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Armenia as a Periphery, Pt.1 with Sarah Kunkler and Edgar Amroyan

Kunker, an expatriate artist now living in Prague, met artist Edgar Amroyan while participating at an artist residency at ACSL in Armenia.  Her roommate at the time, had first met Amroyan at a studio visit.  The invitation was extended for Kunkler to meet him and his friends; Kunkler explains, “So we met, and I met the other members of their collective, and we drank lots of vodka and beer…”  Their friendship grew due to their deep passion for the artworks and artists of the former soviet block.  This imagery is commemorated through Amroyan’s ‘Soviet Party’ series and Kunkler’s ‘Soviet Architecture’ series.  When asked to participate in Artist For Artist’s Interview Series, this is the enlightening dialogue that surfaced.

SK: How does the idea of realism work with your style of painting, and your concepts?

EA: For me, realism in the first place is political realism, thus an alternative way to fight instead of being a mere reflection of reality through a mirror. I would like to add that the national modernist movement that was stirred up in the Soviet era and was going against the Soviet regime, (like in the period when artist painted unrealistically, which was in opposition to Soviet Realism). Today, this isn’t relevant anymore. Actually today we can live only through fighting.

As Jaloyan has said that when Igityan used to harm the Soviet regime by painting deformed, or twisted things, now realism is the exact opposite, buttocks should be painted as they are.

(Henrik Igityan was a first art critic who founded the first modern art museum of the socialistic block in 1972, in Yerevan. Vardan Jaloyan is a free thinking art-critic and art historian)

Do you think it is possible to develop art in the peripheries and if yes in what manner?

Color Photographs of Yerevan, Armenia, 2009 by Sarah Kunkler

SK: Art developed in countries whose artist say is sadly not as well known, or internationally valued, is just as important….again, I think a lot of thought needs to be given in how art is analyzed.  As to the development of art in these places….I think artists should value their own culture, and not strive to meet the desires of someone else.  I like the idea of art being tied to an equal cultural exchange, a place for learning, and an experience. Art can be a vehicle for anything.

my new question:

It’s interesting how political realism has changed in the recent decades of Armenian history…so, reality is your ‘weapon’, correct?  What other challenges face Armenian artist today?  How do you see the current art scene developing in Armenia?

So, Edgar, do you think of Armenia as a periphery country?  I felt that Armenia had its own idea of art, and there were collectors, things happening there that didn’t necessarily depend on other countries ideas of art.  But- it is heavily influenced by other countries’ ideas too (western Europe, USA, Russia). Yes, I do agree that artist should be open to another cultures ideas…but to say that it is good to be against centralization….I don’t think it is as black and white as that.

Do you think that the only art that is meaningful is political?  Don’t you think that because of your situation, your surroundings, and your idea that an artist is a revolutionary force, and this isn’t true for all artists?

EA: I think art is centralized in Western Europe and the USA, and periphery countries are the other countries.

Let me tell you an example. Some time ago, an artist came from Western Europe and showed us a film about 3 Caucasian countries. They talked about the contemporary art and shows in Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan. We hoped they would show us the museums or works of Caucasian contemporary artists but they showed us barbeques, kebabs, and nardi players. One of our artists asked them: “For example I’ll come to Germany and I’ll make a video of Nuremberg’s sausages”. There was nothing interesting for us and we left the hall.

When I’m talking about political art I mean of course the Armenian situation (I think that the artist is a revolutionary force).

What do you think, is the artist a revolutionary force?

SK: I can understand how frustrated you were with this situation with the artists. Yes, the USA and Western Europe are centralized.  But, I think there are many, many good things happening in the ‘un-centralized’ countries….in many ways, to me, much more valuable to my work than what is happening the USA. I think that some art in the States, Western Europe, can be to focused on an individual’s experience. From what I saw in Armenia, artists made art with their perspective as a tool, and made art about something larger than themselves- some very heavy concepts. I liked this, and it was very valuable for me to see.

Yes Edgar, art is revolutionary. And in Armenia, an important platform for your revolution. So, let’s talk about your recent collaborations with Garik….how many have you done? How aware is the public of this huge, huge problem? How do you want to the public to react to your work?

EA: Garik and I started our project because we thought that art shown in galleries is finished in the Armenian art sphere. Gallery art does not answer many, many problems…art problems and public matters. So, we decided to take our art away. At first, the artist Bansky and Cattelan were an influential basis for our work, because their work it was a good example for revolution and public arts. We were walking on Yerevanian street and taking pictures with a social theme, of course our last work “Suicide Soldier” is a stencil, based on my body….I sat in a chair, and Garik took the photo. But in that period, and now, it’s a very real theme for Armenia, because it’s not finished. We call our street art series ‘Public Space’, because Vardan Jaloyan wrote the text about it and called our stencils a starting point for future fighting in public space. I don’t know how popular this stencil is, or how many people have seen it, but it’s very important in our art sphere and artists talk often about this project and how important it is. People every day go to work and see our artwork, they don’t see only city flowers every morning, they see “Suicide Soldier” and maybe think about reality. But, more importantly, police have noticed our work, and are acting against it. Police erase our Soldier stencil after 3 days. I think it’s most important element in whole project.

SK: Yeah…I like the idea you have of including the public- and I think it’s very important to your concept. Is there a discussion now, in Armenia, about the problems in the Armenian army? How many soldiers have you painted?  Have you ever considered filming people as they walk by it, and their reaction?  Do you want to make more images similar to these?

Here are some additional thoughts about the idea of a periphery country:

I never thought about Armenia in those terms, until you defined what was a periphery country…even though I’m from the West, I’ve always been interested in the East.  I moved east, and in my trip to Yerevan, I went even farther….and it was because I was seeking knowledge about your culture.  I suppose this isn’t normal- most people want to go West. I guess, I am actively engaged, and will always be engaged, in ‘decentralized’ art.  I never thought of this, but, it’s something that is now an important part of my work, especially because of my visit to Yerevan.

Detail from "An Armenian Carpet" by Sarah Kunkler. Reductive woodblock print

SK: As an Armenian artist, how do you see your work, with this idea of a periphery country?

EA: I think I don’t feel life an Armenian artist, but I feel like an international artist. But, I have a problem… I live in Armenia and I see the problem of Armenia, of course this is a problem which has a long history, and if I want to understand, I have to go to the first reason…And in those situations I become an international artist but it’s not the only reason for that…Artists from decentralized countries have two dreams: First, to be colonized from the West. Secondly, the dream of fighting versus colonization. These two ideas are different, but they cannot exist without each other. I want to be colonized from the West because that’s means to be a near a civilization, and fighting with colonization, and in this “war” you will find your own position, and build a new structure in civilization. Yes, of course to be an artist of uncentralized country, sometimes you aren’t as aware of what is happening in the rest of the world, and you focus more on local issues. You are looking at problems in your society, and building a starting point for solving problems with art, because sometimes I can’t understand why artists need to write a manifest for alter-modernism…? For example, because I live far from the mainstream and I don’t know what is happening in the West, because the border is closed for me I can’t buy tickets to the Tate…because I am a citizen of an decentralized country and I can see the Tate on the internet only. But on the internet, I can not be a part of an art sphere, I can only receive information. I have built my art on this mix of information and my country’s problems. I think this is an artist of an decentralized country. And sometimes it’s a phenomenon when you create art which has the mentality of centralized country, what is that, a lie, or reality, or another thing…can you answer?

work by Edgar Amoryan

Sarah I want tell you one story. When I was in Naples, I went to the museum Capodimonde and saw many European Renaissance and the Baroque artworks. There was a very long corridor with artwork and when I reached the end, in the last room was only a big painting of Caravaggio and there was a man who worked in this hall, he wasn’t there, so I sat in a chair and looked at this work for nearly 20-30 minutes. It was very impressive and I thought about one thing, are the Armenian people ready to hang this work in their homes? I think not and I remember his famous work Judith, it’s very impressive and negative for the tastes of a normal person. Maybe he will hang on the wall some examples of contemporary artwork, but not this one. This is a problem not only for Armenian society for every society I think, but I continued to think…which artwork is real? An artwork which is older than 400 years, or one which has been created in contemporary tradition?

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