Unlocking Creativity During the Lockdown

by Varduhi Kirakosian and Anna Gargarian


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Photo by Hrant Yeritskinyan for Evn Magazine

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

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

Restoring a (false?) sense of control

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic -> Panic -> Performing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Times Call for New Meaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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.

Children's Railway Station Yerevan

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!

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

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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INTERVIEW: “Is Armenia ready for a major art biennale?” Laure Raffy interviews curator Mazdak Faiznia of ICAE 2018

interview by Laure Raffy
photos by Ed Tadevossian, courtesy of ICAE2018 and Shaula International

On the occasion of the ICAE 2018 (International Contemporary Art Exhibition) that took place in Yerevan from September 28-October 28, the HAYP Pop Up team was able to interview curator Mazdak Faiznia, artistic director of the Faiznia Family Foundation (FFF) based in Kermanshah, Iran. The FFF encourages and promotes contemporary art creation nationally and internationally.

Original interview in Italian below.


 

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LR: Could you clarify why you chose “Soundlines” for the exhibition theme, and in particular what is its connection to Armenia?

MF: I guess first off, I’d like to address the notion of silence. Armenians have always been and continue to be, all around the world. Their culture dates back thousands of years, and they’ve contributed greatly [to culture] wherever they’ve been.

I’m Kurdish Iranian and I am aware that Armenians have played a key role in our region as bearers of innovation, cinema, photography, medicine, industry and the arts – but in silence and discretion. Geographically, Armenia is not so big, but its voice is far-reaching.

One of the ICAE ‘s goals was to create a dialogue through artistic and cultural environments in Armenia with the rest of the world. For this reason, I was looking for an element of Armenia’s contemporary history that successfully engaged in international discourse and represented the Armenian voice, and it’s not by chance that I came to the traditional Armenian flute, or “Duduk”. It’s a small instrument with a full voice. Anchored in Armenia’s history, this globally recognised symbol of Armenian identity has been able to dialogue with all forms of music, from pop to rock to electronic music and even classical music since the 1980s.

“Soundlines” is also a reference to the novel Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, which looked at how the oral tradition of Australian Aborigines created a [sonic] map of the territory.

Sound as a metaphor for artistic practice, which places at its core concepts of identity, collective and personal memory, landscape memory, mobility, and international cultural dialogue. Line as sound, as real or mental borders, and also as a formal and conceptual element; idealised maps and their relationship to the territory . This is not unlike how the sound of an Armenian Duduk might integrate itself harmoniously within an orchestra of diverse instruments from the rest of the world. I’m interested in the relationship between sound, identity and tradition.

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LR: How did you make the selection of artists and works in the program, and where did they come from? Did institutions also participate in the exhibit?

MF: The selection of artists and works was based on their relationship to the theme and character of the project, which was shaped for both the Armenian and international publics that would be present during the Francophone Summit in Yerevan. The works were loans from artist studios, the galleries that represent them, and international private Collections and Foundations. 

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LR: Do you plan to renew ICAE next year?

MF: Bringing to life ICAE2018 was arduous, from the complexity of the theme to its production… it was really a “Mission Impossible”, especially considering the scale of the project and the invited international artists. We had very little time, and the added challenge of bringing a world audience to Armenia. If it weren’t for everyone’s support and openness, especially on behalf of the artists, our international and local partners, the incredible efforts of the team and their organisation, it would have been difficult to bring to fruition and it was almost a miracle.

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But miracles aren’t always possible. And so, if a major objective [for Armenia] is to insert Yerevan and the country on the map as a cultural destination for contemporary art, this could be considered a first step. But continuity is essential, and there needs to be a long term program to generate important cultural events like biennales, triennales, and art fairs, and establish infrastructure for museums, foundations, independent and non profit spaces, artists, academies etc, that are globally connected. In order to make all of this happen, there needs to be a program with a vision, and certain synergies that enable the commitment and support on behalf of the public and private sectors. Lastly, it needs to continue – never give up- continue, continue, and continue! 

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In occasione dell’ICAE (International Exhibition of Contemporary Art) tenuto a Erevan il mese scorso, abbiamo avuto la possibilità di intervistare Mazdak Faiznia, curatore della mostra e direttore artistico della Faiznia Family Foundation in Kermanshah, Iran.

intervista da Laure Raffy

foto da Ed Tadevossian per ICAE2018, Courtesy di Shaula International


LR: Potresti specificare come mai hai scelto “Soundlines” come tema, e qual’è il legame particolare con l’Armenia?

MF: Forse la prima cosa che devo dire è proprio il silenzio. In tutti sensi, gli Armeni sono stati e sono [ancora] da per tutto il mondo. Hanno una cultura millenaria, hanno contributo tantissimo dove sono stati, ed in effetti io che sono curdo Iraniano, in Iran gli armeni hanno avuto un ruolo fondamentale nella nostra zona: sono stati i portatori d’innovazione, del cinema, della fotografia, la medicina, l’industria, la cultura e l’arte, ma con un silenzio naturale. L’Armenia geograficamente è un paese non molto grande ma ha una voce ampia.

Uno degli obiettivi di questo evento è [stato di] creare un dialogo tra atmosfera artistica e culturale in Armenia con il resto del mondo. Per cui cercavo un elemento che nella storia contemporanea di questo paese è riuscito a dialogare a livello internazionale, rappresentando la voce dell’Armenia e non per caso sono arrivato al Duduk, il flauto antico e strumento tradizionale Armeno. È uno strumento piccolo ma ha una voce ampia. Il Duduk è ben radicato nella storia ed é riconosciuto come [simbolo di] l’identità Armena in tutto il mondo, ma è riuscito a dialogare con tutte le forme della musica, dalla musica pop al rock alla musica elettronica ed anche nella musica classica soprattutto dopo gli anni 80.

Invece Soundlines evoca “La via dei canti” (The Songlines), il celebre libro di Bruce Chatwin sulla tradizione orale degli aborigeni Australiani da cui deriva una mappatura del territorio. Per cui il suono come una metafora della pratica artistica che mette al centro della sua attenzione concetti importanti come: identità, la memoria collettiva e personale, anche la memoria del paesaggio, la mobilità, ed il dialogo culturale a livello internazionale. La Linea come il Suono, come confini reali o mentali, anche come elemento formale o concettuale, cioè, le mappe ideali ed il rapporto con il territorio. In maniera analoga a quanto avviene in un’orchestra in cui il suono del Duduk Armeno, si integra perfettamente con gli altri strumenti del resto del mondo. [Mi interessa] Questo rapporto tra il suono ed il suo rapporto con l’identità e la tradizione.

LR: Come hai fatto la scelta degli artisti? Hanno partecipato anche delle istituzioni?

MF: La scelta degli artisti e le opere è stato basato sul tema [della mostra] ed il carattere del progetto che è stato creato per l’Armenia e il pubblico Armeno ed anche internazionale che visiterebbe la mostra nel periodo del Summit dei paesi Francofoni a Yerevan. Praticamente le opere provengono dallo studio degli artisti, dalle loro gallerie rappresentanti, e dalle collezioni e fondazioni privati internazionale. 

LR: Ci sarà un altro ICAE per l’anno prossimo?

MF: Per la realizzazione dell’ICAE 2018 – essendo stato un obiettivo arduo da raggiungere, a causa della complessità del tema e della produzione..è stata davvero una “Mission Impossible”, nel senso che considerata la mole del progetto e degli artisti internazionali invitati, il poco tempo [avuto] e la difficoltà di far approdare il mondo in Armenia, se non fosse stato per la disponibilità di tutti e soprattutto degli artisti, i partner internazionali e locali, e lo sforzo incredibile del team e della organizzazione, sarebbe stato difficile da realizzare, quasi quasi è stato un miracolo.

Ma non sempre si possono fare i miracoli. Per cui se l’obbiettivo da raggiungere sarebbe di inserire Yerevan e l’Armenia nella mappa come destinazione culturale per l’arte contemporanea, questo sarebbe un primo passo ma bisogna soprattutto mantenere una continuità, avere un programma di lungo termine, di creare delle rassegne importanti come Biennale, triennale, le fiere, creare le infrastrutture per i musei, le fondazioni, gli spazi indipendenti e non profit, per gli artisti, le Accademia, eccetera, e metterli in contatto a livello internazionale. Per fare tutto questo ci vuole un programma per raggiungere l’obiettivo, [e] creare sinergie per avere l’impegno e il sostegno da parte del settore pubblico e privato, ed alla fine, non mollare. Continuare, continuare e continuare.

CETI Lab: ARTiculating frameworks for communication

by Anna K. Gargarian, Curator “CETI Lab”

September 2017 is an important marker in the history of space exploration: exactly forty years since the Voyager 1 was sent into space, forty-six years since a group of nobel prize winning scientists gathered at Byurakan to discuss communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence (CETI), and seventy years since Victor Ambartsumian discovered stellar associations.

Ambartsumian’s breakthrough transformed our understanding of the life of stars, and marked the beginning of the intellectual community that is the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO). It was Ambartsumian’s reputation, in combination with the unique environment of BAO, that lead scientists Carl Sagan and I.E. Shklovskii to propose Byurakan as the location for the 1971 CETI conference (1). During the peak of the cold war, scientists from the USSR and the US came together for four days to discuss the challenges of communicating with intelligent life beyond our planet. The conference addressed questions of language, knowledge representation, transmission, reception, as well as philosophical concerns of free will, perception, and the consequences of successful communication. The information gathered during this conference was part of Sagan and Shklovksii’s decade-long collaborative research that informed the content of space missions like the Pioneer 10 in 1972, and Voyagers 1 and 2 in 1977 (2).

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The 1971 CETI conference participants standing in front of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory’s conference hall.

 

It is within this context that HAYP Pop Up Gallery exhibits “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO”, a multi-location collective exhibit that invites artists and scientists to imagine communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. From September 16-27, 2017, the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO) and the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov, Armenia will be transformed with site-specific installations by a diverse group of artists. 

Like the scientists before them, the artists are concerned with frameworks for representing, expressing, and accessing information. Contextualizing a question is at the heart of all problem-solving, whether from an epistemological (3), scientific, or curatorial perspective. It is for this reason that the 1971 CETI conference organizers shaped their discussion around the Drake Equation, a proposed formula for estimating the likelihood of communicating civilizations beyond our planet. While the equation was criticized for being more conjectural than scientific, its concern was not with accuracy but rather offered a framework for structuring the conversation (4). Similarly, the exhibition does not present one unified perspective, but rather proposes a structured set of contexts for approaching the question of communication. Through this diverse net of projects by writers, musicians, sculptors, photographers, and architects, we intend to portray a feeling for the paradigm of communication through an expressive language that uses metaphor as a formalism for understanding (5).

This brings us to our second concern, which is the question of language. Among the 1971 conference participants were linguists, anthropologists, and artificial intelligence experts who shared a common interest in finding the appropriate expressive language for representing cognitive theory. They discussed the possibilities of using binary, computer, or image-based languages, and struggled with the fact that language evokes ideas that extend beyond the subject at hand and refers to cultural perceptions that are not universal(6). Through metaphor, we hope to explore the conditions that frame communication and “help us understand references, reasons, motivation, and purpose not explicitly stated”(7). These conditions include self-consciousness, as seen in the installation by Sona Manukyan and the poetry of Arto Vaun. They include our awareness of our limitations in time and space as in the sculptural works of Manan Torosian and Samvel Saghatelian. In Vardan VHSound’s “Communication Machine”, the artist is concerned with representing not only knowledge, but also sensorial experience through an acoustic map of our environment. Artist Karen Mirzoyan explores the potentially dangerous consequences of successful communication through an apocalyptic “intergalactic war” series.

The exhibition is aware of the dangers of metaphor, which although a useful tool for understanding, is often scientifically inaccurate(8). But these inaccuracies, or rather absurdities of logic, are also at the core of this exhibition. Gaps in commonsense reasoning like trying to conceive of communicating with an “other” whose existence is still unknown, or like building a radio-optic telescope that was never actually used (9). Even sending devices into space as “time-capsules” of planet earth that may only reach another life-form long after human extinction on planet Earth. Science, like art, has been revolutionized by “absurd” ideas. While many of the exhibited works incorporate an element of humor, Lvis Mejía’s installation piece in Orgov subtly comments on the irony of a radio-optic telescope made to record sounds from space, by manipulating its shape in order to provide the observer with audio feedback defined by the observer him/herself.

Communication, like humor and the creative process, is ultimately born from a social context. Although there are great differences in the ways that artists and scientists approach universal concerns of existence, self-consciousness, and life beyond our planet, we hope to draw parallels on our collective interest for understanding and creatively manipulating our human limitations (10).

While the Voyagers serve as interstellar time-capsules of human knowledge and culture, “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO” has explored a much closer time-capsule which is the unique environment of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory. Like the scientists of the ’71 CETI conference, our ’17 CETI Lab artists have immersed themselves in the unique environment of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory in order to explore its culture, history, and the multi-layered dynamics of a still vibrant community of thinkers in order to address the underlying question:

“Before we ask how aliens communicate, we ought to ask how humans can.”
-Marvin Minsky (11)

The Artworks of “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO”:

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Footnotes:

  1. According to Shklovskii, the original conference location was to be in Czechoslovakia, but this decision was changed after the tensions of the Warsaw Pact Invasion in 1968. Shklovskii states in his memoir that Byurakan seemed an opportune choice because of his ties to Ambartsumian and the “blinding beauty” (Ослепительная красота) of the view of Mount Ararat. (Шкловский, 110)
  2. From 1961 to 1967 Sagan and Shklovskii co-authored the book Intelligent Life in the Universe. The collaboration started as a translation exchange, in which Sagan translated from Shklovskii’s original text, but evolved into co-authorship as Sagan amended significant sections of the book. The book was fully written long distance via paper mail. Sagan and Shklovskii didn’t meet until the 1971 CETI conference in Byurakan, as Shklovskii wasn’t allowed to leave the USSR. (See Spangenburg, 68).
  3. The idea of “frameworks” was first developed by Minsky in 1975 within the artificial intelligence context as a way of conceiving of knowledge in structured units. Papert and Goldstein elaborated on frame theory in 1977 within the epistemological context to discuss “knowledge frameworks” as a theory on contexts, their relationship to language, and consequently understanding (Goldstein, 93-96).
  4. The Drake Equation was a probabilistic argument on the number of intelligent communicative civilizations beyond our planet. According to Sagan, the Drake equation was chosen for the conference structure (vs other equations on the same subject) because it was the original and simplest one (Каплана, 12)
  5. In Goldstein and Papert (1977) the authors speak of metaphor as a tool for “debugging” and self-learning. In the context of humor, Minsky (1980) sees metaphor as a powerful thought tool to apply previous knowledge and experience to new problems. Metaphor is essentially one of our most effective ways for representing and understanding the world around us.
  6. Goldstein & Papert, 96
  7. Goldstein & Papert, 101
  8. Minsky (1980)
  9. I am making reference to the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov, Armenia (one of the locations of our exhibit). Although the telescope was used for observing stars and planets, it never fulfilled its primary intended function: to capture radio signals from space. It is important to note that there is little objective research published about this telescope whose history, purpose, and engineering remains an interesting point for further research and development.
  10. For Mayakovsky, poetry (like all art) should be born from a “social command” (Mayakovsky, 18). There are interesting parallels between the creative process of Mayakovsky (as described in “How are verses made?”), and man’s challenge of communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence as defined by Minsky in his 1985 essay. Both identify material, space, and time as man’s constraints to be manipulated for effective understanding of our social environment and thinking processes.
  11. Minsky, 1985. p 9. It’s interesting to note that Ambartsumian makes a similar reference in the 1971 conference catalogue recalling: “Professor Shklovsky was right when he told me, before we can solve the problem of communicating with extraterrestrial civilizations, it would be nice to establish contact regarding this question with other countries, and that’s exactly the aim of this conference.” Paraphrased from Russian original text in Каплана, p11.

WORKS CITED

Goldstein, I. and Papert, S. (1977), Artificial Intelligence, Language, and the Study of Knowledge*,†. Cognitive Science, 1: 84–123. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0101_5

Mayakovsky, Vladimir. How are verses made?. Translation from original (1926). Cape ed., London, Grossman Publishers, 1970, reprinted 1974.


Minsky, Marvin “Communication with Alien Intelligence.” Regis, Edward, ed. Extraterrestrials: Science and Alien Intelligence. Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Minsky, Marvin, “Jokes and their Relation to the Cognitive Unconscious.” In Cognitive Constraints on Communication, Vaina and Hintikka (eds.) Reidel, 1981. A.I. memo NO: 603, November 1980. Accessed Aug 16 2017.

https://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/papers/jokes.cognitive.txt

Minsky, Marvin “What to transmit, and what one might expect to receive” (notes, Byurakan, Armenia, Sept 7 1971), 1-11. Use courtesy of the Minsky Family.


“NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft Still Reaching for the Stars After 40 Years.” NASA, NASA, 1 Aug. 2017, http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-voyager-spacecraft-still-reaching-for-the-stars-after-40-years. Accessed 3 Sept. 2017.

Проблема CETI (связь с внеземными цивилизациями), ред. С.А. Каплана, – Издательство “Мир”, – Москва, 1975, 349 с.

Spangenburg, Ray, and Diane Moser. Carl Sagan: a biography. Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2004.

Шкловский И. С. Эшелон. Невыдуманные рассказы. — М.: «Новости», 1991. — 222 с.

Aaaaand we’re back

by Charlotte Poulain


As you may have noticed, HAYP hasn’t been popping up all that often in 2016. Our first project this year (and biggest to date) was Lips of Pride, a collective exhibit focused on women’s sexuality and societal perceptions of shame in Armenia. We haven’t been idle since: we organized an aerial dancing performance by Marcela Perez at 44 SkyBar in June, as well as a full day workshop with HARTAK festival on how to test your business idea with a pop up.

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At the same time, we’ve been working on several projects that will come to life this fall and next spring. Anna’s also been invited to talk about art and entrepreneurship at AIWA’s 25th anniversary conference in Boston this September (‘cause she’s fabulous). Bostonians may even expect to see a pop up in their neighborhood for the occasion (more details coming soon).

…And now the awesome news is: HAYP Pop Up Gallery is back this summer with a major event this Friday! (Facebook event here)

This time around, we’re working in collaboration with the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA). For those of you who don’t know it yet, the ICA is a Yerevan-based institution that offers art classes, hosts artists in residence, and curates exhibitions. Their venue on Fizkulturnikner street recently underwent renovation, so their Director and Curator Nazareth Karoyan decided a mural was in order, and they commissioned Yerevan-born artist Samvel Saghatelian for the job.

Back in November, we had worked with Samvel to curate a solo exhibit in the secret back room of a vape shop called Misty Fumes. The exhibition was titled “Enter Through the Smoke Shop” and presented Samvel’s “PolitIcal and Personal Protest signs”, a series of graphic sign boards playing with Latin and Armenian letters. Perhaps the most iconic of these works was “LOVE is electric Է”, created by the artist in June 2015 at the time of the Electric Yerevan protest.

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The mural at the ICA is a scaled-up elaboration on that work. Just as this year’s protests have grown in intensity, Samvel Saghatelian’s demand for love has multiplied in scale from hand-held sign board to the entire building facade. Because it deserves to be inaugurated in style, HAYP Pop Up Gallery and the ICA have joined forces to curate the second edition of Samvel Saghatelian’s “Political and Personal Protest Signs”. If you didn’t get to see his works in November for HAYP 5.0, now’s your chance!

Join us for LOVE ICA – is electrIC Again”, the mural’s public inauguration and a HAYP exhibition opening on Friday, August 26 at 7PM, at the ICA (Facebook event here). Wine and music can be enjoyed in the ICA’s garden, and in front of Samvel’s larger than life artwork. Don’t miss out!

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LOCATION:
48 Fizkulturnikner Street (at the end of 5th st in Aygestan district of Yerevan behind Alek Manukyan st).

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Vardavar 2016 – HAYP concepts

Last Sunday, July 3rd, people flooded (pun intended) the streets of Yerevan with buckets, water-guns, water balloons, and other water artilleryin-hand, ready to splash passersby for Vardavar. Vardavar is an Armenian holiday that stems from pagan origins, originally celebrating fertility, good crops, and the goddess Astghik. Today, its just an excuse to shower strangers with water and playfully cool off from Armenias powerful heat. It gets intense, and theres definitely a lot of unfair play that borders on being dangerous, like people getting thrown into the not-so-deep swan lake (sounds like fun – until you break a limb). You either love it or hate it, and for the hatersits recommended to stay indoors.

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For the first time, Armenias beloved TUMO Center for Creative Technologies organized a Vardavar event on its surrounding grounds. TUMOs park and fountains were transformed into a one-day water park for kids and adults alike to celebrate Vardavar with a creative edge. The event theme: a Vardavar GIF day. TUMO invited several companies and organizations to design and set-up their individual game-stands that would engage participants. Each stand was also handed a waterproof iPad so that they could document the action with a GIF. Impact Hub had a large water slide, DEEM communications had an old-school car wash etc.

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View of the TUMO grounds on Vartavar. Photo credits: Gevorg Perkuperyan Photography

HAYP was also invited to participate, and we contacted artist and architect Sona Manukyan to collaborate on a potential water-themed installation piece. We designed several proposals, but in the end, time and funding were too short to carry out the project as we saw fit. Regardless, we spent a lot of time putting together some ideas, and we thought wed share with you our renders and concepts. The area we selected was the TUMO cement bus stop at the park entrance. Here are the ideas we came up with.

IDEA 1: The cloud

Render of the bus stop with a hovering cloud installation:

Cloud1

This installation had several sources of inspiration. While thinking of water and its cleansing properties, we thought of a work that would send a powerful and positive message concerning the environment. We thought of the transformative properties of water, and also the dire state of pollution in Armenia. The result: a hovering white form within the bus stop frame that from afar would look like a cloud, and from up close, would reveal hundreds of suspended individual objects. On one side, we envisioned droplet-like shapes that would hang from transparent fishing-line string. The materials of these shapes would be white plastic bags, metallic cans, and other white, translucent and/or reflective reusable materials. On the other side, a series of suspended crystals would capture the surrounding light and give the illusion of rainfall or water droplets.

Our renders:

 

Cloud3_lowres

Cloud5_lowres

This render shows a matrix of barely-visible fishing line on which each item is fastened.

Conceptually, the cloud shows a transformation of trashinto crystals, in other words the potential for positive change as well as a subtle reference to the economic potential of a green economy. From an experiential perspective, some of the hanging items would be white water balloons, and we hoped that people would play beneath the cloud and pop some balloons.

Some examples of inspiring crystal installations:

20110105174520-The_River_Within__installation__crystal_and_monofilament.

 

IDEA 2: The Blue Maze

This installation idea utilizes the same location, but features a series of zig-zagging twisted blue sheets of cloth that would connect one side of the bus stop to the other. From a distance, the colorful labyrinth of blue, turquoise, and white cloth intertwined intends to give the illusion of a splashing waterfall or misty haze.

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From an experiential perspective, the maze was intended to be a game in which kids could climb through and over the cloth. The type of material that we were going to select would have been spongy and absorbent, so that as the structure would get wet from the surrounding fun and games, the  sculpture itself would begin to drip as an extra effect.

stringmaze

In the end, our collaboration was postponed for technical reasons that were mentioned earlier. HAYP is all about having fun, but also while maintaining our mission for supporting and encouraging contemporary art and artists. We simply felt that with the amount of time we had to plan and build, we wouldnt be able to uphold our standard for quality product and work. Regardless, TUMO Vardavar was a successful day of fun and games for kids and families who enjoyed a new twist off of a long-standing local tradition.

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Fun in the park at TUMO. Photo credits: Tumo.org

Summer ‘16 with HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Happy summer everyone! Wondering what’s in the works for HAYP these next few months? Here’s a little insight into our upcoming plans.

What’s the news with FLOW?

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First off, you may have heard of or been wondering about our plans for FLOW, a summer festival for which we have been contacting artists, potential partners and funders for the past year. The project is large-scale and involves several international visual artists, and many international musical performers. The public interest and appeal is there, but the challenges lie in other expected (and unexpected) areas. A primary concern for us is everyone’s safety, especially considering the location’s proximity to the NK border. Due to recent political unrest at the borders, both the HAYP team and some of our sponsors have decided that August 2016 is not an optimal moment. For now the project is temporarily on hold. This news is both disappointing and also a blessing in disguise, as we think more time will give us the opportunity for better results. 

That said, we have other exciting projects in stock. Here’s the line-up:

June 23: A Pop-Up Performance

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Coming soon is an Aerial Dance Performance by Armenian-Argentinian dancer Marcela Perez. You may remember seeing Marcela perform at HAYP back in April 2015 at ANKAPital. Marcela is back from Buenos Aires and HAYP seized the opportunity to collaborate once again. What’s new this time around? We are adding some major height to her act. Marcela will be suspended from above for her aerial choreography, but this time we get to experience her whimsical movements on the rooftop lounge at Opera Suite Hotel.

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The bar is called Forty-Four Sky, and cocktails, food, and hookah are available alongside a spectacular view of Yerevan. Don’t miss out on this one-time special event. There will be a showing on Thursday, June 23rd at 8:30pm and 9:30pm. DJ set to follow.

June 25: HAYP Workshop for HARTAK FESTIVAL

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The second event happening in June is a Pop Up Workshop organized in the framework of the Hartak Festival organized by AEON anti-café. The workshop goal is to guide participants on how to make their ideas happen. This 3-hour workshop will involve a short presentation by HAYP, and especially hands-on work by workshop members. We’ll go over how to thoroughly develop a concept through market research and public feedback, how to seek out partnerships, locations, sponsors and more. We will share our experience and know-how on how to transform an idea into a reality. Join us with an idea, enthusiasm, and ready-to-work energy! More info and sign up available on the Hartak Festival website here. We are waiting for you!

July 3: HAYP for TUMO on VARDAVAR

Vardavar_2016

HAYP Pop Up Gallery is going to join the Tumo team to celebrate Vardavar 2016, happening this year on July 3rd. HAYP will be among the various collaborators invited to participate at a day full of events, installations and fun in the major park surrounding TUMO center. We will curate a unique art installation inspired by this pagan water festival. More info coming soon, so stay tuned!