Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Over is All Over: 2009

photo: Lusine Talalian, Sevan, 2009

There are perhaps two main ways for a coming together of a community: to unite to advance a certain cause or to simply come together to overcome the feeling of loneliness and isolation that contemporary nomadic patterns of movement often entail. Artistic communities are often the combination of these two, existing both materially, but also virtually, ephemerally and quite concretely, through a common plateau called “the art field”. These come together situationally to debate, to argue, to imagine the already familiar phenomena differently, constructing associations and dissociations, networks and rhizomes, allies and rivals; to react and interact, to respond and withdraw. But those who constitute these communities also produce, work and make an impact upon this common field through an experience that is always already singular. Each and every time Nazareth, me and others who are involved in the Summer Seminars Program try to imagine a community –a utopian encounter, which would materialize in Armenia, in Yerevan, in “Bangladesh” –in and around the swimming pool. Each and every time this vision is both realized and betrayed at the same time.

Unlike the previous Summer Seminars from 2006 on, which were largely educational initiatives confined within the classroom format which implies a division between the roles of the one who teaches and those who were instructed, the 2009 seminars were driven from the need to collaboratively discuss and research methods of contemporary curatorial education within conditions that are radically different from the way the art market functions internationally, to share experiences, drinks, cigarettes, food and at times a bed. The 4th edition of the seminars program then served for two immediate but not necessarily simply identifiable goals: to provide the local scene with intellectual resources and ideas to initiate an alternative educational program on the other hand, and to help those invited to explore some of the ways in which it is still possible to articulate different models within the Euro-American academic and curatorial institutions, which would break away from the educational paradigm of instruction.

The program involved three components: daily morning lectures which ranged from the issues of culture industry within the post-fordist modes of economic and social relations (Aras Ozgun); alternate models of collective collaborative research and the physical and conceptual shape that future study collections might take (Clementine Deliss); aesthetic production between instrumentalization of creativity by private capital and modernist autonomy of art (Mel Jordan and Andy Hewitt) as well as some of the ways in which it might be possible not to instrumentalize art education for social and economic productivity (Malcolm Miles).

The second component of the program were round-table discussions. Even though these had a pre-defined conceptual framework and agenda, through diverse and antagonistic contribution by the participants of differing background it often drifted from this framework opening up new exciting avenues for discussion and intellectual exchange. These discussions moderated by Marko Stemenkovic, Sari Stenczer, Joanna Sokolowska, Lali Partenava and myself in the background (including Clementine Deliss’ subversive and course changing interventions) included themes which would echo the morning lectures without directly reflecting upon these: Art and/as Economy; Art Education as a Site of Critical Practice, Curating in the Expanded Field and The Politics of Pedagogy. These discussions never aimed at producing a general product or a consensus upon the debated themes or being used for some external goal other than communication. However, these provided stimuli to return to the specific context of Yerevan-- to the contemporary art scene here, to the politics of institutionalization (or de-institutionalization of contemporary art), and finally, to the political, cultural and social context of Mkhitar Sebastatsi Fine Arts College in “Bangladesh” which has been hosting the seminars since their conception in 2006.

Evening presentations by local and invited artists and curators were more dynamic, involving a larger public (since translation was provided, re: me acting as St. Sebastian). Without a specific thematic line, these presentations included the questions related to archiving and memory (Arpi Adamyan, Arax, Lusine Talalian, Astghik Melkonyan, Mher Azatyan as well as Joanna Sokolowska and Lali Partenava), affective curating (Nat Muller), experiences with institutions (or lack of them) and exhibition making practices (Sari Stenczer, Vivianna Checchia, Vahram Aghasyan and Marianna Hovhannisian). At times the topics drifted away from the main program, becoming insider-outsiders, such as the conversation between Marko Stamenkovic and myself. This latter came into being through a tension between my own desire to reflect upon the sea as a metaphor as well as a non-place and Marko Stamenkovic’s attempts to bring the sea closer to the ground.

A presentation by Eva Khachatryan also served to provide information about the local context, but this was information that can be always in doubt as much as we can question an easy access to a set of relationships, practices and experiences which we call “the context”. Through an experiment which I called “topographical curating” I tried to transport the audience into another space –the garden of Utopiana in August, 2008. What I disregarded was the specific topography (and climate conditions) of Sevan (where the presentation took place) as well as the specific “topography of mood” triggered by Grigor Khachatryan’s 55% apricot vodka.

Perhaps the seminars themselves were a topographical and relational engagement which can materialize differently while its story is being told through different emotional and intellectual (or as Nat Muller calls it-- affective) experiences. At least after the “guests” left and the hosts stayed, I realized that there is a medical condition called a post-summerseminars’ syndrome.