HERITAGE at the museum of Fine Arts, Tbilisi

Shalva Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts is hosting an exhibition with the intriguing title Heritage. A group of Levan Mindiashvili, Uta Bekaia, Irakli Bugiani, Cristian Tonhaiser and Tato Akhalkatsishvili display their thoughts about the history, heritage and its relevance to the present. The press release opens up with: ‘Georgian society, like every other Post-Soviet country, tries to rehabilitate their identity by rummaging into remote, idealised past and the traditions, often ignoring the recent experiences’. These are the very few people who have noticed the trend for neglecting and blindsiding the 70 years of Soviet Union and realised the problem with forgetting and refusing to analyse.

Modernity for Georgia and probably for the societies that have centuries old culture is a tricky concept. It is very hard to find a balance between past, history, traditions and present day lifestyle in order to be adequate with the rest of the world. But what is peculiar in modern Georgia is the total amnesia of the 70 years of the Soviet rule. The traumas of the regime and its painful break-up have resulted in total desire of forgetting rather than analysing and drawing conclusions; the group, realising the importance of that history into shaping the modern Georgian mentality decided to tackle this task.

The theme of identity is the focus of Levan Mindiashvili’s art. Being responsible for the concept of the exhibition, it was not surprising to involve the question of identity; similar to Levan’s oeuvre, the exhibition revolves around very personal and individual sensations and experiences. Levan Mindiashvili: ‘Our aim is to think about the constructions that are the basis of the identity, revealing those conscious or unconscious factors that shape an individual and form them into units of society.’ It is noteworthy that these artists are the ones who have experienced the Soviet Union in its worst colours. Born at its decline, they have witnessed its break-up and Georgia’s struggle to become an independent democratic country; they have first hand experienced the difficulties of system changes, those traumatic practices that have left the society into mass amnesia.

Architecture is still the focus of Levan’s canvases as the perfect documentation of the society; he has concentrated on the facades of the Painters House and a Church. The building of Painters House is crucial to the 90s history of Georgia. It was one of the very characteristic institutions of the Soviet rule, where the art dogmatism and its propagandist nature were strictly controlled; it is only natural for the artist who thinks about the Soviet past, to analyse Soviet attitude towards art. However, nowadays, instead of Soviet dogmatism, the Painter’s House came to be a reference to the Civil War in Tbilisi. The historical façade of the building, the new fundament (at this moment the Museum of Modern Art is being built there) and its project overlap each other. The random red circles point to the blood that was shed on the Rustaveli Avenue from the 1989.
Levan Mindiashvili: ‘ The Painter’s House is the post-Christian apprehension of the culture; it is a very important, symbolic and at the same time propagandist building. It had a very distinguished function and its destroying, with the rise of national movement, was very symbolic; as if it got shattered along with the Soviet rule.’

The opposite wall sports the painting of a Church of the same size and tones. The browns, ochre and the cream tones suit the aesthetics of a cathedral more: vertical, thin, opaque forms resemble the light seeping in through the church windows. The project, the ruins and the sketches of a church intersect each other in here too. 

Religion, which after the breakdown of the Soviet rule became very relevant, plays a vital role in the social life of the country. Those centuries old traditions are still pertinent and play crucial role shaping the national identity today. The boom of religion might have been caused by the Soviet trauma and as a protest against it, the large amount of the population strictly follows the orthodox Christian lifestyle. Politicians constantly exploit religion for their own interests. The painting of the Church voices the research of the past that becomes problematic in relation to the present rhythm of living.

Installation Archive revolves around the headless figure of a man. The wax head is showcased in a vitrine, the objects surround the dismantled human.  The very interesting and characteristic objects seem to be handpicked from the conscious of the figure, as the key components of his identity. There is a green notebook, the generations have been writing their homework in; the cover of the Georgian History textbook, the 8th of March postcard, the Georgian Artists Union pass, Sokhumi tourist booklet- these are the everyday objects that one day just disappeared from the Georgian reality. Instead the 9th of April, ‘LOVE IS’ chewing gum, the new Georgian passport and the Sokhumi military map have appeared. The downcast face in the vitrine is in a direct dialogue with the bloody hands and the bandaged legs on the wall. These are the remnants of the crippled and traumatised generation that went through the Civil war and the Abkhazian conflict.

The main inspiration of Irakli Bugiani, the photos of Soviet prospects found on the online archive, acquire new lives on his canvases. These paintings were not created exclusively for this exhibition, however, in this context, they have highlighted the potential of architecture as the mediator of the historical heritage. Irakli Bugiani: ‘the idea is of Soviet architecture- every regime creates its distinctive architecture, influencing the individual. It is remarkable to research what kind of psychology is formed when living in this environment and being surrounded with these buildings.’

The culmination of the series is the diptych Gldani Parking. It is interesting to review Gldani as the Post-Soviet phenomena. The area was built in the Soviet Tbilisi, nevertheless, already in the democratic Georgia it expanded and got densely populated. Accordingly, the district corresponds to these artists, the Soviet kids after the breakdown of systems and gaining freedom have to navigate in the reality with the Soviet baggage; the Gldani area with its attached loggias and illegal garages is the equivalent of this hybrid society.

The white buildings of Bugiani’s canvases are cracked, grey and dirty in reality. This reminds of the nostalgia many people feel and their idealising of the past- everything was perfect them. It seems like these buildings run away from the feeling of inadequacy with the reality and look into the time when they were the symbols of Soviet advancing. This is the black humour with which Irakli criticises the whole epoch where individuals where squashed and the people who are ill with romanticizing that past.

Tato Akhalkacishvili has a very distinctive painting style. He works in oil but exploits the medium in a very unusual way for the Georgian trends. His surfaces are always clean and smooth. At this stage the artist actively employs collage in his paintings. Tato Akhalkacishvili: ‘I’ve been interested in academism since my childhood and I’ve always been improving my knowledge in that direction. The knowledge of academic painting gave me a possibility of expressing different emotions. I am all for the academic studies but I disapprove of getting stuck in there. I think there is so much of accumulated experience in art, there’s so much tried out, I think an artist should not purposefully look for new techniques. They should not aim at painting like no one else in the world. One should paint freely, purposefully and cleverly use the practice that centuries long art history provides.’

The central figures of the canvases are often the cut out kids from photos and posters. The phenomena of heritage can be discussed in many aspects- genetics, unconsciously passed information and the experience we had inherited. The focus of Tato Akhalkatsishvili, the childhood is the period when this unconscious protrudes easily, the intuitive existing is not petrified by the moral boundaries.

The Soviet sports hall of blue shiny walls and white chalky ceiling sports a pool on the painting Born. Like most of the Soviet buildings, it is in the process of decaying. The portrait of Stalin, a bit higher than the centre of the canvas, with red background captures the attention momentarily. The leader gazes out proudly at the younger generation- the kids in the toy cars, who are destined to die in the waterless swimming pool. The artwork is a very interesting analysis of the 70 years long utopia that has wounded its population.  The requirements of the ideology, its mechanism and perception of future were so inadequate with the reality as the toy cars in the empty swimming pool. The feeling of confinement of the waterless pool is also noteworthy, the one so close to the claustrophobic environment of the Soviet Union. The artwork has an autobiographical touch. The painter sees himself as a Soviet kid and when thinking about heritage this period was the automatically the first thought. One of the children on the collage is the artist himself.

The mixed media (oil, canvas, watercolours and photo collage) paintings usually have Latin titles because of the multiple interpretations those words have. The kids facing the wall looking at the pictures of embryos stand in the middle of an ally in Egresus.  The sky, which is of a bloody transparent colour captures the eye immediately. Tato Akhalkatsishvili: ‘the closest definition is of banishing. It is a metaphor of the disrupted dialogue for me. This is the interrupted lives of the dead children for various reasons. These people are very interesting for me, how their lives would proceed, what they would do for this world. Any new life has a purpose when born then after developing to some point it attains some kind of skill, adding on to the experience of the humankind condensed in the unconscious. Suddenly the whole of generation got cropped and wiped out for various reasons- be it an abortion or war. I am curios what these people would do, how they would progress and what they would leave to this universe’. This reminds of the teenagers killed in the Abkhazian conflict, which had buried the potential of the whole generation and only left suppositions.

Uta Bekaia has separated the theme of heritage from his personal experiences and discussed it in a universal context; therefore, dividing it into three layers of physical, intellectual and spiritual memories he has created an installation. The physical heritage is the focal point of the installation; the white figure in white dress momentarily catches the eye in a half lit grey hall. The white clay figures on the floor transform into round shapes on the dress, which at the end becomes a human body; this seems like a physical demonstration of the human body formation. The whiteness helps the generalisation. It is intriguing to see the universal physical memory being personified in the female body. According to Uta the simple reality of having a female mannequin has stipulated this. However, for him the centre and the beginning of life is a woman, as the traditional symbol of lifecycle.

The intellectual heritage is a cupboard with multiple drawers, the strange shapes climb out of. These are the neurons of the artist, the ones that store the information and transport it through the whole organism. Every one of them is unique, never repeating each other. The plants standing over the box resemble the biological side of the artwork; the bindweeds get jumbled up so that it is difficult to separate a single branch, it resembles the mechanism of the human brain and the condensed information. The same clay forms are hanging on the sidewall. This is the material that the mind could not grasp and clasify into a box. ‘This is the information dried out in the air.’

Uta Bekaia: ‘I analyse myself as a medium carrying distinct amount of energy, to be released in the universe. Therefore, my art does not revolve around me personally; it is more visual and esoteric. I always avoid conceptualising my experiences in my art. My art is more ornamental. Heritage in its physiological sense is more fascinating for me. Circulation has always been very exciting for me and the information we carry- everything revolves around each other, then disappears and is reborn.’

Thespiritual heritage that according to the artist was very hard to materialise took a shape of anatomical heart and lava. ‘This is very abstract, no one can describe it, but for me it has a shape of a heart, it reminds of lava and the explosion’. The erupting volcanic lava is abstract before it spills and repeats the shape of the environment. The concept of a soul looks a lot like it; its abstract essence takes the shape of the body it is encased in. ‘The visual and aesthetic side is the most important for me and the natural shapes are my constant source of inspiration. Circulation is most captivating for me- when the organisms are born in nature, develop, deteriorate and takes new forms’- says Uta Bekaia.

Cristian Tonhaiser, based in Buenos-Aires, worked on the concept of heritage with the Georgian collective. Involving him in the exhibition seemed quite risky, because even though the others create dissimilar art, they still share a common ground and inspiration they come out of. However, the installation Nemesis has surprised the sceptics. Born in the family of emigrants, half Slovak and half Italian, Cristian sees the relevance of religion to his heritage as much as Georgians do. However, the ironical attitude is not so close to Georgians; as this was ridiculing of the catholic Christianity, Georgian audience took it quite casually. Nemesis means holy punishment for sins; the installation created on the theme is exhibited at the end of the exhibition space; the small, gloomy, grey walls suit the mood a lot. The central vitrine stores leftovers of bread and red wine, bringing the ritual of communion into the gallery space. The photos lit on the wall portray a man who is to eat the same bread and wine, then in the actual process of the ‘’holy communion’ a halo appears behind his head, the last picture captures the crop of his seemingly lifeless body. The punishment is one of the central themes of the Cristian religion and especially the Catholicism who has been through indulgence. The penance usually comes after death, when one goes to hell. However, Tonhaiser underlines the death as the actual punishment. ‘A person when sinning always knows he will be punished’ and so the man on the photograph, knowing he will be penalized prepares for the last communion. The self-irony is important for Cristian Tonhaiser so that he escapes this kind of heritage.  

No comments:

Post a Comment