203 Mehmet YILDIZs
Joanna Szupinska in conversation with Ahmet Ögüt
Ahmet Ögüt's practice revolves around ideas of everyday life: distance and speed, shifting identities, and the social and political realities of West versus East. He often brings in-between spaces to light through humorous works, accomplished in video, performance, photography, and installations.
I cozy up to my email server to speak with the artist, San Francisco—Amsterdam, about one of his most recent projects entitled 203 Mehmet YILDIZs. The work is made up of pencil drawings of would-be team portraits, and a sound component in which professional Turkish sportscaster Daghan Irak announces a full 90-minute soccer game. Irak realitically narrates the action transpiring on the field between the “All Stars Team” and the “All Stars Collective,” both made up solely of players named Mehmet Yιldιz, refereed by men of the same name. The humor inherent to the project brings it to the threshold of ridiculousness (" Yιldιz number 8 passes to Yιldιz number 11, now Mehmet number 3 blocks the attempt at a goal...") and begs questions of authenticity.
Joanna Szupinska: Family names as we know them have a relatively short history in Turkey. Prior to the first Turkish president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a person was referred to by their first name and a version of their father's name. When the new Turkish republic required families to choose last names, invariably certain names, like Yιldιz, which means "star," became more common than others. Of course, Mehmet is also a popular Turkish name.
Ahmet Ögüt: Since 1934 in Turkey, surname law required all citizens of Turkey to adopt the use of last names. This was a completely new thing for society as a whole, and everyone wanted to come up with a last name that would sound good. YILDIZ, which means “star” as you say, was one of the most popular last names. Mehmet is the most popular first name in Turkey, and Ahmet is the second one. Actually, there are many people who have my name and last name. Once I heard from another Ahmet Ögüt, who is a designer, that he received some emails from people trying to contact me :)
Joanna Szupinska: According to your research, there are 203 licensed players throughout Turkish professional and amateur soccer leagues who are named Mehmet Yιldιz.
Ahmet Ögüt: It is not hard to imagine that there can be so many Mehmet YILDIZs in such a large country, but it was really surprising when I heard that 203 Mehmet YILDIZs are active soccer players in Turkish professional and amateur soccer leagues. When I heard about this in a local daily sports newspaper, I immediately checked the Turkish Football Federation website and I found all the information about each Mehmet YILDIZ. Since YILDIZ means “star,” I came up with the idea of creating this fictional team of all 203 players and organizing an imaginary match between an “All Stars Team” and an “All Stars Collective.” The characters are of course players who really exist.
Joanna Szupinska: How did the collaboration with Daghan Irak come about? Did his input alter the project or contribute to the idea?
Ahmet Ögüt: I wanted my made-up game to be announced by an experienced announcer. I approached Daghan Irak, whose voice as a sportscaster has been famous for years. He was really enthusiastic about the idea. Daghan had the nice idea to also search for four referees and a match observer who were also named Mehmet YILDIZ, and we found those together. As he was very experienced, Daghan made a list of each team and selected the players according to their ages, their field positions, and the real teams they play for. He had a very strong memory and skill to remember all the Mehmet YILDIZs and each one's information. We recorded a full 90-minute game at the Eurosport office in Istanbul.
Joanna Szupinska: What did he base his narration on; was it a real game?
Ahmet Ögüt: During the 90-minute sound recording he based his narration on a match between Peru and Cameroon, but that was not easy. He had to mentally translate that match into a game between the “All Stars Team” and the “All Stars Collective.” I was listening while we recorded, and after 15 minutes I also lost track of the information and got confused. I didn’t know anymore which Mehmet YILDIZ was which.
Joanna Szupinska: Ironically, your fictional soccer teams (made up of real people who do exist) consist solely of "stars." Do you intend a commentary on ineffectual individualism, versus working together as a team? How did you develop this idea of two teams of soccer "stars" playing against each other?
Ahmet Ögüt: Behind the humor in this project are questions of citizen equality and individual representation in society. I recently heard about a project by three Slovenian artists, who all changed their names to Janez Janša in summer 2007. So they became: Janez Jansa, Janez Jansa, and Janez Jansa. Their project is about transformation, translation, representation, and mimicry. This project leads me to the question: What if one day everybody in the world has the same first and last name? I am sure that we, as individuals, would develop skills to construct reality in a completely new way. Maybe that would be the end of society as we know it, and could open doors for tomorrow’s society. There is a very interesting film by Aki Kaurismaki from 1985, Calamari Union. The movie tells the story of fifteen men called Frank. While watching the movie, it is very difficult to keep track of which Frank is which. In the film, the Franks decide to move to the rich area of Eira from Kallio, which is a former working class area in Helsinki. It is a very short journey in real life (I guess it takes 15 minutes by bus). However, it is a metaphorically long trip in the movie. Getting back to the Mehmet YILDIZs, yes they are all “Stars,” but each one is just “Star.” The significance lies in neither Individualism, nor Community. It is about the importance of multitude.