Zaven Paré

Zaven Paré: From Robotic Puppets to Bowie to Obsidian


By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

RIO DE JANEIRO/YEREVAN — French-Brazilian painter and new media artist Zaven Paré, born in 1961 in France, has a rich biography, filled with a myriad forms of art and technology.

He started his career as the painter for the Beauvais Manufactory, a historic tapestry factory in Beauvais, France in 1987 and was the painter for the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres porcelain in 1991. In 1988, he created his first inflatable structure for the set design of choreographer Marie Chouinard, for the Olympics Arts Festival of Calgary, and started working for well-known Canadian experimental choreographer Edouard Lock.

He designed the circular video projection screens for the 1990 David Bowie tour and also designed the sound installation for composer Mauricio Kagel in 1992 at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montreal.

Since 1993 Zaven Paré has lived in Brazil. He has worked internationally in the theater: for the Théâtre Ubu he created the decor and the costumes for “Woyzzek” and “Les trois derniers jours de Fernando Pessoa”; he also created the decor for a production of “Don Giovanni” at the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris. He also cooperated with the Lalala Human Steps dance company and the Amsterdam National Ballet.

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In 1996, he designed his first Electronic Marionette in Canada through video retro-projection, followed in 1999 by the digital version (digital puppetry with electronic guidance), controlled by keyboard, for the show which he directed at the Cotsen Center for Puppetry of the California Institute of the Arts.

In 2002, he projected the analog version of his electronic marionette, controlled by voice, for Valère Novarina at the Festival d’Avignon. Those two marionettes are in the collection of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and the Gadagne Museum, respectively.

Paré is one of the researchers of the Robot Actors Project of Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro. Currently he is a professor at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (Brazil).

Zaven Paré (Photo courtesy of Galerie Charlot, Sao Paolo)

Dear Zaven, the first time I read about your work was in Les nouvelles d’Armenie magazine in 1994 or 1995, and since then I have followed your activities, always amazed by the broad sphere of your interests. What are the sources for such continuous creativity?

I always try to keep the same curiosity for everything and the same spontaneity for everything I do, from art to technology. The other source is maybe a certain sense of freedom, as much as the circumstances have always been propitious to the stimulation of my imagination.

I always wondered if for a new media artist it is necessary to have a technical background or he or she can just remain a generator of creative ideas cooperating with technicians.

More and more, it is becoming necessary to consider working collaboratively, not only for questions regarding skills or because of the very quick evolution of engineering skills, and devices in particular, but also because working alone in a studio or a laboratory will be less and less viable. Interlocution is also essential in artistic practice. After having developed most of my projects alone for a long time, I understand how sharing this experience and competences gives meaning to this activity.

You have worked in Brazil for many years. Is it a good place for new media art?

Any place is a good one, in the sense that sometimes, if you do not meet the necessary technological resources, you have to invent them from scratch and become creative, or find other ways to achieve the expected results. This was particularly the case when I invented my first robotic puppets in Brazil in the 1990s.

Can anyone predict what kind of surprises new media art will come up with?

While I was at a Social Robotics Congress in Chengdu in 2012, my neighbor at the table, who was the roboticist Cynthia Breazeal, asked me the same question. In artistic terms, I replied that it was a matter of enchantment by introducing new forms of narrative. And in terms of technology, I think that her conversational robot JIBO, launched in 2014, fits perfectly with this proposal to try to develop other forms of narratives, through new forms of relationships with objects, whether they are smart or not.

You are the creator of the first robotic puppet. Do you think that the future of the puppet theater belongs to robots?

It was one of the question of the Moscow International Puppet Festival last autumn. And yes, it can maybe become a genre for a moment, but it is already a complete repertory at the Robot Actors Project of the laboratory of the Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, in Japan and since 2009.

At the California Institute of the Arts you founded the “Theater of the Ears.” What does that mean?

The Theatre of the Ears was adapted from texts by the French playwright Valère Novarina. These ears undoubtedly refer to the ears of listeners, the spectators, but also to those of the author of the play. Because this artistic proposal stages the dilemma that exists in the theater between the author and the director since the invention of electricity. In this specific case, my work was to reproduce the author in the form of a robotic puppet, and to place it on stage, almost motionless, condemned to watch as the text was recited by remotely controlled speakers, which circulated on stage at his feet.

Having a particular interest in choreography I would like to ask you what is the most remarkable facet of your work in  field.

I think mainly three experiences were remarkable. The first was when I painted the costumes for the Het National Ballet of Amsterdam in 1988. The second was during a collaboration for a performance by David Bowie who had organized an event for the 40th anniversary of the Institute of Contemporary Art in London the same year; and finally the third was for the costumes and the prosthetic accessories for Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” choreographed by Marie Chouinard, an artistically striking show which has toured the world for 25 years.

I know you have also written literary works and scripts. What subjects are you interested in?

Having been an actor and witness to a crucial moment in the recent history of robotics and having met most of its main protagonists, especially in Japan, today I try to share my questions in this area, from an anthropological point of view, or in relation with performing arts. My last book is L’âge d’or de la robotique japonaise (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2016).

What was your cooperation with Gulbenkian Institution of Lisbon?

The Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon never directly invited me; I’ll go to Portugal for the first time this year. But my work was presented there through artistic collaborations with theater and dance for Canadian companies: With director Denis Marleau, for whom I done costumes, sets and technological devices for the play “The Last Three Days of Fernando Pessoa” by the Italian author Tabucchi in 1997; and maybe the other presentation was the “Rite of Spring,” cited before.

Please tell us about your Armenian side.

Having a common Armenian first name marks effectively the sign of the manifestation of a form of belonging. In fact, my maternal grandparents immigrated to France at a time when the diaspora was scattered in countries where a certain cosmopolitanism still existed. At that moment, the idea of not having a country could be seen as a reason for the possibility of opening up to other cultures, and then living where we wanted. My grandparents were Hayk and Guedjan Zadikian, both born Madjarian and originally from Boghazlian.

When I became an adult, I overturned the precept that we should find our roots. The idea of no longer having a connection was ultimately an asset that allowed me to live between France, Canada, Brazil and Japan. Moreover, if I can still identify with the idea of what it means to belong in part to a diaspora, my dearest wish is to hope to have transmitted this taste of cosmopolitanism to my children in a world where communities withdraw into themselves.

Therefore, I assume, you are not in touch with the Brazilian-Armenian community.

I have never really been in touch with the Armenian community in the different countries where I have lived. I have Armenian friends, and sometimes I consider them as members of an Armenian family that I would have invented. I am mainly especially feeling concerned when a cause affects the community. Since Armenia’s earthquake of 1988, I feel concerned by the adversities which repeatedly touch this country and its inhabitants.

In November of last year you were in Russia as the official consultant of the 3rd Gefest Moscow International Puppet Festival. And when you will visit Armenia?

I was extremely impressed with this invitation and this recognition of the profession, which paid homage to my career and contribution by making me the guest of honor of this festival. Moscow fascinated me, being there as an Armenian also seems a reality a lot more present than anywhere else since Armenia was a former Soviet Republic. Also, for the first time I had the feeling of crossing the door towards an East, finally closer than I thought it was. I also currently designed obsidian objects made with obsidian from Armenia for the editor Michel Der Agobian, so maybe my curiosity will bring me even closer to the prospect of such a visit to Armenia.

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