International Summer School of Art Curator, Yerevan, Armenia. 2007International Summer School for Art Curators, Yerevan, Armenia, 2007

During my posts, I will develop this Archive-Practice research proposition by focusing on four experiences based in Armenia. Each offers a concrete situation made interesting by their particular problematic and history. The logic to this selection is that it allows me the opportunity for some reflection (both as a starting point for the research and as an intention for its development) through starting to archive and underline the ongoing practices and situations in Armenian contemporary art.

The second episode considers the International Summer School for Art Curators in Yerevan, which since 2006 is organized yearly by AICA Armenia. The Summer School is organized by two professionals, Nazareth Karoyan1 and Angela Harutyunyan. It usually lasts two weeks, welcoming international and local young curators to take part in seminars, lectures and workshops. The objectives are to contribute to the development of the institution of curators, especially focusing on the question of upcoming local generations.

The first interview is with Nazareth Karoyan.

Marianna Hovhannisyan
1. For quite some time you have been particularly involved as a curator with the work of presenting Armenian contemporary art. The last three years you have been occupied with the organization and refining of methods for the International Summer School for Art Curators. What have been the problems that provided changes in your activity?

Nazareth Karoyan
I am participating in the Armenian contemporary art scene for more than twenty-five years, during which my practice has developed over different positions. I was treasurer for the Yerevan Museum of Modern Art, an activist in the cultural and art sphere, founder of one of the first private galleries in the newly independent country, founder of IN Vitro art magazine and so on. When I think about my path of development, I come to the conclusion that these different positions all had a character of keeping a certain critical distance between phenomena and events. This is a kind of view which is very characteristics to art critics and influenced me, also during the time when I joined the nonconformist artistic group “Black Square” for example, in order to oppose the Museum of Modern Art limitations conditioned by subjectivism, conservative discourses and activities. I continued with the same view during the period of Perestroika of Gorbachev, where I refused the isolationist position from the alternative artists and joined with some artists to create the “3rd Floor” artistic movement, calling for change in governmental structures and move away from Soviet discourse. When it became obvious that without completely wiping out the sub-structures of Soviet Armenian art would be impossible to go forward with the movement’s declared goals, I began to understand the necessity of establishing a different system which would have to consider the role of the private art institutions within that. The result was that I put my energy in creating two private galleries (GOYAK, EX VOTO).

To answer what made me four to five years ago turn towards the educational field, particularly in the case to organize the Summer School, I have to start in the mid 1990’s, as certain problems have perhaps originated in this period. New art criticism and curatorial practices were taking their first steps and also taking on the stamp of discourses produced by artistic practices. In the second part of the 1990’s it was popular for Armenian contemporary art practices to make installations and performances. The discourses produced from these practices were referring to the occupation of space and affirming a kind of artistic authority. The question was about the subjectivity, to give a primary place to “I”. It was as if returning to demand compensation for carrying the burden of humiliations during the past decades. But to confirm this subjectivity it was not only enough to express a certain desire. There was a need of new type of legitimization, but there was no system for that in Armenia neither in the Soviet Union. In the second part of the 1990s the West started to play a role, and with its legitimate institutions became a tool to produce subjectivities in the post-Soviet situation. The obvious interest from the Western institutions and subjects towards the spaces and artists which had been hidden behind the Iron Curtain was natural. But bringing out the artists from post-Soviet spaces and presenting them on the Western platforms caused a certain reductionism to occur. It was expressed by bypassing the local art theoreticians, critics and curators. It was not counting the local contexts and oppressed by way of profits of the political, commercial and discursive market that exists in the West.

These kinds of unbalanced relations could not do without facing the reaction from curators and critics feeling themselves responsible for a local context. Even if we do not consider this situation as an articulation of a political position and exploitation from the Western institutions, the fact of exclusion could make the local curators feel involved in a certain hierarchical relationship. As it was conditioned by the desire of self-affirmation, a kind of psychological background emerged in the post-Soviet reality, which was articulated as I mentioned before in the artistic practices as well. Therefore the idea to develop the profession of curating was conditioned by understanding the necessity to overcome the problems of unequal inter-relations established between a post-Soviet art environment and western art markets in the 1990’s.

2. The organization of the educational work was following the aim to deal with archives or create the archives?

During that period (mid 1990s), without a doubt, the refinement and realization of any project was directed towards the goals to overcome dominating practices and discourses on subject and subjectivity. During the political collapse these practices and discourses appeared, that not only excluded Soviet but as well any public or professional relationships. A new regime based only on political and commercial private interests came to mirror Soviet totalitarianism. Meanwhile, even the organization of such professional education, like a school for curatorial education being stimulated by same strategies and intentions and gathering the interests of market-driven economy, was as a project nothing other than a tool of resistance made to face total collapse and total privatization and commercialization as well.

“Why is there a renewal of the interest toward the history and archives” is the question which came out in the first decade of the 21st century. On one hand, it is initially conditioned by the necessity of our contemporaries (20th century-ers) to close all the “debts” carried over from the 20th century as well as maybe by the desire to tell our own past to the young generation more calmly, like we used to tell about Classical Antiquity or the High Renaissance. But at the same time it is connected with the theoretical and technical difficulty which interferes with any possible “debt” closure. The multiple discourses concerning the “end of history” and about the last person in the last quarter of the 20th century today also make difficulties to clean our “debts”. Jacques Ranciere considers this also with aesthetical and scientific languages, i.e. appealing to the same tools and particularly the question that in contemporary art the document became one of the main display of the work.

On the other hand the question of archives refers as well to the appearance of new mediums of writing, reading, handling, distribution and storing. The power of these mediums is seen by the expansion of space for archiving, and with that the abating of a critical approach to their production. The idea of documenting each second of life the chance to fulfill these possibilites makes us more and more dependent on the wish to make the time of life spatial.

Coming back to your question can we say that creation of archives as well as these new schools reflects social relations at work? If there is no connection, then it is impossible that the organization of educational work i.e. the school as well as the archive exists. Because the schools and archives are exactly spatial reflections of the social relations. First the archives are a PLACE (it does not matter if virtual or physical in dimensions), it means when we refer to the archives we should consider them in terms of understanding spatial relations. This refers to the school as well, directly in terms of spatiality, but also indirectly, as a style of approaches, system of technologies and strategies (for example, as The school of Bologna during the late Renaissance or more recent and more local, such as in Armenian art like Gyumri or Tbilisi painting schools). The archive observing by this ontological point of view we have to consider it as an formation or institution by which the time, social reality, the process of life becomes spatial and visible, touchable, structured and classified. The spatial specificity of the archive or the school provides an opportunity for construction, handing, classification and circulation.

3. How much does the organization of the educational work influence the process of knowledge transfer between generations while abating the historical gaps?

Contemporary issues of education, which we have to face on every level of its organization (public, high, professional, master) come out from the basic problems in the field of transfer. The erasure of connections between generations is a factor related to the jumps in development of social and economical relations of the last two hundred years. This connection, not only between different generations but with the material world itself, is not just direct but mediated. The question is not about the changing physical features of an environment. The mode of seeing itself is changed. Our view adapted to the pressure of a constantly transforming reality, now unaccustomed to hanging on to the escaping scenes of life. The changes which occurred at the level of human vision, which was the triumph of modern technologies and theories in practice, at the same time, had become a reason of destroying the positions of Modernism. The contemporary civilization working in the visual regime and subordinating the previous methods (from social-political aspects to corporate-professional) of domination and power have made debatable the necessity of progressive consciousness based on (value, property, heritage).

Previous Modernist strategies, with their intents to cancel all relations between heritage, institution and values and confirm the creative independence and freedom, were revised since the last quarter of the 20th century. This change of paradigm brought questions into education as well. Which are these problems and how much of the solution of these problems will promote the recovery of the exchange between generations and abating the historical gaps? This question itself come already out from the past, from the same modernist paradigm of history which permanently rejects the past while at the same time has had to refer to it, in order to create by this way a fiction of the continuity of historical times. The linear history or the “Grand Narrative” as Lyotard called it is nothing if not modernist myth! History has never been without gaps, as it is connected with memory. And memory has the characteristic not only of mnemonic function but of oblivion too. The history of modernity itself is the history of gaps. The disappearance of the perception of linear history which at the same time defined the end of modernist theories and practices brought out a multi-linear historical perception. It woke up a new interest by researchers onto local and parallel histories and individual experience.

The transfer of knowledge also happens by selection, which is conscious as much as it is not, being connected with the same memory and its two functions of “forget” and “remember”. This selection is connected as well with profits and values, which includes the transfer of knowledge, that becomes important as a subjective act from a concrete individual, family, institution, school and so on. The importance of transferring is the subjectiveness, which is similar to the modernist education as well, although modernist authoritarian education is changing.

The professor-student relationship, once having more of a subject-object status, is today being reconstructed in terms of the interrelation between two full subjects. So in the scope of these interactive relations we are witnessing the continuous changing of the roles. This occurs in the educational process for very concrete issues, according to the experience of the involved subjects. The organization of the education and its realization today requires people involved in a work-colleague relation, to set up a creative collaboration which at the end becomes the best way for the exchange of knowledge, skills and experience between generations. Because of this kind of approach to collaboration, the International Summer School for Art Curators at Yerevan not only solved the difference of twenty-three years between two organizing generations, but also became active and real resource to organize and develop the school and education.

4. Do you see any similarities between the organization of functions of educational and archival institutions. Can we consider the educational work as a kind of contribution to an ongoing, open and alive archive?

The ways of transferring and handling knowledge and skills in general education and particularly educational process can be perceived by the creative research process in which the subjects are involved. The problem regarding education is to develop a research based process in order to appropriate this information by creativity too. The main format of this research became that of advisory. When we now call educational process we understand as a process developed by an advisory format, when the teacher is one of the subjects, who has previous experience, knowledge and skills and s/he is ready to share acting at the same time as an advisor. The student is the person who is acting as user of the experience.

The advisory method suggests consultation as an educational format, and can appear as creative way to actualize virtual data through the research. The act of consultation refers to the dictionary, library, archives, and as well to the expert (the teacher). All these structures, functions and subjects refer to the educational as well as to the archival institutions. These references allow us to compare the education with the archives. It is not a closed, static archive of secrets for private profit with a domination over the others, but always re-organizing, open to the public and available - in a word, “alive”. (In terms of the education/archives) the awakening interest of the artists toward this living organism is in seeing their freedom reconsidered, with the desire to put this in the scope of social and historical responsibility and connection to the actual eve

  1. Nazareth Karoyan is an art critic, free-lance curator. He is a president of AICA Armenia and one the organizers of International Summer School for Art Curators held in Armenia.

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