Spartak Khachanov

Spartak Khachanov: Creating Protest Art from Armenia to Finland and All Points in Between


By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN/SUOMENLINNA, Finland — Young sculptor Spartak Khachanov was born in Azerbaijan, lived in Armenia and Ukraine, and has now settled on a Finnish island.

Spartak, the first time I read about you was in the Washington Post, about how you were forced to leave Ukraine for Finland because Ukrainian nationalists demolished your exposition. In your opinion, was this incident an indirect PR coup for you?

On December 19, 2018, I launched my new project, “Parade of Phalluses.” It was of an anti-war nature, a satire on military parades around the world and was not an image of a specific army and state. The project was exhibited at the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture in Kyiv, where I was a fourth-year student. We were offered a free theme, and I exhibited my work in the central hall of the Academy. The exhibition took 100 meters in length. The teacher of the design department Vladimir Kharchenko, who was a volunteer in the war in eastern Ukraine, disliked it very much, considering that it a mockery of the Ukrainian army. He threatened and insulted me, and when he understood I was not going to remove the installation, he began to break it down and also invited his friends to the Academy — the neo-Nazi group “C 14” — who attempted to murder me. This situation went far beyond the borders of the Academy and Ukraine, they found out about me in many countries of the world, so that most likely became a PR problem for the entire outdated education system in Ukraine, where deans are 30 years behind, like Fidel Castro and other dictators. Thus, for the first time in my experience I learned that in Ukraine there is no freedom of speech, and neo-fascist organizations consider themselves curators and decide what art is and what is not. They can come to higher educational institutions to the exhibitions of artists and put everything apart. Dissatisfaction with my work and its destruction is not the first case in the last five years. And the citizens of Ukraine are hostages of the war – we are not allowed to express our opinion and we must remain silent.

You lived in different countries, among various cultures. In your opinion, how can contemporary art reflect what is called a national feature?

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Contemporary art — sculpture, installation, graphics, painting, photo, video and sculpture — is one of the languages of art, and in it the concept of a nationality is, as it were, erased. In Helsinki, where I am located, the community of artists consists of different nationalities, and the themes of the works that are touched on in art have the scale of what the society cares about right now — ecology, immigration, gender and every contemporary artist, regardless of nationality, in his works of art, reflects all this. As an artist, I identify myself as a doctor who diagnoses the patient, but does not heal him. I share the message with society and for me the emotional impact of my work on the viewer is important. However, I do not intervene, but I am an observer of what is happening. But in my works, national characteristics are reflected in my themes.

How is life in Finland now?

On February 1, 2018, I arrived in Helsinki on the island of Suomenlinna (Sveaborg), in the former military fortress and concentration camp, which is now under the protection of UNESCO. I lived at the residence of HIAP artists for three months. During this time, I traveled to Berlin and participated in a group exhibition of German and Ukrainian artists dedicated to decommunization and participated in an artist talk in Berlin and at the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM), the international bookstore Arcadia, and then because of my visa expiring, I left for Bulgaria for three months, where I exhibited at the Contemporary Art Week in Sofia, in the Underground Gallery. Three months later, I returned to Finland, to the island where I live now, during which time my wife Anastasia and I created the “Olympic Games: Reloaded” photo project, which was installed on September 21-27 in two locations in the window of the office of the Finland Peace Committee and the Miimala 2 Gallery. Since November 1, I have been participating in the joint exhibition “Artists at risk AR Pavilion Helsinki” with the sound installation “Cage,” dedicated to the civil war in Finland between white and red Finns. In the future, they intend to show this project on the island of Suomenlinna, which after the 1918 war was the largest concentration camp with 13,300 prisoners. I also participated from November 15-21 at the “HIAP Studio Opening Autumn 2019” exhibition with the “Pantheon” installation project. Now I am working on a short film in the genre of fiction, a political satire called “Made on Planet Earth” for admission to the Academy of Moving People and Images in Helsinki. This is a free annual program from the Finnish short film studio in Helsinki, and I am also working on a short plasticine animation called “The Triumph of Death.”

“Forgotten People” by Spartak Khachanov

During this time I met many artists, directors, actors, musicians, writers, journalists from Finland and around the world, as well as Finnish politicians and many other interesting people.

The surname Khachanov is now known in Russia thanks to tennis player, master of sports of Russia Karen Khachanov. Are you relatives?

Khachanov is a rare surname in Armenia, so Karen and I may be from the same family.

Topics: Sculptor

Your family is from Baku who, because of the well-known events, were scattered around the world today. So you became a refugee for the second time?

I was born in 1984 in Baku, and after the Armenians’ massacre in Sumgait in 1988, my parents left Azerbaijan for Armenia, in the city of Kapan, where my mother was from. Then I was four years old. Then my parents and brother left for Ukraine, and I stayed with my grandparents in the village of Vachagan near Kapan. In 1991, my parents took me to Ukraine in the city of Snezhnoye, Donetsk region. War has been haunting me since childhood. While in Finland, I did not seek political asylum. Most likely, for the third time I became an immigrant.


Olympic Games” by Spartak Khachanov

Spartak, you lived in Armenia for a while. What are your memories of your historical homeland?

The best and warmest memories of my childhood! When I found out that they wanted to take me to Ukraine to my parents, I ran away from my grandparents to the mountains and hid. My uncle Martin found me and promised that we would go see our parents and come back. I believed him, but I never returned. I even made a wooden sculpture called “Deceived and Taken Away” and wrote a short film script related to the memory of this move. If I could go back, I would do everything to live there, but it did not depend on me. I love Armenia; it is my homeland.

In the year of the centenary of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire in Kharkov, you came up with this topic. Please tell us about that project.

From 2013 to 2016, I studied and worked on a project of sculptures dedicated to the Armenian Genocide. During this time, sculptures were created from various materials from wood, metal, bronze, stone, ceramics, foam block.

In 2014-2015, I worked on a project dedicated to the Armenian Genocide with three sculptures — wooden and bronze sculptures “Immigrant” and “Wheel of Life.” In 2014, I participated in the international competition to create a monument dedicated to the centenary of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, organized by the Kharkov Armenian community. I presented my plasticine sketch “Wheel of Life” and as a result of the competition I took second place. In 2015, I was approached by the Armenian community of Kharkov and offered to participate in the exhibition dedicated to the centenary of the genocide “One in a Million and a Half” in a local gallery, Buzok. I agreed to participate eagerly and exhibited the above-mentioned works “Immigrant.” Subsequently, my sketch for the “Wheel of Life” monument, became a thesis in the Kharkov Art College, which I defended with excellent marks and for which I received a red diploma.

You have not been to Armenia for a long time. Do you intend to return and come up with some kind of project?

Surely I do not mind if I am offered to participate in some projects or to make a personal exhibition. I am for it, and I would be pleased to make a new project in my fatherland…

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