Tigran Khachatryan

Regina Galery

Making a gallery debut that looks like a retrospective can be a risky endeavor, especially when the artist is not yet thirty. But Tigran Khachatryan’s video remakes of great films constitute an idiosyncratic history of cinema and revolutionary thought that is best considered as a whole, while his aggressive political stance makes virtues of low production value and raw frankness—a productive foil for the monographic survey format. The opening credits for his Brother of La Chinoise, 2005, are written in dry-erase marker on the wall of a bathroom; the artist attempts to reconstruct the ideological conflict of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film by posing stone-faced for the camera, as slogans and speeches stream past in subtitles. Stalker, 2004, is a jumble of reenacted vignettes that strip down Andrei Tarkovsky’s drama to a parodic polemic about belief and doubt in the possibility of radical change. Khachatryan puts the viewer to the test with his version of the scene in which the Stalker’s daughter telekinetically pushes glasses across the kitchen table; where Tarkovsky constructed an illusion of smooth motion, Khachatryan makes the objects skip forward in a series of visible, jerky edits.

The Beginning, 2007, the show’s most compelling work, is based on Armenian director Artavazd Peleshian’s 1967 short, a montage of documentary film and photography that reflects on political upheaval in the half-century after the October Revolution. Khachatryan has intercut video of skaters and anarchists sourced from the Web into Peleshian’s collected footage of militant violence, and he timed the original sound track’s gunshots and explosions to punctuate scenes of boys falling off roofs and other stunts gone wrong. Inspired by Peleshian’s ambition to create a montage of ideas rather than of images, Khachatryan has constructed clashes that leave the viewer with anxious questions. Are the bone-crushing mishaps of today’s punks a metaphor for collapses of revolutionary ideology? Can a revolution only be sustained through chaos? Peleshian’s Beginning finishes with hope, lingering on a young girl’s bold stare, but Khachatryan closes his remake by repeating earlier footage of a mob and slaps the beginning over the end—a portentous suggestion of history stuck in a loop.

By comparison, Man with a Video Camera, 2009, is a dry exercise, hewing so closely to the original that one wonders if it turned out shorter than Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera only because Khachatryan became exhausted after putting together little more than thirteen minutes. The artist inserts himself and his Panasonic into the early sequence of a prole waking up on the street to find himself getting filmed, in a hammy application of the Kuleshov effect; he adds science-fiction footage of robots and monorails to Vertov’s montage about Moscow’s burgeoning public transportation network. Whereas The Beginning excites with the insight that cheap recording equipment and video-sharing sites have hyperbolically embodied the collective vision and camera mobility that directors like Vertov yearned to achieve, Man with a Video Camera takes agency away from the crowd and gives it back to Khachatryan. Here, montage is a style, not a statement. “Twelve Sexual Commandments of the Revolutionary Proletariat,” 2009, however, takes a different direction. The series of prints combines text from a 1924 sexology manifesto with blown-up digital snapshots, coarsely pixelated and tinged yellow, giving the impression that the posters were composed with a few clicks in Photoshop. The commandments are redolent of Lenin’s moral paternalism, while the photos are lazy scenes of the artist and friends hanging out. Are we to see the complacent leisure they depict, like the accompanying slogans, as reactionary? Or are they offered as proof of the contemporary body’s relative freedom? Like The Beginning, Khachatryan’s Commandments splices past and present in a way that opens both to reinterpretation.

Brian Droitcour