Transformer-Culture on Wheels Platform

TRANSFORMER: CULTURE ON WHEELS
project by artist Anna Barseghian and architect Stefan Press

 

General Description

The project Culture on Wheels: Transformer (hereafter referred to as “Transformer”) is a mobile multifunctional cultural complex which consists of a truck with a 2,4 x 6,8 meters shipping container and is able to transform into a stage, a library, a computer lab, a cinema, an exhibition space, etc.

The truck will move around the country, will hold events in the public spaces of various towns of Armenia and spread information and awareness about environmental, social, civic, gender and other issues of importance. It will provide a platform for active participation, debate and learning, socio-cultural and civic dialogue, thus becoming a unique model of public space itself.

Emphasizing the role of the public space in the development process of democracy, the project is based on the principles of cooperation, participation and dialogue, which is why it involves civic initiatives, organizations and local communities concerned with environmental protection, urban development, gender, human rights, art, science and other local, regional and global issues. At the chosen sites the project Transformer will give different organizations/initiatives and individuals the opportunity and the place to hold events; meeting-discussions, conferences, lectures, workshops with the participation of local and foreign artists, experts and practitioners in the public spaces of Yerevan and the regions. By uniting relevant organizations, initiatives and groups, the project will search for new ways of using the public spaces of Armenia.

The geographic focus of the project is on the regions of Armenia where the public has much less opportunities for learning, exchange and development than in the capital.

 

Context   

The concept of public space is closely related to the function of democracy. It is a public territory which is formed when individuals reflect on issues of global importance and a connection is made between the speaker and the audience.  In the perspective of democratic development, public debate contributes to the formation of public opinion which serves as a basis for any general decision. Public space is a perfect area for interaction which is open to everybody and where everyone’s freedom and interdependence coexist. It is a wonderful school to learn and practice citizenship, social life and the diversity of the world, as well as to exchange skills and knowledge, and learn by doing.

Urban public spaces of contemporary Armenia were overwhelmingly designed in the Soviet times. Immediately after gaining independence in 1991, the country’s social, economic and political structures underwent significant transformation. State intervention was reduced, but the Armenian society also displayed a lack of democratic culture and civil consciousness. This was reflected in the attitudes that both the authorities and society showed toward public spaces. Inequality and discrimination prevailed at all levels and in aspects of societal life, unfair distribution of resources and power engendered increasing poverty, and economic survival became the “issue number one” for the majority of the population. Wild privatization, weak state, low citizen ownership, and poor capacities for public monitoring gave way to uncontrolled privatizing practices and abuse of public spaces. The state took no responsibility for public spaces and abandoned them. There was no organized citizenry that would value public spaces, monitor their condition, claim public ownership and use the spaces for cultural, civic or political activity – rare exceptions were periods following national elections (every 4-5 years), when political parties mobilized the public on the streets to protest against electoral fraud. Private business took the initiative of transforming public spaces according to their own needs and wishes.

Surfacing of discourse on public space and reclaiming of public spaces in Armenia is strongly connected with the rise of civic activism (the first wave started in 2004-05, the second wave in 2008 and the third wave from 2012 on). As civil society groups started to organize for democracy and human rights causes, they also began rethinking the importance of public spaces and their reclaiming.  Today we become the witnesses and the participants of an important phase in the social behavior of the Armenian society, namely, the rise of the civil society and its active participation in social, political and cultural processes, the need of and the interest in redefining/rethinking the public space into physical, theoretical and virtual formats, as well as the creation of a new type of public space and the acknowledgment of its importance in contemporary social processes.

This project aims at supporting the development of these processes forward as, although on-going, they are mainly concentrated in the capital city Yerevan, and even other big towns in Armenia are disconnected from them because of a lack of information and communication.

The project Transformer puts forward a number of questions to research, analyze, understand and ultimately react to the current socio-cultural processes: what do we understand today by common or collective space? As our ways of interaction and interdependence become more intense and complex, this question becomes more and more urgent. Why and what for do we act together? How to co-create and maintain free, democratic and participatory spaces?

 

Project Objectives

The project is a joint initiative of Utopiana.am’s founder and artist Anna Barseghian and architect Stefan Press. A group of architects, students, local and foreign professionals will be working on transforming the container into an open platform. The construction stage will also include a workshop conducted by Swiss architects in two phases: theoretical research lectures/seminars/case studies and a practical study of the development/implementation of the project.

By uniting organizations, initiatives and groups active in the spheres of human rights, environment, culture and art around the critical analysis of “how to shape the common”, Utopiana.am aims to find new ways of using the public space, to look for possibilities to “act together” in places where they are never sought: unusual zones, hidden corners of our city, unlikely venues which are part of our daily lives.

Based on these ideas, the project puts forward four main objectives:

  1. To re-define the notion of public space, highlighting its role in contemporary socio- cultural processes and in creating the public sphere.
  2. To promote civic and social activism and participation, learning and sharing outside the city Yerevan, in areas which are largely left out of public interaction and debate processes due to lack of information and poor communication.
  3. By raising awareness and informing the public about current challenges, civic activism and participation, to contribute to the formation of activist networks in the regions, which will be able to extend independently and activate the connections between the capital and the regions and among the regions.
  4. To contribute to human rights awareness, protection and promotion.

 

Interactive Engagement

The events will be free of charge for the participants. To further ensure the participation of the citizens in the events, thorough organizational work will be carried out well in advance. On the other hand, emergence of a truck, transformed into a cultural platform, will by itself become a remarkable, out of ordinary event for the little towns of Armenia, where cultural activity is very poor.  Thus, we can say with certainty that the events will draw the attention of a lot of people.

In every location a partner organization or individual is already selected (preliminary agreements reached) and will be contracted to take care of the organizational work, such as disseminating information about the program activities and inviting participants, making arrangements with local authorities, taking care of parking venue, other administrative arrangements.  Transformer’s team has already reached preliminary agreements with the local governments who ensure the space for car parking, security, utilities’ supply, etc.

The project is also supported by the Government of Armenia: with the governmental decree, the project is released of 20% VAT as a non-profit project with charity goals.

 

Target group / Beneficiaries

The project targets at two levels: (a) art, science and human rights organizations and groups in Armenia, who will collaborate for organizing activities in the public space in different towns of Armenia; (b) 6-8 Armenian towns and adjacent village communities each year, where the public events will be carried out.

The main beneficiaries of the project are community members, and particularly the youth of Ijevan, Gyumri, Vanadzor, Alaverdi, Chambarak, Kapan, Stepanavan and Yeghegnadzor in 2014, who will participate in educational, artistic and social events, learn, share and network. Beneficiaries are also architecture, art and design students from all the specialized schools in Yerevan, who participate in the construction stage of the project (transformation of the truck).

The art and activist sphere of Armenia will also benefit from the project by having a mobile space, where their creative, educational and awareness raising projects can be carried out. Transformer will also promote their democratic, consensus based collaboration.

 

Timeline

The project is composed of 2 stages: (1) construction & truck transformation; (2) events /field work.

(1)  Construction stage has started in March and will be completed in the first half of May 2014.  A meeting was held with the participation of all partner organizations and the lead architect in order to understand and meet the needs of all contributing organizations during the truck transformation. The metal constructions of the truck are now being made at a specialized Metal-Design workshop. At the final stage, the Transformer will park at Kojoyan art school’s premises for 2 weeks (April 25-May 6, 2014), where students from all art and architectural schools in Yerevan together with the lead architect will complete the interior and exterior design and transformation and the car will be ready for use.

(2)  The field work of Transformer will take place during May-October.  Weather conditions during these months allow safe transportation on the roads, as well as conducting open air activities.

The tentative schedule per month will look as follows:

1-10 of each month: preparation of activities and technical check-up in Yerevan;

11-25: field work, projects in the communities

25-30 (31): monthly reflection and review in Yerevan

From November to April reflection, evaluation, project review for the next year will be carried out.

 

List of Partcipants

Alen Amirkhanyan

is an environmental architect/lecturer at the American University, Yerevan. It is his personal initiative that a chemical and botanical laboratory be set up in the truck Transformer. Alen Amirkhanyan is interested in environmentally sustainable urban planning. He (or his representatives) will participate with “performances” that help communities uncover the unseen public space, e.g., chemical pollutants in their environment and how to react once the pollutants are present. His work inspired by the installation of Mel Chin’s Revival Field in Detroit, Michigan, and by Toxic Soil Busters Youth Initiative in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Armenian Progressive Youth (APY)

is a youth organization, which was created and is being managed by young people. It gives to its’ each single member an opportunity of personal and professional growth and an opportunity to get involved and learn, meet people and experience new things! Among APY’s objectives are: to organize scientific meetings, round-tables, seminars and lectures on various issues; to implement environmental projects in Armenia; to organize and implement youth exchanges and educational programs. APY will implement a workshop on upcycling.

Art-Laboratory NGO

was founded in 2007 and functions within one of the major domains of modern art: political art. Art-Laboratory will organize seminars and discussions on contemporary political art in Armenia and globally, will conduct painting and graffiti workshops, create street art pieces together with the local youth.

“Boon” scientific-cultural foundation

and its online Boon TV creates platforms for promoting art, science and education, presenting professional approaches and stances to the public, creating opportunities for self-directed self learning. Boon TV will screen its selected programs and organize discussions related to the topics raised there.

Gallery25

was founded in 2001 and is located at Berlin Art Hotel in Gyumri. Since its establishment the gallery is a place of various exhibitions of local and international artists, as well as one of the centres hosting Gyumri Biennial of Contemporary Art. The gallery has arranged numerous exhibitions in Armenia, Georgia and European countries, as well as initiated and headed “Art for Charity” project aimed at supporting the special needs school N 3 in Gyumri, financing the project with the amount of sold works in Fresno, CA, USA.

Hayk Ishkhanyan

is a PhD in physics. He and his team will carry out science workshops and shows for children and teenagers, aiming to raise interest and promote learning in science.

Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR)

was established in Armenia in 1999. IDHR’s main goal is to contribute to the development of democracy in Armenia, based on the principles of human rights, social justice and solidarity. The organization’s mission is to empower and mobilize actors of social change in the country, particularly the young generation. IDHR will organize educational and inspirational film screenings-discussions about civic

Karin Grigoryan

is an art critic, photography history translator and curator. From 2003 to 2009, she worked as a correspondent for the “Republic of Ar- menia” newspaper, department of culture. In 2008, she participated in the Art Criticism and Curatorial Training School by the Armenian Association of Art Critics (AICA-Armenia). She has collaborated with the “Golden Apricot” In- ternational Film Festival (later as a member of the Armenian Association of Film Critics and Cinema Journalists). In 2008-2009, Karin participated in the International Summer School for Curators in Yerevan, realized by AICA Armenia. Since 2008, she has organized discussions on publicly disputed issues and talks with artists from Armenia and abroad. In 2011, together with CISP-Armenia, she organized a documentary photography seminar and a series of workshops in Vanadzor, RA Since 2012 is teaching theory of Photography in the Medialab Educational project (Utopiana, Yerevan RA)

Art School after H.Kojoyan

is an educational art institution that was founded in 1958 in Yerevan. It provides Aesthetic Education to the young artists of12-16 years age. The school offers traditional art education: drawing, painting, sculpture, decorative arts and art history, etc. together with contemporary technologies and media. Since 2010 the school collaborated with Utopiana.am’s Medialab educational project.

Marianna Pahlevanyan

is a child psychologist. She has experience of working with children and women in various regions of Armenia, organized psychological camps, art classes, counseling. She is going to implement an art, library and storytelling project for children.

Nora Kayserian

has a certificate in self-defense combat sports fundamentals from LA Riot Boxing and Keep it Real Boxing. She has passed two out of three levels of SheFighter’s self-defense training system in Jordan and has now established a SheFighter branch in Armenia.

ONEArmenia is a non-profit platform

that connects the global community with organizations and individuals who are committed to making difference in Armenia. They support non-profit organizations that have strong track records in delivering efficient and transparent cultural, environmental, humanitarian, and educational projects. This last year, ONEArmenia successfully funded 5 local projects, raising a total of over 85,000 USD. ONEArmenia reaches a huge global audience through the internet and social media– they have nearly 25,000 like on Facebook and their videos have been seen by over 300,000 people.

Armenian Open University: The department of fine arts

at Loris Kalashian Armenian Open University was established in 2000. That department from the very beginning was leaded by the artists from the Armenian “informal” or so called “vanguard” contemporary art scene and was always involving them in its educational structure and development of educational programs. The educational programs that the department uses since its establishment differ in their approaches from the old fashioned academic programs that are still in use in the rest of high educational systems of the republic. Due to those new educational programs the students of the department are involved not just into the active educational process but also into active dialogue, exchange of experiences and most current ideas and news in the sphere of contemporary art. Besides having regular lectures and workshops leaded by the local artists, the department uses any opportunity for organizing short meetings, lectures and even workshops with the internationally well-known artists, art critics, curators that visit Armenia by the invitation of other contemporary art institutions. Department is networking with local contemporary art institutions and tries to widen the frames of networking in international scale.

Peace Dialogue NGO

was founded in 2009 in Vanadzor, Armenia. Its mission is to support the active participation of civil society in the processes of peaceful conflict resolution and promotion of respectful dialogue among members of conflicting societies, with the long-term aim of contributing to peaceful regulation and prevention of new conflicts. Peace Dialogue will implement awareness raising and art activities (such as forum theatre) related to human rights and their violations in Armenia’s armed forces.

Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia) NGO

aims to contribute to the development and prosperity of the young generation for having tolerant society with respect to human diversity. It will organize educational workshops on social justice and social engagement.

Save Teghut Civic Initiative

is an independent and voluntary network of free and concerned people from Armenia, Diaspora and various parts of the world who believe and fight for healthy and dignified human livelihood. The initiative was founded in 2007. The goal of Save Teghut Initiative is to stop, by means of a strong civic engagement, execution of the unlawful decision adopted in 2001 by the Armenian Government commissioning exploitation of a copper-molybdenum mine in Teghut. Save Teghut aims at defending the rights of Shnogh and Teghut communities to their property, healthy environment and dignified work. Save Teghut Civic Initiative during last 7 years of active involvement in mining issue collected comprehensive database of presentations, films, posters and photos on Teghut issue, mining problems, activism tools and ready to present to those who are interested in this kind of activities.

“Socioscope” NGO

was founded in 2008 by a small team of social scientists committed to the development of civil society and promotion of human rights in Armenia by informing various stakeholders, groups and funding organizations (both local and international) through professional social research, recommendations and awareness raising programs in the society. Today Socioscope coordinates and implements research, advocacy and awareness raising activities (film-making and screening) in various areas aimed at building democracy and civil society and contributing to the development of a strong human rights framework in Armenia. Our recent research targets are Human Rights in Media, Environmental and Educational issues.

Shen NGO

The Vision of the organisation is to become a reliable partner for vulnerable rural communities in their endeavour to create better life.
Shen promotes social-economic development and empowerment of remote, vulnerable communities with active involvement of community members. Through transferring new knowledge and skills, promotion of employment, improvement of community infrastructures, strengthening CBOs, it strives to make those communities attractive for life and work. 
The word “shen” means a well-to-do, a prosperous village in Armenian. It is our goal that all the villages of Armenia will become “shens” in the foreseen future.

SPACES

promotes artistic and cultural action in public space and the recuperation of public spaces for art, culture and urban residents. It curates and carry outs participatory art events in public spaces in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Processes of networking, social research and policy debates accompany the in situ events. Main questions of the project are How can the art and cultural actors in these countries find new audiences and new places for artistic expression? What about the potential of public space in the cities for art, culture and civil society? What could be desirable new concepts for cultural governance in the region?

The invitation is still open to new proposals of partnership and applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

If you are based in Yerevan but have a project which you would like to extend to regions Transformer is just for you.
If you are based in the regions and would like to have better representation in Yerevan you are welcome to use the Transformer platform.

Please feel free to contact project coordinator Gor Yengoyan for any inquiries, submissions of application or assistance to the project
by phone at +374 55 36 03 41
or via email at g-yengoyan@utopiana.ch