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A Conversation with Armen Eloyan on the Occasion of His Exhibition "Natur und Kultur" at the Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium, by James Scarborough

Armen Eloyan was born in Armenia in 1966. He studied at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, graduating in 2005. He lives and works in Zurich. Recent exhibitions include Armen Eloyan, Timothy Taylor, New York, USA (2107), Armen Eloyan, Galerie Nicola Von Senger, Zürich, Switzerland (2017), Armen Eloyan: Garden, Timothy Taylor, London (2016); Armen Eloyan & Josef Scharl, curated by Harald Spengler, Kunstparterre, Munich (2014); The Pink Spy, M HKA, Antwerp (2014); Luc Tuymans: A Vision of Central Europe, curated by Luc Tuymans, Groeningemuseum, Bruges (2010); Until the End of the World, AMP Gallery, Athens (2009); Ventriloquist, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London (2009); INVOLVED, curated by Philippe Pirotte, ShanghART Gallery & H Space, Shanghai (2008); and Two Feet in One Shoe, Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London (2007).

The exhibition runs until January 19. For more information, click here

Images courtesy of Tim Van Laere Gallery

JS: I read somewhere that you don’t like email. Since you're gracious enough to conduct a long-distance email interview, I’ll make this as laconic as possible. Let’s go ...

Influences ...

Punk?

AE: Yes.

JS: Comic books?

AE: Yes.

JS: Street art?

AE: Yes.

JS: Russian and American television? Which programs?

AE: I didn’t have American tv program, but every Saturday we could look Walt Disney. And in Russian programs: the comedian channels.

JS: Willem de Kooning?

AE: Yes, very affected me.

JS: To follow up, why prefer de Kooning, as I read you do, to your fellow Armenian, Arshile Gorky?

AE: His works was more attractive for me.

JS: Philip Guston?

AE: Yes.

JS: Armenian heritage, including humor?

AE: Yes.

JS: The Armenian animator, Robert Sahakian?

AE: I have been working with him. I’ve got my first job in the cinema and it was very influential for me to work with him. I was making background and interiors for his films.

JS: Lessons from politics, Armenian and otherwise?

AE: Armenian and Western European, and of course USA.

JS: Lessons from history, Armenian and otherwise?

AE: Lessons from history: First World War, Second World War.

JS: Trunks as subjects - why? (They remind me of the Talking Trees in The Wizard of Oz. Much creepier than the Flying Monkeys.)

AE: They are coming from Walt Disney to me, like animated nature. And I have particular sympathy on the stump and to turn him a character and to play with.

JS: A possible narrative (1). Your work looks like the aftermath of a catastrophe, ecological, moral, economic - whatever. Personal? (I see them as inside jokes. Let’s discuss that below, with reference to Voltaire.) Apocalyptic? Should we be worried, amused, bemused?

AE: My works are addressed to circumstances of the society, social and psychical.

JS: A possible narrative (1a). Though they exude angst, anxiety, and skittishness, it’s easy to empathize with the truncated trunk figures in the work. Are we meant to feel sorry for them? Are you?

AE: No, it’s nothing to be sorry or not sorry. It is about to make a story.

JS: A possible weltanschaung (1). Your work is both engaging (enthusiastic, eager eyes; easy if ill-founded smile) and nervous (skittish, not a little anxious). The scale, the brushstroke, the wonky compositions - something’s off, though. The truncated trunks smile, seem content, smug even; but they’re not, are they? Do they embody the complacency of the damned?

AE: Yes.

JS: A possible weltanschaung (2). Victor Hugo wrote, Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. From that divine tear and from that human smile is derived the grace of present civilization. Are you the Voltaire in this quote? Say yes, please, because I think your work is the grace of present civilization...

AE: It’s about it. 

JS: The longest question here. Saving Private Ryan. Captain Miller, too decent, perhaps, for his own good, spares the life of the German who killed the medic, Irwin Wade. Sensing his life is about to end, figuring he has nothing to lose, the German gets animated as he talks about how much he loves America, referencing Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie. It comes off a little wan. I call that the desperation of kitsch. Is that what your figures represent, the desperation of kitsch or some approximation thereof?

AE: Maybe it’s close to kitsch.

JS: Penultimate question. How would you characterize this latest batch of work? Branching out? Taking root? Deranged? Overstimulated? Chuckling at life’s big joke? Or is it about just getting by in an overstimulated world?

AE: Chuckling at life’s big joke, as you say.

JS: Last, certainly not least. Is there a walkaway here? What would you want people to say about your work as they left the gallery? Seriously. What do you say?

AE: I want that people say "Wow, what a show!“.

 

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Eloyan