Unfolding Layers of Sensuality in Mary Badalian’s Embroidered Canvases

by Varduhi Kirakosian


I pass by Mary’s artworks in the gallery, the second one in line, the third… and I can’t help letting my hand slowly and carefully graze the surface of one of the canvases. I feel every wrinkle on its skin. The sensation of the touch synced with vivid colors whisper about the different types of Mary: the one who impulsively scribbled the surface in the work “Night near Barbès,” or that Mary who very precisely stitched the equal, parallel, lines of “Spiral”. We can almost read the artist in her choice of colors and yet we are perplexed by the monochrome veils that cast a slight shadow upon her, serving as a private space she keeps for herself, a refuge from the public.

Varduhi Kirakosian in front of “Night near Barbés”. Photo by Milena Gevorgyan.
Night near Barbes, detail. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Spiral, detail. Photo by Harut Saroyan.

Mary’s mixed media heightens the senses. Her canvases unfold as a dialogue between the disorder of colors and the consensus of materials. Texture is an essential element of her work, created principally through her choice of thread and occasional beadwork. Curator Anna Gargarian describes Mary’s surfaces as “..fibrous and organic constructions that seduce through their obsessive and sensual tactility.”

Photo by Harut Saroyan.

Mary Badalian is an Armenian visual artist who lives and works in Yerevan. Mary’s interests, which she cultivated through internships at the Armenian Constitutional Court, Chamber of Advocates, and the United Nations in Armenia, encompass international relations, human rights, and ethical and integrity issues. Mary rediscovered her interest in art and creativity as self-expression while studying law at the Slavonic University of Armenia in 2018. She started her artistic practice as an experiment. 

“My grandma used to have a bunch of old threads left from Soviet textile factories,” Mary pointed out during a private interview. When her grandmother’s collection was handed down to her, this was both a discovery and an inspiration. Mary explained that she was seduced by the idea of reaching a more “intimate interaction” with the canvas by way of the needle: the resulting embroidery is scar-like, like wounds to the “skin”. Her process ends by concealing this interaction with multiple layers of monochrome paint. The artist’s decision to cover her physical encounter—and significant struggle—with materiality creates a calmer, uniform and almost emotionless picture.

From left to right: “Nonexistent character”, “Brain Tricks”, “Imposter Syndrome”. Photo by Harut Saroyan.
Brain Tricks, detail. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“First I see the initial picture of my work in mind,” says Mary. I see the colors, the lines, and shapes, and then I feel the urge to make it real.” Sometimes she makes a preliminary sketch of the forms and shapes with a marker on the canvas. The choice of threads is woven in her mind subconsciously, and it builds into a similar palette of very different materials and colors. But mostly, it’s unplanned, and it’s the process that interests her. Embroidery is close to Mary’s heart as a therapy. 

“I love doing repetitive and monotonous tasks sometimes,” Mary notes. It takes her several hours of silence and time alone to let her mind disconnect, and her hands begin to work calmly and almost automatically.

Mary during #StudioSaturdays, an art-in-progress happening at the gallery in the framework of the exhibit “Chromological Disorder”.

“Most pieces are free-hand. I don’t often premeditate how I’m going to stitch. That whole planning process might sometimes ruin the realness of the emotional flow that creates a powerful dynamic,” she tells me. 

What attracts her most in abstract art is how subjective and personal the interpretation is for every person. For Mary, the strongest works of art are those that influenced her emotionally. Now, as she makes her own artworks, she wants her audience to connect with her works emotionally on a personal level and be influenced by them each in their own way.

Mary also seeks to break down barriers between traditional and popular cultures by investigating and highlighting their connections and their differences. The time-consuming traditional stitch craft contradicts with our world of instant gratification and mass production. But Mary puts embroidery in a whole new context and grants it a chance to earn a wider space and meaning in contemporary fine art with all of its intricacy and sensuality.

Mary’s art is conflicting. It evokes questions like, “What’s the initial work of art?”, “Which is more intriguing?”, and “Why does she feel the need to hide her expressive composition?” As Gargarian puts it, “The care and attention with which she selects and juxtaposes her colors is as surprising as her consequent act of ‘erasing’ the color via multiple coats of paint.” Mary’s process is unique, and her phases of production are distinct and gradual, making it difficult to define when a work is complete. For Mary, the paint coats are a “logical ending”. 

“It makes it more cohesive and less messy,” she says. 

“Identity Crisis”, photo courtesy of the artist.

This conflict between contemporary minimalism versus the colorful mess of “folk” or “craft” art is best portrayed in her piece, “Identity Crisis”. This work uniquely shows the colorful embroidery on one side of the canvas and the monochrome paint on the other. This work touches on all the questions related to Mary’s practice and expressive voice. It begs the question: does expression need to be clean or is it all about letting the mess of your inner expression come forth as it is? Either way, I would argue that the real artwork is her process, and all of the emotions and questions it instigates in the viewer.

“Chromological Disorder” is on view at Dalan Art Gallery at 12 Abovyan street until July 30. 

In Conversation: Vazken Kalayjian

by Anna K. Gargarian

With “Heart Flow: Spiritual Abstractions” opening in just a few days, I took a moment to sit down with artist Vazken Kalayjian to discuss his practice – both artistic and spiritual, as for him they are one and the same. The below interview is an informal dialogue between artist and curator, as we think about materials, rites of passage, heightened states of consciousness, and how that translates into artistic practice.



Artist, Vazken Kalayjian at work in his Bridgeport studio at the Read’s Art Space. Photo by Jacqueline Karaaslanian.

Anna K. Gargarian: Tell me a little bit about your process

Vazken Kalayjian: Well, it’s always a long preparation to start a work – mentally, physically, spiritually. And it’s always after some intense experience. Like I’ve gone on a Vision Quest, or had an interesting meditation, or I’ve visited a special place, whether it’s in nature or a temple, or whatever. And that experience calls me to start. 

Usually I’ll work on several canvases at once within the same theme, or series. Because I like to use thickly applied oil paint. I like the intensity of real pigment and that makes it dry slower. So because of that, I’ve learned that it’s always good to have a few pieces going at once (as many as I can fit in my studio). So I’ll do an underlayer on one canvas, and then move onto the other, then I’ll come back to it a few days later. I kind of go back and forth until eventually one piece gets to a particular place where I feel like it’s almost complete. Then I turn the other works around, and focus on that piece until it’s finished. I may go back to it, but usually I don’t. Then I continue with the other works in a similar fashion. So that’s the process….

Zen Koan series (oil on paper), hanging in the artist’s Connecticut studio.

The thing about paper, and what I love about Arches paper in particular, is that it’s very thick. It’s 100% cotton, so it absorbs the paint quickly and I can finish a piece in a day or so. With canvas it takes more time. I usually work on a linen canvas, and because I like to work really roughly on the surface (you can see all the writing and scratching and claw marks), I double stretch the canvas and back it with Sintra board to keep a hard surface, all of which slows the drying process even further.

I’ve experimented with a lot of different materials. My canvas maker back in New York was Simon Liu, he was a famous canvas maker who worked for artists like Rauschenberg and Jasper Jones, and with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And he made Aluminum panels for me, that was Rauschenberg’s favorite. From an archival perspective that’s really indestructible. I like thinking of the afterlife of a work, and part of that is being responsible with the materials I pick. I’m not into the gimmicky stuff with deteriorating art pieces, like a rotting banana, or whatever. 

AKG: Tell me a bit about the Bridgeport Rhapsody series. It’s very different from the other series in this show. Why the name “Rhapsody”?

VK: Well…it has a musical connotation. When I first moved to Bridgeport from Westport – Westport is a very upper middle class and gentrified town. In Bridgeport I was at the Read’s Art Space, where all of the residents are artists. So my neighbors were musicians, painters, writers, culinary and theatre experts, and we’d get together over wine, we’d play music, look at art – so there was all of this exchange. And then from my window…instead of looking at these very manicured suburban lawns, I was looking at graffiti and could hear musicians, or rap music. You know… it was inner city. It reminded me of my Brooklyn days as a student. Not the Brooklyn of today, I’m talking about the Brooklyn of the 70s. Even though physically Bridgeport is only 20 minutes away from Westport and Greenwich – I mean, literally they share the same air and beach and highway – but you have this huge contrast. Most noticeably in terms of ethnicity, but also in terms of soul. It was really great. It’s like I went from soullessness to someplace soulful, with rhythm and colors and tastes. And so you have this mix. I mean you have the rap, the seagulls, the wind, jazz…all of that together, all of these sounds – it was really a beautiful experience to go through. Almost like an awakening. I was living in a kind of bubble before – of affluence….of….well these towns, intentionally they keep others out. So when you extricate yourself from that, you have this whole new experience….it’s beautiful. 

Rhapsody 15 (oil on canvas) in the artist’s studio at the Read’s Art Space in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Bridgeport Rhapsody, 2017. Oil on canvas. 183 x 142 cm.

AKG: So your periods of creativity, they don’t just follow some kind of spiritual experience. It’s also these big life changes?

VK: Well you know, a lot of people think that spiritual experiences are peaceful. Or somehow it’s relaxing…not necessarily. Sometimes when I go out on a Vision Quest, it’s really difficult, it’s painful, it’s scary…you have all sorts of experiences. It’s not always blissful. It’s not that image we think of, sitting crossed-legged by the ocean.…

AKG: Could you explain what you mean by a Vision Quest?

VK: The Vision Quest as we know it in the states comes from the Native American tradition. It’s basically an experience you have when you’re going through any major change in your life, some rite of passage, or maybe you want to honor certain cycles… so you chose to take time away from everyday life and you isolate yourself in nature where you can’t be disturbed by anyone. Away from civilization into the wild. It could be anywhere from 4 days, 11 days, 28 days or 40 days. You stay in one place. You don’t bring anything with you – no reading, no sketch books, no iPhone or music. Nothing distracting. Part of the time you fast, depending on your health. And then you spend your time alternating between meditation and doing Tai Chi, Chi Gong, chanting and prayers, all sorts of practices to replenish your energy. And you do it all in one place, within your circle. Traditionally, you also go through 4 days without sleep – which is really difficult. And during this time you’re basically shedding. You’re cleansing and shedding – dealing with everything that comes up. Whether it’s the cold of the night time, or the heat of the day time. Whether it’s insects or animals that show up and confront you… you deal with boredom, you deal with sadness, and all sorts of things that you have that you’re shedding. I’ve been doing this yearly since 1992.

Kalayjian meditating in nature.

AKG: In previous conversations you told me that when you work you’re really in a flow-state, which you achieve usually through your spiritual practice. But how do you reconcile being in a fully immersed flow-state, with working on an art piece for an extended period of time? How do you work in flow state, then interrupt it with your daily life, and then come back to it….how does that fit into your process?


VK: That’s a good question. It’s not really interrupting. You see, in my early years when I was doing zen meditation, it was very much like that. I would work during the day, then in the evening I’d go to the Zen temple for meditation, and maybe on Saturday I might go to a full day sitting. It was very compartmentalized. But I was lucky to have great teachers. And over the years as my practice matured, and I wasn’t stuck into one thing, besides Zen Buddhism I added other layers – my Shamanic work in nature, Pathwork, Core energetics, Sufi Teachings and then the Fourth Way with Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, which really influenced me. The Fourth Way is all about daily practice. In other words: it’s about bringing presence to every moment in the day. Of course you have certain times in your day dedicated to awareness – whether it’s meditation or yoga – but the ultimate goal is how you are in the Bazaar. How are you in every day life? Because if you meditate in the morning, but then forget yourself during the day…. It becomes very mechanical. That’s what kids do so well because they’re still so open to energy. You know that with your newborn baby, he knows when you’re on your phone or not present in the moment, he’ll complain. They’re still in tune in a way that we’ve lost. 

So, for me, when I’m painting over a period of time, even if it’s over several months, the breaks in between aren’t really interruptions. Each moment of work is a kind of complete cycle that adds onto the next. Like daily practice. It’s a whole impression. Layers of these experiences. 

AKG: And what’s next in store for you? This has been a really big change for you moving to Armenia from Bridgeport, particularly during these challenging times. Is something new cooking?

VK: Yeah, I feel like something really important is cooking. It’s an important time and an important place for me. For both of us, actually. Jacqueline as well. When it comes out, I’m curious to see what shape it’s going to take…

AKG: What are you waiting for? Space, the right time?

VK: Actually, something happened yesterday. I have some ideas now relating to performance and digital tools. Maybe we’ll talk about it after this show. I want to get through this opening and then we’ll see. I’m looking forward to getting to work in my new studio. It’s still being renovated. But I mean…where it is with the view point of the mountains outside of the city…I’m sure interesting things are going to happen…. I’m looking forward to it. 



About Vazken Kalayjian:

Kalayjian was born in 1956 in Aleppo, Syria. His passion for painting began as a young boy in Syria at the Saryan Academy, and continued throughout his youth as a student of Fine Arts at the Pratt Institute in New York. Kalayjian was an active member of the New York art scene from the early 80s until the late 90s, showing at various galleries including the Cast Iron Gallery, Montserrat Gallery, Pratt Institute Gallery, and at Open Center New York. Up until late 2020, Kalayjian was a member of the Read’s Art Space in Bridgeport, Connecticut where he has shown consistently over the past decade. He recently moved to Armenia with his wife Jacqueline. His next exhibition, “Heart Flow: Spiritual Abstractions” will premiere at Latitude Art Space in Vahakni from May 15 to June 2, 2021.


Event information: https://fb.me/e/25WIV9kGK

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: 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).

Interview: Kima & Nareh

Kima Gyarakyan and Nareh Petrossian are visual artists currently living and working in Armenia. They are 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 their project “Loveless” and their philosophy as an artistic duo. Scroll down to the very bottom for a complete bio.


HAYP/ IN SITU: Tell us about your VVR project, “Loveless”.

KIMA GYARAKYAN + NAREH PETROSSIAN: “Loveless” is about the repetition of images as a metaphor for a similarity of days. What does repetition give us, or why do we repeat the same actions and deeds? Through our composition, we have tried to represent the human feelings, words, actions and repetition of thoughts in everyday life.

“Armenian Pattern” by Kima Gyarakyan, marker on canvas, 100 x 85 cm, 2019.
Detail from “Armenian Pattern”.
Nareh Petrossian, “սերսերսերսերսեր” (“SerSerSerSer”, or lovelovelovelove) posted to @Hayp_pop_up during her instagram takeover of our platform.

HI: How does this relate to your artistic practice? Can you tell us more about your collaboration as an artistic duo?

KG/NP: Nare + Kima = a work of art. 

We have been thinking and talking about art and works of art together for a long time. We complement each other. By collaborating, we put aside our sense of self, authorship or concerns for copyright, we ignore our own ego. We create art that belongs to everyone.

Kima’s reflection held up by Nareh. Photo courtesy of Kima Gyarakyan.

HI: Who/what inspires you?

KG/NP: Everything and nothing.

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

KG/NP: During confinement, we were able to understand and appreciate things we hadn’t noticed before, or took for granted. We became aware of how fear can be a limitation for us. And in order not to limit ourselves, we try to transform those fears into art.

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

KG/NP: Everything we do is somehow linked to our art. Even if we’re not making art, the feelings we experience – the pleasures, the good, the bad..these things we live – always lead us back to art and the creative process. 

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

KG/NP: Everything is right even when it’s wrong. Art will change as long as we change.

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

KG/NP: Of course we have projects that we haven’t implemented yet. But it’s too soon to share…any thought or project can be realized only when the desire and the moment mature. But one thing we’re interested in doing more of for sure is bringing art out into the public space, in the streets.

Kima Gyarakyan, site-specific installation curated by HAYP Pop Up Gallery for URVAKAN Festival 2019. Note, the installation was painted over by public officials for its “inappropriate content”. Photocredit: Anna Mkrtchyan.
Detail of Kima Gyarakyan, site-specific installation. Photocredit: Anna Mkrtchyan.

About Nareh Petrossian and Kima Gyarakyan:
Visit Nareh & Kima’s Virtual Viewing Room project, “loveless” until June 21, 2020.
Follow them on instagram @nareh.petrossian, and @kimagyarakyan

Kima and Nareh are emerging contemporary artists who are “inspired by everything and nothing,” as they put it. They have a shared interest in exploring themes from everyday life, and are particularly inspired by how its repetitive nature serves as a catalyst for introspection. Though they’ve studied together since high school at the Terlemezyan Art College, and again later at the Fine Arts Academy of Yerevan, their partnership as an artistic duo began recently over the past few months. They believe that in order to make art that belongs to everyone, it’s important to be able to put aside the ego. For them, collaboration is an essential part of this process. 

Kima’s works are a reflection of her inner world: her emotional state and feelings. Above all she values the process of making art: finding harmony and a sense of unity while “in the flow”, a state that she also describes as a “blankness” in which she loses herself. Kima has had several solo exhibitions at Dalan Art Gallery, Visual Gap Gallery, and Terlemezyan Gallery. She had a joint exhibition with @Yerevantropics curated by IN SITU in the framework of the 2019 Armenia Art Fair. 

Nareh’s work revolves around abstract and universal themes. She is interested in color, volume, and how to incorporate playfulness in her compositions. Most recently, her work has focused on love. Her practice synthesizes the universal and the specific, in hopes of making her work relatable and engaging to audiences. Nareh has participated in several exhibitions at the Terlemezyan Gallery, the Hovhannes Tumanyan Museum, as well as the 2019 Urban Art Festival by Visual Gap Gallery and the Goethe-Centre Yerevan.

Interview: Gohar Martirosyan

Gohar Martirosyan is a conceptual and performance artist currently living and working in 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 2, 2020. In this interview, we learn a little more about Gohar’s project 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, “Presence”.

Gohar Martirosyan: My research started from communication: what is really missing in our communication and how to improve it. It’s well known that we are living in an age of over consumption of information, and we live our lives jumping from one event to another. It’s how we try to blur our inner suffering, and events become our behavior. We get more and more individualistic and isolated and we translate our communication via a language of ego sublimation. 

Related to that, [my work] questions how a physical dimension is necessary to create healthy communication. It’s in part related to the Corona Virus, but I think we were in the same state even before. I’m talking about the body, and trying to see if it can be a solution or not. It’s mostly an open question: do we need to share presence or consciousness?

Monsters, a series of digital drawings on analogue photographs taken of the city of Gyumri, empty in the wake of confinement.

HI: How does this relate to your artistic practice?

GM: My artistic approach is to talk about common issues via my personal experience. I think it’s the only way to talk about something from a hidden point of view, and to reveal the abandoned side of the conflict. I think that we are a product of social and common memory. We are created for sure by our societies. So each of us is a module of society, which is why I take myself as a product of experiment. First of all, I practice on my own self. 

HI: What do you mean by abandoned side of a conflict?

GM: I’m inspired by inner conflict and external conflict. I’m looking for the side that is missing, and I try to bring it out via my practice to show a more complete picture. That’s what inspires me.

“Criminal Case: Love”, an installation in which Gohar analyzes the end of her relationship through objects that were gifted to her by her ex-boyfriend. Gohar looks at love as a criminal act, and in particular the death of her ego in the framework of a patriarchal society.

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

I discovered that we should invent new media to communicate with one another, and I think that in some way it’s the mission of art as well. For example, when we remove vision, like if we cannot see each other, we replace it with imagination. And our imagination becomes stronger in order to compensate [for lack of sight]. I think we become more sensitive to each other and somehow the distance makes us see more clearly. I don’t want to call it Telepathy, but it’s something where we enter a new dimension and we explore it, and we’ve all became explorers. That’s what I really appreciate during this time.

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

GM: What do I enjoy the most….? Hmm…actually, I think that for each person, to work on what he really likes – what makes him happy or what is pleasant for him – that is the really hard work. And I think we should reveal for each of us what we really want from this life. That’s what I enjoy doing. I love to discover what can make me satisfied, and I like the idea of purification, because when we’re overloaded with memory and information I think we should sometimes get rid of it and open up new space inside of us. I’m thinking of these practices – how to open the space, make room – for new information. That’s what really makes me feel good.

“Dragon” was a performative installation that took place on the Rhine in Dusseldorf, Germany. The performance looks at the illusionary shape of freedom, like a kite flying in the air but controlled by a thread held in someone’s hand.

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

I don’t see myself as a critic, but rather a solution finder. I wouldn’t change anything because everything that exists, exists as it is in the right time and in the right space dimension…but…during our gatherings for our new platform, “Antibodies”, we are discovering that the Armenian art scene is separated into groups. In Armenian dialect we call it “Taifaz”. Those groups feel stronger together, there is some common practice inside of it that I really love, because you feel more protected when you are inside of a community, but I think that we shouldn’t be so insecure, and we should become more open to communicate and more confident to engage each other. So yes I would like to find a map connection between groups and blur these borders between us.

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

I’m really thinking about how to invest in a new medium of communication. I’m really thinking about a digital project that would be a platform where we can exchange, propose [ideas], and get what we need. It could be for a social project, or an art project…A truly collaborative platform. Another thing I think about is how Art has the power to solve huge issues, including political issues. I’m thinking currently about the mount Amulsar, and I would like to develop some interactive performance that would integrate art in a non-artistic site. I’m really experimenting with this idea.  


About Gohar Martirosyan:
Visit Gohar’s Virtual Viewing Room project, “Presence” until June 14, 2020.
Follow her on instagram @goharmartirosian
See her graphic design work on behance

Gohar Martirosyan lives and works in Armenia. She was born in Gyumri and grew up in Eastern Europe between Poland and Belarus. She studied at the Academies of Fine Arts of Krakow (Poland) and Yerevan (Armenia), and has presented her work in galleries, museums and exhibitions across Europe and the Middle East including the STANDART Armenian Art Triennale (2017), Gallery 25 (Gyumri), DEPO gallery (Istanbul), Weltkunstzimmer (Dusseldorf), Future2 Gallery (Vienna), and Gallery Dela (Tehran) among others.
Trained as a painter, Gohar has been making multimedia installations since 2015 including plastic works, light installations, and site specific and performative installation. Her artistic research addresses the fragile and opaque area where the public and intimate parts of our lives clash and merge. This work often takes her to open-air and natural spaces of cultural and historic significance, like Mount Aragats in Armenia, the Juist Island in the Northern sea, the Mush district in Gyumri, or the breach on the Rhine river in Dusseldorf.

Gohar works with symbols, archetypes, artifacts, spaces and artistic gesture as vehicles for exploring the human experience. She is particularly interested in the co-existence of modern and ancient life, where humans build themselves inside of history. Her practice is a continuous poetic questioning of social norms, and the limitations of individualistic societies’ “cult of separation”. Gohar’s overall goal is to create emotional mind-body experiences that explore who we are – personally and socially – as a means to help collective and collaborative cultures emerge.

Interview: Samvel Saghatelian

Samvel Saghatelian is a multi-disciplinary artist currently living and working in Armenia. He is our featured artist this week on the HAYP/IN SITU “Virtual Viewing Room” platform, a space for online artworks from June 1 – August 2, 2020. In this interview, we learn a little more about Samvel’s project and what makes him “tick” as an artist. Scroll down to the very bottom for a complete bio.


Samvel Saghatelian, Photo credits: Anush Kocharyan.

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

SAMVEL SAGHATELIAN: “My VVR project addresses the drastic socio-political changes in human confrontation. The project is based on the “Metamorphosis” series, which dates back to the great changes and upheavals of the 90s: the collapse of the Soviet Union, [Armenian] Independence, war, and post-war reality. At the center of it all is woman, and in particular, the female body. She is more flexible and adaptable to different situations. A woman’s body is able to undergo change, no matter what context. I see the female form as a symbol that transcends and goes beyond gender to become a universal symbol for bodily transformation or metamorphosis. For me, beauty is genderless. But this specific bodily power, of flexibility, is definitely feminine.”

HI: How does this project relate to your artistic practice?

SAM SAGA: The series is as connected to my practice as it is to the revolutionary events of 2018. We experienced a liberation of ourselves and our bodies; an expansion in our identity that was more complete, united and self-sufficient. We became a fully flourishing body.
Before the revolution we were divided, not only as a nation but within ourselves. Blossoming happens when you find that unity within yourself. You don’t need to look for answers elsewhere- it’s in you. Once you have that, nothing can stop you. Not even a viral epidemic, just as the cholera epidemic did not prevent the “body” of the Italian Renaissance from flourishing.

HI: Who/what inspires you?

SAM SAGA: Everything related to man-nature, man-universe, man-man, man-society, man-politics, and of course, love and sex…

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

SAM SAGA: Restrictions, pressures, traumas, illnesses, viruses, and everything that creates limits ultimately encourages new creative horizons. For me, regarding the Corona situation in particular, two important issues came up. A need for a connection with nature, and an awareness of a crisis of humanism. I’ve found in this a chance to be redefined, reborn and recreated.

 “Metamorphosis: Floating bodies of lovers ”, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 157x190cm

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

SAM SAGA: It depends if you’re in art or not. If you’re in it, then the creative process is continuous, even if you’re not actually making something in that moment. I enjoy watching movies, sex, exercising in the woods among the trees, conversations with different people, being with my family and kids…

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

SAM SAGA: I would make it so that law and enterprise would promote art as a priority in state policy. Art is politics and politics is art.

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

SAM SAGA: There are many! “Karahunj” is a public art concept and multimedia sculptural project that I would love to implement in Yerevan or, for example, in Los Angeles. Also related to public art is a concept series called “Architectural Monsters” that I would like to implement as real architectural buildings in Armenia, the USA and Dubai, but also on the planet Mars. I also could imagine making great mural art projects with these latest flowering figures [Metamorphosis series], or turn them into land art. Also on my dream list: I would love a private exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery.


About Samvel:
Visit Samvel’s Virtual Viewing Room project, “Metamorphosis” until June 7, 2020.
See more of his art at Samsaga.com

Samvel is an architect by training, and his three-dimensional approach shines through in his paintings, collages, and site-specific installations. His work often revolves around the body politic, and in particular, the female body as an allegory for society’s conflicts, struggles, as well as beauty and generative potential. Samvel’s career as an artist started in 1988 at the brink of the collapse of the USSR and Armenia’s Independence. A part of the 90s avant-garde in Yerevan, Samvel’s early work touched upon national survival, patriotism and ideologies dealing with the individual’s place in society. After moving to the US in 2002, Samvel was an active member of the LA artist community, exhibiting at the Garboushian Gallery, Mouradian Gallery, La Luz de Jesus Gallery, Avenue 50 Studio, Black Maria Gallery, and the Bruce Lurie Gallery among others. As of 2014, he has been living and working in Yerevan, inspired anew by the country’s political and societal shifts, and blossoming, outspoken youth. His recent works include “Transromance”, a bawdy and sarcastic collage series exploring the body, desire, and power relations; “Borderline Reality”, a collaborative project with inmates at various penitentiaries in Armenia; “Personal & Political Protest Signs”, an explicit typographic series; and “Homo-communication: The Hole” sketches, drawings, and sculptures exploring man in the universe and the universe in man. Samvel’s VVR project is part of “Metamorphosis”, a primitivist series that muses on man’s return to nature.


Virtual Viewing Room is made possible thanks to the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Unlocking Creativity During the Lockdown

by Varduhi Kirakosian and Anna Gargarian


Հրանտ Երիցկինյանի_yerevan_quarantine

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”.

katya_bondar

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.

Tarantine_voskanyan

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.