Left: Nina Katchadourian, Self-portrait of the artist as an artist, 2002, color photograph, 40 x 30". Right: A photograph of Ahmet Ögüt in 1999 from his personal archive. (Both images are not related to AH-HA.)


As part of Neery Melkonian and Defne Ayas’s cross-cultural curatorial project, Blind Dates, artists Ahmet Ögüt, of Turkish-Kurdish background, and Nina Katchadourian, of Armenian and Finnish descent, recently launched the project of transposing respective (and shared) letters in each other’s names. Aside from its legal and contractual performance, AH-HA constitutes an act of intimacy both literal and ideological between two artists who barely know each other but whose collaboration necessarily binds them to an ongoing rapport.

ALTHOUGH WE’VE ONLY been set up on a “blind date,” we have decided to use this opportunity to bind ourselves to each other for life. Our project AH-HA is centered on the act of exchanging letters in our names. Through a legalized transaction, we’ll trade the two letters that already overlap, namely, the shared h and a. We will trade one letter now (the a) and the other later, most likely on the event of one of our deaths.

The gesture might seem reminiscent of an organ donation or a blood transfusion. But the reciprocal nature of the exchange creates a different dynamic: one of barter, trade, or rebalancing, rather than of donating or salvaging. The fact that one letter is exchanged now binds us into a contract with each other in the present. The fact that we must wait until some unknown point in the future for the other letter (and only at that point is our piece complete) places the work in a kind of suspension.

Between ethnic groups or cultures that have been at odds, there is often the expectation that there will be a visible way to differentiate between them, when this is in fact very complicated and often untrue. The invisibility of the gesture is therefore central to this project, and at the center of the concept. Nina Katchadourian would become Nina Katchadourian; Ahmet Ögüt would become Ahmet Ögüt. But embedded in our names would be these “foreign,” and ultimately assimilated, letters. We become guardians of one of each other’s letters now but also promise to step up to this task in the future. We set this piece into motion in the present, but moving forward––by having exchanged one of the letters and then needing to wait for the other letter––the past and future will also always be “present.”

We will structure the letter exchange as a contract, based on the legal concept of “consideration,” meaning “something of value given by both parties to a contract that induces them to enter into the agreement to exchange mutual performances.” When something is merely gifted to someone else, it does not take on the structure of a contract. Perhaps paradoxically, we need each other’s letter as, in this case, to bind ourselves to each other such that we can exchange the letter hs later.

The exchange of the letter h would be based on the structure of a will. Both documents will be drawn up legally and will bear legitimate legal weight and responsibility. We have been in contact with several lawyers in different countries to determine the legal procedures. Part of the work’s next phase is probing how the “invisibility” of the exchange might be transferred to, or represented through, a legal discourse.

An exhibition about Blind Dates will open at the |www.pratt.edu/aboutpratt/visitingpratt/exhibitions/|Pratt Manhattan Gallery| in November 2010.

— As told to Ara H. Merjian