Subjects-Objects of History and Their Histories

  • Raffie Davtian (Iran and Armenia)
    Curator: Susanna Gyulamiryan

    ‘PROEKT FABRIKA’ Center for Creative Industries
    Moscow, Russia
    June 16-July 30, 2009

Raffie Davtian, an Armenian-Iranian artist, was born in Isfahan, Islamic Republic of Iran.He graduated from Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts, the Department of Sculpture. Raffie got permanent residence in Armenia, but frequently traveled to Iran to continue his ‘cultural- archeological researches’, as he terms it, aimed at making sense of the cultural and socio-political contexts of two quite different countries, Iran and Armenia. In Iran he faced average statistical law-abiding Iranians who as unique ‘story-tellers’ made up myths, allegories and metaphors eschewing the ideology and conservative principles of theocratic country where civil rights are incarnated in Islamic Law. In Armenia, he faced the post-soviet secular reality of the country, which along with other former Soviet republics had undergone socialist modernization furnace obtaining relevant forms of incorporation into global system.

The art project ‘Subjects-Objects of History and their Histories’ includes Raffi Davtian’s two installations spread in space, which were separately exhibited in cultural and art centers in 2007 and 2008 in Yerevan. Each installation was presented by its own name: ‘Human Doors’ and ‘The Menu of the “Last Super”‘. Here the curator and artist have united the collections into one exhibition project.

At first glance the installations have nothing in common. In reality, however, they are linked together in terms of wider social relations, and their similarities are significant both in monumental-poetic form of presentation of installments and in ideology touching upon issues of overlap, interpenetration, self-identification(s), with all their diversities of values in national and gender systems.

By combining two separate artistic works into one project, the artist and the curator wished to express their persuasion that in the post-Soviet context the issue of construction of national identity of the former soviet people along with the issues of gender roles are the most dramatic, the most painfully perceived with occasional bloody outcomes. This situation is due to the fact that the post-Soviet times allowed for issues such as post-colonial, totalitarian regimes, ethnominorities, sexism, gender and feminism, become topics of public debate.

All these expended the idea of identity, and then also enriched the subject-object (subjectivity) interrelations both in local contexts and in global processes along with their incorporation. In the installation ‘The Menu of the “Last Supper”‘, the national identification problem of former soviet republics is presented in a wobbly and unstable way. Here the initial national-liberating euphoria and ‘true’ democratic orientation possibility along with the vision of incorporating world society was turned into personal objective consciousness before the developed western countries.

The installation consists of human figures ‘objects’ made from fossil faced cloth reminding outfit of Christian apostles, absolutely hollow inside. The model-figures, the quantity of which coincides with the number of republics in the membership of Soviet Union (the artist ‘separates’ Russia from that membership putting the State flag on the round table surrounded by the figures together with the flags of world states and countries) represent themselves as unbodied, as if partly materialized symbols or ‘partial objects’, if using the psychoanalytical language. If, previously the status of soviet republics was built with one center: in interrelations with Moscow, now the installation represents the multiplicity of present centers for post-Soviet countries. Placed on the round table, they are represented in a form of symbol-flags of more powerful states compared to post-Soviet countries. The figure-objects stretched in their length and pushed to the center of the table by the crowd are captured in a circle with no way-in or wayout. On the other hand, the phantom figures are also alienated from one another: these figures being previously in brotherly and national relations now are presented in the installation in different weigh groups: their sizes (big, small) and feminine and masculine forms also indicate existing vertical relations, subjective-objective asymmetry.

In the next installation ‘Human doors’, the artist wants to give meaning to the boundaries of body and social class. Here also human figures are installed, but ‘animated’ in photographic field. The artist’s devotion to this photographic field (characterized as ‘studium’) perpetually has been built up in his works in the form of objects for the photos and had turned into characters for his various narratives expressing the drama of the body sufferings, got expressed in the
mentioned project in the form of a specific worldview – the history of sex. The installation itself turns into a model of ‘majority’ figure-objects who appeared as enveloped in their own subjectivity and 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.