ամսվա ամփոփում

Առարկա, ձև, ուտոպիա

Մարինե Խաչատրյան

‘Still Life’

The exhibition ‘Still Life’ at the Academy of Fine Arts took place on March 11 with the participation of Academy’s students and under Ara Haytayan’s curation. The show strove to regard the limits of the genre and its contemporary articulations. Its opening was followed by a lecture-discussion on the historical development of the genre, which gave an overall idea about the still life and provided a new occasion for reflections around it.

Still life is the world of dead objects (literally meaning ‘dead nature’ – nature morte). As noted by a scholar of still-lives, Irina Danivola, ‘all living things in still life die and turn into objects. Flowers must be detached from their natural environment, fruits and vegetables picked, animals and birds killed, fish and sea creatures taken out of water in order to end up in a still life.’ In this exhibition the orange is also cut, the pear bitten, the flowers withered, the fish cooked, the eggs scrambled, the human sculpted or fixed as a reflection in the mirror but never shown as an active subject. As in classical still lives, there are almost no living things here either.

Objects have been preserved in the exhibition, but their essence has changed. The transgression of genre’s rules and the questioning of its limits is evident in the way that the artefacts have been interpreted. The exhibition vivifies the world of the objects and ‘turns them on’, since in the age of technological development and robot building an inanimate state of things is impossible.

In the present instance, the objects are endowed with functions that make them come alive when performed: some make sounds, others show images, the next ones act as substitutes for one, or the other of human tasks. In the installation made up of Soviet-era objects, one of the objects is presented in the actual act of performing its function: a long antiquated television barely transmitting a TV broadcast. Meanwhile - even though they are not shown in the process of working - the remaining objects are also clearly capable of executing certain actions: the soviet camera makes black and white photographs, the radio receiver broadcasts radio waves, the child’s toy allows to play. The old typewriter in Sirarpi Chibukhchyan’s installation makes noises while typing, the accordion in Lilit Mnatsakanyan’s still-life collage generates music, while the saucepans hanging from the stairs in Ani Nersisyan’s installation move lightly, ready to make a loud noise with the smallest of knocks.
Outside the realm of art, the wires hanging from a wall in the exhibition hall once used to serve some or the other technological device and put it to work. It would seem that the still life should not speak – even from a television or radio receiver – it should not play, print, produce noise or make a picture. The exhibition reveals the results of this metamorphosis undergone by the still life, conditioned by the pressures of time.

Intentionally or not, the still life objects found herein, acquire signs of life, putting under scrutiny the necessity of their inanimation within the genre. They instigate the following question as a result: could the still-life remain entirely a collection of inert objects in the post-industrial era, in the context of the multitude of moving machines, the plenitude of robot works and multi-functionality of technology, or do the projectile image and emanating sound of the television announce the end of still-life’s existence in the realm of dead things or the beginning of its transformation?

The pictured object has little chance of ‘being alive’: visualisation is liable to turn lifeless even the most dynamic of objects since it fixes a moment upon a surface. Even the picturing of movement is not movement, but its illusion. Sound, moreover, is simply an eternal yearning for painting. Transcending these painterly limitations via installations and seemingly remaining within the narrow confines of the still-life, the exhibition, nevertheless, undermines the foundations of the genre. By not only picturing its primary ‘models’ – the objects – on the canvas, but also featuring them in the guise of actual objects as sculptures or installations within the exhibition space, still-life - this genre born and bred within painting - endangers its intrinsic quality of lifelessness.

The ‘aliveness’ of the objects, nevertheless, does not disrupt the genre’s initial aim of relating the idea of transience. One of the works by Ophelia Azizyan cites Van Gogh’s words about how he works from morning, hastening to make it in time since the flowers wilt quickly. Coming to replace the wilted flowers that embody the idea of transience in classical still-lives are the Soviet and early post-Soviet artefacts featured in the present still-lives. The old electronic gaming equipment, the TV set, the typewriter, the Zenith camera and the film roll, all nostalgically remind us about the rapid expiry date of past decades and objects, and hence, of life’s fleetingness. In the age of consumerism, the shortened lifespan of objects sharpens this notion even further, making the genre relevant once again.

One of the works quotes from Auguste Renoir’s sayings: ‘I believe that one of the key achievements of our movement [Impressionism] is the fact that we freed painting from the domination of the object. I am free to paint flowers and call it flowers without having to think up stories around it’. Indeed, still-life is currently freed from the obligation to tell stories. And yet, the issue is that in still-life, painting doesn’t so much free itself of the object, but rather becomes the humble servant of the possibilities offered by the thing.

The object has assumed such a central role in the exhibition that the style and the mediums of the images have receded into the background. Located in the realm ranging from cubism to fauvism, realism to even abstraction, these variously styled paintings, photographs, sculptures and installations are unified only by the objects. The genre welcomes the perspective of being enriched by the multitude of styles, but it also has an unconditionally discerning attitude towards the represented item: still-life is faithful only to the object. This unshakable orientation of the genre towards the artefact and its inconsistency and inclusiveness when it comes to styles or mediums is reflected in the exhibition, where the object continues to be still-life’s sole point of differentiation.

Generally speaking, the still-life genre precludes the portrayal of humans in the first place. Though the human being is absent in these particular still-lives as well (with the exception of one picture), they are present in ‘footnotes’, ‘out of the frame’: the human trace is everywhere. The tables full of food are laid for someone or someone has already made use of them and left; the musical instruments are probably played by someone; the pulled-off shoes, opened cigarette packet and the chair, all belong to a person. Nearly every artefact here infers the services it provides to humans, which leads to objects being seen as articles for satisfying human consumption needs.

‘I put Manet’s ‘Still-life with Pears’ next to Ingres’ painting of ‘Jupiter and Thetis’. The pears tossed out all the gods.’ This statement by Edgar Degas testifies that the exhibition continues the trajectory taken by modern and contemporary art, which suspends the triumphant march of ‘Major’ subjects with ‘secondary’ themes - the piling and grouping of objects.

Coming after the theme and the pictured object, the next key issue in these works is the compositional structure. ‘I put in immense efforts towards the construction of the composition so that it would seem like a natural arrangement of accidental objects… To paint a picture which would be devoid of artisticity’ –one of the exhibited photographs quotes from Henri Fantin-Latour. Indeed, works from one part of the exhibition have objects in a ‘natural’ environment – haphazard, devoid of the earnest coquettishness of organisation – while elsewhere, they are grouped in places specifically designated for them - ‘taut’, formal, primed and ready to be pictured and viewed, like an orderly row of army cadets.

The motleyness of the exhibition, however, doesn’t so much manifest in the diversity of formal solutions and the wide range of objects, as it does in the stylistic abundance. The volumes are either broken up into geometrical bodies or dissolved within abstract forms, they are sometimes generalised and simplified – occasionally cropped – or conjure up hyperreal illusions of tangibility. Considered a product of the Renaissance, this genre bursts into the contemporary world with stylistic characteristics that are channelled through the prism of modern and contemporary art. It’s as if the exhibition was presenting still-life’s historical journey through time, bringing it to our days and trialling its current potential.


‘Exhibition of Graphic Works: Kevork George Kassabian and Dikran Daderian’

The co-exhibition of works by Canadian-Armenian artist Kevork George Kassabian and French-Armenian painter Dikran Daderian opened at the Albert and Tove Boyajyan Gallery on March 15. Curator Gayane Hovhannisyan writes in her exhibition text that what unites these two diasporan-Armenian artists is ‘only the fact that both of them live at the same time, on the same planet’. Stressing such a connection was, perhaps, intended more as a way of pointing out the absence or the futility of searching for any other similarities. Nevertheless, the concurrent display of the two artists prompts the visitor to seek out either resemblances or contrasts between their works, otherwise the necessity of exhibiting together comes under question considering the lack of any common propositions.

The works of both artists presented in the exhibition are all located on the edge of abstraction, at the brink of abrogation. Abstraction, in some of their pieces – the total absence of figures and natural forms – has not reached its logical culmination. In Kassabian’s works, the obstacle for such closure, as well as the tell-tale sign of abstraction’s absence, are the titles of the works. Abstract at first glance, the forms in his drawings refer to specific objects. Thanks to the title, the seemingly non-figurative brushstrokes in the series ‘Textural Pipes’ become images of concrete objects։ pumps. In another group entitled ‘Piano Concert’, the black and white stains conjured up with minimal means begin to resemble piano keys when one learns what the work is called. Likewise, the abstract white lines in Dikran Daderian’s work ‘Trip’ approximate an image of crossroads. Crosses are also outlined in the graphical piece ‘Mount of Olives’, bringing forth associations with the scene of the Crucifixion.

Reaching its tops, abstraction triumphs in other works. Created with a single gesture of the hand and with nominal resources, abstraction appears in its purity in Kassabian’s ‘Blue Monochrome’ variations. The bluepaint brushstrokes are ascetic and free from figurativeness. In his abstract-expressionism referencing works entitled ‘Trojan War’ and ‘Hurricane’, Daderian absolves the form of narrativity, leaving the turbulent, disquieting feelings induced by the brushworks instead. The form here expresses only the quality without referring to the object, phenomenon or the story.

The exhibition, nevertheless, generates an active viewing dynamics not through this relay between abstraction’s retreat and completion, but through the play of titles. If in Kassabian’s works, the names of the pieces do not enter into a game of incongruity with what is pictured, then in some of Daderian’s prints, what is in front of the viewer clearly contradicts the artist’s text: the image and the title are in dispute here. The picture entitled ‘Multiplicity’ unexpectedly presents a monotony of colour and form, producing a monochrome ennui of black. The work ‘Blue Song’ offers bright yellow colouring: the viewer reads blue, sees yellowish. Likewise, the print called ‘Synthesis of Colour Material’ supposes amalgamated tones, but presents primary colours divided by horizontal lines and ununified. This twofold game gives Daderian’s works the advantage of repeated viewings: on first approach the artwork comes forth with its colour-compositional solutions, while in the next instance – through its problematic relationship with the title.

‘Together is Possible’

On March 19th, the exhibition ‘Together is Possible’, showcasing the works of Nelli Shishmanyan, took place at the Armenian Centre for Contemporary Experimental Art in Yerevan. The show aims to fill in the gradually deepening gulf between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians not via news about yet another victim, but through a rare narrative of amity.

In both countries, the subject of peace and peaceful coexistence are wishful thinking, since in lieu of more than twenty years of immediate contact, bombings of border villages with the resulting human casualties, wounded, uncultivated lands, unsafe living conditions and subsequently, as a consequence of the four-day April war, there has developed a mutual inhuman image of the enemy as a result of which any discussion of peace ends with the following expression: ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’. Due to a number of objective circumstances, peaceful cohabitation appears as an unrealistic prospect to either party despite the often successful experiences of shared existence in the not-too erstwhile past. It is in this context that the exhibition proposes an alternative to the tense relationship that is more a utopia of peaceful coexistence between the Armenians and the Azeris. A seemingly impossible lifestyle for local Armenians and Azerbaijani citizens this is, however, not some imaginary reality, a hopeless attempt at affirming the possibility of the discourse of peace, but a photographic documentation of an already existing life.

Ցուցահանդեսը ցույց է տալիս, որ Հայաստանից դուրս, Վրաստանի երեք փոքր գյուղերում՝ Ծոփիում, Խաչաղբյուրում և Խոժոռնիում, կողք կողքի ապրում են հայեր ու ադրբեջանցիներ, որոնք ընկերություն են անում, մասնակցում միմյանց տներում ուրախության և տխրության միջոցառումներին, հաց կիսում, շաշկի խաղում, առևտուր անում իրար հետ ու հարևանություն անում։ Երեխաները հաճախում են միևնույն դպրոցը և իրար հետ ֆուտբոլ խաղում։ Շիշմանյանի լուսանկարները այս համակեցության ու հարևանության դրվագներ են պատկերում, որոնք ապացուցում են միասին ապրելու հնարավոր լինելը՝ ցուցադրելով կենցաղների ու երկու ազգերի ներկայացուցիչների բնորոշ առանձնահատկությունների նմանությունները։ Լուսանկարներում տոլման ու խանգյալը ոչ թե հերթական կռվի աղբյուր են, այլ թե՛ հայերի, թե՛ ադրբեջանցիների կողմից պատրաստվող ուտեստներ, որոնք մատնանշում են միայն կողք կողքի ապրող ժողովուրդների միևնույն համային ճաշակը։ Խաղաղ համակեցությունն այս երկու գյուղերը պատկերող լուսանկարներում ու վիդեոյում անիրատեսության ու մի կողմի պարտվողականության հոմանիշները չեն, այլ նույն տարածքը կիսելուց ծնված անհրաժեշտություն։

Մյուս կողմից, ցուցահանդեսը՝ չնայած շեշտադրված խաղաղասիրական շարժառիթներին, միտումնավոր թե ոչ, նաև գյուղական կյանքի ակնհայտ գովերգման փորձ է։ Հետզհետե ուռճացվող քաղաքների, ուրբանիզացման աննախադեպ տեմպերի հետևանքով գյուղական կյանքի շատ առանձնահատկություններ անհետանում են։ Լուսանկարներում ու վիդեոյում ոչխար խուզելը, կով կթելը, խոտի դեզ սարքելը, հավ ու սագ պահելը, հողամասերը մշակելը, բացօթյա պահածոներ անելը, փռերում հաց թխելը, ավանդական ուտեստներ պատրաստելը ներկայացված են գյուղական կյանքի հանդեպ առանձնահատուկ սիրով, քաղաքաբնակի հետաքրքրասիրությամբ ու անհետացող սովորույթների հանդեպ կարոտախտով։

Իրենց կենցաղավարման սովորույթները դեռևս պահպանած ու խաղաղ համակեցություն հաստատած այս գյուղերը ուտոպիստական վայրեր են, որոնք, ցուցահանդեսը պնդում է՝ օրինակելի են այլ բնակավայրերի համար։

***

Ի մի բերելով՝ նշենք, որ նատյուրմորտների ցուցահանդեսը փորձարկում էր առարկան ու դրա ներկայացումը ժամանակակից արվեստի պրակտիկաների կողքին, գրաֆիկաների ցուցադրությունը լարախաղացի նման հետուառաջ էր անում աբստրակցիայի թելի վրա, իսկ «Միասին հնարավոր է» ցուցահանդեսը պատուհան էր բացում դեպի խաղաղ գոյակցության արդեն իսկ առկա օրինակներ։