In her care
Nairi Khatchadourian, a contemporary art curator, on working with Armenian artists, French philosophers, and more
February 18, 2021 | by Creative Armenia
The contemporary Armenian art scene is full of challenges. That proved no obstacle for Nairi Khatchadourian, who six years ago moved to Armenia from France to meet them head on. Since then, she has curated numerous exhibitions, using her extensive background in arts and entrepreneurship to nurture a new generation of Armenian contemporary artists. Join our 2021 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow as she shares her experience in this exclusive interview.
CA: Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a curator.
NK: I have had the luck to be born and be immersed in a family and in a community of artists in Paris. After graduating with an MA in Entrepreneurship, I enrolled at the Sorbonne University to study Art History. I entered the institutional art world by working at the Jeu de Paume, an important art center dedicated to exhibiting and promoting all forms of imagery from the 20th and 21st centuries (photography, cinema, video, installation, online creation, etc.), and supported the team in the major retrospective of Robert Adams as well as Mathieu Pernot’s solo exhibition. I continued my experience in the photography field by working at the fotofever photography art fair, a destination for discovering and collecting contemporary photography from emerging photographers from around the world.
When I moved to Armenia in 2015, I joined the newly formed staff of the Komitas Museum-Institute as the Head of Exhibition and Education, where I curated two exhibitions on an annual basis for about three years, researching and showcasing collections from diverse public institutions, private collections, and works from contemporary artists. I then joined the My Armenia Program to support Armenia’s regional museums in increasing their capacity across functions and securing a stronger foothold in the local and tourism value chain. In parallel to the institutional curatorial work, I developed my practice independently collaborating with a wide range of practitioners in different fields of art, design, music, publication... So far, the journey has been extremely enriching and generous and I look forward to taking care of artworks and artists and sharing their sensitive and critical discourses with the society.
CA: What is a single work of art or a person whose work influenced you the most? Why?
NK: I can’t say there is a single work of art or a person whose work has influenced me the most, as I believe that at each stage of our lives we respond and are sensitive to different themes and aesthetics.
As our current time is extremely fragile and there are aggressive behaviors conditioned by the unstable sociopolitical context, I find inspiration in works that invite us to poetically rethink different ways of inhabiting the world, learn whole new forms of solidarity, and grasp what the certain metamorphosis we are experiencing today teaches us about the consistency of the world in which we are. I am currently fascinated by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno’s interdisciplinary experimentations on spider webs and their interactions with earthly and cosmic phenomena, I follow French philosopher Bruno Latour’s thoughts on embracing what he calls “the Terrestrial”, contemplate Tadao Ando’s words on architecture and landscape, and research the many folk variants of the tale “Thousand Nightingales”, the latter being the foundation of an upcoming project I’ve undertaken with one of our contemporary Armenian composers. I guess I could say that folklore is what has shaped who I am and the source of wisdom I draw from often.
CA: Currently, you’re based in Armenia but throughout your career, you have brought numerous exhibitions and projects to life throughout the world. How do you think the Armenian art scene is different from the rest? Why so?
NK: I’ve been working in Armenia for only 6 years so I wouldn’t want to draw conclusions fast. Many colleagues of mine have been practicing for years here and would give better insights.
From my perspective, the art scene in Armenia has been detached from the local institutions (besides one or two contemporary art institutions in the capital) and has developed independently through diverse small and big collectives. As a result, the artists have been practicing and producing works but have been far away from the dialogue that institutions have the mission to create with local communities and the society at large. On the other side, the remoteness allowed for certain artists to dive deep into their practice and echo contemporary issues with works that are bold and fresh, refined and poetic at the same time. And their bold and refined eye is much needed in the world today.
CA: As a curator, your work is the driving force behind exhibitions. What is your guiding philosophy?
NK: At the core of a curator’s work is collective work – curator-artist, curator-institution, curator-public, curator-partners. The more synergies are created the more content is generated. The more content is generated, the more perspectives are being offered to the audience to reflect upon. I try to curate exhibitions as sensitive spaces capable of moving and elevating a person’s perceptions and sensibilities.
CA: What problems do you think the Armenian art scene faces right now?
NK: Lack of care and involvement. Artists have to be included in the ecosystem of the society – from education to urbanism, from research to technological innovation.
CA: To the COVID-stroke world you responded with art, curating a monumental artwork Inside Out. How did that project come together?
NK: I’ve always tried to follow the flow of nature and let the projects unfold as they come without pushing anything. Anush Ghukasyan’s Inside Out installation was born as a continuation of her work “Imprints” reflecting upon the identity crisis and the negative impact of globalization on cultural diversity. Among the many diverse objects used in her Imprints installation was an underground pipe. After placing the last dot on her work, a long creative journey began only with underground pipes, which lasted beyond the lockdown and the Artsakh war. Our and nature’s inside out suffocation and mourning are compressed in those tubes. I visited the artist’s studio on a regular basis to discuss the work and bring it to a state of exhibiting it, which we first installed outdoors as a sort of land art installation in a clay mine in the district of Nubarashen in Fall 2020. The work is planned to be exhibited at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Spring 2021.
CA: Curating involves mastery of many skills and lots of commitment. What do you personally find most difficult when working on a project?
NK: Honest and smooth communication with all stakeholders involved is what guarantees the successful implementation of any project. The larger the scale of the project the more people the curator needs to communicate and collaborate with. The teamwork spirit is a culture we have to cultivate more in Armenia.
CA: How has COVID-19 and lockdown changed your creative routine?
NK: I’ve been able to focus more on some collaborative projects with artists and give the necessary time for the works to mature. I’ve also produced a few digital exhibitions on Google Arts and Culture in partnership with public and private collections from Armenia and the diaspora for the YBAF and curated pieces for the Smithsonian Folklife Magazine.
CA: You have worked on numerous projects throughout your career. Which one are you most proud of? What makes it special?
NK: There isn’t a unique project I am the proudest of, as each project has been created in specific contexts and environments, and I hope each exhibition has brought new perspectives on the given subject and has created new relationships between the visitor and the historical and/or contemporary contexts presented.
Nonetheless, I would want to highlight the mixed-media installation Pieces as it’s the very first installation I commissioned as a curator. Commissioning two contemporary artists of two different generations – Vahram Galstyan and Anush Ghukasyan – allowed for an intergenerational dialogue to be created. Inviting them to do a collective retrospective look at Komitas’s multifaceted heritage, in homage to whom the artwork and exhibition was curated, makes this project very special for me.
CA: Tell us about your daily creative routine.
NK: I’m not sure I have a daily creative routine, as it all depends on the projects I’m working on. However, I’m in constant communication with the artists I’m collaborating with, be it in their studios, through digital channels, or around a good glass of wine!
CA: What is your long-term vision for your creative career?
NK: Bring my share of care and sensitivity to create a better ecosystem, where artists are an impetus for the wellbeing and development of the society and an impulse and an inspiration to express our collective emotions and engagements.
CA: What are your plans for your year as a Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow?
NK: The Creative Armenia – AGBU Fellowship is a one-of-a-kind platform for Armenians to be in a common artistic network, make new connections, circulate ideas, and form new synergies. I hope to engage with new practitioners and institutions in Armenia and abroad and create collaboration opportunities for Armenia’s bold and refined voices to be heard and echoed on different platforms and different audiences.