Engaged Tbilisi by

by 1. 11. 2018

In this account of his visit to the 3rd Tbilisi International Triennial in Georgia (1 October – 1 November 2018, www.cca.ge), Lexa Peroutka attempted not only to present the features specific to Georgia, situated between Europe and Asia and between the post-Soviet legacy and the search for a new place in the modern world, but also the consequences that this position has had for the activities of the local Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA-T), the organisation which organises the triennial. Understanding artistic creativity as an engaged attempt to come to terms with the ever-changing interplay of past and present could be very fruitful in this specific context, albeit a very complex task. 

Arriving in Tbilisi is arriving in Asia. Geographically speaking, Georgia lies on the map of Asia, though its modern cultural and social activities and its town planning have a European, nay global, feel to them. However, this contemporary character is shaped (or curbed) by urban concepts of the past (the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union) as well as by the period lacking any concept of town planning after 1991, the period of the neoliberal market, national self-awareness, territorial breakup, political upheaval and repeated economic boom and bust.

However, this does not mean that the European continent has been the sole driver behind modern developments in Georgia. The country lies in a strategic location as far as global trade is concerned and, in the past, enjoyed contact with dominant powers such as Persia, the Byzantine Empire, the Arab world, the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire and Russia. These days Georgia stands at the trade and political crossroads of the European Union, Russia and China, and this fact influences both its politics and culture in general and its contemporary art in particular. It is also the basis of Georgia’s diverse society and its social dialogue. It is impossible to identify the position, ambitions and potential of contemporary Georgian art if these circumstances are not factored in. 

At a meeting with Wato Tsereteli, the founder and director of the CCA (Center of Contemporary Art) in Tbilisi, our conversation naturally gravitated to questions surrounding the identity of Georgia. However much Georgia may have its political aspirations focused on Europe and whatever the origin of the Georgian language, Tsereteli defines himself as a non-European. After his return to Georgia in 2005, Tsereteli created or initiated several educational and artistic organisations (e.g. the CCCD/Caucasian Center of Cultural Development, the Cumbo group, etc.), which replaced non-existent or dysfunctional state institutions. What might seem like a handicap was in fact an advantage if we deem freedom and ethics to lie at the heart of art and education. The state authorities began to take a more constructive interest in the activities of CCA Tbilisi.

The central idea of the last such initiative in the sphere of art education, namely the Center for Contemporary Art (CCA Tbilisi), founded in 2010, is creative mediation. CCA Tbilisi is a flexible, politically independent institution open to all mature personalities for further artistic research. It is therefore a parallel grassroots organisation of contemporary art that has been organising a regular triennial in Tbilisi with a strong foreign component since 2012. This is also true of its education modules spread over a nine month cycle. The CCA places an emphasis on direct contact with social reality and the environment, as well as community oriented work and research (a good example would be the programme Field Academy).

The aim of the CCA is not to undertake traditional art practice and create artefacts, but to encourage social innovation using the resources of contemporary art. The modern history of Georgia in an ever-changing global environment simply serves to consolidate this function and form.

The position of Georgia on the edge of the Euro-Atlantic space and its anchorage in Euro-Asia makes it the ideal place in the modern world for meetings and dialogue, as well as conflicts and new solutions. Georgia is part of a broader world that still speaks a language we understand well, and yet it can also access and has an experience of other concepts that we Europeans have lost touch with spatially, culturally and politically.

Alumni of the CCA are now involved in the creation and organisation of the contemporary art scene in Tbilisi and Georgia. Their projects include the artistic residency Block21 in the post-industrial environment of the city of Rustavi not far from Tbilisi, the future multimedia gallery in the upper floor of the concrete techno club Khidi in Tbilisi, and many others. These days, the CCA does not have its own premises but is a nomadic institution. It avails itself of the capacities of other institutions, e.g. the Fabrika multifunctional cultural space, an important meeting place for artists and other cultural and art projects in Tbilisi, the premises of the redesigned Soviet factory Stamba, and many other premises.

The 3rd Tbilisi International Triennial 2018 ended with an exhibition by the artist Chubika (Nino Chubinishvili) entitled 5th Room Correction of Mistakes in the tower of the monumental Stalinist building housing the Academy of Sciences. This building is located in the city’s administrative centre on Rustaveli Street on the edge of developments dating back to the turn of the 19th and 20 centuries, with extensions made during the transformation period after the fall of the USSR. The Soviet city planning was replaced by a new economic system and the city thus acquired another historical stratum that represents a wild continuation of older strata. The tower is defined by a long walk-through spiral with exits to different floors of the building and is extended by a staircase to two independent floors with a glorious view over the city. It is completed with a metal ladder to the less accessible, high-altitude passages of the building. 

For her sculptural installation, Chubika availed herself of all the floors of the tower, including its basement space. The uninhabited and derelict interiors were cleaned out and transformed into a stage inhabited by unidentifiable beings making reference to the archetypes of older cultures. The highest accessible floor housed the largest archetypal sculpture which was  in contact with two five-metre crimson curtains billowing over the city. Archetypal creatures inhabited these forgotten interiors and imbued them with new, temporary meanings to replace those they had lost with the political and economic transformation. This is in effect a reference to the current state of a transformed society struggling to keep its balance and find its position in the modern world. Chubika used archetypal cultural motifs and intermediaries for communication with the Stalinist architecture, which remains a predominant feature of Tbilisi even after the turbulent changes of the last few decades.

The artist’s sculptural works represented an intervention in a predefined architectural whole that is now more of a static landmark in the city centre alongside many other monumental administrative buildings dating back to the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. However, even today this architecture continues to define our perception of the dimension and function of the city, its modern layout and the activities of its current inhabitants, including the contemporary art scene.

Nino Chubinishvili, 2018, installation view, Tbilisi, photo: Lexa Peroutka.


How did you arrive at sculptural forms on the interface of fashion and sculpture? 


I created a work in both fashion and stage design. Fashion as I see it represents another reality, for instance a psychological reality. These archetypal forms arose spontaneously without any prior intention. I don’t create a primary concept or even a creative outline. While working I enter an unknown environment that begins to communicate with me and answers the questions I ask of it. It might be a collective unconscious. My work can be interpreted against the backdrop of a cultural unconscious inhabited by transient forms.

The author would like to thank Marika Jabua, Mery Tatarashvili, Wato Tsereteli and others from CCA Tbilisi.

Lexa Peroutka is a visual artist, curator and writer focused on critical art practices.

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