A space for “the strong-as-steel attitudes of bodies that do not fit into representations, do not remain under control, use art as a possibility, do not stand still, love laughter, are not afraid of themselves, do not observe boundaries, dance, especially curl, make love with featherlightness, do not look like anyone else, are a little monster, sometimes hybrid, not-one”, XXY focuses on the story of a human who has devoted his whole life to the porn industry in its new episode
Prepared by: Çınar Eslek and Yekhan Pınarlıgil
Congratulations, you won the Best Veteran Actress award for Best Underground Film at the Venus Porn Film Festival. We see you in different kinds of movies. Can you tell us about your performance in the movie Alla Beni Pulla Beni Sabah Ateşi for which you received an award? Under what conditions and in which theater was this movie shown before? How did you become a porn actress?
Thank you very much for your kindness, but there is a mistake I would like to correct. It was not the Best Veteran Actress award. Every year the festival gives an Honorary Award to a person who has given years to the profession and has contributed to the social and political acceptance of the porn community. It’s not given to a movie, a role or a performance, but to the person themselves, to their whole career. Thanks to them, this year I was honored. It was a very pompous ceremony. Of course, you can’t help but feel proud. It’s easy to say, a lifetime has passed. For years, I have worked in many different positions, with many, many different people. (Laughter.) In every sense of the word... Personally, I have not suffered any great harm, but of course, we are practicing a profession that is despised, especially in our country. We are on the margins, we are invisible. We have neither a union, nor social rights, nor a professional chamber, nor a proper representative. However, it is boiling over. It is a sector with a long history, dating back to the very beginning of image production, and it is a growing sector. We place our lives in this paradox. Generally speaking, our presence in the industry doesn’t last very long anyway, the actors have to leave when they get a little older or fatter, the producers move on to more respectable fields as soon as they get a few cents, the technical staff are people who come from television or cinema, who shoot porn on the side, “secretly”. When you can survive for a long time in these conditions, you attract attention. This is the main reason for my award, in other words, the underlying reason for being called an Honorary Award is just to have survived. Otherwise, honor is just a dick that patriarchal discourse elevates to the top, behind which is hidden a huge garbage dump.
Of course, the image production of this sector, which has a long history, changes every period. How have these changes affected your existence and acting?
Image production techniques have really developed at a very serious pace. Cinema cameras becoming portable was an event in itself. Then video came out and became lighter at an incredible speed. Nowadays they shoot porn with cell phones. I can say our world has changed. However, it must be said that each technique brings a different aesthetic, and each different aesthetic has a different fetishist. Those who liked to watch porn in the cinema probably found their happiness in the velvety quality of the image. In the early years of video, the contrasting gray scenes gave the feeling of being watched from a hidden camera, happy peepers. There was Super 8, for example, with limited but oversaturated colors. It gave the impression of being shot at home and mixed nostalgia with intimacy. They were the favorite movies of shy men and expats. And when the Hi8 came out, we were very excited. We could make copies easily and sell them easily, under the table and over the counter. They were more for fast consumers; for the golden children of wild liberalism who are not satisfied with one scene, who are always looking for a new one!
I guess that was a roundabout way to answer your question. But my acting was shaped not by the change of techniques, but by the different customers of the changing techniques and their expectations. “Who can buy and watch which technique? What does he/she expect while watching it?” and I dressed accordingly and acted accordingly.
Secrecy is inevitable in these degrading conditions. How were the films shot under the table released? Or if not, how could they be seen?
I think there’s a little confusion, Betty dear. The movies that were released were not made in secret. They were shot with the usual production methods, but sometimes the script was changed to make them more erotic than they should have been. But of course, there were movies that were shot under the table. We were using Super 8 especially for these. We would shoot them quickly with a method we called in-camera editing. They would make a certain number of copies of the 3-minute cartridges and sell them to private individuals under the table. There was no such thing as these movies being released.
In-camera editing seems to be more suited to the performance. Today, there is no montage technique used in editing programs. As someone who has seen and participated in these two periods and in between, how do you evaluate this process?
Technology is advancing, language is evolving accordingly, this is normal. In-camera editing was an urgency for us, it was a convenience. Now there is no need, because editing techniques have become so easy, everyone can make a good or bad edit even on their phones. But you should ask this question to those who think about this more than me, Betty dear. There are historians and researchers who are interested in these conversations now.
You said you worked with very different people and in very different positions. What kind of positions were these?
I was interested in movies from a young age. Not only the movie seen, but the whole movie ceremony. The transition from light to dark excited me. It’s like going from consciousness to the subconscious, to the depths of human beings, to their dreams, to what they cannot confess. In that deep darkness there were feelings I exchanged with people I didn’t know: love, admiration, sometimes fear, but above all excitement. Then there was the strange embarrassment I felt when the intermission came, when the light came on, the furtive glances of people I had confided in but had never met while they were eating their Alaska Frigos or sipping their tea in a corner... And one of the elements that impressed me the most was the usher’s dance with a flashlight. I entered the hall almost blind, and the only way out was for that little light to accompany me and my destiny. Then I would take my place next to my traveling companions for a few hours.
This is probably why, when I was very young, I begged the manager of a small movie theater in Anatolia to hire me. He told me repeatedly that they were looking for someone with more experience, but I persisted and finally succeeded. I worked as an usher in that movie theater for a long time. I had a flashlight that I used sparingly. I worked tirelessly, up and down, almost flying. After a long time, I received offers from different cities and drifted from place to place for a while. Until the boss of one of Istanbul’s distinguished movie theaters discovered me. I performed my flashlight choreography in Aksaray for a long time. The movie theaters were small businesses, and when one of them got sick, another member of the team would take over. I worked in the tearoom, mopped the floors, and worked on the projector.
It was a winter morning, I remember it very well, the snow had covered Aksaray. Wet footprints at the entrance of the movie theater, a few spectators warming themselves with tea next to the burning stove in the foyer. I had opened the doors between the two movies, and I was calmly watching the people coming out: finding themselves on the cold streets of Istanbul before they had gotten rid of their dreams... The door of the foyer was left open, I was trying to close it. Suddenly there was a scream, a shouting and screaming, we were all surprised. The manager’s wife had gone mad and stabbed him. They rushed him to the hospital. I first cleaned up the blood in his office and then started to organize his work.
Like a pavilion... Ten years ago I lived in the back streets of Beyoğlu. There was a pavilion opposite my house and a rock bar next to it. At night, the customers coming out of both places would mingle with each other. One day there was a shout, a scream. I looked; a customer had been stabbed. The front of the place is full of blood stains. By the time the police arrived, the blood stains were wiped away and the customer disappeared. It was very strange. You also lived in the unlit, back streets of Taksim Park. They say some of the streets were dark. You could see the silhouettes of people, but their faces were hard to make out. Is that so?
Oh, my Betty, how many people passed through those streets, who disappeared there, who went from light to darkness, who turned into flesh and blood ghosts... The most well-known faces of the community disappeared there. Beyoğlu nights have such power. It anonymizes you, takes you in without you noticing. It’s like a case of reverse birth. Dark streets pull you into their wombs. The next thing you know, you are gone. You have no face, no identity, no color in your eyes. Your body has turned into a spirit, your soul into smoke, you have become one of the darkness of the city.
That’s how it is, sugar, Mr. Fahri came when I was working as a temporary manager. He opened the door without knocking, he didn’t hear about the manager’s incident, he paused when he saw me waiting for him. He quickly recovered and started chatting. He was one of the big shots of the time, a bit of a crazy, active, outgoing kind of guy. He said, “I’m a producer, we’ll find a suitable position for you. That’s how it happened. The curtain was pulled back on the porn industry, and I quickly got behind it like that.
Speaking of backstage, did you have any contact with the opera house? Was it a challenge for you to move quickly behind the curtain?
I think every new beginning is a challenge. When you go to a new city, it is difficult for you, a new house, a new lover, a new job... It was no more than that for me. The Opera House was a shelter that housed me for a while. It was a shelter. It was a family, a home, a house. For a period of my life, I was the opera, and that building was my stage. Everyone had left the city. There were ghosts, zombies, television stars, novel heroes, and then there was me... A period when they took down the cartel of the city.
Socially and politically, the power relationship wants to perpetuate its existence with a masculine dominance. Especially sexuality and issues related to sexuality have spread to our living spaces as normative rules. Morality has almost been reduced to issues related to sexuality.
This moralism manifests itself in different dimensions. Watching porn is not even brought up because it would be considered strange. Yet we are the country where the most porn is watched. The fact that porn has become a taboo makes the situation more acute. How do you evaluate not being able to talk about porn and sex at all, in your words, how do you evaluate this being despised?
First of all, I have to say that porn and sex mean very different things to an actress. When you look at it from the audience’s point of view, porn is one of the forms of sexual consumption, a turn-on, or a spectacle in its purest form. Whereas for us, porn is a performance, like dance or theater. We are trying to arouse something in the audience by presenting your body to their gaze. Desire, orgasm, sometimes passion. For the lucky ones, porn is a profession. An industry in which you earn a living. However, it is important to remember that porn is not consumed because we show ourselves, we do not force anyone to watch us, we do these performances because the audience wants to see them. So, it’s a matter of supply and demand. You talked about a society that cannot talk about sex. There is a great desire but a victim of so-called morality, a great interest but a clown of hypocrisy. A mob pretending to be mute. Silenced bodies, pretending not to live. A story of beer cans wrapped in newsprint, or of wine glasses blurred on the television screen. But we don’t talk about sex, we stage ourselves as if we are having sex so that others can have a good sex.
Jeff Koons created a series of paintings, photographs, and sculptures from scenes in which he and Italy’s porn queen Cicciolina (Ilona Staller) experimented with all forms of porn. For example, one work is called Ilona’s Asshole. And this series was exhibited at the Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition in 1990. Another celebrity who pornologized art is Nobuyoshi Araki. Araki’s photographs were published in pornographic magazines and then suddenly exhibited in galleries and art museums. In time, performances imitating pornography spread. Cosey Fanni Tutti, one of the most prominent of these performance artists, was once a porn star and Annie Sprinkle a prostitute. She appears in shop windows in Amsterdam’s famous neighborhood, the Red Light District. Jemima Stehli and Hannah Wilke strip, others masturbate. You also talked about porn as a performance. Based on these examples, how did your process take place and did your performance ever take place within the discipline of art?
First of all, I would like to say that I find it very strange that you put Jeff Koons’ name in the same paragraph with other artists. I don’t think it’s possible to call what he does neither art nor porn. At best we can call him an advertiser, but it seems more like cunning to me. He knows the weaknesses of society, or rather the market, and he uses that to get attention. It’s not porn, it’s sex. People are free to do what they want with their bodies, but I think you always must be honest: with yourself and with the audience! Jeff Koons is commercially concerned, he’s not honest or clear, he deliberately erases the traces, flushes them out. I think what is done is neither porn nor art. It seems insulting to others to lump artists like Hannah Wilke with him because they make art using their bodies as tools. We’re talking about people who have changed society to make it more livable, or at least triggered change, not a marketer who plays with the boundaries of society to lull people to sleep for personal glory. I would also like to remind you that when I say porn, I mean an industry, a profession to make money and survive. Not every striptease or every masturbation is porn. Everyone does these things, not everyone makes porn at home. They don’t dedicate their body images to the pleasure of others, people they’ve never even seen. In the same way, I think art has a certain line, it has its own morality, otherwise there are many people who make art at home...
You said, “Not every striptease or every masturbation is porn.” What is porn? What is the difference between sex and porn?
When I think as a porn professional, I can answer like this: Sex is my private, my private life, the time I spend with my partner or partners with pleasure, sex is a sensual and spiritual pleasure. Porn is my profession, a profession that I do to exist, to make a living, for which I get paid. We all rent our bodies, our souls, our minds to someone. I don’t think I’m very different from an office worker. Imagine a civil servant, working in a company or institution. At certain times of the day, he puts his body and mind at the service of his organization. And my organization is the porn industry. A few hours in which I rent my body for the pleasure of others.
We see you in many different roles in many different fields. It is difficult to define you. You may think you’re just renting your body, but the audience doesn’t think so. Or the art community. It is clear from the fact that they have awarded you this prize.
As for me, I never thought I was making art, but in recent years the boundaries of art have expanded and there has been an interest in what I do in the art community. I can’t say it didn’t work for me, because the films that we used to sell under the table are now being spent quite well by enthusiasts. So, I came to this field in spite of myself, through collectors and researchers. There was a very serious interest especially in Super 8 films. They had more or less three-minute cartridges. While we were playing the scene, let’s not say acting, the cameraman would film us with the method we call in-camera montage. In other words, to summarize the whole scene in three minutes. Sometimes he couldn’t get it right, for example, the cartridge ran out before the orgasm, (laughs) we would get angry at him, but what can the guy do, it’s human, these things happen. Anyway... Then we would send these films to the developer and watch them when they came back. The producer would duplicate the ones that could be sold and sell them under the table for very good prices, and we would throw away the ones we thought were duds. Today even those are in demand. Recently, a researcher who works in a museum abroad, Yekhan Pınarlıgil, came to see my archives. I am sometimes surprised by this interest!
I’ve heard of Yekhan Pınarlıgil. I even recently visited an exhibition he curated.
He was working with an artist named Çınar Eslek, and together they were preparing an exhibition on my archives. From where to where... But of course, you like it, someone has found the posters of the movies you made years ago, they cherish your old movies and photographs. Moreover, people will come and see them. Who doesn’t want to get attention, especially when you do a profession that has been left in the dark for years... Look, you are interviewing me. (They laugh together.)
When will the exhibition open? Where will it be?
It will be in Istanbul, at an art gallery called March Art Project. If I remember correctly, it will open at the beginning of January.