No.3 Magazine New York 2017

Friendly Disturbance

By Noah Berlatsky

Anna Khachatryan's welcoming pop surreal.

Anna Khachatryan's work encapsulates a blend of fine art, pop culture, and fashion. Though she hails from Armenia, her photographs and videos are set mostly in globalized, iconic, commodified spaces, as if she's engaged in off-kilter, broken branding exercises. Her photographic series "People Toys," designed by Khachatryan  herself and photographed by her regular collaborator Sona Mongol Mkrtchyan, features three individuals in dark clothes and Mickey Mouse masks. They clamber around on playground equipment with an alley in the background. In one scene, garbage cans overflow in the distance as one Mickey stands on a jungle gym and the two others flank her, holding on, everyone's mask smiling with  adisturbing, unholy cheer.

The "just-a-hair out of sync" wrongness of Khachatryan's work has led some in Armenia to compare her work to surrealism. There are perhaps hints of Dali in the collage series "Crazy Cousin," with its cats leaping suspended towards what appears to be a mad painter,  but Khachatryan herself doesn't see the connection; "I'm nothing like that," she says with a laugh. A better comparison perhapsis to pop art artists like Warhol and Jeff Koons. In her photo series "Pop Cult," Kachatryan takes pictures of people against a screen on which commercial slogans are projected; a woman holds up a shoe by the laces while another bows over, face coveredagainst the background logo "Subscribe to Our YouTube Channel." It's a nice wink at interactive self-marketing, with everyone trying to climb into the screen to be their own product. 

Khachatryan's work both nudges and embraces pop culture, and has a similar relationship with fashion. The photo series "Devious" is basically a fashion shoot. In one image a young man dressed in a fur-lined coat looks knowingly at the camera as spectacular blue fluff comes out of his hat; in another he wears a pink raincoat with fabulous pink gloves. The series combines high-glam with a pleasing amateur dowdiness. Similarly the video "Nana Design" has a cozy grandmother's attic feeling, with two models trying on old lace and stroking fabric and necklaces as operatic music swells. It's elaborate and rich, but also cozy, do-it-yourself. "Everything I do I try to do myself," Khachatryan explains. "Sometimes I try to make dresses for the shoot. I'm more interested in how I can make them mine." Similarly, with her models, she says, "I try to change people, to make some new person, like you can build some new interesting person when you change the dress or change the hair."  Her models don't look sexy or natural, as in fashion shoots; rather, they seem to be trying on costumes, enjoying the chance to be someone else.

The low key vibe of collaboration and exploration is perhaps the most engaging part of Khachatryan's work. When you look at her pictures you get the sense of folks trying on roles and clothes together. The imagery is sometimes unsettling, but that seems less the product of a grim vision than of folks getting together to enjoy being unsettled. For Khachatryan, art is a welcoming exploration. "You can create your own world, that world can be yours, and other people can love your world," she says. So I love very much when you can create something new." 

See more of Anna's work at: