Founded in 2004 by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Underconstruction is a communication platform for artists interested in issues of identity, transglobalization and the construction of both personal and group consciousness. Underconstruction is also interested in issues of concern to worldwide diasporas, including but not limited to the Armenian diaspora.
We started the project by asking some essential questions:
It is possible to be Armenian today in a diasporan framework separated from a nation state? The process of building or constructing one’s identity is very much tied with the environment where the self finds its mirror-reflections.
Which mirrors do third-generation diasporan Armenians have to see their images reflected back?
There is no common ground and there are no common markers of national identity for Armenians. Armenians number eight million worldwide: close to three million reside in the Republic of Armenia and five million in the diaspora, and they speak two different versions of Armenian: Eastern and Western. Second- and third-generation diasporans are unable to communicate fluently in Armenian and religion can no longer be considered a strong binding element for a/the nation. Furthermore, Armenians historically have lived in three different Empires (Turkish, Persian and Soviet) so that their cultures and ways of thinking differ greatly, depending as well on their date of resettlement and their place of origin. There is also no political organization that might unite all Armenians. Life in the diaspora offers no modern, inspiring identifying traits for younger generations. The most widespread belief in most Armenian communities is that ethnic or national identity is best fostered by preserving the past in a conservative way. Life in Armenia is not a better alternative. The country is undergoing such a profound identity crisis that it cannot currently represent a model for anyone to follow. The only shared national experience that fuels any sense of community is the trauma of the Medz Yeghern, The Great Catastrophe—or Armenian Genocide as it’s referred to in English—that Armenians experienced in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and before. Unfortunately as Mika Hannula writes in his introduction to the 2003 Getting Closer exhibition at the IFA Gallery which featured the work of Archi Galentz, Kara Matsakian, Achot Achot, and Narek Avetisian: ….At the same time, it becomes evident that the Armenian Genocide plays a huge, even paralyzing role in the effort to write (the nation's) contemporary stories.
The trauma induced by the genocide and its ongoing denial by the Turkish government involves a legacy of fear, one that dictates that ensuing generations are concerned mainly with the following injunction: make sure that we do not disappear!
Which other topics or ways of understanding life links Armenians to each other? In the past, the genocide cast a shadow over all other considerations, including this one. What are the aims or goals of under_construction?
1. To develop a process of self- and mutual recognition;
2. To identify the point of departure for the construction of a personal and group conscience;
3. To build a consciousness and identity through a visual dialogue and the linking together of artists from different backgrounds and with diverse philosophies.
Semioticians such as Julia Kristeva as well as philosophers and psychoanalysts have affirmed that language builds consciousness. As I mentioned, the Armenian language is no longer the common grammatical structure of our identity. In a visual dialogue, the artist could conceivably create a new code, develop a new language. In his linguistic theory de Saussure asserts that the selection of the sign is arbitrary and that there is no relationship between the signified and the signifier. Why then shouldn’t visual artists choose new signifiers for the relatively new signified that is the ”globalized nation”?
In a dialogue between YOU/ME, looking in the mirror I recognize the other and I recognize myself. When I put down this act of consciousness in an image or in words, or in a combination of both, I am helping to build a language that in the beginning may be subjective and individual, but in a communication context can also function as a semanteme, a “collective sentence,” an irreducible unit of meaning. This “virtual language” could also become the signifier for our situation as Armenians, spread out throughout the world but somehow linked together.
In this age of multiplicity and diversity, all media mixes are valid: images, texts, pictograms, etc… For this reason the artists that I am inviting to under_construction possess varied artistic strategies and visual languages. They approach a broad range of issues, some related to Armenian identity, while also examining more universal issues.
The brain neurologist Hans Flohr has developed a theory based on his research that it Is not the regions in the brain per se that are responsible for our cognitive functions but rather the links between active neurons within them: “One neuron is only material. The networking of more neurons creates conscience. The connection plan of the brain is the key to understanding conscience.”
One important question becomes how to build a permeable, flexible identity that allows one to open oneself to the world without losing one’s sense of self or identity?Is it possible to recreate and re-experience a feeling of national or ethnic appurtenance through virtual communication?
(1) The first stage of the project involved the presentation of 7 Armenian artists: Achot Achot from Paris, Dahlia Elsayed and Andrew Demirdjian from New York, Kara Matsakian and David Kareyan from Yerevan, and Archi Galentz and myself (Silvina der Meguerditchian) who both live in Berlin. The goal was to have the artists present their work and theoretical positions as a first step before opening up a dialogue on our web site blog(s).
(2) The second stage consisted of a virtual dialogue. The idea was for every artist to send in monthly or periodic pictures (visual material: for example sketches, photos, etc.) and/ or texts to the others with freely selected topics, objects of personal reflection. The other artists were asked to answer with pictures (visual material) /and or text for the period of one year. This freedom in the selection of issues allowed us to have a general overview of topics that concern artists today from different parts of the world.
Hopefully the discrepancies and varieties of experiences that we explored presented truly kaleidoscopic views rather than creating anything monolithic and without homogenizing each other’s experiences.
Parallel to these developments we put ideas, texts, information and thoughts on this website. The main idea was to present every artist participating in the project and to put up material on-line in order to have an open forum which everybody, including the participating artists, could view as often as they wanted for reflection, inspiration and observation.
(3) The third stage presented, in an exhibition setting, the process and works of our past dialogue. I’d like to quote Mika Hannula again: We have to allow ourselves the luxury to endure insecurity and to take risks. We must believe that identity is a performative act. By allowing us to examine our origin, we may begin to understand where we are and where we want to go. This is a process in which the individual and collective past are partly always present. Hannula maintains that our ethnic awareness is not one, but a plurality of parts constructed and glued together. It is not an identity that you search for, find and then desperately try to hold on to. It is identity that is made, shaped and maintained in daily actions, choices and thoughts .... To discuss the concepts of the nation and/in virtual space could be fascinating when viewed through the prism of a historically globalized Armenian nation.