We caught up with Hector Dyer, a performance artist from London, who hopes to make people consider climate change through a new lens with unexpected imagery, humour, and empathy in a brand new procession piece You are Warmly Invited to the Death of the Turtle that will crawl through Greenwich Park this Saturday.
Hi Hector thanks for talking to us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your practice?
My work is normally thinking about our relationship with the natural world rather than specifically the environment, my main ideas are around legacy and memory. I typically make work that is either outdoors or in a procession, and I’m really interested in work that takes place in everyday spaces – especially pedestrianised places, where people maybe feel like they’re removed from the humdrum of normal life.
Where did you train to become an artist?
I did a postgrad in performance at Bristol University but have had no formal artistic training, I guess like lots of people I've mainly learnt from actually doing shows. I was part of a company called Ponyboy Curtis and I learnt a lot with them because it was an established group of performers already, so I came in and had to learn this whole new physical language, a kind of coded way of moving around a space. It was a great way of training as it was really intense, long days.
Please tell us a bit more about the piece and what it will entail? What message are you trying to convey?
For this piece I will be dressing up as a turtle and lying on my belly and crawling for as long as is possible. It will start off at the National Maritime Museum and we’ll do a big loop of Greenwich park, all the way to Cutty Sark. In front of me will be a trumpeter in a wedding dress made out of seaweed and beside me will be banner holders draped in plastic bag costumes holding a sign saying ‘You Are Warmly Invited to the Death of the Turtle’. I guess it's a spectacle, people won't be expecting it and will be enjoying the park, doing a bit of tourism, so hopefully it will jolt the senses. The turtle itself will be covered in signs of plastic pollution: there’ll be straws in my nose, the shell will be pulled out of shape by a big ring pull, with netting and plastic bags and around me. I guess the message depends on whether you choose to stop and engage with it. It is going to be going really slowly. I did a practice crawl recently, and 600 meters took me an hour, and that was without anything on my back, on grass.
Are you going that slow on purpose?
No no that’s physically how fast I could do it – happy for that to go on record! It’s tiring and you’re conscious that you’re sweating loads. It’s just a horrible position to be in, it’s not natural, and it’s just very, very difficult and there’s no part of you that wants to do it. The pace is important, though, as I'm interested in what it means to change the pace you’re moving at or walking at, or how you’re thinking and moving around in the space to engage with it: whether that’s to join the crawl, take a photo of it, take plastic off it, or just ignore it – which would also be totally fine, or try and block its path or ride its back.
How can art and humour help us to understand and approach difficult issues?
Humour is such a massive way of getting people in, and it makes it more human and personal, otherwise it can seem quite intimidating. Also it raises the point of what does it mean to laugh at a turtle’s death. There’s something really ridiculous about that, and I hope it’s not taking itself too seriously.
I’ve always had quite a dystopic, end of the world view of climate change, and recently I’ve been reading and inspired by people moving away from that so it’s not avoiding it – but it’s not sitting in that ‘everything’s going to burn and die and crash’ viewpoint. There are solutions and other ways of approaching the issue, so I am interested in exploring that. So taking the funeral and flipping on its head – and making it a challenge, a carnival funeral, is one way of doing that.
You have chosen to push yourself to exhaustion for this piece. How far do you think you can crawl?
I really do like exploring exhaustion, and not being able to go any further physically or mentally is something I want to look into more. I think it’s interesting to explore if you don't actually know what’s going to happen with the piece - I literally have no idea if I'll be able to finish it. I've guessed it will be about the same exertion as running a marathon and I won’t be able to do even another meter when I finish. On a personal level there’s something interesting about trying to move in a completely unnatural position that’s really natural for an animal. It’s not meant to happen, its not meant to move like that – and on the flip side we shouldn’t be putting plastic in the ocean. There's something about there being an unnatural situation, and it would obviously be unnatural to see a turtle crawling along Greenwich Park.
Tell us more about how you devised the piece?
I’m not quite sure where it came from…the turtle was always first. I like carnival and traditional folk processions, and am fascinated by artistic takes on funerals. Jeremy Deller did a piece in Manchester on all these funeral hearses at old bingo halls and clubs that had shut down... I think being able to play with a funeral is fascinating cos I’d always thought ‘you can’t touch that’ you know? And it’s not a thing you can go near for many reasons, but seeing that and thinking from the turtle's point of view, what would it be like to see that, and it just came from there.