Ararat: Artists Coming Together in a Time of Crisis

Ararat Collective zoom session screen capture; Clockwise from left: Tusia Dabrowska, Orly Noa Rabiniyan, Jon Adam Ross, Diana Wyenn, Noa Charuvi, Randy Ginsburg, Agustin Jais and Robyn Awend

A new art collective was born out of the need to find purpose and connection during the shut down period caused by the Covid 19 pandemic. Now the collective members launch a webzine that invites everyone to peer into their minds, get inspired and think of the various ways creativity has a potential to help cope with a global disaster.

In June of 2020, the full scope of the pandemic was in plain view. Cities were put on lockdown all over the world, and there was no end in sight. Asylum Arts, a global network of Jewish artists, came up with an idea. They offered their community to split into small groups and meet virtually over zoom, to support each other and exchange ideas while preserving a sense of togetherness in a time of isolation and fear.

One of those groups included eight artists working in diverse disciplines and living in six different cities in four countries. They have met every other week simply to talk and get to know each other, introduce their ongoing projects or just vent about the circumstances they have found ourselves in. Many were left without an audience, trying to figure out how to make it online. The conversations ended up mapping the emotional reaction to the pandemic, from despair to the dry lands of their art collective namesake “Ararat”, the mountain on which biblical Noah finally parked his ark after the deluge. It is a symbol of hope and resilience.

Diana Wyenn, From Here, film still, from the Ararat Collective’s Map to Surviving a Pandemic

The zoom meetings became a place for reflection on the artists’ individual practices and lives. Rabinyan started to chart the collective moods with Hebrew words. First, it was Shmita (the period when the land is fallow), then Tohu Vavohu (the condition of the earth immediately before the creation). Charuvi suggested the word Ararat to complete the cycle. At the time, although in different regions and countries, they were all living under lockdowns, but were also all slowly beginning to make new work. The thought of safe harbors still seemed distant, and, in many of the works in the webzine, it manifests itself as an internal search for re-centering mechanisms. Some chose to stay with the moment and index it, or to look back to locate their reflections on the present within particular histories, and some used this moment to enter speculative regions. The group provided support and feedback to one another, but each artist was responsible for their own projects. The works grew out of the conversations. They were a form of intuitive processing. The published work has a raw finish, and in many cases exposes the making process or is in process. The collective’s original goal in creating the zine was to suggest a poetic guide to help navigate the next disaster, but they ended up mapping how creativity and conversation helped them process trauma in a way they hope others will also find useful.

Ararat consists of: Robyn Awend (mixed-media artist, Minneapolis), Tusia Dabrowska (digital media/performance artist, NYC/Berlin), Noa Charuvi (Painter, NYC), Randy Ginsburg (Visual/ Digital artist/Singer, NYC), Agustin Jais (artist/curator, Buenos Aires/Jerusalem), Orly Noa Rabinyan (theatre artist, Tel Aviv/Zurich), Jon Adam Ross (theater artist/ NYC) and Diana Wyenn (theater/dance artist, Los Angeles). We spoke to some of the Araratians to find out more about their experience with the collective so far. They did not offer a specific methodology of collective processing for creative output. Instead, they reflected on the importance of conversation, collaboration, working in digital space, and what makes the Ararat experience different for viewers of contemporary art.

Agustin Jais, The Ararat Collective’s Map to Surviving a Pandemic: homepage

AS: What role the Ararat conversations played in your work for the webzine?

AGUSTIN: My contribution to the webzine is the direct result of those conversations, not just in terms of motivation; instead, they even organized the basic script of the piece. I was fascinated by the way our common Jewish background – probably the only thing shared besides being artists – allowed us to elaborate a very particular view and language around the pandemic. I understand my role as an individual artist was simply to organize these ideas into a logical sequence and to “mount” images over it.

ORLY: My stage work often proposes multiple perspectives that are possible in one space from a shared experience. The Ararat conversations allowed exactly that possibility in real life. The ability to resonate our different POVs – however unstructured and freely associated in the days of lockdown – with artists who live in different geographical conditions and engage in different practices, contextualized that time as a space of reflection. Additionally, the Jewish phrases and thoughts that were organically mentioned in our group talks, took us back to the text, which for me is always the starting point of any creative journey. It helped me identify the need to look back, as a conscious anchoring action, and create work with such focus for our Zine.

Orly Noa Rabiniyan, On Looking Back: #posthome_theatre, video still, from The Ararat Collective’s Map to Surviving a Pandemic

Agustin Jais, Tohu & Vohu, video still, from the Ararat Collective’s Map to Surviving a Pandemic

AS: Ararat is a dynamic community, how would you describe it and what role does it play in your practice?

ROBYN: Ararat began as a completely organic group of artists building a foundation through ongoing conversations. These conversations became ritualistic in nature, marking time, geographical locations and stages throughout the pandemic. As time went on, we grew together, creating new works of art inspired by our conversations. Our Web Zine is a digital version of our story. The Ararat Collective continues to unfold and we will continue to organically pave new ground with each encounter.

Robyn Awend, Pandemic Table of Elements Poster from the Ararat Collective’s Map to Surviving a Pandemic

AS: How do you feel about making an entirely digital work?

NOA: At first I had this idea to make a digital work, an animation, but I ended up with a scanned sketchbook, straightforward paper, pencil or ink. Using the digital scan is just a means to reach people who cannot hold or see the original. This is my very honest and true attitude towards digital images and my work, I just use them to be able to share their visibility with others but really I am extremely old fashioned, and normally am using materials with a minimum of 500 years old tradition.

RANDY: Originally, trying film for the first time, I felt that I was on a complete departure from the other artistic mediums I’m used to like live theater and painting. However, for some of the flying scenes, as I began to figure out how to rig and suspend the harness and work with crew members on how to lift and manipulate my body hanging from strings, I found myself drawing upon my past experience as a puppetry artist. My body as marionette. It was an adventure and a lot of fun flying around, even if only on film and not live.

Randy Ginsburg, The First Flight of Misha Nikolayevna (work-in-progress), video still, from the Ararat Collective’s Map to Surviving a Pandemic

AS: What is it like to show a project that reveals your process?

NOA: This is the first time I am showing my thinking process and not a finished piece, and while it definitely took me out of my comfort zone and was not what I initially planned, I also felt it is the most appropriate platform to do it. The reason for that is the form of our collective, which is purely conversation based. There is no set goal beyond the exchange of thoughts and ideas. Revealing my sketchbook, a personal documentation of some of these conversations together with my own ideas and images that were born in reaction to them, seemed very natural. You get the experience of peeking into somebody’s head, and the sketches and writings are very open ended. You also know whoever sketched these was experiencing something very extreme as the lockdown and the pandemic, but they are choosing to look at the sky or travel back in time, rather than actually documenting anything pandemic-related.

Noa Charuvi, Night Sky Drawing from the Ararat Collective’s Map to Surviving a Pandemic

AS: How does your project for the webzine fit into your practice and how does it expand it?

AGUSTIN: Ararat gave us the unique opportunity to engage with a universally experienced issue and through a de-territorialized medium. As an artist usually engaged in context-specific projects, it was great to think of addressing very diverse audiences with one same gesture -and I think we all tried to be “accessible” in some way. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but include a local story in my work, stressing that even though this pandemic is a global problem, it is not experienced the same way around the globe.

AS: What’s different about the Ararat experience for your audience/viewers in general?

AGUSTIN: Most of those who visited the exhibition saw more than one work, and some kept on browsing each artist’s personal website. So I think Ararat offered them a map to very diverse creative worlds, which is what the collective offered its members as well. For me, being part of Ararat implied presenting my work in a unique context, both universal (establishing connections between artists geographically distanced) and particular: putting in the foreground our shared element, being Jewish, which has been usually in the background in my practice.

TUSIA: The webzine is a temporal experience. We published the inaugural issue in February, and it will run through August. The idea was to share work that processes our experience in real time. Putting it in these sort of time brackets allowed us to feel more free and to experiment in our own projects. Many of us used it as an opportunity to venture into new territories and new digital practices. While the conditions and limitations of the lockdown are clearly felt in these works, our resourcefulness and ability to build on dialogue creates interesting echoings and reconfigurations of the three themes. They are discussed on the landing page, and the page itself, a map, offers multiple stops that viewers can access in any order.

Tusia Dubrowska, First World Passports, Tusia Dabrowska with music by Wiktor Podgorski
video still, from the Ararat Collective’s Map to Surviving a Pandemic

The Ararat Webzine is live until August 9th, 2021