Revitalizing Armenian Alphabet: Gayane Yerkanyan's Mission of Showcasing Armenia to the World
Meet Gayane Yerkanyan, a multidisciplinary visual artist and our 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Nov 3, 2023 | by Creative Armenia
Gayane Yerkanyan, 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Meet Gayane Yerkanyan, a 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow and a multidisciplinary visual artist from Yerevan, currently based in Amsterdam. She is on a mission to use her art to represent Armenian cultural heritage worldwide. Her ink-on-paper typographic works, marked by delicate brush strokes, have been showcased in solo and group exhibitions around the world, including a notable showcase in frames of the HAYP Pop Up Gallery at the Venice Biennale. Join us on a journey into Gayane’s captivating world to discover how she puts the rich heritage of Armenia on the cultural map through the transformative power of the Armenian alphabet and visual art.
Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a visual artist.
I wouldn't categorize myself solely as a "visual" artist. From a very young age, I've had a deep love for creating in general. Whether it was crafting fashion collections for my dolls out of old fabrics or turning my grandmother's accounting papers into installations, creativity has always been an integral part of who I am. Oddly enough, painting and drawing initially didn't resonate with me, and finding the right means of self-expression turned into a significant journey, particularly given my educational background in industrial design.
I consider the official launch of my career as an artist to be after I graduated with a Master of Arts degree from the Utrecht School of Arts. That was the year when I finally allowed myself to fully embrace the artist within me. Numerous sociocultural barriers had suppressed this aspect of me for years. Growing up, I lacked a definition of what it meant to be an artist or what artists did. The artists I was exposed to didn't inspire me to follow this path, which was most probably due to the transitional and socioeconomic states that Armenia was going through. Even after graduating from the Yerevan Academy of Arts, art seemed static, and there was little encouragement to explore and find my unique artistic voice.
Also, with my background as an industrial designer, I've always struggled with the dichotomy between the design and art worlds, as one requires you to think analytically and solve problems and the other is more inside-out, self-explanatory. However, during my research year in the Netherlands, I received encouragement to explore and define what my art truly was. This marked a profound liberation for me. It didn't change what I was doing; rather, it transformed my perception of art itself. This mental shift allowed me to bridge the gap between my design background and my emerging artistic identity. It became a journey of self-discovery and creative fulfillment, where the boundaries between design and art became quite specific, enabling me to create a formula that was wholly authentic to who I am.
"My art practice revolves around the play of Armenian letters, which are not just characters but also vessels of history, identity, and tradition."
Tell us about your creative inspirations and what you have learned from them.
Two significant aspects continually drive and motivate me to create. First is my connection to the unknown, the emotional unrest, the inequality, and the unfairness. These states serve as catalysts for my creations, especially since I find the act of creating to be therapeutic. It's a means for me to channel and process these emotions into something meaningful or at least, to uncover what I am going through.
The second aspect is the process of coming up with what to create. I draw immense inspiration from my conversations, particularly those with my dearest friends. Often, our discussions lead to the birth of new concepts and ideas that fuel my artistic endeavors.
Dreams also play a significant role in shaping my creative direction. I often see patterns, ideas, or images in my dreams which later I try to turn into tangible forms.
However, the heart and soul of my creative process is the exploration of Armenian typography and letters. My art practice revolves around the play of Armenian letters, which are not just characters but also vessels of history, identity, and tradition.
What truly ignites my creative spark is the state of 'play' and the embrace of the 'unknown.' For example, stepping into a realm where I dedicate time and space to discovery and experimentation. It's the excitement of picking up a pencil to draw or exploring new materials, and this is where true inspiration is.
While I'm undeniably drawn to various forms of art, such as contemporary dance, performative art, and installations, my real inspiration is found in the act of exploration and playing.
Currently, you are working on publishing a book of typographic works, decontextualizing Armenian letters and exploring their new symbolic meanings. What unexpected discoveries have you made while working so closely with the Armenian alphabet?
I find it essential to let the creative process surprise me. Before finalizing a concept, I diverge and allow myself to continue the creation process as it flows, without interruption. This open-ended approach has led to some of the most unexpected and delightful discoveries in my work with the Armenian alphabet.
The creative process is not a linear path but a dynamic exploration. It's a journey of experimentation and discovery, where I allow my intuition and artistic instincts to guide me. This process of 'play' and 'exploration' is where the most exciting and unexpected ideas come to life.
Regarding the book project, publishing is indeed a lengthy process. It's not just about showcasing my work; it's about considering how it will interact with readers and what impact it will have on their lives. Who is the book for, and what will it bring to their understanding of Armenian typography and culture? These are questions that I still need to answer in-depth before the end of this creative journey.
As an artist, you were chosen to create a site-specific typographic installation for HAYP Pop Up Gallery at the Venice Biennale in 2017. How did you approach the creation of the multi-media installation for the exhibition? What unique challenges have you encountered while working on the project?
Creating the site-specific multimedia installation was a truly unique and exhilarating experience. Collaborating with the HAYP Pop Up Gallery team and curators, was a harmonious partnership from the very beginning. They played a crucial role in helping me bring my vision to life within the confines of the space we were allocated.
"It has become a personal challenge for me to use my creative work as a means to introduce Armenia to the global audience."
To ensure that everything came together seamlessly in Venice, we embarked on the creative journey months in advance. We engaged in extensive brainstorming sessions, sketching, and bouncing ideas back and forth. The central concept revolved around the decontextualization of the Armenian alphabet, a theme close to my heart, and Anna Gargarian with her team did an incredible job framing and contextualizing my work within the exhibition.
Perhaps the most significant challenge we encountered was the need for meticulous preparation. When we arrived in Venice, the space allocated for the installation turned out to be smaller than we initially imagined. However, we were well-prepared, which allowed us to adapt and overcome this challenge. During four intense days, I created and drew the installation on-site, ensuring that it met our artistic vision and the unique spatial constraints of the exhibition venue.
This project was not only a testament to creativity but also to the power of collaboration and adaptability. It was a journey that pushed boundaries and resulted in an installation during the 2017 Venice Biennale, an experience I will always cherish.
What do you do as a Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow and, later, as a creative ambassador for Armenia?
Living outside of Armenia, I have realized that not as many people as we might think are familiar with our small but culturally rich country. It has become a personal challenge for me to use my creative work as a means to introduce Armenia to the global audience.
Each piece of my work is a direct shout-out, encouraging people to be curious about this tiny land, its people, and our culture. Whether it's through my art, typography, or other creative expressions, I aim to bridge the gap and expose the non-Armenian world to Armenia. It's a journey of cultural exchange, and discovery, which is a cause I'm deeply passionate about.
Through my role as a creative ambassador, I hope to contribute to raising awareness and appreciation for Armenia's rich heritage and creative spirit on a global scale.