by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
Cadence of life in Georgia naturally leads to a new way of experiencing and reflecting upon the ever-changing present and lets one consider alternative ways forward. With a tendency towards meditative contemplation and a slower pace of life, the atmosphere of Tbilisi Art Fair (TAF) matches this slow living mindset, providing emotional engagement for its audience— both art professionals and art lovers.
The character of TAF is recognisably unique. It distinguishes itself from most of the international art fairs, where pressure and rhythm are rather intense and the fear of missing out creates an almost confusing fast-paced environment. TAF, on the other hand, constructs a welcoming aura and provides a humane approach to gallerists, collectors, artists, and visitors at large.
Rescheduling its regular opening date from May to September 2022, TAF has once again focused on the emerging and mid-career artists from the Eastern and Southern frontiers of Europe. During the past four years, the art fair has proved to be the place to discover young talents, promote regional art scenes, generate visibility, dive into networking, and initiate international collaborations.
For the third time, TAF took place on the grounds of Expo Georgia, a 15-hectare campus located north-east of the historic city centre and set within the post-industrial district of Tbilisi. Initially developed as a regional exposition during the 1960s, pavilions designed in the Soviet Modernism style would host the art fair.
Following a special interest and focus on site-specific installations, we discovered several artist studios and exhibitions, which opened their doors during the contemporary art week, running parallel to TAF.
Curated by Margot Norton, Anna K.E.’s installation REARMIRRORVIEW, Simulation is Simulation, is Simulation, is Simulation was originally commissioned for the Georgian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. The project was reconfigured for the space TEC in Tbilisi, where it encompassed the artist’s work in video, sculpture, performance, and installation. Anna K.E.’s background in classical ballet, shaped her interest in the performativity of architecture. Fluid architectural environments created by the artist suggest a choreography which immerses the viewers, but also allows them to delve into it or to bypass it. K.E.’s videos as well as the steel faucet-like sculptures, based on the original Georgian alphabet, Asomtavruli, were juxtaposed through the installation. Suggesting a purifying and unifying substance that transverses the structures’ binary poles, water circulated through the letters in a continuous stream. The letters phonetically spelt the English word “deranged,” which referred to something that has become disturbed, irrational, or unstable.
Nomadic exhibition space Kunsthalle Tbilisi presented an exhibition, titled Nested in a Place of Becoming by Adler Guerrier and Levani Mindiashvili, and curated by Irena Popiashvili. With inquiries into history, race, identity and notions of place, the exhibition was centred around an expanded ecological view of human habitations as sites that engender openness, possibilities, learning, and liberation.
Levani Mindiashvili, quoting an essay by an American anthropologist David Graeber, titled What’s the point if we can’t have fun, mentioned that “to exercise one’s capacities to their fullest extent is to take pleasure in one’s own existence…and with sociable creatures such pleasures are proportionally magnified when performed in company.” It was an act of solicitation of his installation, what color is the Black Sea?, a fragile ecosystem of its own, inhabited by living plants and their casts in silicone and resin, growing horticulture lights, latex fabric imprinted with Georgian language, neon and sound. Inquiring into the material, cosmological and psychological dimensions of the human and non-human beyond identity categories. The installation collapsed the binary dichotomies, encompassing living vs. non-living, natural vs. synthetic, material vs. spiritual.
Studio of Uta Bekaia— multimedia artist, currently residing and working in between New York and Tbilisi—showcased multiple artistic mediums, including wearable sculptures. Bekaia works on performances and videos, where the borders between the disciplines are blurred, and the cultural references are synthesised in his own, personalised vision. With a background in fashion and costume making, Bekaia transformed these mediums into the main means, in order to approach the human body and fully emerge into performances. Inspired by ancient mythology, fairy tales, Italian Baroque, and Georgian Dada, the artist with his exuberant, sculptural costumes, reinvents and re-stages long lost, never-before-documented rituals. Believing in genetical transferability of communal memory, Bekaia attempts to reconnect with ancient knowledge and embed it in his own histories. He creates performances and installations inhabited with wearable sculptures, exploring historical cultural background, genetic codes and cycles of the universe.
The Why Not Gallery presented the solo show Painted Walls create an illusion of Reality by Mariam Aqubardia. The series on display was executed in Aqubardia’s signature painting style—- pastel colour palette at the intersection of photographic realism and abstract painting, large-scale figurative compositions painted with the technique of blurring. The artist created an atmospheric environment within the gallery space where the exhibition walls were completely painted over and the floor was covered with sand. The series created for the exhibition was inspired by a photograph taken by the artist— a shot from an abandoned house, which was destroyed by nature, looted by people, and shaken by a thousand blows. Covering the whole wall, the wallpaper captured an idyllic landscape by the lake. A popular interior design element of the 1980s— a remnant of a world that no longer exists, as if it is a portal into a parallel reality.
The exhibition The Palace of Concrete Poetry, curated by Monika Čejková, presented an intergenerational dialogue between artists who are closely or loosely related to the notion of concrete poetry. Formed in the late 1950s and the 1960s,this international interdisciplinary movement grew out of the need to redefine poetry and the field of playful experimentation at the intersection of literature and the visual arts. The exhibition brought together both the pioneers of concrete poetry such as—Bohumila Grögerová, Susan Howe, Ferdinand Kriwet, Ewa Partum and their followers such as—Pavel Büchler, Keti Kapanadze, Janice Kerbel, Jan Šerých, Sue Tompkins (including the youngest generation—David Horvitz, Barbara Kapusta) who are moving the issue forward to (post)digital ways of working. The works on display, with a few exceptions, were created specifically for the exhibition and were embedded in the Art Nouveau interior of the Writers’ House of Georgia in Tbilisi, one of the architectural gems of the city.
The exhibition touched on language, which is not just a combinatorial tool, but a living organism, subject to many circumstances. The thing on display is the “word”, which is further manipulated within concrete poetry as a linguistic material. Its semantic values are placed on the same level as its visual, material, and sound parameters. The project was organised in collaboration with Writers’ House of Georgia and E. A. Shared Space, an independent project space founded by curator and writer Elene Abashidze.
Studio by artist Nika Kutateladze—who is mainly working on monumental solo projects, combining different kinds of architecture with contemporary contexts— reminded the viewers about the total installation in itself. His works mainly feature a person’s approach towards different givens and the way everyday life is reflected in architecture. The majority of the artworks comprise installations and sculptures, reflecting day-to-day consumerism and diverse environmental and political issues. His later artistic utterances challenge the transformative process of architectural spaces and urban environment, in general. Kutateladze attempts to create new spatial constructions which give the spectator a possibility to rethink the space charged with new visual signs.