Antoine Wagner 
Sentimental Analysis

“Art relates to a human just as a human relates to nature.” 
This is how Richard Wagner starts his “The Artwork of the Future,” a work that has had a most crucial influence on aesthetic thought, history, and theory of the art of the late 19th and 20th centuries. 

Antoine Wagner’s art (who is one of the youngest descendants of the composer) unfolds in the process of shaping human’s dual relationship with nature and art. He creates an entire visual language to engage the viewer in communicating with nature. But that language works due to the artist’s special positioning towards the subject. French philosopher Merleau-Ponty says that the artist is capable of changing the world in a painting by providing his body to the world. 

In the case of Antoine, this observation operates in the opposite way. No intimate or attractive subject, nothing personal. He "removes" himself from the privileged position of the scene revealer, and passes that position to the viewer. As if he “extracts” himself from the privileged position of the scene opener and transfers that position to the viewer. The latter's inexperienced look should discover the accidental scene sometimes from the inconvenient point and with the indifferent eye of the camera's lens. What Wagner keeps to himself through his absent presence, is the huge scale of desert scenes (thick forests, ocean mirrors, of sea and land) devoid of signs of human intervention. This is the tense trap for the viewer, that by falling into it, one must repeat the artist’s move, must lose oneself, dive into nature thus unfolding oneself as a particle of a much bigger existence. 

If in the embodiment of human relationship with nature, Wagner aspires to be a human recognizing himself as a part of the whole, then in discovering human relation to art, he aspires recreation of himself as a part of the culture. One of these destinations of the artists' self-evasion and embracing culture appears to be Armenia, the legend of "Ara the Beautiful and Shamiram (Semiramis in Arm.)" and the painter Vardges Surenyants. This is not only a historical-geographical extinction but also a twist from outside to inside, diving into the inner world of self. 

In his project bearing the name “Sentimental Analysis”, Antoine Wagner responds to Vardges Surenyants’ canvas “Shamiram by the Corpse of Ara the Beautiful”. By taking the Armenian artist’s painting and the mythological heroes - the characters of Ara and Shamiram, disjointing them spatially as well as by various means of visual and performing arts (digital printing, drawing, video, sound, and sculpture), he turns his project into a multimedia installation. 

Sentiment analysis or opinion mining is a content analysis method in computer language. It is widely used by social network corporations to analyze sentiment moods and emotions within texts and comments. This method lets the corporations and trading platforms predict possible public reactions to certain concent, as well as design their own offers using these predictions. 

The plot of the “Ara the Beautiful and Shamiram” myth allows for the application of sentiment analysis. In particular, the binary scale (beautiful/ugly, brave/fearful, abstemious/lascivious, etc.) is fully sufficient to conduct such an analysis. Antoine Wagner’s analysis is more complicated and two-layered. On the upper layer it is employed towards the painterly commentary, but in-depth passes through the myth. On the inner layer, the analysis also passes through art and painting in general. 

Firstly, the analytical deconstruction of the myth. If in Sureniants’ canvas “Ara the Beautiful and Shamiram” are finally next to each other, then in the case of the installation they are spatially separated. The first hall is dedicated to the embodiment of Ara’s character. Exhibiting enlarged images of photographed fragments of Surenyants’ canvas on the wall, locating the groups of candles on the floor according to the Ara cosmetological constellation, seemingly Wagner creates a sanctuary brightening the memorial of the defeated hero. The second space, which is buried in darkness, contains in itself a video image. This blinking image refers to the organ that has generated Shamiram’s passion, her eyes. 

On the level of the installation, this bifurcation is not conditioned only to the characters of the mythical couple. It generally models the human psychological structure. And indeed, if we only consider in ontological terms, Ara the Beautiful and Shamiram embody two principles of existence: spiritual and material, the partial and total being connected to each other, to owing - one to the will, the other to desire, one to negation, the other to the appliance, etc. Those are interconnected principles, conditioning reciprocally. What comes to Ara, it is impossible to be brave, beautiful and honest and simultaneously concede Shamiram’s desire. It would mean not only to betray his family or his homeland but his principle of existence: the freedom, that is the base of his mission. In terms of Shamiram, it is impossible not to notice Ara, therefore not to desire him, because it is impossible to ignore perfection and abandon the desire of having it. But is it even possible to get to the hero by seeking possession? May you attract him, if freedom and action define the heroic? Those two principles can’t exist separately, moreover, countervail. Those are connected to each other by the link of the whole and part. The desire is the function of being, being is the subject of desire. Their contradiction and clash can’t have a happy end. The two-sided collapse is inevitable. Ara can be given, Shamiram can have Ara only as a corpse. 

The second disintegration occurs through the camera lens of Surenyants’ canvas. Macro shooting separate parts of the surface of the canvas, Antoine Wagner pierces inside the pigment layer/colouring layer. As he aspires to reach to the texture of the canvas, recording uncatchable/elusive historical transformations (the cracks and fractures evidenced by colouring layers, light, thermal or mechanical influences, signs of further rehabilitating interventions and so on). The painting representing the myth, which appears to the viewer’s eye as a complete image, in essence, is an unimaginable formation of historical layers and chemo-physical forming. With this action, the artist challenges the integrity of the image on the one hand, and on the other hand, he appreciates the immeasurable details of its separate sections. 


In light of this analysis, the characters of the mythical heroes start being perceived differently. Eventually, what do we know about Ara? That he has been the pattern of a beautiful and moral man, who has refused the Assyrian Queen and been defeated in the battleground. Shamiram, of course, fails in the episode meeting with Ara, but even today she remains a reference point. The successes of the Assyrian Queen and her resourcefulness to come out of hopeless narrow conditions is the reason why unimaginable works referring to Shamiram still inflame human thoughts. 

That is to say, the talk still remains about the whole and the part, the artwork taken separately and with the relation to the art in general. The painting with its integrity is merely a piece of art, and therefore its function, just as the Armenian king Ara was a model of beauty and the agent of Shamir's desires and imagination. In his "Emotional Analysis" project Antoine Wagner exhibits art as a whole, identical to human existence, the installation appearing as the imagination and the portray of that existence. 

 - Nazareth Karoyan