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Welcome to the dollhouse

INTERVIEW! Ahmet Öğüt on the seriousness of his miniature buildings in his exhibition Hotel Résistance, on at KOW through Jan 28.

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Photo by Ladislav Zajac

Ahmet Öğüt on the seriousness of his miniature buildings in Hotel Résistance.

The Turkish-born, Berlin- and Amsterdam-based artist is best known for initiating The Silent University, an international alternative academic programme that allows refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to share professional and academic knowledge they otherwise could not. On view at KOW, his first solo gallery exhibition pays tribute to victims of war, police violence and gentrification, using sculpture, animation and a series of 1/100 scale architectural models.

The works in Hotel Résistance include sculptures, video, printed posters… how would you describe your very multifaceted art practice?

I studied painting and got my master’s degree in art theory, but then when I started making my own works, they were small, self-initiated interventions in the street. These evolved into short research-based projects, and then long-term projects, and then lifetime projects… I still try to make time for those smaller projects and protect that kind of humour in the work, but some subjects you cannot approach with fragmented, quick gestures. They require research, commitment, time. So, my practice starts with an idea and then uses any medium that idea requires, but the ‘medium’ includes the time, commitment, and my position – whether or not I am anonymous, collaborative or keep my authorship as an artist.

It’s interesting that you bring up humour, because compared to some of your earlier works – like 2010’s Punch this Painting or 2013’s Intern VIP Lounge – this exhibition is quite serious.

Humour comes in different ways. In this show, the topics are very serious and maybe the humour is not direct, but there is another access point – the scale and the medium. At first it might look like a very child-friendly exhibition, with scaled-down figures and scaled-down houses, but if you pay attention to what is going on in each piece, they become really serious – something that would normally be disturbing to look at or even think about. Susan Sontag described war photography as capturing those moments we cannot look at. Those moments are in the show, but they are not captured. In the animation United, you can see that a child and a teenager lost their lives. You see the moment of them being attacked, but you don’t see the moment of them being killed. The violence is there, but we complete it when we walk into the show. The violence is between us, and we are part of it.

Thinking about scale, what about your series of “nail house” architectural models, Pleasure Places of All Kinds?

The newest one of those sculptures – and the title of the exhibition – is Hotel Résistance. It was a building in Zurich that anarchists and activists tried to keep, along with the owner – and they used humour. They put “Hotel Résistance” on the building because it was next to Hotel Renaissance. You normally have architectural models to demonstrate the future of a location; in this case, it’s the reverse process. It is the capture of a refusal. These buildings are often destroyed, but not before their holdouts bring an enormous delay to the construction. I think it’s important that they remain archived in their state of ruin, in that moment of negotiation.

So here, delay is a form of protest?

You can see so many examples of the ways people, even unintentionally, can disrupt power. When people go to demonstrations in the street for a few hours and then go home, the next day it might seem like everything is the same – but in some examples I have witnessed, the legitimacy, the credibility of power structures is weakened. They lose their economic power, or they lose value in their “brand”. Brands are very fragile, for companies as well as states. When they are not recognised anymore, they are no longer a state, no matter how much money or power they have. This recognition process also comes from the bottom. Usually an occupation takes a couple of months, or protests happen right before an election. But like in my work, some ideas really require a long-term commitment and have to be done in a slow – but persistent – manner.

Ahmet Öğüt: Hotel Résistance, Through Jan 28 | KOW, Mitte