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Istanbul 2013

Hamish MacPherson

For dance to work as a form of street protest it must already be well known, or easily learnt, which generally means a popular ‘vernacular’ dance (for example Wazir Attan in Pakistan, Toyi-toyi in South Africa, raving in Georgia [1]) or something popular on Youtube (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Psy’s Gangam Style, The Harlem Shake [2]). Protest dances with new choreography are rare (I can only think of One Million Rising’s dance against violence to women [3]) and require a certain luxury of resources.

It seems natural then that the stillness of postmodern dance was eventually used on 17 June 2013, by choreographer Erdem Gündüz, Duranadam (‘the Standing Man’). After Turkish authorities banned demonstrations against plans to close Istanbul’s Gezi Park, Gündüz stood silently in Istanbul’s Taksim Square for eight hours facing a portrait of Kemal Ataturk.

Although Gündüz did inspire companions and copycats, his intention was to stand alone as an individual so as not to be considered “a terrorist organisation” [4]. But, bigger than any organisation or movement, a lone, young, male (in his light shirt and dark trousers reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal) without any banner became symbolic of the Turkish people or indeed of all people, in a way a woman would not in our male-centred cultures. This universalism is compounded by the duration of the stand [5] (Andre Lepecki observes that “what stillness [in dance] does is to initiate the subject in a different relationship with temporality” [6]); his lack of direct confrontation with the authorities (quite different then to Tiananmen Square’s Tank Man [7]); and his symbolic gaze towards Turkey’s founding father, which together present the image of a man from all times. Perfect for going viral.

Contrast this then with the anonymous large-scale banging of pots and pans that started two weeks before Gündüz’s stand. This cacerolazo (a traditional form of protest, originating in 70s Chile) started on 31 May when people were forced to go home after a day of tear gassing, continuing for a few minutes every evening at 9pm.

Goat Island’s Lin Hixson wrote that, “When the body is always moving and not creating a two-dimensional pictoral image, it is harder to objectify” [8] and the cacerolazo takes this to the extreme by fading out the physical body. Although people could be glimpsed at their windows, they had become part of an invisible, temporary multitude, detectable only in the effect of their action (through sound or lights being turned on and off).

No matter how this started, this pots and pans orchestra operated in the domestic space and was surely more representative of Istanbul than Gündüz in real terms like gender, ethnicity, age and class. This combination of diversity and invisibility meant that it avoided being fixed, both legally and symbolically. Which meant that it never received the same sort of global coverage as Gündüz, but there is something powerful in this protest’s ability to elude not only the power structures of the police, but also the (related) structures of the media and traditional aesthetics. Although Gündüz is the artist, the Istanbul cacerolazo, reminiscent of Martin Creed’s All the Bells [9] and Kateřina Šedá’s There Is Nothing There, [10] feels like the more contemporary choreography.

A version of this text was originally commissioned for Alice Tatge and Therese Steele (eds.) DYAD (2004)

[1] See for example Nasruminallah (2013)  ‘Unique expression: Dancing protest in North Waziristan’ in The Express Tribune 19 January 2013. Melissa Twigg (2018) ‘Is this South Africa’s 12th Official Language? in 12 November 2018. Rayhan Demytrie  (2018) ‘Georgia’s rave revolution’ in 30 July 2018

[2] See for example unknown (2011) ‘Chile ‘Thriller’ Protest: Students Stage Michael Jackson Dance For Education Rally’ in Huffington Post 25 June 2011. Tania Braningan (2013) ‘Chinese workers dance Gangnam Style to protest over unpaid wages’ in The Guardian 23 January 2013. J. Dana Stuster (2013) ‘The ‘Harlem Shake’ is becoming a new form of protest in the Middle East’ in Foreign Policy 1 March 2013.


[4] Hasnain Kazim  (2013) ‘The Standing Man Says More Must Be Done’ in Spiegel Online 5 September 2013.

[5] Gündüz stood for eight hours. The Huffington Post reported that his “plan was to stay standing still there for a month, breaking every 24 hours for three hours’ rest, while a friend took his place”. Karim Talbi (2013) ‘Turkey’s ‘Standing Man’ Protest By Erdem Gunduz Spreads Across Country’ in Huffington Post 18 June 2013.

[6] André Lepecki  (2006) Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement. Abingdon: Routledge.

[7] Tank Man is the nickname of an unidentified man who stood in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, the morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 by force.

[8] Stephen Bottoms, Matthew Goulish. Ed’s (2007)Small Acts of Repair: Performance, Ecology and Goat Island. Abingdon: Routledge.

[9] A artwork performed in San Juan, Puerto Rico (2006) and the UK (2012) to the instruction ‘All the bells in a city/ country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes.’

[10] A 2003 artwork in which the people of the town Ponìtovice synchronised their daily routines for 24 hours, all performing the same activity at precisely the same time.

Hamish MacPherson is a choreographer and editor of STILL LIFE.