Studio Visit: Amy Todman

Text and images by Varduhi Kirakosian


Even locals swearing to know every single street in the city might struggle to spot addresses in Yerevan’s confusing and congested neighborhoods. But this doesn’t seem to be the case for Amy Todman, a Scottish born artist living in Yerevan for the past two years, who, I believe, finds her way around the city better than most. 

This is my second visit to Amy’s apartment on Komitas Avenue, Arabkir district. I challenge myself to find her flat, refusing her offer to remind me of the way. Luckily, I recognize the familiar entrance where I notice wool, washed and hung to dry for sewing linen – a popular household tradition among Armenian women. 

Amy is at the door. She greets me warmly just as locals are used to kissing on the cheek when they meet. As we walk into a quiet wide room filled with small and big canvases piled up in the corners, I ask Amy whether she gets along well with her neighbors. Amy describes the nice little garden she sometimes visits and notes, “I don’t know what people think, but I’m pretty quiet and usually, I stay by myself”. That quality gives her the chance to spend time on her own and feel free to create and experiment. Amy has been trying hard to learn Armenian since she moved here from Scotland. She finds Armenian very challenging and the language barrier is limiting and makes communicating with her neighbors practically impossible. “Until I learn well, and am confident to speak Armenian, really I can make friends with only those who speak English,” Amy explains. 

“I’ve always made art,” Amy notes. She graduated with a Bachelors in Fine Arts from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in 2003. Her first artworks were with textiles, which she exhibited through a number of installations. She was inspired by the process of making work that involved tactile materials like thread. In her early career she also worked in Arts education, working with a range of learners to explore what art might mean to them. For the next four years she lived in Leeds, England, and Glasgow, Scotland, where she worked on a range of public art and education projects. Amy kept the impulse to create and experiment with different media throughout the years, though she acknowledges that making art has always had a special impact on her, “driving [her] crazy in a way.”  That’s when she convinced herself to “start being a grown up,” as she puts it.

Amy’s “grown up” years brought her to various art institutions as both an educator and researcher. At the Pier Arts Centre in Orkney she looked at the connections among landscape, museums and contemporary art collections. Her passion for nature deepened when exploring plant collections at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, which formed the foundation for her Ph.D. in the idea of landscape in 16th and 17th century Britain. Amy spent several years working at the National Library of Scotland as both a curator and archivist, where she dove into their department of Manuscripts and Archives and worked with their Political Collections.

“But then I suddenly left everything. And here I am,” Amy laughs.

Right after welcoming me, she gets back to her work, sitting on the floor in the middle of her studio. I can see the full picture now: Amy seated cross-legged surrounded by her artworks, flanked by her recent sculptures and the one in progress. Amy presents me her works, excitedly showing me “The Brain.” “The Brain’’ is her recent sculpture, made of old newspapers, chicken wire, and flour and water paste (Papier-mâché). It’s quite big, maybe the size of forty human brains, and is symbolic of Amy’s journey.  “The Brain” is the materialization of that side of Amy that is more analytical, methodical, organized and makes more logical conclusions. 

“I moved to Armenia two years ago because I wanted to refocus, just make art. I wanted to feel more alive,” Amy continues thoughtfully. In 2018, with a developing creative practice, and a desire to engage with new cultures and communities, Amy wanted to work on her art, writing and archival practice in a new environment. 

“I had reached a successful point in my professional career. I loved my job, but at some point, I felt unable to continue. Even though I always realized that making art has driven me to craziness, I realized at some point, that it is also the thing that makes me want to be alive. Once I understood that, the rest was easy.”

The idea of sculpting her own brain came from a need to separate herself from her brain. “I made ‘The Brain’ to be sure it’s out there, to be watchful of it and to remind myself to let go and be a bit more relaxed,” she reflects. In contrast to “The Brain”, looking at Amy’s artworks one notices repeating patterns, forms, shapes, and colors that resemble or remind us of oranges. Oranges appear in Amy’s embroideries and on canvases. For Amy, her oranges seem to symbolize a kind of chaotic energy in opposition to her analytical self. One could say the orange motif (life full of energy, vibrance and colors) represents Amy’s choice to leave everything and start a journey to the unknown. More recently this idea has developed into a sculptural intestinal form, physically wrapping the brain and perhaps symbolizing a kind of conflict or coming together. I don’t think she’s quite sure yet what it means. 

Amy’s journey also appears in her work in the form of  a long horizontal line that stretches from one side of the canvas to the other. I spot the identical line on the wall of her studio, as well as in a tattoo running the length of her arm. Amy has more journeying to do in Armenia. “I don’t have a plan to leave Armenia. My work flows here.” She also has some ideas for collaborating with the local artists. “There is something about Armenia that gives me room for exploring things and experimenting. It inspires me to make whatever kind of art I want without too much judgment, or criticism. I feel less pressure here in Armenia and I feel that Armenia drives me forward in my artistic journey.”

Amy has been profoundly influenced by images, colors, patterns, structures and systems of nature around her.

“Sometimes I feel at home in Armenia because there are similarities to the Scottish landscape. There is wonderful color in the Armenian landscape, shades of ochre, yellow, something flat, desert, but not desert, it’s something else. The color is very unique. When you come into Britain by plane and look from above, you see and understand the way that the landscape is arranged. The landscape is, among other things, an organized area. If we understand the idea of landscape as a kind of tension between chaos and order, natural and man-made, for example, then we see it reflected in our psyche, through the landscape and places we are surrounded by. The landscape feels less regulated in Armenia, and that is interesting for me, different to what I am used to. Armenia has its own way of being ordered and arranged, but it is not clear to me exactly what that is, whereas in Britain I understand the order more.” 

Amy thinks there is more flexibility in the Armenian landscape. “I just walk around the city, look and feel. Because there are a lot of abandoned factories in Yerevan, when I walk, I have the same feeling as in Glasgow, which also has an industrial past. There, lots of old factories are repurposed as studios or similar places, and it is relatively easy for people to go in and do something: these areas seem to fit for doing some crazy stuff. I’m not entirely sure what I can or can’t do here, but I feel that these things are happening here too.” 

Not only the nature, but even the basic distinct features of the neighborhood, be it the surrounding yard, a half destroyed building, or just the solar panels of a building outside her window, appear unconsciously or knowingly in the artists’ works whether through the colors that repeat or the forms and shapes. Amy’s work is meditative and ephemeral. She explains in her artist statement that ‘using drawing, found objects and words, my work explores the delicate territories of self and other, what’s around the edge, and what lies at the heart of the matter”. She “plays between imposed external control and trust in a process”. As curator, Anna Gargarian notes, 

“[Amy’s] process is intuitive, yet disciplined. She is less concerned with the outcome (she calls her pieces “relics”) and more interested in what brings them to life. The tension we find in her work reflects a personal tension, as she oscillates between her identities as artist and archivist, intuitive maker and structure-loving analyst”. 

Amy describes herself as someone very organized and detail oriented. She loves order and routine, which are at the core of her everyday life as an artist. “There are two sides of Amy,” she tells me; “Completely creative Amy, unpredictable, and there is very orderly Amy, and her very structured work. Amy can’t be both at the same time.”

Amy takes me to another room, small in comparison to her main work space. The walls are colored bright green and there is a large window that lets in enough light to make it another perfect studio space. “Some of my works I made here.” On the small work table, I can see Amy’s collection of map drawings. While I closely observe the works, trying to grasp the details, Amy describes the significance of the process of working and archiving within her artistic practice. Her progress partly relies on a practical and ritualistic approach.

It is interesting to see how Amy makes sense of her own journey as an archivist, art historian and artist. She reflects upon the influence that each of her professions have had on her art making. As a student of art collecting and the art market, she has learned to value artworks but at the same time look beyond what is art and what is not. “What defines art?” is a question that she explored during her studies. As an archivist, Amy believes she learned to take care of each thing she makes, however insignificant something might look, and put things in order, make sense of everything as she records her daily work. Art history, she thinks, helped her to develop an analytical and critical eye on her work. She observes her works in great detail and writes about them, creating a kind of conversation between her, the art work and the written description.

When asked about her future projects, Amy notes that things will change after her exhibition in Armenia. “The exhibition that we are planning for this fall is going to be an end point and a starting point at the same time. It will be the beginning of something new.” Amy has some projects in mind which she might be developing at the IN SITU project space. She is also interested in artist residencies in general. She believes that an artist residency offers a whole new environment where different artists combine and share a whole new energy flowing through them. 

“I feel comfortable working here in my studio, I can’t say that I am attached to places, because I like moving a lot. It helps me to disturb the routine sometimes. For someone who likes following a routine, changes are needed to introduce novelty.” Though Amy likes change, she also longs for constancy and permanency, since being far away from home, the only way to develop a sense of home is to have a space where she can find herself belonging to. 

***

From September 8 to 17, join us at Dalan Art Gallery for a solo exhibit of works by artist Amy Todman that take us on a journey “From here to there” across her daily artistic practice. Amy will be at the venue daily from 16:00 – 18:00.

Dalan Art Gallery
Open Daily from 11:00 – 23:00
Abovyan 12, Second Floor

Interview: Lvis Mejía

Lvis Mejía is an artist based in Berlin, Germany. He works in time-based media, and is a founding member of oqko, an artist collective and label that works at the intersection of various music and visual practices. 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 8, 2020. In this interview, we learn a little more about his meditative film essay “I don’t know where to start, though I know where this is going to end”, and what inspires him. Scroll down to the very bottom for a complete bio.


HAYP/ IN SITU: Tell us about your Virtual Viewing Room Project, “I don’t know where to start, though I know where this is going to end”.

Lvis Mejía: In all honesty, I envision this work being an exercise rather than a project. I would love this to be – in a way – a pilot of an essay film, but I don’t know if I can pay tribute to that. The story is about a non-human entity that finds “something” (like a log book/writings and graphics) and tries to make sense out of it while it finds itself stuck in its spaceship waiting for the end to come. It is in the form of a visual diary that it starts “exercising the thoughts” and tries to decipher the essence and meaning of the object that it found. To find out how it ends, just follow the story.

I don’t know where to start, though I know where this is going to end is in a way just a humble analogy to our lives. At the beginning we are unarmed, but during the process we start getting conscious about our surroundings and who we are. Nevertheless something is – at least until now  – inevitable, death (the end). This final chapter, or better said, how we cope with the cosmovision of death, determines most of our behavior in life, and therefore completely the way we live. In strength we remain fragile

The idea is to approach through an “experimental visual diary” I am forcing myself to use exclusively material from my own archive. An archive of my own. I am recycling and reinterpreting my work, and therefore a part of me. Material left in the virtual, material that never got exposed (became real) to the public eye. Like a crestomatia somehow. I decided to exclusively use found footage [of my own work], and tried to guide and interpret it in a specific direction.

HI: How does this relate to your artistic practice?

LM: Well, I have been working for a few years on the topic of “speculative futures” [of humankind] – yes I know the combination might sound redundant – but this issue both fascinates and concerns me, and sincerely, this should be a thing of global character. Leaving aside the unnecessary, almost pathetic question, “Where are we going?”. My tendency shows a rather objective-pessimism based on historical observation, critical perspective and a personal analysis of today’s standards. With this humble toolkit of understanding, I dare to conclude that the direction we are going in might not find its end soon, but all the way will be ferociously painful. 

As I mentioned above, the question of “Where are we going?”, seems unnecessary and almost pathetic to me, because it appears to be almost irrelevant for both the small “communities” capable of changing the paradigm on the paper and for the vast billions having potentially the chance to do it through action.         

In a way, this project is a family member of a pivotal writing I finished earlier this year about the shortcomings of our species, and the main argument is where the two projects merge. The writing will probably serve as part of the script to this experimental visual diary in order to reinforce the visual language.

Lvis Mejía performing at MUTEK in Montreal, 2015
“Anthropology of Amnesia” Lvis’ album (oqko label) exploring oral cultures from around the world, and their role in passing on and preserving memory.

HI: Who/what inspires you?

LM: Some rare chemistry processes in my body, getting confronted to new thoughts and experiences, fresh love and some extraordinary works of art.

HI: What does confinement mean to you? Have you (re)discovered something during this time?

LM: As a matter of fact, it made me reaffirm more things rather than (re)discover new ones. We are quite fragile organisms driven mostly by many irrelevant and abusing meanings. When a pause is taken, imposed or seized, there is a chance to reflect, rethink, repurpose and adjust. In my personal opinion, things after confinement are just going to go on (unfortunately) back to the desired pathological consensus of “normality”. The current situation merely undressed society, exposing elemental components to ourselves. These times are just reflecting who and how we are in a more precise way. The collective does not really differ that much from the individual. There is yet so much to learn…. and paradoxically, all of that wisdom is already out there. We are just adamantly still wearing the veil. We are doomed, actually.

Pictured above, some works from Lvis’ yet unpublished photographic series, “Irrelevant Studies on Dichroic Foil” (see more works @Hayp.insitu on Instagram)

HI: When you’re not making art, what do you enjoy the most?

LM: Watching tons of films, trying to finish reading different books, meeting random people at bars and playing football.

HI: What’s your connection to Armenia?

LM: I have had the chance to work and collaborate in the last 3-4 years both with the community and great individuals from the cultural spectrum in the country, and each time has been a particular – yet interesting – challenge. 

It all started with a project that now resides in limbo: an audio installation at the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov. Ever since I have been going back consequently every year.
In my personal opinion I think Armenia has a special and prosperous panorama for the development of the art scene and market, but there is still a long way to go. Therefore, the actual moment of paving the process should maintain an experimental idiosyncratic approach without lacking professionalism.
It is crucial to potentialize the sense of unity throughout the community in order to have a common ground and not many individual players on stage. As an external person – yet a recurrent visitor – I see there is plenty of potential to sow and educate the younger generations with a global vision based on exchange and preservation of the cultural heritage avoiding endemic self-glorification. I am always happy to come back and contribute in whatever way is possible.

Lvis Mejía’s site-specific installation in Orgov, Armenia for HAYP Pop Up Gallery’s CETI Lab, 2017 exhibit exploring communications with extraterrestrial life.
Lvis and the collective at the Iron Fountain in Gyumri. A project by Sound Lab, an initiative lead by Vardan Harutyunyan and the Armenia Art Foundation, 2019.

HI: If you had a magic wand, and could change one thing about the art scene in Armenia, what would it be?

LM: Lethargy and the negative-driven unfounded self-destructive criticism within the scene I have perceived.

HI: What is your dream project that you haven’t had a chance to work on yet?

LM:
– A couple of large format installation
– Shooting experimental featured films.
– Develop educational artistic programs with true social impact.
– Develop a decentralized web environment.
– Found an independent multidisciplinary research institute.
– Get a lot of land to create an independent sustainable “country”, hehe.

the list gets long…..


About Lvis Mejía:

Visit Lvis’ Virtual Viewing Room project, “I don’t know where to start, though I know where this is going to end” here.
Follow him on Instagram at @lvis.mejia
See more of his work at: www.lvismejia.com
Follow oqko artists and releases at: www.oqko.org

Lvis Mejía is an interdisciplinary artist, educator and musician born in Mexico City, based in Berlin since 2007. He is a member of the artist collective and label, oqko. Lvis’ work has shown at major museums and galleries including DOCUMENTA 13, the ICA London, the Centre Pompidou, MUTEK Montréal and the Transmediale Berlin. His academic background is in philosophy, fine arts and time based media from Christian Albrechts Universität zu Kiel, MIT Media Lab and HfbK Hamburg. His work has brought him to Armenia several times, in 2017 he designed a site-specific installation “UNO” at the Herouni Radio Optic Telescope (Orgov) in the framework of HAYP Pop Up Gallery’s CETI Lab exhibit. In 2018, Lvís participated in a collaborative installation for HAYP’s Retrospective “12-12-12”, and in 2019 he worked as a consultant for the Armenia Art Foundation’s Sound Lab in Gyumri. Lvis believes in the capacity of artistic practice to transcend medium, while being deeply intertwined in a sense of place and community. Since 2020, he has joined the IN SITU team as a cultural consultant, with the aim of catalyzing cross-cultural exchange and proposing new perspectives and contexts for art and idea making.

Interview: Ella Kanegarian

Ella Kanegarian is a writer, art critic and curator based in Yerevan, Armenia. She is our featured artist this week on the HAYP/IN SITU “Virtual Viewing Room” platform, a space for online artworks from June 1 – August 8, 2020. In this interview, we learn a little more about her meditative project “VREN”, and what inspires her as a writer. Scroll down to the very bottom for a complete bio.


HAYP/IN SITU: Tell us about your Virtual Viewing Room project.

Ella Kanegarian: “Vren” is an attempt to poeticize the urban slang and urban lifestyle, as I have a desire to erase the linguistic snobbism many of us have towards the language of the streets, the expressions coming from the streets, e.t.c. Many of us talk like that or use words like that in our daily routine, but we may attack those who try using it in art. My strong belief is that the Armenian language really needs to be desacralized and treated as something which has a function- creating communication, expressing thoughts, ideas, emotions. Not all ideas and emotions can be expressed through the “literary” or so-called “high” language, there are many words from the streets, from the villages, from the old Armenian called “grabar” (գրաբար), which can be used now and have a right to be used, without any linguistic fascism. Language helped us to survive, but by sacralizing it, we choke ourselves with our historical past, not giving a chance to breathe free in our present.

HI: How does this relate to your artistic practice?

EK: I don`t know if i would call my writing an artistic practice, daily work, a job, or my life partner. I started writing from a very early age and I think I was almost 10 when I got published for the first time with a small poem about the mass shooting in the Armenian Parliament on October, 27 1999. I remember I was very shocked by it and wrote something to let it out. Since then I write, get published, and try out different fields.

If this can be considered an art practice, I write. Now my daily schedule is 7-10 hours. Doesn’t matter what is my topic, I must write, experiment with forms, formats, because I believe that each topic and idea has a very special form, which will help it to be spotted by those who seek that idea. So during recent years I erased by professional borders. Now, for me, there is no difference between writing a poem, song, movie script, analytical article about art, or curatorial text. It just shapes things and finds the right words. Recently I got obsessed with Sufi poetry and religious texts. I’m attracted to their laconic format and I try using that approach in different ways and different formats.

HI: Who/what inspires you?

EK: people. wind. reading. stupid people. smart people. angry and egocentric people.

HI: What does confinement mean to you? Have you (re)discovered something during this time?

EK: Confinement is a permanent state for me, because I believe that I have never known what freedom really is. I`ve only seen the type of freedom, which is labeled as so, wrapped in a beautiful package and sold, or sometimes even gifted as a pretty desirable Christmas gift. The only thing which the quarantine-related confinement has given me is the ability to rediscover those who surround me, get rid of the waste (emotional waste), ambitions, even the people, which I no longer need, but have turned into habits.

HI: When you’re not making art, what do you enjoy the most?

EK: As I mentioned I write from 7 to 10 hours per day. For that, I need topics, people, stories. The part of my day, which is not spent at writing includes praying, chanting mantras, and whirling. So during one day, I can fly through all different religious narratives from Kali and Krishna to Buddha, Allah, and Christ. I feel very close to all of the religious rituals and they help me to calm my mind, erase unnecessary drastic emotions and concentrate. Besides I love how all of those texts are constructed.

HI: If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about the art scene in Armenia, what would it be?

EK: Establishing a Market, which will trigger real and dynamic development of both the art scene and the professional quality of the work done.

HI: What is your dream project that you haven’t had a chance to work on yet?

EK: I don’t really like the word “project” and avoid using it, “dream” also is too big for what I want. It is more of a professional desire, a goal. The first goal is writing texts that will touch people, make people feel related to something bigger than themselves, make them feel connected. This goal seems blurred, but it motivates me to try on new formats and switch to find the best platform and shape for the ideas I want to share. The second goal is to purify myself from personal anguishes and ambitions and become a pure tool, which knows how to write and transmit ideas and stories of others.


About Ella Kanegarian:

Visit Ella’s Virtual Viewing Room project, “VREN” here.
Engage with VREN at @VREN_official
Follow her on instagram at @cookingfeminist

Ella Kanegarian is a multidisciplinary creative, essayist, art critic and curator. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Theory and History, and a diploma in Art and Commerce from Yerevan’s State Academy of Fine Arts. She has contributed texts to regional magazines including Chaikhana, Inknagir, Arvestagir, and Hetq covering art, literature and music. In 2015, her text on Armenian contemporary music was featured in The Wire’s 400th anniversary edition. Her creative work includes several short films as well as plays, addressing themes of communication, nostalgia, and memory. She has curated exhibitions for artists Gayane Yerkanyan, Ashot Avagyan, Samvel Saghatelian and Narnur. She currently works on expanding her writing techniques and experiments with text writing styles and techniques inspired by her current obsession: Sufi poetry and quote writing.

Interview: Gayane Barkhudaryan

Gayane Barkhudaryan is a visual artist, lecturer at the Terlemezyan College, and art conservator based in Yerevan, Armenia. She is our featured artists 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 her photographic contemplation “An Observer’s Look at the Creases”, and what inspires her as an artist. Scroll down to the very bottom for a complete bio.


HAYP/IN SITU: Tell us about your VVR project, “An Observer’s Look at the Creases”:

Gayane Barkhudaryan: This project has a direct connection to my studio/bedroom, where I live with my subjects and two easels. I start in front of my easel, then I find myself on the floor, and then at my pillow as I search… That’s how the idea for “An Observer’s Look at the Creases” came about. The objects and photos are rearranged in the room and in my head, leading me to the creases of the Tolors reservoir.

Artist statement about the project:

The creases are a place – a water reservoir- where every aspect is reconfigured during the basin’s flooding and drainage. Vast surfaces are layered underground, born of multiple fluctuations․ The golden folds continue to coagulate, decompose, and reimagine new surfaces. The observer (me?) takes comprehensive and scattered memories from the place, revived in the form of a photographic review. From the patterns of nature to images that take on new meaning, how is it that we first artificially disrupt a landscape, and then struggle to resuscitate it, again through artificial means…?

Images featured in her Virtual Viewing Room project from the Tolors water reservoir in Sisian, Armenia.

HI: How does this relate to your artistic practice?

GB: My practice is about looking at imaginary images and reality from different angles. This project helped me to once again reconsider the relationship between man and nature. Sometimes we value artificial nature more than nature itself, I am in favor of the idea that we should leave nature alone.

Above: Series of untitled works in mixed technique on paper (watercolor, pastel and graphite), 2020.
Above & Below: “Is this a hamam?” silk screening on paper and fabric, and performative action for HAYP Pop Up Gallery, “12-12-12 Retrospective” in 2018.

HI: Who/what inspires you?

GB: People, nature, architecture, sculpture, almost anything can inspire me. For example, when I’m working on several different creative processes in parallel, it already occurs to me how I can combine their differences to create another work. I love that sequential and complementary creative process, which allows me to continuously review and revisit my work. Specifically in relation to this project, nature was the inspiration. In the [Tolors] reservoir basin, we see repetitive waves, contours and the arrangement of successive and complementary soil layers.

Above: Gayane at work on a conservation site in Meghri. Photo by Ed Tadevossian, courtesy of the artist.

HI: What does confinement mean to you? Have you (re)discovered something during this time?

GB: Restriction is an attempt to reconcile oneself, to adapt, and to rediscover old wounds.

HI: When you’re not making art, what do you enjoy the most?

GB: In my free time, I like to visit other cities in Armenia [outside of Yerevan] in search of tasty new visual images: Soviet-era curtains, fabric patterns, dishes, posters ․․․․etc.

Above: Her inspiration…Images courtesy of Gayane Barkhudaryan.

HI: If you had a magic wand, and could change one thing about the art scene in Armenia, what would it be?

GB: Maybe to restore our senses – to more sincerely feel, listen, and see ․․․

HI: What is your dream project that you haven’t had a chance to work on yet?

GB: It’s more a wish than a dream. I would love to travel with other artists – go on walks through small towns, and infect them with art. 

Gayane with a friend in her birth city of Sisian, Armenia.

About Gayane Barkhudaryan

Visit Gayane’s Virtual Viewing Room project, “An Observer’s Look at the Creases” here.
Follow her on instagram at @barkhudaryan_gayane

Gayane Barkhudaryan is a visual artist who lives and works in Yerevan. She studied fine arts first at the Terlemezyan Art College, followed by the State Academy of Fine Arts of Armenia (Yerevan) where she has a Masters in Painting. She mostly works with painting, illustration, and print media and is inspired by ancient forms and motifs as seen in architecture, textiles, and the natural landscape. Gayane has exhibited at numerous institutions in Armenia, including exhibitions at the Artists Union, the Armenian Center for Contemporary and Experimental Art (ACCEA/NPAK), the Terlemezyan Gallery, the Albert & Tove Boyajian Exhibition hall, HAYP Pop Up Gallery, and Gyumri’s Still Gallery. She was also featured at the Lucy Tutunjian Art Gallery in Beirut. In addition to her work as an artist, Gayane is a lecturer at the Terlemezyan College, and works as a conservator at the Research Center of Mural Conservation.

Interview: Tigran Amiryan

Tigran Amiryan is an independent curator and contemporary culture researcher with a Ph.D in Literary Studies. He is our featured artists 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 his auto-narrative sketch “Skin Crisis”, and his philosophy on the marriage of science, literature and creative practice. Scroll down to the very bottom for a complete bio.


Tigran Amiryan, photo retrieved from Chai Khana

HAYP/ IN SITU: Tell us about your VVR project “Skin Crisis”, where did the idea come from? 

Tigran Amiryan: For many years I have been dealing with memory and recollection. It is of great interest to me how memory is formed and destroyed – whether individual or collective memory- how it transforms, how individual and group memory is formed, how amnesia occurs, and so on. Skin memory and human-reality relationships / boundaries continue to remain my focus. 

FIRDUS: THE MEMORY OF A PLACE by Tigran Amiryan. This memory-book is about the Firdusi street, the last vernacular district in the center of Yerevan. In addition to research articles, the book includes stories of local residents and family photo archives.
Tigran at his book signing of “Firdus: Memory of a place”

HI: Could you expand in particular on the idea of a text as an artwork?

TA: The topic of memory does not belong to one discipline or one language. Often this phenomenon, being multifaceted and multi-layered, requires researchers to use different languages ​​and methods. There are two scripts that are familiar to me, the mix of which allows for a more complete expression: literature and scientific language. With “Skin Crisis” I decided to push the boundaries between these two languages, as a means to remove the boundaries between our bodies during the last difficult months [of quarantine].

HI: How does this relate to your research and artistic practice?

TA: I develop my academic and creative practice in parallel. For example, I teach French literature, semiotics, etc., and at the same time, I’ve developed a number of projects in which I combine anthropological and literary approaches, concepts and artistic expression.

“Memory Square”, an essay on the memory of place by Tigran Amiryan.

HI: Who/what inspires you?

TA: I incorporated different concepts into “Skin Crisis” that refer to various ideas by Didier Anzieu, Julia Kristeva, and Gilles Deleuze. It’s well known that Anzieu was engaged not only in psychoanalysis, but also in literature, through which he tried to understand the basics of self-analysis. Kristeva also works constantly between the two disciplines, creating both fictional and philosophical and psychoanalytical texts. As for Deleuze, he always claims that all philosophies and scientific works carry an important creative engine, without which it is impossible to create a philosophical or meta-language.

HI: What does confinement mean to you? Have you (re)discovered something during this time?

TA: Isolation is a new attempt to perceive space.

HI: When you’re not writing or researching, what do you enjoy the most?

TA: The sea.

“Atlantic” series. Photo credit Tigran Amiryan, courtesy of the artist.

HI: If you had a magic wand, and could change one thing about the art scene in Armenia, what would it be?

TA: In Armenia and everywhere, we need to get rid of cultural tribalism. More democratic and transparent art!

HI: What is your dream project that you haven’t had a chance to work on yet?

TA: All my projects start with dreams and seem to come true. I don’t dream much, I have already started working on my next project which involves photography and memory.

Сimetière des fontaines” (Fountain Cemetary) by Tigran Amiryan.


About Tigran Amiryan:
Visit Tigran’s Virtual Viewing Room project, “Skin Crisis” here.
Follow him on instagram at @l_oriental
Find him on behance

Tigran Amiryan is a Professor of Contemporary World Literature, co-founder and president of CSN lab. He is a semiologist, literary critic, curator, contemporary culture researcher and multidisciplinary artist. Author of numerous articles on postmodern genres of literature, interdisciplinary analysis, contemporary comparative analytics, sociology of literature, etc. Tigran’s main interest revolves around the issue of narrativization of both individual and collective memory in contemporary culture, artistic (fictional) representation and history of the Self, biographies, urban space and environment that keep the memory of people’s lives despite being constantly subjected to oblivion and destruction. Tigran realized a number of art and research projects across several countries, Armenia, Georgia, France, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, Morocco etc. Amongst his projects are “Memory square” (Kazakhstan), “Kukia Alphabet” (Georgia), “Firdus: The Memory of a Place” (Armenia), «Cyprus archive. Postcard from the land of care» (Cyprus).

Unlocking Creativity During the Lockdown

by Varduhi Kirakosian and Anna Gargarian


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Photo by Hrant Yeritskinyan for Evn Magazine

In response to the growing fear and anxiety around the ever-spreading COVID-19, some artists are embracing the #StayHome movement and making the most of isolation. Cities across the globe have declared a state of emergency, while artists have announced a state of inventiveness.

Trending Instagram challenges, live streams, and Facebook watch parties are finding ways to inspire creativity during confinement, encourage people to stay home, and raise spirits in the age of social distancing. A number of artist-run initiatives caught our attention, and we thought we’d share some of our favorites.

Restoring a (false?) sense of control

In a letter to “humans everywhere,” @Enyleeparker launched Clay Play, inviting interior designers to make tiny homes and rooms out of baked clay. The results are sweet and satisfying as scaled-down order is given to otherwise chaotic times.

Moscow-based photographer @Nicolaspolli has been running an Instagram page called @Homelife_Stilllife since mid March, calling on artists to share still life photographs taken from their interiors, including the backstage images. The result is a photo repository of everyday home sculptures that transform the domestic environment into a fantasy playground. Seeing images of both the final artistic vision and its process reminds us that reality is about perspective, and that the stories we tell (on social media and otherwise) are highly curated.

On April 3, performance artist Katya Bondar launched a digital performance MY-BODY-YOUR-BODY, in which she reflects on “time, the everyday state of reality, cyber communication and layered physicality”.

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In her four hour performance live streamed on Instagram, Katya embraces the Avatar as she gives herself over to the audience, allowing users to direct her movements and actions within the confines of her bedroom through commands sent via a private server. Katya notes in her performance description that due to the current state of events, “we all found ourselves in a new space of bodies, movements and communication”.

Such projects got us wondering, how are artists in Armenia reacting to confinement?

Pandemic -> Panic -> Performing Perspectives

Online performance has gone viral, from local music clubs like Yerevan’s Ulikhanyan Jazz Club and Gyumri’s Garage Club’s watch parties, to musicians and DJs inviting us into their homes for live-stream sessions. Among these musicians is Mikayel Voskanyan, who decided to turn his quarantine into a “Tarantine”. Tarantine (‘Թառանծին’ in Armenian) is a word play on “Tar” (Թառ), a traditional lute-like instrument that Voskanyan has mastered. He notes that his live stream sessions aren’t concerts at all, but rather “reflect a [new] chapter from my artistic lifestyle.” Mikayel hopes to shift the public focus and reshape the emotions dominating current news outlets and public conversation.

“Even though all my plans are canceled – concerts have been delayed and rescheduled – there is no way I can stop practicing and enjoying playing music. It’s an indispensable part of my life. I decided to stay true to my calling and encourage and give hope to people through music,” says Voskanyan.

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Renowned jazz pianist Vahagn Hayrapetyan has also joined the virtual bandwagon of live streaming. Hayrapetyan launched a series of watch parties he calls “AntiVirus jazz”. Though they’re mostly solo performances, he has the occasional accompaniment, some invited and others unexpected. In this virtual duet, a musician chimes in on the upright bass, while watching Vahagn from home.

Accompaniment takes on a whole new meaning in Ara Dabandjian’s music video for “By the River”, an instrumental arrangement the artist composed during the COVID-19 times. The video, directed by comedian and artist Vahe Berberian, depicts a four-person band playing at home. The catch is, Ara performs with, well… himself, in this one-man show that playfully embodies how isolation is forcing us to really be with ourselves. The Aras share coffee, laughs, and a jam session, and one Ara (the drummer) get’s the door shut in his face when he shows up late to the party. Berberian notes in his facebook post, “During these Coronavirus times this was the safest way to bring together all the musicians.”

Many electronic music artists are sharing content (old and new) on platforms like Bohemnotsradio.com, Mixlr, Soundcloud or Mixcloud in hopes of not only sharing content, but encouraging other artists to make it their own. DJ Arpie shared with us that she’s trying to promote good vibes and just “have fun, release everything into the music, and let it talk to you”.

Outside of the musical realm, poet Arqmenik Nikoghosyan aims to educate followers and spark discussion in his live stream sessions where he recites and discusses poetry in order to, “fight against Coronavirus and isolation through literature.”

It’s safe to say that live streaming has become a trend, and content has varied with social media as a “free for all”. For those searching for content that scratches beneath the surface, “Pnti Khoghovak” (Փնթի խողովակ) podcast may be of interest. Translating roughly to “messy/disheveled pipe”, this Armenian language podcast features interviews and discussions on alternative music and subculture. In a recent interview with Evn Magazine, Pnti Khoghovak Founder Areg Arakelian shared that, “I don’t think there is a real underground scene [in Armenia] yet, but there are a lot of non-mainstream musicians and artists that I try to unite [on my platform]”. Arakelian hopes Pnti Khoghovak will be a go-to for people interested in what’s happening outside of the mainstream.

New Times Call for New Meaning

These times pose a real challenge for collaboration and have forced us to take a hard look at how meaningful our online communities really are. While sharing lends itself to performers wishing to “rekindle” an audience relationship, this presents an altogether new challenge for visual artists seeking a deeper exchange than image-sharing.

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This phenomenon is perhaps best represented in artist Anna Vahrami’s recent video work, “The Square”, posted to Facebook. Reflecting on the squares that outline our isolation, whether through the screens of our devices, Zoom windows, or the four walls of our homes, Vahrami laments the lack of direct communication, and brings our attention to the heightened mediation during quarantine.

Artist Samvel Saghatelyan told us he was “flourishing in the times of the coronavirus”. Known for his provocative and humorous social commentary that combines graphic, collage, and performance work, Samvel often incorporates the ready made into his oeuvre. His recent piece, “Save Your Ass”, remarks on the absurdity of human (re)action in the face of panic.

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The work incorporates his trademark graphic text (reminiscent of his political protest signs) on a roll of toilet paper. He posted an image of the work to Facebook with the subtext, “But you can’t save your ass with just toilet paper….”. In his letter to journalist Anush Kocharyan, published in the interview series “From Balcony to Balcony”, Saghatelyan reflects on crisis and opportunity. For Samvel, this is a “return to our original state”, a reckoning with nature that forces us to deal with our negligence and carelessness, and reintroduce discipline into our lives. “Let’s think about how to transform this period,” he says, “how to find a way of self expression not only in art but in all types of relationships.” As an artist who lived through the soviet system, its downfall, and the following hardships of the 90s, Samvel says that this situation isn’t so unfamiliar.

“I’m used to working with limitations. Sometimes you need limitations in order to help you give shape to all the sh*t you have inside.”

In an interview with photographer, Karén Khachaturov, he explained the challenge of making art these days since what inspires him most is social life. Karén is taking this time to reflect on, rethink and share works from his previous series which are acquiring new meaning in the context of Coronavirus. Khachaturov’s trademark pastel color palette and utopia/dystopia landscapes reflect on alternative realities. If before the works stemmed from his own experience, today his sterile aesthetic and surreal environments are uncannily relatable on a global scale.

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“Paper Factory”, from the series “Strayed in Utopia” by Karén Khachaturov.

No less relatable is the general concern for economic livelihood in the face of halted festivals, concerts, and exhibitions. Musician Arash Azadi offers a simple solution to this challenge, taking advantage of the current hyperactivity of the web during quarantine as an opportunity for artists to collectively support each other economically. With the knowledge that YouTube allows individuals to monetize their channels with a minimum of 1000 subscribers, Azadi invites artists to share each other’s work and increase the number of subscribers to their private channels in an act of collective social support.

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While global isolation movements have ironically leveled the playing field, creating an unexpected sense of unity in our shared struggle, there is an undeniable need for more meaningful communication. Artists Anna Vahrami, Vanana Boryan and Gohar Martirosyan aim to bridge this gap through a project called Antibody:

“Antibody is a social platform, where we would like to develop alternative ways of communication based on contemporary art. The main concept is to recreate an approach that empowers the ‘social body’ system, out of the ego’s competition and hierarchical structure, in order to organize an immune-strong and conscious process of collaboration,” Vahrami explains.

Antibody intends to be a virtual platform for artists from around the world to come together and discuss the future prospects of spreading art in times of COVID-19 and beyond. They hope to set the stage for collaborations between local and international artists, and “spread art like a virus”.

 


Originally posted on April 4, 2020. Revisions were made on April 6 to include Vanana Boryan among the Antibody collective.

Exhibition Review: Community and Critique @ Warehouse421

Artists explore gentrification, preservation and cultural appropriation through material practice at Abu Dhabi’s Warehouse421

by Anna Gargarian


Mina Port Zayed_Warehouses by Beno Saradzic

Mina Zayed Port Warehouses photographed by Beno Saradzic, 2012

As my Uber pulls into Zayed port, I’m struck by the rows of warehouses neatly placed like lego blocks. In contrast to Abu Dhabi’s soaring towers or Saadiyat Isand’s sparse sandy landscape, the structures are low, industrial, and filled with life. We pass a carpet souk, with its white arcaded facade and golden signs, men are chatting (bartering?) in the doorways. A fruit and vegetable market are bustling with movement. A rarity in the otherwise sterile Emirati capital.

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Fruit and Vegetable Market, photography by Victor Besa for TheNational.ae

I wonder about the contents of each warehouse, where they come from and where they’re going. We loop around a roundabout before pulling up to the entrance of Warehouse421. It’s Saturday evening and the opening night of “Community and Critique: Salama bint Hamdam Emerging Artist Fellowships 2018/2019”, a collective exhibit of the center’s sixth cohort of artist fellows. 

Since it opened in 2015, Warehouse421 has dedicated itself to supporting art and design from the Emirates, Middle East and South Asia through exhibitions and educational initiatives. Tonight’s exhibit features the work of 15 local artists who have participated in the one-year long Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship (SEAF), a partnership with the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and SHF foundation.

The Warehouse’s rusted exterior and glass entrance is minimalist and striking. A pink glow illuminates the facade and its flanking installations: Departure, a skeletal iron boat by Spanish artist Xavier Mascaró, and a black and white mural. 

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Departure, artist Xavier Mascaró, photograph by Anna Gargarian.

Inside, the Warehouse is bustling with guests. A predominantly female staff greets me, elegantly cloaked in their traditional Emirati black abaya and shiela (overgarment and head-scarf). Waitstaff twirl about the lobby with trays of fresh juice. The labyrinth of galleries winds around a central glass courtyard with the installation ‘(Cu.6H202)’ by Rawdha Al Ketbi (@r.ks). A series of concentric copper domes, the sculpture reminds me of a prehistoric tortoise. As I enter the courtyard, I’m taken aback by the extreme heat and humidity of this strange outside/inside space. The installation momentarily comes to life when it releases a burst of mist paired with strobing purple lights; tortoise turned space-craft….I think it’s ready for take-off. It’s a synesthetic experience of mist, rust, humidity, and the hissing of the machine – an obvious but poetic sculpture that reminds me of the relationship between mechanical and organic life.

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‘(Cu.6H202)’ by Rawdha Al Ketbi, photograph courtesy of Warehouse421

As I re-enter the air conditioned galleries, I’m confronted with an installation by Christopher Benton (@maxfirepower), a Satwa-based artist originally from the US. At Warehouse421 the artist explores themes of gentrification and cultural preservation through video, sculpture and textile. A quilt-like tapestry hangs from a wall made from repurposed textile fragments held together by safety pins. A patchwork of brand names from local restaurants, shops and various service industries, the piece honors both a disappearing tailoring tradition as well as the labor force that makes up Dubai’s oldest neighborhood of Satwa.

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Photograph by Alexandra Chaves for TheNational.ae

I’m immediately reminded of Joaquín Torres-García’s constructivist paintings, with their gridded compositions of colors and artefacts that form abstract urban landscapes. Similarly, Benton “maps” a city neighborhood through its craft production and a constructivist formal language. 

Across from the quilt is “Quasi-Problematic Assortment of Items, Arranged Based on the UN’s Formula for Overcrowding”. Benton’s installation is a one-meter cubic acrylic construction filled with miscellaneous items. According to the UN calculations of liveable housing, the piece “illustrate[s] at human-scale the amount of space a bachelor has in a bedspace room that houses 18 people”. The work is claustrophobic, colorful, playful and poignant. 

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Quasi-Problematic Assortment of Items, Arranged Based on the UN’s Formula for Overcrowding, by Christopher Benton. Photograph by the artist.

I walk through galleries of elegantly displayed mix-media sculpture, prints, and paintings. I am drawn to the installation “Where it began” by Sultan Al Remeithi. The artist has transformed a cell-like gallery space into a neon frenzy of rave culture. The floors, walls, and ceilings are completely covered in spray painted text, posters, and grotesque portraiture. A sort of urban chapel, the viewer is immersed in vignettes of DJ’s at their decks and youth dressed in hoodies and headphones. On the far side of the room, a semi-transparent candescent sheet obscures a video projection of an unintelligible night scene: I can barely make out a car with flashing headlights. I overhear the artist explain to a journalist the contradiction he felt upon returning to the UAE after studies abroad. As much as party culture is organic to cities like Berlin and London, the experience in the Emirates feels appropriated and inauthentic. Ironically, as far as clubs go, this room feels legit. 

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Themes of artificiality resurface in the ironic work of a young artist studying and comparing water samples collected locally (presumably from Dubai)*. Water sources include an Indoor Snow Park, an Aquarium, a 5 Star Hotel Pool, a Man-made lake, and a Roundabout fountain to name a few. The descriptions of each sample are presented “scientifically” in identical glass jars with stark black and white labels stating the sample’s origin, the global coordinates of the source, and the date and time of collection. A closer read reveals the artist’s description of the source environment, which ranges from descriptions of fish-feeding habits, to nearby furniture, to people expressing their love for one another in the water’s presence. The idiosyncratic nature of her observations highlights the absurdity of the sources themselves. 

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As I make my way towards the exit, I am distracted by floor-to-ceiling red velvet curtains that contrast to the otherwise contemporary interior. Like a circus caravan parked at the gallery’s entrance, I enter the theatrical space of “Hollowed”, a site-specific installation by artist Maitha Abdalla (@maithaabdalla). Through video and sculpture, the artist constructs a surreal environment that is much larger than one originally expects. Dramatic lighting and an eerie quietness inhabit the space along with fantastical anthropomorphic creatures that explore “emptiness, memory, waiting and rebirth”. The exhibit is independent from the SEAF Cohort’s collective show, and it gives me a sense of the Warehouse’s diverse program.

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I leave Warehouse421 hopeful, reflecting on how important it is to give space to and support the critical gaze of artists, particularly in the context of fast-paced development. Their sensitivity, humour, and humanity is inspiring and humbling. 

“COMMUNITY & CRITIQUE: SALAMA BINT HAMDAN EMERGING ARTISTS FELLOWSHIP 2018/19 COHORT 6 SHOW”
On view at Warehouse421 from September 14 – November 24, 2019
Warehouse421, Abu Dhabi, Mina Zayed, Street Samrayr, +9712 6768803

 


*Dubai is the only Emirate hosting an indoor Snow Park.

 

Exhibition Review: Together is Possible

Where residents take part in each other’s sadness and joy without discrimination 

by Laure Raffy
(scroll down for original text in French)

 

Nelli Shishmanyan is a freelance photojournalist and member of the 4Plus collective (4Plus documentary center for photography) that brings together Armenian photographers engaged in human rights, and in particular, women’s rights. For the past seven years, her work has focused on territories in conflict. In 2012, during a workshop held in Tbilisi, she met two Azerbaijani photographers with whom she stayed in touch over the years. In 2018 they collaborated on a joint project to meet Armenian and Azerbaijani communities peacefully living together in villages in Georgia and Armenia.

This project, supported by the European Union within the framework of Peacebuilding through Capacity Enhancement and Civic Engagement (PeaCE) program implemented by EPF-Armenia, EPF-Azerbaijan, International Alert and CRRC-Georgia, was also presented in an exhibition in Tbilisi last October: «Together for Peace».

In March of this year, ACCEA / NPAK (Armenian Center for Contemporary and Experimental Art) unveiled a selection of fragments from this initiative and presented “Together is possible”, featuring photographs captured by Nelli Shishmanyan. This ambitious and necessary exhibition highlighted the possible understanding between the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities marked by the Nagorno Karabakh conflict for many years. In particular, it revealed images taken in 2018 in the villages of Tsopi and Khojori in Georgia and Khachaghbiur (former Chakhrlu) in Armenia,  where the two communities live side by side.

Armenia / Azerbaijan without a slash; without a break or separation. An ode to peace, a possible reconciliation, maybe not so distant, maybe awaits.

Shishmanyan’s work juxtaposes faces, humanizes communities that have been distanced, and that have been defacing one another since the late years of the Soviet Union; so close geographically and even culturally.

Highlighting a life where the children of the village attend the same school, where the water of the central fountain is drunk by all. Nelli reveals through her lens the movement of lives that are in full swing. Where laughter echoes through the photographs, and the kitchen smells tickle our senses. We enter alongside the reporter within the interiors of the village, in the intimacy of the neighborhood that shares tea, discussions, games, tolerance. Tables filled with pastries- delicacies that are offered to brothers no matter where they’re from. The laughter roars on both sides of the room, we hear it from here.

The wheels of war seem to disappear in these serene, isolated territories, where tensions fade as witnessed by these inhabitants.

As Nelli Shishmanyan tells me when I meet her: “This project is far from the notion of conflict. It highlights common traditions, connections between these people, peace first and foremost…Tensions emanate from governments, not from populations.”

Two men who, in the exhibited video, express themselves “…we want prosperity for both nations…we live peacefully.”

To receive, to question, as an example of “living together”, possible, imaginable, mixed, stronger.

With modesty, Shishmanyan and her Azerbaijani partners explore a subject suspended at the tip of our lips, complex. They highlight the imprints of undifferentiated hands left on the walls of the house of culture in Tsopi. A poetic throwing of arms that reveals the possible calm and the power of encounter.

A photographic practice without end, according to Nelli Shishmanyan, who shares when we talk about a possible continuation of the project “…Photography is part of life and life continues.”

And who knows, in a future exhibition maybe, we could meet the two Azeri collaborators in Yerevan.

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« Together is possible »

Là où les communautés prennent par aux douleurs
et aux joies de chacun, sans discrimination aucune. 

 

Nelli Shishmanyan est photographe reporter indépendante et membre du collectif 4Plus

( 4Plus documentary center for photography ) qui réunit des photographes arméniens engagés pour le droit de l’homme et des femmes spécifiquement. Depuis 2012, ses projets ont principalement attrait à certaines zones sensibles et territoires en conflit. En 2012, lors d’un workshop se tenant à Tbilissi, elle fait la connaissance de deux photographes azéris.

En 2018, ils iront ensemble à la rencontre des communautés arménienne et azerbaïdjanaise évoluant ensemble dans certains villages geogiens et arméniens.

Ce projet, qui bénéficiait du soutien de l’Union européenne dans le cadre du programme PeaCE, mis en œuvre par EPF-Arménie, EPF-Azerbaïdjan, International Alert et CRRC-Géorgie a été présenté dans une exposition à Tbilisi en octobre dernier : “Together for Peace”.

Une exposition s’est parallèlement tenue en décembre dernier, à Baku en Azerbaijan.

En mars dernier, l’ACCEA/NPAK (Armenian Center for Contempory Experimental Art) nous dévoilait quelques fragments de cette initiative et présentait « Together is possible », dans lequel nous retrouvions les images capturées par Nelli Shishmanyan. Cette exposition ambitieuse et nécessaire mettait en lumière l’entente possible entre les communautés arménienne et azerbaïdjanaise marquées par le conflit depuis de longues années. Elle nous dévoilait notamment les images réalisées en 2018 dans les villages de Tsopi et Khojori en Georgie et Khachaghbiur (anciennement Chakhrlu) en Arménie, où les deux communautés évoluent côte à côte.

Arménie / Azerbaïjan sans le / cette fois, sans rupture et sans mur. Ôde à la paix, comme une réconciliation possible, peut être pas si lointaine, attendue, possiblement.

Le travail de Shishmanyan pose des visages, humanise des populations souvent éloignées les unes des autres, qui se mutilent depuis les dernières années de l’Union soviétique, pourtant si proches géographiquement et culturellement.

Mise en lumière de vies où les enfants du village fréquentent la même école, où l’eau de la fontaine centrale est bue de tous. Elle nous dévoile, par le biais de l’objectif, le mouvement de ces vies qui battent leur plein. Où les rires résonnent dans les photos, où les odeurs de cuisine parviennent jusqu’à nous. On pénètre avec la reporter dans les intérieurs du village, dans l’intimité du voisinage qui partage thé, discussions, jeux, tolérance. Tables emplies de pâtisseries, de gourmandises que l’on offre à ses frères, d’où qu’ils viennent. Les rires se baladent de part et d’autre de la pièce, on les entend d’ici.

Les rouages de la guerre semblent disparaître sur ces territoires sereins, isolés, où les tensions s’effacent comme en témoignent ses habitants.

Et comme Nelli Shishmanyan nous le dit lorsque nous la rencontrons : « Ce projet est éloigné de la notion de conflit. Il met en lumière des traditions communes, des correspondances entre ces gens, la paix avant toute chose […] Les tensions émanent des gouvernements, non des populations. »

A l’image de ces deux hommes qui dans la vidéo présentée s’expriment « […] we want prosperity for both nations […] we live peacefully. »

A recevoir, à questionner, tel un exemple de « vivre ensemble », possible, imaginable, mélangé, mixte, plus fort.

Avec pudeur, Shishmanyan et ses partenaires azerbaïdjanais explorent, un sujet suspendu aux lèvres, complexe. Ils mettent en lumière l’empreinte de ces mains indifférenciables, imprimées sur le mur de la maison de la culture de Tsopi. Une levée des armes poétique dévoilant le calme possible et la force de la rencontre.

Une pratique photographique qui s’inscrit dans le temps et nous terminerons sur les mots de Nelli Shishmanyan qui signale lorsqu’on lui parle d’une possible continuité « […] La photographie s’ancre dans la vie et la vie continue. »

Et qui sait… Lors d’une prochaine exposition, nous aurons peut-être la chance de rencontrer ses deux collaborateurs azerbaïdjanais à Erevan.

Interview: Loussiné Ghukasyan, Artist

Interview by Laure Raffy for HAYP Pop Up Gallery
Original text in French below. Download pdf:
Lussine Ghukasyan – interview – HAYP_En
Lussine Ghukasyan – interview – HAYP_Francais


 

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The visual artist Loussiné Ghukasyan exhibited at the previous HAYP Pop Up Gallery, “12 | 12 | 12 RETROSPECTIVE”, in Yerevan last December 2018. She was also a contributing artist at HAYP Pop Up Gallery’s “Lips of Pride” in 2016, and “Downshift” in 2017.

Laure Raffy: You studied design for 5 years at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Yerevan, what did this training bring you and how did it influence your artistic practice?

Loussine Ghukasyan: Initially, I applied to study etching and print media. In Armenia, the situation for artists is quite complicated. It’s not easy to take paths that differ from traditional ones, or to practice a profession that allows you to earn enough money to make a living. I decided to integrate design into my studies, thinking it would help me find work afterwards. But in the end, I chose to follow yet another path, specializing in painting. I loved the medium but not the pedagogy at the Academy. The environment was quite rigid.

So, I used to take my tools upstairs, alone on the terrace where I would paint the whole day before coming back down to the studios to present my work. This reminds me of a funny anecdote, I used to leave lots of empty space on my canvas. One day, a teacher came to me and told me that I had forgotten to complete some parts, as the entire canvas wasn’t covered.

I started to move away from the academy. Realism as a style and as a teaching method didn’t suit me. I felt like something was missing, like I couldn’t realize my ideas, my desires. I concentrated on drawing, which gave me more freedom. I felt more free to use white and black, a pallet I generally feel close to.

Loussine_Ghukasyan1LR: Your works are quite abstract with distinct lines. We don’t immediately guess what is hidden in these paintings, maybe that’s why we could find your works a bit frightening?

 

LG: I think that “beauty” hits you at first sight- a first glance. What you discover afterwards interests me more. I hope that my work escapes from what I call “first look”, I try to focus on the second encounter. My canvases reveal what emanates from the form: noise, emptiness, agitation … Occasionally I integrate color into my paintings. For instance, there’s a lot of blue in my works exhibited at 12 | 12 | 12. The work is actually called “In the Blue”. I have to say, naming my works is something really difficult for me. Titles don’t matter in my artistic practice. But blue is an important color for me. It’s the color of the night, thoughts, flowing water…

LR: Could you tell us about the context in which this work was produced?

LG: Two of the paintings presented in the installation were made when I lived in Marseille. I painted the third canvas when I was back in Yerevan. These paintings are the transcriptions of a wide range of emotions, encounters, important events … You can read the agitation, the movement, the fall, the trouble. The blood flowing at full speed in the veins and the body at rest. That is what I tried to express.

LR: What does the video projected on your canvases bring to the work?

LG: My video reveals fragments of life: the footsteps of passers-by in the street, their feet, the blinking of a woman’s eyes, all this slowed down. We don’t always pay attention to the gestures of everyday life. I wanted to play with the paint / video contrast in this installation. Video is essentially a moving image. In that sense, it contrasts with painting, a fixed image. I decided to slow down the images of the video and project them on my paintings which are agitated and dark, in order to bring serenity and a slower pace to the experience. The second part of my video, a white screen without image, illuminates the painting. It represents the only moment when we can distinguish the works on canvas in isolation, without distraction or filter; exposed.

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LR: Are your works on canvas preceded by sketches?

LG: My practice is spontaneous. I paint directly on canvas. I do not make a preliminary sketch. I like being alone when I paint, I like working without the eyes of others. When I make street art, for example, I usually don’t talk to anyone about it beforehand. These pieces are discovered later, through photos, traces .. I’m not really interested in live-painting, I prefer to produce and reveal later.

For example, during exhibition openings I used to escape when visitors arrive. I let them discover the work in the space. It’s not me directly that I reveal but my work, which of course, is also a part of me. I like to disappear and to erase myself through my artworks.

These last few weeks I’ve been working outside in the street, more than in my studio. I really try to choose specific places that connect to the landscape in order to make my art.

LR: We can see that language, words, are also very present in your practice.

LG: Indeed, I don’t always draw. I also like to write … When I make murals, I use a paint brush or marker. I like to use the brush more on the wall. It allows me to feel the space, the movement and textures.

I remember a project I did in Greece last summer. I went for a walk and brought some materials along with me, brushes, oil paints. Sitting in front of a huge wall, I thought about the notion of image. I wondered if it was really more useful than words and language. Spontaneously, I wanted to make a large-scale work. I grabbed a stick of wood to lengthen my brush and paint on this gigantic wall.

Here is what I wrote: “Be alone. Listen to the sound of the sea. Dance “

I was on a remote, wild beach. I thought about the people who would come to the sea and see this message. I imagined them dancing. I thought at that moment of the peace they could find, alone with themselves, in this almost deserted place.

I made other pieces when I returned to Armenia, other messages. For instance, a glorious day spent by the river, away from [the city of] Yerevan. The river flow was forked by a hydro company so that some of the water would flow into large concrete pipes that would produce electricity. Meters and meters of tubing. On one of them I wrote: “Listen to the sound of the river. Dance.”

A suggestion to listen to the water flowing in the tube, to try at least … These tubes completely break the cycle, the natural rhythm, I found it sad. These few words hoped to bring back a little poetry.

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LR: How do you make a living here as an artist?

LG: It’s not easy. When I paint, I’m not thinking about selling my works.

I don’t think they would interest collectors. They are quite dark and people would not necessarily want to exhibit them in their homes. To make an income, I do book illustrations for an agency in New York, mostly children’s books.

Shortly after this interview was done (and prior to publishing), Loussiné GHUKASYAN’s works were on view at the Urban Festival in Yerevan in March 2019, a collaboration initiated by “Visual Gap Gallery” and the Goethe Institute in partnership with the German Embassy, where Loussiné participated in workshops led by a group of street artists from Hamburg, Germany.


 

L’artiste plasticienne Loussiné GHUKASYAN était présentée lors de la dernière exposition d’HAYP Pop Up Gallery, 12|12|12 , en décembre dernier, à Yerevan. Elle a aussi contribué à « Lips of Pride » en 2016 et « Downshift » en 2017 initiés par cette même galerie.

Laure Raffy: Vous avez durant 5 ans étudié le design à l’Académie des Beaux Arts d’État d’Erevan. Que vous a apporté cette formation, en quoi a-t-elle influencé votre démarche et vos choix artistiques?

Loussiné Ghukasyan: Initialement, j’ai déposé ma candidature pour apprendre la gravure. En Arménie, la situation des artistes est assez compliquée. Ce n’est pas évident d’emprunter des chemins différents des schémas traditionnels :exercer une profession qui permette de bien gagner sa vie.

J’ai décidé d’intégrer la fac de design en pensant trouver du travail par la suite. Finalement, j’ai choisi de suivre une autre formation, spécialisée en peinture. Même si le medium me plaisait beaucoup, je ne me reconnaissais pas dans les méthodes d’enseignement, la pédagogie de la formation. Le cadre était assez rigide.

Donc, je prenais mon matériel, je montais au dernier étage, seule, sur la terrasse et je peignais des journées entières avant de redescendre pour présenter mes travaux.

J’ai une anecdote amusante, j’avais l’habitude de laisser du blanc sur mes tableaux, de l’espace. Un jour, un professeur est venu me voir et m’a signalé que j’avais oublié des parties, que l’ensemble de la toile n’étais pas recouvert. Au fur et à mesure je me suis éloignée de cet enseignement de peinture réaliste car il ne me convenait pas vraiment. J’éprouvais un manque, j’avais l’impression de ne pas pouvoir concrétiser mes idées, mes envies. Je me suis ensuite concentrée sur le dessin, qui m’offrait davantage de liberté. Je me sentais plus libre d’utiliser le blanc et le noir, dont je me sens proche.

LR: Vos œuvres sont assez abstraites, vous utilisez des lignes, des traits. On ne devine pas de suite ce(ux) qui se cache(nt) dans ces toiles, c’est peut être en cela que l’on peut trouver vos pièces angoissantes, anxiogènes.

LG: Je pense que la « beauté » relève du premier regard, du coup d’oeil. Ce que l’on découvre ensuite m’intéresse davantage. Je souhaite que mon travail échappe à ce que j’appelle « premier regard », qu’il se concentre sur le second. Mes toiles dévoilent ce qui émane de la forme : le bruit, le vide, l’agitation… Il m’arrive tout de même d’intégrer des couleurs à mes toiles. On trouve notamment du bleu dans mes travaux exposés lors de 12|12|12. L’oeuvre s’appelle même In the Blue. D’ailleurs, il est pour moi difficile de nommer mes travaux. Les titres n’ont pas d’importance dans ma démarche.

Le bleu est une couleur importante pour moi. Il s’agit de la couleur de la nuit, des pensées, de l’eau qui s’écoule sans arrêt.

LR: Pourriez-vous nous parler du contexte dans lequel cette œuvre a été produite ?

LG: Deux des tableaux présentés dans l’installation ont été réalisés lorsque je vivais à Marseille. J’ai peins la troisième toile à mon retour à Erevan. Ces peintures sont la retranscription d’une large palette d’émotions, de rencontres, d’évènements importants… On peut y lire l’agitation, le mouvement, la chute, le trouble. Le sang coulant à toute vitesse dans les veines et le corps au repos, voici ce que j’ai cherché à exprimer.

LR: En quoi consiste la vidéo et qu’apporte-t’-elle au travail?

LG: Ma vidéo dévoile des détails de la vie : les pas des passants dans la rue, leurs pieds, le clignement des yeux d’une femme, tout cela ralenti. On ne prête pas toujours attention aux gestes de la vie quotidienne.

J’ai souhaité jouer avec le contraste peinture / vidéo dans cette installation.

La vidéo est par essence, une image en mouvement. En cela elle contraste avec la peinture, image fixe et immobile. J’ai décidé de ralentir les images de la vidéo et de les projeter sur mes peintures, agitées, sombres, afin d’y apporter du calme, de la lenteur. La seconde partie de ma vidéo, écran blanc, sans image, apporte de la lumière à ma peinture. Seul moment où l’on peut distinguer les toiles précisément.

LR: Vos travaux sont-ils rythmés par des protocoles, d’esquisse, de croquis, par exemple?

LG: Ma pratique est spontanée. Je peins directement mes toiles. Je ne réalise pas d’esquisse préliminaire. J’aime être seule lorsque je peins, j’aime travailler sans le regard de l’autre. Lorsque je réalise des pièces de street art par exemple, je n’en parle généralement à personne. Elles sont découvertes plus tard, au travers de photos, de traces.. Je ne m’intéresse plus vraiment au livepainting, je préfère produire et dévoiler par la suite.

Par exemple, lors des ouvertures d’exposition auxquelles je participe, je m’échappe lorsque les visiteurs arrivent. Je les laisse découvrir le travail dans l’espace. Ce n’est pas moi directement que je dévoile mais mon travail. J’aime disparaître et m’effacer au travers de celui-ci.

Ces derniers temps, je travaille beaucoup dehors, dans la rue, davantage qu’en atelier.

J’essaie vraiment de choisir des endroits précis qui respectent le paysage pour réaliser mes oeuvres.

LR: On peut remarquer que le langage, les mots sont aussi très présents dans votre démarche.

LG: En effet, je ne dessine pas toujours. J’aime aussi écrire…

Lorsque je réalise des muraux, j’utilise des pinceaux ou le marqueur en général.

J’aime utiliser le pinceau sur le mur. Ça me permet de sentir la matière, l’espace, le mouvement. Le feutre ne me permet pas vraiment de distinguer les textures.

Je me souviens d’un projet réalisé en Grèce. J’étais partie marcher un moment. J’avais avec moi du matériel, des pinceaux, de l’huile. Assise devant un immense mur, je réfléchissais à la notion d’image. Je me demandais si elle était vraiment plus utile que les mots et le langage.

Spontanément, j’ai eu envie de réaliser une grande pièce. J’ai saisi un bâton afin d’allonger mon pinceau et pouvoir peindre sur ce mur gigantesque.

Voici ce que j’ai écrit : « Be alone. Listen the sound of the sea. Dance »

Je me trouvais sur une plage éloignée, sauvage, j’ai pensé aux personnes qui pourraient arriver par la mer et voir ce message. Je les imaginais entrain de danser. Je pensais au moment de solitude qu’ils auraient, de retrouvailles avec eux même, dans cet espace presque désert.

J’ai réalisé d’autres inscriptions à mon retour en Arménie, d’autres messages. Notamment ce fameux jour où nous étions sortis d’Erevan pour passer la journée au bord de la rivière. Ce cours d’eau a été divisé en deux par une entreprise de sorte à ce qu’une partie de l’eau s’écoule dans de grands tubes en béton et qu’elle produise de l’électricité. Des mètres et des mètres de tube.

Sur l’un d’eux j’ai inscrit : « Listen to the sound of the river. Dance ». Une incitation à écouter l’eau qui s’écoule dans le tube, essayer du moins… Ces tubes rompent totalement le cycle, le rythme naturel, je trouve ça triste. Ces quelques mots y apporte peut être un peu de poésie.

LR: Comment est-ce que tu t’en sors pour vivre ici en tant qu’artiste?

LG: Ce n’est pas évident. Lorsque je réalise mes toiles, je ne pense pas à les vendre. Je pense d’ailleurs qu’elles n’intéresseraient pas beaucoup de collectionneurs. Elles sont assez sombres et des gens n’auraient pas forcément envie de les exposer chez eux. Pour gagner ma vie, je réalise des illustrations pour des livres, avec une agence installée à NY, des livres jeunesse notamment.

On rencontrait Loussiné GHUKASYAN il y a quelques semaines, à l’Urban Festival , manifestation initié par la Galerie « Visual Gap Gallery » et l’Institut Goethe, où elle participait aux ateliers menés par un collectif d’artistes Hambourgeois.

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.

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Lake Sevan Writers’ Resort, Armenia.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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!