Saturday, October 15, 2005

Slap-Stick Comedy with a Cause – Ahmet Ögüt’s Somebody Else’s Car

Mika Hannula

text to Radikal supplement 29.9.2005

At the first sight, there is hardly anything remarkable with Ahmet Ögüt’s work at the old tobacco factory site. What we see is two different series of slides projected on the wall. The slides witness actions taken by Ögüt. Actions during which he dresses up a randomly chosen car into a new type and a version. Out of a plain normal car Ögüt decorates with ready-made paper cut models a brand new taxi – or a police vehicle. And yes, that’s about it. Almost.

But before analysing what more is there into this act of semi-vandalism, let us be as cruel as Ögüt is against the poor innocent cars. Is his action a work art? Does it make any sense? Why would a childish game like this be in any sense meaningful?

I think the answer is a strong yes yes yes. Same answer on all accounts, but for a bit different reasons. Basically, Ögüt’s action is such a fantastic piece of contemporary art because it comes precisely from somewhere, has an impact at the present time, and it leans out of the window and reaches towards what might happens next. Thus, it combines the three time spheres of past, present and future.

Where does Ögüt’s work come from? The relationship might not be direct, but it is definitely recognizable. The background is comedy. Not any kind of a ha ha and ho ho ho comedy, but a very special type. A type that nowadays seems to get too often side-lined and not recognized. We are talking about comedy which is not loud, not a spectacle, and not based on nationalistic, racist or chauvinist prejudices. Ögüt’s comedy is the comedy of the classics. We are talking about Buster Keaton, we are referring to Charlie Chaplin. All acts and interventions that are build on the explicit strength of being able to highlight little details of our everyday mundane life. Acts that trust a particular insight, not the general noise. Acts which are simple and effective, not laborious and vain.

I believe we need to state a crucial distinction here. Ögüt is not making fun of anything. What he does is to invite all of us that manage to pay enough attention to his works to simultaneously laugh at and with ourselves and our surroundings. For this, for the precious moment he hijacks a car and turns it into another kind of a car. He forces us to be aware of cars, girls and gasoline stations. Or traffic jams, crazy taxi drivers with an attention span lower than a three year olds. He lures us into thinking about cars in a slightly unusual way. And this, indeed, is how he connects his act to what is happening with us at the present tense.

We are cheated into a game of laughing at and with the act how a symbol of state monopoly of force is made to be seen rather ridiculous. We see a normal, typically uninteresting white car camouflaged into a police vehicle. An act that is done with such humorous precision, constructing the story board with such great attention to nuances that it in itself becomes something more than just the activity taking place.

This becoming of something else is underlined with Ögüt’s fine eye for the means of representation. I am sure that if these acts would have been shown as video projections, they would have lost a lot of their power and pleasure. With the ancient click clack sound of the slide projector, Ögüt tells us a story in a way that leaves plenty of room for imagination. He is perfectly aware that he does not need to show it all. It is not about authenticity. It is about what, for example, a police car connotes to and with us. A game that all of a sudden is no longer just ha ha and ho hoo funny, but gains sinister shades and colours.

But what about the future? How are Ögüt’s acts opening the doors of the future and tickling the cortex of our expectations? I don’t know about you, but I certainly see here a possibility. I sense an opportunity. I feel for it, and I am sure that this “it” feels for me too. At least I have to believe that it is so. But what am I talking about? I am, again and again, talking about hope. Not the pope, not the dope, but hope. A magnificently demanding four letter word that I so clearly can read in-between each of Ögüt slides. Can you see it too?
Can you read it out loud too?