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!

“Tbilisi” Impressions by Laure Raffy

Photos and text by Laure Raffy
Translation by Anna Gargarian

Original text in French language below English text.


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A four day trip for the HAYP Pop Up team to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Objective: to feel the city’s pulse and feed our plans to establish a permanent gallery space in Yerevan in the upcoming months. An opportunity to meet key players and to weave the initial threads of partnership with a neighboring country, as we begin to envision future collaborations.

Ambling through a city full of stories, historic buildings, and wonders to discover veiled behind urban facades, we take in (on the fly) inspiration, ideas, and lots of images.

A meeting with Tamara Janashia leads us to many others: gallerists, printers, artists.
The Nectar Gallery, perched on a small hill, reveals the colossal work of Elene Chantladze that combines writing, drawing, collage, and painting on stone; a lifetime’s work that offers a narrative about intimate space and important moments.

Time to catch our breath and grab a coffee on the terrace of Stamba Hotel, former printing house renovated into hotel complex. An industrial space that highlights the gears and mechanisms of the machines it once housed. It is here that we meet Irina Popiashvili before she invites us to a private space where she collects the works of several artists; a creative incubator where she nurtures artists with a graceful rigor. She brings us to the department of Visual Art, Architecture and Design at the Free University of Tbilisi, where Irina is the Dean. A precious moment that invites us into discover creative studios, filled with ideas and treasures in the making. The chance to meet students, inspired and inspiring, impressive in their tenacity and strength, confronting materials as massive and rigid as wood and steel .. We (re)encounter some of them on Saturday night in an apartment atop the city’s outskirts; an intimate space that is home to an exhibition curated by the students themselves.

On this short trip we have the privilege of meeting artist Tamuna Chabashvili, who mainly uses textile as “final object” in an engaging work that brings together tedious research, investigation, and careful collecting of stories. Along the way, we discover the underground Patara art gallery, which urges us to explore the border between private and public space, and the importance of introducing art within the lived urban environment. A visit to the Window Project gallery reveals bold scenographic display, an intervention by a contemporary artist/designer that took inspiration from the exhibition’s focus: the art works of the late Vakhtang Kokiashvi.

Planning to develop a future print department, HAYP can’t miss out on a visit to Cezanne printing house, highly recommended for the quality of its catalogs and artist books. An encounter that revealed (or confirmed) the vast range of possibilities for book formats, textures, and binding methods … revealing, yet again, that the book serves as both archive and extension of an art work, an artifact in its own right.

Four days of meetings, a perpetual dialogue between the historic and contemporary, industrial and artisanal, massive and undeniably refined. Sprinkled with impressions, scribbled papers, porcelains, and found objects along the unbeaten path.

And so, more to come….


original text:

Déplacement de l’équipe de HAYP Pop Up dans la capitale Georgienne, Tbilisi. Ce, afin d’en prendre le poul et alimenter encore le projet de galerie physique et permanente qui prendra place à Yerevan, dans les prochains mois. L’occasion de rencontrer des acteurs, tisser une première toile de partenaires dans un pays voisin et imaginer de possibles collaborations.

Un détour dans une ville emplie d’histoire(s), d’édifices historiques, de merveilles à découvrir au verso des façades. Un moment permettant d’attraper en vol, inspirations, idées, et beaucoup d’images.

Une rencontre avec Tamara Janashia nous mène vers bien d’autres : galeristes, imprimeurs, artistes. La Galerie Nectar perchée sur une petite colline dévoile le travail colossal d’ Elene Chantladze, mêlant écriture, dessins, collages, peintures sur roches. Oeuvre d’une vie proposant une lecture de l’espace intime et de certains faits marquants. Le temps de reprendre son souffle et commander un café sur la terrasse du Stamba Hotel, ancienne imprimerie réhabilitée en complexe hôtelier. Un espace industriel où sont aujourd’hui sublimés, les rouages et mécaniques des anciennes machines.
C’est ici que l’on rencontre Irina Popiashvili avant qu’elle nous conduise dans un espace où elle conserve plusieurs travaux d’artistes. Une pépinière de créateurs qu’elle soutient avec force et velour. Cette visite nous mène à l’école d’Arts visuels et d’architecture dont Irina est la doyenne. Moment précieux nous permettant de découvrir quelques ateliers emplis d’idées et de trésors en devenir. L’occasion de rencontrer des étudiants, inspirés et inspirants, impressionnants par leur tenacité et leur force, faisant face, à des matériaux aussi massifs et rigides que le bois et l’acier.. On en (re)découvre certains d’entre-eux, le samedi soir, dans cet appartement, planté sur les hauteur de la ville. Espace intimiste, abritant une exposition commissariée par les étudiants eux même.
S’offre durant ces quelques jours, le privilège de rencontrer l’artiste Tamuna Chabashvili, qui utilise principalement le textile comme « objet final » d’un travail engagé, fastidieux de recherches, d’enquêtes, de collecte d’histoires. Sur notre passage, on découvre l’espace galerie souterrain Patara qui nous interroge encore sur la lisière entre espace privé et public et l’intérêt d’introduire l’art où les individus circulent. Nous visitions la galerie Window Project mêlant des choix scénographiques audacieux et l’intervention d’artistes/designers sur les œuvres d’un créateur initial, aujourd’hui disparu, Vakhtang Kokiashvi.

Dans son souhait de développer un volet « publication », HAYP se doit un passage à l’imprimerie Cezanne, recommandée pour la qualité d’impression de catalogues et livres d’artistes. Un moment révélant (ou confirmant) le large panel de possibilités en termes de format, texture, mode de reliure… Une visite révélant de nouveau que si le livre peut accompagner l’oeuvre, il peut aussi se penser comme « objet d’art », à part entière.

4 jours et un mélange de rencontres, un perpétuel dialogue entre historique et contemporain, industriel et artisanal, massif et indéniablement fin. Parsemés de notes, de papiers griffonnés, de porcelaines, d’objet chinés au fil des marches.

A suivre, donc.

“In exchange for” by artist Lea Fröhlicher

Lea Fröhlicher is an artist, art educator and film-maker. Her work increasingly deals with subjects like modes of acting, mannerisms, phenomenas of daily routines, unofficial knowledge. Relations to people and between them influence her projects, which are process oriented and often span over a long period of time. Lea is from Bern, Switzerland, and is currently based in Solothurn (CH). The below text is a reflection on “In exchange for” an action and installation that took place within the framework of HAYP 12 12 12 RETROSPECTIVE, an exhibit that looked at the medieval caravanserai as metaphor for cultural meeting point. Themes of exchange, travel, displacement, fantasy, translation and encounters pervaded the works on view from December 12 -24, 2018 on the third floor of the Armenia Market.

Learn more about Lea and her artwork here.


text and photos by Lea Fröhlicher

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Over the course of three interactive periods, each lasting several hours, the installation “In exchange for” took place at the exhibition hall of HAYP 12-12-12. In preparation for the exhibition, visitors were invited to provide objects they own but no longer need as part of the installation. Upon offering an object, I required them to fill out a questionnaire: What is the object? Where did the object come from? Why is the object no longer needed?

The visitors could decide whether or not to provide their object in exchange for another from the ever-expanding installation. The individual components of the installation evolved with time as did the installation in its entirety, lending insight into the working process of the perpetually morphing installation. Beyond the set-up and re-setting of the installation, the interaction with the visitors themselves played an important role.

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Stories

This project was a kind of experiment for me. I was not able to judge in advance how many visitors, if any at all, would participate in “In exchange for”. I prepared a basic set-up and was curious to find out how visitors would react. Some brought along objects from their homes, so had previously planned their participation, while others dug around in their bags for an item they no longer needed.

This project allowed me to get in touch with people I previously had not met. With time, I recognised how important the stories were that I had asked for from the participants donating an object. The (anonymous) written responses gathered in the forms not only provided insight into the background of the objects’ use, but often also told a story connected to the identity of their previous owner.

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Value gained

A question I repeatedly encounter when doing a participatory project is the question surrounding the possibilities and types of sustainable participation. Amongst other things, I am interested in finding out the value gained for the project’s participants, i.e. “Who’s benefiting from this and what?” The participants of “In exchange for” had the opportunity to pass on objects from their possession. The process of passing on often allows for space, including mental space, for new things. In addition to that, there was some contemplating why one object or another was no longer needed. Furthermore, the participants were free to exchange their object with another from the installation. Through this exchange people gained an item they had selected out of interest, for example to fit their current work or living situation.

Swapping

Who doesn’t know the concept of swapping? As children, we already encounter it. “I’ll give you my blue sweetie if you give me your yellow one?” Swapping is something practical and makes you happy. People participating in “In exchange for” who exchanged their object with another did not come into direct contact with its previous owners. They were, however, able to read the object’s corresponding story. People thereby gained some insight into the history surrounding the object. Whenever someone swapped their object for another I often found out in conversation why they had picked that specific item.

For example, a caramel sweetie was swapped for a scraper-tool. The new owner was renovating her house and could make good use of it. Another paint-scraper was picked by an artist to paint with in her studio. A child chose a colourful pair of sunglasses that they had spotted as a toy. And the disposable camera gained a new owner who promptly used it for a group selfie right there in the exhibition.

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Future prospects

I had originally assumed that the installation would grow more, both in height and width…This, however, was not the case in this rather short period of time seeing as the visitors often brought in small objects. For a next variation of “In exchange for”, I would like to work on it over a longer time period and further develop the project. I would thereby bring the swapping aspect more into the fore and connect it with the stories of the objects.

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Reading fortunes and being seen

Aramazt Kalayjian is a multi-disciplinary artist from New York, currently based in Yerevan, Armenia since 2011. The below text is a reflection on “If walls could see” a collaborative project with installation by Armenuhi Yeghanyan, and durational performance by Aramazt Kalayjian. The project took place in the framework of HAYP 12 12 12 RETROSPECTIVE, an exhibit that looked at the medieval caravanserai as metaphor for cultural meeting point. Themes of exchange, travel, displacement, fantasy, translation and encounters pervaded the works on view from December 12 -24, 2018 on the third floor of the Armenia Market.


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Hayku 30.0
Coffee is Seeing
Sometimes we need the other
Here we are all one

We all want to be seen and we do it in very different ways.

I had created a set of wall-hanging sculptures featuring haiku poetry, separated into three layers of glass, 4cms apart, making a visual puzzle. It was simple and playful.

Complimenting this I performed coffee cup readings. My guest would arrive and I would prepare coffee and read their fortune.  I would write a haiku poem on an Armenian language typewriter and give them their reading to remember. 

The door opens, I have received another guest. I greet them warmly and light the gas stove. She sits before me, asking questions. She seems familiar but I do not recognise her.  “Do you remember me?” she asks. I mention a certain familiarity but that is all. “Then good, I won’t tell you anything more to see if your cup reading is authentic.”

I laugh and we drink our coffee and flip the cup. I was being tested but I had faith in the coffee grains creating their story on the white porcelain walls and in my ability to read the symbols and weave meaning.

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My mother had an abortion before I was born. She was 19 and not ready for motherhood. Then, as now, taboos surrounded her decision. She was depressed, ashamed and in reclusion before my birth. I came along, like Simba, a joy for our family and community. The first-born of the youngest child in her family.

She had not had the childhood she would have hoped for. Her father passed away when she was just three. She had taken on the role of helper of the house, cooking, cleaning and babysitting cousins. She had become a mother before she was a woman. I understood why she began to train me, and later my brothers, to be her aids around the house.  She later confessed she had always wanted a daughter.

On days off from school we were handed individual lists of chores in my mother’s handwriting or we were given extraordinarily inconvenient tasks such as reading a book aloud into a tape recorder so that there was proof of our having practiced reading that day.  My father would take the cassette and listen to us read 40 Days of Musa Dagh or Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys on his commute to work. This was his way to make us present in his life. He could listen to our voice despite his absence from home.

It is here that I learned to cook and clean and learn and evolve. It wasn’t the best nor the worst childhood; there was love and anguish; there was appreciation and neglect; guilt and innocence; polarity also revealed duality.

The very first thing I learned from my mother was to make coffee. And this was a profound desire of mine.

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Observing the family gatherings of my youth, the ceremonial aspect of receiving coffee at the end of a meal or an evening was divine. The first sips were spiritual ecstasy when the coffee was good.  When it wasn’t there was criticism sprinkled in with gossip and conversation. It became a challenge I wanted my skills to meet.

Cups of coffee. Something human and universal being shared. First dates and breakups. Beginnings, interviews, being fired or laid-off. All can start with a cup of coffee and often do. Friends gather over coffee, families end gatherings with it. You can drink it before and after sex and at any other time!

Coffee is said to have been discovered by shepherds in the village of Kaffa, Ethiopia. Their goats were, according to legend, exceptionally frisky and energetic after eating the seed and flesh of the coffee fruit. It was considered to have magical or spiritual qualities and in Ethiopian culture today the coffee ceremony remains a staple in welcoming guests. Upon a bed of grass, several people gather around a clay pot and coals while the coffee beans are roasted on a pan over a naked fire. Frankincense is burnt. The coffee seed is roasted until the beans are browned and crushed by a mortar and pestle and then poured into the Jebenna, the aforementioned thin-necked clay pot Ethiopians use for coffee ceremonies.

Since then, the bean has been cultivated in a variety of different ways and its export from Ethiopia to the Ottoman Empire popularized the drink as a commodity and a pastime. As the grinds became more refined, so too did the tastes and methods of preparation. Mixes with milk and sugar, sometimes with tea or honey. The culture of coffee was born and it was widespread by the late 19th century.

We, humans, have sought meaning in patterns since the early cave paintings depicting man and nature. Cloud gazing, I-Ching coins, tea leaves, all offer a canvas from which patterns and meaning have been cultivated for centuries. Coffee grounds, naturally, offer this too.

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I learnt how to read a cup from my mother and uncle. The reading always took place at the very end of a meeting or a gathering in our home. My mother read the cups as if to offer relief from worry emphasizing the positive and reminding the listener to be more aware of opportunities and others. My uncle, however, approached the matter as if reading tarot cards. His own interest in spirituality gave him a foundation to both see and to connect with the person before him when reading the coffee cup.

Having witnessed this throughout my childhood, I sensed that there was magic in the cup. Here was a way to truly connect with the love and attention channelled into it. It seemed like people felt they were being seen for who they truly were.

We trust the foreigner. We trust the neutral, non-attached person that is disconnected from our lives. People seek this possibility and coffee cups offer it.

I wanted to create this experience a long time ago and the caravanserai with HAYP offered the perfect opportunity, in the land of open doors and tinted windows.

The response at the exhibition was completely unexpected. I had imagined sitting in a room and having maybe one or two people arrive for coffee.  Instead, the demand was great. Perhaps people have an inherent desire to sit and be heard. There is a comparison with Catholic confession, with the priest and the sinner.  In our case the roles are perhaps more nebulous, beyond reader and listener.

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What was most astounding was how readily people shared openly, with the cup between us. I was asked if I could see people looking negatively on them and their life. One woman described an emotional affair with another man and asked if that was worse than a physical affair.  Someone else told me their entire story, from youth to marriage, and how her husband had became a brutal person, triggering a suicide attempt. All of this to me! I am no one. A man that made cups of coffee, a man that told stories as a way to see and be seen.

I was surprised by the variety of people that came along. Two women working in the wig store below the exhibition space arrived one by one. The quirky owner of the building with his right-hand man, seeking advice based on his profound belief in fortunes. An elder, an adult, and one of our youth, arrived at one point representing three generations of women. Artists, designers, performers, dancers, architects, musicians, writers, hopefuls, seekers, lovers of life, ordinary folk, all lined up for a free cup and a fortune, written in short form, as a memento.

I felt a deep responsibility. To remain as neutral as possible when sitting in front of another. To try to be totally absent of ego and present in the moment while interpreting the grains and the patterns, however subtle or bold. I did not want to color the story with my own and instead took symbols from the cup, interpreting meaning, somehow, to reveal simple truths.

I was left feeling exhausted and full of gratitude.  


written by Aramazt Kalayjian
edited by Raffi Ouzounian
photography by Ed Tadevossian
video by Karén Khachaturov

“Where is Home?”

by Laure Raffy

Laure Raffy is an art educator, writer and maker. Below, Laure reflects on “Where is Home?”, a performative workshop lead by Sonya Armaghanyan (EVN Community Theatre) combining elements from theatre and dance movement to explore the notion of home and the sense of belonging. The workshop took place at HAYP Pop Up Gallery on December 21, 2018 in the context of HAYP 12 12 12 – RETROSPECTIVE.

For original text in French language scroll down.

Download in pdf format (English & French Language): Where Is Home?_Laure_Raffy


“Where is home?”

A memory.

My body lying on a white sheet in Marseille a few days before my departure.
A moment gazing at the Iranian mountains, unreal and yet so close.
Two faces of children, sprawled on a bed, catching the ceiling of the apartment in a burst of laughter.
An old lady offering us flowers.
And this question keeps coming back, guiding my choices, I lose myself along the way, often.

On December 21, the artist Sonya Armaghanyan pushed us into our deepest corners in an experience that was both collective and introspective. In a hybrid format: discussion group, dance workshop, performance.
No objective to come up with answers, just to think and (re)feel.
Together and individually.
And this question that appeared from the very beginning: “Where is home? “
In a circle, the ideas of a dozen people intersect, meet, and sometimes join.
“A balance”, “a warm place”, “where I grew up”, “our house on the oceanfront”.
Some answers are precise, others more abstract and distant.
First contact, first words. Then, instructions and silence.

Groups of 3 or 4 people are formed. Each person reflects on the memory she wants to carve out.
In a space partially filled with music, the bodies meet and become familiar with one another. Eyes meet, and glances are exchanged. Each person sculpts their partner, stages an image, a memory becomes abstract or distinct.
The given form meets or sometimes departs from the mental image. Scenes are linked in fluid movement. They change as we progress. Forms are substituted, merged, to become new ones.
An unspoken communication takes root at the heart of each group, which is lost, forgotten in the game turned dance.
Sonya encourages some individuals to detach themselves, to join neighbouring groups, to establish new connections, to seek more space, to exist otherwise, before finding their initial group again.

The choreography ends, we make a circle and discuss.
A common reflection on the meaning of exile, departure, loss, amnesia. At ease, open, marking the beginning or the next step of the process.


 

« Where is home? »

Se souvenir.

Mon corps allongé sur un drap blanc, à Marseille quelques jours avant mon départ.
Un moment à contempler les montagnes iraniennes, irréelles et pourtant si proches.
Deux visages d’enfants, échoués sur un lit, attrapant le plafond de l’appartement dans un éclat de rire. Une vieille dame nous offrant des fleurs.
Et cette question revenant sans cesse, guidant mes choix, me perdant en chemin, souvent.

Le 21 décembre dernier, l’artiste Sonya Armaghanyan, nous poussait dans nos retranchements dans une expérience à la fois collective et introspective. Dans une forme hybride; atelier de parole, danse, performance.
Sans but d’allouer de réponse, juste penser et (re)sentir.
Ensemble et chacun.
Et cette question qui apparaît dès les premières minutes : « Where is home? »
En cercle, les idées d’une dizaine de personnes réunies, se rencontrent, se rejoignent parfois.
« Un équilibre », « un endroit chaleureux », « là où j’ai grandi », « notre maison au bord de l’océan ».
Certaines réponses sont précises, d’autres plus abstraites et distantes.
Premier contact, premiers mots. Puis, les instructions et le silence.

Les groupes de 3 ou 4 personnes sont formés. Chaque personne réfléchit au souvenir qu’elle souhaite sculpter.
Dans un espace partiellement rempli de musique, les corps se rencontrent s’apprivoisent. Les regards se croisent. Chacun sculpte ses partenaires, met en scène une image devenue abstraite ou distincte.
La forme donnée rejoint ou s’éloigne quelquefois de l’image mentale. Les pauses s’enchaînent dans un mouvement désormais fluide. Elles se modifient aussi, au fur et à mesure. Elle se substituent, se confondent, pour en devenir de nouvelles.
Une forme de communication, de lien s’installe au sein des groupes qui se perdent, s’oublient dans le jeu devenu danse.
Sonya incite certain individus à se détacher, à rejoindre les groupes voisins, à établir de nouvelles connexions, chercher un peu d’espace, exister autrement, avant de se retrouver.

La chorégraphie prend fin laissant place à un cercle de parole(s).
Une réflexion commune sur le sens de l’exil, des départs, de la perte, de l’oubli. Sereine, ouverte, marquant le début ou la suite du processus.

A walk around Oda[r]isque

by Aram Atamian

Note by the editor: Aram Atamian is the author, choreographer and performer of “Oda[r]isque”, a participatory performance and installation that took place over the course of three days, from December 20-22, 2018 at HAYP Pop Up Gallery in the context of HAYP 12 12 12 RETROSPECTIVE. 


 

0°                                                                                                               a walk around Oda[r]isque


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karen

From top: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Odalisque with Slave, 1839; Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Turkish Bath, 1852-59; Silvia Sleigh, The Turkish Bath, 1973; Oda[r]isque #1: Aramazt, 2018; Oda[r]isque #16: Mary, 2018; Oda[r]isque #18: Petros, 2018; Oda[r]isque #21: Karen, 2018.

270°                                                                                                                                                     90°


– – – 

“You’re coming from behind the mountain” is how my Persian-Armenian friend translated one of his favorite Armenian idioms to me. It means roughly the same thing as the English idiom “You’ve been living under a rock”, but also, he explained, implies this person-from-the-other-side has a certain wildness or is ‘unbridled’ or ‘unleashed’. The Armenian word sandsardsak came up to describe this shade of meaning in particular. During my research in preparation for Oda[r]isque, a participatory performance and installation for HAYP’s final exhibit 12-12-12, this idiom kept coming back to me. My notes in my phone remain from this conversation sometime in 2016:

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Screenshot of a smartphone note from 2016

The three dashes [- – -] indicate where you can insert your pronoun of choice, depending on who is coming from behind the mountain. As the project was coming together, I asked a friend from Yerevan if this idiom was familiar as I was considering having it be a subtitle of the project and wanted to make sure it was relevant.  She didn’t recognize it, but she suggested the word sandsardsak as an alternative to the idiom [1].

240°                                                                                                                                                     60°


The Program/instructions that were given to all attendees of Oda[r]isque on December 20th-22nd from 7:00-9:00pm AMT.

Welcome to

Oda[r]isque!

Thank you so much for coming! Together we’ll be hijacking classical 19th century orientalist images to playfully research  connections between geography, identity, and fantasy.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: grab whichever props immediately look appealing to you-no need to overthink.

Step 2: together we’ll collaborate on making an image. We can use the blue book [2] as inspiration or just jump right in.

Step 3: I’ll shoot our images and they will be on view here for the remainder of the exhibition for our collective reflection and enjoyment. With your permission, they will be compiled and accessible on the @odarisque Instagram account [3].

[reverse side]

The special thing about orientalism is that it is a personal fantasy about direction.  A fantasy of what is not here but over there—a line of desire that can be followed in the imagination and then, for some, by setting out on foot to follow that line. What one hopes to find over there could be an escape, it could be freedom from sexual repression, it could be a new life or even a new self. In the past this has been oriented around a myth of an East and a West, Orient and Occident [4]. What is it, though, when our fantasies of possibility are linked to home and identity instead of just the exotic? How do we use these two-directional  fantasies of ownership to conjure home and to define ourselves?

220°                                                                                                                                                     40°


Observations

I was initially concerned that

  1. People wouldn’t want to be photographed.
  2. People wouldn’t feel like subjects.

I found to my surprise and relief that

  1. Most people like to be photographed.
  2. Each person, it seemed to me, had such a precise point of view that the passive objects of the source paintings were entirely replaced by critical, powerful subjects.

While each collaborator more or less had a strong vision for the image they wanted to make, almost always this was realized with input from the entire audience. This happened completely naturally with no suggestion from me. I was very pleased about this because I knew the whole project would fall apart conceptually if it was my gaze and direction behind each image. I set a rule for myself to be more of an assistant and camera operator for each participant’s vision.

Each day’s mood was remarkably different. The first day was only one sided, and we essentially started with all the props on set and people more or less took away and rearranged as the shoot moved on. While the party atmosphere of the first day was most welcome, for the second day I wanted to test the double-sided set to give people that initial choice. Also, we cleared the set after each shoot so the selection of props became another defining moment. The images from the second day have a sparser, more deliberate and critical feel to me for these reasons. The third day was somehow a happy mix of both-there was a boldness and confidence to the image-making that made me wonder how this project could evolve over a longer period.

200°                                                                                                                                                     20°


The Odalisque [5]

A classic trope in 19th century Orientalist painting in which a female, typically non-Muslim, member of a haram reclines luxuriously. Usually these were painted by Western European men in their own studios embellished from scraps of fact into a speculative fantasy of a place east of them which they may never have visited. Sarah Ahmed explains:

The Orient is not an empty place; it is full, and it is full of all that which is “not Europe” or not Occidental, and which in its ”not-ness” seems to point to another way of being in the world – to a world of romance, sexuality and sensuality [6]. In a way, orientalism involves the transformation of “farness” as a spatial marker of distance into a property of people and places. “They” embody what is far away. Thus “farness” takes the direction of a wish, or even follows the line of a wish. The “far” often slides into the exotic, after all. The exotic is not only where we are not, but it is also future oriented, as a place we long for and might yet inhabit. […] This fantasy of lack, of what is “not here,” shapes the desire for what is “there,” such that “there” becomes visible on the horizon as “supplying” what is lacking […] Desire directs bodies toward its object; in desire, we face the desired and seek to get closer. Desire confirms that which we are not (the object of desire), while it pushes us toward that “not,” which appears as an object on the horizon, at the edge of our gaze, always getting closer even when it is not quite here [emphasis added.] [7]

180°                                                                                                                                                   360°


The visa stamp

“Rather than ‘eastern’ or ‘western’, Armenia was imaged as a borderland, ‘in-between’ East and West. The image of the Armenians, therefore, was characterized by ambiguity.

The Armenian population was dispersed across the borders of the Russian, Persian and Ottoman Empires, a region frequently portrayed as the boundary between civilization and barbarism or Europe and Asia. It was also perceived as a religious borderland, the meeting place of Christianity and Islam. Armenia was problematic as it seemed to straddle these borders.[8]”-Jo Laycock

This occidental/oriental fantasy seems to operate over vast expanses of land and sea and across continents. Armenians, on the other hand, experience a distinctly local fantasy of east and west all our own which hinges entirely and precisely on the geographical marker of Mt Ararat: the terms Western and Eastern Armenian are contingent on which side of the mountain, the west or the east, a particular Armenian’s family is originally from. The entry and exit visa stamps of the Republic of Armenia depict Sis and Masis, the two peaks of Ararat, though they are entirely outside of country borders. This implies you are now entering or exiting two countries at once: the Republic of Armenia and an Other [Odar] Armenia. The other being, as Ahmed put it, a ‘not-ness’ or all that is not here.

150°                                                                                                                                                   330°


The backdrop

at the center of Oda[r]ique was a woven tapestry of a screenshot I took from Google Maps of the view of the western side of Mount Ararat looking directly east to Armenia. This is the other side of the mountain, with Sis on the right and Masis on the left.

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The 2.7×1.3m tapestry was woven using a digital jacquard loom, which translates a digital image into binary code which is then read by the loom and each row of threads is set automatically and then advanced by hand. Because of this, the other side of the weaving reveals the colors which were hidden on areas of the front, creating something like a negative image. Additionally, of course, the image itself is flipped. In this case the reverse of the tapestry has Sis on the left and Masis on the right, as one sees it from the RA.

On the second and third day of Oda[r]isque, both sides of the tapestry were lit creating a double-sided set. Each subject/collaborator first had to choose which side they wished to work with, decisions could have been made based on eastern/western Armenian identity, nationality, fantasy, longing, aesthetic preference, whim, or some combination of these. Whatever the deciding factors were, once this choice became the first step of the process the images began to take on a more deliberate and critical tone as there was now an invitation to take a side and define it.

120°                                                                                                                                                   300°


Research Bibliography for Oda[r]isque:

Ahmed, Sarah. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.
Akomfrah, John. 2013. The Stuart Hall Project. DVD. United Kingdom: Smoking Dog Films.
Boone, Joseph Allen. The Homoerotics of Orientalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.
Epstein, Mikhail. “On Transculture.” Academic Exchange 7, no. 5 (2005). http://www.emory.edu/ACAD_EXCHANGE/2005/aprmay/sidebar.html
Laycock, Jo. Imagining Armenia. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.
Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Peltre, Christine. Orientalism in Art (New York : Abbeville Press, 1998).
Razlogov, Kirill. “Parajanov in prison: an exercise in transculturalism.” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 12, No. 1 (2018): 37-57. https://doi.org/10.1080/17503132.2018.1422223 .
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

90°                                                                                                                                                     270°


What now

I consider the live photoshoot to be the main piece and the resulting images as a kind of glorified documentation. However, seeing the results of everyone’s extremely thoughtful and playful work I think they would function quite well on their own. I’m starting to plan a physical publication with pieces of writing accompanying each image in collaboration with the participants. Until then, the Instagram catalogue, @odarisque, is a placeholder and you’ll find any/all updates right there.

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Footnotes

  1. Another Armenian friend from Tehran confirmed that this idiom is regularly used in in the Persian-Armenian dialect.
  2. Christine Peltre, Orientalism in Art (New York : Abbeville Press, 1998).
  3. If you wish to get in touch, you can e-mail me at aramatamianstudio[at]gmail[dot]com.
  4. Which caused its fair share of problems: most orientalist imagery can be read as a biproduct and tool of colonization and imperialism. See Edward Said’s Orientalism for more on this.
  5. Famous interventions with this trope include Manet’s Olympia, where instead of imagining a sex-slave from a foreign land he appropriates the pose and composition exactly but with a sex-worker and her maid in a contemporary Parisian setting. Also of note is Sylvia Sleigh’s The Turkish Bath (1973) after the Ingres painting of the same name, which borrows certain compositional elements from the Ingres (particularly the cloning of one of the bodies) but with contemporary men in her circle including the performance artist and sculptor Scott Burton posing.
  6. sandsardsak/սանձարձակ again comes to mind.
  7. Sarah Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 114.
  8. Jo Laycock, Imagining Armenia (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), 28-29.

Thoughts by the Curator on HAYP 12 12 12

by Anna K. Gargarian

HAYP Founding Director & Curator


As we start 2019 filled with inspiration and vital energy to expand our work at HAYP Pop Up Gallery in a different format, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on our last Pop Up exhibition.

Where to start?

We started planning HAYP 12 12 12 Retrospective with the full awareness and conviction that this would be our last HAYP Pop Up. Our experience, intuition and insight as a team is leading us in a new direction that I’ll get to later, and we wanted to mark this transition with a project that would be both introspective and open.

Inaugurating the show on December 12, 2018 was not arbitrary. Our very first HAYP launched on December 12 in 2014. We’ve come a long way since, not only in terms of the number of projects and collaborations, but especially in our learning. You could say we’ve developed a sort of informal methodology to pop up exhibition.

Personally I have learned tremendously, both as an individual and as a professional. From learning Armenian (of which I spoke none at the start), to learning the cultural nuances of people and work relations in Armenia. A dear friend told me before I moved to Yerevan, “You know Anna, I’ve never been to Armenia but I’m guessing it’s not too different from Jamaica, in that I suggest you learn to manage your expectations”. He was exactly right.

Reflecting back, this friendly advice in some ways underlines the core of why and how I curate. A deep interest in exploring the ways that we communicate and connect with others, and the role of perception in how we understand and relate to ideas, is at the core of all of our past HAYP Pop Up projects. HAYP Pop Up’s dynamic model allowed our curatorial team (myself and the amazing Hasmik Badoyan since 2017) to constantly disorient ourselves and our viewers, forcing us to look at things differently – with fresh eyes, and responsive expectations.

Caravanserai: from theoretical framework to reality

In celebrating four years of HAYP, it seemed fitting to embrace the “caravanserai”, or historic pitstop for nomads, as a conceptual framework for our last show. Dynamism, multiculturalism, exchange, communication, perception, and chaos came together in this “bazaar” format.

Though it’s one thing to state an exhibition theme in a catalogue or wall text, it’s another thing altogether for it to come through in the experience felt by artists and audiences. In this case, I can confidently say that HAYP 12 12 12 truly embodied the caravanserai. This was largely due to our location, which Hasmik discovered, the former marketplace on top of the Barekamutyun Metro Stop. Structurally, it evoked the architectonic layout of the typical 16th century Caravanserai, with a central social courtyard and surrounding niches. Location-wise, its position above the most frequented metro terminus highlighted the relationship between transportation, travelers, and places of refuge. But what struck me most in this project was the role of our common space, or courtyard (“hraparak” as we informally called it), in shaping a unique energy for the gallery.

The “Theatre of Ideas” really was a stage for exchange of all sorts, and the actions, encounters, and mood were in constant movement. Each performance, event, workshop and activity dramatically transformed that central space in a very real, physical, and energetic way.

The balance between dynamism and stasis is particularly important for me, and has been a concern as we model our future art space. I’ve been asking myself, “if we have a permanent structure, will we lose the freshness and dynamism of our pop up?”. HAYP 12 12 12 helped answer that question and abate this fear. I feel more confident now that we can create the feeling of transformative change within a permanent space.

The Container: Thoughts on our future

This brings me to my last reflections on space, change, and creativity in a series of thoughts that I would like to call “the Container”. I’m appropriating the term from authors Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, and Flowers, whose book Presence explores how major innovators effect deep systematic change within organizations, societies and governments. A particular passage marked me as I think of our next steps for 2019:

“The principle of the container as transformative vessel is present in nature, too. Within the cocoon, just as within the alchemist’s container, something ‘melts’ in order to transform itself into something new. The creation of new life often requires a specialized ‘container’ because established systems are naturally hostile to the ‘other,’ the ‘outsider,’ the ‘alien’. The normal chemistry of an adult human body would be toxic to an embryo, just as the mainstream culture of an organization is often toxic to the innovators it spawns. And when the organizational immune system kicks in, innovators often find themselves ignored, ostracized, or worse.” (Presence, 2008)

This passage brings to light several key conclusions: 1) innovation produces an alien product, 2) that product is by nature in conflict with the existing system, 3) a safe space is required for “other” forms to fully flourish, otherwise they will be squashed before they have the chance to spread their wings.

These are precisely the reasons why we want to open a permanent space.

Though we thrive off the exploratory nature of nomadic projects, Hasmik and I are also hungry for a stable “container” that will provide us (curators and artists) the safety to develop ideas that are off the beaten track to their full extent, fiercely uncensored, and in total freedom.

To take the cocoon metaphor a step further, we are also deeply aware of the potential danger of the totally self-guarded vessel. Amongst the points addressed in our discussions with artists at our Theatre of Ideas at “HAYP 12 12 12 Retrospective”, was the cautionary advice to stay open to new projects, artists, and opinions, and to not become closed-in on ourselves. This is a point well-taken.

We hope to remain fully aware of our environment, and aim to challenge ourselves and continue our legacy of disruption and disorientation in order to continue cultivating fresh perspectives. And if we don’t, or if we forget, we ask upon you, our community, to remind us, challenge us, so that we can keep learning, looking, and questioning from new perspectives.

 

FUNDUK Week: At a glance

HAYP 12 12 12 Retrospective started off with a bang at opening night last Wednesday, December 12. Diverse installations animated twenty two different booths across the third floor of the Armenia Market – a former resale point that is currently used as storage. HAYP 12 12 12 is all about exploration and discovery, where more than 25 artists have created immersive experiences that evoke the feelings one might encounter while traveling.

Works like those of Arash Azadi, Ani Qananyan and Mary Moon explore urbanity through abstracted cityscapes.

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Mary Moon, installation, 2018

 

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Ani Qananyan, Untitled installation with ceramic and neon light.

 

Installations by Aramazt Kalayjian, Gorod Ustinov, and Vahram Galstyan offer the viewer opportunities for meditation and reflection using nostalgia and poetry as key elements for contemplation on our past and present.

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Aramazt Kalayjian, Installation with windows and Haikus, 2014-2018

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Vahram Galstyan, Lvacveq (լվացվեք), ceramic installation, 1999-2018

The journey continues from internal contemplation to that of fantasy and wild imagination in the installations by Narek Barseghyan, Lvis Mejia, Samvel Saghatelian and Radio EVN. Playing with light, projection, and sound, and dominated by a cool color palette, the very different yet interconnected works invite us to explore alien worlds: unknown places, beings, and meetings. Opening night featured the particularly eery run-in with Narek Barseghyan’s “monster”, a masked performer seeking human connection with an open hand (and chair).

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Performance by Narek Barseghyan, “Monsters – Rot 54”, 2018

 

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Samvel Saghatelian, “Homo Communication – The Hole”, installation and performance (2017 – 2018)

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RADIO EVN, HIGH-astan, immersive audio-visual installation, 2018

Lastly, the exhibition takes us to the square; the central meeting point (or crossroads) of the Caravanserai, which offers an opportunity to exchange – whether physical objects at Lea Frohlicher’s “In exchange for” interactive installation, or intimate moments over a cup of coffee at “If Walls Could See”, an installation by Armenuhi Yeghanyan with performance/action by Aramazt Kalayjian who will gladly read your coffee cup fortune from 16:00 – 21:00 daily. A word of caution, Aramazt is in high demand and people have been queuing up all week, so come early and with patience please!

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Aramazt Kalayajian, Performative action with coffee cups, reading, and Haikus

Other works within the Caravanserai courtyard are installations by Vardan Harutyunyan, Gayane Yerkanyan, and Sona Manukyan who propose alternate ways of seeing, perceiving, and understanding our identity. As happens at a journey’s end, we become slightly different people, shaped by our travels and those we crossed along the way. Added to the mix from December 21-23 will be “Oda[r]isque” an interactive performance by Aram Atamian exploring Armenian identity and experiences of auto-exoticization.

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Also in the square, or better known at HAYP 12 12 12 as the “Theatre of Ideas”, will be various performance, discussion, and workshops within the framework of FUNDUK Week. It kicked off on Opening Night with a contemporary dance performance by MIHR Theatre and Tiezerk Band.

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Performance by MIHR Theatre

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Performance by MIHR theatre

On Friday December 14,  we featured a live set by Radio EVN who transformed the square with an audio-visual experience called “HIGH-աստան (-astan)”. On Saturday evening, Berlin-based visiting artist Lvis Mejia performed a meditative set to an intimate audience, featuring sound samplings and field recordings from his own travels around the world.

48364211_2073204639431232_5302280965366743040_n copy.jpgAnd over the weekend, MIHR Theatre lead several groups on a sound walk entitled “A Journey to Nowhere”, which invited participants to explore the gallery space from a different perspective. Missed it? Don’t worry, there will be more sessions this weekend so don’t forget to sign up! The experience is in Armenian language.

Also happening this week:

  • “Where is Home” a performative workshop facilitated by Sonya Armaghanyan of EVN Community Theatre. More info here
  • Discussion & Presentation with Justin Grotelueschen, MEGAPOLIS Audio Festival founder and curator on “Pop Up festivals, radio & media art”
  • More Sound Walks with MIHR Theatre’s “A journey to nowhere”. More info here
  • Live silk-screening with Visual Gap Gallery
  • “The tongue stuck in my jaw”, Contemporary dance performance written, choreographed and performed by Hasmik Tangyan. More here.

It’s a lot to take in, and we don’t expect you to remember it all, but you don’t have to! Check out (and download) the full program of events here:

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