Rethinking the Past and the Future

  • The 6th Biennale of Contemporary Art in Gyumri, Armenia

    Raffie Davtian (Armenian and Iran)
    Human Doors (multimedia installation)

    Verena Kyselka (Germany)
    Pigs like Pigments (multimedia installation)

    Mkrtich Tonoyan (Armenia)
    Demobilization (multimedia installation)

    Curator: Susanna Gyulamiryan (ACSL)

    ‘October’ Cinema Hall, Gyumri, Armenia
    June-July, 2008

The project ‘Rethinking the Past and the Present’ ACSL’s first international project and was implemented in the frame of the 6th International Biennale of Contemporary Art in Gyumri entitled ‘Transformation of History or Parallel Histories’ ( artistic director – A. Sargsyan).

The monumental installation ‘Human Doors’ by an Armenian-Iranian artist Raffie Davtian consisted of ‘majority’ figure-objects that appeared as enveloped in their own subjectivity, caught by ‘gender trouble’. Each photo-object presses a strange for the spectator object against its genitals. It is a mechanical metallic door cubeh (Persian word denoting the object with which one knocks on the door). In the past these cubehs were used to knock on the doors and to recognize the gender of the visitor. The cubehs had either the form of a penis or vagina. They were installed on the gates and doors of private and public buildings in Iran. One can still see them in the country although today they have lost their original purpose giving away to new technology. They produced different sounds at knocking. The male sound was low and deep whereas the female sound was high and loud. The hosting house recognized the gender of the visitor from the sound the cubeh made.

At first glance it seems that in the installation through uncontrolled disposition of figure-objects the artist strives to achieve some kind of ‘anarchical’ space allegory of absolute freedom suggesting it as an open field of ‘escape’ from the boundaries of brisk race, oppression and subjectivity. On the other hand, the project raises a question whether it is possible to get free from administrative-normative conditionality and bars suppressing the person, when the ‘center’ of oppression hangs heavily in the form of sexual cubehs symbolizing the heterosexual power law referred to as phallocentrism. In the project the bodies represent the problem of subjectivity which problematizes the idea of a new compatibility of each ‘subject’ presented by the artist in the ‘history of sex’ with the institutionalized collectivity.

Problematized are also the idea of self-identification and possibility of individual emotional mechanism of the Self when the latter is compelled to continuously deal with the system of limits, oppressions, discoursed gender politics, sexual exclusions and all other cultural and social taboos arising from them. The video work, being the part of installation, presents itself a unique virtualization of interpersonal communication. In the Global Web a powerful movement for reformation and reincarnation of the Self takes place (sex, age and nationality can change). The artist places the codes of the ignorant world into the machine world, reducing the gender display of the real world and the multiple incarnations of the virtual world to a standardized code of ‘youth and beauty’ and offering more preferable model for ‘happy’ existence not only for the ignorant but now also for the virtual space. Here any attempt to problematize the concept of sex results in the simple reduction to the ‘optimistic’ call of mass media ‘back to youth, fitness, shaping and other health-boosting and age-reducing activity!’ The absolutely ephemeral electronic figure-shades are stereotyped into similarity and resist any kind of individualism.

The raised questions within the project maintain spaces for reflection on the both of national and gender identities, and those ‘healthy’ acts for identities that have been representing by mass media and dominant discourses par excellence. The artist creates other ‘histories’ for achieving ‘the other’ level of thinking.

Verena Kyselka’s project ‘Pigs like Pigments’ is an auto-biographical reflection on her past life in Eastern Germany. The artist’s Stasi (Ministry of State Security of the former DDR) file code, which was opened in 1993, was carrying a name ‘Pigment’. The file mostly contained handwritten and typewritten texts about the artist which the Stasi officer had written down following the verbal reports given by Informers or ‘IM’. These reports includeed information about the artist, her environment, family, circle of friends and acquaintances, home, activities and plans. What was written in these files mainly concerned banalities, which, through the initial, orally received interpretation of the informant, and the written-interpretation of the Stasi officer, became subversively active. The ‘project’ reconstructs the real facts that lay behind the contents of that Stasi file.

Verena Kyselka (Erfurt and Berlin, Germany) has studies Art and Video/Design at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany and Ècole Supérieur des Beaux Arts in Geneva, Switzerland (1998-2003). She has also attended a two-year course at the University of Fine Arts in Dresden and has worked as a painting restorer at the Church-Studio in Erfurt in 1980.

Raffie Davtian is an artist based in Tehran, Iran. With a Master’s Degree in Sculpture from the State Academy of Fine Arts in Yerevan, he started his active career as an artist with solo and group exhibitions. Moreover, he has participated in several film festivals, as well as has been awarded with prestigious international awards such as the Photography Awards (2004 and 2005, New York, USA) and the sculpture composition award in Tehran, Iran. In 2007, he co-founded ACSL. For mor than 6 years now, he has been combining his artistic career with lectures at the Fine Art College in Tehran. The most active period of Raffie Davtian’s career was the long-term and ongoing collaboration with curator Susanna Gyulamiryan which started in 2007, with the project ‘Human Doors’7. Another remarkable project which was carried out by this collaborative duo was the project ‘The Possibility of The Angel’, which was selected for the 10th Sharjah Biennale of Contemporary Art. The project indicated the aspects of homo-religious connection with legitimized power through religion, where the issues of bio-politics, body, and boundaries were raised. Raffie Davtian’s other projects are deeply connected with the Armenian post-Soviet context, particularly reflecting on the similarities and differences of the notions of ‘post-Soviet’ and ‘post-colonial’.