Art Editor Kristin LaFollette interviews featured photographer Mane Hovhannisyan on the social perceptions of body, movement, and spirituality in transparent and tangible realms.
“Inspired by her phantom-like movements, I wanted to convey the inner sense of transparency, the merging of the body with the space…”
How did you arrive at the title Blue Sun for this series? How are the individual photograph titles connected to the series title?
I took the title of the cycle “Blue Sun” from one of my favorite novels by Stanislaw Lem—the bluish photos reflect its mood. I titled the individual photographs based on key words from the book.
The photo story contains two parallel narratives. The first reflects social problems associated with the perception of the female body in arts. The second contains some allusions to the atmosphere of the film Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky, as well as artistic movements in the former Soviet Union. For me, the ray of blue sun is a metaphor, a shard of hope in a state of despair.
What inspired the Blue Sun series? What contemporary issues do the images address?
The main idea of this series is to help to change the perception of contemporary dance, and that of the female body as an instrument of art in Armenian society.
How do you go about choosing a figure/model for your photography?
The main character of my photo series is Hasmik Tangyan – a contemporary dancer and performer in Armenia. She is the founder of “CoChoLab Armenia” (Contemporary Choreography Lab). Her mission is to develop contemporary choreography through teaching, research, production of performances, and by giving her students opportunities to test their skills in different scenes.
Particularly important is her work with children with disabilities, where the movement of the body is considered as a way to spiritual health. Inspired by her phantom-like movements, I wanted to convey the inner sense of transparency, the merging of the body with the space, the consciousness of the body as an element of the universe.
The photographs in this series were created with the help of a grant. Can you talk a bit more about that process, the grant, and how it helped facilitate the project?
This grant is a long-term mentorship program for South Caucasian Women Photographers. This is held every year, implemented by the Tbilisi Photography & Multimedia Museum (TPMM) and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). It was a pleasure to be one of the 2020 winners. My mentor for six months was the French photographer Grégoire Eloy from the Tendance Floue collective.
Working with Grégoire Eloy was very important for me. He accompanied me in a sensitive and helpful manner, while giving me freedom to realize my artistic vision.
The staff of the TPMM, especially Elina Valaite and Nestan Nijaradze, also played a huge role. They supported me in organizational matters, and made it possible for me to participate in a meeting with another grantees at the conclusion of the program.
The final step of the mentorship was the presentation of my series through a slide-show on their photo-book library platform i-mediateque. My work became part of its permanent collection. https://tpmm.ge/en/video-archive/blue-sun/
You started this project in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. What was it like working and creating during such a chaotic and uncertain time?
During these difficult times, the project helped me a lot to get out of the state of isolation and of powerlessness. Shoots were taken both indoor and outdoor. The performer and I have worked really intensively, and at the same time we tried to be careful. The anxiety of society, the isolation and different restrictions have, of course, changed my perception of the world, and especially of the places. Some claustrophobic feelings are reflected in my images taken indoors.
You mention that your work reflects “the state in-between magic and reality, the correspondence of the human body to the natural and urban environment, as well as the discovery of old soviet architectural leftovers through the means of photography.” How do you see this reflected in Blue Sun?
I love to create multi-faceted and cinematic images that draw the viewer into their depth. The thread of realities that runs between our world and the imaginary world of art is transparent and tangible at the same time. One of my goals is to convey this feeling through photography.
In color photography, I concentrate on one color and transmit its depth. In that sense, the blue is very close to my inner imagination, and reflects something like the state in-between.
For me, Soviet modernist architecture always had something mystical in it. In the cycle “Blue Sun” I had the opportunity to realize a long-conceived idea of mine to juxtapose the female body, seen as an art body, with old Soviet constructions.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
My current project is about the experimental kitchen-studio “Arm Food Lab,” founded in 2018 by two young Armenian women, Ani Haroutiunian and Mariam Sinanyan. Their focus lies on research of the Armenian national cuisine, biodiversity, edible ecosystems and beautiful, sometimes highly neglected, local ingredients. In this series I attempted to show the role of food as a connecting chain between human culture and nature.
Where can we find more of your work?
You can find the most of my work first of all on my Instagram channel. @manecrimson.
In 2020 Barren Magazine dedicated the entire look of its issue No.17 to the cycle “Fabula.” https://barrenmagazine.com/
My works have been chosen for publication by these online magazines: Wild Roof Journal, The Closed Eye Open, Pretty Owl Poetry, as well as print editions of River Styx, Beyond Words, High Shelf Press, Red Weather, Slag Glass City and Cold Mountain Review.