This interview is from 2005 and has been published in the catalog of Ogut's solo show 'Softly But Firmly' at Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic, Zagreb, HR Translated from Turkish by Firat Kaplan
Interview between Vasif Kortun and Ahmet Ogut
Vasif Kortun: Ahmet, 'Devrim [Revolution]' reminds me of Vahit Tuna's work titled 'Baskanin Arabasi [The President's Car]'. The President's Car reflects not only the relationship of Vahit to his own childhood but also reflects the transformation of the luxurious American cars imported to Istanbul. Beginning from the late 40s until the end of the 70s in Istanbul, which was a working class city, those American cars were first owned by the wealthy families, and then were used as taxis and finally were extended as much as possible like stretched limos so that they could be used as a kind of minibus with eight seats in them. In the meantime they were 'reproduced' in the small workshops of the city except for their exterior framework, in other words they were 'hybridized'. I am not talking about a city which creates a sort of industry or which manufactures its own vehicles. The part of the city I am referring to is Dolapdere Istanbul. In your work there is also a president, this time it is not Truman but Cemal Gursel, President of Turkey at that time. Turkey undergoes another revolution after the 'Devrim [Revolution]' in 1960 and comes to manufacture an automobile. However this car remains to be a prototype, a single example only. In that sense it is handmade like a 'sculpture.' Look at the style of that car, Devrim, and you could see that it is an American car outside although it is 'produced in Turkey'. Well I mean, after all, once roads have already become dominant, does it mean anything where that car is produced? Especially if an imports based industry, with various elements such as the cars, spare parts and tires are imported, is already established in such a country? Is there a relation between the car being handmade and your widening the scope of the work you have found and produced it using your hands even to the details in the writing? I mean both of the two gestures imply a sort of 'futility'. A car which fails to go and the failure of a drawing, originally published in the 'Today in the history' column of the 2005 Biennial Newspaper, undergoing any significant changes while it is turned into a wall painting. Futility, failure, the fact that nothing changes at the end of this action, performance, as a matter of fact being unnecessary. I am not using such terms in a critical sense by the way. Again at this point I remember Hakan Topal's criticism of 'Devrim [Revolution]' at the end of your conversation at Platform. There Hakan said that the work could not go any further, that it did not 'work' while you replied that it was sufficient indeed. There seems to be a serious difference regarding the status of art as far as those two positions are concerned. What do you say?
Ahmet Ogut: I must say that 'Devrim [Revolution]' is sort of my byproducts. I came to produce it as an extension of my drawings published in the Biennial daily under the title 'This week in history'. As a matter of fact the car, Devrim, is also a work of a supplier industry. Needless to say, we are from a country characterized by the supplier industry. The mentality that 'That will do and will be sufficient', 'We do not need more', 'We will manage with that' is still dominant. We see that a great deal of events happened in the history of the country when we look at the period while the car 'Devrim' was manufactured in Turkey. In the aftermath of the military coup on 27 May 1960, a new constitution was adopted on 27 May 1961. Adnan Menderes, the former PM, was executed while only one and a half month was left for the completion of the manufacture of the Devrim car. Then there is of course Cemal Gursel, who was elected as the president after the intervention of the military. For me it is not surprising that a President who had a military background gave the order for the production of a local car in a time of four months. We should not overlook the power of imagination of former generals, who are a legacy of the military junta, like Gursel. For instance I hear that one of those generals has such a vast scope of creativity that he has recently flown all the way from Hakkari to Ankara on a jet fighter in order to beat up a soldier and then has flown back to Hakkari again on the very same day. Needless to say, I am aware of the existence of a government pressing the button for the production of a local car, the disturbance of the State Planning Institute of the decision since the decision clashed with the firm belief of the institute in saving funds, the attitude of the opposition parties in the country regarding the decision and finally, of course, the conspiracy theories related to the giant automobile brands such as Ford and Chrysler which had a dominating position in the market for automobiles in the country and the foreign exchange funds flowing out of the country for the imports of spare parts. I mean these are all about the manufacture of this car. However what actually drew my attention at that point was the science-fiction like structure of the production of the car and its story. It reminds me of an amulet; a charm prepared successfully but does not work or of a spacecraft failing to take off as it lacks engine boosters. In that sense Devrim is very much different from the 'Anadol car' which was to be mass manufactured later on. Anadol is a real car which was designed and then later manufactured. But 'Devrim' is a car in the general sense of the meaning. As you have pointed out, it resembles an American car. Still what makes 'Devrim' stand out is the fact that it was completely handmade. It is produced while it is being imagined, produced by the rule of thumb, by working directly on the prototype and hammered into shape. This self-styled production is, in a sense, the definition of the style of production I have always dreamed of. Just like 'Devrim', I have only seen the pictures of Vahit Tuna's 'The President's Car'. The love for automobiles, as you have put it, became traditional in Turkey as a practice of appropriation rather than as a practice of creating an industry in Turkey. The 'hybridization' you have referred to is still valid in Turkey. I mean 'Sahin' type/model cars are modified today to look like 'Dogan' type/model cars. This is the current version of this hybridization. I increased the size of the 'Devrim' car by drawing it from a small picture of 4cm x 6cm in size so that my drawing then could cover the surface of the wall. This means that I partly used my imagination and drew the wall painting without fully seeing the original car - just like the workers at the wagon factory manufacturing the parts of the 'Devrim' car in line with the directions of the engineers. I did not have the intention of getting a new story out of it. That was what Hakan Topal implied that he was expecting from an artist: More of it. However I was only trying to iconize an 'absurd object' once again, and by using my hands, as it was about to be lost in time and history. (Compare with the example of Nuri Alco). The story we are talking about is a story of failure, and it seems only natural to me to display it in a 'futile' fashion. In my opinion one needs to take on the attitude required by the work. I remember Farhad Kalantary once saying that 'The butter on the bread' should be spread in the right 'thickness'.
Vasif: I suppose Hakan Topal read the relation between the work and the subject differently. I mean, he sees the theme of the work as a transporter. However you are pointing out that the attitude is the transporter itself. This is a different kind of politics, a more crooked point of view. Now the 'Death Kit Train' video. A car failing to work, another 'futility'. But it is not one or two people pushing the car, there are many people pushing it. Those in the front push the car while those in the back push those pushing the car. They give support to each other, and do the job together. You know about the Francis Alys' work titled 'Faith Can Move Mountains'. The title is quoted from the Gospel. In Alys' work 500 volunteers moved a giant sand hill about 10 centimeters ahead. Cuauhtemoc Medina touches on this work and says that 'A desperate situation calls for an absurd solution.' I know that I have little wandered off the subject. I am now referring to the feelings of desperateness and absurdity instead of the work itself.
Ahmet: 'The Death Kit Train' is more than a story of 'desperateness' or 'futility'. The ones at the back of the line push each other in spite of the fact that the number of the ones pushing the car at the front of the line will be sufficient to move the car. Now going back to the bleak title of the video; those are freight trains carrying apocalyptic giant industrial or military vehicles. Those trains could be resembled to a porter but one with more power than usual. The number of people carrying a coffin is also more than the number of people actually required to carry it. The reason for this increase in the number of people is the fact that what is carried is no longer a worldly object - it has been transformed into something different. The number of people pushing the car is also greater than needed. What I mean is that while watching the video, one first supposes that the car is moving on its own. But once we have realized that there are people pushing the car and then later come to see the ones pushing the people pushing the car, both those people pushing the car and the people pushing each other or pushed, are transformed into something much more different. As a result the action misses its goal and creates its own meaning. I mean it begins to seek a meaning (belief) of its own which is beyond its apparent goal. Just like the absurd theatre, I am trying to talk about a new opening of 'hope' by being inspired from a situation which might at first seem pessimistic. I am looking for this opening of 'hope' by being inspired from what is dejected, crestfallen, hopeless, futile or grotesque. The faith that keeps the ones pushing the car together stems from that point- seeing a collective dream in spite of everything.
Vasif: I see, but there is a problem here. In Turkish we might call it 'Olu Techizat Treni' but the English translation of the work, Death Kit Train, has two positions. It is also the title of a song and there is no way we could know that. I also would like to talk to you about your photographs. In the photographs you have made with Osman Dogu Bingol, there is a similar situation, but in those photographs, unlike the videos or the wall paintings, there is no a pre-determined situation. A fickler kind of absurdity is staged. In 'What A Lovely Day', it is imagined. I am not posing this question in order to systemize and apply it to your every work but I must say that there is a multi-layered humour, an absurdity which does not despise itself is cuts through every single work. Could you please expand on that? And I also would like to touch on this asphalt project which we are yet to materialize. Paving asphalt in the gallery, exhibiting a commuter bus fully packed with people inside in the gallery, the photographs of people sleeping in the luggage compartment of the intercity busses,and so on and so forth. What is it about this passion for the road? I would like to learn what is there aside than the immigration, the intercity and innercity travel.
Ahmet: Well, yes 'Death Kit Train' is also the name of a song by Cul De Sac. I sensed a coincidental relationship between the song itself and my video. Who knows, maybe someday one might come across the song and think about a similar analogy. But it is not essential. The passion for the land roads? Not too far in the past, only three yeas ago, I was traveling to Ankara on the Southern Express train and the train came to a sudden halt two hours after we had left from Istanbul. It was night time and outside it was snowing heavily. We had to wait there on that spot for fifteen hours. That was the longest 15 hours of my life. In Istanbul I am a commuter and travel from the Asian side of the city to the European side everyday and as I look at the traffic I think to myself 'How come we manage to make the world such a miserable place for ourselves?'. I keep asking this question to myself and now I have realized that the formula is more complicated than a simple equation of road=speed/time. What keeps my curiosity alive is the fact that I am obsessed with the answer to this question; what does distance and 'zeitgeist' mean to me? As for the asphalt, it has an institutional meaning related to the public and state. It is separated from the provincial in a definite way. It is also ideological. I mean Saudi Arabia, the country producing the greatest amount of oil in the world alone as a country, does not have asphalt paved roads at all. In my opinion the meaning of the asphalt is: 'Safe and secure ground, place defined by the state'. The reason why I want to pave asphalt on the ground of the art gallery is also about this kind of assurance apart from making it public. A kind of assurance (work) which people will not be afraid of stepping on, or maybe as a matter of fact, the existence of which might even be overlooked. Now the photographs we make with Osman Dogu Bingol. I must say that everything developed spontaneously. We had tried to create an absurd web of dialogues with our environment and each other in a manner of show of vandalism. Just like the momentary reflexes. 'What A Lovely Day' is a telepathic work. What I am referring to is not empathy. Its argument points out to a geographical mood: Potential guilt feeling. The student questioned in the video also witnesses this feeling of his. As for my other works such as the fully packed commuter bus or the students taking an exam during the opening of the exhibition at the K2 Arts Centre, they lead to an unexpected encounter.