'Project Armenia' is to be seen within an ongoing line of projects starting 1996, addressing human aspects within the harsh realities of ’nation states’ with a focus on identity, borders, power structures and geopolitical aspects in relation to (city) landscape.
One of my night photographs depicts an unfinished round building that made me think of ‘The Tower of Babel’, the painting by Pieter Breugel the Elder. As I finished ’40 titles’ ,my second large scale art project involving identity, politics and nation states in which I focused on China and the relationship with Europe, I wanted to get closer and closer to a certain ‘origin’, tracing back historic geologic migration and the development of nation-states in general. I started my research around the place where this tower was presumed to have been sited and what was known about the region during that period. This brought me to Eridu in southern Mesopotamia, now ‘Tell Abu Shahrain’ in Irak, a site with a ruin of a temple in the form of pyramid called ‘Ziggurat’ or ‘Ur’, quite similar to the suggestion of Pieter Breugel. And I started to follow this path of the region of the ‘Persian Gulf’ with the worlds oldest known civilisation: ‘Sumer’. Eventually, after a long theoretical and historical journey, I came across Armenia. And eventually this connected my ‘China-Europe’ focus with the first art project of this kind, the project related to the fall of communism in Eastern-Germany and the war in Yugoslavia. For the silk route lead through China to Europe, entering through the ancient Armenian city ‘Ani’, now situated in Turkey on the current border with modern Armenia. And as I dived into the historical events that lead to this situation I found a strong relation to a key work that I created in 2015 right after the ’40 Titles’ project had come to an end: ‘Time Table With Memory Holes’. This work is now the connecting hub for all these and further projects, for it is the manifestation of everything that lead to me becoming the artist and person that I am today: my personal background, my German roots and personal tragic events leading to migration into the Netherlands. This is where my focus on identity is rooted and where my interest in aspects in relation to human existence and our (in)comprehension about it derives from. So I started a new art project that nobody had asked for but to me seemed very relevant and important: ‘Project Armenia’. It started with deep research regarding all the events starting from the Ottoman Empire. This was in the end of 2016 and it took me quite a while but I finally found a suiting artist residency at the ‘Institute for Contemporary Art’ in Yerevan for 2018. After my plan was accepted and we agreed on a stay in september of 2018, quite surprisingly, the ‘Velvet Revolution’ took place in the spring of that year.
It started in January 2017, when there was no sign of the (velvet) revolution that took place in May 2018. After a period of intensive research, a large amount of ‘impossibilities’ came across while formulating a concept to work with. This was taken into account and became part of the project. The first 'impossibility' was the idea of placing a large see through mirror at the border with Turkey. From the Armenian side it would function as a frame for a changing view, depending on the position. From the Turkish side the mirror would reflect. At that time there seemed no way to work out this concept, because of the political situation. The concept itself however touches every part of that reality.
The project itself is developed as a series of platforms or spaces which is realised through interactive performances, site specific interventions, cooperation and presentations. This in an effort to create and offer ‘free space’ within several presented 'modules', anticipating on actual needs and changes. The basis was established during a four weeks residency with the 'Institute for Contemporary Art' (ICA) of Yerevan, September 2018. Prior to that, a try out/intervention took place in the Netherlands, during which the large canvases were created.
Flexibility, Connectivity & Transformation
'Flexibility' and 'connectivity' became the essence of the main concept, worked out by the principle of 'transformation'. This is reflected in every part of the project, such as media and material. Starting with an abstract digital composition of nation flags to be constructed out of large coloured canvases, bit by bit coming to life in a carefully designed order during a performance event were an abstract installation slowly transformed into a two-dimensional representation of the current geo-political situation concerning Armenia.
Identity, Abstraction & Symbolism
Taking in account that the colours of a flag very often refer to certain aspects of the landscape which become symbols of national identity and the fact that flags are symbols themselves, a series of events were worked out by interactive performances and site specific interventions on significant locations of Armenia’s public space, including Freedom Square, Gyumri, Metsamor, and Lake Sevan, with the ‘Flags’ composition ast a starting point. These events attracted both the attention of dozens of interested Armenians and, on several occasions, the police and authorities. The first stage however was an interactive performance that took place in the garden of ICA, where people could create banners by writing down words concerning identity, politics and borders related to their personal life
Quotations & References
Here the coloured canvases were placed in a hanging position in a carefully chosen way that turned the garden into “a three-dimensional abstract painting” as leading Armenian art critic Nazareth Karoyan and founding director of the institute described in his announcement of the event. Quotes and references to abstract (expressionist) painting are another layer as part of the project, in the line of main artistic concepts, for instance through this constellation, which quotes ‘Who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue’, the most famous painting by Barnett Newman.
'Girls in the fields'
Other quotations happen during several occasions, like in the digital artist introduction of herself, wearing a cap which is a quotation of a quotation regarding Kazimir Malevitsj coming across as some kind of uniform. Also his ‘Girls in the fields’ is incorporated within a digital series of images called ‘Glitched Evidence’ in which poignant details regarding Armenian history were worked out. They were created during research on Armenian history and the broader region, using deconstruction as a tool and are to be considered as starters or think tanks, rather than (finished) products which are made available for altering or interaction.
A few days after the event at ICA the intervention took place at Freedom Square (where the Armenians successfully demanded and established independence from Russia). After a while the messages fully covered the composition, pushing the nation flags completely to the background. Also spontaneous discussions and interactions took place, followed by ripping the nation flags publicly to pieces on the next day. The idea of creating a composition out of pieces of canvas, rather then using flags itself was in fact a strategy to make this highly symbolic and controversial action possible.
These strips were transformed into a large colourful string, during an event at ICA, concatenating interaction, creation and presentation. All transformations become evident through the different stages that manifest in a temporary form. ‘The String’ is the basic component for site specific (interactive) intervention and performance taking place during a following seven days journey across Armenia.
The Journey - View on Ani
Ani is a ruined medieval city, now located on Turkish territory across the closed border and is considered to be one of the most visible and ‘tangible’ symbols of past Armenian greatness and hence a source of pride. The undertaken efforts concerning ‘View on Ani’, was an attempt to approach these meaningful remains as close as possible. This was worked out in the line of previous happenings.
Closing event of the journey was ‘The Conversation’ which took place in the famous ‘Writers House’ at Lake Sevan. Here ‘The String’ was integrated within the architecture of this 'brutalist' building, forming a circle that centered ‘The Conversation’ between the artist and one of the guests which happened to be an Armenian writer. Discussed were historical events, present politics and art in the context of identity and geopolitical aspects. This way controversial statements were brought to light. The recorded video material is to be processed and incorporated in installations yet to be realised.
‘One day…’ can be read as a limited time frame, or as an expectation, a vision, a longing, a goal, set outside a certain time frame, always ahead of you. Within this notion parts of the material and aspects related to the process of ‘Project Armenia’ were presented in a site specific multi media installation at ICA.
Sculptural intervention, part of installation ‘One Day’, also relating to several previous works.
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Messages connected in a flag garland serpentining the garden of ICA, part of installation ‘One Day’.
A flexible travelling exhibition, in cooperation with a variety of significant Armenian artists, critics and curators working within the Armenian contemporary critical art field, in order to take these matters beyond Armenia and back within the context of the theme. It’s an effort to create 'free space' and flexibility, anticipating needs and changes.