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San Francisco
Ahmet Ogut
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
2155 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94720
January 24, 2010 - April 11, 2010

Rewind and Replay
by Georgia Fee




Ahmet Öğüt's installation, Exploded City, developed for the Turkish Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale, has just arrived at the Berkeley Art Museum. It is Öğüt's first solo exhibition in the US.


When Robert Rauschenberg took drawing in hand and erased de Kooning, he committed an act of veneration and annihilation, an act of revolutionary proportions that shifted the history of art.  Some called it defacement, others called it an outrage; Rauschenberg called it poetry. (

Nestled in this seemingly small moment lurked a rupture in the basic fabric of art. Historically, art had been about production; our interest was centered on the what and who of production. Art was an additive process, in which the artist was forever bringing more of it into existence. Rauschenberg’s desire to produce a new drawing from the erasure of the de Kooning drawing shifted our perception of art from production to erasure, addition to subtraction and the question for consideration became: What exists if the object itself has been eradicated?


Upon confronting Erased De Kooning Drawing, 1953, hanging in SFMOMA, the absence of visual content is confounding and disturbing – where’s the art?  It is as if the climax of the story has been removed…we have the museum and the artist but there is no art.  Upon closer inspection, the title is discovered and - poof - the art becomes manifest. Without the title, there is simply the blank paper, a bit old and messy looking, but offering nothing more than that.  However, as soon as the title is read, the viewer is allowed to engage with the work, its force has been activated.  So in answer to the question above, it is the thought process that takes over the role of the object, and the object's shell merely becomes the trope upon which to hang the thought.

An interesting equation occurs in considering Rauschenberg's work:

De Kooning Drawing – Drawing = Rauschenberg

(DD – D = R)


Rauschenberg Drawing – Drawing = De Kooning Drawing

(RD – D = DD)


With Exploded City this action of erasure that Rauschenberg gave us is played throughout the work. The imprint of this 'madness' unfolds with each twist and turn of its streets. Exploded City is a collection of scale models, buildings and vehicles, that have been selected by Ahmet Öğüt because they have been the scenes of terrorist activities, primarily bombings. Rather than present us with the aftermath of these seminal events, Ahmet presses the metaphorical REWIND button and transports us to a place of pre-existing conditions. Hotels, restaurants, office buildings, banks, private homes, mosques, a car, a bus, a train and track, fill this imaginary city, but each exists as it did pre-explosion. This city is pristine, bland, nearly void of detail or description (an occasional sign belies complete neutrality). Öğüt purposefully chose semi-anonymous buildings, those without the power punch of a Twin Tower, so as to sidestep the pre-existing historical memory that we carry with the more glaring incidents. In Exploded City, each structure stands tall, unblemished, as it did before the bombing. The explosive moment has been subtracted from the equation, redacted from the corpus, and the remaining shell is presented for inspection. Like a phantom limb, Exploded City presents that which has been removed as if it were still in existence. The real becomes the imaginary real, and we find both memory and the loss of memory at its core.

Therefore, we have a similar equation with Öğüt's work as with Rauschenberg's, as follows:

After Bomb – Bomb = Before Bomb

AB – B = BB

Notice the double B (BB) at the end of this equation, mirroring the Double D (DD) at the end of the Rauschenberg equation.  In both instances, the erasure of the central element magnifies it rather than eliminates it.  Our attention is riveted on that which has been removed, and BB could be interpreted as Bomb Bomb and DD could be interpreted as Drawing Drawing. A stutter pattern takes over the whole and causes a kind of Rewind/Replay loop to begin. Back and forth we go in each case, returning to that which came before and experiencing the removal of it simultaneously.


Erased and Exploded. Both are acts of aggression; both leave their mark as Emptiness. In each of these works, we have an effect brought about by this emptiness that is energizing and enigmatic. Through the attempt to escape history, there begins an exploration of what-if’s that opens the narrative for multiple endings. Enough!



The scandal created by Rauschenberg's erasure was around the question of ownership. Rauschenberg destroyed a work of art, a de Kooning drawing nonetheless, in a willful and premeditated way.  Although de Kooning collaborated in the destruction, the public reacted as though this fact was somehow inconsequential.  Great art belongs to the public; by producing greatness, the artist abdicates his right to ownership and thereby it’s destruction.  (Imagine the generosity of de Kooning as he agreed to Rauschenberg’s request. This was the abdication of the throne, for by allowing Rauschenberg to erase him, de Kooning in effect turned over his crown to the next generation.)  But wasn’t the sword in the heart really the death of Art that Rauschenberg’s work seemed to promote, rather than the destruction of one piece of art? And wasn’t the hew and cry from the public really about our responsibility to preserve the boundaries of civilization through the reification of culture, thereby resisting anarchy and lawlessness?

While there was no hew and cry per se at the opening of Exploded City, it was reminiscent of a Florida land grab as Öğüt' took questions from the audience during his artist talk. Hands sprung up and voices shouted: Do you have anything in Israel? What about Gaza? Why aren’t the Twin Towers there? There was a heated edge to the crowd, almost a demand for accountability as Öğüt's inventory was consumed and considered.  Clearly the public felt a personal kind of ownership over this mapping of terrorism, and there was an exaggerated response being expressed. Like the one drawing became emblematic of the whole of Art, with this work the one building seems to hold within it the whole of humanity, and therefore the erasure of the one becomes the symbolic destruction of the all.

Öğüt spent 8 months researching and selecting his properties, and in the process found cases of extraordinary occurrence such as the hotel (who’s name shall remain anonymous to protect it’s owners) that has been bombed 33 times and still stands – a bomb magnet so to speak; or the 2 private Afghani homes that were both accidentally bombed during wedding receptions that took place years apart.  He refers to his model as a "3D archive" of “accidents and incidents” that make up the cartography of terrorism. Obviously, this kind of detail and analysis opens up the possibilities of hidden patterns and linkings within this terrain.

One of the most intriguing parts of Exploded City is the legend that hangs on the wall.  It is a clear plastic poster with renderings of each structure and vehicle located in the model, along with detail as to its name, location in the real world, and the date(s) of it’s explosion and/or terrorist activity (such as the United Nations Building, Algiers, December 11, 2007). One can move from legend to the model and identify each structure within the city. Without this legend most of us are left with an inability to fingerpoint or claim these properties as part of our personal history, our memory or knowledge of the particulars is not sufficient enough to decipher the model. Like the title on Rauschenberg’s piece, Öğüt's legend serves to frame the work, to activate its meaning and as with the erased drawing we must read our way into engagement with the Exploded City and unlock its mystery through a labyrinth of signs.  In Exploded City, the legend puts the “ist” into terror and draws the boundaries that push forward a discourse on difference and political dispute.

However, where Rauschenberg’s title is a statement of action – he erased the de Kooning drawing – Öğüt's legend is a record of reaction – he selected the events and sites to place within his model.


In perusing the information provided on the legend, it becomes obvious that there is no single face or cause behind these incidents and that the definition of terrorism is hard to pinpoint, other than it can be defined by some kind of explosive activity, one building at a time. Öğüt lays bare the myth that it is possible to distill one explanation behind these occurrences, or that they are connected substantially.

And almost as if adding fuel to the fire, the model-like quality of his installation with the cars and buses, the meticulously crafted buildings and the concrete pedestals upon which they sit, and even a train track running through the middle of it (Commuter Train, Madrid, March 11 2004), bears a discomforting resemblance to something that could be found in a toy store, akin to a Lionel train set or a Monopoly game board.  Has terrorism become a game, a matter of catch me if you can?  In fact, the name Exploded City to the untuned ear could be misconstrued as Exploited City and the rules vis-à-vis the exploited and the exploiter could shift and move depending upon who’s making the model.

And almost as if adding fuel to the fire, the model-like quality of his installation with the cars and buses, the meticulously crafted buildings and the concrete pedestals upon which they sit, and even a train track running through the middle of it (Commuter Train, Madrid, March 11 2004), bears a discomforting resemblance to something that could be found in a toy store, akin to a Lionel train set or a Monopoly game board.  Has terrorism become a game, a matter of catch me if you can?  In fact, the name Exploded City to the untuned ear could be misconstrued as Exploited City and the rules vis-à-vis the exploited and the exploiter could shift and move depending upon who’s making the model.


But Öğüt is not attempting to force an agenda or claim ownership over the map, he is not a king maker nor a usurper. Instead, by deconstructing the politics and polemics of terrorism, he allows a PAUSE to happen in which new interpretations can come forward and possibly a cathartic reinvention can take place.

While Rauschenberg alluded to his act as poetry, one must assign the role of plagiarist to Öğüt. The final piece of Öğüt’s installation is a fictional text, printed and hanging on the wall, which tells the story of the Exploded City. This text is an imitation of the novel, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.  Invisible Cities in an imaginary conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in which Polo describes the cities he has seen so that Khan may determine the framework for Utopia.

For these ports I could not draw a route on the map or set a date for the landing. At times all I need is a brief glimpse, an opening in the midst of an incongruous landscape, a glint of light in the fog, the dialogue of two passersby meeting in the crowd, and I think that, setting out from there, I will put together, piece by piece, the perfect city…

Marco Polo’s to the Great Khan, Chapter 1, Invisible Cities

Öğüt interjects the Exploded City into Calvino’s Invisible Cities, and proceeds to tour us through his model city via Calvino's form and Polo’s voice.

Upon reading this text, we discover the true nature of the Exploded City:

This city is from the future. It’s called The Exploded City. Those who live there have emigrated from faraway lands, with dreams of traveling to the future. When they realized that there was no finding the future, they decided to build this city… from the text, Exploded City, 2009.

(It is of interest to note that Invisible Cities seats itself between East and West, it places Marco Polo in the position of the explorer, the man of action, and Khan in the position of the architect, the man in charge of designing the future.)

With the hitching of the fictive text to his model, Öğüt squeezes out the last vestiges of reality from his piece and he lays upon it an exotic structure of delinearized time and de-dimensional space. We rocket from past to future, from here to there, in play with Ahmet. Like Khan, we explore the possibilities of utopia and those of dystopia as well. Öğüt erased himself as artist and removed his viewer from passivity. We reflect on the avenues of endless repetition and walk with Marco past the buildings of doom. We long for the knowledge of a future that only is definable through its past. And ultimately, we all end up at our own Ground Zero looking into the chasm of mourning and celebration that makes up our drawing. But, cycling back through time and space, we get to the verso where the metaphorical PLAY button can be pressed and the music begins again.

--Georgia Fee


Robert Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953; drawing; traces of ink and crayon on paper, mat, label, and gilded frame, 25 1/4 in. x 21 3/4 in. x 1/2 in. (64.14 cm x 55.25 cm x 1.27 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchased through a gift of Phyllis Wattis; © Estate of Robert Rauschenberg / Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Ahmet Öğüt, Exploded City (installation views at the Berkeley Art Museum), 2009-2010; Scale model buildings, vehicles, mixed materials; dimensions variable.  Courtesy of the artist and Berkeley Art Museum.

Posted by Georgia Fee on 1/30/10

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