There is a subtle shroud of ambiguity dangling over the work, resolve and character of Ahmet Ogut, one that tempts enquiry, rather than providing answers. With it comes a self-assurance that is not arrogant, or overly ambitious as seen in some of the work produced by artists from Turkey that came to local and international attention during the nineties, but from a personal and although often humorous, a more earnest perspective. The one-liner works, in your face statements and use of political irony are dwindling, to be replaced by a subtler, more inquisitive and muliti-dimensional approach. And, the younger generation of artists, of which Ogut is one, are choosing not to be restricted and hence labelled by working with a solitary form of medium; are open to collaborations in order to encourage diverse practice and thought; have gained confidence to experiment freely without assuming an end-product; and ultimately they are producing work that is not obvious, not as expected and therefore far more interesting to discuss.
Until the age of 17, Ogut had not ventured beyond the region surrounding Diyarbakir in the East of Turkey, the city of his birth. It was only then that he travelled to Ankara to study painting and illustration for four years at Hacettepe University. One of his first works Halisaha sets a poignant scene for his interest in performance and role-play, the ability to shift tradition and location and the sense of community formed by games.
A candid irony combined with Ogut’s gentle touch as its referee grants a dexterity that clearly references specific issues important to him as a Kurd living and working in Turkey, while at the same time picking up on similar ambiguities present at any threshold which exists between two cultures.
In Halisaha (which literally translates as carpet field, but means astro-turf) Ogut transferred a Turkish carpet, a symbol and literal element of his home in Diyarbakir, into the centre of a football stadium. A photograph of the carpet’s temporary placement exists as the art work, but it was the actual performance of taking the carpet from its private setting to lay it out for display in a space created for an audience (although at that moment significantly absent and therefore merely implied), which produced a temporary interface loaded with enquiry.
Another local game Okey has been the subject of several of Ogut’s works. Played with numbered chips and as popular as Backgammon in the more rural areas of Turkey, Okey is a man’s game and in places like Diyarbakir consumes time in tea shops for the unemployed. In his youth, Ogut and a friend set up a small business, which boasted the return of Okey chips ‘as good as new’ by repainting their embossed numbers for pocket money. When invited to participate in the exhibition Under the Beach the Pavement curated by Vasif Kortun at Proje4L in 2003, Ogut recognised a familiar division between his activity and that of the Okey players in Diyarbakir and the location in Istanbul of the museum, then positioned on a fine-line separating the financial area of Levent and the residential, poverty stricken district of Gultepe. In order to locate an element of one site subtly into the other, Ogut went about collecting chips form the community in Gultepe (this time without charge) to renew within the museum. On the opening night of the exhibition Ogut sat focused, painting these chips, doing a job he knew well and that performed multiple references for himself, having been a lived reality of his youth and a symbol of multiple cultures living side-by-side albeit in ignorance of one another.
Ogut used Okey again as a different means for communication in the exhibition Darkroom in Hannover. One day before the opening, Ogut taught four German males how to play the game, which they then realised as a form of living sculpture within the setting of the gallery. The men had never played Okey previously and yet lived very close to the Turkish neighbourhood from where the chips for the game had been easily borrowed. Without imposing a shared dialogue between the local German and the Turkish community, Ogut hinted at the possibility for cultural exchange by introducing this game on the boarder of two contexts.
Two recent video works What a Lovely Day and Cut it Out propose imaginary scenarios for real situations of cause and effect. What a Lovely Day depicts the playing out of a situation where the police stop and search a young man. Secret police, such as the ones portrayed in the video, exist in Ogut’s memory as a catalyst for assumed guilt and the fear of potential violence. His video is as much a re-enactment of scenes he has heard about, as it is a performance of his mind racing forward to conjure a future situation on seeing the tell-tale white car known to contain such police.
In Cut it Out a young man, who for Ogut represents the average American guy, sits on the floor in a pair of pants printed with an American flag motif. Posing as an Iraq posted soldier he curses the war, the people involved, the pointlessness of it all and numerously repeats the phrase ‘it’s a lost cause, I want to go home’ seemingly confused and referring both to America’s war efforts and the situation in Iraq simultaneously. Throughout his rendition he continuously breaks down in laughter, as if high and excessively nervous of a reality and seriousness he cannot express. On two occasions flash frames appear momentarily exposing two men dressed in the representation of terrorists fed to us by the media. The first time they stand behind the boy, posing as if guarding him, in the second all three appear dead. These split-second insertions jerk the viewer to look beyond the boy’s bewildered contempt to the more sinister reality it refers to.
Another component of Ogut’s practice consists of collaborations with other artists. The most successful of these has been Colouring Book, produced with Sener Ozmen in 2004. The book contains a series of line drawn scenes adapted from childhood memory. Each one references complex topics mainly related to the Kurdish, Turkish relationship such as religion, small town mentality, immigration and the image of Ataturk as a national symbol. These pages perhaps best represent Ogut’s practice literally –because although images, scenes and thoughts are out-lined in the work, Drawing Book is essentially a blank canvas, gamely waiting to be coloured in, added to, modified, or scribbled out.
Ahmet Ogut currently lives and works in Istanbul. He was recently selected as the first artist from Turkey to receive a three-month residency in Basel, Switzerland with the support of Pro Helvetia.