Studio Visit: Alexis Paul

Artist Alexis Paul seated at his organ. Image courtesy of the artist.

“Hello, Welcome” says Alexis with a big smile across his face as I, my husband Zohrab and our two-month old baby Kenzo enter the corridor of Plein Jour, an artist residency in Paris and Alexis’ latest project. 

We follow him up twisting narrow staircases until we arrive at a kitchenette that opens onto several small but cozy communal rooms. The decor is sparse, but the space is luminous and ornamented with exotic objects – oriental rugs, an hexagonal Arabic coffee table, and dozens of vinyls that line the bookshelves of their lounge area. The furniture is all second-hand. 

The lounge at Plein Jour. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Are these from your travels?” I ask, knowing of Alexis’ cultural research trips to Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and Lebanon. 

“No…I got these online in Paris” Alexis smiles sheepishly. “But it’s a great organization called Emmaus, it’s all used furniture and the proceeds go to support the homeless getting off the streets and into affordable housing.” 

Plein Jour is like this furniture, it’s rough around the edges, but charming, well-kept, and the result of collective goodwill. An abandoned building in a blue-collar community, the city donated the venue to Alexis and his friends for one year (with the possibility of contract extension) for their artist studios. 

Further down the hall Alexis shows us three studio spaces, one belonging to a painter, one to a musician, and another which is his own. A fourth space lies at the end of the hall intended for guest artists in residence.

“We renovated everything ourselves. It took us several months. This was my main work during the Covid confinement period. Now we’re happy to be opening the residency. Artists can use the space for several weeks, days, or even a few hours if they need a space to think or present something. If you know artists in Armenia who want to come to Paris for a residency, please tell them about us.”

We sink into the couches of the lounge, where Alexis offers us coffee and “chouquettes”, a typical French cream puff. Kenzo needs a diaper change, and Zohrab asks Alexis which table-top he can use. Alexis gestures over to the large black case in the far corner of the room.

“You can use my organ!”

I met Alexis back in 2016 when he came to Yerevan for an artist residency at the ACSL (Art and Culture Studies Laboratory). He plays a French 17th century mobile wind instrument called the Orgue de Barberie that was typical of peddlers, beggars or foreigners, essentially street musicians. Simply put, it functions by cranking a lever, which rotates an internal cylinder that plays music from punctured paper cards. For Alexis, this instrument is in some ways the very first computer (by way of perforated cards), an ancestor of computer-assisted music. In his compositions, he reinterprets this instrument with electronic music to create poetic melancholic soundscapes. He calls this project “Organ-Paysage”:

Through the prism of a historically nomadic and messenger instrument, the concept consists of gathering inspiration from popular cultures, reinvesting in them and extracting sublime elements with a contemporary vision.

-Alexis Paul

Alexis’ boxed organ at Zorats Kar (Karahunj) in Sisian, Armenia. Image courtesy of the artist.

For Alexis, the project goes beyond sound creation to explore, resuscitate and even hijack folk traditions. On his various trips throughout Eurasia, Alexis has collaborated with local artists working in a combination of folk and experimental genres in order to create new meaning for this ancient instrument and revive its purpose as a social connector and music maker “of the masses”.

Alexis pulls out a box containing squares of white cloth covered in various embroideries. He explains that they are Afghan motifs, textiles which he acquired on a trip to Lebanon when teaching music to Palestinian refugees. He adds to the coffee table several books on Armenian textiles, embroidery and carpets and begins to share the idea for his next project.

His latest research aims to translate textile into sound by identifying and extracting “loops”, or repeating motifs, which he’ll manipulate and feed into his barrel organ via the punctured musical paper tape. Alexis plans to come back to Armenia in 2021 for a residency with HAYP/IN SITU in order to study Armenian motifs and textile patterns. As folk textiles contain symbols that tell rich stories and narratives, Alexis aims to give a new voice to these stories through sound. 

We look forward to working with Alexis, and we encourage artists and interested collaborators in Armenia to reach out to us if you’re interested in meeting Alexis and contributing to his research project this spring. He is seeking fellow musicians, textile experts, as well as designers and fablab professionals to help him translate the motifs into the correct format for his organ.

You can listen to Alexis’ music on soundcloud, vimeo, and on the platform of his co-founded music label, Armures Provisoires. You can reach out to us at info@haypinsitu.com.

Anna Gargarian
April 2021

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.