Ögüt’s courageous forays into a bringing conceptual art to the masses are formidable in their allure and simplicity, but are simultaneously deeply questioning of too frequently overlooked norms, practices and methods of control which we rarely notice but nonetheless conform to in our daily lives.
In his quaintly titled slideshow: ‘Somebody Else’s Car’, Ögüt is photographed while he transmogrifies people’s parked cars (without their consent) into police cruisers or taxis using only cardboard and tape. In an interview for ArtKrush, he said ‘…I documented the project in a series of photographs that create a story in which I am kind of an activist character. The activist completes his action in a quick, tense manner, which could almost make us forget about the abstract nature of his intervention – which is revealing how mechanisms of control displace reality with fiction by using symbols and codes. The yellow of a taxi, or a white car with a blue line that signals ‘police’ – they are just abstract codes, like many others. In this momentary illusion, the symbols don’t replace reality, but show how fictitious they themselves are.’
When describing ‘Ground Control’, his installation at the 5th Berlin Biennale, where he paved the ground floor of the KW institute for contemporary art with asphalt, he says ‘I was able to fill the exhibition space with an ambience, rather than with physical objects. For me, asphalt is an ideological, authoritarian tool. It is a product of industrial modernity and civilization, and it operates as the best and most basic way to normalize and legalize territories. When we see asphalt in an interior space, we immediately come face-to-face with its invisible power and realize that it is a materialization of authority.’
Perhaps Ögüt’s artistic quest for freedom from overbearing control is stemmed in his past. He grew up in Diyarbakir, Turkey, where there were constant confrontations between residents and authorities. His breakthrough piece ‘Stones to Throw’ exhibited at Kunsthalle Lissabon, Lisbon features 10 small stones painted with menacing teeth and facial features (nose art which is usually reserved for the fronts of military fighter planes). During the show, 9 of the 10 pieces were sent back to his home town in Turkey one by one, and at the end, only one stone remained on its plinth, becoming, as he says himself, ‘the physical documentation of the other stones that disappeared in the streets of Diyarbakir’.
Ögüt’s staunch activism and deep commitment to human liberty is even more impressive than his countless artistic works. He played an active role in an unprecedented artists’ boycott of the 19th Sydney Biennale because the event was largely funded by Transfield Holdings, a corporation which profited from the controversial Australian mandatory detention policies. Influenced by the defiance of Ögüt and other participating artists, the biennale board cut its ties with Transfield, showing just how much sway artists should rightly hold over supposed patrons of the arts and recording a small victory for the countless, voiceless victims of misguided regulations established by indifferent systems.
His project ‘The Silent University’ – a knowledge sharing platform for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers – enables these too often neglected and marginalized members of society to help each other by sharing their experiences and giving guidance to one another on what to do and what to avoid in certain parts of the world. ‘Eyewriter’, an open-source device which tracks eye movement to allow the disabled or paralyzed to communicate using only their eyes, is another project which he initiated that stands as a testament to his philanthropy.
By some accounts, Ögüt’s best piece yet is the ‘The Castle of Vooruit’, a helium filled balloon floating above the ground at a height of 11 meters and diameter of eight meters in Waalse Krook, Ghent. The piece is modelled to look like a gigantic floating boulder, on top of which a castle perches somewhat precariously. To quote his website, in this piece ‘Ögüt captures the traces of a set of utopian social ideas in a single surreal image.’
When Ahmet hits home with his targeted messages that force us to regurgitate our very notions of reality and recognize them for the simulacra that they really are, he speaks to the artist in all of us and elicits a feeling of benediction that comes from contemplating a true and powerful idea masquerading as art.
Ahmet Ögüt is a tickler of imaginations, a defiant but cultured voice who deliberately alludes to our introspective cores, urging and nudging us to open our eyes and seek counterweights to the subconscious indoctrinations of the disparate systems we live within.
By Simon Ayalew