a source on Armenian Art

Ashot Avagyan: A Magus from Ukhtasar

Working from his almost rural base tacked away in the isolated and ruggedly mountainous town of Sisian in southern Armenia, Ashot Avagyan is somewhat an anomaly in contemporary art today. Unlike most post-structuralist artists who work across different media, Avagian is vehemently against deconstruction and analysis. His elegantly reinterpreted paintings artfully reuse motifs and themes gleaned from Neolithic petroglyphs scattered in the nearby mountains, as well as late medieval folk imagery found primarily in the numerous village graveyards near Sisian. The formal simplicity and aesthetic finesse of these paintings, which is achieved through very careful and premeditated layering of images and colour fields is never tempered with unexpected 'post-modernist' intrusions that would call forth intertextual musing by the viewer. There are no slogans, messages or statements in these works - other than image itself of course. The image becomes an icon, a myth and attains certain 'functionality' (as a device that is much an artwork as it is a blatant signifier/marker/talisman) quite different from the plethora of conceptual painting that is the rage du jour in Armenia today. It is Avagyan's yearly performance pieces however, that truly showcase the breath and ideological depth of the artist's vision. Organically incorporating a stunning variety of elements - from the natural environment, the ancient monuments, costumes, performers, paintings and not the least, the audience - these irreverently experiential and unashamedly ritualistic 'happenings' echo the New York school of performance art only in their subversive methods but are wholly aimed at creating a 'total' experience for the audience who is not asked to 'destroy and erase' but to become a constructive element of whatever process or event the artist chooses to establish a discourse on. His most recent action pieces involved a two-day enactment of his own 'funeral' as well as a highly elaborate performance devoted to the cult of fertility whose 'showpiece' was the starting and stopping of the largest waterfall in Armenia. Birth, death, creation, nature of humanity - the themes are fearlessly direct and perhaps, the artist can be accused of philosophical naiveté in the face of theoretical enquiry. But standing three thousand meters above the sea level in a landscape that has been shaped through millions of years and surrounded by layers of human history, the viewer/participant as led by the magus-like artist is completely unable to attain any kind of critical distance from the work in the process. In order for the 'piece' to work and function, the artist demands total engagement, which is tantamount to enchantment. We may question and deconstruct the performance after it is finished, but by then it has already left an undeniable emotional and spiritual mark. The joy of Avagyan's art lies in his refusal to negate and satirize the themes that feed his work and to allow us a small dimension in which we could indulge in some mythmaking of our own. Vigen Galstyan 2009