Visit to IN SITU Project Space: Narek Barseghyan

text by Varduhi Kirakosian
edited by Anna K. Gargarian

Busy rooms fill a long corridor leading to the IN SITU project space in Yerevan’s Malatia district. It’s the Gold’s Market building, serving as studio space for many artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs. Behind the doors of closely lined workrooms hide all kinds of arts and craftspeople deeply immersed into work that ranges from carpentry, wool spinning, metalwork to gold and silversmithing. One can also find storage units and even the odd food-producer on the fourth floor of this buzzing beehive. 

Narek greets me warmly, walking me through the small but well-equipped room he’s called his studio for the past three months. Brushes line the tables, and paint splatters coat the floor. Lining one wall are shelves messily stocked with sketchbooks, masks, and other artworks. To one side, tools hang on the wall above his desk – wrenches, pliers, a hammer, more brushes. An oversized sofa sits across from the shelving unit. 

Narek’s desk at the IN SITU Project Space, photocredits: Varduhi Kirakosian.

“I tidy up the room quite often. Things are in their place,” Narek notes. He tells me about one of his favorite artists, Francis Bacon, who saw studio clutter as a kind of metaphor for the creative act. Behind the chaos of an artist studio, order is hidden; a bit of clutter doesn’t bother Narek.

Narek Barseghyan graduated from Armenia’s Academy of Fine Arts in 2015. Classically trained in the department of painting, Narek’s works are figural, though he has seen a movement away from realistic representation. Narek became a part of HAYP/ IN SITU’s artist community in April 2017, when he participated in the pop up exhibit, “DOWN_shift” with two artworks. 

Narek Barseghyan, “The Last Kiss” exhibited at DOWN_shift, HAYP Pop Up Gallery in 2018. In a private collection.

Since then, he’s participated in several HAYP exhibits including a solo show in the framework of the 2018 Armenia Art Fair called “The Leather Show”, HAYP’s 2018 retrospective “12,12,12”, and a residency program earlier this year entitled “Almost Human”. He has now taken over our Project Space at IN SITU art agency which offers various opportunities for artists to facilitate research, production, exhibition, and exchange around critical artworks. The studio is available on an application basis for a determined time frame dedicated to a particular project. 

For Narek, the studio is a convenient walk from home and offers him large wall space for his oversized canvases, which can range from 3 to 4 meters in width. I ask Narek for his thoughts on artist residencies and their benefits. He explains that an artist residency grants new opportunities for exploring new settings, contexts, formats, and mediums that can be supported by new environments. This is Narek’s third residency, and second private studio residency. In 2016 Narek spent two weeks at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine (USA), thanks to the support of the former Luys Education Foundation. One of the highlights of that experience was his discovery of a deep interest in watercolor, a medium he used to hate. Narek believes that artist residencies widen the scope of an artist’s interests and expand their chances to explore and try new methods and techniques. Regardless, he can spend hours working on his own and without distractions, for him, it’s not a question of concentration. His style keeps evolving and he never stops learning. His inspiration comes from texts or lectures that he listens to while painting. For Narek, the process of painting is a good moment for him to digest the food for thought from philosophical, historical, and spiritual programs he follows on the radio. The only challenge to artist residencies, he tells me, is getting over his experience of attachment to a particular place. 

“The studio is not just a room for artists to make stuff, it’s a very intimate place where you live with your heart and mind,” Narek explains. “And once you finally integrate into a space and make it yours, you become attached to it, and leaving becomes challenging.”  

No matter what Narek does – he does it obsessively. His direction may not be clear in the very first canvas of each series, but he trusts the process. For Narek, capturing ideal details in painting used to be at the core of his early work. But in his third year at the Academy of Fine Arts, Narek started exploring new themes and forms that lead to a drastic shift in style away from realistic representation. He turned away from the classics and his original heroes, Rembrandt and Caravaggio, and towards American Pop Art and Neo-expressionist movements from the 60s, 70s and 80s.

An early work of Narek’s from 2015, pictured here in his former studio. Photocredits: Anna Gargarian.

From 2016 onwards, Narek began abstracting space and perspective to create collage-like compositions that incorporate elements of popular culture. Most of his recent work incorporates multilingual stream-of-consciousness text, vivid colors, and always a figural component (however distorted). 

Narek Barsgehyan, “Pepsi Generation” exhibited at The Leather Show, HAYP Pop Up Gallery, 2018.

Narek tells me that his figures are conceptual, characters inspired by Heidegger, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Nietzsche, and other German philosophers. His latest series are contemplations of fantasy inspired by his dreams and spiritual folk tales, that invite us to explore an alien world dominated by an ultramarine color palette. His “monsters”, distorted characters that are usually bodiless, are inspired by Kali, the Hindu goddess of death associated with sexuality and violence. In art, she is often represented as a fearful fighting figure with a necklace of heads, a skirt of arms, and a lolling tongue. A mask of Kali hangs on the wall of Narek’s studio. 

Narek’s Kali mask and some sketches in-progress, Photocredits: Narek Barseghyan, retrieved from Instagram.

Narek’s Monster obsession has spanned the past two years, and he’s explored them in different media. Always fascinated by fashion, for a period Narek created masks inspired by Gucci and their performative runway shows.

One of Narek’s masks shown here in his installation-performance, “ROT 45- Monsters” for HAYP 12 12 12 retrospective, 2018. Photocredits: Ed Tadevossian

His interest in fashion grew further when he visited New York – its museums, and even more so its design stores with their extravagantly designed shop windows. 

“Zara shop had more art in it than most of the museums,” Narek explains. “Clothes there weren’t just placed for sale, everything in these shops was well thought out for visual impact.” 

Narek Barseghyan, “Talis Qualis” for Leather Show.
An exhibition view of The Leather Show, May 2018 at HAYP Pop Up Gallery.
Photocredits: Alex Mirzoyan
Leather Show fashion performance, photocredits: Alex Mirzoyan.
Leather Show fashion performance, photocredits: Lush Hakobian

His interest in fashion led to a series of artworks and a fashion partnership with local designers called “Leather Show” an exhibit and fashion performance curated by HAYP Pop Up gallery in 2018.  The Leather Show fashion collection was later featured at Armenia’s MADE boutique, and Narek went on to collaborate with other designers including the “Dare to Wear” brand where he was featured as a designer-painter. For now, Narek has taken a break from the fashion world, but he’s open to coming back to it in the future.

Having difficulty finding a studio space for the past year, Narek had been working mostly in digital art up until his IN SITU Project Space residency.

He tells me that he had to confess to himself how much he missed the real process of working with the sense of touch; colors and paints. He’s made some sculptural work in studio, but points out that mastering a new medium takes years. He hopes to explore new materials, and looks forward to the chance to work with other building residents, which he hasn’t gotten around to yet.

Narek shows me some of his recently completed canvases, which he keeps rolled up, either leaning against the wall or atop a large storage unit. One by one, he unrolls the works, taking care to remove the dust and check the paint surface. As he does so, he talks about different topics in art from theater to performance, fashion, and writing. He tells me that he’s recently been doing a lot of writing, and in particular, in recording his dreams. He is as enthusiastic telling me about this as I imagine him when waking up in the middle of the night to document his nightmares. He stresses that he’s a vivid dreamer, and that his writings are so detailed that upon rereading them he sometimes wonders how much of it is recollection and how much is speculation or interpretation. 

Narek at the Project Space, photocredits: Varduhi Kirakosian.

Narek tells me he doesn’t consider himself a writer. He explains that writing his dreams occurs at a subconscious level; it’s the outcome of his immediate imagination and an exercise for better knowing himself. He’s fascinated by dreaming, and thinks of the struggles one passes through during nightmares as symbolic. Narek plans on turning his dream “adventure stories” into an artist book that would combine his writings with symbolic visuals that you can find across all of his canvases. Whether a “pause” sign, a projected tongue, or a combination of the two, Narek signs his works in his own hieroglyphics, a visual language he believes also stems from his subconscious mind and dream world.

Some of Narek’s signature symbols, photocredits: Varduhi Kirakosian

IN SITU is currently working with Narek to produce his artist book as part of the IN PRINT program. While at Project Space, Narek will be developing his book concept in parallel to his Kali-inspired canvas series. Post-residency, Narek hopes to share this body of work through a solo exhibit.

“I just love watching people enjoy what I’ve created in the right environment, with live music, and among interesting visitors. It feels awesome. Even if they don’t know I am the author, I am just glad to share the positive vibes, and it fills me with a renewed power to create.” 

The application for IN SITU Project Space residency is open on a rolling basis. To learn more about the Project Space and how to apply, visit our website here.

Interview: Gohar Martirosyan

Gohar Martirosyan is a conceptual and performance artist currently living and working in Armenia. She is our featured artist this week on the HAYP/IN SITU “Virtual Viewing Room” platform, a space for online artworks from June 1 – August 2, 2020. In this interview, we learn a little more about Gohar’s project and what inspires her as an artist. Scroll down to the very bottom for a complete bio.


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

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

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

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

HI: How does this relate to your artistic practice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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