Talking about identities in the Armenian Transnation
The construction of identity is deeply tied to environment, which is a kind of mirror in which the self finds itself reflected. Which mirrors do third generation Armenians have?
Underconstruction is an online visual dialog by diasporan Armenian artists. Its central concern is the creation of national and transnational identity as a performative act of everyday life.
Worldwide, there is no joint political body that unites all Armenians. Of the approximately 10 million Armenians in the world, only about 3 million live in Armenia – the rest are spread throughout the world in over 70 different countries. We have two versions of our native tongue: Eastern and Western. Second generation emigrants are unable to communicate fluently in Armenian. Different heritages divide our mentality around the world into 3 orientations –“ottoman”, Persian and Soviet - depending on the time of resettlement and places of origin. Life in the Diaspora offers only a few inspiring identifying traits for younger generations. The widespread interpretation that prevails in most Armenian enclaves outside Armenia is fostered by a conservative impulse for preservation. Life in Armenia is not a better alternative: the country is in a deep identity crisis making it an uncertain model to follow.
However, one strong national experience does fuel a sense of community: the trauma of genocide. This trauma involves a legacy of fear, and a challenge from older to future generations that takes a central role: don’t allow us to disappear. Do other topics or ways to understand life link us to each other? Yes, but under the shadow of genocide most of these take on diminished importance. The aims of Underconstruction are: 1. to create a process for recognition, 2. to identify a point of departure for the construction of group consciousness, and 3. through its visual dialogue amongst diasporan Armenian artists, to build a consciousness for the future. Language builds consciousness. As mentioned, the Armenian language no longer provides a common grammatical structure of identity. In this visual dialogue the artists create a new code. Looking to the other I recognize him and myself. When I put this act of consciousness in image and word, I’m helping to build a language, that in the beginning might be subjective and individual, but in a communicative context could function as a semantem, a “collective sentence”: spread out but linked. The site presents the participating artists – who are diverse in their artistic strategies, visual language and issues - in a dialogue about issues of identity. For a period of one year, each artist has sent in monthly visual material or texts to the others with freely selected topics and the other artists have answered with visual material or text. There is also a section on the site with a discussion forum where anyone, including the artists themselves, can add information, reflections, inspirations and observations.
Is it possible to build a permeable identity that allows one to be open without losing ones’ self? Is it possible to recreate and re-experience a feeling of national community through virtual communication in a Transnation? In the Underconstruction process, after a short period the artists began to incorporate the rules of the conversation and their “visual talking” became fluid. In the first four months two new participants joined the group two others abandoned the project. The present exhibition has a constitutive character and intensifies the virtual experience with a real experience. The path is long, first steps are made. “Under construction” becomes a source of a flowing structure, a strategy to face the multiplicity of the contemporary being.
(c) Silvina Der-Meguerditchian
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