1937, 2007

Video PAL, colour, sound stereo.
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris (France)

 1937  is a two-part video which can be projected simultaneously on two separate screens or viewed one after the other. Each part is treated quite differently: chapter 1 resembles a dream devoid of commentary or dialogue while chapter 2 interweaves the account of an elderly woman dubbed in French with archival images and shots from the first chapter.
The subject of 1937 is memory and how it can be described and transmitted, between private recollection and official history. The elderly woman, Nora Dabagian, relates the arrest of her father, who was declared an ‘enemy of the people’ by the Stalinist regime in Yerevan in 1937. While separating the two narrative registers, one basically fictional and the other documentary, Martirosyan manages to make the emotion circulate from one register to the other. The emotion expressed by the voice which remembers and recounts, bringing its personal history into the present, is echoed in the images and sounds which are like tactile sensations, sunny, summery visions of women’s bodies in osmosis with a sensual, generous Nature teeming with life. A possibility of Paradise no doubt. Later on, a child’s ‘torture’ – a hair-brushing session – is filmed on a creaking swing. The sound track precisely renders this range of sensory experiences by superposing on the different shots the sounds of water, of humming insects, of echoing voices, breathing, slamming doors. A tragic event is taking place, it can be sensed without being described. There is no commentary, no explanation: the image and the sound tell all.
How can one relate a separate, a loss, the void this produces? The violence of the Stalinist purge is suggested by the sudden interruptions of the sound, by what escapes from the bodies without control, by the almost exclusively female world which Martirosyan presents, here as in the rest of her work.
How is history recorded in bodies, in flesh, in Nature? How can this history be appropriated and confronted with the official history of those years, the propaganda which denies the purges? This propaganda is shown in the film, taken from newspapers published in 1937 and documentary footage from the 1937-1940 period found in the Armenian film archives. The artist is not a historian, and this juxtaposition of the images serves, not to settle her score with history, but to suggest, through the play on the sensations borne by the image and sound how history marks bodies. The camera, a device for recording and thus manufacturing memory, is used here in the manner of the finest documentary filmmakers: the staging of the actors – in the literal sense of the term – and the light comes from painting and fiction filmmaking, from Jean Renoir to Atom Egoyan. Martirosyan’s video brings together all of these ‘genres’ around the fragile voice of Nora Dabagian, her alter ego.

Françoise Parfait
Translated by  Miriam Rosen