Beautifying Yerevan Shouldn't Mean Building More Poor Quality Statues
The municipality says it is implementing a process of radical beautification and landscaping in Yerevan. Architect and urban developer Sarhat Petrosyan attempts to assess to what extent all of this is lasting and long term.
Basically, the following, the depreciation of public values, which we see in music, Armenian soap operas, and which in architecture is embodied by the "Northern Avenue style," has now come to the field of urban development. That is, it's the same way of thinking in all the areas mentioned: we have an issue of giving people a product that "will be bought" and we begin to produce it. Theoretically, a lot of people perhaps like this green crocodile [referring to the addition of a crocodile made out of grass and other such creatures around the city], but isn't there perhaps a need to study its aesthetic aspect and the matter of to what extent it can live in this city?
For example, if the city needs a bench and that bench is placed not in a park but on a massive scale [around the city], then that can't happen in a day, based on the decision of one city hall employee. In architectural terms, this is a huge omission, when an enormous number of thoughtless attributes appear in the city and automatically reduces the bar. As a result, we, as citizens, are deprived of the right to approach the city. If [prominent Armenian oil magnate, industrialist, and financier Alexander] Mantashev's statue can be placed on Abovyan street, then, according to this logic, why can't [Armenian actor] Mher Mkrtchyan's modern statue be placed in front of Moscow Cinema? This process is not unlike an unsuccessful project of a graduating student who doesn't even have a command of rudimentary technique.
Of course, I'm not rejecting the idea of a green city, which essentially is the continuation of Mashtots Park, and it's wonderful, but ideas have to be implemented with at least elementary knowledge; you have to understand that just because an architect or designer is the one nearest and dearest to you it doesn't mean that he's also the most professional. That is, any attribute in the city before appearing has to adapt to that space.
But the public, it seems, agrees to that "thoughtlessness".
Since "rabiz" [an Armenian sub-culture considered to encompass poor taste and low class] is warmly accepted by a significant portion of society, of course they will also like rabiz compositions: for many, Northern Ave. is perhaps a dream place to live, but that doesn't mean that the Ministry of Culture has to allocate a large portion of the budget for spreading rabiz because it's more convenient in financial terms. That is to say, a question of priority and stakes must be asked.
Environmental problems are one of the most important issues in the world today. Some cities are implementing long-term projects; others, short-term. If we are choosing a green program that's ineffective and quite easy to implement, of course the problem won't be solved.
The authorities today are confronted with the problem of creating a platform for professional dissent; meanwhile, we're stealing commissioned projects from each other. I don't think I'm absolutely right, but my opinion has a right to exist. Those who cheer the process of making spaces more green, they are not only ensuring their existence, but also lowering the general stakes. Once a project is implemented where the principle of arbitrariness isn't applied then this pyramid of ignorance will be dismantled and many will realize that this isn't their ancestors' vegetable garden and the professional aspect is more important.
Years ago, children saw Hripsime Poghosyan's sculpture on Abovyan street; today we see Mantashev's statue or some crocodiles [made from grass]. So, on Abovyan St., where it can be said our city's history is written, without any discussion, a few incomprehensible statues can suddenly appear… so there can't even be talk of sustainable development because the process continues with gross violations.
At the same time, we should consider the Cafesjian Center for the Arts, which of course, for me, is one of the city's luminous points, but in the Yerevan context, having three works by Fernando Botero, I think, is an incomprehensible exuberance. I've been to about a hundred leading cities around the world, but I've only seen four Botero works, while for a country such as ours, it seems, it's illogical. Of course, they're undisputed works of art, but you can't place so many sculptures on top of each other and one greater than the other. I'm not criticizing Cafesjian's activities, but it isn't logical.
In your opinion, what are the reasons for the tendency "the more, the better" from an architectural perspective in Yerevan?
There are a few reasons. The first is the zero level of accountability as both a state representative and as a citizen. Second, I think, assumes something like buying a tire. I won't hold back on anything that's needed for my car — whatever is needed, however much is needed.
There's popular and unpopular culture. Naturally, people want what they see to be close to reality, and naturally, Yeghishe Charents' or Mher Mkrtchyan's statue was more in demand. But when Jim Torosyan was designing Yeghishe Charents' monument, he didn't take the primitive route. He presented a project that at least was an attempt to present the Charents mood in a new way to the city. But taking place today is a primitive process that began with the statues "Backgammon Player," then "Men," then these statues… and here we've been burned… following this logic, the more beloved Armenian actors and intellectuals there are, the more they have to appear in the city in the form of a statue — poor quality, bronze-plated plaster statues, which of course can't last long.
Today, the mayor emphasizes the importance of greening the city, for which I am very grateful. But no one is saying, Mr. Mayor, this is not something to do.
Interview conducted by Lilit PetrosyanFourth-year student at the Yerevan State University's Faculty of Journalism
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