ARTsakh Fest: Imagine An Audience So That Later, The Audience Becomes Real

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

The abandoned buildings and areas are attractive platforms for exhibiting contemporary art projects, as they are on one hand a memory (the building has a history and past), and on the other hand the necessary empty space (nothing is in the building right now), which allows to adapt to that which is, and imagina a new reality.

ARTsakh Fest, held in Stepanakert on October 5-7, found a building which was both a memory and empty, the Vahram Papazyan Dramatic Theater, where nothing had been done for 7 years, there was a state of emergency and where hidden objects could be found under several  layers of garbage.

Stepanakert's theater building is gradually collapsing

The is in a double condition, it has a director, a theater group, a playbill and a schedule of guest performances, but the performances are played in the palace of culture,which is not convenient or attractive. Meanwhile, the building which is a historical and cultural monument, is deprived of any human presence and cir with all its charm and excellent acoustic potential.

The roof of the building is damaged, and as a consequence of any precipitation, there is an increase of bumphorous excess on the interior walls, furniture fragments and theater, adding new scars and losses. A unique round stage is also missing, whose boards were removed from the theater building, uncovering the basement.  

As a human withers without love, so the building collapses without care. A theater poster from the archive

Art curator, Anna Kamay, decided to take a step and initiate the re-launch of the theater building with the participation of artists, the population of Stepanakert and the Artsakh government.

Anna Kamay and the founder of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Yerevan, Nazareth Karoyan, aimed at highlighting both the place (the building), the environment (adjacent gardens and parks) and the audience, which can simultaneously be consumers and creators.  

The festival chose a format, that made the presence of artists more tactful and cautious, without shocking actions and sharp interventions. The monument area of the building was first cleaned, arranged and illuminated. Then it was flooded with a variety of informative projects, many of which had the logic of a network. That is, they were master classes of dance, painting, photography which assumed continuation.

But the key was the light. The building with both exterior and interior light already became apparent that it was not obsolete, and the focus on high quality lighting made the application more stable, emphasizing that the building is not only not abandoned, but also is worthy on its own. In fact, the idea of the festival was the re-acquisition of the building to the people of stepanakert, who will again feel like the owner of their own theater and care for its future. The group of mask sculptures in the theater's park where there is no water


Entrance tickets which copy the theater's symbol

From a purely material point of view, there is little talk about more substantive reconstruction, as there are a lot of costs, but if the roof and practice hall (the ICA is ready to take on this renovation) are repaired, the remaining issues can be resolved over time.  

And this beautiful and unique building, which had last been rebuilt in 1952 and was seriously “wounded” during the Karabakh war, serves as a storage room for bombs, and can come to life again. It just needs the traffic of people going in and out, using the area and feeling comfortable there, taking up a bit of space. The ICA is prepared to renovate this hall

This is how artist Susanna Arakelyan (Armenia) and Marcel Meier (Switzerland) started a project called “Take A Seat,” giving fake tickets at the hall entrance and inviting you to watch a presentation that never took place. The visitor at first becomes a photograph, then a glued doorknob, and finally finding themselves in the hall as a non-existing unit. The fake audience could also move, walk in the theater, change their place.

Susanna Arakelyan periodically refreshed the spectator clones, which grew by the end of the day. An invitation to take a seat


Susanna Arakelyan's project

The ceremony of imagining an audience was continued by artist and director Vahram Galstyan, who had created the installation “383 people” in the theater. By fixing a light bulb on each seat, he got a simple yet powerful effect, as long as the light is lit (the audience is watching), the theater exists.

Theater, being a synthetic art, can easily exist without a stage, actors, directors even text, the only thing that it cannot exist without is an audience.

And “ARTsakh Fest” pushes a priority plan to have an audience (community, gathering, people).Ali Ansari's master class

At the entrance hall, there was Candy Chan’s interactive project called “Confessions.” People would enter polling booths and write their secret thoughts (questions, speeches, complaints etc.) which are then attached to black boards with beautiful red ribbons. The fears and desires remain anonymous, but they become public statements.  The place to make a confession in Candy Chan's project

American activist and artist, Laura Arena, continued the practice of confessing and connecting in an original way. During the days of the festival, she patiently gathered letters from people addressed to their ancestors, in order to create paper planes out of them and make a connection with the past in the “Learn to Fly” project. Searches for identity are the basis for Laura Arena’s research method, especially since she is from a small tribe of Native Americans and is studying the limits of the resistance of small nations. Laura Arena and Areg Balayan are gathering the messages

Iranian Ali Ansari, who illustrated the inner walls of the building, held a master class for young people on how to present pictures and texts in different media.

Emma Harutyunyan, has been doing research in the theater’s archives, despite the fact that very little has been preserved (most of the theater’s archives have been lost as a result of an explosion). Posters, theatrical costumes and photos were removed from the archives and placed in different parts of the building as small fragments of the past, episodes which awaken nostalgic memories in the visitors. The theater's cafeteria

Interesting attempts at revitalizing the theater included using back rooms, makeup rooms, sewing workshops, security room and various small and scattered areas as exhibits.

The building was simultaneously a museum and a living space, which would open up like a labyrinth, where there are many ghosts and unfinished stories.

And lots of music. “ARTsakh Fest” had a rich musical program for different audiences and in different places.

If you had to ask what this festival is producing, than the answer can be roughly this: It produces the pleasure of worrying and caring.

Nune Hakhverdyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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