ARé Festival Of Performance Art


ARé Festival Of Performance Art

Contemporary Art On Display

Performance art is part and parcel of contemporary art, which, in turn, is very much associated with conceptual art. It would be unfair to say that this genre is a novelty in Armenia. In fact, performance art in Armenia dates back to the final decades of the Soviet Union, when it was marginal and ran parallel to the officially approved genres. 

ARé Cultural Foundation, which holds yearly festivals of performance art, is a leading institution in this field in Armenia, having behind its back years of tradition in this genre and a rich record of cooperation with a good number of local and foreign artists. 

Text: Tigran Zakaryan 
Photos: Ed Tadevosyan 



Performance art in Armenia: Background and recent history

Marine Karoyan, the head and mastermind of the foundation, says her institution is trying hard to fill in the relative void in the genre existing in Armenia since the 2010s. “Even if it kept developing in the mid-2010s, I believe, a period of stagnation would set in.” 

Performance art took shape against the backdrop of the sweeping transformative events of the 1960s, which brought about tectonic changes in the global cultural landscape and conceptual art, starting from the US. In Armenia, it first appeared in the mid-1970s (chiefly as video art) and gained momentum a decade later. Body served as the pivotal concept of those performance art pieces. While under the Soviet Union, privacy (to which the human body is a sine qua non) was largely sidelined and pressured or otherwise put under public control; those performances marked small rebellions against such concepts and ideas. 

The final years of the Soviet Union and the first years of independence were a heyday for performative art in Armenia. Artists could stage their performances in the middle of the city (like, for instance, in the Independence Square) in front of literally thousands of people. This was not the case a decade or two later when the performance art was confined again to closed spaces and involved a much more restricted scope of audience. 



ARé’s involvement amid a crisis 

“In the mid-2010s the performance art in Armenia came to a standstill. I suppose it was due to the activation of public political life in Armenia, which took to the streets. The real performance was there, and hardly any alternative one could be of equal interest anymore. The political and civic activists were the real performers,” Marine says. 

Few, if any, tried to rescue the genre in deep crisis. “So I started ARé amid that crisis. I wanted to not let this genre die. It also had something deeply personal as I lived my youth among different kinds of performances and the contemporary artists of the Third Floor art group,” Marine shares her experience.  

Reviving performance art in Armenia means more than staging new performances and having more artists in this genre. It necessarily means having close links with other artists from across the world, bringing up issues of global concern. “We can trace global issues by following performances held in all parts of the world. Unfortunately, in Armenia, few are staging performances that really hit the mark and address global issues. This is a problem we still have to address after years of our existence since 2015,” says the head of ARé. 




Sharing is developing 

An equally important aim of the foundation is to bring performers from around the world to Armenia, Marine says. She admits it is not that easy, and so far, only a quarter or even less of the artists taking part in the yearly performance art festivals are local artists.  

Currently performance art, like any other part of contemporary art, is very much linked to modern technologies and is highly receptive to new developments. A few years ago, video art was very much in fashion, including in Armenia, but currently, it is a bit out of fashion. AI might take its place, although it is not yet clear. All those are quickly changing trends, and ARé is trying its best to stay fully on track and follow all kinds of major developments in the field.

Each year, a new topic is adopted for the yearly festivals, which can be rather broad so that any artist can fit their idea into it. “Gazing Through Memory” was the first one in 2015. 
There were specifically remarkable years of festivals, and one of them was 2018, with all the political upheavals and transformations in Armenia serving as a background for the event. “The fest was being held in the very center of Yerevan, in Abovyan street, exactly during the street protests and the change of government in Armenia. Large crowds of protesters were walking down the street past the building where performances were to be staged․ Artists were looking at the crowd from the balcony, and it looked like not them but all those people were the real performers,” Marine recalls. 

The festival in the fateful year of 2020 turned out to be an interesting one, she says. Even if the COVID pandemic was an obstacle to the fest, it was overcome creatively by moving it to an online space. The title was Hammerklavier, the name of Beethoven’s piano sonata No. 29, which was also picked by the French author Yasmina Reza for her book, composed of short stories. “The number of those stories incidentally turned out to be prophetic in the year of the 44-day war,” Marine says. Artists volunteered to read the Armenian translations of each story aloud to others, and this turned into a perfect online performance. “The COVID crisis was about distancing people from each other, but we did the opposite: we gathered together,” Marine notes with a smile.




ARé’s further festivals were attempts at coping with and making sense of the situation that emerged following the devastating war of 2020. The titles of the festivals held in the following years, such as “In Between,” “Inversion,” and “Filtration,” could well prove that point.

This year’s festival bears the name “Metamorphosis” and is linked to the ideology standing behind the acclaimed novel by Franz Kafka, whose death centennial is marked this year. “I think we all in Armenia and globally are in a metamorphosis. I am very interested in this topic,” confesses Marine, who, in her own words, has done a lot of research through Kafka’s writings. 

Even if the current reality in Armenia, in the broader region, and the world at large sometimes looks disturbingly Kafkaesque, a fresh look at the great writer’s texts may inspire us with new and unexpected hope, make us more resilient to current upheavals, and pave ways of overcoming those difficulties. This is exactly the mission of contemporary art, which ARé has been serving for the tenth year now.   



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