Artist Ahmet Öğüt | Interview

I met with artist Ahmet Öğüt during the opening week of the exhibition ‘Political Populism’ at Kunsthalle Wien. Öğüt is constantly on the move, but we found time to talk about his practice, relationships with collectors and his teaching process.

Ahmet Öğüt, photo: Kristina Kulakova

Kristina Kulakova: You were trained as a painter – yet in your practice you use different media and move easily from performance to video art, photography, drawings, sculpture, installations and books. How did this transition happen? 

Ahmet Öğüt: Knowing that the main skills I had in life were drawing and painting, it was not an easy decision to switch from that. But it was also not like I decided to stop painting and never do it again.

When I earned my bachelor’s degree in fine art – which amounted to a total of eight years of training in a very classical and traditional way and I am happy with the knowledge that I have, although it is not always useful in my current practice – I realized the social and economic aspect of existing work once it is created. In university I did many things for the sake of learning, and we were taught that the more drawings or paintings we create, the more knowledge of how to improve we gain. I worked a lot and ran out of resources very quickly. Even though I was giving away a lot of my work, I still lacked storage. On top of that, I wanted to be able to travel and learn, all of that made me nomadic.

While I was still studying I started making installations, video and photo works inspired from the publications I was following at the time.  It was then when I started to educate myself in contemporary art. I was influenced by local magazines like “art-ist contemporary art magazine” published in Istanbul ,which was an underground publication which you would not find in just any book store. It had historic issues like the one on “Situationist International” edited by Sezgin Boynik, or special manifestation issue edited by Alexander Brener & Barbara Schurz.

During my masters at the Art and Design Faculty of the Yıldız Technical University – which was arguably the most progressive interdisciplinary school in Istanbul back then – I started to think that the idea itself is more important than the medium or the object. The medium is only a tool to access and circulate the idea.

Coming back to the topic of painting as a medium, it is worth mentioning that I find unique productions very dangerous because it’s not easy to keep their speculative value under control. One can easily lose control of a unique work of art in terms of socio-economic surplus, exchange value and use value.

Nowadays, I mostly work with reproducible artworks or installations. From time to time I produce unique works but then it is always an issue to preserve them until they find their place. There should be a good enough reason to produce a unique work of art.

Ahmet Öğüt, barricade

So if you do not know a collector, you would not sell your work to him?
In my case, people, who are interested in buying my work, usually, have done their research beforehand. They often approach with specific requests or have a very clear idea of how my work fits into their collection. These are inspirational farsighted collectors who have their own long-term vision such as Isabelle & Jean-Conrad Lemaitre, Eduardo & Camilla Barella and Haro & Bilge Cumbusyan.

You do projects in very different places, how do you keep yourself informed?
Through short on-site visits. I am often asked to do site specific works. Which was not initially part of my practice. But I know that there is never enough time to acquire the local knowledge or to be able to talk about the relevant issues while being far away from the place. But there are always people whom I trust, they are the locals and their knowledge is most valuable. So I work with my friends and the people who inspire me.  You can call this kind of a nexus of knowledge. I am one of those people when it comes to Istanbul it’s not only about art but more about understanding the complexity of city and the politics.

In your conversation with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, you mentioned that when you decide whether you will participate in a project, not everything depends on the institution itself or a platform. It rather depends on the people involved. So for you, is it different when a friend invites you to do a show in an apartment from being invited by a museum director? 
For me there is no difference between an apartment and a big museum if there is an urgency to produce a piece in that context. An exhibition in an apartment is not necessarily only for our own pleasure. I apply the same rule to a museum when an exhibition is on, not just because the institution has the budget to make a group show for a specific topic and they need artists to fill the space and the yearly program.

Does the Kunsthalle Wien, where your works are a part of the current show ‘Political Populism’ fit into your vision of how it should be?
I can see that the vision of Nicolaus Schafhausen, current director of Kunsthalle has changed the perception of the institution in the local scene a lot. I can say that through conversations I had with students, other fellow artists, curators and some friends, that the program feels more dynamic than before. But I think institutions should not depend only on progressive directors in order to become a truly progressive. But it should rather be transformed into a vision of the institution, a vision that will not be overruled bureaucratically and administratively.

Ahmet Öğüt, Pleasure Places of All Kinds

How would one make an institution more progressive?
The institution has to be up to date with every part of the organizational process, it has to take risks and be flexible: the way the production is done, the way to collaborate with the artists, if the artists are payed and so on. The whole process is part of it – all pre and post — the way the work is handled, the way the budget is used, planning of the public program and the educational program. There are many things that could make an institution progressive. Every institution has a heritage, which has to be protected and challenged at the same time.

In one of your panels, your advice to a young artist was not to study art, although you yourself teach art. How come?
Well, the end of that sentence was;  “… don’t study art. Study something else, but keep doing art.” The point is that to make art you do not necessarily have to study art. In many traditional art schools most teachers would repeatedly tell the students, that from a group of students, only one might become an artist. I would prefer to look at this the other way around. I teach at art schools not because I would like to teach there exclusively. I would also accept a job if I were to be invited to teach at a Finance or Law school. If I look at my collaborations — I collaborate with people from other professions more than with artists these days. They are often not aware of their creative skills and ideas.

Ahmet Öğüt , The Castle of Vooruit

Ahmet Öğüt , The Castle of Vooruit

How do you empower their creativity?
Normally I would start with an idea and find them because I am not able to execute it myself. It often starts off as a collaboration based on the other persons expertise, without which, I would not be able and then it grows into a collaborative creative process.

Was there anything that you learned from your students?
Worries and agendas of students are often different when compared to full-time artists concerns, I learn a lot from that.

The school system often requires a competitive way of thinking and makes sure that that is the only way to do things. I always believed in the opposite. When I see other artists, whose work I admire — it is a motivation rather than a competition and I keep learning a lot from them. It would emancipate all of us if we could find a way to connect our practices and create new ways of long-term collaborative thinking and solidarity.

Ahmet Öğüt , running_lecture

Ahmet Öğüt , running_lecture

Ahmet Öğüt, born in 1981 in Diyarbakır, Turkey, is a Kurdish artist, sociocultural initiator, and lecturer who lives and works in Berlin and Amsterdam. He is the initiator of the Initiator of The Silent University, which is an autonomous knowledge exchange platform by refugees, asylum seekers. Working across a variety of media, Öğüt’s institutional solo exhibitions include Forward!, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2015); Happy Together: Collaborators Collaborating, Chisenhale Gallery, London (2015); Apparatuses of Subversion, Horst-Janssen-Museum, Oldenburg (2014); Stacion – Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina (2013); Künstlerhaus Stuttgart (2012); SALT Beyoglu, Istanbul (2011); The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum (2010); Künstlerhaus Bremen (2009); and Kunsthalle Basel (2008). He has also participated in numerous group exhibitions, including the British Art Show 8 (2015-2017); the 13th Biennale de Lyon (2015); 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale (2014); Performa 13, the Fifth Biennial of Visual Art Performance, New York (2013); the 7th Liverpool Biennial (2012); the 12th Istanbul Biennial (2011); Trickster Makes This World, Nam June Paik Art Center (2010); the New Museum Triennial, New York (2009); and the 5th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art (2008). Ögüt has completed several residency programs, including programs at the Delfina Foundation and Tate Modern (2012); IASPIS, Sweden (2011); and Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam (2007–2008). He has taught at the Dutch Art Institute, Netherlands (2012); the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, Finland (2011–ongoing); and Yildiz Teknik University, Turkey (2004–2006), among others. Öğüt was awarded the Visible Award for the Silent University (2013); the special prize of the Future Generation Art Prize, Pinchuk Art Centre, Ukraine (2012); the De Volkskrant Beeldende Kunst Prijs 2011, Netherlands; and the Kunstpreis Europas Zukunft, Museum of Contemporary Art, Germany (2010). He co-represented Turkey at the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009).


  1. Ahmet Öğüt. Copyright: Kristina Kulakova
  2. Bakunin’s Barricade | a  barricade inspired by Bakunin’s never realized proposal in 1849 using works from the Van Abbemuseum’s Collection: Asger Jorn, Le monde Perdu, 1960, Oskar Kokoschka, Augustusbrücke Dresden, 1923, Fernand Léger, Une Chaise, un pot de fleurs, 2 bouteilles, 1951, Pablo Picasso, Nature morte à la bougie, 1945, René Daniëls, Grammofoon, 1978, Jan Vercruysse, Schöne Sentimenten, (1986)1988, Marlene Dumas, The View, 1992, El Lissitzky, Proun P23, No. 6, 1919 | A loan contact, prepared in collaboration with a lawyer, stipulates that the barricade may be requested and deployed during extreme economic, social, political, transformative moments and social movements. | 2015 | view from Van Abbemuseum.
  3. Installation view: Political Populism, Kunsthalle Wien 2015, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff: Ahmet Öğüt, Pleasure Places of All Kinds; Yichang, 2015, Courtesy the artist
  4. The Castle of Vooruit | Ahmet Öğüt | helium-filled balloon floating above the ground at a height of eleven meters and diameter of eight meters, Waalse Krook, Ghent | Commissioned by S.M.A.K. for TRACK | 2012 | photo by Dirk Pauwels 
  5. The Castle of Vooruit | Ahmet Öğüt | helium-filled balloon floating above the ground at a height of eleven meters and diameter of eight meters, Waalse Krook, Ghent | Commissioned by S.M.A.K. for TRACK | 2012 | photo by Dirk Pauwels 
  6. Running Lecture | 2010 | departed from Artspace, Sydney at 3.30 pm on Thursday 7 October | photo: Reuben Keehan
  7. Running Lecture | 2010 | departed from Artspace, Sydney at 3.30 pm on Thursday 7 October | photo: Reuben Keehan

2 thoughts on “Artist Ahmet Öğüt | Interview

  1. Excellent article. I hope that Ahmet’s message can bring visibility to the Kurdish situation as they straddle various borders. I love the first picture of the balloon in which it appears that the balloon and castle are floating far beyond the city. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 57th Venice Biennale | Eastern Europe | #viennacontemporary Magazine

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