PUBLIC TALK

Utopiana.am invites you to

PUBLIC TALKS
a participatory art and culture events program

October 8-12, 2012 Yerevan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The events took place between 8 and 12 October, 2012, in Yerevan within the framework of the SPACES caravan, supported by the “Eastern Partnership Cultural Programme” (www.euroeastculture.eu) of the European Committee.  The caravan brings together artists, curators, researchers, architects and other cultural workers along with civil society groups and students from Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in order to foster networking, self-education, social research and policy debates in the region.

The overwhelming tyranny of neoliberal, ‘free’ market economy, ‘new capitalist order with Asian values’ (in terms of its suppression of democratic freedoms) as Zizek coins it, and its consequences in social and political realms both in Armenia and globally (the rise of the new right, ecological nationalism, widespread protest movements, claims for the recuperation of public spaces and wider social benefits) stress the importance of rethinking a period or rather a condition, where the foundations of contemporary situation of rapid commercialization and social disenfranchisement were laid.

Heavy industrialization, ideological totality, claims for new types of social and physical environments, failed system of both state-planned and free market economies, these are all the bitter fruits of Modernism that the contemporary society has to cope with.

But what does it mean to be a modern society? What are the consequences of becoming such? Is this a reversible process? Where can we find ourselves at this certain point of history? And have we ever been “modern”? It is rather important to ask these questions, reformulating and reforming the conditions or the certain space, where and when the question is articulated, in order to come up with certain suggestions regarding the direction of the movement/dynamics a cultural worker can point at in the given time gap.

Each of the program components and participants will try to reformulate and pose the above-mentioned questions, according to their own research. practice methods and specifics.

The events (conferences, discussions, presentations, talks) were held in various context-specific public spaces/venues and touched upon the topic of Modernism. The aim was to focus on the structure and transformations of the public sphere and its spaces of articulation throughout and after the Soviet period. From large squares to parks, kitchens to workspace couloirs, the panel participants discovered cases where the public sphere and the public space coincided. How did the Soviet ‘society’ organize and form intermediate territories between the narratives of the tiny elements of a big machine and the crowd scene in the big drama performance of a failed socialist dream? How and why do we need to rethink the communication between these subjects/society and the spaces it inhabited?

The period and condition of “ex post facto”- post-socialism, post-communism, post-Soviet, post-war, post-independence- was paid special attention to. The aim was to review the experience and processes of the past 20 years when the emptied space of communist ideology was filled with rising nationalism and manipulated religiosity, while the free market of unequal opportunities came to take the position of state-governed industrial economy. What has changed and what has remained the same? Is there a way to think about the public space of tomorrow that can incorporate both the public and the private interests?

These are the simple questions that served as very basic reference points to talk about Modernism, its space and legacy for the panels and the final wrap-up meeting .

 

THE PIANO TUNER  
Anna Barseghian & Harutyun Alpetyan
October 8, 2012
16:30– 18:00
Swan Lake
In the framework of the project “Architectural Meetings” of the Youth Club of the Union of Architects, a meeting with the chief architect of Yerevan Narek Sargsyan took place on March 15, 2012, at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts. The architect presented his own vision of the future of Yerevan and the activities of the organisation which he founded. The meeting was attended by a group of young architects, students, representatives of NGOs and civic initiatives as well as activists concerned with the architecture and future of Yerevan. Harut Alpetyan’s observation/question was among the questions addressed to the architect at the end of the meeting. By calling Narek Sargsyan’s architectural projects examples of totalitarian architecture, Harut Alpetyan recalled Medvednik’s film “New Moscow”, arguing that if Medvednik shot the film at this time, then such examples would most likely be in the foreground. “I do not disagree. Such an impression is well possible. Perhaps, it is even true,” answered Narek Sargsyan and then asked, “Are you an architect?” “No, I am a piano tuner.” “In that case, I can easily overlook your term of totalitarian architecture because if you were an architect and would tell me that, I would really reflect on it. But if you are not an architect and you feel that way as a citizen, then you find totalitarian not only my architecture but also that of others.” “I would not say that,” answered Harut and continued by asking Narek Sargsyan to comment on the issue of public participation in the decision-making processes of urban solutions, after concluding his speech about urban projects. To this the architect responded that there were sadly no mechanisms which enabled communication with the public.

It was the above-mentioned episode which prompted Anna Barseghyan and Harut Alpetyan to create an alternative architectural performative intervention with pianos at the Swan Lake. There is supposedly no need for a long explanation to reveal the mimetism behind the pianos tuned on a single note and placed at the square. The deeply provocative open invitation calls the passer-by to the pianos. And if you even know how to play, you can share your skills with the public. Whereas the piano tuner knows that “there is no mechanism which enables communication with the public.”

 

 

A MONUMENT TO THE MARTYRED TREES
Davit Stepanyan
Northern Ave.
There are public spaces in the city of Yerevan which are arguably unsuitable for any purpose or unusable because of a number of reasons. From the ecological and health perspective, the Northern Avenue should be paid particular attention to. It is made of concrete, glass and stone, almost devoid of any green areas. A pulmonologist argues that there is “no air to breathe” on the avenue. At the expense of greenery, various new buildings are being erected in the city, whose constructions are not always justified. At the same time, the exploitation of natural resources in Armenia, the destruction of nature in support of underground mining industries, particularly, the illegal deforestation of Teghut, reaches alarming numbers.

The project A Monument to the Martyred Trees enabled us to simultaneously address the above-mentioned two spheres and to create a new edge of communication for discussions.
Dozens of tree stumps were moved to Yerevan and placed on the Northern Avenue, creating the memorial.

 

 

BLANK ZONES IN COLLECTIVE MEMORY OR THE TRANSFORMATION OF YEREVAN`S
URBAN SPACE IN THE 60S
Panel presentation by Ruben Arevshatyan
OFFICIAL OPENING: Moscow Cinema Open-Air Hall
18:30 – 20:00
2010 in Yerevan began with an unprecedented burst of activism and extensive public debate after the Government of the Republic of Armenia removed the Moscow cinema open-air hall (one of the best examples of the 1960s late-modernist Armenian architecture) from the list of the city’s architectural and cultural monuments. It then decided to demolish this building and use the land for the reconstruction of a church, which was destroyed in the 1930s, as part of Stalin’s campaign against religion.

The problem of the Moscow cinema open air-hall is actually more complex than it may seem at first sight. In a strange way, it ties up the epoch when it was built, with its tensions, emancipatory energies and paradoxes, to the neoconservative context of neoliberal socio-political and cultural actuality.

Designed and built in the mid-60s, the open-air hall, among other architectural forms created during the same period in Armenia, produced certain surplus spaces in the urban environment. These could be regarded as blank spaces or, so to say, “extraterritories” that shaped the new perceptions of urban space, new urban cultures and politics, the development of which was tightly intertwined with the appearance of the qualitatively and essentially new public spaces in the city terrain.

However, since  the mid -90s those specific spaces have been vanishing from the urban environment, either by being destroyed or corrupted beyond recognition. It would seem that in a newly developing post-ideological society, these constructions and spaces have remained as examples or reminders of something different which could hardly fit in the economy and politics of a new socio-cultural paradigm. The tendentious demolition of these structures and spaces evolved with the reconsideration of historical narratives. The occupation of these “extraterritories” of the city, in a symbolic way, was the erasure of certain zones from the collective memory; a phenomenon that, in a paradoxical way, juxtaposes that certain trend in the1960s to form blank spaces in the urban environment by creating blank spaces in the collective memory.

 

 

BRINGING YOUR VOICE OUT
Harutyun Apetyan
October 9, 2012
10:00 – 11:00
“Katoghike” Church: Sayat-Nova -Abovan crossroad;
café Vernissage: Baghramyan Mashtots str. crossroad;
Sayat Nova Teryan street crossroad
The closer we get to a point where headphones have turned into something of a limb, overwhelming images constantly talk to us and  noisy streets have become usual, the more unheard the  individual voice remains.

This project aims at bringing the unheard voice out to the streets and to the public.  But it does so in a discreet way. The direct speech of different people is recorded on a tape, in form of short messages, and then played loudly to the public on a sound system hidden in a bag. This way, the passers- by can listen to the speech directed at them from an uncertain place.

 

 

TOUR TO KOND DISTRICT
by UrbanLab_yerevan
October 9, 2012
11:00 – 12:00
The district of Kond  is one of the oldest preserved districts of Yerevan from the 18th century. Some of the structures even date back to the middle ages, e.g. St. Hovhannes (St. John) Church (18th c.) and the ruined mosque (17th c.). It is adjacent (1.5 km) to the main administrative Republic square of Yerevan. The district is situated on a small hill, which divides the central part of the city from the Hrazdan gorge, where the only river of Yerevan Zangu is flowing. In the last decade, the central part of Yerevan, where the most historically and architecturally valuable buildings and constructions are located, started to transform into a high-rise residential district. The fact that Kond is close to the city center, puts it under the danger of becoming a victim of “development.” This makes thorough research necessary.

Today Kond is one of the poorest areas of Yerevan downtown. The fear of being evicted from their houses,  made the people of the district less concerned about their environment. They are no longer interested in renovating  their own houses and improving their living conditions. As in the other old districts of Yerevan, the people of Kond for generations have been living there with a temporary status – “gentrification zone”. Unlike the other areas of Yerevan with the same status, however, the residents of the district had a very strong feeling of community; “kondetsi” (Kondian) was a respectful citizen of Yerevan.

This aspect as well as the ongoing, spontaneous and unofficial development of the area makes it attractive for tourists and low profile – small (middle) scale developments. People are interested in the sustainable development of urban areas. Meanwhile, the fact that very little attention had previously been paid to the history and analysis of the area, and the lack of a “respectful” approach to its historical structure in the current urban development programs, highlights the importance and the intense need for a complex and multi-layer study.

Since 2005 a civic initiative was formed to preserve Kond. There have been a series of presentations and activities organized by the initiative. In recent years, the media has been trying to raise awareness about the  Kond district. One of the examples was A. Ivanov’s article. It is a rare case when a foreigner pays so much attention to this area. “You can stroll here for hours without losing your “real” sense of plan. Narrow streets, twisted lanes, shabby and blind alleys adjacent to cozy courtyards,  wooden and chipped stairs. A labyrinth.”

The cornerstone of the development of “middle” Kond was the continuity of the local population and the place. Further factors also ensured this valuable material – the intangible spatial environment and atmosphere that continued its development and progress even in times of unstable economy.

 

 

LITERATURE AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE
panel presentation by Vardan Jaloyan
16:00 – 17:30
café Vernissage
The first part of the lecture focused on the function of literature in Ancient Greece, particularly the correspondence of the performative nature of democracy with that of literature. In democratic Athens, everyone is a politician, philosopher, athlete and, why not, a poet. The latter in the first place, because in the Athenian Polis everyone was equal by casting of lots. It wasn’t inequality which was natural in democratic Athens, but equality. Anyone who was either too rich, or too talented, or too smart had to be exiled. Socrates had the choice of either leaving or dying. He preferred to die. Why? Because following the principle of equality, democracy fell victim to the cliché of equality.

In the second part of the lecture, Joseph Brodsky’s utopia of the society of political readers was discussed and criticized. Armenia was viewed as the place to realize this utopia. Parallels were drawn between his and Kh. Abovyan’s approaches

 

 

IN BETWEEN PUBLIC AND THE PUBLIC
short film presentation by MediaLab, Utopiana.am’s students and Harutyun Alpetyan
19:00 – 20:00
AJZ Space
Sayat Nova Ave. Between 9 & 11
How is the notion ‘public’ perceived today? Are its hypotheses clear and distinct? Is there any connection between the way the concept ‘public’  is perceived and the social structure? To what extent are the borders  among the public, the social, the state, and the private tangible?
The series of interviews held in the streets, squares, parks and yards is an attempt to get informed about the opinions and ideas circulating in different social groups, and at the same time to promote the process of rethinking and redefining the above-mentioned concepts.

 

 

CULTURE ON WHEELS
project presentation by Stefan Press & Anna Barseghian
October 10, 2012
15:30 – 17:00
Utopiana.am
The initiative is aimed at challenging and redefining the notion of public space in physical, theoretical and virtual formats, by creating a multifunctional platform that pushes forward the development of contemporary socio-cultural processes. Although these processes are ongoing, they are mainly concentrated in the capital city Yerevan, and even other big towns in Armenia are disconnected from them because of lack of information and communication.

The project “Culture on Wheels” consists of a truck with a shipping container which will accommodate a stage, a library, a computer lab, a cinema, an exhibition space, etc.  The project will provide an opportunity for initiating an effective socio-cultural network between the capital and the other cities and towns in Armenia and will become a platform for holding different events around the country and sharing experiences and ideas.

 

 

POST-SOVIET URBAN SPACES
panel presentation by Hrach Bayadyan
17:00 – 18:30
Mother Armenia monument
Since the late 1990s, a number of changes have occurred in the Yerevan city area, which gave birth to various questions: How does the meaning of our environment change? Which new meanings emerge and which ones slowly fade away? Who is interested in changing these meanings and who wants to preserve them? Who struggles for alternative meanings and how?

The course of these changes can be described in three main dimensions: the continuing Soviet- Soviet-Armenian, which constantly changes its meaning due to context changes, as well as retaliatory actions against the nationalization and commercialization of the city space. The accessibility of information concerning the city space, the growing social significance of the information-communication network can be mentioned as vivid characteristics of the general context (especially in the last few years).

The first years of independence were characterized with the desire to erase the unwanted traces of the Soviet Union and, in doing so, to nationalize the history of the city and its territory. By renaming the squares, streets, and buildings, by removing statues and replacing them with new ones, it was attempted to reflect the national historical past on the surface of the city, in the face of its glorious ancestors and great events.

When addressing the above-mentioned questions and particularly discussing the relationship between Yerevan’s socialist past and the present processes, two monumental buildings should be paid special attention to: Mother Armenia (together with the Victory park) and the monument dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Armenia (together with the entire area of Cascade), with their similarities and differences.

These can be briefly described in the following manner: both being full of signs of the Soviet ideology have essentially lost their dimension of monumental discourse.  And their aphorisms, inseparable from socialist utopias, mostly have either been changed or become unreadable. Yet, the former is better connected with the Soviet past and the interferences of the post-Soviet period are more related to the efforts of nationalizing the territory or conserving what can be perceived as socialistic. While the second can be described as one of Yerevan’s extraordinary places which, in the cultural sense, is subject to constant westernization, at the same time preserving the environment which was created by replicating the Soviet monumentalism and the elements of national architecture.

 

 

THE FUTURE SUSTAINABLE CITY: ARCHITECTURE, URBANISM, NATURE AND SOCIETY: ARCHITECTURE AND SOCIOLOGY IN DIALOGUE
by Richard Levine & Heidi Dumreicher
FINAL DISCUSSION: 16:00 – 19:00 the Club
19:00 – 21:00 Architects’ Union, in collaboration with UrbanLab Yerevan
This presentation dealt with the quality of city and urban life and  how urban sustainability can emerge at the intersection of society, architecture, urbanism, our environment, economy and the new concept of urban governance. The yet unresolved challenge of the current generation is to solve the dilemma of how to live in cities in a way that surviving within the capacity of the natural environment would be possible in the future. Many of the modern patterns which have developed in our cities work against that possibility. Drawing from history and modern theories/practices, a visionary approach to the future sustainable city was presented. Starting with a set of theses about the social quality of the cities, together with an operational definition of sustainability, it was shown how sustainability-oriented city life can develop thanks to the combined efforts of the architectural, social, economic and ecological spheres.  With the help of the participating stakeholders, more conventional governance processes were outlined.

 

This project is funded by the European Union through the Eastern Partnership Culture Programme and
is realized in the frame of the EU project SPACES