Ruben Arevshatyan 2022

In a certain sense, the horror of war in Ukraine continues the vicious cycle of many other wars, military conflicts, and war crimes that have been waged or committed in different parts of the world in the recent or not so recent past. Some of these have been widely covered by the media, while others remain unknown among the broader world public. In addition to the humanitarian tragedies, the feeling of desperation, and the total collapse of hitherto actual political, social, and cultural paradigms, war also delivers new terrifying images of the devastated and ruined urban landscapes that have now became metaphors of mindless barbarism.
These images draw a line between now and the existing perceptions and visions of the world order and life in general that had been constituted by global reality after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Looking back on these days in the late 1980s, we can only be disheartened by how naïve and idealistic our visions of the expected future were. However, these tragic pictures have also certain antecedent images that are firmly imprinted in the collective memories of different societies in different countries and cultures of the post-Berlin Wall era.

Anticipation of ‘global harmony’ and ‘prosperity for all’ after the decline of the exhausted oppressive political regimes, which was accompanied by the global loss of belief in the possibility of alternative social order and egalitarian principles, had seriously shaken the basis of modernist concepts concerning the organization and design of social life and its spatial foundations. Vague neoliberal mirages of ‘postmodern utopias’ with luxurious high-rises in gated communities on artificial islands stand in contrast to the dystopic landscapes of abandoned modern towns, urban spaces, and buildings that once served as important catalysts of social formative processes. Despite this drastic distinction between almost incomparable urban contexts, the rift between imaginary life and reality in the perceptions of contemporary neoliberal urban consumers still keeps growing. Collective inability – or perhaps it would be better to say a reluctance – to associate social, economic, and political problematics of the present time in a wider sense with the hyper-individualised life practices of neoliberal reality ultimately leads to the sense of unfulfilled desires that finds its sublimation in deepening the existing rift and reaching extreme limits.

With her project I Remember Birds and Stones, Astrid Busch exposes a multi-layered story of those complex rifts by drawing parallels between two cities located in different hemispheres of the world: Metsamor in Armenia and Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Both cities are roughly the same age. Both were designed from scratch by single architectural teams. Both cities had their moments of rising and moments of falling. And, despite the differences of political, economic, social, and cultural backgrounds and historical premises that conditioned their respective development, they had an important feature in common: a vision of a radically new urban environment with a socially oriented potential. A vision of new citizens, a new society, a new lifestyle.

Over time, the initial plans of Martin Mikaelyan, the architect of Metsamor – as well as the ideas of Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer of Brasilia as an ideal city – did not pass the test of time. Due to its disengagement from its original purpose of being a town for the workers of the Armenian nuclear power plant after the fall of the Soviet planned economic system, Metsamor went through a severe crisis that caused demographic decline, which in turn was reflected in the decaying body of the city. The case of Brasilia was the opposite: The initial ideal image of a city based on the socialist egalitarian visions of the architects and politicians who initiated the project of the new capital failed, while the city experienced urban hypertrophy and fragmentation as a harsh effect of neoliberal class polarisation.

So, what happens after the visions collapse? Is fatality the only alternative that determines our existence and conscience? How can the integrity of the world be reconstructed in our perception of it when the image of reality derives the extreme features of the point of no return? What will be the images that will come to revive our visions? Would they be futuristic visions of revolutionary transformations or merely fragments of insignificant details, intangible associations, and memories that shape our perception of reality?
In Astrid Busch’s project at the Hay-Art Cultural Center in Yerevan, it is possible to follow how the illusive fragments of shattered reality compose visions of new perception. In her work, the traumatic experience of disillusionment and loss transforms into abstracted puzzle pieces where the colours and tints of physical decay of the city intermingle with inconsistent associations and images.

Inconsistent images, sounds, impressions, relations, and memories that are still capable of reviving the dream in the midst of the nightmare of irreversible collapse.
Inconsistent images that interrupt creating at certain intervals, voids for contemplating the minor, unnoticeable details that can change us.

‘I remember birds and stones.’