I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down (virtually) with renowned Armenian photographer and fine artist Mane Hovhannisyan, whose fascinating imagination makes up the entire visual aesthetic of Issue 17, Chimera. Mane’s work is at once provocative and meticulous, and the imagery herein is a perfect marriage to our vision for this issue. Follow Mane on Instagram @manecrimson and see her cycle “Fabula” here. — Jason D. Ramsey, Editor-in-Chief
Barren Magazine: Our prompts for Issue 17 included ‘sensational’, ‘transcendent’, and ‘quixotic’. Your photography — the ‘Fabula’ collection in particular — embody these perfectly. Tell us about the role of magic and illusion in your art and what you hope your audience gleans from it?
Mane Hovhannisyan: It is significant that you have emphasized the magic and transcendental elements. In fact, the whole cycle is “literary”. It is connected with the distorted linearity of the novels by Julio Cortázar, and is based on the principle of kaleidoscope.
BM: I would never expect a magician to reveal her secrets, but as a novice photographer, I’m spellbound at your ability to manipulate shadows and overlay. Are you willing to share any tricks as to how you are able to create such multifaceted images?
MH: I am deeply touched by your reviews of my photographic work. I think that the secret is in the power of imagination. It depends on how far the artist is ready to enter his/her looking glass of the subconscious, and to bring that experience back to the consciousness. If this is done, the technical process follows suit.
BM: Your work has a beautifully surrealistic quality to it. It is cinematic, clever, and boasts considerable emotional depth. What inspires you? What parallels do you strive to illustrate between the real and imaginary?
MH: The rope of realities that runs between our world and the imaginary world of art is transparent and tangible at the same time. When I’m in the creation process of the photo novel, I feel that after the completion of the work it can acquire its own reality, which is parallel to our reality. Mainly I am inspired by works of art and literature. In cinematography, the visions of David Lynch and Andrei Tarkovsky are especially close to me.
BM: Your fine art and photography have been celebrated by a number of institutions across Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East. Which collection is your favorite to date? Why?
MH: Narrative photography has a particular significance for me. And the cycle “Fabula” is interesting because the shootings were done in two different countries – Germany and Armenia. At the same time I see this cycle as a sort of game – “Cat’s Cradle”: it is going about the parallels between countries, houses and worlds. They are intertwined and form an infinite linearity without borders. The protagonists of this cycle are an artist couple, who inspired me to do this photo story.
BM: In your bio, you mention the discovery of old Soviet architectural leftovers as inspiration for your art. How has your time in Armenia and East Asia helped to shape your artistic vision?
MH: For me, the Soviet modernist architecture always had something mystical in it. In one of my current projects, 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 the old Soviet constructions.
BM: 2020 has been tumultuous for all of us, but Armenians have had the unenviable task of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as heightening conflict with Azerbaijan. How has the toil of this year impacted your artwork?
MH: The experience of war cannot disappear without a trace. And the art that you create cannot be the same as you created before. But at this moment I don’t want to express this experience directly. I have to deal with the emotions and thoughts caused by war first of all inside myself. The situation with Covid-19 is difficult in the sense that during the lock down I couldn’t freely go to the places where I wanted to take photos. It was hard to create emotional contact with some places. On the other hand, I have concentrated myself on a new photographic cycle “Blue sun”, which will be soon presented in the Multimedia Lab Tbilisi.
BM: What advice do you have for aspiring artists who might reflect on this year for inspiration?
MH: I can say, what helps me personally is just to go ahead in the infinite world of art. Hopefully my experience can be useful for other artists. The process of study and research and of course, hard work, are very important. Often, being under the pressure to produce something, we forget to take a pause and spend some days of creative considerations. I would also advise to be free of fear of experimentation.
BM: We’ll end on a less-heavy note. If you could make any location or object the subject of your next photoshoot, what would it be and why?
MH: I think this place would be an observatory, because I have a particular fondness for the stars…