In 2017, artist Lucine Talalyan was in Dusseldorf, Germany where she had been invited for a residency called the International Exchange Program for Female Artists from Germany, Armenia, and Georgia funded by Germany’s Das Frauenkulturburo (Women and Culture Office). During the residency, Talalyan attempted to take a pair of shoes from a store within a commercial center of the city. She was stopped by the security of the commercial center who then called the police. The police, who arrested her and charged her 400€ for bail, also contacted the head of the residency who then also got the director of the Das Frauenkulturburo involved. While Talalyan was released on bail, the organization that had invited her to take part in the residency made the decision to send her back to Armenia 10 days early. They bought a new plane ticket and gave her a ride to the airport and also apologized that they had to do so. They themselves did not have a problem with Talalyan nor what she had done, they explained, but they had to make the decision to send her back because they belonged to an “official organization.” They continued to ask Talalyan for her work to display in their exhibitions in Germany as well as in Armenia, even after having made the decision to send her back. To this day, they have not given her information about a trial, the charges, or if her bail money will be returned.
On June 2, 2018 the organization held an exhibition in Yerevan. They had invited Talalyan to take part in the exhibition. Talalyan did not respond to the invitations. Instead, she decided to respond with this intervention. She repaired an old pair of her own shoes with a needle and thread, on which she also sewed decorative buttons and a price tag of 400€. Along with Tamar Shirinian, she prepared a letter in response to the comments and letters that she had received from the organizers of the residency and other participants. During the opening comments of the exhibition, she placed the shoes in a handmade box in front of the speakers along with the letter. Meline Ter Minassian performed the role of “Madame Schengen,” a disciplinarian schoolteacher who punishes or rewards her students based on disciplinarian and moral logics, handing out either the letter to those who have been bad or candy to those who have been good.
The following is a video of the intervention at the exhibition along with the letter.
Thank you for your apology. I suppose I should be humbled, as your apology – like that of those in whose name you speak – settles down from above.
Like those in whose name you speak, you want the artwork, but not the artist.
I would like to open up your own words to remove the comfort with which you speak. My removal was fair play. I must understand. We might (for an instant, let’s suppose) step away from the fairness of this play to understand my “theft” of a pair of shoes. This is an act that becomes moral as soon as it is attached to bureaucratic systems that have the power to judge life. This is an act that becomes moral where property has more value than human life; where funds mean more than persons. “Theft” it is named and thus it is so. But, this was also an act in the context of a world in which your country is in a continuous relation of theft – that is not theft, but business as usual – with the country to which you sent me back. You apologize for that system that judges, but the judgment was yours.
Expulsion. You want the artwork, but not the artist.
You hope that I understand. You had to do something you wish you didn’t have to do. You are an official organization. You are responsible to higher officials.
You have no problem with what I did. You have no problem at all with it, you explain. You apologize. But it was you who found deportation necessary. For whose will does your apology speak? Is it not true that state violence is often committed by those who had no will to violate?
You want the artwork, but not the artist. “Do you have photographs?” you ask when I open up the possibility that my act was, in itself, a performance piece. As if the act without the product is not an act at all. Not a lovely showcase of “female artists” (We might ask what is a female artist if not the mitigation of patriarchy’s guilt?) My act without a product was not a delightful statement about a nation-state’s benevolence upon those from which it steals. My act did not come as a sigh of relief. My act did not come as a sign that I was given license to speak: speak, those of you who have no other opportunity to speak. Speak, and we will listen to that which you have to say [if it is about how virtuous it is that you can now speak – about your human rights, your liberation, your recent enlightenment]. Teach us your culture, teach us about being female. It is important that that be present (as well). Speak, but please do not be present. If it was a product you wanted (but not me), here is my product.
Theft, yes. But theft is an act, after all.
You wanted a female Armenian voice, but without the content of femaleness as power or disturbance in the world (the political), without Armenia as a place with borders to which you expelled me but through which you move and act upon freely (the geopolitical). Here I am, as an object for you to show. I apologize that I did not appreciate your gift of empire by my act, which exceeded the borders of your gallery walls.
P.S. I am returning these pair of shoes to you as a gift. Or, if you’d like, you can buy them for 400 €.