Samvel Saghatelian is a multi-disciplinary artist currently living and working in Armenia. He is our featured artist this week on the HAYP/IN SITU “Virtual Viewing Room” platform, a space for online artworks from June 1 – August 2, 2020. In this interview, we learn a little more about Samvel’s project and what makes him “tick” as an artist. Scroll down to the very bottom for a complete bio.
HAYP/IN SITU: Tell us about your Virtual Viewing Room (VVR) project.
SAMVEL SAGHATELIAN: “My VVR project addresses the drastic socio-political changes in human confrontation. The project is based on the “Metamorphosis” series, which dates back to the great changes and upheavals of the 90s: the collapse of the Soviet Union, [Armenian] Independence, war, and post-war reality. At the center of it all is woman, and in particular, the female body. She is more flexible and adaptable to different situations. A woman’s body is able to undergo change, no matter what context. I see the female form as a symbol that transcends and goes beyond gender to become a universal symbol for bodily transformation or metamorphosis. For me, beauty is genderless. But this specific bodily power, of flexibility, is definitely feminine.”
HI: How does this project relate to your artistic practice?
SAM SAGA: The series is as connected to my practice as it is to the revolutionary events of 2018. We experienced a liberation of ourselves and our bodies; an expansion in our identity that was more complete, united and self-sufficient. We became a fully flourishing body.
Before the revolution we were divided, not only as a nation but within ourselves. Blossoming happens when you find that unity within yourself. You don’t need to look for answers elsewhere- it’s in you. Once you have that, nothing can stop you. Not even a viral epidemic, just as the cholera epidemic did not prevent the “body” of the Italian Renaissance from flourishing.
HI: Who/what inspires you?
SAM SAGA: Everything related to man-nature, man-universe, man-man, man-society, man-politics, and of course, love and sex…
HI: What does confinement mean to you? Have you (re)discovered something during this time?
SAM SAGA: Restrictions, pressures, traumas, illnesses, viruses, and everything that creates limits ultimately encourages new creative horizons. For me, regarding the Corona situation in particular, two important issues came up. A need for a connection with nature, and an awareness of a crisis of humanism. I’ve found in this a chance to be redefined, reborn and recreated.
HI: When you’re not making art, what do you enjoy the most?
SAM SAGA: It depends if you’re in art or not. If you’re in it, then the creative process is continuous, even if you’re not actually making something in that moment. I enjoy watching movies, sex, exercising in the woods among the trees, conversations with different people, being with my family and kids…
HI: If you had a magic wand, and could change one thing about the art scene in Armenia, what would it be?
SAM SAGA: I would make it so that law and enterprise would promote art as a priority in state policy. Art is politics and politics is art.
HI: What is your dream project that you haven’t had a chance to work on yet?
SAM SAGA: There are many! “Karahunj” is a public art concept and multimedia sculptural project that I would love to implement in Yerevan or, for example, in Los Angeles. Also related to public art is a concept series called “Architectural Monsters” that I would like to implement as real architectural buildings in Armenia, the USA and Dubai, but also on the planet Mars. I also could imagine making great mural art projects with these latest flowering figures [Metamorphosis series], or turn them into land art. Also on my dream list: I would love a private exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery.
Samvel is an architect by training, and his three-dimensional approach shines through in his paintings, collages, and site-specific installations. His work often revolves around the body politic, and in particular, the female body as an allegory for society’s conflicts, struggles, as well as beauty and generative potential. Samvel’s career as an artist started in 1988 at the brink of the collapse of the USSR and Armenia’s Independence. A part of the 90s avant-garde in Yerevan, Samvel’s early work touched upon national survival, patriotism and ideologies dealing with the individual’s place in society. After moving to the US in 2002, Samvel was an active member of the LA artist community, exhibiting at the Garboushian Gallery, Mouradian Gallery, La Luz de Jesus Gallery, Avenue 50 Studio, Black Maria Gallery, and the Bruce Lurie Gallery among others. As of 2014, he has been living and working in Yerevan, inspired anew by the country’s political and societal shifts, and blossoming, outspoken youth. His recent works include “Transromance”, a bawdy and sarcastic collage series exploring the body, desire, and power relations; “Borderline Reality”, a collaborative project with inmates at various penitentiaries in Armenia; “Personal & Political Protest Signs”, an explicit typographic series; and “Homo-communication: The Hole” sketches, drawings, and sculptures exploring man in the universe and the universe in man. Samvel’s VVR project is part of “Metamorphosis”, a primitivist series that muses on man’s return to nature.
Virtual Viewing Room is made possible thanks to the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.