He's grounded, talented and seems to be making a name for himself on the international art scene. But what makes Köken Ergun's work so interesting? He questions and explores cultural identity, social and political power in a manner that no one has done before. His videos Tanklove and I Soldier have sparked an interest with audiences worldwide and in 2007 he won the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival for his film The Flag.
"Anyone can be a video artist, it's not like making a film or documentary," he says. "You don't need a film crew — you can produce a film and impact an audience without having support. My argument is that you don't need a team of people to film an event."
He trained to become an actor and later decided he wanted to be involved in ‘live performances' — cultural performances or acts that portrayed the truth. He reflects on his experience in the theatre and says he's much more content as a video artist because he was never able to express himself in the way that he can now.
"I have a love/hate relationship with Western theatre because my interest lies in non art performance. I'm particularly interested in ritual performances and I find this within the Shia communities in Lebanon and Turkey at the time of Ashura.
During his recent trip to Qatar he held workshops and encouraged people to push their boundaries and explore visual art through an abstract/contemporary video style. "My approach is personal, I always express my feelings through my videos and I encourage people to link their personal experience with the outside world. I know I can't be a politician or a soldier but this is my way of making a statement. I go so deep into the subject, to the point where it can sometimes become exhausting," says Ergun.
At his workshop in Qatar, he is teaching students to make a contemporary video about themselves. "They have to bring one object that is really important to them to the class and produce and edit their film in a story telling method. The process has been very educational and I really enjoy teaching because I can relate to the people here," he explains.
His exhibitions are always a talking point. He wants the audience to question his approach to visual arts and walk away with a lasting impression. "I like to take photos of the film process and include them in my final works," he comments.
At the end of the year, he plans to release a 35-minute video (the longest film he's made to date) titled The Binibining Project — a film about the Filipino community's involvement in a beauty pageant contest in the Tel Aviv. He also plans to release a book about the contest but for now he's happy to explore the Middle East. Apart from holding exhibitions in New York, Berlin, Tapei, Amsterdam and Helsinki, he's also screened his video works at the Oberhausen, Rotterdam, Sydney and Zagreb Film Festivals.
But he is inspired most when he visits Istanbul. Ergun says, "Travelling the world is one of the many things I enjoy about my job. I visit occupied Palestine twice a year and hold workshops at the International Art Academy in Ramallah and when I'm not working I make it a point to go to Turkey."