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Ahmet Öğüt on activism, collaboration, and the uses of absurdity


At Frieze, Sam Thorne talks to Turkish conceptual artist Ahmet Öğüt, whose work has taken a turn toward the subversive and political in recent years. Öğüt has also been instrumental in organizing boycotts and protests by artists, most recently at the Istanbul biennial. (Registration—but not a subscription—is required to read the article on the Frieze website.)

ST: Many of your projects deal with the changing shape of cities. For example, Exploded City (2009– ongoing) comprises maquettes of buildings that have been destroyed by terrorist attacks. Names are given – Belfast, London, Madrid, Mostar, Mumbai, Oklahoma, Sarajevo – as well as dates. I’d say that your work isn’t only site-specific, it’s also highly attentive to the passing of time.

AÖ: The notion of time and its connection to the role of reconstructing recent history has always been of great importance for me. Governments often use laws as tools to turn the recent past into the distant past. This can erase critical incidents from our social memory. The buildings in Exploded City are globally anonymous, but locally well known. It’s an imaginary metropolis that reconstructs these sites in the moments before they were destroyed or attacked, before they became known as ruins. Instead of constantly forgetting, we should be constantly remembering.

ST: It’s two years since the Gezi Park occupation in Istanbul. What does that moment in recent history mean to you now?

AÖ: In Turkey, we are continuously oscillating between optimism and pessimism. The Gezi revolt was a unique moment of solidarity and an inspiring time. We saw that people with radically different views can demonstrate rare tolerance to stand side by side. We witnessed, and are still witnessing, the transformation of public spaces into sites of resistance. They became tactical places for the freedom of expression, for a battle of wits between the public and the government.

Since then, we have all realized that now is the time for consistent long-term strategies. Many groups that formed in the wake of Gezi are doing this with a specific focus: grassroots associations, ecological collectives, feminist and transgender groups, neighbourhoods struggling against eviction, architects against gentrification, anti-capitalist groups, workers against precarious employment and migrants’ solidarity networks – to name just a few.

Image: Ahmet Öğüt, Bakunin’s Barricade, 2015