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POLITICS UNDER 180'

Armenian News Network / Groong October 27, 2003 By Angela Harutyunian In September, an exhibition titled "Politics Under 180 Degree" was organized at the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art (ACCEA), curated by art critic Vardan Azatyan. Political art originates and gets feedback directly from existing social conditions and relations. Local and global political atmosphere serves as incitement for it. Can politics-related art be a protest, a cry and reaction, or is it art serving totalitarian ideology? And lastly, which is the border that separates political art from politicized art, and allows viewing them on different poles? Can a politicized human being create art free from cliches and stereotypes? The artist is not a passive subject absorbed in strivings of his inner spiritual world. The image of an artist that represents him as an anti-political creature that can only be in abstract spiritual sphere is rather passť and has lost its actuality. Instead, the artist not only reflects upon burning political issues but also strives to be an active participant and moreover, to be able to make important political decisions. A work of art carries direct influence of politics. There is direct interaction between politics and art. Given that there exists no public service system completely removed from politics (and art is also partially a part of the public sphere), the discourse of art's autonomy, upon which modern Western art is founded, is by its very nature a political construction. In consumer oriented societies, where all actions are directed towards providing people with as high a quality as possible of public service and satisfying maximum demands of consumer, one of the main objectives of today's Western art has become conversion of artistic creation into consumer product. In the 20th century, because of the two World Wars and the Cold War following World War II, society and art became more politicized. Consequently art of political posters, which were expressing visual utopias of a politicized human being, flourished. During the first half of the century these means of expression did not go further than two-dimensional images on paper and canvas. Whereas today political art is not anymore confined to public squares, where demonstrations and political protests take place, or using posters as the only form of political expression. It also utilizes the closed environments of museums and exhibition spaces and employs a wider spectrum of media; all available and possible technological means of the post-industrial era, including video and digital art. Use of a multitude of techniques and generally multi-media works of political art are somehow expressions of the political and creative pluralism that artists strive to reach by adopting social positions of often anti-governmental posture. "Politics under 180'" Is art capable of discovering and sometimes exposing aspects of politics that are hidden under multiple layers of relations, institutions and intrigues and have significant impact on political decision-making process, and on politics in general? This is not politics or art in pure form but interaction of these two: how does politics change under the light of art, and how does art transfer politics into an aesthetic environment and the exhibition space? Relation between art and politics is interesting especially from the point of view of the post-soviet man and artist. In this case one needs courage to touch political subjects in art, as absence of separation between political art and politicized art during seventy years of the Soviet rule has now given way to caution in touching politics. But the exhibition that took place at the ACCEA proved the opposite. Artists of a younger generation managed to overcome the complex and the sensitivity left from the totalitarian regime and touch upon local issues and subjects, simultaneous with those which are contemporary in the West. For example, fear of discrimination and confrontation of the society against any kind of marginality and losing the ability to communicate (Astghik Gevorgian); fear of being a lonely leader of a revolution in vain (Sona Abgarian), intangible fears in the Armenian reality in early 1990's (Hovhannes Marganian). Other subjects included transformation of human body from nature to industry in the soviet context (David Kareyan). The goal of the exhibition was to discover the hidden, - and from at first sight unimportant, - side-factors that help formulate politics. There were also questions which needed deeper indulgence into the layers of the past: Isn't a society that had a painful past of total collectivism and aims to move towards individualism threatened by neo-collectivism? Today artists are occupied with authoritarian images and signs of the past as social commentaries to the present (Mher Azatian). Politics is a highly social phenomenon; society elects those who govern, and who are supposed to express collective will of the society. Even dictatorships under the yoke of which people suffer, come to power only because their entrance into the state institutions is prepared by conscious and unconscious desires, needs and malaise of the masses. Art often becomes a victim of politics (USSR, Hitler's Germany, etc) and goes through transformation adapting to the demands and dictates of the political apparatus. But politics itself sometimes undergoes multiple phases of transformation in artists' work, and presents itself in an aesthetic milieu, sometimes touching purely aesthetic issues laden with political overtones (Arthur Zakarian). Politics is a game. This famous aphorism passing through creative metamorphoses by an artist, gains a totally different meaning. Politics is not more serious than a child's play, and is as light and short-lived (Diana Hakobian). This is the rather ironic attitude of the artist towards seriousness with which society approaches politics. Maybe it is the state and the rulers that turn the individual into a toy with the aim of repressing every expression of individualism and reach "flattened" human attributes. It is much easier to rule "gray" and faceless masses. -- Angela Harutyunian is an MA student at Yerevan State University, and is a curator at the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art in Yerevan. She recenly curated the "Instinct to Create" exhibition of Tigran Khachatryan and "Crash # 60528" - a project of Hovhannes Margaryan. Her current research is on The Problem of Motion in Contemporary Sculpture.

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