This interview published in the Mousse Magazine Issue 15, October, 2008

Ahmet Ogut - Mind the gap

by Vincenzo de Bellis

Vincenzo de Bellis: Where does your work come from? What is behind it?

Ahmet: Art practice is a tool for me. I use it like a visual language. It is the only way I can talk out loud, but without words. I do that by using the symptoms and gaps of social, political, hysterias and ideologies of chronic systems. I am using irony and humor to make my work easy to access for any kind of audience. I started to do it to understand myself, and then realized that I am a biopolitical subject as a part of the society.

Vincenzo: You use different media and move easily from performance to video, painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, installation and books. That said, perhaps because you were trained as a painter, your works seem to proceed from images. What is the role of painting, if there is one, in your practice?

Ahmet: I am very happy that I was trained as a painter, even though I didn't become a painter. Right after I graduated from the painting department of the university, I decided to stop making paintings. I also decided to move to another city (Istanbul), and I had to give away all my paintings I made in school to friends or relatives, because the paintings had become physical objects, which I didn't have a storage space for. At that time I started to think that the idea itself is more important than the medium or the object. Medium is only a tool to be able to access and circulate the idea. Since I use images more than words, I still use my background in painting.

Vincenzo: It seems to me that narration is one of the characteristics of your practice. This narration is developed both inside each work and between the different objects in the exhibition space. This kind of narration doesn't proceed linearly through a flow of information, but through a series of point-crystals. Between those, you leave what could be defined as holes, empty spaces or -as you previously said- gaps. What is in them?

Ahmet: I am not interested in very long stories. I am interested in anecdotes. It is very easy to access anecdotes because they don't take so much time to understand, so there will be enough time for anybody to think about it. If you look at my works as parts of an entire narration, you will surely see some holes or gaps. Actually the empty spaces are playgrounds for the spectator. I don't want to end up with a perfect completed story or take the role of a teacher or a society police. What I want is not to try to teach people what they don't know, instead I'm reminding them about what they already know but forgot about. I am interested in the things that are right in front of us, but we don't see. We can use the gaps as a unique chance to keep learning together.

Vincenzo: Your people pushing a car in Death Kit Train (2005) are reminiscent of those that move the mountain of Alys' When Faith Moves Mountains (2002); your kids playing on the asphalt in Short Circuit (2006) formally evokes the horse standing in the middle of the road of Anri Sala's Time After Time (2003); two coins next to each other (Perfect Lovers, 2008) directly cite, using the same title, Felix Gonzalez Torres' synchronized clocks. How important is appropriation to you?

Ahmet: We are in the age of inter-textuality. Whenever I make a work, before or after making it, I encounter many references allowing me to see my own work from many different perspectives. Sala's Time After Time and Alys' When Faith Moves Mountains are among my favorite works, although I saw them after I did Death Kit Train and Short Circuit. On the contrary, Felix Gonzalez Torres' perfectly synchronized clocks gave me the idea of putting 2 euro coins and 1 YTL coin next to each other, which are nearly identical but not perfectly matching. If we go back to Death Kit Train, it has more than one reference ranging from Godard's film Weekend to Burt Barr's video Dolly Shot Twice, from the killing machine in the novel White Castle by Orhan Pamuk to Bruegel's The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind, from Fitzcarraldo's obsession to Fatih Sultan Mehmet's passion to take over Constantinople where they both carried ships over mountains. Also in their text about Short Circuit, Jasna Jaksic and Antonia Majaca refer to Soderbergh's film epopee Traffic, which ends up in a poor neighborhood in Tijuana where a playground gets streetlights as a pledge for a better future. They also mention the analogy between the two works (Short Circuit and Sala's Time After Time), and they say itis only similarity in general atmosphere, formal similarity and that unlike in Time After Time, in Short Circuit the spectator becomes 'a witness' and is positioned in perceptional and factual uncertainty.

Vincenzo: In contrast to the works I just mentioned, yours seem pervaded by irony, sarcasm and black humor. Alys' faith in the action of moving the mountain becomes in your work a grotesque and mundane action of many men pushing just a car, which moves very slowly; the perfect synchrony of Torres' clocks in your version shifts to the macro-imperfection between euro and Turkish lira (which is worth half of a euro). They look identical, but they are greatly different in terms of economic value.
Though these descriptions may seem to say something different, you talk about your works in terms of 'hope', how come?

Ahmet: I guess The Theatre of the Absurd would be a good reference to talk about my practice, or Buster Keaton's comedy. Failure and imperfection don't only have a psychological role, they also have sociological and ideological symptoms. I think these two words are very creative dynamos and irony and humor are the languages of these dynamos. Failure and imperfection are also results of efforts. So I am interested in the role of this effort as a social phenomenon. All individuals should learn how to think and act collectively and we should use the chance of failing together. We can call this collective dreaming, collective illusion or collective awareness. All these efforts would give possibility to 'the hope' we feel in ourselves when we know that there is a certain risk involved. I am referring to sharing the same excitement with other people, and being aware of imperfection as the only way of real democracy.

Vincenzo: Words like 'imperfection' and 'failure' bring me right to your last solo show at Centre d'Art Santa Monica, Barcelona, where a car is balanced on a slope. The car is a Seat 131, or as an Italian I would call it a Fiat 131, which in the 70's became the dream of emancipation for the working class. In your hands, the car is transformed into a limousine, which is the paradoxical opposite of its original function. Is this an attainment of that dream or another icon of failure? Or both?

Ahmet: The modified car is a subject in contemporary art that inspired many artists such as Gabriel Orozco, Erwin Wurm and Gabinete Ordo Amoris. However, my inspiration was more than the formal or functional transformation. I was inspired by a car mechanic called Necdet Aktay, who made a Ferrari by hand in 8 years. By the agency of his obsession, he made his dream possible, but he couldn't get a license to use the car in public, because it is not a real Ferrari. Eventually, he failed in terms of the authorities. In my opinion, he still made his dream true and gave us hope. For the show at Centre d'Art Santa Monica, we found very old Seat and Fiat 131 cars from junkyards and fixed them together to make a fancier car. Benoit Duchense and Joan Febrer built the car with all the great details over one month for the show. So, it is a handmade hybrid car. I wanted to recall this 70-80's middle class' iconic car in the form of the dreams of that generation with the slope as an important element of failure. So my answer is both: This is an attainment of the dream that is failed, but it doesn't matter.

Vincenzo: Cars, which you have used in several works, are metaphors of movement and transportation as well as abstract concepts such as Speed, Duration (course) and Time that you always cite as fundamental elements for your practice. Can you say something more about them?

Ahmet: I always have these questions in my mind: Can distance and time justify the fact that we perceive brutally real situations as illusions? What kind of empathy could distance allow to exist? Distance is a relative term between fiction and reality. It is controlled by various combinations of speed, course and time. These three elements are absolute facts but the results are uncertain.

Vincenzo: Uncertainty encompasses also Mutual Issues, Inventive Acts (2008). Here you take found scenes that 'happened' in the street of Istanbul and re-stage them in different European cities through the use of photographs and drawings. Doing so, you produce a mix between reality and fiction, and the viewer cannot know what is real and what is invented.
In this case, what is the difference between the form of these acts in the photos and in the drawings? Also, at what moment does the elaboration of the images come to the drawing and how?

Ahmet: First I started to make drawings of acts, then I started to re-make some of them as photographs. They are like suggestions for possible daily life inventions and they can be suggestions for any city. However, in the photographs there is a background and it is possible to recognize that it is a European city. Just like when you see a caricature, you can say that it's too much, it can't happen. But if you document the same thing as a photograph, the photograph becomes a proof that the act really happened and could happen.

Vincenzo: I read a recent conversation with sociologist Sezgin Boynik in which you both discuss the theory of Informal Structures. What is that and how does it work in your pieces?

Ahmet: Informal Structures is an existing term in sociology. I think that it can be used as an alternative strategy. It suggests that people are members of society and can find their own ways of doing things. They can prefer using or creating informal structures, because they are easier to work with and they can save time when formal structures aren't accessible. Also informal structures can't be easily controlled by a central mechanism.

Vincenzo: Ground Control (2007-2008), your work at the last Berlin Biennial consisted of 400 square meters of asphalt, which covered the floor of KunstWerke atrium; in your solo show at Kunsthalle Basel, you placed slightly up on the wall a small green door between two rooms forcing the viewer to make an effort to get into the next space; in Clear Blue Sky versus Generous Heart (2008), at current Site Santa Fe Biennial, you created a corridor, on which you put many red tote bags that the public can take and required the public to walk to reach an airbrushed painted car hood, hanging on the wall, which completed your installation. Three different approaches, all three ways to occupy the space and to physically challenge the viewer. Why?

Ahmet: Usually I consider the exhibition space as a playground where the viewer will meet with the work. Space can be used as a tool to reach the artwork. I like to give a big role to the viewer when the encounter happens with the work. As a viewer myself I have felt that very strongly for example when crossing from Bruce Nauman's Green Light Corridor (1970) and walking in Mike Nelson's A Psychic Vacuum (2007)

Vincenzo : Crossing and walking, another two words that recall transportation and transit. So, where does your work go? What comes afterwards?

Ahmet: North by northwest