View of “Ahmet Öğüt,” 2017. Background: While Others Attack, 2016. Foreground: Pleasure Places of All Kinds, Zurich, 2017. Photo: Ladislav Zajac.

View of “Ahmet Öğüt,” 2017. Background: While Others Attack, 2016. Foreground: Pleasure Places of All Kinds, Zurich, 2017. Photo: Ladislav Zajac.

Ahmet Öğüt

View of “Ahmet Öğüt,” 2017. Background: While Others Attack, 2016. Foreground: Pleasure Places of All Kinds, Zurich, 2017. Photo: Ladislav Zajac.

One enters KOW on its upper floor, emerging onto a landing that during “Hotel Résistance,” Ahmet Öğüt’s first solo exhibition at the gallery, offered an initial and striking glimpse of a bronze statue, just over three feet high, of a man looking down at something invisible pulling at his pant leg. Placed on a plinth that rose sixteen feet from the gallery space below, the sculpture was both close and out of reach, familiar yet vague, like some strived-for ideal—setting a tone that resonated throughout Öğüt’s perceptive and thought-provoking show.

Looking at the figure while descending the steep and narrowly winding staircase to the gallery’s main exhibition space only heightened the sense of precariousness imparted by this and two other bronze figures trying to escape something tugging at their clothes. These three works are modeled on archival photographs of people being attacked by police dogs and portray frozen violence: The expressions of fear and apprehension on their faces tell of being unwillingly moved or detained. The pendants to these works, all part of a series titled “While Others Attack,” 2016, were three bronze sculptures of attack dogs, installed on the lower gallery levels—one right up against a glass window facing the street, clearly visible to passersby. Like a nagging question, the suspense in these works—the not-knowing who is doing what, to whom, and why—propelled the viewer’s movement through the exhibition.

In the main gallery, the idea of insecurity and resistance in the face of power recurred in three 1:100 scale models of buildings surrounded by excavated ground on all sides within large white boxes. “Pleasure Places of All Kinds,” 2014, is a series of replica “nail houses,” the property of holdout owners whose defiance of large development projects in China and elsewhere has become iconic in recent years. One model portrays a nail house in Zurich with a sign reading resistance—imitating the signage of a nearby hotel, the Hotel Renaissance—which lends the exhibition its title.

The Swinging Doors, Germany Edition, 2009—a pair of riot shields installed like the doors of a Western saloon—led down to the basement, where two films played. Premiering here, the video Inside the Fortress, 2017, pans around a scale model of the Great Mosque in Öğüt’s hometown of Diyarbakır, Turkey, a UNESCO World Heritage site. When he was nineteen, Öğüt helped make this model, which is now on display in the Miniatürk miniature park in Istanbul. Overlaid with unclear and faint sounds of combat and reporting from the Kurdish conflict in Diyarbakır Province in 2016, the film evoked news footage, drone training, and shoot-’em-up video games. United, 2016–17, commissioned for the 11th Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, is an animated film based on the stories of twenty-one-year-old Lee Han-yeol and eight-year-old Enes Ata, who were killed by tear-gas grenades during public marches, the former in South Korea in 1987 and the latter in Turkey in 2006. At the end of the film, they both nonchalantly offer advice on how to protect yourself during a tear-gas attack—a puzzling end to a somber work. But then it is in this ambiguity—between a political message and a possible call to action—that Öğüt’s works gain their purchase on our imagination and political conscience. They allow that the state or the plutocrats might be the source of violence, but also that any of us might find ourselves at the center of a precarious and potentially dangerous future. The exhibition was framed by political action and discourse, and nudged us to think about solutions. Were we supposed to pick up laser pointers like those found in No. 1, 2016—a box of ten laser pens based on those used by activists in Cairo during the Arab Spring to disorient helicopter pilots flying above the crowds—and, shining a light on injustice, aim them at our oppressors? Were we supposed to break through a police barrier after viewing the show? Öğüt’s exhibition did not provide the answers, but it did point to where we might find them: within our own power of protest.

Aaron Bogart