Origin, 2008

4', Betacam numérique PAL, couleur, son

The video opens on a black screen: the spectator only hears the sound of footsteps approaching with a powerful and uniform military gait. But when the screen lights up, the camera, placed very low to the ground, reveals the feet of a group of marching men in close-up. But instead of the military boots that the soundtrack implied at the start of the video, they wear sneakers in all sorts of colours. The camera rises to reveal more of this strange group: far from military severity, these man, all of African descent, are dressed in mismatched and colourful t-shirts, shorts and tracksuits. They repeat, in a barely comprehensible Turkish: “Ne mutlu Türküm diyene!” (Happy is he who calls himself a Turk!) Origin highlights the conditioning of the individual by the normalising instances of society, and questions the Kemalism and exacerbated militarism that have ruled in Turkey since the founding of the republic. It must be recalled that between 1960 and 1980, the army organised three coup d’états in order to maintain the country under Kemalist and nationalist control. Özgen produced Origin in Mataró, Spain, where he attended an artists’ residency. During his stay, the artist noticed some clandestine immigrants who were roaming on the outskirts of the city and decided to ask them to participate in his project. They learnt the sentence to be repeated by heart, without grasping its meaning. The artist thus refers to the absurd situation in which the Kurdish people found themselves in Turkey, when their language was prohibited. The only words on the video that glorify Turkish national identity is a famous phrase by Atatürk, collectively repeated every morning by school children, following their oaths, whether they are Turkish, Kurdish or belong to another minority. But when it is chanted by this little African army, the sentence becomes isolated from its context, almost incoherent or even absurd, like the ideology that it represents.

Yekhan Pinarligil