Recently I attended the Summer Seminars for Art Curators, which is hosted annually by AICA-Armenia. We spent three days in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, and a further four days in Ijevan, in the north near the border with Azerbaijan and Georgia. The themes of the two seminar events were “Aesthetic Communities and Contextual Translation of Communal Art” and “The Communal Function of a Monument”.

Armenia is a fascinating country, but I will not go into too much in detail about it here. However, it must be said that the post-Soviet-ness of Yerevan is striking, and the beauty of the countryside is extraordinary. It was wonderful to get to see both Yerevan and Ijevan, and all the landscape and important points of interest in between.

Yerevan railway station

The first day of seminars was held in the “Bangladesh” neighbourhood of Yerevan. Kicking off the lecture programme was Dr. Margarita Tupitsyn discussing Russian Art as a Sisyphean Project, followed by Dr. Vardan Azatyan presenting Myths and Visions of Artistic Avant-gardes in Armenia. In the evening at The Club, Marlène Perronet and Elke Krasny presented, while Adnan Yıldız and Aykan Safoğlu were Skyped in. The following day, the keynote presentation was by Victor Tupitsyn, followed by evening presentations by myself, Joanna Warsza, and Ida Hirschenfelder. 

My presentation was entitled “The Transient and Mutable Monument”, and argued for the development of a framework for producing “open source” monuments in public space. My thoughts were very much inspired by the work of Estonian artist Kristina Norman, and also referenced Antony Gormley’s recent work, One and Other on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Both projects illustrated the importance of site for monuments more than the actual monument itself. Taken together, Norman and Gormley’s projects represent a uniquely contemporary re-thinking of the ways in which monuments can be viewed both as art objects and as modes of interaction for all.

Earlier that day we had an informal round table:

Yerevan

Over conversations at the top of the Cascades monument in Yerevan, or later on, at the local riverside bar in Ijevan, I discovered the issues confronting the artists in the Caucasus region were the same as everywhere else (of course), except that the silent presence of the monumental past (usually hulking there in the form of Soviet architecture) framed the present inexorably. It’s fashionable to sneer about starchitects, but our built environment really does impact how we conceive of ourselves and how we work.

After these quick two days, which covered territory ranging from the contested nature of public space to contextualisation of art made in the Soviet era, we were then off to Ijevan, in the north.

Ijevan

It’s hard to describe how interesting it is, and good it is, for any curator to escape the cushy embrace of whatever it is they are used to, and end up at a seminar where you are in a town of about twenty thousand souls, at an exhibition opening with pickles and salami sandwiches being served, followed by an open air concert where a local rock band is covering tunes by 90s era riot grrl rock outfit Babes in Toyland. Toto, we aren’t in Amsterdam anymore.

Our ever-honest and vigilant Armenian friends told us that the Ijevan townspeople were puzzled by our presence, which underscored (for me, at least) the purpose of our seminars and gathering. While all of the scheduled talks were interesting in their own way, the best aspect of this or any seminar is the interaction with the other participants, in the tiny temporary community we create. So of course the townspeople of Ijevan wondered why we were there — because at that point, we were already deep into the process of getting to know each other, and besides had little time outside our schedule to get to know the town. The town was an aspect of our experience, but not the central aspect, and so it made sense that the townspeople felt outside of it. Recognising this mild alienation also meshed perfectly with our ongoing discussion into contextual communities and visual art.

The participants were: Elke Krasny (Austria), Armenak Grigoryan (Armenia), Michelle Kasprzak (Netherlands), Karin Grigoryan (Armenia), Xenia Nikolskaya (Sweden/Egypt), Arevik Grigoryan (Armenia), Marlène Perronet (France), Harutyun Alpetyan (Armenia), Adnan Yildiz (Turkey), Carmen De Michele (Germany), Gor Engoyan (Armenia), Nvard Yerkanian (Armenia), Natuka Vatsadze (Georgia), Liana Khachatryan (Armenia), Viviana Checchia (Italy), Sona Melik-Karamyan (Armenia), Ida Hirsenfelder (Slovenia), Pau cata i Marles (Catalan/Spain), Taguhi Torosyan (Armenia). Volunteers and free participants included: Shoair Mavlian (UK/Australia), Özge Çelikaslan (Turkey), Emanuele Braga (Italy), Maddalena Fragnito (Italy), Narek Tovmasyan (Armenia).

Presentations given over the course of the seminars will soon be shared, and when I have permission to share those, I will, in a new post, with further information on the overall programme.

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