*1985 in Istanbul, Turkey


2016–2019, Hochschule für Bildende Künste–Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main, Meisterschülerabschluss / Master Class Diploma

2015–2018, Bard College, New York, Master of Fine Arts, Sculpture

Awards (selection)

2021/2022, Atelierstipendium der Hessischen Kulturstiftung, New York

2020, SAHA Studio, project and studio grant, Istanbul

Future and past repeatedly intertwine in the works of Onur Gökmen. Born in 1985 in Ankara, the artist studied at Bard College in New York and at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main. He currently lives in Frankfurt, Berlin, and Istanbul.

His newest project, FIRST (2021), makes reference to an archaeological find in southern Anatolia: the large settlement of Çatalhöyük, which arose around 7000 BCE and is commonly designated to be the first city built by humans. The excavation site was discovered in the 1950s, measures 13 hectares, and is still being investigated today. The housing and model of society that can be derived from the remains of this Neolithic civilization in part seem to be remarkably forward-thinking: rectangular residential dwellings made of clay were seamlessly built one atop the other, without roads. Staircase-shaped gradations insured that every house received adequate light. Residents reached the interior space through a rectangular opening in the roof via a ladder, where whitewashed walls reflected sunlight from above and created natural lighting. This opening served both as an entrance and as a vent for smoke from the oven situated directly underneath. The interior was arranged in tiers by terraced areas, which were assigned various living functions, such as sleeping. Only reserves of food were stored in a separate chamber. But living was not necessarily simple: architectural decorations made of animal bones, wall paintings, and figurines of massive female bodies were discovered in several houses.

With FIRST, Gökmen invites visitors to travel back in time near the Landesmuseum in Darmstadt. The sculpture protrudes only halfway out of the ground, and its exterior calls to mind bunker architecture and the reduced formal vocabulary of Minimalism—in its interior spaces, Çatalhöyük comes to life again. Even without knowing the frame of reference, this look back into the Neolithic period supplies visitors with answers to essential questions that, among other things, can be asked about future modes of living: these demonstrate how humans can live in a limited space and build sustainably with clay. There is another way in which the large Neolithic settlement appears to have been more modern than comparable facilities of industrial nations today: From the building structure of houses, as well as from findings of bones, researchers have concluded that the residents of Çatalhöyük did not differentiate between male and female and lived in a society of equals 9,000 years ago in southern Anatolia.

Onur Gökmen places the idealization of the archaic as a hypothesis in public space, which he sounds out critically: Are the solutions for the future of humankind really to be sought in the past?


kindly supported by:

Bauverein AG, Entega Stiftung, Fischer + Werle Ingenieurbüro, Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Sparkasse Darmstadt, vonschwanenflugproject