Blind Dates Project

Exhibition

Blind Dates New York Collaborative Project Descriptions
With samples of exhibited works

Silva Ajemian and Aslihan Demirtas
Remains Connected: The Bridge at Ani
Architectural drawings and models, 2010

At Ani, a bridge once connected the two banks of the Akhurian/Arpaçay River. Today, only the abutments on the two sides of the river remain of the collapsed bridge, one in Turkey and the other in Armenia. Ani now exists in two worlds, at once an important historic Armenian capital–a link on the ancient Silk Road, and an archeological ruin in Turkey bordering Armenia. New York-based architects/designers Silva Ajemian (b. Lebanon) and Aslihan Demirtas (b. Turkey) work together to reveal two stories, and two forecasts. As they approach the bridge from their distinct perspectives, they seek to interweave insights and articulate nested architectural and geographic narratives in order to create illusions of simultaneity and unfold possible realities.

Karen Andreassian with Citizen Walkers
Ontological Walkscapes / 960
Video and Internet Station, 2010

Inspired by the “factography” practices of the Russian avant-garde (LEF 1923) Karen Andreassian examines two related phenomena in contemporary Armenia. The first one deals with the slow disappearance of Soviet-Armenian architecture and the shrinkage of public spaces due to the construction boom during the last decade, while the second engages us with the peaceful protests which led to the forceful dispersion of the demonstrators during the last post-presidential election at Azatutyoun [Freedom] Square. With both, the artist takes on the role of a “walker” through whom personal stories of ordinary citizens create a map of places (social space) that are neglected, forgotten, or have disappeared. Ontological Walkscapes is part of Andreassian’s ongoing practice of “political walks,” which he created as an almost spontaneous expression of dissent against the manipulation of the February 2008 presidential election results in Yerevan.

Through Ontological Walkscapes/960, the artist adopts one of the precepts of the Blind Dates project by choosing “produced time” as his “point of departure” – more precisely, 960 seconds. The latter also marks the operational code of the website he has created, where the “soft fixes” reflect, in seconds, the intervals between the two clicks. The video component of the work documents his “ontological walk” and ascertains how one can think within the “cracks,” or in-between each interval. The two works combined synthesize the methods of factography and animism (Felix Guattari) as a form of resistance, a process of self-organization.

Andreassian’s blind date is a citizen walker, Sergey, an engineer who worked on the construction of the US embassy complex in Armenia.

Michael Blum and Damir Nikšić
Oriental Dream
Video, 2010

Preferring to set up his own “blind date,” Michael Blum invited Damir Nikšić to conceive a project together that tackled the Ottoman Empire’s ruins from Bosnia to Palesrael. Once their collaboration commenced, Blum and Nikšić turned their attention to the question of how Ottoman institutions, centralized in Istanbul, could provide a blanket solution to the many conflicts taking place on former Ottoman territory, from the Balkans, to Palesrael and Iraq – an extreme “One-State” solution, to speak in Middle-Eastern terms. They started discussing Orientalism in general, as well as Western accounts of “Oriental” life from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in particular, made of estrangement, fascination and condescendence. Starting with common examples of representations of the Orient in Western popular culture, particularly in literature (from Albert d’Aix’s chronicle of the first crusade to Rebecca West’s trip to Yugoslavia), music (The Four Lads’ “Istanbul (not Constantinople)”) and film (Lawrence of Arabia). What interests the artists is how long-lasting clichés are crafted and quietly enforced, and the humor that arises from the gap between the positivist belief in the West’s superiority up to the 1960s, and the general skepticism, let alone bitter cynicism, of younger generations.

What resulted from this exploration is Oriental Dream, a whimsical critique of Orientalism traces still present throughout the Balkan landscape. Taking the fate of Ottoman headgear–the fez–as a stereotypical or clichéd sign of the now-defunct empire, their work is crafted in the form of a short film where the two artists perform a duet reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy. It depicts a staged chase between the two that takes place in and out of the maze-like cobblestoned allies of Sarajevo, parodying the oddities of the East/West divide. The work makes us reflect upon the residues of Ottoman culture in contemporary life and the ultimate fate of an empire in ruins.

Jean Marie Casbarian with Nazan Maksudyan
(Re)imagining a Narrative
Photographs / Text on Glass

“History is not about the past but about the present. We (inevitably) look back from where we stand – it’s always about our today.” – Nazan Maksudyan

Utilizing the archives of the Near East Foundation, established in 1915 as the first international philanthropic organization in America and currently housed at the Rockefeller Research Center in New York, (Re)imagining a Narrative addresses the reliance on archival photographs to understand and identify subjective and historical truths. Using a story based on scholar Nazan Maksudyan’s great-grandmother, a 1915 genocide survivor, artist Jean Marie Casbarian weaves an imagined space that speaks to the boundaries of language and the complicated contradictions inherent within an archive.
Nazan’s story, divided into three chapters and rendered in her three languages (Turkish, English and Armenian), comingles with Jean Marie’s constructed narratives between the rescued and the rescuer. The viewer is left to reflect on an invisible culture that continues to remain obscured behind a veil of memory. Jean Marie, a German-Armenian born and raised in the United States, and Nazan, an Armenian-Jew born and raised in Turkey, look back from this place of now, and re-mine a metaphoric landscape that has been indelibly scarred by its own history.

This project was made possible through the cooperation of the Near East Foundation and the Rockefeller Research Center.

Hrayr Anmahouni Eulmessekian with Anahid Kassabian
Solemnity
Wall sound sculpture with video projection, 2010

Solemnity seeks to mourn what is impossible to mourn. It is an audiovisual critique of elaborate recreations of “trauma” and “atrocity” in documentary works that embellish a sense of authenticity, or foster fantasies of witnessing, suffering and understanding. It is also an examination of alternative means of exploring catastrophes of long ago. The work seeks to highlight the trauma of re-presentation itself when the past is in oblique ruins. The first component in this two-part installation is an extremely slow-moving video projection of the grainy remains of individuals in a documentary photograph titled “March of the Armenians.” The second component involves an array of mini-speakers facing a wall in a grid and covering a large surface. The muffled sound, in asynchronous signals, is directed into the wall, and the projected image veils all the speakers, from which one hears Armenian, Iranian, Palestinian and Turkish poets/writers.

Poets/Writers: Nancy Agabian, Najwan Darwish, Lola Koundakjian, Amir Parsa, Alan Semerdjian, Maral K. Svendsen, Alene Terzian, and Fati Ulgen

The projected photograph courtesy of Near East Foundation, New York

Özge Ersoy with Taline Toutounjian
The Timeline Project
Poster, 2010

The Timeline Project is an interpretive and suggestive mapping exercise that highlights the changes in the fields of museology, archaeology, and the visual arts and culture in the late Ottoman Empire. The project emphasizes the processes of adaptation, negotiation, experimentation, and contestation, which make up this history. More importantly, it provokes questions, rather than simply revealing hitherto ignored links. The Timeline not only explores the legacy of the artistic and cultural production of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ottomans, but also raises questions about the ways in which contemporary art, modern art, and traditional art forms are categorized, often through clear-cut definitions and curious ruptures from their predecessors. It aims to challenge these contentions; explore the diverse continuities and discontinuities in the visual arts; and question
what is lost when today’s art discourse is limited to ahistorical, formalist, and essentialist accounts.

Linda Ganjian and Elif Uras
Navelstone
A functional ceramic-tile sculpture, 2010

Navelstone is a monument to the interconnected histories of Armenians and Turks in Ottoman-era ceramic art traditions. The navelstone (göbektaşı) is the central platform in the traditional Turkish bath (hamam), a heated surface where people gather to relax or to be scrubbed. The sculpture serves as a metaphor for the bitterly fraught past shared by both nations and is also a nod to recent attempts to establish diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. The navelstone functions as a site of rebirth, realized through a direct confrontation with personal and public history––a figurative shedding of dead skin. Its tiles reinterpret the Ottoman traditions of Iznik and Kütahya by using their collective visual vocabulary of motifs as a framework for narrative elements. Uras presents a contemporary perspective on the role of Armenians in Turkish society and culture (both historical and current), while Ganjian details episodes of her family’s story in Ottoman and Republican Turkey. Both of them share a cultural legacy in the rich traditions of Iznik and Kütahya, which under Ottoman patronage and with the labor of Turkish and Armenian artisans, among others, flourished in the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. Their collaborative intention is to bring tiles from these Ottoman centers together, thus underscoring a shared cultural legacy that is neglected under the weight of historical tragedies and animosity between two nations.

Aram Jibilian with Aaron Mattocks as Arshile Gorky’s Ghost
Gorky and the Glass House, 2010
Inkjet prints

Inspired by some of the titles of seminal painter Arshile Gorky’s well-known compositions (e.g., Garden at Sochi, Khorkom and Agony), Aram Jibilian explores the idea of the late artist having lived in an “in-between” space or state of exile that afforded him no home other than that which he created on his canvas. To capture Gorky’s lingering spirit, Jibilian’s photographs take us to the painter’s final home in Sherman, CT, where he hung himself, and where several neighbors have spoken of encounters with his ghost (New York Times, 2003). For Blind Dates, Jibilian and his collaborator, dancer Aaron Mattocks, create a series of images loosely based on a 1948 Life magazine profile that depicted Gorky looking out of his “Glass House” onto an open landscape. Gorky, who witnessed massacres and the death of his mother by starvation, had a more somber view: although he appreciated the light that entered during the day, at night he only saw darkness to be looking in. Mattocks performs the role of ghost, wearing a mask of Gorky’s face from his iconic painting The Artist and his Mother, 1926-1936. Jibilian and Mattocks use the architectural structure of the glass wall to present a view of what might be the current home of Gorky’s ghost.

Nina Katchadourian and Ahmet Öğüt
AH-HA — Performance, Installation, 2010

Although they have only been set up on a blind date, conceptual artists Nina Katchadourian and Ahmet Öğüt have decided to bind together for life. Their project AH-HA is centered on the act of exchanging letters in their names through a legalized transaction, and involves trading two letters in their names that already overlap, namely, the “H” and the “A.” The gesture of trading one letter now (the A) and another letter later (the H), most likely upon the event of one of their deaths, might seem reminiscent of an organ donation or blood transfusion. Only the even and reciprocal nature of the exchange creates a different dynamic: one of barter, trade, or rebalancing, rather than of donating or salvaging. The resulting artwork entails documentation of their process that will bear legitimate legal weight and responsibility, even if they fail. During the opening of the exhibition, they performed signing the agreement with the supervision of a lawyer/public notary. On view is the video documentation of this ceremony.

Karine Matsakian and Sona Abgarian
Avatars of Yerevan: Everyday, Everywhere
Animation video, 2010
DVD, 12 min

Karine Matsakian (b. 1959) and Sona Abgarian (b. 1979) embark on a cross-generational journey to chart the unchanging position of women in their native Armenia. In this subtle animation video, they explore overarching issues of gender roles, feminism, and freedom of expression, expanding on their previous works’ critique of male dominance and consumerism in the art world and society at large. The video unfolds in a virtual world with the avatars, or digital personae, of the two artists performing against a green screen background, as if in the visual field of an early arcade game. Their puppet-like, computer-generated bodies move fluidly, at times acting like analog receivers of consumerist desires, and allow the artists to escape from the limits set by everyday conventions in order to reaffirm themselves as individuals or humans. The green screen background highlights its own infinite potentiality, as it could be replaced by any other image at any given time—a condition that is imbued with both freedom and anxiety. Through this the artists interrogate a woman’s “role” as one of perpetual editing, constant negotiating, and open to reformulation. What are the parallels between edited, artificial online environments and curated artistic systems? The result is a recounting of suppressed realities where the theatricality of gestures performed by Matsakian and Abgarian underscore the real conditions of Armenian society, and international art systems.

Jalal Toufic with Selim Kuru as Ottoman Translator
How to Read an Image/Text Past a Surpassing Disaster?
Photographs, Text, 2010

No one has yet shown an interest in translating my published yet forthcoming book The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster (Forthcoming Books, 2009) to Turkish, notwithstanding that in the 1920s and 1930s, Turkey exemplified such a withdrawal! But were I one day to be asked to give my permission for a Turkish translation of this book, my response would be that the book’s translation to Ottoman is a condition of possibility of its translation to Turkish; in other words, until there is a translation of the book (or of parts of it) to Ottoman, I will refuse any request for its translation to Turkish. Will such a translation to Ottoman—for example, the one done at my instigation by Selim Kuru—contribute to the resurrection of tradition? Will such a translation of a published yet forthcoming book to an ostensibly past and largely forgotten language prove to be itself forthcoming even after its publication?

Stefanos Tsivopoulos with Ursula Eagly, Carlos Fittante & Christopher Williams
Dance DNA
Documentary video and performance-workshop, 2010

Dance DNA is a video essay by Stefanos Tsivopoulos about the history of zeibekiko dance. It is composed of archival footage, photographs, texts, and fiction films, and is also based on interviews with selected contemporary dancers of the New York scene. Through these various sources, the video aims to decode the DNA of zeibekiko, and unfold the thread of experiences and representations associated with it.

Rather than a single dance, zeybek constituted a family of dances originating from the Zeybek warriors of Anatolia in the mid 19th century. These ritual dances, related to war-making techniques, eventually became popular and spread out from the mountain regions of the Aydin area down to Izmir and beyond. Originally, the most common form of zeybekiko was danced by several people, all together; it was staged and orchestrated, demanding coordination between its performers.

Zeybekiko was relatively unknown in Greece. It was only after the defeat of the Greek army in Asia Minor in 1922, and the subsequent exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1923, that zeybekiko reached the Greek mainland and was transformed into zeibekiko. The thousands of incoming refugees included some highly competent musicians who brought with them their rich musical tradition. Zeibekiko was incorporated into the rebetiko culture that flourished in the Greek cities, especially in harbors. The term rebetiko refers to the music of an urban subculture evoking themes connected with crime, prison, drink, and drugs, while also talking about love, grief, loss, death, and poverty. In this context, zeibekiko emerged as the most typical dance and rhythm of the rebetiko genre; a dance reinvented in the taverns through improvisation by all those trying to follow and reenact the songs’ zeybek patterns. Zeibekiko grew into a male solo dance performed by a single dancer at a time.

Dance DNA is a back-and-forth trip through time and geography. It reflects on the passage from zeybekiko to zeibekiko, from a collective ritual to individual improvisation, from rural to urban, from only male to mostly male, and from traditional to marginal and then on to the mainstream. Dance DNA contemplates the poetics and politics of zeibekiko.

Archive Sources: Benaki Museum Photographic Archive; Eurokinissi Photo Press Agency; Gennadius Library Archives /The American School of Classical Studies at Athens; IEMA – Institute for Research on Music and Acoustics; Can Dündar; Timon Koulmasis. Researcher: Galini Notti

Xurban Collective
Building Blocks
A mixed media installation, 2010

Any curious observer strolling through the Anatolian landscape may notice many “abandoned” villages. Without any historical data, it would be hard to guess the period of their occupation, the exact evacuation date, reasons why people left, and what they did before and after their departure. They are the silent testimonies to a troubled history, dating back centuries, or as recently as a decade, involving ancient residents of the land, namely Armenians, Greeks, Kurds, Arabs, and sometimes even Turkic-Muslim sects. The villages all have ancient names and histories that have been repressed and outright changed by the authorities, but nevertheless remembered vaguely by a living few, old enough to confuse myth with history.

Xurban.net recently embarked on a 2800-km journey to five different cities in Anatolia, Ankara, Erzurum, Kars, Artvin and Trabzon, located in varying geological zones. On view is their survey of villages in ruin, engulfed by earth.

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