From October 14 to November 5, 2011 – Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art – ACCEA
Ruben Mangasaryan was born in 1960 in a relatively liberal and modernist Yerevan the antithesis of everything his camera would witness two decades later. His progressive outlook was typical of a generation that would facilitate the collapse of the Soviet Union and engender a short-lived utopian dream for an independent Armenia. Two earthquakes, one natural in Gyumri and the other political in Artsakh1 both of which hit the country in 1988 marked the harrowing birth of this dream. Mangasaryan’s camera charted its painful progression in exhibitions such as the 1992 “Road to independence”, which essentially became the thematic backbone of Mangasaryan’s entire output.
In 1985 he started working professionally as a photojournalist for agencies such as “NovostiFoto” in Yerevan. During that time, his images of the devastation of the Spitak earthquake wound up on the pages of the international press, which would remain the primary forum for his work. Having spentsix years on the Artsakhfrontline, Mangasaryan’s worldview as a photographer and aesthetic approach came into their own.
One of his most memorable worksfrom this period is an image shot during a moment of relative calm. It depicts a naked soldier as he prepares to dip into a natural hot spring near one of the mountain roads in Artsakh. He carries only one thing: a Kalashnikov slung across his shoulder. This simple scene encapsulates the originality of Mangasaryan’s vision. The nexus of his art is not the specifics of the situation.
Instead, it is the human body that becomes the locus of the image, the device through which Mangasaryan’s philosophy reveals itself. The metal blackness of the automatic gun cuts across the soldier’s body with a violent force. Seen from the back, the man is caught unawares and is devoid of any kind of insignia or protection. He is reduced to flesh,a modern St. Sebastian whose body is likely to get pierced by bullets. The soldier represents an elemental truth: the perpetual struggle between the body’s desire to live and enjoy and the impulse of the mind to transcend the corporeal and achieve spiritual grace based on some form of ideological righteousness. Unlike the St. Sebastians of Renaissance enlightenment, Mangasaryan’s soldier does not trumpet a virtuous triumphover death. The viewer is simply left to contemplate the tragedy of the human condition.