This blog is about the 5 weeks during summer 2009 that we spent in the Caucasus making collaborative work and researching the local arts scene and the residency we attended at Art Villa Garikula in Garikula, Georgia.
Wednesday was our last day in Tbilisi and the last day of the project.
We started by helping Kote with a blog before heading to the Blue Bath – a sulphur oriental bath in the old town for a ‘peeling and massage’ session which was by turns really nice and really painful.
Rested, we took a walk to Karvasla, a venue for this year’s Artisterium and a former caravan inn for the silk road traders turned contemporary art venue which also hosts the Tbilisi History Museum. Karvasla also hosts many other significant contemporary art exhibitions and events. The space is truly amazing and due to undergo a complex refurbishment, think 4mln USD over 2 years, thick glass floors etc. There, we briefly met with Magda Guruli and Iliko Zautashvili in the midst of their preparations for Artisterium.
After a quick stop for our last meal of khinkali we had a quick look round the Arci gallery (Architecture and Development), another important point on a cultural map of Tbilisi, and dropped in on Vakho Bugadze at his studio who showed us some of his recent paintings.
Time was running out but we managed to squeeze in an on-street meeting with art historians Irina and Michiko (Lali’s friends from London) and a catalogue pickup from Nana Kirmelashvili.
Lastly, there was time for a glass of wine on the balcony of Kote’s friend’s flat in Vake where we enjoyed a final look at the city as the sun set.
It was sad to have to leave Georgia and all the people we’d met but no-one else seemed too bothered that we were going: ‘You’ll be back,’ they said…
Monday was time to leave Garikula – after two weeks in total it had started to feel like home but it was time to get back to the city as there were still plenty of artists to see.
We started by meeting Levan ‘Gaga’ Kapanadze and Giorgi Makhniashvili from Maf_media art farm who mostly work with photography and video (sometimes dabbling in VJing). The group has five core members and met on a media fine art course set up by Wato Tsereteli (and is now part of the National Art Academy). Maf are very interested in international projects and exchanges.
Later we went to see Lali, an art critic and active member of Archidrome Contemporary Art Archive, to meet some of the members of Bouillon group. The seven artists from Bouillon undertake site-specific, context-based, conceptual work. Some examples of their projects: making toys out of litter from a disused army supplies factory, training to become professional weight-lifters in a month for this year’s Artisterium (they all failed so the deadline has been postponed for another month) and eating bouillon in a private flat as a performance involving the audience.
On Tuesday we took a trip to Mtskheta, the spiritual centre of Georgia and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We had a look at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and the regional museum. Then we climbed the hill (in a taxi) to look round Jvari monastery.
Lastly we met with Levan Maisuradze, an actor from the Margot Karabelova theatre group, who told us about the performing arts scene in Tbilisi, some of his projects and generally what it’s like for emerging artists in the city.
Yesterday was St Mary’s day, which is a significant holiday in Georgia. The Art Villa Garikula founder Karaman, Gogi Okropiridze (a Georgian artist based in Vienna) and ourselves headed out to Rkoni which is about 20km from Garikula but the drive took about an hour as was all dirt track roads. We then spent another hour changing a punctured tyre.
Hundreds of people arrived, literally by the truckload, from all over the region to celebrate Mariamoba (Day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary) and there was much feasting, drinking, dancing, singing and sacrificing of lambs and chickens – all supposedly a pre-Christian ritual. The main celebrations used to happen near the 7th century Rkoni monastery and a medieval settlement on the top of the hill but apparently it was forbidden by the church. The celebrations now spread across the beautiful Tedzami gorge on the banks of the Tedza river connected by a 12th century The Queen Tamar stone bridge.
As foreign guests we were stopped and invited to join many of the supras. In fact, at one point one party was hijacked and we were taken off to another party across the river. As usual it was impossible to be anything other than completely astonished at the level of hospitality and friendliness to complete strangers and to accept the food and the toasts.
Just before dusk we drove a different way home – a proper cross-country trip which involved crossing the river in a car about 10 times and speculations about the amount of petrol left… All that to see a rock hewn castle inbuilt on a top of a mountain and some caves that were used by hermits.
More celebrations followed once we were at home.
After some fun days in Ratcha, it was time to get back to Garikula to have more fun making work. Our first idea was to make a collaborative video and as we wanted to make something which is connected to the place we were in and the local people so we decided to record stories told to us by locals as a starting point. We were interested in how the local oral history would shape our experience and inform further ideas for the video.
We managed to find an interpreter: a law student Irina who also helped us with finding people interested in taking part (mostly retired teachers in their 80s) and later with translating the interviews for subtitles. The stories were mostly from the last 150 years, though we also heard some legends dating back to the 17th century.
Then all we had to do was find some things to film so we could illustrate and reinterpret the stories through our experience. And what could be better than a bout of Georgian wrestling? Yesterday saw a late night event pitting wrestlers from Akhalkalaki against those from nearby Akhaltsikhe (yes, there’s a village close-by to right Akhalkalaki with the same name as the town close to the wrong Akhalkalaki…see post #10) which gave us some great shots. The prize in the competition was a sheep and all competitors shared it and drinks afterwards. As the only foreign guests, we were presented with leftover trophes – locally made clay pots.
Meanwhile, Alicja was inspired by the large gardens at Art Villa Garikula, the abundance of fruit everywhere we went in Georgia and the country’s recent history to make an installation ‘The Best Things Happen Just Before the Fall’. It took 2 days, 550 metres of fishing line and over 150 pears to complete.
Ratcha is a remote region of Northern Georgia, situated between Svanetia and South Ossetia.
It takes about 6 hours from Tbilisi to get there on a marshrutka filled with people, watermelons, bathroom tiles, a 21″ television and other goods impossible to buy up in the mountains.
Our final destination is the village of Chkvishi where the Arteli Ratcha residency is situated. The village is spread out on a hill overlooking the valley, a truly stunning location. It’s quite big and though most villagers have emigrated to cities, it comes alive in the summer when children and grandchildren are up for a holiday. In the winter the village is cut off by snow.
Arteli Ratcha foundation has held workshops and events there with Georgian and international contemporary artists since 2005. The main aim of the foundation is to bring cultural life to the Ratcha region where it is otherwise limited, educate young people about contemporary art and engage with local audiences.
Kote Jincharadze’s house, where Arteli Ratcha is based, built by his great grandfather at the end of the 19th century, hasn’t changed much for the last 100 years except for the addition of running water and a modern bathroom.
We spent the two days walking around the village, getting invited to supras and sampling local wine, collecting blackberries and thinking about ideas for future projects in Ratcha. Our idea was a village design festival (inspired by the culture of re-using and recycling everpresent in the village), Kote suggested a scarecrow competition and exhibition. We also helped to start off Kote’s new public art project in the village (he has already done a mural by a public table where he painted what the villagers asked him to) – paiting a wall of stones in different colours. The project will be continued by all the artists who visit Ratcha in the next few months.
In the evenings we watched films by Mikheil Kobakhidze, Kartlos Khotivari as well as Repentance by Tengiz Abuladze about persecution of artists in the Stalinist period.