Archi Galentz and others exhibiting at the Venice Biennale were interviewed by Christopher Atamian. See introduction.
Christopher Atamian: Can you describe the work that you will be showing at the Venice Biennale this year?
Archi Galentz: I will display a series of small and mid-sized objects under the working title “not red banners.” I started back in 2003 with banners that are orange, violet or a mix of those two colors. I use a specially woven silk and see-through orange-and-violet gauze as a mix of fine layers that changes colour depending on the light and angle of view. They are constructed as paintings in order to use the effect of temporarity. I was interested in the fact that viewers always see them as red – for communism and so on. In 2005 I first exhibited some of these banners in Berlin in an artist run space Prima Center at a solo show “These days in 16 years.” (www.prima-center.net/Exhibitions2005B/Galentz.htm)
CA: What is the theory behind the piece(s), if any?
AG: I am not very interested in theories. The series was begun in 2003 as a response to Marina Abramovich’s “New Hero” images. The banners, or flag pieces do not symbolize a specific political doctrine, but certainly I was trying to “charge” them with a political suggestiveness. I am hoping to do a kind of writing over the banners in white and red, something between [text messages] or e-mail, writing in Armenian but with Latin letters a sentence or 3-4 words, like “freedom, equality and brotherhood” – “@ngerutiun, azatutiun, barekamutiun.”
CA: How does your piece fit in with the themes of the group or of the Krossings Pavilion that you will be part of?
AG: I am concentrating on our group show as a group statement first. […] The banners were an autonomous project. I think this is a nice touch, moving from a painting to a conceptual level. The banners are made of wood, fabric, and steel staples, and eschew the use of expensive new media. My attitude as an Armenian artist allows me to play with the interweaving of minimalistic form and lively surface. Placed next to Silvina’s subtle felt and wool writings they stress a level other than verbal, spoken information.
CA: How and when did you become part of Underconstruction?
AG: I was a “founding member.” In 2003 we had a show in Berlin. Achot, myself, and two artists from the Republic of Armenia. Silvina was a guest presenting her work and ideas. Directly after that we tried to develop and export our experience to Yerevan. We started with Silvina’s “Hayk in sight,” a project which tried to raise the confidence in our cultural rather than geographic identity. (www.underconstructionhome.net).
CA: Where were you born and where do you currently reside?
AG: I was born in Moscow to a family of Armenian artists. I grew up in Moscow and partly in Yerevan, went to an English school, and learned Armenian at home. I studied art in Yerevan after being cut from the art school in Moscow because of my ethnic origin, I assume. I currently live in Berlin.
CA: Please comment on how you see the diaspora-Armenia relation – you are free to discuss any aspect or in general terms – and the relationship or interplay between artists in the Armenian diaspora and Armenia. Is the art scene healthy in either location?
AG: In a way Armenians are always living in a diaspora, even in the Republic of Armenia. My grandparents came in 1946 from Lebanon and my father was born in Yerevan, but Armenian culture still develops in separate “islands”… I cannot really think about art in terms of health. I have something against “cultural eugenics.” Art is an inner need, not a fabricated strategy or advertisement, or an illustration of a doctrine. That is also my problem with the avant-garde. They do not heal society but are usually instruments of manipulators who stay in the background.
CA: Difficult question: why hasn’t there been a “great” Armenian artist since Gorky?
AG: I respect Gorky a lot, but cannot agree that he is the most important Armenian artist. He is an important part of American art history, as he influenced many abstract expressionists, shared a studio with de Kooning and is seen as part of a “chain” moving from surrealism toward abstraction. So Gorky is important to 99 percent of the people as being part of this chain or movement, not because he was Armenian or witnessed the Genocide. It is a big field to speculate why and how the Genocide influenced his subject matter… In this context Tutunjian is much clearer, but less “important” than Gorky.
CA: Could you please talk about the piece you had in ThisPLACEd show in Talinn recently and about USTA-forms?
AG: The piece on Usta Forms is about taking the place of “doctors,” the ones that are interested only in a really sick patient… It is about wearing gray suits and making the real decisions, like curators in offices taking money from politicians and the industry. It is about doing all the needed works by yourself. Teaching, writing, doing art, selling it, taking responsibility.
CA: Can you expand on your wonderful description of “the unbearable attitude and disgusting language of pseudo-avantgardistic pathos.” Are there some theorists that you enjoy or respect?
AG: Avant-garde. In general in contemporary language the term possesses a positive connotation. I think this phenomena has mutated into its opposite: it’s a wonderful trick – to label something with a shiny term if one actually wants to castrate the idea behind it. Just like the 20th century managed to transform communism from a principle of brotherhood to a word that immediately calls to mind images of slavery and gulags. “Avant-garde” as a term comes from a military theory formed by Clausewitz and Jomini in the late 18th century. It is used there to describe a frontier fighter, and is also used now in artistic metaphors: against bad art and kitsch and against middle class self-confidence. Avant-garde as the bearer of new ideas, technologies, relations and contexts: please sign me up in this club, if it is exists. Back to the fathers of military strategy, avant-garde was not used to define young and stupid kamikazes send to their death, but rather as forces to distract the enemy, so as to open up his weaker side for a fatal strike. When historic examples (the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s or German Expressionism in the 1930s, or American art of the 1940-50s) are brought up, it is almost always used in contrast to Stalinism and Nazi totalitarism. I do not think this is enough today. For me this was clearly the strategy of manipulation in Cold War times. I can even say that contemporary art as a system is a result of the Cold War. The most interesting thing in post-modern discourse is probably the refusal to deal with art in terms of hero-victim dialectics. The theorists that influenced me are Abaev, Feyerabend, and Groys. A Finnish friend curator Mika Hannula introduced me to Wolfgang Welsch’s “aesthetical thinking” in the early 90s.