Interview: HAYP chats with the core team of URVAKAN Festival

You may have heard the buzz about URVAKAN Festival, (“GHOST” Festival in Armenian) a cultural festival that aims to reanimate neglected/phantom urban spaces through music and performance. As a gallery that thrives on bringing art into the public space, HAYP Pop Up couldn’t resist the opportunity to partner when the URVAKAN team invited us to co-curate several site-specific installations at some of the venues. URVAKAN Festival will take place in Yerevan, Armenia from May 3-5, 2019 with a full day and night program principally at the Children’s Railway Station in the Hrazdan Gorge, with other locations still TBA. In an attempt to de-mystify the ghost, we had a little chat with the team behind the magic. Take a look at the below interview for some insider info on who, what, where, and why URVAKAN is happening, and how to book your tickets.


 

HAYP Pop Up Gallery: Let’s start by you guys introducing yourselves. As we understand, you’re quite a big group of creatives, whose on the team and what brought you together?

URVAKAN Festival: That’s true. The core of the team mostly consists of people with Armenian roots, but who actually cares about nationality nowadays? We believe in a world without borders, that’s why our team consists of young creatives currently residing in New York, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and more, with rather different backgrounds: from digital marketing and cultural events, to restaurant business, mobile apps and even beauty salons. Of course, there’s a lot of amazing people from Yerevan helping us – obviously, this couldn’t happen without local expertise. We also inspired some of our international friends who quickly jumped on board and became the puzzle’s missing pieces. All in all, everyone who’s on board is attached to the creative industries and hopes to promote and develop this area in every way possible.

What brought us together? Well, some of us know each other for more than a decade, some got close just several months ago, but our common story starts in December 2018, when the core of the team accidentally visited Armenia. Since then there have been a number of trips around the country, and dozens of new acquaintances that showed us a different side of Armenia. So here we are, trying to bring together our experiences with a humble desire to give back to the country that inspired us so much. With a proper respect to the roots – that’s why the collaboration with the local scene is so important for us and you can see a lot of Armenian artists in the line-up. It’s up to the public to decide if we succeed.

HPG: Why “Urvakan”? Where does the festival name come from, and what format should people expect?

UF: We started by traveling around Armenia. Throughout these trips, we found that aside from historic cultural attractions, the country is filled with numerous astonishing locations that you simply can’t find in a tourist guide. Examples like the Composers’ Creativity House hidden in the mountains of Dilijan, where Dmitri Shostakovich was staying for four years in the 1960’s. His piano is still there – standing in a cold, partly destroyed cottage. Or the Writers’ Resort on the shore of Lake Sevan, a unique example of early Soviet architectural avant-garde, just to name a few. All of them are striking architectural forms, with layered histories and meanings, however, most of them are in a terrible condition, abandoned and forgotten. There’s a certain “ghostly” state of these spaces [which is what the word “urvakan” means], neither “alive” as they were decades ago, nor dead. Something in between. A fascinating, uneasy beauty. We hope that our approach to the festival locations will help investors see these half-abandoned spaces from a different angle – filled with contemporary music of various genres, performance, street and digital art, food markets and whatever else; they have all the potential to become important public spaces in the future. We’d really love to share our vision and show rather than tell that these landmarks are more than cultural heritage, they’re also a great opportunity for the city’s new culture.

Writers_resort

Lake Sevan Writers’ Resort, Armenia.

Dilijan_Composers_Union

Amphitheater at the Composers’ Creativity House (also known as Composers’ Resort) in Dilijan, Armenia.

YEREVAN_Tamanyan

Archival image of Yerevan’s Master Plan by Tamanyan exhibiting the importance of parks and greenery to the city’s original urban design.

HPG: Can you tell our readers a little bit about the main location you chose for the festival at the Children’s Railway station? Why this location and what makes it so special to you?

UF: The Yerevan Children’s Railway “Paros”, part of a park named after Abovyan, was built in the 1930’s, designed by architect Mikael Mazmanyan. It turned out to be his last work in Armenia. It was one of the pioneer’s [Soviet Youth organization] railways, which were serviced by children and supposed to raise interest in working on the railway. The railroad loop passes [til this day] through the Hrazdan gorge for 2 km. Alexander Tamanyan, the author of Yerevan’s master [urban] plan, believed that the Hrazdan gorge should be a place of rest for Yerevan residents, giving them the opportunity to enjoy nature and breathe fresh air. He planned for the two tunnels, which are still the shortest path to the railway, to bring fresh air from the gorge to the city center. Isn’t this amazing?

Recently we found old albums with a lot of photos from city holidays, community work days, competitions, concerts held on the railway. This place was truly loved by townsfolk. Nowadays it’s still functioning, however, it’s in a semi-abandoned state. With the help of the city authorities and volunteers we’re going to clean the gorge’s landscape and turn the railway into “Urvakan” city with its own markets, art pieces and three stages celebrating the life-giving power of music.

Children's Railway Station Yerevan

View of the Children’s Railway Station as seen descending from the steps of the Hrazdan Gorge gardens.

chidlrens_railway_balcony_yerevan

The balcony of the Children’s Railway Station looking onto the river canal.

tunnel_hrazdan gorge_yerevan

One of the two tunnels connecting the Hrazdan Gorge to Mashtots Park, in Yerevan City Centre.

HPG: Who will be performing at Urvakan, and in particular, who on the line-up are you most excited about?

UF: Our three-day multifaceted program will feature some outstanding and challenging performances by more than 70 artists from 24 countries. It’s quite hard to pick favourites, but you would most definitely want to come for the opening concert [Friday, May 3], which will feature two pieces by Iranian composer Ata Ebtekar aka “Sote”, and Russian multidisciplinary artist and musician HMOT aka “Stas Sharifullin”. Ata’s “Sacred Horror In Design” is a marvellous audiovisual piece first presented at Berlin’s CTM Festival, which brings together traditional Middle East instruments and current music technologies, featuring Dutch visual artist Tarik Barri (he’s worked with Thom Yorke, Flying Lotus, Robert Henke). Whereas HMOT will present a commissioned, site-specific piece based on Yerevan’s architectural plans, to be performed by a group of local contemporary musicians alongside with Sergey Letov, the Soviet and Russian avant garde / free jazz music legend.

SOTE_Performance

Photo still from Ata Ebtekar aka SOTE’s “Sacred Horror in Design” audiovisual performance.

As for the rest of the program, there are lots of highlights – both during the day and night programmes. The performance by the one and only Russell Haswell is one you cannot miss for sure. Then, there’s American avant garde music legend Anna Homler, who will play one of her pieces with a little help from another great British artist Rupert Clervaux. You also definitely should catch Italy’s Mana presenting his debut album, just released at Hyperdub, and Egyptian ZULI. The night program is also a big thing: our friends from Moscow’s Gost Zvuk label will perform at the opening party (don’t miss Vtgnike’s live performance – he will present his new album just released on Nicolas Jaar’s Other People- and a lot more. Saturday night [May 4] will feature multiple stages filled with audiovisual shows and current dance music trends. As you can see, there’s a lot to experience! A detailed program will soon be published on our website – urvakan.com.

One important thing to mention is that we really wanted to focus on musicians from Eastern Europe and the Middle East – on those whose voices are often excluded from the global context. There’s a huge underground music scene in Russia, almost unknown to the West. During our research we stumbled upon lots of outstanding talents in Armenia, we have a certain focus on the Iranian scene as well. We believe in the uniting power of music. Last but not least to mention – the whole program is set together by the international group of curators behind Klammklang, Synthposium, Radio Morpheus, Rabitza, Richterfest and other internationally acclaimed new music initiatives.

HPG: You’ve been curating a series of events including the “Alabalanitsa” nights at the Mirzoyan Library, and live streamings with Radio Morpheus. How does this fit into your overall concept and what are you trying to achieve through this?

UF: Besides the festival itself, Urvakan’s mission is to offer a platform for musicians and artists working in Armenia and worldwide through a wealth of year-round projects. Besides “Alabalanitsa” and Radio Morpheus, our curators from Proun Gallery held a “Bring Your Own Beamer” event at the Hay-Art exhibition space. This is just the start, but we’ve already achieved some results in building new formats for connecting between local and foreign creative communities.The most important thing is that all these events give us a chance not only to share our views and experience, but also to receive new, unique knowledge from locals. That’s what Urvakan is about.

HPG: As a group of individuals with a lot of experience in the music and festival industry, what is your vision for the future of such events in Armenia? 

UF: It’s hard to say, we can’t predict the future. But for sure we can invent it together. There’s a great tradition in jazz, classical and popular music, dance music is also becoming a worldwide phenomena, so it’s time to step up with something existing on the margins of these genres. Something that definitely offers a challenging experience, but this experience is quite rewarding as well.

HPG: And on a practical note, where can people go to learn more about URVAKAN and buy tickets?

UF: For the latest news and updates follow our accounts on Facebook, VK, Instagram and Telegram. And, of course, don’t forget to visit our website – urvakan.com – and get your ticket. The early bird main pass tickets are already on sale, and they’re quickly selling out! 


Early Bird Tickets are on sale on Resident Advisor until April 14, 2019.

Tickets also available on Tomsarkgh.

URVAKAN Festival will take place from May 3-5, 2019 at several venues in Yerevan, Armenia. Follow them on social media for more info!

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