INTERVIEW WITH GÖKSU KUNAK a.k.a. GUCCI CHUNK
Elisa Muscatelli – How would you describe your research to an audience encountering it for the first time?
Göksu Kunak – Describe my work to a person or to an audience who hasn’t seen my work yet would be
I’m saying that actually like: it’s text-based, I do text-based performances, text-based performative installations, and also text-based installations. I mean that I always start with the text and some elements in the text turn into visual elements to objects, to tableaux vivants, or to movements. I’m very interested in chrono-politics, time politics especially queer chrono-politics, and also southwest Asia, I mean middle eastern politics and chrono-politics.
These are like pillars, the basics of my work. I’m also very interested in middle eastern science fiction, speculative fiction, and also television shows, TV shows in Turkey, and how mass media has been used for certain political discourses through entertainment.
I will delve into Late Modernity and also how my upbringing was influenced by that because I used to be Muslim and I had a religious upbringing, but we were also secular, so this dilemma that’s most of the westerners wouldn’t understand within their perspective of Islam. Also, through that, I’m also very interested in Arabesk music and Arebesk culture because my dad used to love it, and he still. I guess loves Arabesk music, but I used to feel a little ashamed by that because it was not western, and it was like really eastern very rooted in the history of Turkey and that was something that I started to allow myself to like, and I’m really like now when I go for a walk, I definitely listen to Arabesk music and I really use the stories and the music or the sounds that are used in this genre, and I use a lot of repetition while delving into the idiosyncrasies of Arabesk music.
EM – Your birth name, Göksu Kunak, has Gucci Chunk as aka and after some time you decided to use the pronoun, they in your reference bio. What do these choices want to communicate?
GC – The name came because of Microsoft Word because as my name is from Turkey Microsoft Word doesn’t get that name and always corrects my name as Gucci Chunk, so I took that name as my western name, and it also says a lot about the default settings and default understandings of such programs that are most usually designed in the west. That also of course applies to, for instance, my friend Anna Fries they’re working with VR technology, and they have been telling me that within we are scanners, certain body types or bodies with wheelchairs are very hard to scan because the programmers of this scanning program don’t count such bodies as reality, that which is very sad. So, this is the exclusion and discrimination and problems that we face in this reality, of course, mirrors itself and maps itself onto this virtual reality as well so in a way it’s similar that how certain programs how certain default systems see certain bodies as or certain identities as valid and the others not. So, my chosen choice of being non-binary also relates to that, I don’t feel as this or that I feel as many and that’s why I use the pronoun they and that’s why I use different names and as a joke. I also took Gucci Chunk as my other name, which recently actually, to be honest, I’m going more with my name so, but it was a period that I was just finding this hilarious and decided to use this autocorrected name as well.
EM – In performances, you sometimes appear without clothes, others with props: a corset, an extraoral opener, eccentrically designed shoes. How do these objects contribute to the creation of the work and your personality on stage?
GK – Regarding the props and stage design or also the costumes that I’m using in my performances and installations I would say there are several things that influence certain choices. One of them is the morning TV variety shows that I was mentioning in Turkey, because in these shows for instance supposedly unrelated objects may be gathered, like a skeleton model next to a mini-Segway or cooking materials, and there’s a hospital bed and there’s a band there who sings and also plays because in these are the dramaturgy of these shows. The dramaturgy of these shows is very interesting in the sense that it’s very hybrid and one thing in a neoliberal speed happens one after another. So, this is an aspect that I use in my performances, also when it comes to choosing certain objects another thing is like because of biopolitics. My mom and dad are both doctors, I’m interested in the utensils, the tools that doctors use, or the corsets or Botox or other mouth openers like certain objects that create DIY bodily modifications, that’s something that interests me.
EM – Your artistic practice investigates chronological politics, rights, identity, and language in a perspective of awareness and change, where the stage becomes an extension of your reality. What do you think about the decreasing boundaries between art and social activism?
GC – My work is very political maybe not always into your face and maybe sometimes with abstraction, but the texts that I write are political, and the context is mostly in relation to heteronormative patriarchal structures and the criticism of these structures, so I said it is political per se, but I cannot say that I do activism. I think social activism is a totally different engagement, and it’s extremely hard. I find it extremely hard, and what I do is not activism it is art, but it has an important political ground. I do believe that for me for instance when I was growing up or when I was a young adult certain artist works changed my political perception of this world. So, I do believe that art can help to change the world because I had that change in myself and I also saw that change in other people. Because it’s, it just shows you another reality or just like in a cliché way, it also quite makes you question other ways of beings. One thing I need to clarify I guess is also I used the words a lot the East and the West and the middle eastern politics and I use such binaries and such strong words on purpose because in Turkey we grow up with this knowledge of like Turkey is a bridge between the East and the West, so and as we are middle eastern of course the U.S. politics in the region or how Europe or Germany produces certain weaponry and how this affects the region is something that I’m very sensitive about, and that I’m like that I put in my work and I use also mockery around these subjects.
EM – We often talk about translation as a political-identity act, one example was the criticism focused on Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, defined as “too white” to translate The Hill We Climb by African-American poet Amanda Gorman. How do you see artistic-performance languages in this debate?
GC – When it comes to language and the performances for me, I mean of course English is a colonial language so we all have | … |. As a writer, it was and is important to know a language well but at the same time I on purpose use hybrid creole languages, and one of the things that I love about the mixed language that is spoken in Berlin between Turkish and German like what sentences are very mixed that’s one thing that I also face myself that after 10 years of living in Berlin. Similarly, like a very mixed language in Beirut, for instance when I visited Beirut hearing a sentence beginning in Arabic and then turning into French and ending in English. I mean, of course, we need to think about the colonialist and orientalist past about the same time that’s the language living there and I find it very interesting how people find their own way of hacking the hegemonic languages. In my performances and my texts, I make mistakes on purpose or I use spoken language in the way that I take from the advertisements or the streets, and using this hybrid language is important for me.
Considering your question about Amanda Gorman and her translator, yes, I mean certain experiences I think can only be reflected through other people who have similar experiences. In terms of Amanda Gorman’s texts, that really reflects the certain existence in considering racism In the U.S., therefore, choosing a white translator I agree that this might not reflect the experience and might not reflect what the language really aims to. For instance, when The Time Regulation Institute was published in English the first translator was a person from Turkey, and the version that I have read in English in 2013 was translated by two American translators. I think they did a very good job, but of course, I’m also thinking about how is it really possible to reflect what Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar was trying to say. I like it seems like they have done a good job, but I think such questions and problems should be viewed in localities and how local political environments are being shaped by what
EM – Are there any artistic, literary, cinematic references that have had a particular impact on the development of your artistic and personal career?
GK – When it comes to strong influences for my work? Mmm MTV is one of them, as a kid as a teenager, I was watching TV and just I don’t watch it anymore, but pop culture really influences me, I also wrote my master thesis in art history in relation to pop culture. The book The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, is a speculative fiction book that goes into the mockery of modernization in Turkey, that book is an influence or Testo Junkie by Paul. B. Preciado had has also changed a lot in my perception. Besides that, Meg Stuart’s pieces, a lot of performance pieces that I watch have changed my life and my perception and my work, Matthew Barney, Ahmet Ögüt, Banu Cennetoglu, |…|. One film that I watched Ham on Rye the awkward timing in this film was very influential for me when I was working on AN(A)KARA, the piece that I performed at the Sophiensaele, and that now in different forms I performed the piece in various places. And Asiya Wadud, an amazing poet from Brooklyn, her work is very influential for me and |…|. And Ha Za Vu Zu from Turkey, a very interesting performance group, Ibrahim Mahama. I mean there are a lot of names that I can name right now.
I guess that’s the end of this session and thank you so much for listening to me and um and also giving the space um yeah have a wonderful life.
HOPE YOU ARE WELL.
TURKEY IS A BRIDGE BETWEEN THE EAST AND THE WEST. DO NOT KEEP IT TO YOURSELF. REMAIN ALERT. HAVE A SAFE DAY.