Red Carpet Storytelling

English Daily #1
It is the opening of the 21st GAIFF, and you are taking your first step on the red carpet. As you look down, you see that the carpet is not red, but in fact white. Only a branching line is red, stretching across the carpet like a vein. And yet, the line is not just a line either. This is a map, and this is Mataghis, one of six Armenian settlements in Azerbaijani-occupied Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), which are depicted on the seven carpets of the “Point of Reference” collection created by AHA Collective founder and curator Nairi Khatchadourian and artist Davit Kochunts.

So why is Golden Apricot violating one of the most cherished unwritten laws of world-wide festival culture? Artistic director Karen Avetisyan explains: "Although the red carpet, as a tradition, is much older than any festival, in recent times it has acquired a glamourous, even elitist perception, which does not quite correspond with Golden Apricot’s conceptual aspirations." These thoughts had been brewing in Avetisyan's head for a long time, right up until last year or so, when he saw AHA Collective’s previous collection, “Bold Khndzoresk”, and finally found a way to realize what he had in mind.

The seven carpets, presented in various shades of red and beige, with a combined length of 21 meters, feature the topographical maps of Mataghis, Tigranakert, Dadivank, Berdzor, Charektar and Shushi while the seventh carpet depicts the Red Cross, which tried, but was eventually unable to reach those settlements. "I needed that view from above," Kochunts says. “In a way, it expresses your impotence. It's a very difficult state of mind when you see what is happening, but can't do anything about it, and it's very difficult to express this artistically." This is why Kochunts was sketching for nearly 2 months, as he decided on the right background, the relationship of different elements and which carpet should be checkered and which striped. The carpets, which were woven by Armenian and Artsakh women from the Verishen Crafts Center and Woolway Studio based on the sketches by Kochunts and dyed with natural materials, ignite a direct conversation with the viewers, whether they want it or not. "Indeed, this is an opportunity for a very subtle artistic provocation," Kochunts admits.

A provocation, which in many ways is also a new statement in Armenian carpet weaving. As Nairi Khatchadourian points out: "It is important that carpet making and symbols constantly evolve, reflecting the realities of our time. Historical Armenian carpets had a unique visual language that was specific for each location. There are historical patterns, the meaning of which we do not understand today. And it's good that we don't: let them remain a mystery. Those carpets belong to a different era, and by constantly repeating them today, we risk making the originals meaningless in a way. Just like the first collection "Bold Khndzoresk", this second one brings new sign systems to the forefront." And this is directly related to the mission that Khatchadourian, an art historian and curator, who moved from Paris to Armenia, set for herself 5 years ago, when she created AHA Collective. "Our contemporary artists have limited spaces of communication with the public. For example, they are not really represented in the museum sector that much, while museums all over the world are platforms, where artists can present their work and spark dialogue with the public. So I had the idea to create an organization that will be a bridge between independent artists and the institutional system, be it in a museum in the capital, a public space or a bordering village. It is important that artists have the possibility to present their works in different settings and engage with different audiences."

As such, from now on the opening ceremony of the 21st Golden Apricot will become a new platform for the expression of such unique artistic statements. "The idea is to create a meeting ground for contemporary Armenian artists and carpet weaving traditions, thus creating a new artwork every year," Avetisyan concludes.

Meanwhile, carpets from AHA Collective’s "Point of Reference" collection will not only open, but close the festival on July 13 at the House of Cinema. In accordance with the new tradition, commencing this year, one of the carpets will be presented as a gift to the International Competition jury president, this year American filmmaker Alexander Payne. This collection, which will be presented to the public in various ways in the future, is, as Khatchadourian notes, a contemporary "woven story" that "transcends its functional and decorative role, turning into forms of remembrance and resistance, claiming that culture survives and thrives in the physical, memorial, and sensorial territories we carry and inhabit․"

Artur Vardikyan

photo by Piruza Khalapyan