26 October 2019

INTERVIEW: AHMET ÖĞÜT & BURAK ARIKAN

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To make visible the ongoing call-for-action for equal rights and fair payment in the arts, the researchers and artists Ahmet Öğüt and Burak Arıkan founded the outstanding online platform Code of Acquisitions. The website allows users to submit experiences and cases they had with an arts organisation and from the collected data it visualises complex mappings showcasing the institutions's or gallery's practices. These personal and disquieting experiences between artists, art practitioners and institutions are usually discussed in small, closed networks and they are often considered as unprecedented local system malfunctions. The platform, however, shows how these unspoken issues are embedded in the core of the global art system and how we can have alternative possibilities of collective discourses and support methodologies. 

Mine Kaplangı: Before starting Code of Acquisitions, both of you worked on similar collaborative platforms. Burak, you created Graphic Commons and Ahmet, you created the Silent University. What was the initial aim of jointly creating the Code of Acquisitions platform?

Ahmet Öğüt & Burak Arıkan: We all have been hearing and experiencing stories of misconduct and abuse in the art industry. However, this information is kept away from the publicm because of institutional and personal precariousness. We thought it is absolutely urgent to address both good and bad practices of art institutions and galleries in an open platform that integrates information from existing efforts, attracts open contributions, and enables anyone to have a holistic view of the issues.

MK: If we start dissecting the platform, what are the components for its possible users? And how was the decision-making process evolved on the categorisations, such as the main topic of ethics?

A & B: We started with the publicly available policies and cases, and have been collecting cases submitted by any art worker, or artist whose cases were not publicly revealed previously. We indexed the existing code of ethics from published policies of art institutions. We aim to collect cases of abuse and misconduct with evidence or attributable to a reliable published source, integrating information from existing initiatives that have been publishing such cases. Anyone can openly submit new cases. We look at which ethic codes the story matches and publish them accordingly. 

While initiatives such as WAGE, focusing on establishing sustainable economic relationships between artists and the institutions, Soup Du Jour Collective, an activist group of intersectional feminism in the art world, P.A.I.N., a group founded in response to the opioid crisis, and Gulf Labor Artist Coalition, dealing with issues surrounding the living and working conditions of migrant laborers, have been doing effective work, we decided to integrate information from existing efforts and continue exposing all the good and bad practices together based on open contributions, evidences, and interactive data maps.

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MK: What will be the most important information that this data visualisation will provide us, regarding the relations between the institutions and the art practitioners?

A & B: We hope to hold organizations accountable through their reputation, as it is a critical currency in the fragile relationships of the art world. We’d like to see art institutions as well as galleries clearly declare their policies and apply them in their practice. Particularly, the mapping of relationships provides everyone a holistic view as most of us only have a partial view of this bigger picture. At the same time,  the interactive interface enables searching, focusing, and identifying particular art institutions and whether they succeed or fail particular ethical codes. All the data points are referenced with links to their sources. We use the Graph Commons (graphcommons.com) open platform for mapping, analysing, and publishing relationship data.

MK: And how can we vindicate the context of the anonym entries? What are the details of entry submissions?

A & B: Anyone can submit cases either openly or anonymously. We edit people’s names out and focus on how the submitted case about the institution matches the ethic codes, and add them to the database and publish them with references. If an institution finds the claims about them unfair, they can dispute by providing counter evidence about the case.

MK: Not only the database of the individual entries but the platform will also hold the actual evidence of each submission. Do you think the progress of this platform could lead an actual search of justice in law for some cases in the future?

A & B: Currently, we share only a summary of the submission. When an institution reaches us with a counter argument, we notify the person who made the submission (if they have provided emails), and they will decide themselves, if they want to use their evidence publicly or during a judicial procedure.

MK: Have you been contacted by art galleries or institutions regarding the information that is provided by the platform?

A & B: We have been receiving pointers to add policies from art institutions around the world and submissions of cases every week from art workers. We do not verify with the institution, they can reach us out and present counter evidence, which can then be added to the map accordingly. That said, no disputes are submitted yet, you can always reach the project via our email, Twitter, and Instagram accounts which are available on our website https://codeofacquisitions.org. Meanwhile, we received a case submitted by a gallery. More cases might be submitted like this one. We consider submissions from all sides of the relationships equally and publish them if there is sufficient evidence provided.

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MK: And how do you envision the future of the platform?

A & B: There are many untold stories of cases, lots of frustrations, as well as unknown good examples, we hope to become a platform for what is suppose to be fair. 

MK: How would you label this platform in the context of contemporary art? Is it a media-tool, a collaborative artwork, an art-making model, a digital protest art or all in one?

A & B: It’s interesting you ask this question, one thing is for sure, we don’t see it as a work of art, it’s a job that had to be done, and it just happens to be done by us. At the moment we are two as the initiators of the platform. We have had support during the initial part of the research and we have already offers from more people to support it, not only art workers but also art lawyers and institution directors. We welcome everyone’s contribution to make this platform an open and collectively governed reliable resource. If we don’t know how to make art world a better place, how can we expect that art world can make the world a better place?


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