12 August 2013, 14:14
2041 |

Person moving

Sculptor and graphic artist Arto Chakmakhchyan moved to Canada thirty years ago. He is now better known outside Armenia, but he has always stayed in touch with his homeland. In 2004 Arto was awarded the Movses Khorenatsi Medal for his unique contribution to national art. His sculpture “Moving Person” will soon be installed on Northern Prospect.

Armenians know very little about you. Tell us about yourself. 
I was born in Egypt and my entire family repatriated to Armenia in 1948. I liked sculpting as a child and pursued sculpture as a student. After graduating from Yerevan’s Terlemezyan Art School and College of Art and Theatre, all doors – oddly enough – began to close in front of me. My style had none of the pompous zeal and poignancy that had become an essential ingredient for art-making in the USSR. 
A person comes to this world only once with a specific mission, and he has to carry it out according to his own philosophy of life. Not once did I betray this conviction, although it was never easy. For many years my art was not displayed; it sat in darkness, wating for its chance to shine. As a result, I accumulated an enormous body of work and did not know what to do with it. As an artist, you are addicted to the creative process and cannot just stop. An artist can choose to bring his ideas to life, otherwise, he risks madness by ignoring his creative impulses. The Soviet art establishment tried to change me so persistently, that I did stop working for a while, but without leaving the world of art. I traveled throughout Armenia for ten years and accumulated a great wealth of knowledge about our rich culture.

You still left though… 
Leaving, I was thinking only about one thing: how can I remain useful to my nation? After arriving in the West I ran into another problem – the commercialization of art. I again resisted the temptation of following the received wisdom and did not make commercial compromises, preserving creative purit y in my work. To resist commercial pressures, I began teaching at the Center for Modern Art in Montreal, where I’ve been teaching for the last 30 years. During my time as a teacher and as an artist, I have learned that Armenians are very talented people.

What are the artistic convict ions that you so vehemently defended? 
The most fundamental of my beliefs is that an artist must have unsullied hands and a clear conscious in order to make art. There is no soap in the world of creative practice, once tainted, you can never scrub yourself clean again.

What is the main theme in your work? 
The human being himself. Art and culture are first and foremost human experiences, national identity is always secondary to this. Examining and showing the spiritual in humankind is the most important thing in art. That is why I believe that from the Renaissance to this day the human is the only topic that has not been transformed in any way. I am able to continue working only because I believe in humanity.

The problem of national art is a constant subject of discussions… 
When something is national, it is not simply a collection of formal attributes, but a profound concept, preserved in the subconscience of a nation. National art cannot be limited by tradition, because its main objective is to reflect the soul of the people in all its richness and beauty.

You don’t sound like a person who has been living in a foreign country for much of his life.
You know, I think it may be time for me to return home and restore my relationship with Armenia. In truth, this connection was never really broken, because my love for my country was always present. This is more true now than ever, especially as I am surrounded by sophisticated and understanding people in Armenia. Of course, the country faces many problems, but more importantly I am surrounded by wonderful individuals and want to live among them very much. I see enormous changes taking place in Armenia, and I am becoming more and more moved by its hardships. An invisible force pulls me to my homeland, and I feel that I should return more strongly each year. I also have a very strong desire to create a sculpture that would symbolize the new, independent Armenia. Art-making came to a brief halt in Armenia at some point, but there is visible progress again. This fact is what prompted me to create the Moving Person sculpture.

The government decided to put the sculpture in the most central part of Yerevan. What does the work symbolize?
The rebirth of an independent Armenia, the beginning of a path to grand achievements. These are the first steps in a new direction for our nation, and we have a long road ahead, which is why I left so much open space in front of my sculpture: space for future steps.

When will the inception of the sculpture take place?
Probably in about a year, when the sculpture will be cast in metal.

There is an interesting story about the 5-meter monument to Komitas.
This is the monument that was installed on Komitas Prospect in Yerevan with the support of the Chairman of City Council Grigor Asratyan during the Soviet era. One day after the installation – following an order from above – the monument was secretly dismantled and dumped in front of my studio. Then I was summoned to the KGB. They said, “You dressed Komitas in a cassock, instead of a suit.” “I am a sculptor, not a tailor,” was my reply.

A lot of your work has been installed all over the world.
My sculptures can be seen in many American and Canadian cities. One of them almost got installed in Japan. One of my sculptures called My Hiroshima won a contest honoring the memory of the atomic bomb victims, and the Japanese sent me an invitation for its installation. They planned to build the monument that I conceived, but it was during Soviet times and the KGB was quick to advise that I forget about the whole thing.

Is Moving Person the only project for Armenia that you are working on now?
No. The Sarkis Khachenc publishing house is working on an album of my drawings. Every drawing is a spark of memories. Among them are portraits of amazing people, such as writers Avetik Isahakyan, Paruyr Sevak, Hrant Matevosyan, Kostan Zaryan, and Samuel Beckett, art historian Lidia Durnovo, conductor Ohan Duryan, Catholicos Vazgen I, physicist Yuri Orlov, prominent contemporary philosophers Jean-Francois Leotard and Gadamer.
The publishing house is also preparing a n album with photographs of the sculptures I made during the Soviet period.

Yerevan Magazine, Winter, N3, 2008

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24/11/2008 15:46 | Magazine

Person moving