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

Thursday, July 15, 2010

15 july: for now, a wrap


this posting is my last until i travel to make my presentation to the organization that generously awarded me the lighton international artists exchange program grant (l.i.a.e.p.), the kansas city artists coalition (kcac). after that excursion (date to be determined) i will post about the experience. many thanks to l.i.a.e.p. and kcac!

through my blog postings it has been my intention to give you a sense of my experience in yerevan, armenia, during my six weeks as an ACSL (arts & cultural studies laboratory) art commune artist-in-residence. in this last posting about my time in armenia i will share images to give you a sense of where i lived and worked (the south west area of yerevan known to all there as bangladesh because when the area was first being developed it seemed to be a far away, unknown territory) and various miscellany. 

i will also share bits of information and a sense of how i feel about the experience. the tale is ongoing as my relationships with new friends and colleagues and the nothers installation continue. when appropriate i will create postings in the future.

thank you for your feedback about scd abroad. while sitting down to re-size images, gather my thoughts, and write has often felt like a task i am glad to have done it.

snippet of video from installation of nothers while the naregatsi orchestra was in practice session in the gallery  

image below: the food market that i stopped by daily just before its 11pm closing during the four weeks that i worked steadily in the ceramics workshop and most days after that as well. each product area was staffed by women who collected the payment for items sold by them. they seemed to work long shifts, 8am to 11pm, for a few weeks and then have some period of time off. our limited ability to communicate through language did not impact our ability to bond. i regret that i do not have photos of these women, the backbone of this working class (when they can get work) "suburb". 

below are images of the teacher training hostel, situated above the primary school in the mkhitar sebastatsy educational complex that ACSL resident artists currently call home. the route to the hostel is from the food market on the main road:


the door at the top of the stairs leads to the hostel area which mysteriously i do not seem to have photos of. it is a large common room with t.v., sofa and table/chairs. off of this area are five bedrooms, each with two sets of bunk beds. each artist had a room to her/himself, with a small table, chair, free standing closet (to call it an armoire would be to exaggerate), and a  standing fan. windows are not screened, a feature loved by the flies and  mosquitoes.

also off of the large common area is a room with two cold water sinks, a great front-loading washing machine (energy saver) and a drying rack. having these there to use at any hour was an excellent convenience! there were two rooms off of this larger room, each with a toilet and hand held shower (good pressure and water was very hot). these rooms were designated by gender, necessary when there were middle and high school aged males and their slovenly teachers sharing the quarters. also sharing the space but in particular these spaces were huge, HUGE, insects: roach-like, spiders, centipedes,... often it was one of them against me and i was not always the one who wound up with control of the room.

across the road from the food market (image above) taking a left turn after the white building towards the right of the image led one to the ceramics workshop and to asheer's welding area (basement and outside of the school building)

(to the right of asheer is beno, a student at the open uinversity who was of great help to asheer). 

above are images of the apartment buildings around the school complex
below are images of the ceramics workshop, and movses, his dog gunshar, and other friends
 above, sweet gunshar. below, entrance to ceramics workshop area.

  above entrance hall, clay making area under renovation (by movses, et. al.). below kiln room, bathroom, the pugger to make clay, clay drying table, movses at work, spray room, various perspectives of the work area and those who inhabit it. one of the photos is movses and davi preparing to take their work to vernissage to sell to bring in income (not extra income).

one point of the above images is to illustrate that conditions under which imaginations soar and good work is made do not have to be as ideal as we sometimes think. 

much of what i have learned working with clay in nyc simply did not apply in this studio. e.g., as i covered my work with plastic to let it dry and movses insisted that i uncover it; the first time a batch of my nothers were to be fired i loaded the small klin leaving the sides/coils untouched. moveses wondered why i was wasting so much room and insisted that i rearrange to maximize use of the space. and as he loaded shelves in the larger kiln pieces of earthenware touched the shelves above which were also then loaded with work. 

everything of mine fired well, & certainly while i was working in the studio almost nothing cracked or broke during the firings.  my terra cotta nothers were so strong with only one firing that when a few were dropped during the installation nothing even chipped (a miracle perhaps). for me working in the studio included a lesson in trust. 

movses -- his mastery of the material and his generosity of spirit and all things material -- helped make the residency a success.

my six week ACSL residency went by incredibly fast. i was focused on my work and new acquaintances. there were never enough hours in the day. only twice did i turn on the very large flat screen t.v. in the hostel, channel surfing for music to eat dinner by and glad that i was not actually trying to watch what was on in between the visual static that appeared on the screen. (the shows seemed to be cartoons, soap operas and variety shows and a few movies.)

i watched one film at a naregatsi screening for journalists. it was an entry of a very soviet russian film (mental ward, paranoid patient as sage, medical doctor as malcontent who is ultimately committed by his colleagues to ward six without his consent) in the golden apricot film festival (which takes place in july in yerevan). i read two fat thrillers by flashlight in my lower bunk bed (...dragon tattoo and ...played with fire), comfortable and secure in my army green mosquito-netted nest as i decompressed from work.  exhausted i nodded off to sleep.

a few images from the city that i thought you might enjoy:
an anti-government  demonstration (participants were almost all middle-aged to senior citizens) to free political prisoners (including a number of artists) who have been sitting in jail for years for speaking out against the government, and have not been brought to trial.

a cold beverage vendor at the edge of vernissage (she is there daily not just weekends)

above image, a sign that may be familiar to many of you. i was surprised to see it in yerevan.

i received a phone call from nara hayrapetyan (image to left), manager of pr at naregatsi, tuesday afternoon june 29th (i was leaving the next morning). my pieces had been  found: in the tank of the toilet. we assume that someone wanted them but was unprepared (no bag) and cut them and stuck then in the bottom of the tank until they could come back to take them. second guessing will not get at the facts. levon, nara, raphael, and the other staff members were as happy as i that they had been found unharmed (drowned, but fine). 

 (image to left, lilith papazyan, naregatsi graphic designer. lilith created the nothers poster.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             (image below: frm l. to r.,  levon eskenian, director of music and programming, me, and nareg hartounian, founder and president, naregatsi art institute, in the gallery before the opening)
you have read that during the exhibit i popped into the gallery daily to speak to reporters and gallery visitors, including the audience members of naregatsi’s evening music programs. and while the bi-lingual nothers brochure was also hung as the wall text, as I have said elsewhere, the conceptual nature of the work was not always evident to viewers. but even these visitors -- unaccustomed to installations and not certain what they were seeing -- offered verbal and written feedback that the work had transformed the gallery space and their momentary place in the universe on a purely visual level. i feel that if a viewer can connect in some way with my work that i have succeeded for that moment in my role as an artist. 

from the presentation of my proposed work through the exhibit levon and his staff opened their minds and their senses to the embrace of conceptual art. when we began they very cautiously considered this field of art that was new to them and to the naregatsi art institute. over the few weeks their understanding and appreciation of conceptual work and of collaborative efforts grew and was supported wholeheartedly by nareg. and then before i left levon spoke to me of the possibility of future collaborations. we all hope so.

it was a terrific six weeks. it felt great to work. and as i did i felt a part of life as lived by warm, hospitable, welcoming people trying to survive in a difficult economic environment in a gracious way: not greedy, not bitter.

as i walked around yerevan buildings were pointed out to me as ugly soviet-era structures. having been in the former soviet union and in mongolia and seen the blocky, gray soviet buildings i felt that the charm of subtle stone work on the old armenian buildings enabled them to rise above unattractive, charmless soviet architecture. there is a grace to the city that makes it feel as if the integrity of the armenian people remained intact under soviet rule.

[side bar: although resentful perhaps of a government that continues to destroy old buildings in order to construct huge, contemporary buildings of the sort that can be found anywhere and do not speak of armenia. big, trump-like structures with fancy stores on the ground level and expensive apartments above that almost all sit empty. for the government officials and the contractors 

the unfortunate timing of the construction was that it occurred as the decline of people's finances and the housing market was experienced around the globe. it had been thought that these expensive living spaces would be bought by diaspora armenians but so far this has not really happened.]

as i end the postings of phase one of scd abroad i must share my admiration of susanna gyulamiryan, ACSL president and currently the only staff member (non-paid) of the ACSL artists commune residency program. susanna works incredibly hard, long days making arrangements for ACSL resident artists: organizing, interpreting in real time in person and over the phone, and translating written text, arranging for exhibit spaces, installing artwork, handing out fliers, acting as local tour guide and making arrangements for excursions out of yerevan, introducing visiting artists to local artists, accompanying resident artists shopping, trouble-shooting in the hostel,etc., etc., etc. 

susanna is basically available for the ACSL resident artists 24/7. and in addition to organizing and managing the residency program she teaches at the open university, writes articles to earn extra income, curates, and does the things required of all professionals, colleagues, parents & friends in our daily lives. 

thank you susanna! 

Monday, July 12, 2010

12-13 july. almost but not quite

i could go on (and on, and on...) but i won't. i will try and fill in miscellaneous bits and pieces, particularly with images. if anyone has any questions please feel free to ask, just send me an e-mail.

- friday, 25 june, a memorable day. in addition to discovering that 7 of my pieces had been stolen, on the way back to bangladesh i jumped onto a mini van and it pulled away as i was still sliding the door closed and my finger got caught in the door. of course i did not know how to scream help! or STOP! in armenian so i just shouted STOP, STOP, at which point women around me saw that my thumb was caught and shouted to the driver so that he understood and did stop. yes, it hurt but i lived to tell.

- monday the 28th:

in the morning i sat in the beginning of presentations that two artists/professors from turkey were giving prior to leading workshops for students at the open university. their presence in yerevan was of great significance, the culmination of the efforts of many and a model of cultural exchange in spite of official party lines. i cannot comment on the workshops as i was not there but there was great interest on the part of the students to have the opportunity to work with these professors. the following week marianne, above, a member of the open university faculty, was off to istanbul for a similar exchange.

above image: woman in center is nermin saybasili, asst. prof. art history, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Conservatory, Beşiktaş – Istanbul – TURKEY. her work includes spectral densities in the networked city

from the arab studies journal (spring 2010), "Reflecting on selections from the 11th Istanbul Biennial, Nermin Saybasili draws out the curators’ explicit Brechtian framework and the transformative power of politically instructive art."(What Keeps Mankind Alive?. 11th International Art Exhibition, Istanbul Biennial. 12 September – 8 November 2009,reviewed by Nermin Saybasili)

image above: 2nd from left, artist/professor dilek winchester

(from http://arteeast.org/pages/generate/?id=114 )
Bio: The Turkish artist Dilek Winchester has studied in London and Berlin, today she lives and works in Istanbul. The moving between places and cultures is reflected in her work. She deals with the noncommittal of national and cultural identities in the face of global networking and geographic flexibility. In the seemingly insignificant, e.g. homemade yoghurt or a randomly said phrase, she detects a sense of belonging and an expression of the innate. Her projects most often are based on the participation of different groups of people, who she brings together through her action. Art serves her as a medium that can establish cultural and social communication and interaction. In Leipzig Dilek Winchester continues her work on the online project Emotional Dictionary wherein she explores the transforming potential of language and its emotional connotation.

i had requested of susanna that she ask armenna to bring in jewelry that she and her students had made to sell (e.g. in THE CLUB restaurant's store) as one of the ways that they earn money while going to university. the pieces were not labeled and i was very happy to learn that i selected a leather necklace designed and made by iness, one of the students who had volunteered to help de-install my exhibit.

image above: i am in the middle showing off my purchases. to my r. is iness, and to my l. is armenna, artist and faculty member who made the leather bracelet that i had just bought.

image above, rimma varzhapetyan (feller) chair, jewish community in armenia(JCA) & scd in jca offices

i went from the open university to the office of "the jewish community", a registered ngo referring to the secular organization within the local jewish community. the link above is a translation of their web site, http://www.jewish.am/. the other organization is affiliated with and run by the chabad, the orthodox synagogue and community projects. [here are two links with info.about the armenian jewish community, i cannot vouch for the editorial content or perspective.]

i sent an e-mail to the chabad rabbi inviting him to visit the gallery to see my exhibit but did not hear back from him. i am not comfortable in an orthodox synagogue with a mechitza (partition to separate the men and the women) and so i did not attend a shabbat service while i was there.

rimma and i had communicated with the help of susanna and then through e-mail using the great (free) but imperfect on line google translator. rimma came to my opening with other members of the community, one of whom spoke a bit of english and a little hebrew. most including rimma speak armenian and russian.

many! members of the community are intermarried. in the JCA office a young woman wearing a cross, and there with her three year old son, whose mother is jewish and lives now in germany and whose brother and grandmother live in israel but whose father feels very christian expressed to me that she feels christian. she also appeared to be close to rimma and absolutely comfortable in the organization's space discussing jewish topics. rimma travels to conferences around the globe and seems to relish her position as spokesperson. arthur topalian has a jewish father, now lives in france and is married to a christian armenian woman but seemed quite at home in the JCA. he spoke some english but unfortunately conversation was very general. the language barriers made it impossible to go into anything in depth. a situation that i came up against often but not always. however i did not feel that topics of a political nature would be something that rimma would particularly want to speak with me about even if we had been able to carry on such a conversation. her organization is funded (MINIMALLY) by the sochnut (the jewish agency in israel) and her public position would of necessity if not of belief be circumspect compared to mine. rimma was gracious and hospitable. we enjoyed armenian coffee and a spread of desserts and spoke about eghegis (the cemetery). rimma was also not shy in sharing with me the need for a sponsor (did i know of anyone in nyc or america?) to purchase office space for the JCA organization and partner in programmatic efforts. funding is an ongoing, difficult challenge.

clearly were i living in yerevan for a prolonged period i would have a better feel for the organization's activities and role in the lives of the members of the jewish community and the region. but the fact that there is a physical presence in addition to the synagogue seems to provide a sense of pride and comfort for the community members who i did meet.

(image above:includes rimma varzhapetyan (feller), chair, JCA, 2nd from left and with cap on arthur topalian, now living in france and married to an armenian christian. arthur's father is jewish)

tuesday evening susanna and i had a delicious and typical (kilikia restaurant) armenian meal -- my first barbecue. while it could be described as touristy with the traditional music played on traditional instruments, i was the only tourist there and the food and service were good. susanna and i had eaten in caucus my first day in yerevan, where the food was very good but the service bad to rude. armenian food is great, especially in the home, and i wanted to leave with the taste of the country fresh in my mouth.

to be continued, including follow-up on the 7 stolen nothers.