ACCEA exhibit seeks to emancipate "art from intellectualization"

Features cutting-edge work by three generations of artists

Published: Wednesday October 15, 2008

Arthur Sarkissian, Closed Session, Mixed media installation, 2007.


ACCEA Undercurrent Shifts

Yerevan -

Promoting "unadulterated artistic expression" was the goal of a recent month-long exhibition at the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art (ACCEA) in Yerevan.

Curator Sonia Balassanian, founder and senior artistic director of the ACCEA, says she "invited artists to try to create art stemming from their very personal feelings and experiences, rather than following ‘common knowledge' and socially accepted paradigms."

What resulted was "Undercurrent Shifts," this year's group exhibition of contemporary art at the ACCEA. Balassanian has been organizing and curating similar shows annually in Armenia since 1992.

Presented to the public were a wide range of media: painting, sculpture, installation, video art, performance, and combinations of two or more.

Balassanian says the exhibition was multilayered and rich, with many latent and overt parables and metaphors.

According to the curator, some of the works were "introverted" or autobiographical stories dealing with personal issues and private feelings and preferences. Other works focused on larger issues of global significance.

"Artists are assumed to reflect upon their inner feelings and first-hand experiences in a direct and unsolicited manner, without external influences," Balassanian says. "However, this is not always the case. There are many ‘external' elements which consciously or subconsciously impact on artists' work."

Religion and politics are two examples, according to Balassanian, that tend to place restrictions, "moral or otherwise," on people's behavior and modes of social interaction.

"Mass media and propaganda machines are geared to disseminating and imposing set visions of the world," she says. "As a result, an individual member of society, who may be of a different creed or conviction, is forced to endure hardship imposed on him by standards and mores which are not necessarily of his choice, preference, personal belief, or code of ethics."

In "Undercurrent Shifts," the audience saw the concept of self-sacrifice versus selfish posture of sacrificing others, rebellious outburst versus psychology of sheepish obedience.

Teni Vartanyan, an accomplished painter, was one of the participating artists. Her installation was a huge structure covered with withered flowers collected from tombstones. A distorted video projection depicted the process of collecting the flowers. To some who saw the work, the work conveyed the sad feeling of futility and never-to-return bygones.

Balassanian also participated in the exhibition, with a mixed-media installation. Seven glittering bronze casts of heads of sacrificed lambs were installed on walls, and small-screen video projections continuously showed moving and mooing herds of cattle and flocks of lambs.

For the artist, her installation symbolizes warship and sacrifice, as well as a sense of helplessness. Balassanian draws parallel with the Golden Lamb from Greek mythology and its symbolism of woe, heartache, and murderous vengeance exacted by mindless leaders, while their flocks obediently follow and submit to destiny.

The exhibition's "extrovert" works reflected upon soft and hard sociopolitical and environmental issues which grind on artists' psyches. Subjects included economic inequity and freedom of expression and association.

Arthur Sarkissian's work, "Closed Session," consisted of a row of seven chairs, each sitting on four lit light bulbs. Balassanian says Sarkissian's work is a satirical reference to self-aggrandizing decision-makers, detached from the citizens for whom they make decisions.

Artists David Kareyan and Diana Hagopian, a couple that creates joint installations, presented a mud-covered wall with two peepholes, which a viewer would have to bend down to see through. Behind each hole was a television screen that played an image of a woman and a child at play, respectively. Next to the wall were several muddy women's evening gowns swinging gently from clothes-hangers.

Two of the younger-generation artists, Tigran Arakelyan, 16, and Sargis Hovhannisyan, 22, offered a structure made from drinking straws. It resembled a husky but totally transparent and lightweight mass, perhaps a man, standing in the middle of the gallery.

Hovhannisyan presented a number of miniature cardboard cutouts of various size squares, representing windows that were spread on the floor in a corner of the exhibition space. Cardboard figurines and objects popped out of these windows.

Balassanian says she brought together three generations of contemporary artists for this exhibition. She explains that, since 1992, the ACCEA's group shows have featured more-experienced and established as well as young and up-and-coming artists. The center's goal is to facilitate transfer of skill, experience, and mastery to the young artists, without inhibition or the stigma of teacher-student or master-disciple relationships.

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