Ahmet Ögüt: Ground Control to Major Tom originally appeared inthe book "At Home, Wherever" published by YKY, Istanbul in 2011

Ahmet Ögüt: Ground Control to Major Tom

Nataša Petrešin

In his performances, drawings, photographic and video works, Ahmet Ögüt reveals and reduces the political, governmental or economic control over the way people in different parts of the world perceive everyday's reality. Ögüt strips down bare the institutions of repression (among them, very often vehicles like jeeps, cars, planes impersonate those) by either employing travesty and reduction in size (Exploded City), representing anecdotes and collected information in comic-book aesthetics that he turns into 3 dimensional forms (Today in History), filming monotonously discarded and retarded military planes (Things We Count). The artist's capacity and determination lies in revealing by means of linear dramaturgies and straightforward gestures, how these various elements, stories or situations produce history and knowledge about the global politics and relations of power(s) in contemporary society.

Ögüt's ad-hoc or »semi-vandal« (1) attitude that is a constant in his work, is grounded in reflecting mechanisms and discourses of hegemonic position from a troubled minority viewpoint, himself being one of most visible Kurdish artist of the youngest generation in the very diverse and vivid contemporary Turkish art scene. In his interview with the Kosovar political sociologist Sezgin Boynik, the artist reflected upon his determination that his works remain ambiguous: “I find thinking with polarities dangerous. I do not place nationalism of the repressed in opposition to nationalism. I also don’t participate in the rhetoric of power versus repression. I do not prefer to speak loud neither from the inside nor from the outside of the system. I believe in a stance, an attitude at the heart, bottom , centre of the situation, much more than I do in polarities”. (2) Rather than overtly political in subjects that he deals with in his works, Ögüt sees himself as an artist whose artistic practice relates to speed, distance and time. His works are never bluntly illustrative for some sort of art activism, but metaphoric, aphorismic and honest.

Several of his early videos, such as Cut It Out (2004), What a Lovely Day (2005), Dead Kit Train (2005), Short Circuit (2006) as well as the slide projection Somebody Else’s Car (2005), are witty and laconic performative acts. Their dramaturgy often mimics comedies, as situations that evolve within the videos cause meaningful disruptions into the horizon of viewer’s expectations. Furthermore, cars have a special metonymical position in Ögüt’s poetics, often not only denouncing the patriarchal system and its exercising of power, but also being a substitute for dreams and fallen hopes at the same time (Dead Kit Train), malfunctioning of the socio-economic system (Across the Slope), unpredictability and threat (Short Circuit). Ögüt carefully changes the identity of two random cars (Somebody Else's Car, 2005), transforming one into a typical yellow taxi from Istanbul and the other one into a police car. The slide show creates a better illusion of the precise process and the situation in which the artist put himself – while finishing his intervention, the artist is looking around himself for making sure that he would not be caught at the act. Ögüt says that modifying the cars in Turkey is like a habit, there are many types of cars on the market that are transformed in order to present itself as a better version than the one in front of one’s eyes. In Ögüt's installation Across the Slope (2008), the modified Seat 131, which was a very common and affordable middle-class car during the '70s and '80s in Europe and Turkey and represented the dream of emancipation, is stuck on a slope. The artist shows poetically with a simple fact, that even a normal slope can stop those dreams of liberation. Again in another video, car plays a threatening role in Short Circuit (2006) and dramatically ends the short illustration of night games in what a viewer can project as a poor neighbourhood without much electricity, where the children at evenings reclaim streets full of traffic as their public space. Not only is the video emotionally charged with children screaming while playing, the nervousness and light flickering of passing cars and the discomfort of their drivers and somehow logical ending with an accident caused by one of them. There is also a poetic beauty in the mere way the children invent game as tactics in order to subvert what tends to be an increasingly surveyed public sphere, even though the latter in the video is situated in a poor neighbourhood, left in the total dark in the evenings.

If from above mentioned self-determination of the artist’s main objectives (speed, distance and time), speed is mostly at work in his early ad-hoc performative acts, the geopolitical distance and time are broken down most radically in Ögüt’s installation Exploded City (2009). Here the artist offers a haunting travesty of Italo Calvino's ultimate guide to imaginary architecture, a series of dialogues between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan that the writer compiled within the pages of his remarkable short stories Invisible Cities; next to the assembly of buildings that have a symbolic value because they were used as targets for large terrorist attacks and explosions in the last 20 years, the artist exhibits his text that runs like taken from Calvino’s above mentioned book. This text takes the viewpoint of a naive traveller to a city that is composed of such buildings, and what the viewer indeed sees in front of her, is those buildings’ models, set one next to each other. Exploded City is artist's key work, in which some strategies that often constitute his works, are being employed: a provocative and silent thought for the viewers to complete and imagine the potential scenarios as well as a schematic aesthetics, recalling the roughness of comic book arts, being blown onto into three-dimensional reality.

Quite strikingly different in the visuality, but not that diverse in logic, are Ögüt’s recent works River Crossing Puzzle (2010) and Ground Control (2008). The first work is offering to viewers a possibility to play out a game of logic (to solve the problem how the group of various characters, animals and an object (a girl, a soldier, a suspicious bag, etc) should cross the river in an empty boat that carries only two persons or a person and a dog) by moving black and white comic book-like characters enlarged onto life size across the space in order to find possible solutions. This game with multiple choices, where at the end perhaps there is only one correct existing solution, echoes the Western neoliberal reality in which people are seemingly free to select, from social activism to self-mastery, just to realise that the very ground, the basis behind who offers the choices, is heavily controlled. (3) Ground Control, artist’s intervention on the basement ground of the art institution Kunst-Werke in Berlin with covering it with a thick layer of outdoor asphalt, is that desperate question, what if there is only one choice? As writes Silke Baumann in accompanying text to the work, in Turkey, asphalt laying was a means of homogenizing the country in its rapid quest to modernize. While today road building in rural areas still serves not only to open up the remote parts of the country, but also to bring them under government control, Ground Control  ultimately represents itself as a political tool for the demonstration of government power. When asked about his relation to power and why at all one would bother making such things public which can potentially be seized by the governing bodies at any moment, Ahmet explains: »Power is not a perfectly functioning system. It works slowly.« (4)

1. Mika Hannula uses this term to describe Ahmet’s work Somebody’s Else’s Car (2005). Mika Hannula: “Slap-stick Comedy with a Cause”, in: Halil Altindere (ed.), Ahmet Ögüt. Informal Accidents, Istanbul: art-ist. Contemporary Art Series , p.44.

2. Sezgin Boynik: “Letter from Themroc! Conversation: Sezgin Boynik & Ahmet Ögüt”, in: Halil Altindere (ed.), Ahmet Ögüt. Informal Accidents, Istanbul: art-ist. Contemporary Art Series , p.18.

3. For more on the versatile psychoanalysis, sociology and politics of choosing, and losing, see Renata Salecl: Choice, London and New York: Profile Books, 2010.

4. Sezgin Boynik: “Letter from Themroc! Conversation: Sezgin Boynik & Ahmet Ögüt”, in: Halil Altindere (ed.), Ahmet Ögüt. Informal Accidents, Istanbul: art-ist. Contemporary Art Series , p.20.