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Venice 2009

Arrieregarde - Archi Galentz Searches for 21st Century Aesthetics



"Not Red Banners"

 

The series of objects titled Not Red Banners was begun in 2003. The banners, or flag pieces, do not symbolize a specific political doctrine, but certainly I was trying to "charge" them with a political suggestiveness. They are made of wood, fabric and steel staples, and eschew the use of expensive new media. They are constructed as paintings to use the effect of temporarity. I use a specially woven silk and see-through orange and violet gauze as a mix of fine layers that changes colour depending on light and the angle of view. Viewers of contemporary art usually see these banner objects simply as red fields, and are likely to interpret them as signs of leftist activism. I do not mind this kind of misinterpretation.

Installation view at the Krossing Pavilion, collateral event of 53rd Venice Biennial

Exhibition "Voulu / Oblige" organized by Under_construction Group.

 

See exhibition context : HERE

See examples of exposed objects: HERE

 

"No name banner" 66x56x6 cm, 2005. wooden underframe, canvas, oil paint, see-through fabrics

"Flattering banner" 19x26x4 cm, 2008, wooden underframe, silk made of orange and violett garn

 

"Close Connected Chain", 26x36x5 cm, 2009, wooden underframe, artificial silk and see-through fabrics

 

 

Interview by Christopher Atamian 2009

(Please see for context: http://www.underconstructionhome.net/exhibitions/53-venice-biennial-2009/interview-a-galent/)

Christopher Atamian: Can you describe the work that you will be showing at the Venice Biennale this year? 

Archi Galentz: I will display a series of small and mid-sized objects under the working title "not red banners.” I started back in 2003 with banners that are orange, violet or a mix of those two colors. I use a specially woven silk and see-through orange- and-violet gauze as a mix of fine layers that changes color depending on the light and angle of view. They are constructed as paintings in order to use the effect of temporarity. I was interested in the fact that viewers always see them as red—for communism and so on. In 2005 I first exhibited some of these banners in Berlin in an artist run space Prima Center at a solo show "These days in 16 years".(www.prima-center.net/Exhibitions2005B/Galentz.htm)

CA: What is the theory behind the piece(s), if any?

AG: I am not very interested in theories. The series was begun in 2003 as a response to Marina Abramovich’s “New Hero” images. The banners, or flag pieces do not symbolize a specific political doctrine, but certainly I was trying to “charge” them with a political suggestiveness. I am hoping to do a kind of writing over the banners in white and red, something between sms or e-mail, writing in Armenian but with Latin letters a sentence or 3-4 words, like “freedom, equality and brotherhood”— "@ngerutiun, azatutiun, barekamutiun.”

CA: How does your piece fit in with the themes of the group or of the Krossings Pavilion that you will be part of?

AG: I am concentrating on our group show as a group statement first. […] The banners were an autonomous project. I think this is a nice touch, moving from a painting to a conceptual level. The banners are made of wood, fabric and steel staples, and eschew the use of expensive new media. My attitude as an Armenian artist allows me to play with the interweaving of minimalistic form and lively surface. Placed next to Silvina’s subtle felt and wool writings they stress a level other than verbal, spoken information.

CA: How and when did you become part of Under_Construction?

AG: I was a "founding member.” In 2003 we had a show in Berlin. Achot, myself and two artists from the Republic of Armenia. Silvina was a guest presenting her work and ideas. Directly after that we tried to develop and export our experience to Yerevan. We started with Silvina’s "Hayk in sight", a project which tried to raise the confidence in our cultural rather than geographic identity. (www.underconstructionhome.net).

CA: Where were you born and where do you currently reside?

AG: I was born in Moscow to a family of Armenian artists. I grew up in Moscow and partly in Yerevan, went to an English school and learned Armenian at home. I studied art in Yerevan after being cut from the art school in Moscow because of my ethnic origin, I assume. I currently live in Berlin.

CA: Please comment on how you see the Diaspora-Armenia relation-you are free to discuss any aspect or in general terms-and the relationship or interplay between artists in the Armenian diaspora and the ROA? Is the art scene healthy in either location?

AG: In a way Armenians are always living in a diaspora, even in the Republic of Armenia. My grandparents came in 1946 from Lebanon and my father was born in Yerevan, but Armenian culture still develops in separate "islands”… I cannot really think about art in terms of health. I have something against "cultural eugenics.” Art is an inner need, not a fabricated strategy or advertisement, or an illustration of a doctrine. That is also my problem with the avant-garde. They do not heal society but are usually instruments of manipulators who stay in the background.

CA: Difficult question: why hasn’t there been a “great” Armenian artist since Gorky?

AG: I respect Gorky a lot, but cannot agree that he is the most important Armenian artist. He is an important part of American art history, as he influenced many abstract expressionists, shared a studio with de Kooning and is seen as part of a “chain” moving from surrealism toward abstraction. So Gorky is important to 99% of the people as being part of this chain or movement, not because he was Armenian or witnessed the genocide. It is a big field to speculate why and how the genocide influenced his subject matter...In this context Tutunjian is much clearer, but less “important” than Gorky.

CA: Could you please talk about the piece you had in ThisPLACEd show in Talinn recently and about USTA-forms?

AG: The piece on Usta Forms is about taking the place of "doctors," the ones that are interested only in a really sick patient... It is about wearing gray suits and making the real decisions, like curators in offices taking money from politicians and the industry. It is about doing all the needed works by yourself. Teaching, writing, doing art, selling it, taking responsibility.

CA: Can you expand on your wonderful description of “the unbearable attitude and disgusting language of pseudo-avantgardistic pathos.” Are there some theorists that you enjoy or respect?
AG: Avant-garde. In general in contemporary language the term possesses a positive connotation. I think this phenomena has mutated into its opposite: it’s a wonderful trick—to label something with a shiny term if one actually wants to castrate the idea behind it. Just like the 20th century managed to transform communism from a principle of brotherhood to a word that immediately calls to mind images of slavery and gulags. “Avant-garde” as a term comes from a military theory formed by Clausewitz and Jomini in the late 18th century. It is used there to describe a frontier fighter, and is also used now in artistic metaphors: against bad art and kitsch and against middle class self-confidence. Avant-garde as the bearer of new ideas, technologies, relations and contexts: please sign me up in this club, if it is exists. Back to the fathers of military strategy, avant-garde was not used to define young and stupid kamikazes send to their death, but rather as forces to distract the enemy, so as to open up his weaker side for a fatal strike. When historic examples (The Russian avant-garde of the 1920s or German Expressionism in the 1930s, or American art of the 1940-50s) are brought up, it is almost always used in contrast to Stalinism and Nazi totalitarism. I do not think this is enough today. For me this was clearly the strategy of manipulation in cold war times. I can even say that contemporary art as a system is a result of the cold war. The most interesting thing in post-modern discourse is probably the refusal to deal with art in terms of hero – victim dialectics. The theorists that influenced me are Abaev, Feyerabend and Groys. A Finnish friend curator Mika Hannula introduced me to Wolfgang Welsch's "aesthetical thinking" in early 90s.

CA: If there are one or two pieces that you would like to discuss or let readers know about, please use this opportunity to do so.

AG: I put important pieces at the underconstruction site and wrote about themes there at www.underconstructionhome.net. A big series of works I am working on now is about the Soviet heritage. I think these are extremely important themes. For me it is very important as an Armenian artist, because we as a nation faced a huge modernization wave. Yes it was like a rape, but it stole the option to "hide in a monastery" like a nun. Seventy years of socialism is not just a gap in a national history, it can’t just be ignored

CA: My piece for the Venice Biennale centers around Nigoghos Sarafian and the questions of language and exile. Can you comment on any aspect that interests you about this? The importance or place of language? Sarafian writes: Our homeland has escaped us, we have been thrown out to sea. This is perhaps the best way to learn how to swim. Are we Michael Phelps or a bunch of toddlers splashing around in a wading pool?

AG: This is also the problem I have with Nigoghos Sarafian. It would be very interesting to see your work about him and discuss it. I knew a bit about him from a presentation I attended in Berlin that was constructed about the metaphor of the forest as a dangerous life. For many Armenians it was a big revolution to understand that there is such a conceptual trick as a metaphor. But the questions he raises about his identity "who am I" are a bit old-fashioned for the 1930’s. Sure this is a problem that Armenians constantly have faced since the rather avant-garde act of accepting Christianity as a national religion in 301, and after our renaissance movement in the 9th century. Sarafian lived in France, but where is the influence of surrealism? The revolutionary movement of liberation: had he ever heard about Sigmund Freud? Marxism?… These movements and doctrines did work with the problem of mutual identities. In the passage you translated for a Tallin catalogue he is still fighting within the frames of an conservative and conservationist identity: "I don’t believe in God any more, I am not so good in Grabar (Classical Armenian) like my father who read Narekatsi". Interestingly, the prominent genocide researcher Mihran Dabag who interviewed hundreds of witnesses told me once that no matter how long a story was—15 minutes or 5 days—the killing or the suffering itself are told very quickly. The main story is always an accounting of loss—the garden with fruit trees, the house, the animals, the grandmother’s carpet and so on. For me this is an interesting situation in Sarafian’s position. This raises the question of Armenian identity as a conservative system where a mediaeval feudalistic society is seen as an ideal social system...where you live in a kingdom and where the neighbor is seen as a dangerous rival…The question of language is a tremendous problem. In a way it is a shame that Armenians fight about proper orthography in the 21st century and a population of 7 millions allows itself the luxury of having three languages (nb: Western Armenian, Eastern Armenian and Grabar or classical Armenian). No wonder there is not a single international art magazine in Armenian, or a serious collector or museum! It is easier to fight about the spelling of “Bedros” or “Petros”!!! Our national culture is not interested in contemporary art as a platform of intellectual exchange and model of democratic and transparent conscience finding. Today it is even not so much the problem of language, you can use y-tube to find rabiz or other ethno kitsch. It’s a problem of approaching culture as a conserving mechanism. What Armenians are good at is flexibility, and the work of our group is a nice example of this. We have a more developed civil society than our neighbors, even the Russians, who have much more resources. They have professional curators, art collectors, private museums in Moscow but not the experience of living in a diaspora. So, using Branko Dimitrievich's words, a curator I worked with in Belgrade: “"Who am I" is less important than where am I standing.”

 

 

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