Exposure: Video installation challenges Armenian mores
Yerevan’s “Akumb” (Club) café was closed for customers for three days – from 28th to 30th October – and open for art connoisseurs. Two artists, an Armenian and a German, were showing their video films on non-traditional sexual subjects.
One of the works was Nik Haffner’s and Haroutiun Simonyan’s joint installation “Tangent Views 2”, in which there were two video films along with two photographs. At the bottom there was the video film, in which Simonyan, naked, facing the wall is jumping all the time. At the top there is a photograph hanging on the wall of an, naked, posing like a woman. In one of the viewer’s opinion, the embodiment of masturbation is where hands are not applied and the male member is replaced with the whole body.
Haffner presents a 1974 photograph of his aunt, topless. His aunt was a child psychiatrist by day and a lap dancer by night. In his work Haffner draws parallels between his aunt’s dual life and his own and in the video film he is wearing his aunt’s clothes and is trying in every way to make his male body look like a female’s.
“Both artists want to reveal the unseen in the viewer,” art critic Nazareth Karoyan wrote in a booklet about the installation. “This readiness to give up the right of seeing to the one in front of you is the principal position which makes Haffner’s and Simonyan’s collaboration possible.”
The coordinator of the display is the Swiss “Utopiana” association.
The artists also presented other works, which complete their world outlooks.
And Haffner shows in his video film the performance of two males in which for 50 minutes they are making motions nose to nose: “In a dance we met once nose to nose and as a result this dance was created,” says Haffner, who is a choreographer by profession. “The body expands and gets a new arm, a new hand. It is the expression of a great intimacy.”
At the beginning the behavior of the couple is restrained, the only point of contact are their noses, little by little they start to feel each other, eventually the body contact gets closer and closer and confidence in each other grows into intimacy.
“It is not important in the context whether it is a man making love to a man or a woman,” says art critic Susan Gyulamiryan. “It is the problem of the embodiment of love here that is very important in Armenia.
“We are predominantly a macho society where sexist views prevail, when sex is devoid of love, is only for bodily satisfaction, or there is idealization of love, when the lover considers it to be a sin to touch the body of his beloved creature. It seems to a man that if he loves a woman he must not touch her body, as in that case he will defame it. And consequently a fear towards the body arises. And here the bodies connected with each other are the expression of extreme love.”
For Simonyan, art has become the only place, a refuge where he can “get naked”, feel free from public obligations. And in this exhibit, he gets naked both literally and figuratively.
In the video-installation is a plastic-coated space in black linoleum with the inside covered with vaseline where the naked artist first is walking with caution not to stumble, then cannot retain his cautiousness, stumbles over something and falls down to the floor, and then resigns himself to the pleasure of stumbling. The outside world that puts prohibitions to the sexual preferences inside an individual, now has become smooth and easy.
In the Armenian society, where intolerance rages against sexual minorities and has launched an obvious attack against them, how can an Armenian artist daringly appear naked in front of an audience and put his inner self out on display?
All of Simonyan’s works were created and shown abroad – in Geneva and Hanover.
“The Armenian environment is traditional, does not accept new things readily and it concerns not only sex subjects,” says Karoyan. “For the new thing to find its place the artist must get away from the Armenians. It is not without reason that well-known Armenian artists are not part of the Armenian society and cultural life. For example, the Armenians did not accept abstract art, Arshil Gorki was unacceptable.
“Today, they want to bring home the ashes of Gorki on which grass has grown hundreds of times. In order to present new problems, including sex and body subjects, the artist must leave the Armenian society, family, the environment where he was born. Harut Simonyan left his profession (sculptor) and the Armenian society both culturally and physically.”
As Karoyan says, Simonyan reveals the limit of the individual and the public, which is a very individual problem and leaves one of its four walls open so that his motives might be seen. Is it really possible to transgress the border that symbolizes the freedom of society? If it is possible, then the society is free.
“A society is free if its vulnerable section that also includes artists is protected,” says Karoyan.