Platform for contemporary artists from the Armenian Diaspora
Platform for contemporary artists from the Armenian Diaspora

Under_construction – a visual dialogue

Talking about identities in the Armenian Transnation

Barbara Höffer

The exhibition "UNDER_CONSTRUCTION" is meant as an experimental play. It presents a forum for frank dialogue on questions relating to identity, the potential for an Armenian identity beyond defined borders and notions passed on for generations, such as nationality, tradition and language.On display are works by seven artists of Armenian descent whose biographies resemble a cultural patchwork. All of them are multi-lingual and grew up in diverse cultural contexts. The nomadic, hybrid nature of their existence not only enables them to move effortlessly in different languages and cultures as international artists, but also shapes a kind of culture in which identity is a paradoxical, fleeting and constantly changing process. Remembering their Armenian roots – the search for the lost garden – has become the driving force behind the visual dialogues and creative work of Achot Achot, Emily Artenian, Andrew Demirdjian, Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Dahlia Elsayed, Archi Galentz and Sophia Gasparian. In this process Armenia itself has become associated with the idea of a transnation which is constantly emerging and evolving - Under_Construction. The querying and stirring up of national structures by transnational communities with their creative potential is of particular appeal and is strongly accentuated when seen in context with the Venice Biennale, the big nation-oriented art exhibition. The choice of exhibition place by the artists is in line with the long tradition of art production in the diaspora.The exhibition “Under_Construction” is based on the Internet project of the same title that Silvina Der-Meguerditchian started in 2005 offering artists a virtual space for active, visual exchange. This platform enables the artists to experiment, experience and share their hybrid identities in an open process. A video recording of this specific working process and the visual artistic dialogues is available to visitors for viewing at the exhibition.The crucial common denominator for selecting the artistic works exhibited is the non-existence of firm certainties, the absence of clearly defined identities

The yearning for something forever lost and thus the search for a way to remember are the driving force behind the motivation to query the Armenian identity. This applies not only to the artistic contents but also to the question of form and/or the specific medium used for artistic expression. The artistic treatment of the genocide suffered by the Armenians is of particular significance in this context. The annihilation and ethnic dislocation of the Armenion people represent a void, an absence per se, their tangible repercussions still being evident in today’s Armenia as well as in the diaspora.The works presented play with different artistic media and forms; they experiment with the fragments of rememberance and identity ingrained in the individual and collective subconscience. They construct and in turn deconstruct new images. Identity thus becomes a “performative act”, gravitating between existence and non-existence, between creating meaning and dissolving it.The texts by Ali Akay, Estela Schindel and Marc Wrasse are individual interpretations and have quite diverging perspectives on the Armenian identity as well as the potentials and/or difficulties of an Armenian transnation. Whilst the philosopher Marc Wrasse places Armenia in the Now//:here, in the “here and now”, describing a potentially Armenian identity as the interaction between the past and the presence, the philosopher and curator Ali Akay argues that national civil rights are important to the formation of identity. In this context he refers to the problems that immigrants and multi-cultural societies are faced with and the difficulties encountered when trying to form a collective identity.In her text “Weaving the endless Armenian transnation” the sociologist Estela Schindel in turn highlights the dynamic and creative aspects of the Armenian diaspora as an entity of its own. To her the process of constant renewal ensures a certainty that goes beyond death and loss.

Silvina Der-Meguerditchian

The construction of identity is deeply tied to environment, which is a kind of mirror in which the self finds itself reflected. Which mirrors do third generation Armenians have? Underconstruction is an online visual dialog by diasporan Armenian artists. Its central concern is the creation of national and transnational identity as a performative act of everyday life. Worldwide, there is no joint political body that unites all Armenians. Of the approximately 10 million Armenians in the world, only about 3 million live in Armenia – the rest are spread throughout the world in over 70 different countries. We have two versions of our native tongue: Eastern and Western. Second generation emigrants are unable to communicate fluently in Armenian. Different heritages divide our mentality around the world into 3 orientations –“ottoman”, Persian and Soviet - depending on the time of resettlement and places of origin. Life in the Diaspora offers only a few inspiring identifying traits for younger generations. The widespread interpretation that prevails in most Armenian enclaves outside Armenia is fostered by a conservative impulse for preservation. Life in Armenia is not a better alternative: the country is in a deep identity crisis making it an uncertain model to follow. However, one strong national experience does fuel a sense of community: the trauma of genocide. This trauma involves a legacy of fear, and a challenge from older to future generations that takes a central role: don’t allow us to disappear. Do other topics or ways to understand life link us to each other? Yes, but under the shadow of genocide most of these take on diminished importance. The aims of Underconstruction are: 1. to create a process for recognition, 2. to identify a point of departure for the construction of group consciousness, and 3. through its visual dialogue amongst diasporan Armenian artists, to build a consciousness for the future.

Language builds consciousness. As mentioned, the Armenian language no longer provides a common grammatical structure of identity. In this visual dialogue the artists create a new code. Looking to the other I recognize him and myself. When I put this act of consciousness in image and word, I’m helping to build a language, that in the beginning might be subjective and individual, but in a communicative context could function as a semantem, a “collective sentence”: spread out but linked. The site presents the participating artists – who are diverse in their artistic strategies, visual language and issues - in a dialogue about issues of identity. For a period of one year, each artist has sent in monthly visual material or texts to the others with freely selected topics and the other artists have answered with visual material or text. There is also a section on the site with a discussion forum where anyone, including the artists themselves, can add information, reflections, inspirations and observations.Is it possible to build a permeable identity that allows one to be open without losing ones’ self? Is it possible to recreate and re-experience a feeling of national community through virtual communication in a Transnation? In the Underconstruction process, after a short period the artists began to incorporate the rules of the conversation and their “visual talking” became fluid. In the first four months two new participants joined the group two others abandoned the project. The present exhibition has a constitutive character and intensifies the virtual experience with a real experience. The path is long, first steps are made. “Under construction” becomes a source of a flowing structure, a strategy to face the multiplicity of the contemporary being.