IPM Roma 2013: Sex Sells, But Money Talks [Are Gay Events Still Relevant?’] (interview)
Skrufff are pleased to be supporting next week’s annual IPM conference in Rome and as part of our link-up will be running a series of Q&A with some of the key characters involved in this year’s event. http://www.ipmrome.com
Rome based IPM co-curator Jonathan Turner who has a long term association with Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, will be moderating the panel ‘Are Gay Events Still Relevant?’ featuring speakers including London DJ/ promoters Paul Heron and DJ Pagano alongside Teseo Coudrey, the spokesperson for Matinèe Group.
Roman politician, activist, art director and television panellist Vladimir Luxuria, and Annachiara Marignoli, the organiser of Rome’s Gay Village and Gorgeous also join the panel which will be discussing topics including ‘what is the difference between a gay event and a heterosexual event’ and the history of particular gay events and how much they have lead to social change’. Jonathan started by explaining how he first connected with IPM.
“As with most projects, my involvement in such a cross-cultural event as IPM is a direct result of like-minded people being introduced to each other by enthusiastic colleagues,” he said.
“In my case, it was proposed to IPM director Andrea Masci that I could be a suitable moderator of the first ever IPM panel dedicated specifically to gay events. I was suggested by Annachiara and Aleksandra from Gay Village, Rome’s annual outdoor summer clubland location.
I’ve had close contact with Gay Village since the day it was born in 2002. Back then it was staged in another part of the former abattoirs in Testaccio, near to where the IPM conference is now taking place. From this initial introduction, I began to help shape the general organization of the various panel discussions, and assist hands-on with the cultural and visual content. As a team, IPM is a fast-growing, dynamic enterprise.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): What prompted you to move to Rome and what do you do with the rest of your time as an art critic / independent curator?
Jonathan Turner (IPM): “I was born in Australia, and after finishing high school near the beach in Sydney, I moved to the UK, then Amsterdam. I first came to Rome in the mid-1980s. I found an unconventional boyfriend and a great rooftop apartment, where I still live. I began my Italian career as a young art critic (including correspondent for ARTnews magazine New York & Tableau magazine, Amsterdam). This was partly because I was seeing lots of great contemporary art which was otherwise being ignored.
Soon afterwards, I began to organize and promote exhibitions, and write catalogue texts about emerging artists and creative figureheads. Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve curated more than 350 solo and group exhibitions in museums and private galleries around the globe. But I’ve always been interested in cultural contamination, so my other projects have involved cinema, cabaret, fashion, theatre, music and clubbing events, working with both radical and established artists. For me, IPM is a natural extension of a multi-faceted life in contemporary art.
Skrufff: Your panel is called ‘Are Gay Events Still Relevant?’ Without giving the whole panel away, are they?
Jonathan Turner (IPM): “Of course, the answer depends on who you are asking. If you ask someone in Moscow, where only last weekend, the Gay Pride march was banned and deemed by the authorities to be “illegal propaganda”, then obviously gay events are still very bloody relevant.
If managed in a particular way, the visibility of a gay event can have an enormous impact on tolerance, which leads directly to public acceptance, which I suppose we can agree is one of the primary aims of any minority sector in contemporary society.
Successful gay events, especially when they are set-up to be all-inclusive, are fundamental in breaking down stereotypes and barriers. In such countries as The Netherlands or Australia, the gay sub-culture has thrived for decades, evolved, and moved forward, since so many of the battles we once fought have already been won.
But there is always room for improvement. In Italy, and particularly in Rome, I have seen a huge swing in the acceptance of gay culture, and I think this is partly due to the visibility of such mega-events as World Pride in 2000. That was an incredibly joyful moment in the history of this city, embraced by so many.
Skrufff: What are the key changes you’ll be focusing on in the discussion?
Jonathan Turner (IPM): “I am keen to learn what it is that other people think determines a gay versus a straight event today. And to trace the recent history of how this perception has changed, as seen by professionals from within the industry.
Another key issue is how organizers see their own future, especially since smaller more focused events aimed at close-knit communities seem to be gaining popularity over the large-scale, “traditional” LGBT parties. And to discuss how we can all legitimately support each other.”
Skrufff: What’s your assessment of the level of tolerance towards gay people in Italy (as compared to Sydney)?
Jonathan Turner (IPM): “In strictly legal terms, tolerance of gay people still has a long way to go in Italy. On the other hand, socially I see a growing openness, particularly among the younger generation. Again, I reckon if you go out to have a good night in a club, and there happens to be a couple of guys dancing with guys, and a couple of girls dancing with girls, then in the universal spirit of fun, you tend to become tolerant as if by osmosis.
During GayPride in Rome, I am always so thrilled to see everyone on the streets smiling, and grandmas waving from windows, and no-one looking angry. Even the police are helpful. Surely that is a demonstration of tolerance. And young men with their girlfriends on the back of a Vespa, stopped in a side-street, happily waiting for the parade to pass by.
Of course, with the Vatican down the street, the religious issue is so much stronger here, and that creates a whole different series of stumbling blocks. But I pass no moral judgement on someone who holds religious beliefs. And I already have a hectic social life, so I don’t need any additional, imaginary friends.”
Skrufff?: How about the climate today generally – there seems to be huge, contradictory messages out there (on the one hand gay marriage becoming normalised in many countries such as the US, while gay hate crime is simultaneously on the increase in Greenwich Village in New York). Pink News reported this week that ‘Anti-gay crime has soared with the arrival of equal marriage in France’: why do you think this is?
Jonathan Turner (IPM): “I still think that those gym-toned French protesters with their shirts off, wearing colourful trousers, are sending out mixed messages. Theatrical homo-erotic performance or protest against marriage equality? Meanwhile both gay protesters and anti-gay thugs were arrested during the Pride march in St Petersburg this week, and right-wing politicians in the USA claim that “God wept” in response to the senate’s calm ruling against DOMA and Prop 8.
There will always be people who focus on hating the things which have absolutely nothing to do with them. We simply have to try not to contribute to a climate of blame and punishment. Anyhow, as the Aussie comedian Jim Jeffries said, “If you don’t believe in gay marriage, then don’t get gay married.”
Skrufff: Mardi Gras in Sydney: how big a role did that play in changing people’s minds (and improving tolerance) in Australia?
Jonathan Turner (IPM): “Mardi Gras was born out of political necessary, and resulted from the first spontaneous march in 1978, which ended in heavy-handed police violence, arrests and culpable injustice. As the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras gained momentum, excellence inspired change.
The boom years of Mardi Gras in the 1990s and the first years of this century saw amazing change, and the power of the “pink dollar”. The government undertook a study to discover the real economic impact of Mardi Gras on the city of Sydney, and it was amazed to discover the amount of international cash that poured in each year. Sex sells, but money talks.
The Parade was televised live on Australia’s national network, and the gay icons performing at the infamous after-parties were broadcast on televisions across the country. Kylie, Cyndi, Grace, Olivia, George, Boy George, Chaka Khan were presented as shining droplets in an ocean of festive celebration. It was about the “normalising” of gay culture.
If something is shown on your TV in your living room, it is no longer very scary. Today in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, the former inner-city gay ghettos have expanded to the level that while certain LGBT people might chose to live in specific, gay-friendlier suburbs, these are no longer quite so limited. Tragically, there are still too many suicides of young, isolated gay men and lesbians, but there are also proud associations of gay farmers in the Australian outback, and transgender plumbers in country towns, reminiscent of “Priscilla”.”
Skrufff: The term gay is more often than not now replaced by LGBT: whereas others prefer the term ‘queer’ or GSD (‘Gender and Sexual Diversities’): how much do such labels matter?
Jonathan Turner (IPM): “I accept that LGBT is more inclusive than simply “gay”, but I also come from a time when we had to fight merely to have the word “gay” included in a label. And other sort of labels now seem more important, including issues of sponsorship, branding and the logos of those companies who unreservedly support all types of diverse communities, not only the promotion of Gender and Sexual Diversities.”
Skrufff: The poster promoting your talk features a picture of two Barbie dolls and pink wallpaper and pink lettering: how much can such stereotypes be counter-productive (or not?)
Jonathan Turner (IPM): “It’s not so much about stereotyping as fast-tracking. It’s merely visual short-hand. Everybody knows who Barbie is, but look at that dubious guy who was supposed to be her long-term boyfriend. On the poster, we could have equally shown two leather boys, or two gorgeous transsexuals, or something totally bland. Nobody is adequately represented by a single image, anyhow.
The last thing that the LGBT community should do is try to be too politically correct about ourselves, since the very nature of who we are is based on crossing the boundaries, questioning the norms and creating new alternatives. Shouting not drowning. It’s like how dykes and fags and queers call themselves by these same names, to own the words, to claim authority, to take the sting out of former insults. Anyhow, if it stimulates discussion, it means that we still clearly need to talk about stuff.”