The Picture Before the Picture

The Picture Before the Picture (2019-2021)
Ink-jet print on mesh vinyl 850 × 1191 cm

The Picture Before the Picture refers to colors that appear as placeholders under the ‘Images’ tab of the Google search engine before the final image is fully loaded. The first iteration of this work was based on the searches the duo made using this feature during the European Parliament elections in 2019. The artists kept adding search words suggested by Google to their search tab and applied the resulting colors on the walls of the exhibition space with paint. The colors used in the installation made for the façade of İmalat-hane in Bursa are derived from the results of screenshots of Google searches made between the first and second rounds of the 2023 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Using VPN to perform searches based out of Turkey, the artists selected a certain sequence of suggested search words. These pictures before pictures represent an abstraction of the news items that shape the agenda at a specific time and in a given location. For instance, when the duo entered “Twitter” into Google Images, titles such as “bandwidth throttling,” “access blocking,” and “The Information and Communication Technologies Authority” were suggested by the algorithm, painting a picture of that particular moment through the most frequently used search terms.

The fact that these abstract and angular images, the colors of which are determined by the dominant hues of the partially downloaded pictures reach us before the intended data, reflects our once-removed relationship with data itself. Thus, the viewers find themselves looking at a picture that records the distance between the written content and the image. This digital surface with which we, as web users, are all too familiar points to an image regime that obscures the reality and the influence of web design strategies on users. Sterilizing our interaction with data –ignoring its content, scientific credibility, political bias, or brutality– the colors transform into a spectacle of pacifying abstractions, referring to the increasing data flow, information pollution, fake news, and censorship. Covering the façade of the exhibition space, the installation builds a layer that also becomes a threshold between the inside and outside of the exhibition space. While preventing us from seeing the “big picture,” this picture before the picture also refers to the historical discussions around the relationship between institutional frameworks and art, serving as an interface that casts the shades of its colors on the exhibition.

Text: Duygu Demir

Installation view; IMALAT-HANE, Bursa

Photo: ©IMALAT-HANE, Bursa

Neither Up nor Down

Neither Up nor Down (2019-2023)
paint on polyester, 262×225 cm

The project consists of a 1:1 scale model of a cross-section of the staircase that once led to the world’s tallest flagpole on a 3-hectare pedestal-like square in Baku, and takes a humorous look at the race to be the world’s tallest.

From 1982 to 2010, Kaesong, North Korea, held the record for the tallest flagpole at 160 m. Baku, Azerbaijan, took the record in 2010 with a height of 162 m, but lost it less than a year later to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, with a 165 m flagpole. In 2014, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, took the record with a 171-meter flagpole, and in September 2021, construction began on a new 191-meter flagpole in Baku to reclaim the world record. While scheduled for completion in 2022, a 202-meter flagpole was erected in Cairo, Egypt, in late 2021. Since then, the construction of the new flagpole in Azerbaijan has not been completed (July 2023).

The project focuses on the staircase leading to the unfinished flagpole in Baku.

Stairs, like flagpoles, have the main function of moving (things) up or down. With the flagpole as a representation of power, these stairs create a vertical, almost sacred path to that power. They bring people to the base of the giant flagpole. But the closer you get to the pole, the smaller you become with each step.

“Neither Up nor Down” disrupts the way power is represented through verticality by shifting the perspective to the horizontal. With a 1:1 scale model of the staircase parallel to the ground, this staircase is shown as dysfunctional; one can neither go up nor down, separating it from a path to power.

Photo: Nazli Erdemirel

Installation view; Summerfestival at Kulturakademie Tarabya, Istanbul

National Flag Square, Baku (2022) in a new tab)

Not Yet a Still Life (Europe)

Not Yet a Still Life (Europe), 2021-2023
Oil on canvas
95,5 × 123,5 cm

For their work Not Yet a Still Life(Europe) (2021 – 2023), the artists commissioned a painter to create an oil painting of a bouquet of thirty different plant species that are on the ‘red list’ of highly endangered plant species in Europe, a list that is published at regular intervals by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The plants depicted form an arrangement that would not be possible in this form in reality, because it shows the endangered species deviating from their true sizes and in a state of flowering, which would normally never occur at the same time. As fictitious as the perfect arrangement may therefore appear, the fact that a simultaneous flowering of the plants can be seen, while there are also fallen leaves lying next to the vase, indicates a real and acute necessity of their reproduction and. preservation. Though the classical still life paintings (French: nature morte) of the seventeenth century primarily depict dead objects, Günyol and Kunt employ the traditional art historical image genre to draw attention to the highly threatened existence of these plant species as well as the current and catastrophic consequences of climate change and the loss of biodiversity. The decorative and aesthetic bouquet thus becomes a metaphor for the decline and devastation of the plants and their habitats. Christin Müller

Installation images: © Hessische Kulturstiftung, Photo: Jens Gerber

Installation view; Kunstverein zu Assenheim

The Clock

The Clock, 2022
wet painting on aluminium, anti reflex glass, electric clock movement
23 * 104 cm (diameter)

If a clock hangs on the wall, people can still read the time even if there are no lines and numbers on the dial, assuming 12 is at the top, 6 is at the bottom etc.

If, however, you put the clock on the ground, time cannot be told without the lines and the numbers. Without those, the position of the person relative to the clock on the floor determines how that person reads time, and therefore changes with every new person. Therefore, it functions consistently in its context, but the perception of time becomes blurred as there is no reference point.

A clock is set according to the time zone of the area in which it operates. It therefore contains information about the time zone and thus about geography. In this sense, every different angle we look at when reading the time from the clock lying on the ground marks a different place.

As the clock rotates in lying position, the concepts of time, space and direction gets blurred with every new person looking at it.

commissioned by
Yarat Contemporary Art Space

photos: Yarat Contemporary Art Space


Free Solo, 2019-2022
Performance / Installation
118 pieces; acrylic paint on polyurethane, magnesium powder, climbing rope, plywood

Free Solo is a climbing wall project consisting of 1:1 replicas of numerous monuments in Frankfurt, Istanbul and Çanakkale.

For the project, we first moulded the pedestals of these monuments in small pieces. Additionally, we moulded some parts of the figures on top of these pedestals that can be reached by hand. The moulds are then cast with polyurethane and painted with a special paint used for climbing holds on artificial climbing walls.

Usually, when we visit/view monuments, we look at them in their original shape, from pedestal up to the sculpture on it. Monuments can be a gathering place for celebrations and/or protests, and therefore, bring people together. During these gatherings, many people tend to climb these monuments. This desire, to climb the monument in order to rise beyond its physical presence and power in that time and space, is the starting point for the work.

Installation view; “How do we work together?” 8th Canakkale Biennial

photos 1,2,3: Saygın Mavinil

But I Kept Going

But I Kept Going, 2017-2022

Fine art print on Hahnemühle photo rag ultra smooth 305 g/m² mounted on alu-dibond

90 × 270 cm

But I kept going is an abstract panoramic sunset / horizon landscape consisting of 4768 horizontal lines, each 270 cm long, 0.1 mm thick, in 3 primary colours. The total length of the lines used to create the work represents the 8-mile distance Ameer Mehtr swam from Kuşadası (Turkey) to Samos Island (Greece) in 2015 to the EU.

The two of the three primary colours (yellow and blue) used in the work is taken from EU flag and the red is taken from Turkish flag.

Installation view; “Would you still love me if I painted parrots all day?” exhibition, Dirimart, Istanbul

photos 1,2,3,4,8: Nazlı Erdemirel

Interview; Hortense Pisano

The two Frankfurt artists Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt talk in an interview about their latest work and how the pandemic has surprisingly changed their approach. We present the work here in advance.

Dear Özlem, dear Mustafa, what are you working on right now?

At the moment, we are working on two projects that are related to the human body in different ways. While one of the projects deals with the body’s relation to outer structures, the other examines the body itself as a central theme.

The second one is almost finished, which is a self-portrait project that consists of two stencil rulers which are made out with the cross-sections of our bodies from top to the bottom. The project is called “Herself/Himself” and it is about the experience of isolation.

We were in Izmir, Turkey as the pandemic started to spread in Europe in March 2020. As the borders closed, we had to extend our stay in Izmir until the end of June 2020. During this period, especially the first 3 months, we had to go into lockdown. Not being able to go out, except for shopping once every two weeks, was almost like an experiment on the self.

As we are in constant communication with our surroundings, the experience of very limited interaction with others – both visually and tactilely, didn’t just create a distance to the other things but as well as to the self. With limited interaction, most of the definitions of the self that are created by the relations with the surroundings got lost. Paradoxically, this happened at a time when we were by ourselves more than ever.

Herself/Himself” is an outcome of this paradoxical situation. It attempts to reposition one’s self in new circumstances and underlines the isolation by materializing the body. This repositioning creates a space to contemplate whether the new circumstances provide a closer look or further distancing of understanding ourselves.“

Sketches of the project
Herself / Himself, 2020-21

Does the pandemic change your work? If yes, how? And if not, why not?

The pandemic has changed the way we live life. First, it has slowed down everything. In our case, the studio work is needed when it comes to finalizing the work. The creation part is almost always connected to the things happening around us. So, limited interaction changed the way we work as well.

Things change and continue in new directions all the time, however this time, the difference was having had an experience in a collective level. We’ll see the effects of this collective experience on our work in time.

The reopening of museums and exhibition halls could be an opportunity to rethink the exhibition practice. What would you like to see change as you would like?

We expect that these institutions don’t just continue with their programs when things start to get back to normal, but also make a room to think on the effects of this collective experience.

I find, on the one hand, you have found a new language to express yourself: parts of your own body are “processed”. Using your own body as material is something new, isn’t it?

Yes, materializing our body in this way is something very new in our work, however our approach is quite similar to our work in general. There are some early works as well, where we had used our bodies directly during the school days.

What process is documented in the two photos? What are the dimensions and what kind of material is used? Are the depicted drawings the body measurements, and dimensions? Have you transferred these then to the rulers?

At first, we took the cross-section moulds of our bodies from top to the bottom using  plaster as our material. Then these moulds were used to make the drawings of the cross-sections. Afterwards, these drawings were scanned, brought together in a computer program and then used to make the vector drawings. The vector files are used to make the final design of the rulers.

Are these rulers the final work ? How would you show this work later in an exhibition?

Side by side on the wall.

This way of measuring and taking measurements fits very well with the conceptual approach of your work.

Yes, there are multiple pieces of work that we have made with the idea of measuring or scaling.


KARANTİNA sunarProgram: Bizi Biz Yapan 90’larSöyleşi: Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt 15.02.2020

KARANTİNA, 2020 sezonu için 90’lara yeniden bakmayı amaçladığı program süresince gerçekleştirdiği söyleşi ve buluşmaları, “Kuşaklararası 90’lar” başlığı altında podcast olarak izleyiciye açıyor.Program lansman etkinliğinde Özlem Günyol ve Mustafa Kunt ikilisinin katılımıyla gerçekleşen “Konuklarla 90’lar” söyleşisi podcast olarak ve profilimizde. Bu söyleşide ikilinin 1990’lardan 2000’lere değin sanatsal pratiklerini ve eğitim süreçlerini kişisel hikayeleri eşliğinde dinliyoruz. Günyol ve Kunt, Ankara Hacettepe Üniversitesi’nden Frankfurt Städel Sanat Okulu’na, dostluklara, tanışıklıklara ve hoca öğrenci ilişkilerine değinip, Ayşe Erkmen atölyesi ve Frankfurt sanat ortamından söz ediyorlar.

Fotoğraflar: KARANTİNA Arşiv *”Kuşaklararası 90’lar” projesi KARANTİNA bileşenleri Kendine Ait Bir Oda, 6x6x6 ve Dahili Bellek’in ortak yürüttüğü 2020 yılına yayılan Bizi Biz Yapan 90’lar programı kapsamında geliştirilmiştir. **”Kuşaklararası 90’lar” Kültür İçin Alan fonu tarafından desteklenmektedir.***KARANTİNA, Sanat İnisiyatifleri Sürdürülebilirlik Fonu 2019-2020 kapsamında SAHA tarafından desteklenmektedir.


KARANTINA announces the meetings and conversations, held as a part of its 2020’s program revisiting and discussing the 90s, as podcasts within the scope of the “Intergenerational 90s” project.Our launch event “ ‘90s with Guests”, which took place with the participation of Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt, is now available on and this talk, the duo converse about the transition from the 1990s to the 2000s; their artistic practices, and education along with their personal stories: From Hacettepe University in Ankara to Städel Art School in Frankfurt; on friendships, acquaintances and student-teacher relationships; about Ayşe Erkmen’s workshop and the art scene in Frankfurt…

Photo credits: KARANTINA Archive*”Intergenerational ‘90s” is developed and co-curated by KARANTINA’s components Kendine Ait Bir Oda, 6x6x6 and Dahili Bellek within the scope of the 2020’s program “90’s That Made Us”. **“Intergenerational ‘90s” project is supported by Spaces of Culture. ***KARANTINA is supported by SAHA as part of Art Initiatives Sustainability Fund 2019-2020.

Video 🎥

Söyleşi ve kitap tanıtımı; Özlem Günyol–Mustafa Kunt ve Fulya Erdemci

20 Şubat–30 Mart tarihleri arasında Dirimart’ta Ses-li Harfler | Ses-siz Harfler başlıklı sergileri yapılan Özlem Günyol–Mustafa Kunt, Fulya Erdemci ile 23 Mart’ta sanatsal üretimlerine dair en kapsamlı yayının da tanıtıldığı bir söyleşi yaptılar.

Conversation and book launch; Özlem Günyol–Mustafa Kunt ve Fulya Erdemci

Having their Ses-li Harfler | Ses-siz Harfler exhibition held on February 20–March 30 at Dirimart, Özlem Günyol– Mustafa Kunt had a conversation with Fulya Erdemci on their new book, the most extensive publication covering their artistic practice to date, on March 23.

Review by Matt Hanson

Review by Matt Hanson

Published at 16.03.2019 00:53

Daily Sabah

Duo of Deconstruction: Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt

“There Are Things You Don’t Know That We Know” (2019) by Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt, print on newsprint, 66.2 x 1820 cm.

‘Ses-li Harfler / Ses-siz Harfler’ is Turkish for ‘letters with sound, letters without sound,’ or vowels and consonants. It is the untranslated title of the current exhibition by Frankfurt-based artist duo Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt, who critique media and currency with linguistic inventions. On March 23, they will speak at Dirimart during a book launch

If all of language, and text in particular, is two-faced, or multifaceted in a duplicitous sense, then its writing, reading and interpretation is essentially a creative act. When the Algerian-born French philosopher Jacques Derrida formulated his critique of 20th century Western thought, coining the term deconstruction, he emphasized the underlying problems of language, and in doing so, sought to demystify the enduring questions of immigration and the nation-state. As the son of Arabic-speaking Jews, he came of age during the epoch-making era of postcolonial liberation in North Africa, and would draw from its intellectual movements to inform the revolutionary principles of reason and dialectic that run through his often opaque work.

By the end of 1990s, a quarter century after the book “Of Grammatology” launched Derrida into the status of academic iconoclast, a pair of sculpture students from Haceteppe University in Ankara went to the Stadelschule in Frankfurt, and considered making art based on themes that Derrida had long posed, and which continue to overwhelm Europe and the world. They did it their way, in the manner of a spatial interrogation, with the meaning and condition of space as a conceptual phenomenon. They began to reconfigure the syntax of emptiness and occupation in countless art halls and public venues, often moving between German and Turkish cultures, working through the languages, geographies and societies of the two peoples whose peoples, lives and histories are profoundly intertwined.

The gallery and its double

Where the last days of winter rain down through the grit of roadways and neighborhoods under construction from Taksim to Dolapdere, a pivotal standoff in the art history of Istanbul is taking place. Dirimart stands sleek, housed in a corporate building, flagged by a yellow “D” formed of a bracket and parentheses. It is down the street from the world-class Pilevneli, and will be next door to the new museum project by Arter, slated to open in September of 2019, which will fundamentally redraw the art map of the city. Amid the complex of coffee breaks and office humdrum, its heavy glass door swings out to reveal an untitled artwork by Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt that sets the tone for their distinctive, contemporary ideas and aesthetics.

“Untitled” (2019) appears like a string theory of constellations quite beautifully resembling the cosmic microwave background that radio astronomers detected in 1964, leading to the earliest evidence for the Big Bang. 225 centimeters wide, the inkjet print on Ultra Smooth 305g/m2 Hahnemühle Photo Rag paper conveys clustered galactic visions of the universe described, expanding from the rich complexities at its center to the more vacant perimeter. It imprints a wordless alphabet of digital type, a critical experiment in asemic writing, a postmodern calligraphy delicately maneuvered across a meticulously crafted field of linear abstractions.

“Untitled” (2019) by Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt, inkjet print on hahnemühle photo rag ultra smooth 30/ g/m2, 150 x 225cm.

But there is a clear intent, an absolute meaning, and direct reference to the world and its unavoidably real, inevitably human imperfection in “Untitled”. For all of the elegance, the exotic refinement of digitized art in the rigorous hands of Günyol and Kunt, the piece speaks to the social ill of total silence, of an untold blackout that, as depicted in the work, backdrops the chaos of scrambled communications. The causes and effects of manufactured incomprehensibility represent an aspect crucial to social development within bounded territory in the 21st century.

The emergence of real Orwellian doublespeak is generally confined beyond the rising, landlocked walls of North America and the EU. Its ideals of democracy and humanitarianism defy the first law of thermodynamics, made up out of thin air, they simultaneously self-destruct when transplanted with ulterior, pseudo-imperialistic motives. And conversely, within the murmuring heart of Western civilization, the prescient discourse of Aldous Huxley bears fruit as media saturation fulfills the same goal of miseducation and distraction in the public sector. In line with the trickster mentality of contemporary art, with its masked concepts and deceptive magic, the soundless and audible are visualized with the clearest focus on Dirimart’s main gallery floor.

The letter and its power

Individuated vowels and consonants float in a virtual area from the digital video projection, “Prohibited Letters,” which contrasts with “Untitled” by its whiteout background. Turkish letters seem to drift aimlessly, out of context, behind the veil of mere appearances. The letters are meaningless when separate, yet they threaten to come together to form words with the potency to catalyze irreverent social action. Last year, from March 29 to September 28, the duo intervened at Yanköşe, a not-for-profit art platform visible at Istanbul’s tramline terminal station in Kabataş. It was their most recent public project, for which they displayed a piece titled “SEPARATELYTOGETHER”, consisting of textual rearrangements drawn from the latest Constitution of the Republic of Turkey.

As the mad genius of French letters, Arthur Rimbaud, once inked, “A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses.” A twin romance of disillusion and goodwill pervades the Dada poetics of Günyol and Kunt, as in the spirit of the deconstructionist, uniquely equipped with the mind for applied sociocultural criticism. With an almost scientific, truely crafted grasp of material and the physical elements of power, they retain a creative optimism enough to experiment confidently, toward a revision of the basic forms that comprise the traditions, patterns and motifs of human behavior and its establishment. “Prohibited Letters” points to the indefinite and unresolved state of having been scattered, like dust particles in the wind, yet to reconvene with any discernible unity and sense. Its isolated letters hover suspended, singled out in unceasing motion, haphazardly independent, like that of the general public unleashed at a party, a mall, or museum. They wander busily, groundless and displaced, bouncing off the impermeable edges and back into the center, on repeat, autopiloted. Such unthinking status quo shifting through open space is transformed by Günyol and Kunt, from what looks like emptiness into a raw expression of freedom.

“Prohibited Letters” (2019) by Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt, digital video.

Disciplined as traditional, academic sculptors, yet dampened by material and social limitations in Ankara, the duo found promise in Germany. Inspired by trans-media approaches, they stood on the shoulders of giants. Günyol studied under Ayşe Erkmen, the preeminent Turkish sculptor who is currently exhibiting three video works from the 2000s at Ariel Gallery under Riverrun cafe in Istanbul. In turn, Kunt studied under the legendary German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, who compelled him to problematize and interact with his surroundings. Viscerally immersive with the local architecture, Günyol and Kunt repurposed the lone, unfinished pillar at Dirimart for “Deadlock” (2019), sculpting the words, “known” and “unknown” in metal around its corners, always a few letters out of sight, triggering endless avoidance.

The art and its makers

Günyol and Kunt made the seven artworks in the largest exhibition hall at Dirimart within the year for what is their second solo show together in Istanbul. Its trajectory encompasses the breadth of the Turkish media landscape with the complementary pieces, “There Are Things You Don’t Know That We Know” (2019), and “M” (2019), the first of which spells out its Turkish title letter by letter, “B-İ-L-D-İ-Ğ-İ-M-i-Z-İ-B-İ-L-M-E-D-İ-Ğ-İ-N-İ-Z-Ş-E-Y-L-E-R-V-A-R.” Each letter of the word is framed by layered sheets from a different Turkish newspaper, representing the spectrum of national biases. The pages adhere to the same sequence lengthwise as by depth, meaning that the spelling can be read horizontally as displayed and by flipping the top page. The length of the word reflects the agglutinative structure of Turkish. Its semantic construction comments on the nature of selective knowledge in the work of artists and writers. “M” refers to the word media, and also the Turkish for headline, “manşet”. It showcases the painstaking research that Günyol and Kunt executed to convey a theme through an exhaustive catalog of word usages drawn from the front page headlines of newspapers for an entire year. Similarly, in 2006, the artist duo employed another protracted word when they strung up the one-word question as a temporary logo on the exterior of a Dresdner Bank which, in the original Turkish, read as, “Avrupa-lı-laş-tı-r-abil-di-k-leri-m-iz-de-n-mi-sin-iz?”. It translates, “Are you one of those who we were able to become European?” With ample self reflection, the transnational art of Günyol and Kunt realizes the creation of knowledge as the answering of questions that go unasked because they are rather left unknown.