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Editorial Caucasus Reader
In Search for the Future Artisterium 3
Imagine the Future this was the motto for the third international Artisterium exhibition, which took place in Tbilisi, 210 October 2010. Established in 2008 by the Georgian Ministry of Culture, curators Magda Guruli and Iliko Zautashvili have since then evolved it into a platform to promote exchange and dialogue, primarily with artists and curators from the West. Its beginnings in November 2008 were anything but certain, falling with the war with Russia in August that year and the following shock. This co-incidence of events international orientation and national trauma gestures at Georgia’s continuingly problematic situation, one also addressed in this year’s Artisterium.
The theme of future, then, was by no means an arbitrary choice, but brought into relief the self-perceptions and ambitions of Georgian society today, two years after the devastating events of 2008. With their concept for this year’s exhibition, curators Guruli und Zautashvili asked which ideas and values should play a role in future society. But they also asked which parts of the past one should simply let lie.
Internationality is one of the major themes leading into the future. It is looked to hopefully as a means for overcoming cultural isolation, an idea expressed eloquently in the selection of 80 artists from 30 countries. Many of the artists attended, while curators mingled with journalists, altogether underscoring the international flavour of the festival.
And yet, visitors were repeatedly confronted with surprising images, such as those seen on opening day. The exhibition was presented in the Karwasla, an old caravanserai, in the centre of the Old Town. Here, in Sioni Street, tradition and modernity mix within a short space: opposite the Karwasla is the Georgian Theological Academy, and a little further along, the Sioni Cathedral, the Patriarch’s regular place of worship. On opening night, this narrow street saw visitors to the exhibition, tourists, orthodox religious students and worshippers all mingle in a way unlikely to be found in any other European city. The Karwasla is currently the only location in Tbilisi for larger exhibitions, as several museums have been closed for renovation for several years. But this building, too, is being refurbished. The entire basement has been stripped down the foundations, and the rooms there closed off. On the first level, a gallery surrounds a large central courtyard, giving access to the four exhibition halls, as well as the smaller extra rooms. The curators took advantage of this outstanding spatial scenario, inviting Ali Bramwell (New Zealand) to span an extensive net-like sculpture from the gallery into the courtyard.
Bramwell’s Propositional Architecture can indeed be read metaphorically in line with the themes of the exhibition. Its grid of air-filled hosing, falling into the space, suggests a state of floating and a simultaneous, subtle adjustment to the environment. The idea of nets as a principle ordering conceptional and real space was also taken up by two other artists: Sheila Pepe (USA) in Common Sense II, and Bernd Trasberger (Germany) in A Shout to Mars. Sheila Pepe hung an organic braid of coloured wool in the middle of an exhibition hall, which was crocheted further by a number of women on opening night. This presents artistic activity as participatory and also as a process that can be continued. Trasberger covered the walls of Academy +, an affiliated gallery, with black lines arranged in an orthogonal grid. He combined this co-ordinate system, oriented around logic and measurability, with found objects, such as an old Soviet digital watch, which ran too fast and then unexpectedly reset to zero.
The exhibition was rather guided by the ‘soft’, meandering principle, and it was not always easy to detect the relationship between works or to the topic. If one were to ask which works came closest to addressing the original curatorial questions, it would be the section curated externally by Eyal Danon (Israel) titled Foreshadowing the Past. Five video works dealt intensively with questions of the construction of identity through media, against the background of the permanent state of war in Israel. Yael Bartana’s sarcastic video Wall and Tower was, in my view, the most provocative contribution to the discourse of various national politics and their options for the future. The film developed the vivid scenario of the return of three million Jews to Poland, a country in which their forebears had lived prior to their escape, or their destruction by the Nazis. Bartana redramatises this return, using cliches of Israel’s founding myths, and shows the creation of an ideal, but closed-off society. The image of the group acting collectively also inflects the black-and-white video The Blind by the Kazakh duo Zitabl (Zitta Sultanbaeva, Ablikim Akmullaev) from Almaty. But here, it is concentrated into a grim scenario of decline, playing on the painting of the same name by Pieter Breughels. A group of blind people stumble along, holding each other’s hands, into the abyss. After some time, connections began to emerge not unlike the initial image of a net, or network between various works, even those that were not spatially linked.
Given that, it would certainly have made sense to link these more clearly, such as the photo series Airport by Denizhan Özer (Turkey) and the installation Flying Carpet by Tarlan Gorchu (Azerbaijan). Both take each artist’s frequent travels as an occasion to reflect on the consequences of changing location frequently and on cultural transfer. Özer documents the uniformity of airport terminal buildings, which today even frequent travellers are barely able to distinguish, while Gorchu reproduces the barcode of his air ticket to LA as a geometrically patterned carpet. The result is impressive and anticipates the adaptation of Islamic rug art his own culture to global developments, while at the same time ironically questioning it. Most of the Georgian contributions remained too vague in their relation to the themes outlined or to the here and now. But mention must be made, however, of the unannounced performance Guarded Body by Oleg Timchenko. The artist arrived at the opening with four bodyguards, while generally aping the habitus and behaviours of the new (financial) elite in the post-Soviet region, which has very recently seen the social relations of high and low radically reconfigured. And clearly, such rituals of power can still feed urgent artistic statements in Georgia, when one considers Koka Ramishvili’s video Change, shown at the 2009 Venice Biennale.
According to Magda Gurili, Georgian artists’ reluctance to address social questions more vigorously is due to an isolation from international developments in art, which continues to this day. So, it appears that the creators of the exhibition at the Artisterium wished to send a further message, and were pursuing a double strategy: while the contributions mentioned above were intended to stimulate or support discourse in Georgia, the breadth of the artistic forms of expression and media shown also demonstrated the ‘how’ of contemporary artistic praxis. Consider that there is no permanent exhibition of modern art on display in Tbilisi, that the Academy of Arts is greatly struggling to modernise, and that Georgia’s avant-garde as well as its contemporary art of the past 20 years cannot serve as a reference point. Given that, diversity as an aesthetic programme fulfils a compensatory function. The non-hierarchical juxtaposition of classical and new media like painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, video, installation and media art was not always successfully managed in the exhibition, but it still transported the message of crossover and plurality.
While the organisers ensured that international artists and curators interacted with their Georgian colleagues, they almost completely failed to provide anything for the wider public. Given the complexity of this topic, it would certainly have been worth thinking in an interdisciplinary way, and establishing a forum with scientists, town planners, architects and politicians. While Artisterium still has work to do to reach out towards society at large, in parallel to the exhibition, a conceptual leap into the more distant future was boldly made.
In Translation, an international symposium sponsored by the Goethe Institut and developed by Nino Chogoshvili, the discussion centred around a question stemming from an analysis of the present situation in Georgian art, namely: Does Tbilisi need a Biennale? The answer from the Georgian curator Chogoshvili, after guest lectures from Marieke van Hal (Biennial Foundation, the Netherlands), Barbara Vanderlinden (also curator of Brussels Biennial 1, Belgium) and Claudia Jolles (Kunstbulletin, Switzerland), was a clear yes. The idea of staging a Biennale in Georgia and/or the region was also seen as a next step in the long-term effort to attract attention on the international art scene. At the same time, such an initiative would be inseparable from the challenge of reflecting more intensively on the regional and national context, combining forces, and thinking about Georgia’s own role in an unstable region. The forum concluded without resolving whether such a Biennale could grow out of the existing Artisterium.
A further impressive example of Georgian participants’ clear resolve to create their own institutional structures was the simultaneous founding of the Centre for Contemporary Art by artist Wato Tsereteli on the site of a disused power station in the centre of the city. Surrounded by the ruins of the bygone socialist era, the CCA, as a White Cube, creates new actualities while also serving as a beacon showing how visions can become reality. The opening exhibition Health should be understood in this pragmatic sense: as a call to become aware of one’s own situation, and to change it.
In this way, the Artisterium has also fulfilled an important function as a multiplier, by succeeding for the first time in linking together so many different activities within the city. And the excitement continues, for the contemporary Georgian art scene is one of the most committed among the successor states to the Soviet Union. How and when it is recognised as such in the Western art world will depend not least on whether it can promote questions and works that critically examine its own situation and, at the same time, locate these within global discourses. That calls for the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous: time is needed to reflect it is time to act.^Jule Reuter, Berlin.
German - English translation by Rowan Payton.
New Functions for Art Criticism
Central theme of discourse of contemporary art has not changed since start of the modernist period. Its goal still remains determination of an exact content of a concrete artwork. At the same time it continues discussion on the abstract topic of “what is art in general?” Changes happen in the field of the epoch specificity and it is interesting to observe what happens to the mentioned theme of discourse during the ongoing transformation processes, how a young generation, which lives in an absolutely different situation than the one earlier generations had a chance to experience, perceives newest visual forms. Changes in artistic thinking and forms, new technologies, methodologies, and social environment influence approaches and goals of the art criticism. In order to determine one of the important motifs of current situation (we can take it as a basis for further focus on problems of art criticism) I am going to start a discussion with an example of a large scale international exhibition. It can be considered a general illustration of “violence of image” (Jean Baudrillard) and newest tendencies.
Large scale exhibition projects always come under fire of criticism. In most of the cases they are blamed for being amorphous and chaotic. This is true, but these exhibitions give us an opportunity to arrive at some other very useful conclusions as well.
I would like to mention Venice Biennale of contemporary art where I worked as a curator of the Georgian pavilion and personally encountered problems of specific art institution and its presentation in international discourse. For the moment Venice Biennale is the only international exhibition, which preserves system of national pavilions. Very often this feature is considered to be one of the drawbacks, as in the epoch of global integration many think of it as anachronistic way to emphasize national determinant in the art space. On the other hand, this system provides a chance to create freer dynamics of artistic energies compared to the exhibitions where structure is determined by the curatorial concept and everything is more or less predictable and sterile. Chaotic character of the material presented on Venice Biennale illustrates culturally amorphous situation we have to deal with in the realm of contemporary art. Art scene underwent significant changes during the last twenty years. It is no more concentrated on only Europe and the USA. It became much more difficult to operate in the field of extremely enlarged visual information and complex contexts. Naturally, conditions of work for art critics have changed a well. Despite the fact that all influential and significant articles on ongoing processes taking place in art world and art market are still concentrated in renowned editions like “Parkett”, “Art in America”, “Artforum”, “Frieze”, etc., tendencies of the “third world” which are represented (though with lack of theoretical basis) in the world art forums also became quite urgent. It is interesting to see art production of different countries, which do not have already formed history of contemporary art and theoretical systems so common for the western art. Of course, here I do not try to ignore work of theory specialists who have to work under quite complex circumstances. Very often lack of above mentioned features, becomes a reason for placing art production from these countries in an “exotic” section. Sometimes representatives of these countries themselves use different means of show business to generate interest towards them. In order to avoid utopian attempt to solve large scale and global problems, I am going to talk about a specific problem, which is so urgent for the Georgian art space. When we have to deal with international context, it always becomes a topic of discussion, which work and artist have to be represented there in order to avoid simple predictable impressions caused by already established stereotypes and associated with the post soviet art. It is necessary to determine correctly the form, that would present our authentic experience in the most original way and would work in general context too. It was not long ago that the post soviet countries became independent units of the world system of contemporary art. As a representative of one of these countries I can talk about specific problems connected with that process. Goal of the art criticism everywhere (in general and in concrete environment as well) is to react professionally and adequately to the events taking place in the art space. This seemingly simple and natural action became quite difficult to be carried out in Georgia. We don’t have any infrastructure, which would be connected with art space. We don’t have art criticism, which would be part of it. There are no regular periodic editions and even analytical writings, which can be found in exhibition catalogues, are published in limited numbers and targeted towards a very narrow audience. I don’t know anything about situation in Armenia, but no television channel in Georgia runs a serious program dedicated to the visual art; it is not popularized in any form and there are very few art critics who are well informed about contemporary tendencies of art. It is very difficult to meet local needs of art criticism. An established reality makes it extremely difficult to achieve broader goals like building a bridge between local and general contexts. When I encountered the problem of selection of participants for Venice Biennale, I knew it would not be an easy one to solve. Unfortunately there are not so many mature talented artists in Georgia. I did not want to turn participation in the exhibition into a formal event. I did not like the idea of presenting an exotic theme with elements of show business, which would only have superficial effect either. During the process of discussion of different projects the working group decided to choose an artists who would be able to meet the following conditions: he must have had elaborated a concept based on the local problems, would connect it to the dynamics of general tendencies and have found an adequate form for his work. This way our choice did fall on Koka Ramishvili. His artistic system was formed towards the end of the 90ies and he is interesting because he did not attempt to simply erase soviet past and transit to new environment with the use of new mediums. He says, that he is an artist who was formed as such during the soviet period. He was taught academic painting and suddenly found himself in an environment where artists used some very sophisticated and expensive new technologies.
For the artists already formed during the soviet period issue of artistic mediums was very important. Their professional life began in the period when official art was very much connected to ideology and was based on a quite strong drawing school. These artists were not involved in the discourse, which formed communication language of contemporary art. They did not participate in experiments to find possibilities of the visual language and its extension. In one of interviews Koka Ramishvili (recorded in 2003 in Media Art Farm_MAF by Wato Tsereteli and Daniel Brefin) talks about two different systems and his work “Drawing Lesson”, which was shown in 2003 in Moscow Gellmann Gallery. In this work contrasts of dualistic world are reduced to coexistence of classical drawing and digital technology. The short film presents process of drawing. Contact of pencil and paper produce sound. The author explains his work as a meeting of two realities, which made up his whole life. In the above mentioned interview he explained his issue and said, that he is a painter and during his studies at the Tbilisi Academy of Fine Arts he took some drawing classes. During several years he spent in Switzerland, he became familiar with new technologies artists were using there. He combined these two realities in this work and showed dualistic situation, which is characteristic to the conceptual drawing of the post soviet generation. It has to be emphasized, that work about two mediums was done in a video format or by the means of use of the third medium. Georgian pavilion presented Koka Ramishvili’s installation, which consisted of two parts. Here he extended the topic of “Drawing Lesson” and showed projection of a fragment of making of drawing.
Work “Change in Drawing Orchestra” consisted of two parts. The first part was an installation “Change”. It was inspired by a historical fact, - change of government of Georgia as a result of a revolution. Here video projection makes process of transformation abstract and turns a specific fact into a general dynamic of permanent changes.
The “Drawing Orchestra” presents us a global process by the means of two different mediums. Drawing school means here artistic esthetics of post totalitarian world. It is expressed in a strong school of classical drawing. Electronically modeled sound and video format stands for western art experience and technologies. These two experiences meet and create an absolutely new hybrid.
The major argument for presenting this work in an international context was based on its authenticity though maybe it lacked for driving energy of visual originality. I hope one day we will also have a competitive situation with a lot of choice and won’t be limited to decision among one or two artists. In short, the problem in Georgia and most probably in the post soviet art space lies exactly in authentic art production and relevant criticism and interpretation. I believe, function of criticism has to become wider. It is desirable to collect and rethink tendencies of the last twenty years from the point of view of culture studies and phenomenology. This will give us an opportunity to reflect on the experience accumulated during this period and determine its unique features. In case of establishment and strengthening of theoretical base our visual art production will become more adequate for the local space and international context.
I appreciate the initiative of our hosts in Yerevan and i believe, we need a lot of cooperation and joint projects in order to elaborate authentic production and adequate analytical system for our space.^Khatuna Khabuliani, 2009
Approprating the Ex-Cold War
Summary: Art, theory, and criticism faced radical new challenges after the end of the cold war. Art and Theory After Socialism investigates what happens when theories of art from the former East and the former West collide, parsing the work of former Soviet bloc artists alongside that of their western counterparts. Mel Jordan and Malcolm Miles conclude that the dreams promised by capitalism have not been delivered in Eastern Europe, and likewise, the democratic liberation of the West has fallen prey to global conflict and high-risk situations. This volume is a revolutionary take on the overlap of art and everyday life in a postcold war world.
Tbilisi based curator and art historian Lali Pertenava suggested to read the text 'Appropriating the Ex-Cold War' by Malcom Miles published in the book Art and Theory After Socialism:
From Geo to Bio
The gradual evolution of social processes from liberal and romantic-nationalistic cultural approaches to a neoliberal political, economic and cultural reality imparted new tendencies to the post-Soviet contemporary art situation in Armenia. The artists of the »new wave«, who were trying to overcome the notorious social order inherited from the formal and informal Soviet system, viewed the reformative ideas and esthetics aimed at asserting the liberal system of values and multi-culturalism with a fundamental caution that gradually changed into an indifferent, »pragmatic« approach. Despite the fact that social »rationalization« (from the inside as well as the outside) has played a notable role in the formative process - one that has been expressed not only on the institutional plane, but also on conscious and unconscious artistic levels -, a confrontative tendency towards the new social and cultural demands has developed. Artistic reflections on the new, fast-evolving social and cultural conditions, under which prior value systems have been subject to some rather speculative applications, have begun to focus more often on the correlation between individuals and social structures.
The attraction of the new society to universalism and a formal, fetishistic conception of art as an economic and political product intended to fill the cultural rift between the individual and the artificiality of the social structures has led to various artistic approaches in which the inconsistent character of neoliberal social pragmatism is revealed. These artistic methods mostly displayed no aggressivity towards society and tried to establish identifications between the audience (society) and the artist - for example, » Art Referendum« (1994) by David Kareyan, ART Demonstration by the ACT group (1995), the »Capacity« project by Arevik Arevshatyan and Ruben Grigoryan (1997), »I am an artist - 2000« video by Arman Grigorian.
In contrast to these works, the series of projects or, to be more exact, artistic actions initiated by artist Karen Andreassian since 1996 do manifest aggressive traits in their interaction of social structures and artistic situations. The expeditions organized by the artist were informed by an alienated perception - a typical approach in the local scene - of the great art forums like Documenta, Manifesta and Venice Biennials, seeing them not only as important international artistic arenas that accumulate esthetic and theoretical reflections of certain periods and from different cultural zones, but also as social and political events that, by their focus on specific contexts, also format the situational diversities.
The large audience that turned up to the HAY-ART cultural center, Yerevan, on July 13, 2002, had a vague idea that there was going to be a presentation of a new »expedition« organized by Karen Andreassian. But its anticipation gradually turned into bewilderment. On three screens installed in the darkened space of the centre were projected familiar advertising scenes and personalities from local public TV, Armenian texts, and indistinct pictures of exhibition halls, European urban environments, street episodes, some interviews, and fragments of video art. The chaotic, barely comprehensible nature of the situation was also emphasized by the bad quality of the projections and interruptions by the digital label »No Signal,« because the thick concrete walls of the centre affected the reception. The presentation, which was produced for public Armenian TV, lasted 27 minutes, after which the audience scattered with confused impressions, uncertain whether their time spent on the territory of »contemporary art« had been rationally used. In actual fact, they could not have realized that what they had just attended was the final phase of the artist's »expedition« to Documenta 11 and Manifesta.
Three days later, at a talk and discussion with the artist, he presented two films, the internet version of the »expedition« (http://www.format.am), and physical evidence of the expedition in the form of artifacts - an orange ball (from one of his sponsors) and a small, old-fashioned suitcase belonging to the artist, full of documentation related to the expedition. The first film was the same one that was telecast at the public presentation and the second one was a short film in which the artist presents a fax correspondence - the result of a communications problem with the landlady of a private house in Kassel. The correspondence concerned a compensation demand of 212 euros, insisted on by the landlady, and brought about by the loss of the reservation the artist had applied for through the »Kassel Service« tourist agency.
»Expeditions« initiated by Karen Andreassian have become an inseparable, or even traditional, part of the Armenian contemporary art scene ever since the very first expedition, conceived as a pseudo-journalistic report on the Tbilisi Biennial in 1996. The second expedition - GEOKUNST - was an unofficial participation at Documenta X in 1997: the expedition group had set itself the goal of creating transitions from the »alternative spaces« (underpasses, railway stations, bus stops, etc.) to the space of Documenta X. The »BIOKUNST« expedition is the third project in the series.
The actions of the artist include a sort of a pseudo-social import - Andreassian's »expedition« presupposes public involvement in terms of sponsoring and in the public presentation of evidence and results coming from the investigation, which are actually based on an irrational artistic proposal. The last expedition was sponsored by the Armenian representative of the »Puma« company and faithful supporters of the Armenian contemporary art scene living in the diaspora: Dr. Raffy and Vicki Hovanessian, art collectors from Chicago. The project was promoted by Armenian public TV. Despite the fact that private sponsorship of contemporary art events is not a usual phenomenon in Armenia, the factor of »private - regional - cultural« complicity in »big cultural events« works on the same logic as when postcolonial countries aspire to become integrated into the »global economy« while disdaining the development of a local economic infrastructure. That is how distortion also occurs in the customary concept of »sponsorship,« where the question of status dislodges that of complicity. The »expedition« started as usual with correspondence presenting the idea to the press departments of Documenta XI and Manifesta. Both of them kindly responded to the initiative proposed by the artist, providing the supposed three members of the expedition with official invitations. The group was supposed to consist of an artist, an art critic and a sociologist. By force of circumstances, the expedition was carried out by the artist alone.
In one film, the focus on the inconspicuous, mundane details forming the urban atmosphere surrounding Manifesta and Documenta created a certain superposition of parallel situations and social, cultural and esthetic accumulations. Textual fragments (from Documenta XI and Manifesta catalogues) were translated into Armenian and dubbed in by obviously non-professional speakers. The fact that the latter belonged to various social classes on the basis of their occupation, which was mentioned next to their names in the closing credits, accented the perception of the content as a new form of cultural accumulation. The second film, which related an episode based on private experience, also created a narrative space in which a new »myth« based on a private experience of communicative distortion dislodged the import of reproduced social and cultural structures. In the context of that superposition, the distortion in fact became a materialized metaphor for the phenomenon of formal perception and generalization that occur as a result of communicative inability (fear) or the intention to remove the reality from social and cultural distinctions.
The focus on the »bio« aspect, which in that context becomes the only way of adjusting the complicity between different geo-situations, cannot, however, avoid the issue of social and cultural differentiation. The subjective adaptation to social, political and economic strategies in the intensively concentrated time within the new reality creates a new cultural consciousness in which the estrangement from the predetermined social discourse becomes the main topic for subjective consideration and analysis based on private experience. From the artist's perspective, private behavior in that context denotes an absolute inert complicity, which finally concludes with the presentation of evidence of subjective affections shifted onto the esthetic level (like the tense reading of fax correspondence and sweat stains under the armpits of the T-shirt as a result of nervousness). These proofs of emotion, which occur as a result of inconsistency as well as of complicity in the incidental or logical conflux of different social, economical, political and cultural situations, give the »bio« factor a new social and cultural basis.^Ruben Arevshatyan, 2002
Conversation with Daniel Baumann
Rob Hamelijnck It might be a silly question but why are you organising this project in Tbilisi?
Aesthetic Zones / the need for experimental art
RH We saw something really interesting on your website: ‘contributions from the aesthetic zone’.
Basel and Erasmus’ Humanism
RH I am curious how you regard Basel.
Gallery map with the 10 galleries of Tbilisi
Atlantis The Invention of Contemporary Art in Georgia
In Georgia, the terms “contemporary art” and “contemporary art environment” are both very recent. In 2004, when I returned to Georgia from Germany, the situation was very difficult, as the contemporary art scene had no public presence there. The impression back then was that all the artists were holed up in their studios. As an outsider it was almost impossible to get an insight into a city’s cultural life. No museum or gallery provided information about the state of the arts in the city or the country as a whole, there was no magazine dedicated to contemporary art and art discourse, and not even a city guide with listings of galleries and cultural events. In short, there was no shared cultural facility or adviser to guide the “outsider” through a city’s cultural landscape. Since the 1990s, artistic events have rarely been documented and materials are scattered between private studios, homes, and short-lived galleries and institutions. The local artistic scene is invisible to itself as well as to the rest of the world, its potential for development impeded. Cultural projects can emerge only for short periods of time on account of political instability and the lack of a cultural strategy, long-term thinking and systematic analysis. The continuity needed for sustainable cultural development is missing.
There are several problems that are reciprocal and combine to produce the general situation that Georgia’s art scene faces today.
Alongside the general problem of education, it should be mentioned that there are no professional gallerists and curators in Georgia. During the Soviet period, the only faculty within the educational system related to the theory of art was art history, not even art criticism. There was no notion of art management or curatorial practice. This leads once again to the problems of present practice, whereby contemporary art exhibitions lack a theoretical and thematic background.
Art Villa Garikula or simply Garikula (founded by Karaman Kutateladze) invites, hosts and promotes contemporary art and culture festivals and meetings in Garikula, Akhalkalaki, in the Kaspi region of Georgia. Garikula supports residency, exchange and educational programs, working with vision and passion to transform the Garikula district of Akhalkalaki into a “city of festivals” an art village where visual artists, filmmakers and musicians can work together, promote their art and invite international contributors and audiences from cities and villages. Arteli Ratcha (founded by artist Kote Jincharadze) has been active since 2005, successfully organising and hosting contemporary art workshops in the village of Chkvishi in the Ratcha region of Georgia. The aim of the project “Artists for Ratcha” is to plan and organise dialogues, master classes and discussions between Georgian and international artists and a local audience.
Georgia’s Ministry of Culture started to support the Georgian art scene a few years ago. With its financial support Georgia has been represented at the Venice Biennial since 2007, while “Artisterium” International Contemporary Art Exhibition and Art Events was first held in 2008 in Tbilisi.
Stories about Georgia and it's Neighboring Countries
-Armenians have bigger noses than Georgians.
There were eight of us round the table: two festival organisers from France, two women representing Armenian agriculture, a man and a woman representing Azeri agriculture, a man from Georgia - also representing agriculture - and me. We were at the Est-Ouest festival in Die, a small town in France near Lyon. This year’s festival was about the Caucasus, and there were representatives of these three countries from the fields of culture and agriculture. We had gathered round the table because the agricultural representatives urgently wanted to discuss the work that I had made for the festival. This work was somewhat provocative; it consisted of a series of politically incorrect sentences describing ethnic relations in the Caucasus region. They were based on well-known sayings and jokes that are widely shared within each ethnic group, but which are never discussed outside one’s own circle. The sentences were printed on stickers in Russian and French and were put up across the town on festival posters.
As our discussion began I could hardly have imagined that it would reveal the character of the entire Caucasus region so clearly and the manner in which each country tries to resolve its problems.
I opened the talk, explaining my reasons for putting up the stickers. My main purpose was to get people talking about subjects that each nationality talks about at home behind closed doors but which it never openly discusses with its neighbours.
I said that if we want get anywhere we have to open up mentally, we have to try to see our problems from different perspectives. And by posting up these stickers outside the museum or Gallery context I wanted to talk to a larger audience and not just to people involved with art - who’ve heard it all already, are surprised by hardly anything and are rarely, if ever, shocked or offended.
The first to reply was the Georgian man. He said that he had found the little provincial town so very pleasant and peaceful (not surprisingly, given that we were in a beautiful southern part of France, with free food, free wine and carefully planned cultural program) until he saw these stickers; then he felt depressed and sad. There was one that especially worried him: “Why do Georgians kill each other when they have so many Armenians in their country?”-Azeri guy asks. It was a joke that everybody knew but he was worried that a Russian or a Ukrainian reading it would think that Georgians still are killing each other. He said that we [Georgians] understand it’s a joke, but other people won’t.
Two Armenian women said they had not read the sentences and therefore could not comment on them, but later on they privately showed me the thumbs up and said that I had been very brave. The fact was, though, that they were just glad I had stood up to the representative of an enemy country.
Posted by Sophia Tabatadze at 1:07 PM 0 comments
If I were asked to describe the Caucasus region, I would say Armenia was the most rational and knows where it’s heading, Georgia knows it should be sensible and get things done but its innate irrationality gets in the way, and Azerbaijan impulsively - but unpretentiously - heads nowhere (this is why Georgians prefer Azeris to Armenians; Georgians claim that Armenians always have secret agenda, but the real reason may be resentment of the fact that they actually get things done).
One can observe the same thing in the field of contemporary art: in Armenia spaces for contemporary and experimental art, opportunities for discussion and information resources are most developed. Art historians consciously try to put the work of young Armenian artists in the context of a recent tradition, thereby supporting their work and helping them develop it further. There is a catalogue of contemporary Armenian art; curators make international presentations of Armenian Contemporary art, and every two years Armenian artists represent their country in the Armenian pavilion in the Venice Bienniale (though when you look at the CVs of some of these artists what you find is a series of regional exhibitions interspersed with show at the Venice Bienniale).
Georgia knows it needs all this: work needs to be contextualized, the art scene needs to become more unified, buildings need to be acquired for non-commercial artistic purposes, but all this remains at the planning stage, presumably because of a lack of organisational skills and a sense of common purpose.
Azerbaijan simply neglects all this: its artists claim to be the first and only ones to be working in their respective fields, they rarely mention each other and each one considers himself the best, if only he were recognised as such. Exhibitions are organised in order to produce glossy full colour catalogues, rather than the other way round.
Needless to say, no significant cultural development can take place in a region where national borders between states remain largely closed, especially when we are talking about countries as tiny as Armenia, whose territory covers 29,800 km² and has a population of 3.5 million people, Georgia, which covers 69,700² km and has a population of 4.5 million people, and Azerbaijan, which covers 86,600 km² and has a population 8.5 million people. What is more, these tiny counties have a tendency to get smaller and smaller: some having regions in a state of semi-conflict, others in a state of frozen conflict; some with territories recognised by international bodies such as the UN, others with unrecognised territories, living in a state of legal limbo.
These three countries also have a tendency to hate their immediate neighbour and to have friendly relations with their next neighbour but one or in the case of Georgia, with neighbours some distance away.
If artists don’t start talking to each other, if we don’t realise that ideas have to be shared and that we will only achieve anything significant from a common ground, we will remain small countries with insignificant cultural lives slavishly following the dominant trend. We will condemn ourselves to always being one step or several steps behind.Posted by Sophia Tabatadze
Ruins of Our Times
Georgia and Armenia are full of landscapes of frozen moments. With the fall of the Communist regime, the trains stopped in mid-route, the cable car over one of the canyons of Tbilisi has been abandoned halfway, and the housing estates of the never realised future found temporary settlers. Tracing the unwanted heritage of the Soviet past in the Caucasus, at times I had a strange sense of witnessing the future. The self-organised methods adopted in the years of post-collapse crises recall the most progressive contemporary theories of bottom-up structures and participatory urban planning: the cinema-theatre Rossia in the middle of Yerevan found a secondary use as a market and mini-bus station, the never completed city of Gyumri in Armenia was finished by the motivated settlers themselves, the mikro-raion estates in Tbilisi have expanded with new parasite parts called kamikaze loggias. The Caucasus, following a process of Eastern Bloc Westernisation, is fortunately still full of heterotopias, stunning ruins of our own age, and of self-organising policies that tend to be forgotten in a time of ‘euroremonts’, and ‘Eurenovations.’
Coming myself from a post-Communist (though not post-Soviet country), I have been witnessing since 1989 how quickly the former Eastern Bloc, and Poland in particular, has been cleaning up its past. Westernisation, pro-euroatlanticism and pro-capitalism (‘once Moscow, Brussels today’ policy), have become the new and only format for life. Georgians and Armenians have a good term for this phenomenon the euroremont (‘eurenovation’). The Poles have performed especially well: we still live in the same housing blocks, but they were immediately repainted and wrapped in polystyrene, the streets were filled with endless early-capitalist vendor kiosks, and later with huge billboards and all sorts of advertising campaigns. Social Realist architecture in the big cities was quickly transformed, covered up, or lifted in order to be a part of a new narrative.
One of the very few examples of Polish Socialist Realist decay was the 10th-Anniversary Stadium in Warsaw. Built in 1955 from the rubble of a war-devastated city, it was to preserve Communism’s good name for forty years. In the early 1990s it fell into ruin, being at the same time “revived” by the Vietnamese intelligentsia and Russian traders, pioneers of capitalism, who established an open-air market. It became the only multicultural site in the city, a storehouse of biographies and urban legends, a piece of Land Art, a work-camp for anthropologists, botanists and archaeologists. It was in fact the one and only heterotopic zone in central Warsaw, free from the unwritten laws of westernisation and euroremonts.
Kamikaze loggias and self-organised micro-rayons
At the beginning of the 1990s many owners of a block apartment would hire an engineer to design an extension to their home. This whole new parasite part, called a kamikaze loggia, would grow out one side of the building, expanding the living space. This was nothing new for Georgia; palimpsest structures and extensions have always been a commonly applied method of expanding a living surface in this country located on steep Caucasian slopes. One has to remember that Georgia was the “honey of the USSR” the richest state, with quite oversized and representational houses. In the dark and poor Shevardnadze years after the fall of Communism, the extensions continued, even using found scrap-metal or other cheap materials of all kinds.
The non-existent ministry of a non-existent country
The design is a reference to the concept of Ville Spatiale by Yona Friedman, who didn’t want to displace the city, but to raise a second city twenty meters above the existing one. Chakhava’s other reference was also a forest, with the cores as the trunk and the horizontal parts as the crowns, so as to provide a lot of free space for other living beings and nature. The former Ministry on Gagarin street also brings to mind the work of the Japanese Metabolists, whose flexible, and expandable structures built in the 1960s evoked processes of organic growth. With its unrealistic and multi-extensional structure, the building seems to be an unintended tribute to the most recent, early-capitalist architectural changes in the urban environment of Tbilisi, but carrying a long tradition of self-built palimpsests.
Back to the future
A project awarded a Golden Lion at the last Venice Architecture Biennial, The Afterlife of Buildings by Grzegorz Piatek and Jarosław Trybus, pictured an apocalyptic secondary use for famous Polish properties: a Warsaw airport terminal would be turned into a chicken farm, a Norman Foster building into a prison, or a financial centre into a crematory. Applying both theories the Caucasus could move ahead, full of secondary uses. One could cite the Yerevan cinema-theatre Rossia, build in 1979 as a youth palace, sports and concert complex, and museum, now turned into a huge market in the former screening rooms and hallways and a busy mini-bus station.
Some Caucasian artists have a great intuition of how to grasp these fantastic reality shifts. For more than ten years Georgians had no more than two hours of electricity per day what they now call the dark years. Back then some foreign-channels were illegally broadcasting on Georgian channels frequencies. As a result two logos appeared on the screen and the quality of transmission was sometimes interrupted, bringing the image to a standstill. Rusiko Oat, a curator and the owner of the New Art Cafe in Tbilisi made an artwork resulting from the infamous electricity cuts. No Signal was an image created, as she puts it, by electro-waves. On the screen there suddenly appeared a dramatic image of the face of an old lady superimposed on a commercial and captioned with the mysterious Russian inscription ‘Niet signala’. In the logic of media marketing, this was a kind of electronic magic, allowing for one’s own interpretation of the neo-now, quite remote from the original idea of an advertising spot and bearing fantastic information.
Two Arnhem-based artists, Rosell Heijmen and Lado Darakhvelidze, one Dutch, the other Georgian, mapped the city of Tbilisi through its endless marschrutka lines. Marschrutkas are the minibuses that serve as a means of public transport. Anyone can start a new line in a second-hand mini-van brought over from Germany. There are over 200 marschrutka tours in the city and even more in the countryside. Because they stop everywhere, they have an advantage over other public transport (regular buses and electricity have been in service only since the advent of the Saakashivili regime) but are forbidden on the main avenues. After the Rose Revolution, most of the squares and street names were changed, but the marschrutkas signs kept the old ones written in the Georgian alphabet. As a result only the citizens of Tbilisi have knowledge of where a marschrutka is heading. The destination signs somehow tell the recent history of the city. Heijmen and Darakhvelidze produced a marschrutka map in English, seeing the mini-vans as vehicles taking one back in time, letting the non-Georgian find her way, to translate the past and the present and grasp a specific reality of the city. The wide avenue leading from the airport to downtown is named after George W. Bush, and prior to his visit all the facades had been repainted and touched up only from the front side.
Sophia Tabatadze, a Georgian artist based in Berlin, has been observing the changes in post-Soviet Georgia following the transformation of one of these Tbilisi blue facades. She documented the changes on a building between 2003 and 2008. In In a Country with a Flourishing Democracy, even Plastic Flowers Will Blossom, she depicts how, while Georgia has been rushing from one system to the other, this facade has been quickly adapting and making itself look more and more European.
Mush was brought to the arts and to public debate by Armenian artist Vahram Aghasyan who photographed the site for several months. In his thrilling series Ghost City from 2006-on going he observes the silent Mush and shows other possible scenarios to come, such as a gigantic deluge echoing the Great Flood from the Bible, which took place not far from there. In the totality of his work, as in Ruins of Our Time (deserted bus stops from the 1960s), or Ruins of Private Property (the demolition of an illegal gated community near Istanbul), he profoundly analyses the cultural and socio-political changes in Armenia through images of spectacular contemporary remnants and post-Soviet entropy.
A Dervish once said: Between Western alienation and Eastern submission I'll take a bath*
The Tbilisi perforative-art Bouillon Group also act as self-proclaimed anthropologists, taking non-questioned culture elements as material for their artwork and seeking to reveal the conflict between comfort and nonconformity. The artists created a descriptive deconstruction of a figure of Mother Georgia, an aluminium statue overlooking Tbilisi erected in 1958 (similar ‘Mothers’ were then erected in Armenia, Ukraine and Russia), meant to protect the country. Mother Georgia holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and a sword to defend herself from enemies. Bouillon saw the statue as a hermaphroditic and ambiguous figure, a product of Georgian circumstances.
I recently participated in a conference about art-world standards where many speakers debated how to have the East change and live up to Western standards. One Ukrainian artist stood up and riposted, “And I want to ask you when the West will change?!” Eastern Europe no longer exists, though perhaps with some Georgian and Armenian exceptions.
* after the title of Slavs and Tatars’ work in: Kidnapping Mountains, Book Works, London 2009. Slavs and Tatars investigates different forms of knowledge than those available to us in the West: be it emotional, critical, spiritual, or political. Despite the rampant Islamophobia in the west, dervish and Sufism seem to remain the most palatable, ‘white’-friendly form of Islam. The dervish print addresses the East versus West divide, first as a choice and then immediately as one to be altogether avoided.^Joanna Warsza, 2010
The research trip to Georgia and Armenia was possible with the generous help of European Culture Foundation and Open Society Institute Budapest.
Research & Leisure, Art, architecture, talks, concerts, field trips, and more. Artists, academics, architects, curators, economists, and residents of Tbilisi in a context-responsive summer art project in the time between the former Ministry of Highways of the Soviet Republic of Georgia and the future headquarters of Bank of Georgia.
In the almost fully destroyed Ministry of Highway the elevator room and smoking corner in Tower 1 on the 13th floor seemed rather untouched. It was not a specially characteristic place for the building though. It looks like the 70s international style. If you would take out the Russian signs and typography it could look like a Swiss hotel elevator or any institutional building anywhere in the world. We cleaned it thoroughly, waxed and glossed it, repaired what was broken, and added what was missing. The replacing parts were found in 5 other locations in the building. What came out under the dirt is a time capsule. A place that, according to Ruben Arevshatyan, one of the Armenian artists in the project, smells like a Soviet institutional building.
The performance was actually the cancelling of a performance about elevators, architecture, art, exorcism, fame and glory, power and decay, and a small reading about an ant that meets a sugar cube and decides to dedicate its life to it*.^ *From ‘The Illustrious Ant’, a fable by Anton Koolhaas (Rem Koolhaas’ father, who was a well known Dutch writer of animal stories).
Georgia and the Balance of Power
Let’s begin simply by reviewing recent events. On the night of Thursday, August 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia moved across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union (see map)...Read this article: click here... ^
Art has its own power in the world, and is as much a force in the power play of global politics today as it once was in the arena of cold war politics. Art, argues distinguished theoretician Boris Groys, is hardly a powerless commodity subject to the art market's fiats of inclusion and exclusion. In Art Power, Groys examines modern and contemporary art according to its ideological function. Art, Groys writes, is produced and brought before the public in two waysas a commodity and as a tool of political propaganda. In the contemporary art scene, very little attention is paid to the latter function; the official and unofficial art of the former Soviet Union and other former Socialist states, for example, is largely excluded from the field of institutionally recognized art, usually on moral grounds (although, Groys points out, criticism of the morality of the market never leads to calls for a similar exclusion of art produced under market conditions).
Arguing for the inclusion of politically motivated art in contemporary art discourse, Groys considers art produced under totalitarianism, Socialism, and post-Communism. He also considers today’s mainstream Western artwhich he finds behaving more and more according to the norms of ideological propaganda: produced and exhibited for the masses at international exhibitions, biennials, and festivals. Contemporary art, Groys argues, demonstrates its power by appropriating the iconoclastic gestures directed against itselfby positioning itself simultaneously as an image and as a critique of the image. In Art Power, Groys examines this fundamental appropriation that produces the paradoxical object of the modern artwork. (introduction MIT Press)
The book was an immediate sensation, and though it has long been criticized for its portrayals of Plato, Marx, and Hegel it has remained a landmark on the left and right alike for its defense of freedom and the spirit of critical inquiry.
The open society is a concept originally developed by philosopher Henri Bergson and then by Austrian and British philosopher Sir Karl Popper. In open societies, government is responsive and tolerant, and political mechanisms are transparent and flexible.
Popper's concept of the open society is epistemological rather than political. When Popper wrote The Open Society and its Enemies (1945) he believed that the social sciences had failed to grasp the significance and the nature of fascism and communism because these sciences were based on faulty epistemologies. Totalitarianism forced knowledge to become political which made critical thinking impossible and led to the destruction of knowledge in totalitarian countries.
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