, with a new collaboration to take place in May. 

Selected jointly by curators from the British Council Visual Arts Department and the Mardin Biennale committee, three prominent British artists video works will be presented at the 3rd Mardin Biennale. Video works from Ursula Mayer, Claire Hooper and David Blandy from the Lux Moving Images collection will be presented within the biennial's conceptual framework Mythologies between 15 May-15 June 2015.

3rd Mardin Biennial - Mythologies

Mardin is centrally located within a geography of antique civilizations, stretching from Egypt to India. Despite the cultural destruction it has undergone due to the political and economical violence of recent years, it still retains noteworthy traces of the symbolic world, the universe of icons and myths, the art and literature it has created, amassed and, in turn, benefitted for centuries. These traces still survive in the daily lives of Mardin’s inhabitants, in their living environment as much as in the ethnographical and architectural heritage of the city.

The talismans, amulets, icons, jewels, garments, books, pictures, photographs, pots and pans, glasses and dishes, rugs and carpets accumulated in houses, shops, workshops form what can be called ‘cabinets of curiosities’: private ‘museums’ where objects form mysterious relations with one another and write unspoken myths. In these ‘museums’, antiquities and ordinary objects, as well as various times that are inscribed in them, constantly bestow new significations upon each other. You may come across such dream worlds on the workbench of a knife-sharpener, or the counter of a coppersmith’s; at a pigeon-trainer’s stall; in a church or a bar as well as in the nooks and crannies of houses. The objective of the 3rd Mardin Biennial is to return the poetry and magic to these cabinets of curiosities that have long ago abandoned them. It calls on artists to explore their memory, to write their mythology. 

The 3rd Mardin Biennial is curated by a collective, constituted mostly of locals. Likewise, many of the artists are also locals, among them also artisans and craftsman. Hence, this version of the Mardin Biennial suggests an alternative approach by questioning the prevailing biennial procedure where a single curator, who is unfamiliar with the context and setting, single-handedly decides who to exhibit, what to exhibit, and how to exhibit it. This Biennial vehemently opposes the reduction of the local cultural milieu to an exhibition décor and the identification of the locals with an exhibition forced on them, in other words, to the branding of Mardin by an autocratic curator who imposes a certain view upon the city, its memory and its history. Instead, the proposal is to conceive the Biennial as a Mardin carnival, therefore evoking such concepts as game, chance, spontaneity, serendipity, intimacy and collectivity as means for political resistance. 

Such a biennial will undoubtedly be more captivating for the locals who had previously been alienated from art events in their own city as well as for the visiting outsiders who will be exposed to exhibits that truly engage with their context.  More importantly, it will give the artists that will participate in the Mardin Biennial a chance to experience this city and bond with its unique imaginative and poetic world.

Ursula Mayer’s “Medea”

Mayer's film Medea takes its starting point from Pier Paolo Pasolini's Medea of 1969. The ancient legend of Medea contrasts two worlds which are no longer compatible with one another – the old archaic world of Medea and the modern rational world of Jason. Both individuals, who confront each other here as representatives of their opposing systems and raise the great question of peaceful coexistence between cultures in times of globalization. Thus it is also fitting that Mayer lets the filmed scenes be repeatedly interrupted by short documentary insertions, which show extracts from the current unrest in the Arab region as they are circulating on YouTube and on television.

Pasolini set Medea as a critique of western consumer societies. At the center is the Golden Fleece which plays an important role in his adaptation of Medea by Euripides. The fleece represents the sun where, if you come to close, you burn yourself. The Golden Fleece is both alluring and an object of material obsession.
Ursula Mayer has brought Pasolini's approach up to date by casting actress JD Samson in the role of Medea, a contemporary icon of Queerness and pop culture. JD Samson, the post-punk rock star, could – if she stands in the cave – be standing on a rock stage – the ritual habitus is identical.

Authenticity and fiction thus stand in a quasi-artificial relation to one another, indeed overlapping each other. In this way, the film shifts prisms from magical, real and rational, to be at once thoroughly semiological and emancipatory.

Claire Hooper’s “Nyx”

Where in Greek mythology, the earth mother Gaia gives us the topos of the city, Nyx the goddess of the Night gives us the inner realm. The progeny of Nyx, a potent crowd embodying human experience include old age, rage, strife, and friendship. Thanatos, the god of quiet death, his twin Hypnos and his wife Pasithea, the goddess of hallucination, begin the Odyssian journey of a young man from Kreuzberg along the U7 line to Spandau.

The cast are made up of friends and acquaintances, mainly Kurdish, who have a parallel, if unwritten, experience of the recent history of Berlin. Kreuzberg, now semi populated with young artists and trendsetters from around the world, in the 1970s and 80s was a haven for Kurdish immigrants. The Turkish, Arab and Persian population lived in the areas directly alongside the Wall that the German Berliners wanted to forget as much as possible. The U7 line, designed by Rainer Rümmler, architectural engineer for the BVG during the cold war, follows the river Spree, and the shape of the wall underground – in Nyx the U7becomes the river Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. The hero’s name is Furat, the Arab form of Euphetes, the holy river.

The plot of the film is based on anecdotes of Kurdish life in Berlin and Turkey from various friends, especially from Garip Özdem, who also kindly allowed the use of the additional scenes from Kurdistan of the goat sacrifice.

David Blandy’s "Child of the Atom”

"There is a familial myth that my late Grandfather would not have survived being a Japanese Prisoner of War had the atomic bombing of Hiroshima not occurred. So it could be argued that I owe my existence to one of the most terrifying events of human history and the death of 110,000 people."

This family lore regarding David Blandy's grandfather, held as a POW in Malaya and Taiwan from 1942, provides the genesis of Child of the Atom. Generated by an underlying guilt about his own and also his daughter's existence, Blandy's film documents their visit to Hiroshima to literally and symbolically search for their 'origins'. It is narrated by the future voice of his infant daughter, describing her memories of the trip. The filmed scenes are interspersed with flashback sequences of apocalyptic anime, which have been sampled and altered, working with Manga artist Inko, to include a figure, the film's eponymous hero, in the animated destruction and aftermath of the bomb. The film oscillates between moments of intimacy with his daughter and the dramatic and violent scenes of stylized explosion witnessed or caused by the Child of the Atom.

This latest work is perhaps Blandy’s most intimate and direct piece of self-examination and follows directly from the earlier works which sought to question how much of a Western sense of identity can be constructed from diverse popular sources.

The film was presented as part of an installation at the Seventeen Gallery in November/October 2010.