Scratching the Surface

  • Elizabeth Gerdeman and Michael Hahn (Germany)

    Artistic director and curator: Susanna Gyulamiryan

    Yerevan Modern Art Museum
    August 8-15, 2017

In English, the phrase ‘scratching the surface’ means to just begin finding out about something; to initiate a brief investigation in order to discover things often concealed. As such, the implication is to deal with a matter in a superficial, external, or hasty way. To scratch the surface of a subject or a place, is to only discover or deal with a very small part of it.

Within this context, Elizabeth Gerdeman and Michael Hahn utilize the unique opportunity offered by the brevity of their month-long stay in Yerevan to investigate the surface value of images, objects and situations, often focusing on the tension-ridden relationships between architecture, housing, and social reality. The content of this project derives from a central theme of both artists’ work – the interrelationship between environment and society, and the cultural, political, social, and environmental factors behind these strata of information.

For the subsequent exhibition Scratching the Surface, Gerdeman and Hahn created new drawings and digital prints as well as sculptural and video works. Within the present context of building practices in Yerevan, the reach of the project stems from the recent historical ideology of Soviet and post-Soviet architecture and current urban sites and structures in the city. This examination considers how these forces manifest and interact in daily life, what influence they have on city dwellers and neighborhoods, and how they change the atmosphere and status quo of living, especially in the scope of massive commercialization of urban spaces in Armenia since the post-Soviet 2000s.

The project ‘Scratching the Surface’ consists of the following pieces, mediums, and titles:

More, Better Structuring presents varied forms of columns outlined in a fine dust of carmine-colored powder applied directly on the wall. The pigment carmine is an ancient natural source of red dye, possibly used as early as 714 B.C. by Armenians. The column forms, seemingly derivative from antiquity, are actually a contemporary construct used as design images for banner advertisements on plastic tarps found throughout the city. These tarps have the dual function of concealing the work occurring at numerous construction sites and serving as city advertisements, which also contain the slogan roughly translated as the title of the artwork.

Beneath Our Feet highlights the different patterns of post-Soviet tiles found lining the pedestrian walkways. The pieces were created using a low-relief rubbing technique of wax and conté crayon on paper, the colors of which reflect the various tones of the tiles themselves. Some patterns assume traditional forms, while others are influenced by more contemporary symbols.

The video work Skyline depicts still images of the façades of residential and commercial structures found in different neighborhoods of Yerevan. These images are digitally cutout and collaged to mimic the seemingly disparate and ever-evolving building aesthetics, as well as the continuity of the city being rebuilt upon its ancient site. These images are also animated and stacked in a manner inspired by the game Tetris, which was developed during Soviet times with the aim of matching together various puzzle pieces.


Lit takes its form from the Soviet-era street signs of Yerevan installed throughout the city. Though these signs now contain the names of streets in both Armenian and Latin alphabets, their previous feature of a light fixture no longer functions. A working bulb illuminates the structure’s new iteration within the exhibition context as an under construction for both the history and current use of providing information to people on the street.


To Say Almost Nothing is a printed montage of texts and images scanned from a book purchased in Yerevan in the 1970s by the father of artist Michael Hahn. The first sentence of each text written in six languages is repeated (Armenian, Russian, English, French, Spanish and German), which in English reads: “There are many ancient cities in the world, but to say that Yerevan is one of them is to say almost nothing.” These scanned text translations are digitally layered from the top to the bottom of a photographic image depicting a view down the Razdan Gorge towards Yerevan. Each sentence cuts horizontally through and conceals pieces of the landscape, which is presented on the fly leaf of the book cover. The text for the guide book, titled Yerevan, was written by Albert Gasparyan and published by Progress Publishers, Moscow.



Elizabeth Gerdeman is an American artist currently based in Leipzig, Germany. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 2004 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from The Ohio State University in 2008 with an additional specialization in Interdisciplinary Studies. Working with a wide range of materials and images, she creates mixed-media collages, room-scale paintings, interior-decor inspired objects, and experimental videos often taking visual cues from tourism and home improvement advertisements using images of nature as design element and branding tool. Her work has been shown in exhibitions throughout the USA and Europe and she currently teaches as a Lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig.

Michael Hahn is a German artist who completed his artistic studies at the Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule in Halle, Germany, in 2009. Prior to attending art school, Hahn worked for many years as a stonemason and as the Cultural Manager at the Cinémathèque Leipzig. He is also one of the founding artist members of the gallery and project space dieschönestadt. In 2015, he began the Meisterschüler program in media art at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. Hahn is also a freelance exhibition preparator working at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Leipzig and with teams for the realization of exhibitions at the Venice Biennale German Pavilion in 2015, and the 9th Berlin Biennale in 2016, among others. His recent projects were included at the Galerie der Stadt Sindelfingen and the Büro für kulturelle Übersetzungen e.V. in Leipzig.

The residency program of Elizabeth Gerdeman and Michael Hahn has been funded by the European Cultural Foundation.