The way to actually sense Ardan Özmenoğlu’s art primarily goes through “living”. It is an art that can be understood by being a public person, by being in an intensive relationship with history; looking, seeing, watching, feeling contemporary appearances of history; everything that is written, drawn, spoken, produced, done. In short, this is an art that necessitates the affirmation of life and being active participants rather than turning one’s back; an art that necessitates a person who does not avoid struggle.
In an age dominated by the visual, Ardan Özmenoğlu focuses on the instant of the opening of the eyes and claims her place. This claim is revealed by Özmenoğlu’s reproduction of millions of visual codes that circulate as an intensive artistic energy. The critical question here is formed as such: in our contemporary age of simulation, does the courage to open ones eyes to spectacle correspond to a cynical approach or to a clever artistic strategy? Hal Foster’s reply regarding Warhol may be appropriate and relevant in this case: “ … it is difficult to separate his (Warhol) defense against spectacle from his identification with spectacle.” (Foster, 2009: 159)
The art of Ardan Özmenoğlu deserves to be contextualized on two axes: on the horizontal axis in relation to the reproduction of contemporary cultural fragments, on the vertical axisin relation to her connection with art history. This relationship is open to multi-layered readings and is associated with certain avant-gardist movements of recent history that had universal impact, as well as with local cultural productions rooted in older times. In this respect, Özmenoğlu layers her work by anchoring in history the effects of her own geography to which she forms a global belonging while moving between geographies. This is a production of art open to multiple sensations and it is meaningful that it manages to surmount the problematic of postmodern transience/superficiality. The works prolong and their effect grows.
Deleuze’s question about overcoming the weakness of figuration and narrative art in contemporary painting is still current: “Among figures, is there not a non-narrative one; are there not non-illustrative relations between the figures and phenomena?” (Deleuze, 2009: 15). Owing to her experience in architecture and graphic design Ardan Özmenoğlu starts to work already at the point of eluding this problem and moves along, covering new distances with each exhibition. While the representative print initially fragments, the figure insists on being. This is the way to arrive at the phenomenon visually rather than through narration. While the body’s surface area tries to maintain its meaningful outline (although there are border breaches), various parts are reproduced within themselves. This is offered to the spectator’s feelings as layers between colors and as figures that are liberated by escaping the figurative.
If contemporary art is to a great extend understood through a relational paradigm of experiences, the potency of Ardan Özmenoğlu’s work in terms of conveying it’s feeling intimately and earnestly is significant. From the most masculine issues (references to politics or Yeşilçam) to her most feminine work (nature, plants and İznik tiles, etc.), it is obvious that the work relates to the spectator directly and positively. In this respect, this is an art that is ironic and, more importantly, affirmative rather than being pessimistic. Instead of performing a narcissistic monologue by foregrounding her intellectual background and personal viewpoint, Özmenoğlu’s work attains the opposite and reaches a visuality that affects the spectator through intense communication and interaction.
If each artist re-writes the history of art in her/his unique way, Ardan Özmenoğlu’s art is an aesthetic production that is full of life and an art that is able to reach the spectator. Naturally, this history is constantly updated and time will show in which directions this process, which is currently undergoing a transition, will evolve.
Warhola: I am really curious the story of how you started using Post-it notes. You take a simple material from daily life and transform it into a very different kind of artwork with silkscreen. Could you talk about this process?
Ardan Özmenoğlu: I first came across Post-it notes while doing my Master’s degree. Post-it is a very contemporary material, with no history and very much something of today, of the moment. We jot down things we need to forget. In some of my works, I bring this material together with the Turkish folklore and traditions, with Turkish history and sometimes with things that we need to remember but keep forgetting all the time. And everything today is bound to be forgotten. That is why you have to jot them down on Post-it notes.
W.: How did your“New York” exhibition come about? You opened over forty exhibitions all over the world, traveled to and worked in many different cities. You go back and forth between Berlin and Istanbul. When did these international connections begin?
A.Ö: As soon as I completed my Master’s degree, my Russian professor Alexander Djika told me ‘Ardan, you are really talented, you should go abroad.’ He was the first to guide me. As soon as I graduated, I received acceptance for an Artist in Residence at Berkeley, California. It lasted six months. If you are talented, original and persistent about the arts, you see that other opportunities open up. Following that, I went to Berlin for my second solo exhibition, which was followed by my New York exhibition. In the following years, I went back and forth between Istanbul, Berlin and New York.
W.: I would like to talk about the exhibition in New York: E Pluribus Unum.
A.Ö: That is actually a phrase that sums up the States because it is comprised of many nations coming together; “United States of America.” Especially New York is singled out among them. I came up with the name while I was living in New York. There are one cent coinsall over the streets there. Just imagine that it is a country that loves money but no one picks up one cent coinson the streets. In Turkey, you cannot find 5 cents (kuruş) on the streets. No matter how small, that kind of change is picked up and pocketed. Worst comes to worst, you give it to poor people. It was really interesting, I picked up the coin and looked at it; on the coin, it read:“E Pluribus Unum.” I later found out what it meant which really touched me. Out of many, one. This is a phrase that sums up many things in life. My exhibition was,out of many, one and I, as an artist, was, out of many, one.
As for my Laundromat installation; that is a lifestyle in the States, you have to go to the laundromat once every week or every month. In Turkey, even the poorest families have a laundry machine in their homes and it is not considered a luxury item. And the atmosphere of these laundromats is so lackluster, so cold and so boring that you want to leave them immediately. I created the opposite of this atmosphere; I believe I made the most enjoyable laundromat in the world, all colorful with Post-it notes and tens of laundry machines. It was one of the most appealing works of the exhibition.
W.: After a few exhibitions in Istanbul, it is very important for artists in Turkey to open an exhibition abroad. Especially New York is crucial for artists in this regard. How important was this for you? Does it make a difference where in the world it is?
A.Ö: It is very important. Here is the deal: “The whole world follows New York. If you are there, you are being followed. If you are not, you are following.” I think that is the only answer there is.
W.: Is your next plan to open an exhibition in a museum?
A.Ö: Why not? I am ready.
W.: What would you like to say about your neon works?
A.Ö: As everyone knows, those are very special pieces of work. I pick particular sentences, offering a marvelous reading. And each neon work I do relates to others
W.: And would you like to add anything about the conceptual stance of the exhibition? You elaborate on many aspects of this capitalist city and country but at the same time maybe you incorporate the Turkish culture into this process.
A.Ö: Whatever city the artist lives in, she is bound to be heavily influenced by it. I mean, she becomes a part of the flow and sees it differently. You become more perceptive about the differences of your own country. Many of my works which are about here (“I’m off to the Friday prayer, I’ll be back soon”) pop up in my mind when I am abroad. It always enriches you to be looking from the outside, into wherever it is you live. On the other hand, my work entitled “employees must wash hands” came to life from start to finish when I was in the States.
W.: You are interested in sociology. What is your evaluation of Turkey’s situation in general?
A.Ö: All our lives depend on how we form relationships with humans, with nature, with substances, food or anything else. I do not limit this to just human relationships. If your relationship with a flower, with an animal, with food or with a painting you paint is real and authentic, you start to see and to be seen. Observation is something else. I myself am a good observer. Real artists are good observers. If you look at my works closely, you can grasp how I see and interpret Turkey and the world.
W.: Your works welcome the spectator not just with its content and its theme, but also with a visual language. Is there aconscious decision underlying your works that you would like to share with us?
A.Ö: Even if they seem that way, nothing israndom in any of my works. Every decision I make about my works is a conscious decision, my own decision. And I am inspiredby everything and everyone, be it a bird flying or a fish swimming. You can tell this from the diversity of my artwork. I believe that life itself is art and I tell of life in my works. And music… Music fascinates me.
I think that artists form a different kind of relationship with life, that they hear the unheard and see the unseen. It is a sort of witchcraft or magic. Of course there is hidden wisdom in this. Also, talent is a secret prayer.
W.: Today the gap between being an “artist” and being a “painter” has widened enormously.How do you define this predicament or this process? Or where do you see yourself in this?
A.Ö:The more art and artists are valued in societies, the happier the artist is. The status of the artist today might not be a happy one but I think it is full of hope. I hope that politics, the economy and education in our country is planned accordingly to increase this happiness. When people ask my profession and I tell that I am an “artist”, Ino longer want to hear them ask the question, “Are you a singer?”And I am struggling against this. Whenever I encounter such a situation, I tirelessly explain who an artist really is. On the one hand, this drives me into a state of despair, but on the other hand, it is part of my struggle. We should first of all communicate and know what the arts and the artist mean and the rest is up to you.
W.: Transparentsculptures, Post-it silkscreens, neons… The choice of materials and the media of expression say a lot to the spectator about the artist. What do the media mean to you?
A.Ö:Art is creativity. I am thrilled by works that not only add a dimension to daily life, but also ask big questions in a simple manner. The silkscreen technique is something I developed through the years with details peculiar to me so it is like my third hand. My space-specific installations with Post-it notes, glass sculptures andneons are all first of their kind in contemporary Turkish art. Bringing together a traditional technique with a contemporary medium or a contemporarytechnique with a traditional object, and the fact that my work arouses the sensory and perceptive faculties make me an authentic artist. If you happen to come upon my works, you can easily identify them and say,“This is by Ardan.” Even if my techniques vary, there is a unity in terms of the idea and the sense of humor.