In curatorial and artistic practice there is a moment during which the work of art, its influences and possible outcomes appear to the surface. It is from this moment of ‘visibility’ that the work of art can be subject to response and perhaps even criticism. This point, perhaps perpetually in motion, can be called ‘a point of visibility’. Could this point be constructive in helping to realise that a work, an idea or their consequences cannot exist without revealing themselves to the surface? Is there the possibility of something greater achievable than the relationship between the artist and curator? Between the communities and histories that surround them? Are we at this very moment not talking about the appearance of the object itself, but about that what precedes the (pre and post) production and the point of visibility itself? What are the possible consequences for the future if we think of it like this? And finally, does judgement play an important part in generating influences and confluences?
As part of this investigation I would like to take a look at a work entitled Ground Control (2007/2008) by Ahmet Öğüt, which was shown in the Kunst-Werke (KW) as part of the 5th Berlin Biennial. But first I will start with a small anecdote in which this notion of the ‘point of visibility’ might reveal itself in a very physical manifestation. Following the recent election of President Obama I read an article that described the experience of an elderly lady who had cast her vote on the 4th November 2008. It described her experiences of racism and segregation, how she had never thought it a possibility that she would be able to vote for a Black President and her aspirations for the future. The article relayed that as she left the voting booth she had collapsed on the floor and was quickly surrounded by concerned crowds. At first is seemed that she was unwell but as time passed it became apparent that she had been overcome with emotion. At the moment that the woman had signed the ballot paper, history had became a very close reality. The moment of signing the ballot was this point of visibility for her where all experienced and known history regarding this vote confronted the possibilities of the future and in a most physical way.
Of course it is not only in everyday life that these moments occur, be it in less physical manifestations. In curatorial and artistic practice there is always a critical view towards everything that is contemporary, or everything that once was. Can we question this issue of currency or of the urgency of the ‘contemporary’? Where does it come from? What does it mean to be or act in the here and now, in the contemporary? In these practices and beyond it is clear that time plays an important role in researching the value of terms like ‘contemporary’, ‘modernist’ or ‘antique’. They have to start somewhere and concurrently are constantly under review and renegotiation under the conditions however that such critique is useful and timed in a good way.
It is by and through history, reactions and the actions and limitations of mankind, that we are connected. In this light it is not so interesting to spend the small amount of words at my disposal on discussing ‘time’ as a whole, but rather the small element of the ‘point of visibility’. This point probably exists somewhere along an endless line where a lot of our ability to think, act and judge comes from. I would like to think of it as the moment where a work of art is pushed to the surface and ready for display. At that very moment it becomes possible for everybody to respond with all the baggage from the past, in different forms and ways, that we have. It is perhaps this moment where the value of history becomes clear and where the ideas of the artist and curator get their first breath of fresh air.
Ahmet Öğüt – Ground Control
As one of the central works and opening scene in the KW during the 5th Berlin Biennial in 2008, I saw Ahmet Öğüt’s Ground Control (2007/2008) executed for the second time. In talking about the point of visibility I find this particular work useful because of elements of political and social conditions, (art) history, space and contemporary time itself that resurface here. As an ongoing moment, rather than a static work for only a one-time offer, Öğüt transformed the gallery space in KW into a blank space filled with a layer of thick asphalt supposedly there to stay. Ground Control not only speaks about the way, how, where and when a phenomenon like modernization or social structures can and will appear to us, but also about their own appearance, the road that it comes from and the future that is initiated by it.
On Modernist Conditions
Ground Control is deeply rooted in the history of social-political conditions that made asphalt an icon of modernism. It is not only important to understand that this history has an unmistakable influence on the work and is being transformed to an icon by the artistic action itself, but also to understand that history can become a visible moment that is clearly connected to what can happen in the future.
The asphalt speaks, in the words of Öğüt, about the arrival and dedication to modern times in Turkey. In the most rural places roads were poured with this new black material. Not only was this practically making it possible for people to travel, but it also controlled the areas that were now connected with ‘black gold’. Invisible places were now rendered visible and accessible for interpretation and re-interpretation. This did not only occur in Turkey, but also elsewhere as with the material concrete in the form of the Autobahn, which was also transformed into a similar icon in Germany in the 1920’s and 30’s. It was also the case here that practicalities such as transporting goods, people and generating services, was not the only rational for such infrastructure but also to illustrate the greatness of a nation.
Ground Control is physical work that is clearly irremovable through its enormous dimensions, its weight and bond to the room in which it is situated. It is quite a radical artistic act (perhaps it still is, even after sixties minimalism and conceptualism) in the gestural placement of black asphalt in a formerly white room. In its display, the work obviously becomes visible for the viewer. A fact that seems rhetorical perhaps but is less so if we look at it more closely. But before thinking about the ways of how this work was initiated and how it came to be place eventually in that space, it is perhaps also valuable to look and speculate about its consequences in the future. Imagination can help us clear this up.
Control on the power of visibility and the timing of this moment (the point of visibility) is in the hands of the artist, the actual duration of the moment is in the hands of KW and the curators. Is it possible to consider asking Öğüt to leave the work in-situ from now on and for every exhibition in the future? Surely removing the work has its degrees of complication. Also this might seem like a silly question, but just what would happen if the KW should decide to leave the work in the room? Is it possible that in extending the time of visibility the viewer will have another interpretation of the work or have another view? The moment of exposure will be extended allowing this to happen. A radical other approach is to acquire it for the collection where it will end up as a drawing in storage, never to see the light again if there is no suitable time. Even if Öğüt’s work will transform to something else by painting over it, pretend as if it is part of the space and basically ignore it, it is still there. It will continue with the spreading of influence to yet unknown targets.
In time, influences from outside will play an important and continuous role in the development and visibility of Ground Control. If we look retrospectively, it is clear that the work could not have been made without the presence of heritages like Brian O’Doherty’s essay ‘Inside The White Cube’, Walter De Maria’s work ‘A Computer that will solve Every Problem in the World’ or Huseyin Alptekin’s extensive imaginative project called ‘The Sea Elephant Travel Agency’. These sources of influence play with the ideas and actual work of Ground Control in an ongoing loop, it gives and takes, and sends information out also itself on another moment, most likely later to be understood as influence. It is this feeding ground that fertilizes Ground Control everlasting dialogue between influences themselves, ideas and the production of the work. Where this comes together and opens up for relevant or irrelevant judgement and critique, we could call the point of visibility.
In Ground Control, pouring the asphalt in the space of the KW and putting it on display gives us as viewers a moment of visibility and the possibility to interpret. Although these moments, also used by Öğüt himself in the process of making, and reasons which are possibly not singular; confluences appear in the development of this and other works by the artist. And yet we are reminded that this moment of visibility, this convergence of ideas and histories, for the viewer is not always the same moment of visibility for another person.
To speculate with some caution it seems that the point of visibility, the only moment in time is when results, beginnings and influences appear to us. How, when, why and its consequences are yet unclear at the moment itself and need to settle in time in order to become relevant for individuals as well as communities