Mapping Cultural Loss and Recovery

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By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

 

 

BERLIN — At the same time that the Armenian artistic pavilion was receiving the Golden Lion at the Biennale in Venice this year, in Berlin two Armenian artists joined efforts to commemorate the victims of 1915 in an exhibition with a unique conceptual approach. Held in the ABAKUS Gallery from May 10 to June 20, the exhibition featured works by Vazgen Pahlavuni-Tadevosyan, known as VAZO, and Harutiun (Archi) Galentz.

VAZO was born in Gumri in 1955, studied at the Academy of Art in Yerevan (1972-74) and in Leningrad (1978-80). In 1998 he founded the International Biennale for Contemporary Art as a response to the earthquake in Gumri. He has exhibited in Armenia, Tehran, Paris, the Samara Biennale, Stuttgart, Strasburg and Berlin. He lives and works in France and Armenia.

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Galentz was born in Moscow in 1971 and studied at the Yerevan School of Art and Theater (1992-1997), the University of Art in Berlin, and since 1989 has held more than 80 international exhibits. He has been active as a curator and lecturer, and co-founded a platform for Armenian artists. He lives and works in Moscow, Yerevan and Berlin, at his artists’ workplace InteriorDAsein. (See Armenian Mirror-Spectator, “A Cultural Capital of the Diaspora in Berlin,” March 3, 2014, http://mirrorspectator.com/2014/03/03/a-cultural-capital-of-the-diaspora-in-berlin/)

The title of the show was “Distance Cartography,” a term which art historian Dr. Peter Michel, who spoke at the vernissage, admitted, “one has to first get acquainted with.” What is meant by this, he explained, “is historical distance, but at the same time coming closer to one’s own history … and the rejection of all attempts to let the genocide be forgotten, to diminish the spirit and dignity of the ancestors.” In this connection another, related concept, that of an “internal cartography” comes into play, he went on, “the idea of thinking in memory images, of claiming one’s very own position and national identity.”

In the exhibition, both artists (who have known each other for fifteen years) worked with elements from cartography, including maps, atlases and globes, As Michel pointed out, “Cartography, the science of map construction and map-like depictions, can also as a fantasy-provoking idea become an agency of art.” The two artists use these elements as metaphors. Galentz presented six items with pictorial objects and one sculpture which develop the theme of the loss of cultural landscapes. VAZO presented his “Collection of interrupted songs” along with three new painted books, and an original paper construction exploring “internal cartography,” which one might also render as the internal mapping of the mind. As Michel explained, in Galentz’s six-piece wall object entitled “Prayer Rug,” he used color variations as in cartography, while at the same time referencing Armenian craftwork. To express the “gradual disappearance of the homeland and culture” in a sculpture entitled, “Hayk, or the Armenian globe,” Galentz redefined the very idea of a globe.  Here, it “has an unusual cubic shape, and all six sides show how borders shift, and Armenia goes under, piece by piece.”

VAZO’s striking work, a paper strip six feet long, takes up the entire wall of one of the rooms. Entilted “Endless going” or “Endless walking,” the long paper composition in water colors and Indian ink, is dedicated to the memory of Komitas Vardapet, who, according to the exhibition brochure, “as bridge-builder between oriental tradition and western archive culture, became a symbolic figure for Armenians.”

Michel had opened his speech with references to the struggle of Armenian artists to come to terms with the genocide, which included the destruction of immense artistic and cultural wealth, from schools to churches and cloisters, and mentioned two names of early artists. Akop Kodshoyan (1883-1959), who survived the genocide at the age of 32, went on to study in Munich, Paris and Moscow, and dedicated his wife’s work to Armenian traditions. The other was Minas Avetisyan, who dedicated an oil painting, entitled “The Way,” to his parents. The work, which was destroyed in a fire and exists only as a photograph, was painted in 1967, the year the genocide memorial in Yerevan was built. Michel compared it to a work by Galentz, entitled “Armenia. A Requiem,” painted in 1995, on the 80th anniversary of the genocide. In conclusion, Michel expressed his gratitude to Galentz and VAZO for having “set an example,” in this sense: “They bow down before the victims, their will to live and the historical achievements of their people. And we do so with them.”