Dedication as Annihilation
Photographer Lucie Khahoutian combines visual symbolism from her native Armenia with western references to narrate a dark tale about marriage.
Lucie Khahoutian’s With All This Darkness Round Me I Feel Less Alone merges a vast array of visual references drawn from her personal background. Taking inspiration from the films of Armenian director Sergei Paradjanov and Samuel Beckett's play Endgame, from which the title is excerpted, Khahoutian’s series is set within a limited space - one bedroom and a living-room, whose heavily ornamented features evoke a typical Armenian interior. "As a Franco-Armenian woman whose grandparents were Russian, I want to show the richness of multiculturalism, and how unlikely encounters merge to create compelling imagery", Khahoutian explains.
The restricted set-up becomes a laboratory for visual experiments. Making use of Caucasian motives found on carpets, objects and outfits, she creates extreme Orientalism, with a pinch of disruption. "The veil is very present. At times it evokes burqas. There is even a position that could be that of a Muslim prior. I like to mislead the viewer. And it’s very representative of Armenia and its peculiar situation - while it was the first Christian country in Europe, it’s surrounded by Muslim countries, which is very isolating", Khahoutian points.
She further imbues her series with literal or subtle references, reproducing scenes from Paradjanov’s Sayat Nova that the viewer may or may not recognise, thus offering multiple layers to approach and decipher her photographs. "For those who don’t know Armenia, my intention is to create a red thread that triggers their curiosity, that introduces this imagery and culture to a wider public", she says.
The work starts with a celebratory kiss – one that restages surrealist painter, René Magritte’s piece, The Lovers, in which a barrier of fabric prevents the intimate embrace between two lovers, transforming an act of passion into one of isolation and frustration. Khahoutian’s tone is set: her subjects’ eyes are consistently dissimulated – hidden behind a hand, a veil, closed, or replaced by the semblance of a gaze. "This is evocative of death, of getting out of oneself and sinking into dementia. It’s the death of the soul more than a physical death", Khahoutian explains.
Image after image, we watch the slow annihilation of the couple. "We are witnessing how human dedication impacts on its well-being", she writes in her statement. Bodies are distorted under an omnipresent veil, dehumanised by the absence of eyes. From human, they turn into creatures or distressed gods – a multi-eyed one evocative of the Greek god, Argos, observing one's actions to an invasive degree; another displays multiple arms, as if battling with external forces. "I was interested in absurd situations that visually express feelings and enable the questioning of what it is to be an individual within society", Khahoutian says.
Lucie Khahoutian is an Armenian visual artist aspiring to create enriching encounters between western contemporary visual culture and strong traditional Armenian references. Her series’ approach a wide range of topics while being very focused on religion, spirituality, and mystical matters. Follow her on PHmuseum.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.
This article is part of our feature series, Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.