Against the Backdrop of Creeping Occupation


"Am I You?" was the theme of this year's Artisterium – the sixth Tbilisi International Contemporary Art Exhibition, which involved some 80 artists from Georgia, the US, Germany, France, Great Britain, Finland, the Netherlands, South Korea, Russia (Dagestan, North Ossetia), Ukraine, Israel, Switzerland, Turkey, Poland and Japan.

Performance. Nezaket Ekici, Germany & Shahar Marcus, Israel.
A series of exhibitions, discussions, master classes, and meetings with artists and curators were held within the framework of the Artisterium, which was conducted from 4 to 14 October. Days before the festival ended, I interviewed the curator of the Artisterium association, Magda Guruli, about the importance of the festival of this year:

Madga Guruli: First of all, the important thing was that the Artisterium was held for the sixth consecutive time. It is a little difficult to maintain regularity in Georgia. For example, in the 1990s, the Tbilisi Biennale was held only once; in the following years, the Art Kavkasia and Art Expo events were held but only a few times – this was not because of the inactivity of the organizers of these cultural events. No! It was merely because it is not easy to maintain regularity – nothing will work if, aside from attracting financial resources, you do not create the needed infrastructure. This year the Artisterium was distinguished by its sponsors too: the Israeli embassy in Georgia supported us for the first time ever this year, as did well as Japan Tobacco International. It is also important that since 2008, the US embassy in Georgia has been a regular sponsor. I want to single out Mtatsminda Park [a family amusement facility located atop Mount Mtatsminda in Tbilisi] as an example of the involvement of business. It houses studios of several painters and their creations were displayed under the Ferris wheel. These pieces of art will be sold and the proceeds from them will be used as stipends for several students at the Academy of Arts – this is an initiative implemented for the first time ever this year.

- How big was the interest towards and involvement in the festival?

Lots of guests came to the opening ceremony. In terms of media coverage, the coincidence of Tbilisoba [an annual festival to celebrate the Day of Tbilisi] interfered with the amount of attention the event received, but, on the other hand, many people found themselves at the modern art exhibitions [arranged outdoors] by absolute accident and thus a segment of society got involved that is normally difficult to interest and attract.

- What are the new developments in terms of space? In previous years, both the performing and visual arts were displayed together because you lacked appropriate venues... Has the situation improved in this regard?

Narrative Release for “Liberty Leading the People.” Archil Turmanidze, Georgia.
The space under the Ferris wheel in Mtatsminda Park worked well. Karvasla [the Tbilisi History Museum] is a bit of a complicated space, but we have been working there for so many years now that we already know how to use it. The list of venues extended to include Galla Gallery, a photo gallery Container, as well as Europe House and the Museum of Georgian Literature, which has two exhibition halls and we have cooperated with it in the past few years. Have we had a breakthrough in available spaces? No! But, we have become skilled at working with the existing venues. I hope that something will change for the better in this area in future. Last year, for example, we had one project at the Eliava marketplace, and every year we try to implement a project that will be suitable to be held in a public space.

- What can you say about the main theme of the current Artisterium?

Place of meeting – under the wheel.
"Am I You?" is about the problem of relationships and communication. A performance with this title was conducted by [the Georgian artist] Iliko Zautashvili in Mirzaani [in the Kakheti region] in 1998. This performance involved two pairs of participants with the first pair simultaneously reading books in different languages whilst the other pair, having been blindfolded, trying to understand each other only by touch. The work shows the impossibility of communication when one is focused on their own culture, own self, own voice, and own language, as well as when all senses are not engaged in the relationship and when one is not open to a relationship... This year around, we reconstructed this performance and, along with previous participants – Teo Khatiashvili and Nino Macheishvili, added new ones – Sandro Lominashvili and Julia Charlotte Richter, who read the text in German.

Archangel. Claire Halpin, Ireland.
Painters Ledoh and Jennifer Hicks arrived upon the invitation of the US embassy to offer their work. Lado Pochkhua, whose exhibition in the Georgian National Museum's Dimitry Shevardnadze National Gallery will last until 14 November, also arrived owing to the US embassy's assistance. Lado applies photography as a medium and depicts the years when he, as an internally displaced person, lived in a camp of refugees in Tskhneti [on the outskirts of Tbilisi]. This topic is very important now, at a time when we witness creeping occupation [by Russia]. We must never stop talking about that! "Am I You?" – this is our attitude towards those people who have turned into refugees; our attitude towards our country; our attitude towards ourselves... There are people who do not utter a word against the occupation and want to portray it as a correct action – this is exactly the problem in communicating with one's own self! In an integrated nation and in a nation which has an instinct for self-salvation, the issue of whether to go or not to go to the Sochi Winter Olympic Games must not be discussed at all. One must only hear "No!" to this question.

Lado Pochkhua, whose exhibition is the final event of the Artisterium, and who arrived from the US for the event, told us: the Artisetrium is something which Georgia lacks, in particular, the ideas, people, "movement" of events... For quite a long period of time Georgia was a closed country. The Artisterium frees it from isolation and, therefore, no matter who comes to power; no matter what kind of government the country has, this must continue. I am happy that I will present my project here. In it, I speak about the most difficult 11 years of my life – I do not manipulate the topic of being a refugee, but recount something that is still topical – to date, people are still being turned into displaced persons and this is a sort of Golgotha that the nation has failed yet to climb. In my project, I do not speak about war, but only about the life of refugees. When you become a refugee your priorities change and you start taking care of your self-salvation. Moreover, we proved to be displaced persons in the most poor, most problematic country. The Artisterium provides a platform where I can recount my story and share my experience with you.

Moreover, this is not a photo exhibition; it is an installation with the photography used as a material. When I lived in Tskhneti, I envied foreigners who had very good cameras; I dreamt about having Mamiya, Hasselblad, quality film, but I am sure, and I say that over and over again, that it was good that I did not have them because my photos would have been like the photos of National Geographic taken by, for instance, a German arriving in Afghanistan with a large crew of light electricians, assistants, and make-up specialists taking photos of that terrible world with modern technologies – this, conceptually, is a lie... I took photos with a black and white camera with black and white film that I purchased in reels in Tbilisi and cut myself... In other words, I took photos exactly as I lived...

Lado Pochkhua returned to the US on the day of the opening of the project he brought to Georgia. He is now preparing for a personal exhibition at the Brooklyn Box gallery, which opens in early November, as well as for a lecture at Columbia University on "Georgian Social Realism" and a master class in painting at the Whitney Museum.


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