Interviews with Choreographers, Artists, a Deputy Director, and a Video,
Photos by Kelly O
Choreographer, performing at Velocity Dance Center Oct 12–21
How did you come to be a choreographer and not just a dancer in other people's companies?
I always knew that I was going to dance no matter what. I used to sneak out of my parents' house in Ankara, Turkey, when my dad was stationed there with the Air Force, to go to clubs in the middle of the night. Watching people just dance, with no one telling them what to do or how to do it—I was hooked on that. My development as a choreographer is heavily grounded in exploring why we create what we create and sharing with an audience—not just the final outcomes, but also that process.
You've called your upcoming October show at Velocity a "nonverbal lecture" about your influences, from ballet to pole dancing. What will that look like?
The piece consists of sections I call "exhibits." They all have titles like "Exhibit A: The Sample," "Exhibit B: The Imitator," "The Chair Dance," "The Booty Dance," "The Mash-Up," "The Cover," and so on. I will perform an example of each of these things... There will be projected text throughout the piece expressing my opinions and experiences with what I am doing and why.
You've written essays about your ass, and it's a featured part of the Velocity show—why should we care so much about your ass?
Ha! This piece is about the ass—not my ass. There is a lot of ass-dancing in this show, and a lot of different kinds, but the ass represents so much about the human body. The butt is the largest muscle in the body: You have to have a strong ass in order to move. When we get old, if your butt gets weak, you fall apart. The ass means different things to different people. We sit on our asses all day long, and yet we are so removed from it. They're so overly sexualized, and yet we shit from that area. It's such a fascinating, complex part of the body, we even use it in everyday language: "Get your ass over here!"
Choreographer, performing at a secret location as part of the City Arts Festival Oct 19–20
A lot of your work deals with intimate stuff—sex, violence, self-image, eating disorders, compulsion. Do people make weird assumptions about your life based on your work?
Oh, yes. Sometimes my family has been like: "What the fuck is going on with you?" People who don't know me think I'm going to be crazy and mean, or that I'm totally not together. Or that I have all these issues and problems. But I feel a duty to draw things out of myself in my work. And I don't mean this in some martyrish way—I feel very privileged that it's my duty—but it can be very hard and very lonely. Sometimes those things make people very, very uncomfortable, but other people feel recognized. I've been thinking about why art matters so much to people, and maybe it's because it can be our best common denominator—it's inherently nebulous and murky, and there's the space for everybody to imprint and overlay their own experience on it and feel like they're not alone.
So you feel like you have to do this hard work of exploring some darkness in yourself for the sake of strangers in the audience?
Yes. I had a teacher once, and I told her I was ashamed of something. She asked: "Did you do it?" I said yes. She said: "Then other people have done it, too." You're not alone, you know? And who are you to not bring that to the work and share that?
I talked about that with some students recently: There's this understood, unspoken contract a performer has with an audience that they came to see this thing and you can't back down from that—you can't hide, and you can't be a pussy about it. You have to be open and vulnerable, almost pushing the boundaries of yourself and your body, so there's a sort of erasing of the boundaries of skin between the performer and the person watching.
Video, playing at Seattle Art Museum Oct 11–Jan 13
Well, you're not a person. So what are you?
I'm a video, made during a performance that took place in front of a large audience in 1975. I show Marina Abramovic brushing and combing her hair.
My scalp hurts just looking at her. Is she trying to hurt herself?
Her goal is to repeat the actions and the words "until I have destroyed my hair and face," so yeah. The words she chants are "Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful." By punishing herself and making you watch, she wanted to protest the old idea that art should be pretty enough for the fanciest room in the house. I would look away if I could. Some people watch for a long time, and I always wonder what's going through their minds.
Have you had a chance to see any of her other performances?
I just missed the one where—it happened in 1974, a year before I was born—she set up a table with a bunch of objects, including a gun, and invited people to use them on her any way they pleased. She almost got killed; I wouldn't be here if she had. I loved the stuff with her boyfriend, when they balanced so he held an arrow taut to her heart, and when they broke up by walking the Great Wall of China from opposite ends and saying goodbye in the middle.
Two years ago, she installed herself at a table and stared at visitors at the Museum of Modern Art. People loved this; they lined up to sit across from her. She called the exhibition The Artist Is Present.
Art must be present, artist must be present. Can I go now?
New deputy director of art and education at the Henry, curator of Now Here Is Also Nowhere Oct 27–May 5
Your debut at the Henry is a show described as dealing with "intangible concepts or material (or lack thereof)." Is a lot of what's going to be on display not going to be on display?
That's part of the reflection—that we often tend to think in material or in visible terms, and a lot of this work is either completely invisible, or it's visible through the mark that the artist left. It will be fun to consider how those things can hold a space and how we have a privilege in our culture for the act that is visible. When people think of gesture, we will always think of marks that have physical forms, but a lot of artists make gestures that have the same beauty and potency, it's just that they live in a separate world.
What are three things that influence you as a curator?
Harald Szeemann's show When Attitudes Become Form from 1969 is really important to me. The work of Alighiero Boetti, in terms of thinking of hybridity and different mediums from photography to carpets that were made in Afghanistan—the articulation of the artist as some sort of wanderer who was able to be more like an anthropologist. And the third one is ongoing: I worked when I was in Detroit with a Belgian artist who was in his 70s, and his name is Jef Geys. He is just a really wonderful philosopher and assassin, friend, and questioner of the art object. He is a real sort of somebody who introduces question marks to everything. He's a genius. I think he's one of the most important artists alive today, and he's under-recognized, particularly in this country.
Is there anything else we need to know about you as a new creative person in Seattle?
I don't make music, but I think I'm a pretty good dancer. If not, I wouldn't be a Latin. I feel terrible now; I may have to prove it.
artist, showing at James Harris Gallery Oct 4–27
Let's talk about Lebanon.
Let's talk about Lebanon. Wow. My family immigrated here from what is now Lebanon, although at the time it was Syria. My brother, sister, and I finally went back this year for the first time. We went to the four towns where our grandparents are from. At one, we had this wild experience with people coming out of houses holding the unofficial ledger of my grandparents getting married.
What's an image people will see in your show this fall?
I got interested in Hama [in Syria], the original site of the current Assad's father's power grab. In 1982, he essentially did what his son is doing now, only within closed borders and without people being able to see what happened. Upwards of 20,000 people were killed there in 1982, and it's a beautiful city known for these waterwheels. There's a protest that commemorates the original assault on Hama, and what happens is people pour red dye into the river. I made a painting called Painting the River Red.
You've said this trip made you more confident in using places and events from Syria and Lebanon as source material. How does the confidence actually show up in the paintings and drawings?
For me, where I needed the confidence is in what I would say was the ethical confines of it. I really felt like I wanted to understand my own motives for making this work, and that they be respectful and at the same time honest. I think there was a lot of confusion around multicultural discussion in American art culture—a lot of making those artists who were actually given any credibility into poster children or exact storytellers. Well, there is no exact story. I just thought, "I just want to make this work."
NKO Rey, graffiti and installation artist, organizing the bike race/scavenger hunt/street-art tour Art Dash 4 Ca$h on Oct 20
You're a cofounder of the Free Sheep Foundation and art director of Saint Genet. Both of these projects, especially Free Sheep, have invaded abandoned and disused spaces for installation and performance projects. What attracts you to places like that?
I think disused spaces' past lifetimes exist as strange ghosts. The work DK Pan [of Free Sheep] and I do comments on development, urbanization, and the poetry of memory. Abandoned buildings are storehouses of collective memory; layers of history are compressed in the moment when you occupy that space. When you consciously cross a boundary, you move toward transcendental experience. In communicating the experience, you engage collective memory.
Your work often lives in a legal gray area—how do you think criminality affects art?
Structure, not legality, is the real issue. Art defined by transgression is the most immediate and desperate form of expression. It's the most fundamental human act, yet can lack subtlety in its rawness. Working within structures like museums or galleries offers an opportunity to expand the scale or scope of the work, but risks being influenced by commercial and social ideologies.
While doing street art, have you ever encountered someone doing something more illegal than you?
Once I met a man who had replaced all of his teeth with crack. He said, "I've got diamonds for teeth!" He had little baggies of crack stuffed in the empty sockets.
I hear one of your art collectives, called New Mystics, is organizing a 12-hour bike race and scavenger hunt called "Art Dash 4 Ca$h."
We're working with City Arts Festival to stage a 12-hour, alley cat–style bike scavenger hunt/race that's a tour of public art and graffiti throughout Seattle and King County. There will be bikes, loose times, and cash prizes.