The Future of Things Passed
“The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.”
“To remember is to imagine the past.”
The Future of Things Passed features the work of four gifted contemporary artists: Eozen Agopian, Melissa Dadourian, Linda Ganjian, and Judith Simonian. It explores how art can deconstruct and uncover elements of the past through sense memory and found objects, while making lasting statements through these interpretations.
Increasingly, scientists are informing us that the way in which we experience reality in a four-dimensional universe is based on how we interpret the concept of time itself and how we are positioned physically within or with respect to time. On a more prosaic note, we are constantly involved in an ongoing sense dialogue with the past: efforts to recycle everything from products we have used (plastics, aluminum) to concepts and ideas that we think will be useful and usable in the future. An object, a scent, a sound, and a place or a particular person are all we need to be transported into the past.
Greek-born Eozen Agopian uses recycled fabric, threads, and paint to create intricate multimedia pieces. In a very real sense, Agopian threads past and future together. Her work’s environmental aspect is entirely of the moment. With fast fashion and overflowing landfills, with smoke from incinerators polluting the air and negatively impacting generations to come, her work interrogates the decisions we’ve made in the past that will directly shape our future. Her muted color palette and the geometric frenzy of her shapes and forms recall another Armenian artist: Arshile Gorky. Afterstorm, 2014 and Safe, 2022, share a love of measured randomness with the Abstract Expressionist master. Agopian spends long and sometimes painful hours making each piece: “My artwork is very labor intensive and sometimes takes a toll on my body as well. I often poke my fingers with the needles that I use and after several hours of working on a piece, my eyes become strained.” This mimics the low-wage workforce of women in sweatshops, as well as the problematic nature of the work they perform. Ironically, these women create fast fashion at high prices, but are unable to afford the very clothing they produce. Agopian’s work raises our awareness about these issues. It peers out at the viewer to announce: “Buy art, not fashion!” In the process Agopian, like an alchemist of yore, transforms the past into something new, quixotic, beautiful.
Based in Long Island City, Boston native Linda Ganjian uses history, memory, and found or family objects from the past to create artworks that bridge old and new. Her main pursuit involves making large sculptures comprised of hundreds of miniature forms that reinterpret Middle Eastern and American craft traditions (carpets, quilts, calligraphy). Much of her work presents memories and impressions of the urban landscape, the specific history of a site, or more personal narratives. In the series, Map of Her Prayers, No. 1-6, on display in this exhibition, Ganjian takes metal pieces, board, paint, reproductions, plastic jewels, velvet, and worry beads to create complex works that take on the look of delicate artistic armor. A closer view reveals Armenian words such as “sourp” (“saint”) and “asdvadz” (“God”) repeated in the age-old Armenian alphabet next to a mimeographed giclée print of an angel kneeling before the Creator, or texts reproduced from the Armenian liturgy. Ganjian’s thought-provoking work extends an invitation to the viewer to study its intricate detail while contemplating the message and philosophy behind the art. The reliefs from Map of Her Prayers function like open-air glimpses into the past, with a debt perhaps to both Joseph Cornell and Louise Nevelson. In Map of Her Prayers, No. 2, 2019, the curved handle-like shapes invite you to open a door to your imagination and go back in time in what theorist Kourken Michaelian terms “mental time travel.”
Like Agopian, Melissa Dadourian uses fabric from old curtains, thread, and yarns—cutting and knitting them into geometric shapes. In Soft Geometry No. 16, 2019 and in Dream Shape No.1, 2020, the art acts as an interlocutor with the past and establishes a dialectic with objects that have been torn, cut and reconstituted. Curtains: still long objects that hang in a room and silently witness everything that happens within it, mute until they reach “outside the realm” as Proust had it, into a sense-related past, like his famous madeleines. Other works such as Pink Top, 2021 and Red Wall, 2021 (oil and flashe paint on wood panels) display the artist’s mastery of both bright and muted opaque color palettes, kaleidoscopically juxtaposed. Dadourian, who recently created an 8,000 square foot mural for the Manhattan Park Pool on Roosevelt Island, seems equally at home with the monumental as with the discrete. Like Agopian, Dadourian’s work would have made a perfect home for itself in MoMA’s daring 2019 exhibition Taking a Thread for a Walk, which examined the marginalization of weaving as “women’s work” and therefore somehow inferior to other art forms.
The doyenne of the exhibition, former LA Street Art pioneer Judith Simonian, presents large semi-abstract canvases that let the imagination run wild—each location she chooses is precise yet inscrutable. In BAU Berlin, 2021, a soccer field dominates a cityscape, presented at an angle and height that give it flight. In Sperlonga in Norway, 2016, a brash redheaded muse juts out powerfully from the port side of the ship, calling forth a wellspring of associations and memories. Elsewhere, objects from the past travel in her paintings to new destinations. Simonian selects random objects and serendipitously paints them into new locations where they never belonged before. In Mary's Chairs, 2022, she places her friend’s chairs in a scene from Cambodia that stayed with her long after the trip ended: a series of almost pointillist people at the heart of the canvas harken back to 17th and 18th century chinoiserie. In Studio Ballou, 2019, she paints a Mike Ballou sculpture resting on a three-legged chair that stands on a splendid rug, as a river of running colors flow by in an empty room. In these dense, layered, and parallel sceneries, the past and the future seamlessly coexist. The canvases possess a boldness at once intellectually intriguing and viscerally arresting.
Despite the different media and levels of abstraction at play, it seemed to us that a common thread tied the work of these artists together. They have all been making important art for decades, centering around similar themes such as the reinterpretation and repurposing of the past.
These fiercely independent and inventive women create work that jibes with some of our most pressing real world and theoretical concerns. They boldly illustrate Sylvia Alajaji’s definition of Armenian Futurism: “a realm in which re-imaginings and re-claimings of queer and otherwise marginalized Armenian pasts give way to futures of possibility and wonder.”
Christopher Atamian and Tamar Hovsepian, Curators