Perversion through Change
Babak Golkar at Artneuland - exhibition: Culture of Torture, Torture in Culture
Babak Golkar: Project for an Olympic Stade, Bagdad, 1963.
Berlin, April 2009. Babak Golkar is an artist of different backgrounds, and he enjoys it. Born in the U.S. his parents moved back to Iran when he was six, thus he spent his teenage years during the Iran-Iraq war. Now he lives in Canadian Vancouver. Before he left Berlin we had a talk about escaping from identity and about his focus, about the architect Le Corbusier and the perversion through change.
by Irmgard Berner
The reformulation or rather the misuse of former ideals: that is what Babak Golkar mostly interests to express with his artwork. His objects exhibited in Artneuland gallery refer to the Olympic Stadium in Bagdad, drawn and designed in the 1950s by Le Corbusier. Part of the stade was built on the intended site by Saddam Hussein thirty years later in the 1980s. A few years following its erection, after the Iraqi football national team had lost in the Asian Football League, Hussein’s son Uday tortured and killed sportsman at the Stadium. Golkar designed objects which are directly inspired by the Le Corbusier drawings for the Olympic Stadium. The wooden and metal pieces could very well be used as torture instruments. Thus he parallels the misuse of the Le Corbusier space: Initially intended to improve Iraq through the promotion of sports, the Stadium was perverted to become a place of execution.
Babak Golkar, artist
Mr. Golkar, what was your access to the topic "Culture of Torture - Torture in Culture" in Artneuland?
At the time when I met Yael Katz Ben Shalom, I was doing a research on that complex anyways - in modernist architects especially from the Bauhaus, working in the Middle East.
The connection between Le Corbusier and Iraq is not really known, how did you find out about the famous and important Swiss architect's plans on a sports stadium in Bagdad?
I just figured it out last year. The original drawings were in 2007 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, that's how it came across. Le Corbusier considered the "Bagdad-Project" his best or his most complete piece of architecture. He was quite obsessed about it.
It was commissioned by the Iraqui government in 1953, so that was way before Saddam Hussein?
It was just the idea. He worked on it for 8 years and produced 950 drawings, the plans were ready to be produced. After he died (1965) the project never went on, it was never started. And that, although the hope was that Iraq and Bagdad would win the bid for the Olympics because Le Corbusier was the architect for it.
How come it was built later?
The plans were locked up until 1981 where Saddam Hussein actually found them and he built just the stadium - without Le Corbusier's vision of an urban area. In the late '80s and early '90s, one of his sons was the minister of sports, trained the soccer team there, sent them off to international games. When they came back defeated because they weren't trained properly, he took them to the Stadium and tortured them and killed some of them in the same place.
So, that's what you mean by perversion of the space?
And the change of function! My objects in Artneuland are directly taken from Le Corbusier's drawings from different parts of this plan - look at the Boomerang: it is not a stadium, but it is the corridor with office spaces. I am recontextualizing, I am taking it out of architectural form and introducing it in a sculptural form which again is another sort of perversion or change of function.
And all of a sudden they look like torture-objects. You use wood, metal and rubber. Are those your favorite materials, and are you an architect yourself?
No, I have many interests. I started studying architecture, and a lot of my works deal with space. I don't really care about focusing on one thing, or on always the same material.
How do you deal with your Iranian roots, your identity? Is that a topic, an issue for you?
I don’t really have identity issues. I mean, once you realize you have rights as a human, you put yourself up in a context that that right can be actually exercised. My reception of identity could be different from places to places, but then I know how to handle it basically, and you know you go based on situations. So it hasn’t bothered me at all. If anything I quite enjoy having all these different backgrounds: Being born in the States, having some sort of connection to the States, being raised in Iran and now living in Canada.
What made it interesting for you to exhibit in a space like Artneuland and the trialogue?
Obviously I am interested in this kind of dialogues and discussions which an art- and group-exhibition like this one would propose.
The cultural exchange?
Going back to the question of identity: I guess, identity is always there but it is not the forefront of my work. There are much stronger concepts that I try to deal with. When I do performances, or when I do objects like these, identity is there of course, but it is my way of escaping all of it at the same time.
Thanks for the talk.
photos: iberner | nurart
"Culture of Torture, Torture in Culture" until April 26th 2009
Artneuland e. V., Schumannstrasse 18, 10117 Berlin
Tue - Fri 11.00 - 19.00
Sat + Sun 11.00 - 18.00