This conversation published in the catalogue Ricochet # 4: Ahmet Ogut, (published by Museum Villa Stuck, Munich) November 2010. Translated from Turkish by Iz Oztat
Memory is not dead, but it is often comatose
Onder: History and how it is told-or mistold-is a focal theme at this exhibition. In Today in History (2007), and Exploded City (2009), you take certain past events and construct your own historical narrative. In Today in History, the choice of events is completely subjective, and there is no obvious conceptual integrity. The work comprises an open-ended assemblage of mostly absurd, but also sometimes important incidents that took place in Turkey from 1961-2007 as well as a few important events considered to be transition periods.
Ahmet: The reality that we all know and Benjamin emphasizes is that in historiography, the historiographer sympathises with the victorious. Such history consists of a narrative passed on from one "victor" to the next.  So, it is a prototypical and quite manipulative notion of history. In Today in History, Exploded City and On the Road to Other Lands (2008), which rely on real data from recent history, I try to shed the prototypical presentation of history and enable the reconstruction of history with information that is otherwise "socially repressed" in the depths of our personal memories and does not appear as important at first glance. I believe that a rhizomatic conception of history constructed individually by each one of us in our parallel lives is possible. It is important to view recent history in this way, because it has many common denominators with our individual past and experiences. For this reason, in Today in History, I took as my point of departure Turkey in the 1960s and, in Exploded City, the 1990s. In Walter Benjamin's words, we are talking about a past loaded with the present, or if we put it differently, about a notion of history that hunts in the jungle of the past to capture what is contemporary.  In these works, instead of providing information that can be combined to serve a single dominant ideology, I put together a more antagonistic set of information. It can be explained more directly in Hakim Bey's words, "If the state is history, as it claims to be, then insurrection is the forbidden moment."  We need to remind ourselves over and over again of these forbidden moments before they are pushed into the depths of our collective unconscious. The historicity that I construct in these works is political precisely because it reminds the dominant historical understanding of what it wants to forget. A crucial point is that it also indicates exactly what is transformed by politics.
Onder: This act of reminding upstages the historian and demands a role on his stage and a political position. It is a point, where what is aesthetic becomes political or the aesthetic constructs its own politics.  This position should of course be situated - not in spheres of domination - but somewhere in between, somewhere which is yet undefined, something between the lines of what has been said and already inscribed. This means articulating a new position by inventing new conflicts and areas of agreement between intertwined or strictly contrasting blocks. This seems like a space that will be opened up by a new configuration of things, namely, by placing certain things in opposition.
Ahmet: Upstaging the historian and politicising memory is a topic that is popular in cinema. I have built on this by offering a comparative reading of Exploded City and cinema. In the documentary Ici et ailleurs, which Godard, Mieville and Gorin directed together in 1976, there is a scene in which, a small girl is reciting an emancipation poem among the ruins of Karameh, a city in Jordan. Of course, there is a very important difference between the loneliness suggested by this scene of a screaming child in real ruins and the loneliness suggested by Exploded City. In Exploded City, ruins - naked remains of reality - are replaced with representations, childish models of those buildings as they were right before they were destroyed. The innocent and desperate child in the documentary is replaced, too, by the adults viewing Exploded City. Yes, even if we are outside, we still sense a belonging to Exploded City and feel the need to empathise with its imagined but also real inhabitants. In the story accompanying the installation, we witness the moods of the city's inhabitants. The future of Exploded City's inhabitants is our past and we all experience the "cacophony" of knowing this. The point that is interesting and hard to grasp is their insistence on trying to intervene in a negative future, which they know they cannot change, and how this fact becomes a routine part of their reality. We see another example of memory becoming part of the routine of daily life in Christopher Nolan's cult movie Memento (2000). The protagonist Leonard, despite the amnesia he experiences after the murder of his wife, creates an extraordinary memory for himself based on documents, notes, photographs and even tattoos. It is a visual and tangible memory - not a "dead" memory, but a lapsed memory. So memory is not dead, but it's often comatose. Marcel Proust, in his novel Swann's Way  suggests that the past is somewhere outside the command and comprehension of the mind, hidden in a feeling and triggered by an unexpected object. Stumbling upon that object before we die depends on a coincidence. Knowledge of the past does not vanish, and to be reminded of a special incident it is enough to encounter the object that Proust talks about, in other words, "the sign". The buildings I chose for Exploded City are the aforementioned "signs". Our memory can regulate the past, with its traumas and mistakes in only two ways, either by constantly forgetting, or by constantly remembering. While it is obvious that we are conditioned by the powers that be (the "victors") to constantly forget, I believe that it represents a great opportunity for all of us if we make remembering in constant intervals an "autonomous" part of our daily life.
Onder: That sounds like a Beckettian approach. A cycle of try - fail - try. In my opinion, the "intractable memory in coma" to which you refer, very clearly describes the scene in Things We Count (2008). The defining element of this work is the effort to reorganise in a museum, or in the other places they have been stored, the agents of events, which have left permanent traces in the past, in history or maybe in subjective memories. In this passive and neutral area, these objects seem to wait for reinterpretation in the wake of a Foucauldian archaeological excavation. And to go back to Exploded City, this also opens the way for a reversed reading of that work. However of course, we should not overlook the fact that the relationship between subjective and collective memory is more indirect and the potential analogies, which can be constructed, are more intricate. One of the associations that can be proposed between your works in this exhibition is the subjective reproducibility of all traumas located in (or erased from) collective memory in new and different ways. I am currently working on an oral history project on Armenians living in Turkey. There, the simple reconstruction of the conflict by different individuals provides potential new relationships between remembering, memory and historical narrative. A murder that constituted a turning point in the history of where we live has been perceived and remembered in a variety of different ways. In one of the interviews on this subject, a nationalist/conservative woman in her 80s unexpectedly said that what had confirmed her opinion on this question was the image of Hrant Dink's body on the street - and the hole in the sole of his shoe. Despite all the grand debates, discourses and the networked structure that constructs historiography, a simple and spontaneous association can provide a more visible picture. The narrator's attention snaps at a simple image that displaces all the identity, culture and class differences produced by the dominant narrative.
Ahmet: According to Critchley, the individual who is disillusioned (in despair) due to the injustice in the world, transforms the anger s/he experiences into an ethical demand. I believe that feelings such as despair, devotion, anger, justice, pain and the consciousness of the individual, who takes action for ethical demand, can play an important role in transforming the historiography of the powers at be. As I mentioned at the beginning, we should all take the initiative by individually constructing narratives that can exist in parallel and allow for a rhizomatic notion of history. Instead of a single and all-encompassing notion of history, which is ideologically driven, we should disperse minor and multiple narratives. I suggest an autonomous conception of history against an authoritarian notion of history.
1 Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, 1940,