Misal Adnan Yıldız is the new director of Artspace on Karangahape Rd. The Turkish-born curator was one of three winners of the international Curate Award last year.
1. The word "curator" is widely used these days. Has it lost its original meaning?
Yes, it's a bit sad. Now you can curate a blog, curate a fashion show or curate my day. I was walking in Berlin and saw this advertisement that said, "Jeans curated by Pharrell Williams" and I was like, "shit - it's gone. We need to get the word back". Curate comes from the word "cure", like treating something. It's a very slow process. Curating is not selecting artists, coming up with a stupid poetic title and calling it a show. I'm interested in making exhibitions by developing critical thinking, social connections and context for artists to research and exhibit their work.
2. Why were you in Berlin?
I lived there for a long time after studying curating in Stockholm. Berlin was a magnet to artists after the Wall went down because there were so many cheap spaces to rent. London's expensive, Paris is very self-referential.You could say I followed the waves of migrants
who went from Turkey to Germany during the 1960s post-war industrialisation process.
There's now a huge Turkish community in Berlin.
3. When did you realise you wanted to be a curator?
When I was studying psychology in Istanbul, psychoanalysis started to become dominant in my readings. I liked the way Michael Foucault, Deleuze and Guttari analysed society and asked the questions that I ask. Visual culture studies, feminist and queer theory were also interested in psychoanalysis. You can read Hitchcock through Freud easily. So the transition happened naturally.
4. What sort of questions should art be posing?
Art has to respond to the zeitgeist, to now. This demands focus on the question, "How do we live together?" Europe is questioning its identity a lot at the moment, the Charlie Hebdo situation, migration and integration issues. It's not only how we live together as humans. Think botanics, zoology, the climate, metaphysics, the environment, spiritualism. "How can we exist with other things?" A new universalism is maybe what we need to be connected.
5. As a curator, do you look for existing art works that pose the same questions as yours or do you commission new ones?
Both. When you create a research channel it's a magnet to others who are interested in your practice. It's a kind of network that comes together through the questions. So instead of me selecting some names, the artists show interest. I think this is important because it takes away all the hierarchy of the institution.
6. Can art change the world?
We can't change the whole world but we can change perspectives. I can create a process that will make people look at things in a different way. Art has a direct influence on opinions and ideas which can change society.
7. But can artists influence wider public opinion if they only exhibit to an elite group of gallery goers?
Art has always needed patrons so it can look like a five-person elite, drinking bubbles with nice paintings on the wall. But art scenes are composed of everything from artists in studios to non-profit community spaces to public activists. So it's more than just a bourgeoisie thing. I think galleries should invest more in artists and learning rather than catering opening night parties. Event structure is something I'm working on. The moment of high-quality, intense learning is during the installation process. The questions are so fresh as you actively respond to the physical space. So I'm working on how to transmit this experience to the general audience.
8. How do you define your ethnicity?
I grew up in Anatolia. After the 1920s national discourse established something called "Turkishness" and everyone became Turkish. But when you go back to your family origins a lot of things come out that were suppressed at the time. My father belongs to the Turkmen nomads who came to Anatolia from the north of Iran and mum's family has lots of stories relating to Salonic Greeks and Bulgarian Turks. In my heart, I feel not only Turkish but also Greek, Persian and Kurdish. I'm also spiritually very connected with Hellenic culture and Byzantine Empire heritage.
9. Are you religious?
Not very, but I am a believer. My grandmother has a very open, humanistic interpretation of Islam - even a bit Shamanistic. Let's say she has a fight with you; she washes her scarf and when the scarf is dried the debate and the negative feelings are over. I see the Koran as a very important book - a masterpiece. I'm very interested in the text, the grammar, the pre-modern history, the collective writing process, the translation. It has such rich content.
10. You go by two names, Misal and Adnan. Why?
My grandfather gave me the name Adnan for his very good friend who died. Mum was never comfortable with it because she wasn't included in the process even though she carried me for nine months. She and my aunts invented names for me all my childhood. I grew up with women. I have a photo where I look like Charlie's Angels with my mum and my aunts, the important women in my life. I began studying 16th- and 18th-century disciplines from the Ottoman archives like numerology, astrology, how sultans decide the names of their princes. I underwent a hypnosis session during which the name Misal came out. This made me very happy. My mum and aunties adopted Misal immediately. I like it when people use it because I believe it vibrates in the universe.
11. How did you end up in New Zealand?
I met New Zealand artist Peter Robinson at the 13th Istanbul Biennial. He told me about the Artspace job and the biennial curator Fulya Erdemci also suggested I apply. She'd previously curated Scape in Christchurch. I was turning 35 and was completely over the perspectives I'd developed until then and wanted to change my life. I thought it sounded really crazy to go to the other side of the world and take over an institution.
12. What are your plans for Artspace?
I gave myself three years to put Artspace at an international level with a strong transition towards research and development. I'm setting up a new department called "Learning, Unlearning, Relearning". I'm not interested in imposing my decisions on an institution because I'm aware that it's a public responsibility. It's not my father's farm. I sleep and wake up with this public responsibility.