PINK IS GENDERLESS
Eighty women and a single man: Hamish Speakman on the joys and challenges of being the Wet Hot Beauties’ only male dancer.
It is an activity that could easily be written off as frivolous, but Dale says it is actually profound for its participants. “It’s a stressful, fraught emotion to bare your body in front of others, and the idea of doing that in front of hundreds of people means we’re actually dealing in courage. Eventually and slowly we all get into our togs and into the pool, and all of a sudden we realise that everybody’s got bumps and curves and straight lines, and hair and veins and muscles. We’re all just human bodies and it’s a great equalising realisation that is part of that transformational process. You’re not unusual. You are unique and beautiful and strong and you are now a water ballerina.”
Wet Hot Beauties are performing ‘Sea Change’, Tue 21–Sun 26 February, at Parnell Baths, 25 Judges Bay Rd.
Yıldız ended up in Auckland through his presence as a curator at the 13th Istanbul Biennial, where he met New Zealand artist Peter Robinson, who suggested he apply to direct Artspace. At the time, he had a year to go as artistic director of Künstlerhaus Stuttgart in Germany. “I wasn’t really looking for another job and I was saying to all my friends, ‘I need a break from institutions’,” he says. “I struggle a lot to fit myself into an institutional context but at the same time I really believe in institutions. My schedule, the way I work, it could be difficult for a lot of people. But I try to transform institutions into more human environments.”
Yıldız hadn’t visited New Zealand before moving here. He partly associated the country with a collective of 19th century Turkish Westernists called Edebiyat-ı Cedide [New Literature], “who were establishing a movement that was trying to understand the social impact of intelligence, rationality and mobility. They were very strong modernists and wanted to escape the repression of the Sultan. They fantasised about escaping to New Zealand but they couldn’t go there, so they chose an Anatolian town, Manisa, and projected a utopian vision.”
Rather than utopian, Yıldız’s arrival in Auckland left him feeling a little out of sorts. He shows me a work by Turkish artist Nilbar Güres, ‘Headstanding Totem’, with which he was “obsessed” when he arrived in New Zealand. In it, a woman does a headstand in the forest, her feet bound in colourful fabric. “If you are coming from Europe to run a public institution in New Zealand, you would feel upside down.”
Before he moved here, Yıldız was familiar with some New Zealand artists based in Berlin: Alicia Frankovich, Simon Denny (“a star in Germany”) and Michael Stevenson. “And already without coming here I knew of Billy Apple,” he says. “I knew there was a New Zealander in the 1970s, 1980s, part of this Pop [Art] thing and he’s quite a great character, but I didn’t know he was around and accessible and still practising.” After his arrival, Yıldız co-opted Denny into collaborating on New Perspectives – which showcased young artists selected by Denny and Artspace’s curatorial team from an open call – while Apple provided a memorable satellite show at Artspace to his retrospective at Auckland Art Gallery last year. Called Suck, it featured a Pop Art sculpture flanked by four lithographs of men with hard-ons.
Yıldız describes himself as an activist as well as a curator. “I have always been politicised because I come from Turkey and that brings with it the Armenian issue and the Kurdish issue. My heart beats for the Kurds, so seeing the Maoriˉ history of confiscation and protest, I imagine this happening in my country too.” How well do people here understand what is going on in Turkey? “It’s mentally far away as much as it is physically far away because people are very comfortable here. Since a while there is not a big war here. I always visualise the kiwi bird as an excellent symbol of this culture here – you can’t fly, you are such a vulnerable bird, but you can still survive here, it has been really safe.”
“If you are coming from Europe to run a public institution in New Zealand, you would feel upside down.”
He remembers describing a difficult visa situation to an acquaintance here. “She said ‘but you should understand, this is such a peaceful country. People like you are coming from countries with trouble’. I was shocked because that actually is the perception: we are bringing trouble. But that is not a really good understanding of the world’s politics today, because if something is happening somewhere, it’s happening everywhere at the same time. ISIS kidnapped someone in Australia, they can bomb someone in Paris, they can exist in Syria – terror is everywhere, you can’t escape it.”
His programme at Artspace has reflected that notion. “A friend of mine said ‘whenever I come to Artspace I see something political and important rather than only seeing an artwork and having a pleasant time’,” he says. The Bill, too, is a project Yıldız says was made even more profound by the loss in September of his friend, Turkish LGBTI activist Boysan Yakar, who died in a traffic accident. “He was our Harvey Milk. He organised all the Pride festivals, he was in front of the Occupy movement. He was so important. When people are alive, sometimes you don’t realise their impact on you is huge.”
Yıldız’s time in New Zealand is now running out, and his misty utopian notions of the country haven’t been entirely fulfilled. “I love this ‘no worries’ thing here,” he says. “You go to a barber or get your coffee in the morning and say ‘oh, I don’t have 50 cents’. No worries. But no worries is not a good attitude, you should have some worries! Look at the connection between Maoriˉ people and unemployment and homelessness, look at street sex work, access to childcare, so many issues. It’s in front of me; when you observe the society you observe the problems. It’s not that everything is great – of course here there are a lot of problems.”
In April, Yıldız will return to Berlin, where he has been awarded a grant to establish a studio base for artists fleeing war. He’s much in demand as a curator in Europe, something that can only be good for the New Zealand artists he has admired while living and working here. As for his time in Auckland, he says, “for a lot of reasons it was like two years of teleporting myself into a context that I sometimes feel [was] like a TV series, like Pleasantville or The Truman Show.” But, he says, “to say it’s boring or reserved would be a really unfair comment on my last two years, because I’ve had so much fun.”
In April, Yıldız will return to Berlin, where he has been awarded a grant to establish a studio base for artists eeing war.