About

Incidents (of Travel) explores the chartered day-long travel itinerary as a format of artistic encounter and an extended conversation between curator/s and artist/s.

An expanded phase of a project conceived by Latitudes (Barcelona) in 2012, this new series of tours is conceived as fieldwork and an expanded studio visit. It is presented as reportage and dispatches from invited curators and artists working around the world.

Destinations

Terengganu, Malaysia August 2016

Curator: Simon Soon
Artist: chi too

Lisbon, Portugal December 2016

Curator: Pedro de Llano
Artist: Luisa Cunha

Suzhou, China August 2016

Curator: Yu Ji
Artist: Xiao Kaiyu

Jinja, Uganda June 2016

Curator: Moses Serubi
Artist: Moshen Taha

Chicago, April 2016

Curator: Yesomi Umolu
Artist: Harold Mendez
Photos by: Nabiha Khan

Incidents (of Travel)

Curator

Studio College

Marianna Hovhannisyan

National Center of Aesthetics

Introduction

Itinerary

Yerevan, Armenia

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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.

Krunk or Mkrtchyan Gallery (1991–2010)

Initiated in 1991 by writer Armen Mkrtchyan in the cellar of his house during the severe political and economic conditions of Independent Armenia, Mkrtchyan gallery was one of the first private galleries in Yerevan. Between 1991–1994 it was known as Krunk gallery (meaning ‘crane’), a bird that symbolizes spring. Mkrtchyan gallery was a cultural bridge between the art of early twentieth-century Armenian classical modernism (including the work of artists from the Armenian diaspora) and practices that developed after the 1960s known as national modernism. In the 1990s, it also worked with the new wave of artists emerging from the Independence period. Its financial income was generated based, on the one hand, representing artists’ work, but also on a ‘sell-to buy-to-sell’ principle—making a profit through a small fee added. The permanent collection was regularly exhibited and sold in the Middle East. In 2010 Armen Mkrtchyan migrated to the United States and the gallery closed in Yerevan, while a namesake opened in Glendale, California.

Ex-Voto Gallery (1994–1996)

Ex-Voto gallery opened in 1994 as a result of the collaboration between Yerevan-based art historian Nazareth Karoyan and Armenian-American sculptor Charles (Charlie) Khachatourian, a connection made by Karoyan by artist Sahak Poghosyan. It functioned as a private initiative and as the only commercial gallery with a vision and a mission for its annual programs. The venue consisted of three exhibition galleries at the state-run Charents Museum of Literature and Arts in Yerevan. In a 2009 interview, Karoyan discussed Ex-Voto as a focal point of the transition in the 1990s from relationships based on friendships to more professional standards. Ex-Voto worked exclusively with Armenian contemporary artists who were associated with the generation of the Independence period. Eight exhibition projects were produced in its two years of existence. The permanent collection included the works of the middle and young generation of abstractionists. Later, Ex-Voto evolved into Charlie Khachatryan gallery.

The entrance of former Ex-Voto gallery.

Two Entrances to Hay Art Cultural Center. On the left side of the image: Poster of the exhibition of Eduard Isabekyan. On the right side: The logo of the Center in Armenian language, and a renovation scene.

Hay Art Cultural Center (1997/8–2004)

Hay Art cultural center belonged to the state. Its building is typical of Soviet postmodern architecture and it consists of five cylindrical forms, or ‘barrels’. Formerly, the space functioned as the Modern Art Museum of Yerevan, planned in the late 1970s by architects Jim Torosyan and Gevorg Aramyan. Hay Art’s critical activity started sometime in 1997–8 under the directorship of artist Norayr Ayvazyan, and curator and art historian Ruben Arevshatyan, as its artistic director. Hay Art regularly presented and thoroughly developed interdisciplinary contemporary art projects and exhibitions. Such a perspective promoted a network between both local and international (western, post-Soviet) art fields, including participations of Armenian artists in international events such as Manifesta 3. In 2004 the Yerevan Municipality decided to cease its critical activities. The building was later used as an exotarium, and currently some of its barrels exhibit the work of classical painter Eduard Isabekyan. The name Hay Art still remains in use.

Armenian Open University, Department of Fine Arts (1998–2014)

During the transitional period of the 1980s and 1990s contemporary artists developed new representative frameworks. The Department of Fine Arts was established to provide alternative education in the arts. It was the only degree-giving (B.A.), higher-educational system in the arts or critical practice that was able to provide for a possible future generation of artists. The Department was founded by artists Samvel and Manvel Baghdassaryans, and artist and theoretician Ara Gurzadyan. Officially registered in 1998, it embodied a triple-pronged vision. The National Center of Aesthetics—a state institution stemming from the modernist history of the 1960s and 70s, where artists started to be welcomed from the early 1980s. Secondly, the idea of the private humanitarian university embodied by the Armenian Open University. And thirdly, an independent and experimental curriculum promoted by artists. The teaching staff consisted of acting art professionals, as well as local curators and artists who introduced new subjects such as cultural studies. One of the key teaching methods was based on workshops and project-oriented exhibitions. The funding was generated from students’ low fees, donations of artists’ networks or grant-making projects. The closure of the department was conditioned by the economic and political changes in Armenia. The closure of the department in 2014 was conditioned by the economic and political changes in Armenia, although the National Center of Aesthetics continued until the end of 2017.

First Floor Art House (2000–2009/10)

First Floor Art House was a private space initiated by Anahit Martirosyan in 2000. It introduced abstract and modernist painting and regularly presented new artistic groups associated with both fine and contemporary art. First Floor also sought to raise art historical and methodological debates. For instance, besides working with an artist, the gallery would invite an art historian or a curator to collaborate with artists. The main art buyers were from the diaspora, or international art lovers interested in abstraction. There was not a permanent exhibition but ongoing series of exhibition openings and events. The gallery was located on the first floor of a room in the center of Yerevan.

Utopiana (2003–)

The nonprofit cultural organisation Utopiana was founded both in Geneva (2001) and in Yerevan (2003) by the Geneva-based Armenian artist and curator Anna Barseghyan. The name Utopiana can be articulated in the Armenian context as a reflection on the sociopolitical reality of the country, where the development of contemporary art often seems like a utopia. Over the years Utopiana worked with well-known curators, artists, and theoreticians. It collaborated with AICA’s (International Association of Art Critics) Armenia branch, for example, in the scope of organising joint symposiums, providing opportunities for local artists to exhibit their works, and developing a partnership with feminist theory-oriented artists and cultural workers.

At the end of the 2000s, Utopiana in Yerevan was led by a new president Nora Galfayan in collaboration with Barseghyan. Its focus shifted towards the unbiased media representation of the political instabilities in Armenia by documenting and broadcasting the ongoing post-2008 public demonstrations against official structures and the government. Some of the projects questioned the critical implications of public space. Since 2016, Utopiana has been in the process of re-organizing its team, space and conceptual framework. Financial support has been generated on a project-by-project basis.

akanat Gallery (Amiryan street) (2002–2006)

akanat gallery was founded by Ani Sookiasian, in collaboration with Yerevan-based art historian and collector Tatul Arakyan, and Arman Grigoryan, the artist and co-founder of the 3rd Floor artistic movement (1987–94). It was a private, commercial initiative, which provided exhibitive possibilities for the local art scene and created new relationships between state infrastructures and the art world. Between 2002–2006, akanat developed eight exhibitions under the conceptual framework “The dynamics of the development of abstractionism from the 1980s to the 1990s” which examined the critical impact abstraction had in the formation of contemporary Armenian art. akanat was a hub for a series of meetings between writers and art professionals and collaborations with local institutions (for example, international projects by Utopiana, such as lectures by French curator Catherine David.) One of its most important contributions was the organization of talks by cultural thinkers and philosophers from the Armenian diaspora. The space is currently a yoga center.

The former entrance of akanat Gallery, currently the entrance to yoga, pilates and spa center called "Shoonch" [in Armenian, "Breath."]

Gevorgyan gallery (2004–2009)

In 2004 businessman Sergey Gevorgyan opened the Gevorgyan gallery in Yerevan. It had a permanent collection of modern and abstract paintings, installations and sculptures, and it would display fine arts-oriented and painterly works by contemporary artists. The gallery was also open to exhibition proposals or to host events related with contemporary arts. One of the examples was its welcoming of presentations or re-installations of some art projects from the Gyumri International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Yerevan or hosting the meetings of the Summer School for Art Curators from AICA. The 2008–9 economic crisis left a mark on the gallery, and it eventually closed in 2009.

akanat café-gallery (Koghbatsi street) (2010-2016)

In 2010 akanat’s former director Ani Sookiasian reopened the space, now addressed to a more diverse public. It functioned as a cultural club. The first floor was devoted to a café-bookstore and the second floor was a gallery for the display of painterly works by contemporary artists. Film screenings, presentations and lectures took place there with the additional focus on Armenian contemporary photography. During our 2016 visit the space was closed and a ‘For Rent’ sign hung on its door. During a later interview with Sookiasian, she briefly mentioned that one of the reasons akanat closed was the severe financial conditions in Armenia and in the region. There is now an idea to create a virtual akanat gallery.

Detail of the sign “For Rent” [in Armenian.]

Institute of Contemporary Art, Yerevan (2005–)

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Yerevan is the result of the transformations of various critical institutions. Its history and background are embedded in the formation of the N ational Association of Art Critics (NAAC) nonprofit organization in 2005, which developed in parallel with the establishment of AICA’s branch in Armenia. Currently, ICA is led by art historian Nazareth Karoyan—former president of AICA-Armenia and the initiator of NAAC. One of its most significant projects was the International Summer School for Art Curators in Yerevan (2006–2013) initiated by art historian Angela Harutyunyan and carried out under the framework of AICA-Armenia. In 2008, NAAC and AICA-Armenia developed another remarkable activity by opening professional courses in art history and exhibition management for local young professionals taught by Yerevan-based art historians, architects and curators. In the late 2000s, ICA Yerevan was registered as an official entity, carrying forward the work of NAAC and AICA-Armenia. During our interview, Karoyan stated that the ICA is both the accumulation and the surviving model of critical institutions that emerged from a common concern for having infrastructures for art theory and criticism, research and practice in Armenia, as well as from the region. The photo depicts the second rented space of ICA. The funding is generated based on each project.

The entrance of the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Incidents (of Travel) explores the chartered day-long travel itinerary as a format of artistic encounter and an extended conversation between curator/s and artist/s.

An expanded phase of a project conceived by Latitudes (Barcelona) in 2012, this new series of tours is conceived as fieldwork and an expanded studio visit. It is presented as reportage and dispatches from invited curators and artists working around the world.

Studio-College, National Center of Aesthetics
Vardan Kilichyan, Gohar Hosyan, and Anaida Verdyan (Yerevan) were art students of the studio college at the National Center of Aesthetics. The studio-college existed for more than 30 years and it provided an advanced education in fine arts, design and art history for the younger generation (12-18 years old.) For many years, its local and international projects were actively led by one of its founders, contemporary artist Samvel Baghdasaryan. Some projects with the participation of these students include: “Emotional landscape” installation-based exhibition, Children’s Arts Museum, Armenia (2016); “The Path of Swallows” performance by Mahalia Kohnke-Jehl (ACSL, 2015); “My Friend Biennial–Çanakkale International Children Biennial” (Turkey, 2014); and Pan-Armenian Art Festivals (2010-2016).

Marianna Hovhannisyan (Yerevan/San Diego) is a research-based curator, a Ph.D student in Art History, Theory, and Criticism at Visual Arts Department, Univerisity of California San Diego. Her curatorial work and writings focus on contemporary art and education and on the hegemony of archives. In 2016 she curated Empty Fields, a large-scale exhibition project commissioned by SALT, Istanbul. It was an outcome of her 2014-15 research fellowship at SALT (the first EU-funded Armenia-Turkey Fellowship by Hrant Dink Foundation). She has recently lectured at the UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. In 2017, she was selected for the Getty Consortium Seminar and is currently editing the publication Empty Fields.
Incidents (of Travel)
Episode No. 6

Edited by Latitudes
Produced by Kadist
Photographs by Armine Hovhannisyan, Vardan Kilichyan and Anaida Verdyan
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