Rossella Biscotti’s five-channel video installation The City, 2018, is informed by her extensive research and filming of the Çatalhöyük archaeological site in Konya (Turkey). Biscotti investigates the relationship between the neolithic community that built the earliest urban centre known to date and the archeological community that has been unearthing it over the past twenty-five years.
Does the study of ancient artefacts and cultures provide a mirror with which we can consider the subjective values held by researchers in their own society? Biscotti worked closely with Ian Hodder, leader of the Çatalhöyük Research Project and Professor of Social Anthropology at Stanford University, and his international team, filming during the 2015 and 2016 excavation seasons. Since 1993, Hodder, one of the key thinkers of the post-processual school, has put his ideas to the test at Çatalhöyük. These include decentralised project management teams, self-reflective and diaristic reporting, co-authorship and data sharing and an understanding of the site as a living community uniting both professional agents and local actors. When on site, Biscotti recorded how these methods were activated in order to study an ancient people whose own community underwent various radical socio-economic changes.
Inhabited for a period of almost 2,000 years (circa 7500 to 5700 BC), Çatalhöyük has eighteen layers of occupation and was once home to a “proto-city” of nearly 10,000 people centred on a honeycomb maze-like complex of shared buildings that grew both out of and on top of each other. The film looks in particular at these urban forms in which distinctions between public and private were rather fluid, while also investigating the site’s complex burial rituals in which the dead were interred amongst the living. Likewise, evidence of the division of labour, between what was produced where and by whom on the site, seems to suggest a society with little to no social or gender stratification. These organisational principles, which show how another, possibly more liberated form of society functioned, are contrasted with the dig’s modern context in order to consider how our own social constructions have also advanced.
The 2016 season stopped abruptly due to the attempted military coup d’état in Turkey. The season would be the last of Ian Hodder’s twenty-five-year project. Rossella Biscotti was then on the first day of her second year’s filming and she adjusted her script to record the bureaucracy of closing the site, the meetings, the departure of the community and the empty landscape that remained. (text from the exhibition leaflet Kunsthaus Baselland April 2018)
The work is produced by Protocinema (with support from Mondriaan Fund and NEARCH).
Click here to read the review by Mary Pelletier in Apollo.
Click here to read the review by Barbara Casavecchia in Frieze magazine.
And watch an interview with Rossella Biscotti by Vassilis Oikonomopoulos
about at Protocinema Istanbul: