Eighty women and a sin­gle man: Hamish Speak­man on the joys and chal­lenges of be­ing the Wet Hot Beau­ties’ only male dancer.

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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.

Above The troupe will per­form six shows at Par­nell Baths.

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