Magazine Mar/Apr 2013 Shushi through the Mirror of Arts

01 April 2013, 17:42
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Shushi through the Mirror of Arts

The fortress-city of Shushi proudly towers over the high-altitude plateau. It has historically been one of the most important cultural, religious and political centers not only in Artsakh (the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh) and Armenia, but also in the region. It has been destroyed almost entirely at various times but each time like a phoenix has succeeded in rising from the ashes. In 1992, Shushi became a symbol of the recent victory of the Armenian people. In Oct. 2012, the Artsakh Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs was moved to Shushi in an effort to restore and revitalize Artsakh’s former capital. Coincidentally, also in Oct. 2012, a collective effort of artists from different corners of the world tried to fulfill the same objective; Sushi was transformed into an innovative gallery of contemporary art. Through their works, each of them shared his or her own distinctive impression of the essence of this land expressed through the juxtaposition of nature and modern technology.

In collaboration with the organizers of the Shushi Art Project

The airplane was only several minutes away from landing in Zvartnots airport. A group of Armenian artists was arriving in their homeland with a special mission. At the moment, they were looking down through the plane windows trying to compare their maps with the patches of color and geometric shapes of the landscape below. The program of activities of the Shushi Art Project was sealed in an envelope and kept confidential: details were known only to several members who worked for long months in Los Angeles organizing this festival. The initiator, manager and brainpower behind the project was Harry Vorperian. The project involved 20 conceptual artists from the USA, Europe and Armenia whose goal was to express themselves using new tools of contemporary art within the framework of the Land and Technology exhibition. The program included conventional as well as completely new art genres aimed to reinvigorate the cultural life of Shushi. In addition to art exhibitions, it included outdoor performances, land art, video art, and various installations.

“Through this initiative, we wanted to make our own contribution to the task of restoring Shushi which prides itself on rich cultural traditions and has always served as a cultural center for Armenians. Shushi is like a blank canvas for artists. When discussing the themes to feature, we realized that the main component of the link between us and Artsakh is the land, and technology has become an inalienable part of our daily lives, so we decided that each work has to incorporate these two components,” Vorperian updated me succinctly. Participants were assigned to produce art on the sites of famous historic buildings of Shushi as well as directly on the ground. In fact, the creative process was to be the key factor and had to involve the local residents. The project was an opportunity to bring together renowned Armenian artists from different countries of the world and to set up new trends in contemporary Armenian art. A cultural storm was about to hit Artsakh, heralding the revival of Shushi through a harmonious contrast of the traditional and the modern.

Jdrdouz: A Self-Portrait

My reflection in the enormous mirrors placed atop the Jdrdouz plateau, one of the most mysterious and symbolic parts of Shushi, seemed unusual – there was a peculiar sparkle in my eyes, an expression of indescribable power and selfconfidence. I had conquered the meandering path leading up from Hunot Canyon and reached the summit where, for a moment, I felt my breath taken away by the panoramic view unfolding before me and the sense of boundlessness. It is difficult to describe this place where the earth and heaven part from each other, and the past and the present come together. It is not by chance that Jdrdouz, the axis of the protective system of the fortress-city – its caves stretching through masses of rock from the canyon to the hill – has played a vital role for Artsakh at various crucial periods of history. In 1726, it was here that Commander Avan with his small group of soldiers for eight days fought against and prevailed over a 40 thousandstrong Ottoman army. And it was from Jdrdouz in 1992 that the Armenian freedom fighters started the sudden attack operation to liberate the most invincible city of Artsakh, catching the adversary by surprise and securing a victory in a battle that seemed impossible to win. Harry Vorperian deliberately chose this place for the realization of his installation called “Self-Portrait.” “In the mirrors, you invariably see your own reflection against the background of nature irrespective of the direction you are looking, with your feet firmly planted on this land, and you feel you belong here. It is as though one engages anew in a rediscovery, redefinition and accomplishment of one’s identity,” explains Vorperian, offering to gaze into his artistic mirrors to achieve all these objectives.

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