This one day walking itinerary in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, documents transformed, disappeared, or permanently-closed art institutions in the city center. The itinerary was conducted in 2016 with the art students of the studio-college at the National Center of Aesthetics, one of the oldest alternative art educational hubs in Yerevan. The shared inquiry was based around how knowledge transmission and generational exchanges in the Armenian contemporary art field could be approached—particularly in terms of exploring the fragmented histories of its institutional work.
While the itinerary reflects on a set of former art institutions predominantly from the city center, such as artist-run spaces, art centers or galleries, it also aims to communicate a general sense of the past related with the formation of contemporary art infrastructures after the independence of Armenia from the Soviet Union in 1991. Founded since the early 1990s, these examples reveal various context-sensitive tactics as a search for new aesthetic definitions and shaping notions of both institutional as well as independent critical practices, including models of economic independence. Artists have played crucial roles in the collective intention to build infrastructures, which, as the itinerary shows, vary from educational to commercial, from purely conceptual to programmatic, and from collaborative, local structures to initiatives led by the Armenian diaspora. Despite more than a decade of realized projects and frameworks, by the late-2000s, most of these have collapsed or are in a state of ongoing transformation. The closures have been mainly due to the introduction of neoliberal economic policies and the ongoing state disinterest in supporting sustainable critical structures. Each of these institutional initiatives has depended on their founders’ subjective efforts and associative community enthusiasm.
In this dispatch, a form of chronological mapping presents images of the façades or entrances of these buildings along with short, informative comments—usually unregistered as a cohesive narrative. The images capture the state of the buildings as they were in 2016—either just buildings without any traces of their creative past, or those changed into commercial or service-based use, or simply “For Rent.”
The history of the establishment of the studio-college at the National Center of Aesthetics is itself part of the dynamics of these institutional pasts. My own formative education has passed through this center, as has the art students who participated in this project, as well as the photographer. As we were putting together the online version of the offline day, the studio-college itself closed down permanently at the end of 2017. Perhaps this closure was the only logical final stop for the itinerary to be completed.