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Ferhat Özgür Interview

Vol. 6

We made an interview on his watercolor paintings, patterns and art with Ferhat Özgür; who is internationally famous for his photographs and videos, an active artist of Turkish contemporary art.

Contemporary art community knows you through your videos, whereas, as we all know, you are of painting origin and you do have many pattern and watercolor paintings. Why are your videos in the foreground? Most probably, it is because there haven’t been suitable occasions to exhibit my paintings. I cannot afford to provide the area to exhibit those works which also include the works of last seven-eight years. Naturally, as I cannot show those works adequately, the videos and photographs are being exhibited predominantly. Besides, I rarely organize personal exhibition and I generally involve in exhibitions abroad. We have to think that there are practical solutions for transportation and exhibition of videos and photographs. For instance; in my last personal exhibition in Sweden, we would show 6 big dimensioned photographs. I made a proposal to institution considering the transportation and insurance matter. I would post the photographs in CD and they would print them, finally they would demolish them at the end of the exhibition. They would only be seen during the exhibition. But, please take attention, I am only talking about practical solutions. It is weird that, to make a video or photograph have higher costs than painting, it require budget, however, it is practical in terms of the movement and exhibition. Painting does not push you in terms of budget. But, when you attempt to send a paper or toile with 100x70 cm size abroad, you may face many difficulties. In your videos, city, immigration and the relationship between these phenomenon and individual are dominant, whereas, in your paintings, there is an antimilitarist statement. Do you especially choose this? Antimilitarism is a statement that I consciously address to. On one hand, it functions as a metaphor against violence, on the other hand, I take this approach as a political responsibility. Do we suffer from anything else compared to militarism? We mustn’t limit militarism as military service etc.. Globally, it is the main source of economic, cultural, social and political traumas, moreover, it functions as macho power for a solution method against those problems. This is what we experienced in June resistance and “occupy” movement. People rebel for their basic rights and freedom and militarism immediately begins to function as opposed power. It covers totalitarian stand. In your pattern works, instead of an open statement which the viewer can directly understand, there are scenes full of metaphors and which are surreal and absurd. How can you base this kind of expressive style? How do you associate the city and street themes which are the main source of your video and photographs with those? A performative presentation is dominant in my patterns and watercolor paintings. Principally, I act as if I designed a scene performance while I paint or deal with watercolor paintings. All the absurd and surreal situations can be turned to photograph, sculpture or play the role of performance. I will also focus on those matters and techniques later on. How do I base them? They emerge through the association of photographs from newspapers, magazines and junk dealers, disposals and ready foundlings. This answer is also the answer of the second part of your question. If I do not go to street, I cannot collect the ready foundlings, I cannot reach to imagery that I collect here and there. Naturally, the street, city, outside always direct me When we look at the today’s art figurative paintings, are surreal or absurd compositions common? If there is, what is the reason of this tendency according to you? I agree that there is such a kind of tendency in figurative paintings. Painters directly deal with portrayal. They wish to represent human phenomenon in most apparent status apart from abstraction practices. Representation issue differs from painter to painter of course, it is difficult to generalize the reasons. This representation is a separate issue to be analyzed within the range of different personalizations from Neo Rauch to Eberhard Havekost, from Raqip Shaw to Glenn Brown. As we started to talk about figurative tendencies, according to you, what is the status of figurative painting art today? Can we say there is an increase or decrease comparing to previous years? It is wrong to generalize it as decrease or increase. As I frequently travel abroad, I see that, painting art navigates in a figurative wing. Sometimes, one wishes to see a hard-core abstract piece of art. People like to encounter story, clear or hidden message, face a phenomenon representation, try to uncover the codes, comment, talk to the artwork, make a tour and get lost in different swirls. Figurative painting seems prevailing through putting those forward clearly. Perceiving a good abstract painting requires a conscious effort or rather an education. My experiences taught me those. You should show an effort to perceive the frequency spread out from Cy Twombly or Rothko.
I have a question about critics. According your opinion, how effective are the critics today? Does the meaning of criticism change? As I can see, everybody is following the texts which are spoiled from public relations. Is the real criticism wanted? As an artist who writes sometimes, do you feel lack of this? Real critics are reduced. I think, real art criticism had important loss within the last years in Turkey. From 90’s up to the first years of 2000’s, art criticism did not consist of ready foundlings based on ready press bulletins. Nowadays, talented critics do not find a place for themselves to write their articles. Or, those either withdrew or lost their jobs. Ahu Antmen quitted Radikal long time ago. So did Beral Madra. Moreover, Ayşegül Sönmez’s long interviews in this newspaper shortened in order to use more visuals etc. Nowadays, contemporary art activities became a decoration for yellow press. Thus, criticism left its place to press releases which only give information about exhibition. With the dogma that nobody have time and energy to read detailed analysis, there are many soap opera exhibition news all around the newspapers. Is it possible for me to not to feel lack of this as an artist? There are lots of writers, called as art critics, in press who just are fulled up with the food given in VIP organizations within exhibition and write about the exhibition in the following day. To be honest, it has been a long time that I disengaged with the art criticisms in the newspapers, mostly I do not follow them up. Rather, internet sourced alternative writings, alternative names in the extensive publications like İstanbul Art News try to keep criticism alive in Turkey. Some names? Beral Madra, very energetic and writes frequently, I like Ali Artun, Barış Acar, Ahu Antmen, Ali Akay, Bora Gürdaş, Emre Zeytinoğlu, Necmi Sönmez, Evrim Altuğ, Derya Yücel, Levent Çalıkoğlu, Fırat Arapoğlu, Özgür Uçkan. In this case, can we say that criticism depends on capital? Or, in other words, what is the function of capital in criticism? There are cases that the criticism and capital can push each other or can trigger each other. Organization tells to critics that “I called you for preview, later for a dinner for the exhibition, I think you can now write about it”. Philosophically, it is a “present” but what is its difference from “bribery” in order to be seen? Whereas, as an artist, you cannot do this if you do not have a support from an institution or gallery. I remember lots of ruined exhibitions in Turkey because of not having this opportunity. I cannot say that the media is interested in free artist that try to break the resistance of them. Today, money can either glorify something or disgrace the same thing. Recently, there is an increase in the studios in Kadıköy, what is the reason for that? Can we say that Kadıköy will be an alternative for Beyoğlu and Nişantaşı in the future? I think we are talking about nearly 80 artists and group studios. Those are not new. There were many artists living in Anatolian side of Istanbul for a long time. New generation is added to this group and there happened an artist explosion in Kadıköy. I think it is because the rental fees are cheaper than European side and the conditions are less sufferable. I do not think that Anatolian side will be an alternative. İstanbul’s nature does not allow this. Many artists living in Anatolian side always goes to European side and they spare special days for the exhibitions there. But, in order to create the same environment, enough galleries and institutions should be done to evaluate the artist potential in Anatolian side. We mentioned that your pattern and watercolor paintings appear less than your videos, well, will the viewers have chance to discover Ferhat Özgür’s less known aspect in near future? What are your new projects? I continue to work with different mediums at the same time. If you mean the new project as exhibition, these are the following issues. Producing work is always my priority. I hope, we can see all of them broadly in one day. Let’s say time!
Vol. 6
News from Art Neighbours