it is saturday afternoon, 5/22, in yerevan (local time is 9 hours ahead of EST). i left nyc jfk last tuesday evening, breakfasted in cdg, paris, stepped off of my 2nd flight in yerevan wednesday night.
susanna gyulamiryan, the incredible, high-energy organizer of the ACSL residency program, was there to greet me. thanks to months of e-mail correspondence we felt as if we knew each other and there was an immediate connection.
we traveled by taxi to the Mkhitar Sebastaci Educational Complex where i am living in the hostel (used by teachers taking courses here throughout the year) as is asheer akram, a kansas city, mo. artist, and also a recipient of a liaep grant, a project of the kansas city artists coalition. the hostel is in south-west yerevan. the area was nick-named bangladesh when it was being built in a formerly uninhabited area of the city because it was considered far from the town center. there were also four kindergarten directors staying here this past week who introduced me to delicious local pastries the evening of my arrival.
asheer and i each have a private room that generally houses up to 4 with 2 bunk beds, closet, table, chair and small book case. the common space includes a large screen t.v. (with local programming), sofa, dining table, a small kitchen and a bathroom area with the usual plus a brand new front-loading washing machine. my first shower was a bit nippy but on wed. asheer showed me the trick of adjusting the water heater and the hot water now flows.
due to my work schedule and desire for flexibility i am preparing my own food. but thursday, my first morning here, i went down to eat breakfast in the primary school co-located in this building. i was greeted by at least a hundred primary school children and their teachers beginning their day singing folk tunes and dancing circle dances. it was wonderful, and the cheese and bread and sinful cheese pastry delicious although the nescafe (which i now realize is the caffeinated norm) did not measure up.
time and timing here are a bit more relaxed than in the states but best to realize that on day one. the afternoon began with susanna, asheer and i walking taking the 5 minute walk to the secondary school complex across the main thoroughfare to the ceramic workshop (with a first stop in asheer's basement welding space) where ceramic master movses avetisyyan offered me a table for my work and tour, including my introduction to gunchar, a huge, old wonderful pooch who makes the workshop his home. movses and i communicate with the help of an armenian/english dictionary but his hospitality is clear. the whole complex is under renovation -- or was, lack of available financing seems to stopped everything in mid-air -- still the set-up is amazing for a high school although just as smoking seems to be a national trait, work in the clay studio gives no heed to dust masks (i brought my own) or other health considerations. movses, who made two of the 3 electric kilns (no gas) i think through cannibalization, is an artist who also sells his work on the weekends at the large vernesage outdoor market.
we then walked over to the fine arts college dept of art, directed by artist grigor khatchatryan. asheer was scoping out (see image) possible locations for the large steel sculpture he is making and we then returned to grigor's office for more nescafe and an overview of his art work. grigor introduced contemporary art in armenia through his work in the late 1980s (think marina abramovic with a sense of irony and humor). (a link to an introduction to contemporary art in armenia) contemporary art and theory. susanna taught the first courses here, at the open university, on feminist art and gender theory (she still teaches this curriculum) but traditional work and approaches still appear to be the norm.
asheer returned to work and susanna and i hopped a mini-bus (shared van) into the town center. she helped me conduct a bit of banking business and we walked over to a possible location for my exhibit, the naregatsi art institute. a violin performance was being recorded by t.v. in the entrance lobby thus we will return next week. the space appeared to be lovely, and located close to republic square this organization serves armenian culture past, present and future.