Transformer-Culture on Wheels Platform
TRANSFORMER: CULTURE ON WHEELS
project by artist Anna Barseghian and architect Stefan Press
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.
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?
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:
- To re-define the notion of public space, highlighting its role in contemporary socio- cultural processes and in creating the public sphere.
- 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.
- 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.
- To contribute to human rights awareness, protection and promotion.
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.
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
Armenian Progressive Youth (APY)
“Boon” scientific-cultural foundation
Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR)
Art School after H.Kojoyan
ONEArmenia is a non-profit platform
Armenian Open University: The department of fine arts
Peace Dialogue NGO
Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia) NGO
Save Teghut Civic Initiative
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 email@example.com