viennacontemporary 2018 | Focus: Armenia

This year’s special show is dedicated to Armenia – a country facing political and social awakening and transitions of identity and unity. Curated by Sona Stepanyan, Focus: Armenia’s show Dreaming Alive initiates a discourse on the role of art, artists and artistic gesture in public political activism starting since late 80s in Armenia.

Focus: Armenia | DREAMING ALIVE  Curator: Sona Stepanyan
Organizer: Armenia Art Foundation | Booth: G01 / G02

The velvet revolution of love and solidarity, which took place in May 2018, directed the world’s attention to Armenia, a former republic of the Soviet Union in the South Caucasus. This unprecedented case in the history of the young state has questioned the boundaries of professional identity, uniting citizens online and offline, breaking down the distance between the center and the periphery, approaching step by step the main square of the capital city, Yerevan. One of the features of this revolution is that it succeeded in erasing the barriers between the artistic and the non-artistic, when each word from the political stage was immediately reinterpreted in an artistic context, and politicians used a vocabulary that had been developed in artists’ studios. Finally, a space was established that was dialogic in contrast to a hierarchical space that would oppress the artist and turn him or her into a marginal element.

The artistic gesture had been the only way to protest so far.  Artists – the permanent and invisible fighters against authoritarian regimes – came closer to their dream and thus found themselves in a transitional reality, whose discursive boundaries cannot yet be clearly defined. Once, the romantic 80s, dominated by perestroika, brought the first spirit of freedom, disobedience to official structures, bringing together visual artists, poets, musicians, who actively published manifestos and released samizdat, representing “Western, forbidden” art in Armenia. The ambitious 90s formed the first independent institutional agenda (the emergence of the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art (1992), the Venice Biennale Pavilion (1995), and Gyumri Contemporary Art Biennale (1998) and paved the way for the development of new media, such as video-art and performance. It was followed by the street actionism of the 00s, which, in a burst of solidarity, united artists and activists, contributing to the emergence of the Armenian public art and street art. Finally, one cannot help mentioning the frustration and apathy that are also present in the history of this struggle – the power nap of the 10s becomes the result of such an artistic stagnation caused by despair over the unchanging power that suppressed freedom. At the same time, Armenia has always been in parallel with the outsidedness of an active diasporal artistic gesture, projecting ideas about a home outside Armenia. But one way or another, internal artistic activity was provoked by political and cultural realities, often being an instant reaction and a way to stay in between reality and an illusory life.

The turning point that we are witnessing now opens the way to a new system of inclusive and effective institutions and equal opportunities. Dreaming Alive tells about the discourse of the latest three decades of Armenian contemporary art through catalogues and interviews gathered in the mediatheque zone. It sets today’s current art map and offers a glimpse of the Armenian realities in the rethinking of six contemporary artists.

The corpus of the exhibition is a selection from the six projects conducted by the winners on the 1st and 2nd open-call of Armenia Art Foundation. The artists exhibited include: Ayreen Anastas & Rene Gabri, Mher Azatyan, Arman Grigoryan, Piruza Khalapyan, Rebecca Topakian, Mika Vatinyan.

Focus .jpgPiruza Khalapyan (b. 1983) is a photographer, member of 4plus organization, aimed to unite Armenian women documentary photographers. She started working as a professional photojournalist in 2006 and currently focuses on personal artistic projects, related to current socio-political situation of Armenia, Post-Soviet personal and collective memory and national identity. Phiruza has won the Best Documentary film award of ES EM film festival, NA/NE Contest for Journalists (British Council in Yerevan, OSCE Yerevan Office, UN Foundation). Lives and works in Yerevan, Armenia.

Focus 2.jpgRebecca Topakian (b. 1989) After two bachelor degrees in Philosophy and Geography at the Sorbonne, Rebecca Topakian continued her research at the National Photography School of Arles (ENSP), France, graduating in 2015. Playing with the boundaries between artistic and documentary forms, her work aims to point at the possibility of representation of personal identity in its relation to groups, communities or collective history, through intimacy, with a strong focus on bodies and their sensuality. She exhibited her work in several galleries and festivals in France and abroad (Biennale de l’Image Possible, Liège (BE), Photography Biennale in Mulhouse (FR), Art Centre of Villa Arson, Nice (FR), Festival Circulation(s), Rencontres d’Arles), and so on. Her book “Infra”was recently published by Classe Moyenne Éditions.Focus 3.jpg

Focus 4.jpgMher Azatyan (b.1972) is a photographer and visual artist living in Yerevan. Mher was among artists representing Armenian Pavilion at 54th Venice Biennial, Italy. Azatyan in his works try to convey a basic level of the everyday,that everyone shares in their loneliness. Often he accomplish his works with minimalistic texts-statements, striving to capture the quintessence of everyday speech. His latest solo shows include You are not Alone, Studio 20, Yerevan, Armenia (2017); UntitledFotogalerie im Grazer Rathaus, Graz Austria (2012);One more year has passed… Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art, Yerevan Armenia (2007); Casino-Inter Enter,Ex Vote” Art Center. Yerevan Armenia. Azatyan has also participated in numerous group exhibitions, among them Art as a bridge, Creative peacebuilding, Voronezh (2016); Native Foreigners, GARAGE Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia (2014); Progressive Nostalgia Contemporary Art of the Former USS; Moscow ,Russia (2008); Very simple actions without any particular purpose ARTRA Galleria, Milan, Italy (2009); Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna Austria (2004) and other.

Focus 5.jpgArman Grigoryan (b. 1960) is one of the leading artists of the Conceptualism and Pop artistic movements of the 1980s in Armenia. His works often challenge traditions of academic art by including scenes, symbols from mass culture and simultaneously express criticism and nostalgia. After graduating from the Yerevan Institute of Fine Arts in 1985, Grigoryan co-founded the first liberal artistic movement “3rd Floor” (1987-1994) which gave a start to further development of Armenia’s contemporary art and adoption of new artistic practices. Among many exhibitions in Armenia and abroad Grigoryan presented and participated in Armenian Pavilion in Venice Biennale 47th and 55th both as an artist and curator. Arman Grigoryan is a member of AICA-Armenia, speaker in Yerevan “Mkhitar Sebastatsi” Educational Complex. Lives and works in Yerevan, Armenia. 

Focus 6.jpg

Mika Vatinyan (b. 1972) is an artist practicing in the fields of cinema, acting, music, design and photography, often representing cultural-economic context in Armenia through his projects. Mika graduated from Yerevan State Institute of Theater and Cinematography with Bachelor of directing. Among the group exhibitions he participated in are: The 8th Gyumri Contemporary Art Biennale (2012), Changing the Place of Encounter: Fragments of Armenian Contemporary Visual Art, Berlin (2012). Lives and works in Yerevan, Armenia.

Focus 7.jpgAyreen Anastas and Rene Gabri are artists who have started collaborating since 1999, which is the beginning of 16 Beaver, a collective space and context for rethinking the nexus between life, art, and politics. Their habits are many and changing, especially since inhabiting with friends and neighbours a small village in the mountains of Armenia. Their relation to art is in its potential to unmake as much as it is to make. Thus, art is not just another field of human activity or doing but a potential space to rethink all activities and doings.

In the frame of the Focus: Armenia project,  the screening of the work And You, What Do You Seek? by Ayreen Anastas & Rene Gabri and the lecture Artistic Practices and Transient States by Ruben Arevshatyan will take place on Thursday, 27 September. 

Thursday, 27 September 2018

1:15-2:00 pm | Ayreen Anastas & Rene Gabri And You, What Do You Seek?
Screening in the frame of Focus: Armenia

2:00-3:00 pm | Artistic Practices and Transient States
Lecture in the frame of Focus: Armenia

Ruben Arevshatyan, Artist, Art Critic, Independent Curator, President of AICA-Armenia, Teacher at the Contemporary Art Institute, Yerevan

Sona Stepanyan is curator at Armenia Art Foundation (Yerevan) and co-founder and member of curatorial studio Triangle (Moscow). Previously worked at the education department of Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, she graduated from Svobodnie Masterskiecuratorial school, the Critics and Curatorship program of UNIC Institute, and State Moscow Pedagogical University. Among her independent exhibitions are: Power Nap (2018; Yerevan Museum of Modern Art), Project with an Accent (2014; Random Gallery Moscow), Ward Number Laughter (Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 2013).

Armenia Art Foundation (AAF) is an independent non-profit organization aiming to support the development of contemporary art in Armenia. Based in Yerevan, it was established in 2016 by art historian and museum specialist Anush Zeynalyan and businessmen of Armenian origin David Nazaryan and Rafael Nazaryan. AAF supports artists by providing financial support for art projects while initiating new artistic and educational projects in Armenia, which involve local and international artists, curators and theorists.


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Save the Date
27–30 September 2018
Marx Halle Vienna


One thought on “viennacontemporary 2018 | Focus: Armenia

  1. Pingback: viennacontemporary 2018 |Prize winners | #viennacontemporary Magazine

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