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Tracey Harnish Headshot

Paper Warriors

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Karen Sargsyan, Untitled (Prisoners of Conscience), 2011 Paper, iron, wood, glue, and paint, 76.2 x 84 x 38 in, Courtesy Ambach & Rice

An elaborate paper fight meets you upon entering the gallery space. The first wave of impressions is one of chaotic clutter but as your senses adjust to the disarray, it becomes clear the figures are entered into a dance of death. Arrows pierce limbs, swords stab, and blood drips. There is a balletic martial arts type dance to the delicate movements of the paper constructed warriors.

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Karen Sargsyan, Untitled (Prisoners of Conscience), 2011 Paper, iron, wood, glue, and paint, 74 x 57 1/2 x 27 in, Courtesy Ambach & Rice

It's like watching the battles in a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where there is beauty in the slowed motion of fight sequences. Like a body of flesh, there are parts of each form that are in repeated neutral colors. Splashes of exuberant color stand in for wounds which in turn act like a kind of personal insignia.

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Karen Sargsyan, Untitled (Prisoners of Conscience), 2011 Paper, iron, wood, glue, and paint, 53 x 74 x 61 1/2 in, Courtesy Ambach & Rice

The press release tells us that the pieces are inspired by the Russian oligarch Mikhail Khordorkovsky who went from oil tycoon to jailed political dissident after being tried in a rigged trial. This doesn't connect to the papered fighting figures; if anything there is a real disconnect between the personal inspiration of the artist and the viewer experience. I watched children observe in delight and the acrobatic performance of a couple of the duos, is magical, even poetic. Yet perhaps this dissonance is exactly what Sargsyan is striving for, saying that we live in a world that is full of falsely fabricated stories and while this play goes on, horrors are committed that seem unreal. Wars spill real blood and a lack of truth can make the real blood spilled seem like a fantasy.

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Karen Sargsyan, Untitled (Prisoners of Conscience), 2011 Paper, glue, and paint, 18 x 40 x 39 in, Courtesy Ambach & Rice