Seçil Alkış: 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.
S.A: 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.
S.A: 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 coins all over the streets there. Just imagine that it is a country that loves money but no one picks up one cent coins on 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.
S.A: 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.
S.A: Is your next plan to open an exhibition in a museum?
A.Ö: Why not? I am ready.
S.A: 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.
S.A: 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.
S.A: 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.
S.A: Your works welcome the spectator not just with its content and its theme, but also with a visual language. Is there a conscious decision underlying your works that you would like to share with us?
A.Ö: Even if they seem that way, nothing is random in any of my works. Every decision I make about my works is a conscious decision, my own decision. And I am inspired by 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.
S.A: 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”, I no 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.
S.A: Transparent sculptures, 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?