In 1987, a Syrian air-force pilot, Muhammed Ahmed Faris, became his country’s first astronaut — and a national hero — when he spent seven days in orbit aboard the Soviet space station Mir. He returned with a new, broader perspective: “When you have seen the whole world,” he said, “there is no us and them, no politics.” That is not the reality back on Earth, and after Syria’s government responded brutally to the Arab Spring protests in 2011, Faris, like millions of Syrians, fled to Turkey, explaining that he didn’t want to kill his own people. Artist Halil Altindere, who lives in Istanbul, persuaded Faris to star in a video installation titled Space Refugee, now at the Andrew Kreps Gallery. The video both tells Faris’s story and melds it — both surreally and movingly — with the notion that there needs to be somewhere for Syrian refugees to go, so why not Mars?
Watch the teaser from Halil Altindere’s film.
Altindere is one of Turkey’s most influential artists, an ironist in a part of the world where irony can be dangerous (especially to the ironist). Space Refugee, like much of his work, is both absurdist and humane. One of Altindere’s previous pieces, called Wonderland (2013), is in the permanent collection at MoMA: It’s a music video, shot in Istanbul, starring young rappers who are members of the minority Roma group, whose historic neighborhood was being razed by that city. It’s antic and yearning and, like Space Refugee, a bit feckless, and was a part of the 2013 Istanbul Biennial, when the world was a bit more hopeful, at least looking back. This year’s iteration is themed, perhaps too hopefully, “A Good Neighbor.”
Space Refugee is on view at the Andrew Kreps Gallery.
*This article appears in the January 23, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.