(note: the time stamp of all posts and comments on this blog is the time in umm el-fahem, israel)

Monday, June 14, 2010

june 11-14, about art/armenian perspectives

6/14 note: i began writing this post on june 11th
we had a huge as in HUGE thunder, lightening, torrential rain storm last night. since then there has been no internet connection out of bangladesh (the so.-west area of yerevan where I am living).
ART, perspectives that I have encountered:
- about a week and a half ago movses’ friend garineh matsaryan -- not sure of spelling -- came by for coffee (the ceramic studio and more specifically movses avetisyan, the young master ceramicist/teacher whose studio it is, is a magnet for numerous drop in visitors throughout each day and evening. more about that another time). garineh is currently teaching at the secondary school and retooling herself as a graphic artist. she is of movses’ parents generation (i think he is in his late 30s). she told me (later confirmed by others) that she was a famous artist during the soviet times. a painter and performance artist, garineh spoke about how times are so difficult now – for all but especially for artists. she told me matter of factly how during soviet times artists were able to live on what they earned ("...much less, but it took much less to live"). it was impossible to determine if she was speaking wistfully she was so matter-of-fact. she did not address the issue of what kind of art she was expected to create then and able to create now.
unlike grigori, the administrator of the fine arts college i had previously mentioned, my impression was that garineh seemed exhausted: a reluctant teacher and more concerned with the economics of her situation than with the freedom of creativity.

-- last monday in gyumri we (the current ACSL artists-in-residence) were privileged to make presentations of our work to the art institute students who rarely have opportunities to meet with working artists. they packed the room (and waited for us patiently as we were late to get there –time in armenia seems to be an inexact concept – and then eat (service in restaurants is still being honed. individual’s orders are not synchronized. food is brought to the table haphazardly and it appears the kitchen staff and servers assume that the diners have plenty of again time. a remnant of soviet times?)

roger presented in english and russian (I keep forgetting to ask him why, as it is clear that those in their 20s do not know russian, although the school director did and the art historian might). his and jerry’s presentation included a lot of text around the art of intervention. this presented a challenge for susanna (who is very well-versed/teaches cultural studies and theory at the open university) to translate quickly and basically for students to whom this is entirely new material. asheer akram and i presented our work, installations and sculpture, that challenged the students as well as the work presented unfamiliar perspectives on social and political issues. The most energetic reaction from the students was to a piece of asheer’s created for a group exhibit “war and religion" the crescent of islam (pg.14, item L68-161). he explained that this was not meant as opinion but as something to think about, an explanation they seemed reluctant to accept.

the art historian (field of concentration 20th century art) initiated a conversation with me after the session. she wanted me to understand that armenians do not accept art as a way to think about societal problems but she hopes that changes.
unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to see the students’ art. we spent an hour walking around the old part of the city – the charm and interest of the architecture along with larger soviet-era structures still evident -- that had been severely impacted by the 1988 earthquake. It appears that it individual structures are now being repaired and renovated by people who can afford to do so and the area will slowly become an upscale gentrified section of the city.

gentrification in yerevan is the art as intervention issue that roger, jerry and their team of three open university students: gohan, vahe and david, are working on with local grass-roots activists who as it happened had hung an SOS sign from their building. the issue is the paltry sum that was paid to the former inhabitants of center city buildings who were forced to move so that high rise buildings could be (were) built. The former residents could not, of course, afford to purchase apartments where they had formerly lived. the current residents in this building on north street are afraid that
the same thing is about to happen to them. their building is the only old building that remains standing on what is now a pedestrian mall. the rest of the street is filled with built but basically empty or partially completed luxury buildings that it had been thought diaspora armenians would purchase. the ground floor storefronts are either very! expensive boutiques recognizable throughout the western world or are empty. - back in Yerevan, still about art
i had a good, very interesting meeting with seda stepanyan, a smart editor/reporter for the (now web site, formerly print weekly) ARMENIAN REPORTER, having contacted them before I left the states and delighted that seda then contacted me soon after my arrival. after the interview seda wanted to show me a piece of public art – a sculpture of the composer arno babayanian (1921-1983) – that had caused a scandal in the municipality and to this day is a great annoyance for many. seda described the soviet influenced sculptures that dot the city as states where one head can be cut off and replaced with another and it will make no difference. the very large statue distorts the composer’s facial features, hands and fingers. he is sitting at an elongated piano where the heavy marble almost seems weightless as floats above the ground, rsting on one fat leg. it is a wonderful piece. a piece that emotes and allows the viewer to go beyond the media and into the heart and mind of the composer and his music. The head of the municipality and the members of the art committee held their ground and did not remove the piece but time will demonstrate the impact of the public uproar on future commissions for public art.
i am interested to see the work that will be shown in the september 2010 gyumri biennial. there is clearly a small cadre of artists in armenia plugged into the global community of contemporary artists in spite of a reluctant public audience. but whether this remains a mostly underground movement is not clear.
once my show is hung I will have the opportunity to visit the museums and galleries and develop a greater awareness of contemporary art taking its place among the traditional, modern and folk art that becomes accustomed to seeing throughout armenia.

i did have an opportunity today to stop by the open university. i took a photo of susanna sitting beneath a piece by one of the current students. and with that image i will end this posting.

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