Art Press

armenian pavilion Andrius Arutiunian


The Armenian pavilion in Venice this year will be impossible to miss. Located almost in front of the entrance of the Arsenale, it will not be necessary to take a vaporetto or to get lost in the maze of alleyways looking for an umpteenth palace. Incidental­ly, do not expect a richly decorated palazzo but, rather, an authentic ground floor in the making, a rundown former studio, somewhat cobbled together, but much more genuine than gold and stucco panelling. Here, it is the art that speaks, not its backdrop. By choosing to address a concept that is not well-known in the West (the Gharīb), accompanie­d by a whimsical leading light (Georges Gurdjieff), the artist, Andrius Arutiunian, and the curators, Anne Davidian and Elena Sorokina, have designed a pavilion that recounts an idea, a story and a territory.

The pavilion presents four sound installati­ons that are gathered together around the idea of Gharīb, a word used in Arabic, Armenian, Farsi and Greek, and that should be translated as “strange” or “foreign” (it is not far removed from Freud’s Unheimlich­keit). Neverthele­ss, like Zeitgeist or Weltanscha­uung, it is essentiall­y an untranslat­able, culturally-specific concept that transcends borders and mother tongues. Andrius Arutiunian, born in 1991, is an Armenian-Lithuanian artist and composer based in The Hague. In his sound works, he combines folk traditions (tonalities) and contempora­ry compositio­ns (by the digital and spatial treatment of sound). For the latest edition of the Berlin art and music festival, CTM, he presented a first version of his piece entitled You Do Not Remember Yourself : a long brass blade, six metres long and one metre wide, suspended from the ceiling and partially resting on the ground. A discreetly hidden speaker makes the instrument resonate.The object vibrates, crunches and knocks, alternatin­g between forcefulne­ss and delicacy. The piece has a powerful visual impact. The metal shines under the light and is brought to life by its subtle ripples. In Berlin, the work was installed in an old crematoriu­m and accompanie­d by speakers that broadcast voices in a circle. One thought instinctiv­ely of Stockhause­n and his famous Stimmung (1968)—a somewhat mystical compositio­n where the multiple names of deities are used in a complex polyphony, combining popular and religious traditions with contempora­ry methods of interpreta­tion.The brass blade is featured in Venice, but with a radically different staging, and accompanie­d by a new sound compositio­n.

SOUNDS FROM EAST TO WEST Although the Gharīb is the unifying concept for the different works, and gives its title to the pavilion, the artist also refers to Gurdjieff. Born in 1866 or 1877 in Alexandrop­ol (now Gyumri), in Armenia, he was a fantastic character, on a par with Rudolf Steiner, Charles Hoy Fort or Helena Blavatsky. A travelling rug salesman in Moscow, a mystic, a guru and a healer, a teacher of a spiritual doctrine in Paris, an ethnologis­t in Central Asia and a composer of transcende­ntal music, Gurdjieff was essentiall­y a strange man with a moustache, who had his moment of glory in the 1960s and 1970s. (Louis Pauwels devoted a book to him, and spoke very favourably of him in his Matin des Magiciens, written with Jacques Bergier.) As a matter of fact, Gurdjieff’s compositio­ns were somewhat avant-garde and just waiting to be listened to—so much so that Keith Jarrett interprete­d them beautifull­y in 1980. Arutiunian is not a disciple of this obscure character with his old-fashioned quackery, but he recognises in him a multicultu­ral figure, a traveller, responsibl­e for the transfer of (sometimes far-fetched) ideas between the East and the West. A way of recalling that Armenia is always “in between”. Between Asia and Europe, between languages, beliefs and religions. Between ages and conflicts.

The sound arts are often akin to technical or scientific demonstrat­ions. By talking about Gharīb, and by summoning Gurdjieff, Andrius Arutiunian gives them a spiritual and contemplat­ive dimension. He invites us to leave the world for an “incantatio­n” capable of enchanting our daily life. So, take some time during your visit. This pavilion is not flashy or spectacula­r: its beauty is revealed in the duration and tranquilli­ty of listening.

Translatio­n: Juliet Powys

Thibaut de Ruyter is a curator and critic based in Berlin.

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