Galerie nEUROPA – Exhibition “Disappearing Memories” opens

On 12 August 2021, the exhibition Hayk Bianjyan – Disappearing Memories opened at Galerie nEUROPA. The exhibition can be visited until 28 September 2021.

Speech at the vernissage

by curator Matthias Schumann

Paradoxically, there is hardly any architectural evidence of the architecture of Yerevan – one of the oldest cities in the world – that is older than 170 years. And even these testimonies often fall victim to post-socialist private interests. Buildings, or rather architectural works, are part of the cultural memory of a city (Aleida Assmann). As three-dimensional codes, they represent the zeitgeist of their epoch and are thus also always objects of different ideological disputes within the urban society, whose parts fight over the “correct” interpretation and thus often over the right to exist of these buildings. “Yerevan is a capital without an old city, into which the layers of demolition and new construction from every decade have inscribed themselves – and the layers of nostalgia.” (taz) The serious social upheavals of the last two decades are also reflected in the urban upheavals and demolitions.

Armenian photographer Hayk Bianjyan, born in 1977, has been documenting the disappearance of well-known and less prominent buildings in and around the Armenian capital Yerevan since the early 2000s. Where possible, he explored the buildings before their destruction. Hayk himself grew up in Yerevan and is closely connected to Yerevan, especially through his grandmother’s stories about the history of the city and its sites.

In order to save these buildings and their history from oblivion, Bianjyan photographs urban “landmarks” such as the Yerevan Circus or the Hotel Dvin – built during the Soviet era – as well as buildings of special public interest (Afrikiyan House) and private houses (profane secular buildings) (Red House, House Buzandstr. 9), which were built in the 19th century. All these buildings shaped the face of the city and were part of the urban biography.

Yerevan is now everywhere (and probably always has been). It is not only in the countries on this side of the former Iron Curtain that formative buildings in cities are demolished without need, that architecture that shapes the face of a city falls victim to ideological or (private) economic interests. Around the world, too – whether in the USA, England or Brazil – solitary buildings of the last century are disappearing. Fortunately, civil society resistance is forming against this. In Yerevan, this emerged at the turn of the millennium. Today, both local and regional initiatives such as SOS Afrikiyan in Yerevan or OstModerne, based here in Dresden, as well as globally active networks (SOS Brutalism) create awareness for the social, cultural and historical value of these buildings.

In photographically documenting the disappearance of the buildings, Hayk Bianjyan uses different photographic strategies and styles to highlight the processes of disappearance and personal and collective memory.

For example, he uses classical, humanistic documentary reportage photography to portray a resident affected by the (unauthorised) demolition of her house, who tragically perishes herself as a result of the destruction of her home. In the visualisation of the demolition of the Red House, on the other hand, he uses the technique of serial photography by recording the demolition every minute, thus making the physical act of destruction impressively visible. For the examination of the Intertourist Hotel “Dvin” built in the 1970s, he re-photographs postcard and advertising motifs of the hotel from the 1970s in the already gutted hotel corpus. Finally, he varies this technique further in the example of the circus building by confronting the demolition site of the circus with old photographs of the same and advertising photographs from the circus show.

In a further step, Hayk Bianjyan goes beyond the purely “immaterial” photographic documentation and archiving of the image of a building by photographically collecting, inventorying and physically archiving real found objects – entrance tickets, posters, crockery or banister ornaments – on his forays through the buildings. In the future, his archival activities will culminate in the establishment of a museum on the history of the city and architecture of Yerevan. It is no coincidence that students of the TU Dresden have developed the same vision for the heritage of East Modern GDR architecture for the rooms of the former HO restaurant Pick Nick (“Dreckscher Löffel”). Yerevan seems to be everywhere.

Funded by Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien