Hamlet Hovsepian (b. Ashnak, Armenia)

Head 1975, 16mm, 12 minutes
Yawning 1975, 16mm, 2:20 minutes
Itch 1975, 16mm, 4:30 minutes
Untitled 1976, 16mm, 4:25 minutes
Thinker 1975-6, 16mm, 6:40 minutes

In the late sixties and early seventies, Hovsepian, who was then living in Moscow for a while, was in close contact with the left-wing aesthetic avant-garde in the capital. But he differed from it in his artistic approach. As opposed to aesthetic critique as work in a symbolic space that draws on the formal apparatuses of everyday and ruling culture, as it is always incorporated, reflected, in Moscow conceptual art of the time, in his film, which was made after he had left Moscow, Hovsepian inserts the social back into the subjects. This conjuring trick - which, in one bold move, dispenses with the oppressive burden of the hollow ideological kitsch of the bureaucratic culture of the Brezhnev area as an aesthetic projection surface and withdraws to the stage of abstract, everyday acts - and the completely unspectacular camera work have no parallel anywhere else in the Soviet counter-avant-garde of those years. In the mid-seventies, Hovsepian returned to Armenia, to his studio in the small village of Ashnak, where he has lived ever since. There, in voluntary reclusion, he began consistently to create a body of conceptual works. As well as this film, which was conceived and filmed on one of the rural afternoons in Ashnak, and is today only available as a copy urgently in need of conservation, he created a number of installations and interventions on an equally reduced scale: a few plants in plastic bags in front of a house wall, newspaper that draws a line in the landscape along a slope at the foot of Mount Aragats. And later, he produced a series of paintings following the new conventions of Perestroika art. In the Caucasus, Hovsepian is seen by many artists of the middle and younger generation as one of the erratic avant-garde figures of the seventies. Arman Grigorian once paradoxically and ironically called Hovsepian's studio "The Kitchen" of the Soviet Caucasus. Not completely without reason. This one film alone places the filmmaker Hovsepian in a genealogy in which the films of the New York underground are also inscribed. Washing long hair, biting nails, yawning - gestures of deviance that positively reverse the image of isolation current among cultural pessimists, as a seizure of space in a world of standardization, of the mass society, as cultural critics called it in those years. Hamlet Hovsepian's film is not only the result of a small revolt against the deadly passivity of this society. The reduction it carries out, its silence, gives a universal turn to the meaning of emptiness, to the abstract space, and the frequently extended time.

- Georg Schöllhammer

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