After a video trilogy on the city of Tehran — Tehran 1380 (2002) made in collaboration with Tirdad Zolghadr, Good Times, Bad Times (2003) and Persepolis (2005) — Solmaz Shahbazi has lately been engaged in a filmic and photographic project about a puzzling trait in the urban development of Istanbul: the compounds. The new upper classes have found homes in the prosperous pettiness and civic-mindedness of the gated communities. Both real estate speculators and the new inhabitants of these artificial cities fantasize about a new order — a cosy and private planet where a peaceful life can be lead in perfect domesticity that is also touched by the spirit of the communal. The insipid colors of the high buildings match the green grass of the tennis courts as well as the turquoise of the inviting but lonely swimming pools. The general impression is that of a movie set made for living in. Removed from the loud and moody mass movements of people and traffic in the streets of downtown Istanbul, these compounds are built around the notion of difference. Unlike in the rest of the city, the denizens here seem to enjoy a “good civilized life” in their longing for a sterile and efficient way of administrating the everyday and their free time. This difference leaves behind a pleasing feeling of self-sufficiency: it suggests, vaguely but intensely, that the country beyond the limits of the compound moves towards a regulated future, a promise of sustainable happiness perhaps with space for a few more — but who knows… Difference alone is not enough to elicit pleasure. The new home owners in the compounds are also working hard on acquiring an identity as a group and a class.
I intentionally omitted to mention the title of the work: Perfectly Suited for You (2005), actually a quote from one of the real state companies in charge of this new land occupation. The piece itself is a kind of diptych: While in the projected image you can see the areas where these gated communities are constructed, the flat screen shows images shot inside the walls. Both videos can be seen as the documentation of two different vistas. On the soundtrack of the projected image a sociologist analyzes the impact that these closed private worlds may have on the urban and social development of the metropolis of Istanbul: It becomes clear how the dream of the gated community could turn into future nightmares. Meanwhile, the other video places the camera inside the compound, the image responding almost lazily to a conversation on leisure activities we hear in the background. But also the soundtracks play games, since a woman’s small talk about tennis fills the entire room, as if she is the voice of the whole compound. Actually, in order to “exit” the community, the viewer needs to use the headphones offered, to isolate her or himself from the conspicuous, frivolous narrative and discover the conversation between Shahbazi and the sociologist that is “hidden” in the image.
The term exotic is normally attached to more colorful and faraway things than these strange wastelands in the middle of nowhere, quite disconnected from the city center. In this way, the work features a new twist on exoticism: the private club as the perfect platform for a rehearsal of life removed from the inconveniencies of life itself.
Chus Martinez is director of the Frankfurter Kunstverein.
Solmaz Shahbazi was born in Tehran in 1971. She lives and works in Berlin.
Selected group shows: 2006: “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later,” CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco. 2005: 9th Istanbul Biennial; Sharjah Biennial 7; “The invisible insurrection of a million minds. Twenty proposals for imagining the future,” Sala Rekalde, Bilbao; “Normalisation,” Platform Garanti, Istanbul. 2004: “Ethnic Marketing,”Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva. 2003: “Universal Studios,” Rooseum, Malmo.