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Yeranuhi Soghoyan

This Year's Gyumri Biennial of Contemporary Art Begins with Barely a Whisper

Unlike previous years, this year's Gyumri International Biennial of Contemporary Art was barely advertised. News about this year's biennial was circulated first on Facebook: the statement that was issued said that Bruce Allan's program Difference Screen will beexhibited within the scope of the biennial at the Gyumri Art Academy from 1 to 4 pm on July 10.

If in previous years, biennial organizers would attract news outlets' attention beforehand, notifying them at the beginning and end of events; speaking about the presence or lack of financial means, about invited guests; well this year, there was the impression that what is being done is obligatory — done for the sake of doing.

If in previous years, the start of the biennial was announced through press conferences; information about the projects and participants was provided to news outlets; and there was an opening ceremony; well this time all the preparations were left in the dark. It's not even known who this year is organizing the "zero"-budget biennial.

During a press conference on the 7th Gyumri Biennial (in 2010), art critic Nazareth Karoyan said artistic, organizational, financial, and other investments were made over the past 10–12 years. And with this biennial they want to understand to what extent has culture recovered as a result of these investments — a goal for which the organizers strived greatly, when 12 years ago, in 1998, they laid the foundation for the biennial of contemporary art. 

The biennial has a zero budget, Karoyan had said at the time, noting that all of it was organized due to mobilizing the forces of local artists. "The positive will be that, finally, we will understand what changes Gyumri's culture has experienced and finally understand [if] we need this phenomenon known as a biennial and try to continue moving forward," he said. 

The start of the 8th Gyumri Biennial in 2012 almost didn't differ from the previous one. During the press conference, one of the organizers, Azat Sargsyan, said the budget of this year's biennial is also zero, and participants will cover their own food, accommodation, and participation expenses over the 10 days. 

The start of this year's, the 9th Gyumri Biennial was not officially announced. Bruce Allan made the opening remarks for the approximately 15 spectators gathered at the small hall in the art academy. He said he participated in the 2002 and 2004 Gyumri biennials with different projects. The Difference Screen program was developed in the UK and co-curated by Ben Eastop. Over a period of two-and-a-half years, this program comprised of 11 short films has been screened in approximately 20 countries. The first screening took place in the UK: instead of a movie theater, the screening took place in an original venue — an underground cave.

"The program was screened in Georgia last year; two days ago, the program was presented in Yerevan; and since Gyumri had become a dear city to me from my previous visits, I didn't refuse the invitation to participate in the 9th biennial with this program. The next screenings will be held in New York and Montreal," Allan told Hetq.

Photo: Bruce Allan

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