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Signal to Noise: Fikret Atay

The three videos at the Hammer Museum by Fikret Atay, who was born in 1976 in a small Kurdish city near the border of Iraq, focus on boys who refashion the world around them to their own ends. In the seven-and-a-half-minute Tinica (2004), a young man arranges a semicircle of battered cans, a pail and a metal plate just on the edge of a precipice. To the left lies the edge of the Turkish city Batman, with its sprawl of tall white buildings, while on the right are rolling green hills, with meandering dirt roads. The sun is setting and the sky seems huge. Flipping two sticks like an expert, the kid begins to play the makeshift drums, beating out rhythms in the fading light. Atay’s camera moves around him, peers over the edge and sweeps across the sky, and, at the end, watches as the kid kicks the cans into the air. Beyond the punk vibe and occasional beauty of the low-tech video images, the piece soars in the way it captures a tenuous act of affirmation in the face of existential solitude. In Bang! Bang! (2003), Atay again shoots handheld, following a group of Turkish boys as they play with guns between two stationary trains. In the opening shots, Atay shows the hazy sky above the trains and the wash of grays and blues below, and there’s a sense once again of some larger weave of ideas as the boys pretend to shoot and be shot. Atay isn’t maudlin, however, and it’s left to the viewer to wonder how close the boys live to real acts of violence. Projected large, these short videos hover pleasingly between the grand and the handmade, the specific and the universal, offering a glimpse of another place and, for American viewers, exposing the limits of our cultural awareness.(UCLA Hammer Museum; thru April 19; 310-443-7000.)


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