A Review of Remains Connected: The
Bridge at Ani

Posted on | August 23, 2010 by blinddates | Comments Off

8.11.2010

Ararat Magazine

A Review of Remains Connected: The Bridge at Ani

Ararat
Aug 11, 2010
By Jorge Prado

Mirror-Spectator Staff Architects Silva Ajemian and Aslihan Demirtas presented “Remains Connected: The Bridge at Ani,” the latest proposal submitted to the Blind Dates Project (www.blinddatesproject.org). The public event, held at Pratt Institute in Manhattan, attracted over one hundred attendees, many of them members of New York City’s architecture community. Architectural theorist Lebbeus Woods acted as moderator, having co-hosted workshops of the project with Dr. Aleksandra Wagner of The New School.

In its simplest form, Remains Connected meditates on the reconstitution of the collapsed bridge across the Akhurian/Arpaçay River at the border between modern-day Armenia and Turkey in the historic city of Ani, once a cosmopolitan center and destination on the ancient Silk Road. As described by the presenters, “Ani exists in two worlds, at once as an important historic Armenian capital and as an archaeological ruin in Turkey at the border with Armenia. Ani is a disputed city. Ani is a ghost city.”

The architects outlined their project “as a series of structural and cartographic investigations to explore the lenticular existence of Ani and its disconnected bridge. What does it mean to exist in this binary reality?”

They adopted the lenticular process, where a grooved lens causes multiple images to appear to move or blend when seen from different angles, as a conceptual framework because it “brings together two images so closely together that they appear to be one image in oscillation but are always and infinitely distinct.” In effect, the lenticular process provokes connections between distinct images in the viewer. (read more)

To investigate these provocations, Ajemian (b. Lebanon) and Demirtas (b. Turkey) have adopted a method of exchanging images of Ani. Each architect then manipulates and re-exchanges the received images. As stated by them, “As [the architects] bridge from their respective approaches, they seek to interleave insights and narratives to create illusions of simultaneity and unfold possible realities.”

This approach fits neatly within the larger Blind Dates premise envisioned by co-curators Defne Ayas and Neery Melkonian:
Taking the breakup of the Ottoman Empire’s complex history as a point of departure, and considering the subsequent formation of nation states throughout the region, the exhibition is an attempt to explore the effects of various forms of ruptures, gaps, erasures as well as (re)constructions through the prism of contemporary lived-experiences.

In this context, and with the lenticular framework and their method of exchange introduced, the architects proceeded to present a series of images of the ruins of Ani, and their manipulations. The images ranged from hand-drawn graffiti on photographed walls to surreal landscapes of exploding architecture, to skyscapes of balloon-supported structures. In one instance, an image of the walls of Ani had been circulated. One manipulation erased the landscape, freeing walls to become clouds, because, as Ajemian explained, “the walls have not been able to protect Ani, so they become clouds.” The other introduced a sheep’s head in the foreground, staring at the viewer, because, as Demirtas explains, “The sheep questions what is history and what is landscape.”

The line drawings exchanged and presented begin to suggest Ajemian’s and Demirtas’s direction for the future of the project. Site plans and sections deploy strategies in the Akhurian/Arpaçay River gorge. In some, a slender bridge pirouettes on a single footing along the political line of demarcation in the middle of the river, its arms reaching out to both cliff faces. The arms of the bridge itself rise and fall as the bridge migrates, allowing connections at various levels along the cliff. Balloons appear as a possible method of suspension.

Plans imagine a rupture line dividing the historical timeline between the construction of the cathedral and the mosque at Ani. This historic rupture then aligns with the geologic rupture of the gorge, creating an axis of reflection along the river that triggers a mirroring of structures from the Turkish side to the Armenian side. Lines connect existing structures to their mirrored locations, suggesting a series of “sutures” (as offered by an audience member) across the gorge itself as if to heal the divide. Though rejected as too literal by the presenters, these sutures or lines become subterranean tunnels that originate on the Armenian side and abruptly terminate at the cliff face. The gesture suggests a longing to bridge while settling to provide vantage points along the Armenian cliff face to peer across the gorge at Ani.

A lively Q&A session that lasted over an hour followed the presentation. Comments ranged from developing the site as a tourist destination, including laser light shows, to consecrating it as a cemetery. The event organizer, Neery Melkonian, referred to recent discussions that have begun between entities within Turkey and Armenia regarding plans to renovate the bridge at Ani as part of broader deliberations to open the borders between the two countries. She added, “In this politically charged climate, we are very excited that Remains Connected interjects some alternative and fresh possibilities to the conventional ideas that typically come with such projects.”

Lebbeus Woods offered the following: The project is “a symbolic act. It’s also a literal architectural act. So it has a great deal of meaning. In your work so far…, you have pretty much left out the political issues. I mean, they are a little bit implied. I really like the concept of this floating bridge that can connect, not connect so that things are constantly shifting and changing, not just a fixed icon or monument … a kind of alive thing, but I wonder who will control the balloons.”

Pratt Architecture Professor Theo. David FAIA, returning to earlier comments about Ani’s dual nature, analogized that Ani was a broken bowl that could not be reassembled. He raised the unanswered question of how one proceeds when “memory becomes artifact.” In subsequent comments by email, he summarized his views: “A bridge from memorial fragments to a landscape that is void at present can only be viewed as a limited symbolic gesture. The flow of water is itself a bridge or connector that, in fact, allows life to exist and grow along its path. [It is] a metaphor for what is needed. [It is] an architectural concept which, like the river to be bridged, allows life to take hold not just to pass through.”

As the presentation ended, there was a feeling of expectation in the audience to see how the project develops. The completed work will be shown in the larger Blind Dates gallery show, also at Pratt Manhattan Gallery, from November 19, 2010 through February 11, 2011.

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