Saturday, July 09, 2005

This text was written by November Paynter with additional comments by Vasif Kortun


Ahmet Ögüt

There is a subtle shroud of ambiguity and the unexpected dangling over the work, resolve and character of Ahmet Ögüt, one that tempts enquiry, rather than providing answers. With it comes a self-assurance that is not arrogant, or overly ambitious as seen in some of the work produced by artists from Turkey that came to local and international attention during the nineties, but from a personal and although often humorous, an earnest perspective. The younger generation of artists, of which Ögüt is one, are choosing not to work within a singular of medium. They are open to collaborations in order to encourage diverse practice and thought, and have gained confidence to experiment freely without assuming an end-product.

Until the age of 17, Ögüt had not ventured beyond the region surrounding Diyarbakir in the East of Turkey, the city of his birth. It was only then that he travelled to Ankara to study painting and illustration at University. One of his first works Halisaha sets a poignant scene for his interest in performance and role-play, the ability to shift tradition and location and the sense of community formed by games. In Halisaha (which literally translates as carpet field, but means astro-turf) Ögüt transferred a carpet, a symbol and literal element of his home in Diyarbakir, into the centre of a football stadium. A photograph of the carpet’s temporary placement exists as the art work, but it was the actual performance of taking the carpet from its private setting to lay it out for display in a space created for an audience (although at that moment significantly absent and therefore merely implied), which produced a temporary interface loaded with enquiry. A candid irony combined with Ögüt’s gentle touch as its referee grants a dexterity that clearly references specific issues important to him as a Kurd, while at the same time picking up on similar ambiguities present at any threshold which exists between two cultures.

Another local game Okey has been the subject of several of Ögüt’s works. Okey is a man’s game, played with numbered chips and as popular as backgammon all over Turkey, In places like Diyarbakir it consumes time in tea shops for the unemployed of whom there are way too many due to the overcrowding of the city with people who escaped the war and the war-like situation that stopped any semblance of a functioning economy. In his youth, Ögüt and a friend set up a small business, which boasted the return of Okey chips ‘as good as new’ by repainting their embossed numbers for pocket money. When invited to participate in the exhibition Under the Beach the Pavement in Proje4L Museum in Istanbul at the end of 2002, Ögüt recognised a familiar division between his activity, that of the Okey players back in Diyarbakir and the location of the museum. He positioned a fine-line separating the financial area of Levent and the residential, working-class district of Gultepe where the museum is located. In order to locate an element of one site subtly into the other, Ögüt went about collecting chips from the community in Gultepe (this time without charge) to renew within the museum. On the opening night of the exhibition Ögüt sat focused, painting these chips, doing a job he knew well and that performed multiple references for himself, having been a lived reality of his youth and a symbol of multiple cultures living side-by-side albeit in ignorance of one another.

Two recent video works What a Lovely Day and Cut it Out propose imaginary scenarios for real situations of cause and effect. What a Lovely Day depicts the playing out of a situation where the police stop and search a young man. Undercover police, such as the ones portrayed in the video, exist in Ögüt’s memory as a catalyst for assumed guilt and the fear of potential violence. His video is as much a re-enactment of scenes he has heard about, as it is a performance of his mind racing forward to conjure a future situation on seeing the tell-tale white car known to contain such police.

In Cut it Out a young man, who we assume is from the USA, sits on the floor in a pair of pants printed with an American flag motif. Posing as an Iraq posted soldier he curses the war, the people involved, the pointlessness of it all and numerously repeats the phrase ‘it’s a lost cause, I want to go home’ seemingly confused. Throughout his rendition he continuously breaks down in laughter, as if high and excessively nervous of a reality and seriousness he cannot express. On two occasions flash frames appear momentarily exposing two men dressed in the apparel of terrorists fed to us by the media. The first time they stand behind the boy, posing as if guarding him, on the second occasion all three appear dead. These split-second insertions jerk the viewer to look beyond the boy’s bewildered contempt to the more sinister reality it refers to.

In his most recent work Somebody Else’s Car memories of harsh political reality that had subtly seeped into the work has given way to a more whimsical photo-performance where Ögüt converts without the owners’ permission two found cars. The first he reforms as a taxi cab and the second as a police car by simply applying tape and colored paper and hand-made signage with remarkable dexterity and finesse.

Another component of Ögüt’s practice consists of collaborations with other artists. The most successful of these was Colouring Book, produced with Sener Ozmen in 2004. The book contains a series of line drawn scenes adapted from childhood memory. Each one references complex topics mainly related to religion, rural customs, the specter of war in the region, and the image of Ataturk as a national symbol. These pages perhaps best represent Ögüt’s practice literally –because although images, scenes and thoughts are out-lined in the work, Drawing Book is essentially a blank canvas, gamely waiting to be coloured in, added to, modified, or scribbled out.