Armenian Mount Analogue

Armenian Mount Analogue

Exhibitions of contemporary art which unite dozens of foreign and Armenian artists were held in different parts of Armenia, and continued until the end of the year. The pretext is “Standart”, the first triennial of contemporary art in Armenia. Its second edition launches with the exhibition of Felice Varini, one of today’s most interesting European artists.

Text: Karine Ghazaryan
Photos: Pan Photo 

The Art of Disjoint Lines

There was unusual activity in Yerevan’s railway station building one night. No one travelled anywhere; instead elegantly dressed women and men in scarves carelessly thrown on had gathered to see what famous Swiss painter Felice Varini did with the station’s building.
I mean, literally with the building: Varini is famous for using architecture as canvas. He paints on walls, ceilings, facades, and even on entire neighborhoods and landscapes, like the old center of the city of Hasselt in Belgium for instance. However, neither brush, nor any paints are used for these works. The main materials are foil or paper like in Yerevan. The bright yellow and red curves break and cut the ceiling of the station repeating each and every ornament of white plaster. When you enter the building, it seems the artist was dissatisfied with the pale walls and had spread paint all over the place. But the context is, of course, much more interesting: Varini’s works are just like quests, they always have a special vantage point where all the disjoint lines come together and form an image. But don’t rush to find that point. “Different images are seen from different places”, the artist says, “and these images are not incomplete at all.” Wander around the building a little bit, enjoying its bright decoration. And then only come back to the entrance, stand facing the hall, and walk left. Gradually, the yellow will bond to the yellow, the red will bond to the red, and the huge circles hanging in the air will become visible. I’m not exaggerating: it’s a breathtaking scene.   

Simple Geometry

Metal devices stand in different corners, perhaps they are something like cranes as the easel is quite big. You meet workers left and right, and pieces of paper are everywhere. A few days left before the opening of the exhibition, and when I look at the ceiling I still cannot guess what the final image will be. Still, I know for sure it won’t be complicated. Varini never paints portraits or still life; all of his works depict simple geometric figures. He says there is no need to complexify: his canvas, the nature, is by itself deep enough and heterogeneous.   
We sit on one of the metal benches near the windows. “I was young when I realized that traditional formats, canvases, and frescoes do not interest me that much”, Varini remembers. “The living environment was attracting me more and more. And I tried to bring art to life by mixing it with architecture. My paintings began to invade the reality.”

In and out

Varini is not inclined to philosophize on his works. On the contrary, it seems he tries to provide the simplest commentary possible. This deliberate plainness grows like a mathematical progression, condensing in itself all the sub-meanings and their rejection – just like in a painting hidden on the other side of the arc. This time wholly red narrow and sharp lines depict misshapen hexagons squeezed into each other. I try to find out why exactly the railway station was chosen to house these two works: “I was in Yerevan last year”, Varini says, “and was wandering around the city wishing to discover it as a whole with its outside, facade beauty and its inner, hidden life. I was enjoying the tufa stone in all its colors which gives Yerevan unique brightness and festivity. I saw many different buildings at that time – from the Soviet era, and those built earlier than that; I also noticed the catastrophic impact of modern constructions. It was on the last day of my trip that we arrived at Yerevan’s railway station by metro. The space captured me immediately. I was fascinated by the reality of this building, by the relationships of the inside and outside – these are two completely different worlds.”

Foreign Affairs

In 2016, Varini’s visit to Armenia coincided with the preparatory works for Standart Triennial of Contemporary Art in Armenia. “I learnt that Felice was in Armenia by coincidence from the ambassador of Switzerland, Mr. Lukas Gasser, and I was so happy that there appeared a possibility to include his art in the agenda of the Triennial”, the curator Adelina Cüberyan von Fürstenberg says. “Today, the work in the field of art is always based on collaboration. One man can’t implement all these: this site-specific installation, for example, is a combination of Felice’s choice, Armenia’s environment, and the project of the Triennial.”
The idea of the triennial of contemporary art appeared in 2015. During the Venice Biennale, Armenia’s National Pavilion under the curatorship of Adelina Cüberyan von Fürstenberg won first prize, the Golden Lion. And then the offer was made to bring this experience to Armenia in the form of a periodical exhibition. Such an event would also allow connections between Armenian and international artists to be made and to introduce the best contemporary art to the local audience: after the closure of the Gyumri Biennale there was no such platform in Armenia. The name of the Triennial was inspired by the 1924 avant-garde magazine “Standard”, or “Standart” in Armenian transcription.

“Multiplaced” Exhibition

Felice Varini opened up the second edition of the triennial. The first had started in Gyumri during the summer. From July 24 to September 30, the permanent exhibitions of the National Museum of Architecture and Urban Life, Sergey Merkurov Museum as well as the Gallery of Sisters Mariam and Eranuhi Aslamazyan were combined with the works of French, Italian, Iranian, Chinese and Indian artists. At the same time, shows were held in Yerevan. In the Hay-Art Cultural Center, for example, one could see two of the best installations, famous Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s: “20 Ways to get an Apple listening to the Music of Mozart” and “Concert for a Fly.”
The map of “Standart” includes also Sevan and Kapan, where exhibitions will be open until December. The Sevan show takes place at the Writers’ Resort, a recipient of Getty Foundation “Keeping it Modern” grant for the conservation of modern architecture. According to Vardan Karapetyan, the president of the organizer, Armenian Arts Council, such “multiplaceness” of the Triennial is essential: “It was decided not to do Yerevan, or Gyumri, or Vanadzor Triennial, but an exhibition that will be of a variable nature, that is, it will always take place in different parts of Armenia and will have different routes.” Thus, the project will also contribute to the enlivening of cultural life in the regions.

Mount Analogue

In 2017, “Standart” is entitled “The Mount Analogue”, a name which refers to an unfinished novel by French surrealist writer and poet René Daumal. The peak of the mountain symbolizes knowledge and enlightenment; it is the final destination of Daumal’s journey. And repeating this journey, “Standart” contemplates the essence of the creative mind and connects it to the surrounding reality – to trains, trips, rushing, being late, to Soviet Armenian, to the crazy blend of a streets’ culture, and to the city of Yerevan.