US-based actor, comedian, artist and playwright Vahe Berberian sees himself as a blender. “Whatever happens to me goes in that blender and whatever comes out in my art is the mixture of all that happens to me.”
“People ask me what does this painting mean? It’s impossible for me to describe. Whatever goes in that blender, it’s the mix of all that comes out,” he added.
Berberian talked about his art and what it means to be an artist at a public forum organized by Civilitas Foundation at Moscow House on Thursday.
The much-loved comedian, who mainly took questions from the floor, opened the forum with a story. A friend of his, having recently returned from a trip to Indonesia, gave him a gift of world-famous Sumatra coffee, or Kopi Luwak. Berberian described how a small animal (the Asian Palm Civet) knows how to select the best berries of this coffee. After the civet eats the coffee berries and digests them, it defecates, with the beans keeping their shape. The actual coffee is harvested by gathering the berries from the civet’s fecal matter; then the beans, of course, are washed, dried, roasted and brewed.
Berberian shared this story because he wanted to make an analogy between the Asian Palm Civet and artists.
“For the luwak’s [sic] skill is in searching for the best berries and for artists, art is the process, not the end product itself,” he said. “This is very interesting for me.”
An audience member opined that he doesn’t see the development of art in Armenia the same way as it was developed and encouraged in the past. “What is the artist’s role in society? Is art for the sake of art, or for the people and their future?” he asked.
“I don’t think an artist has to teach, to be a teacher — I see self-conceit or arrogance in that,” Berberian responded. “An artist is an artist. His profession is his art. He can share his art, but not in a didactic way. This is one of the difficulties I see, especially in Armenia.”
Speaking about the artist’s role in society, he drew on his experience as a comedian, saying that the comic has an obligation to say something wise on stage, and in general, not to “feed garbage” to the public because that’s what they want.
As for the development of art in Armenia, Berberian began by saying he’s not an optimist and that he’s concerned that the entire understanding of entertainment comes from the West (“Madonna, Lady Gaga, etc”), but “fortunately I see in youth a certain drive to find their identity.”
On Life (and Life Outside of Facebook):
The artist and comedian focused a lot on how much people consume, how much society is force-fed a lot of garbage (“especially in the West”) and how much this takes up space in our brains. The comedian also criticized Facebook, which he considers to be full of useless information.
“For example, why am I interested in [the fact that] 52 people liked someone else’s Las Vegas photos on Facebook? I don’t even know that other person,” he said.
“The work of separating the garbage is much more difficult now, everywhere,” he surmised.
But the most vivid description of life Berberian gave by again drawing on analogies and coming back to art:
“Life is like a cocktail party you’ve gone to: there are different types of drinks and you begin to drink. That 1 cup of vodka is your mother’s death, those 2 cups of beer are your close friend’s death, and the martini is that girl who writes you letters occasionally.
“An artist creates his art by sticking his finger down his throat and throwing that all up. You do that till you can no longer get anything out. And then go back and continue drinking because you can’t not.”
Photo of artist (from artist’s own website & Facebook page) by Christiane Georgi.