Special Essay by the curator
06 June – 06 Setptember 2022
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Venue / Local
The CERA PROJECT and Art Inception Georgia have developed together the project "Connecting the now" as a way to promote contemporary Georgian Art. This virtual exhibition results from an open call done in 2021 during the Pandemic period, where they have selected four artists: Nino Eliashvili, Mako Lomadze, Lizi Budagashvili and Otia Chagelishvili, which somehow represent a part of the art diversity found in Tbilisi. This project aims to instigate a better understanding of the emerging art landscape in this country – through a series of art exhibitions, talks and educational programmes. Art historians and experts suggest that Georgian contemporary art’s development starts in the 1990s, the time when the Soviet Union collapsed and the country started its development as an independent country. The civil war in the 1990s and the country’s economic and social development challenged visual artists to find their place and tell their stories to local and international audiences. Georgia has strong art schools that create solid bases for artists to start and develop their careers. However, the industry lacks international competencies. The few initiatives addressing the international scene and galleries are still not enough to make real changes visible. In addition, because of the geographical location of the country, the Georgian artists are challenged to reach developed art markets and be shown there. The challenges Georgian artists are facing are also related to having exhibition spaces and presenting their artworks to the broadest audiences. Access to information and the internet increased the accessibility to the international art market. There are Georgian artists participating in art exhibitions in some international art organisations, however, there is still a long way to go. Thirty years have passed since independence and artists are looking for fresh and innovative approaches. The Georgian emerging artists need information and international perspectives, in order to grow and further develop their artistic careers. There is a cultural void when it comes to emerging visual artists presenting their work to international art curators and getting real feedback due to the lack of connections and joint projects.
Glimpse on the Eastern Europe:
Georgian Contemporary Art - The pulse of Democracy
an essay by Nikoloz Nadirashvili
Georgia is on the edge of Europe, at the gate of Asia, and on the crossover of the North and the South Hemispheres. When it comes to Georgian contemporary art, its patterns can be considered as the litmus pointing to current socio-political affairs in the matrix of the country’s dichotomies. Most art historians agree that the legacy of Georgian contemporary art dates back to the 1970s when so-called “non-official apartment exhibitions” were organized by creatives who did something that was not adored by the aesthetic censorship of the Soviet Social Realism (Kipiani, 2019). Consequently, for many years, the doors of official cultural establishments were strictly locked for them. Today, we call these artists “non-conformists”. They usually worked as a collective, and although each had a distinctive style, they all moved with a desire to transcend Soviet conventions and get closer to Western art; moreover, while the Soviet regime had a forgiving attitude towards francophone art and Italian Neo-realism, non-conformist artists from 1970 demonstrated “[…] interest towards German, American and in general, so-called Anglo-Saxon culture and art. This interest meant rebellion of the worldview as the cultures, art and even the languages of strong enemies – Germany and the USA belonged to the prohibited fields” (ibid.). On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and two years after, the Soviet Union, which seemed to have gone on forever, suddenly was no more. The fall of the Union was followed by a series of wars: Russia re-occupied Abkhazia and parts of Samachablo. Additionally, downward turns in the country’s economy made it hard for Georgia to emancipate from Soviet pincers and accomplish the process of self-identification. While looking for the cultural origins (curtailed by the Soviet Empire) large masses of Georgian citizens turned to the Georgian Orthodox Church without realising that it would simply become a substitute for the monopoly of Soviet Atheism (Kekelia, Gavashelishvili, Ladaria, & Sulkhanishvili, 2013) and, again, act as Russia’s soft power. Religiosity became stronger: in the Soviet times those who engaged in religious services were considered outcasts; in post-Soviet times, those who criticise the Church, at times with artistic means, are considered as blasphemers. In the 1990s, the contemporary visual arts world acted as a space for alternative life and many things it produced were the weapons for alternative culture and politics (Japaridze, 2021). At the time, the West became interested in post-Soviet art: buyers came to Georgia and purchased artwork; bilateral international projects were implemented; several socialites started to operate private-owned galleries. These were the years of the first festivals as well. For example, the Avant-Guard Fashion Assembly (AMA) showcased the very first experiments of young Georgian designers who pursued individual liberty in their creations (About, n.d.). Along with AMA’s editions, Georgia paved its way towards the EU by abolishing the death penalty in 1997 and, two years later, by gaining full membership in the Council of Europe. From this period onwards, Georgia has declared itself as a politically European country again. This strive is well expressed by the quote of the late-Prime-Minister Zurab Zhvania in his speech during the EU Parliamentary Assembly in 1999, “I am Georgian, and therefore, I am European”. Not even half a decade later, 2003 saw the Rose Revolution. Georgia became committed to unapologetic institutional reforms. This trend had a multiplier effect on civic initiatives as well, amongst them in the field of culture and festivals such as Appendix, Kolga Tbilisi Photo, Artisterium were held, acting as the platforms for sustainable development of the contemporary visual arts industry. In 2005, Georgia enacted its first national pavilion at the Venice Biennial (Hammock, 2019). However, contemporary art still did not get sufficient legitimization from the Government at that time and no state institution had been authorized to safeguard and promote Georgian contemporary visual arts nationwide. Then, we have Change (Part II), an art piece in video form created by Koka Ramishvili, showing the peaceful transition of political power: the oligarch takes over the country in 2012. Number of artists still oppose the regime and the nationalistic and pseudo-patriotic sentiments which have come with it. In addition to pop-up galleries, their creativity extends to non-traditional exhibition venues such as city streets, brownfields or even, unorthodox churches. In 2014, the Visual Arts, Architecture and Design School (VA[A]DS) was established at the premises of Free University. From that period onwards, the students and alumni of VA[A]DS became an integral part of the Georgian contemporary art scene, further pointing to the weaknesses of the State subsidized Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, which has been accused of being conservative and not in par with international standards. There is still no attempt on behalf of the State to initiate any Contemporary Art Museum projects which would empower the development and publicity of contemporary art on the national level. At the same time, oligarchs, and nouveau riche fund different pseudo-authentic cultural hubs on the main avenue of the capital: Zurab Tsereteli Museum of Modern Art and the Georgian Museum of Fine Arts, by manipulating titles, either harshly disgrace the urban landscape or mislead locals and tourists by fore-fronting pieces that can hardly be labelled as “contemporary”. In challenging times like these, Contemporary Art Archive – Tbilisi (www.archive.propaganda.network), which was established in 2017, provides e-visitors with multimedia content that documents artistic affairs of the last five decades in Georgia. In 2018, along with the existing large-scale and repetitive events, Oxygen started to expose both emerging and established artists, first on an annual basis, rivalling with Russian-backed Tbilisi Art Fair and then, by transforming into a biennial in 2021, hosting the U.S.A. as the Guest of Honour. On the eve of the third decade of this century, queer artists have come together to revive the tradition of manifesto-based artistic collectives – this is how Fungus is born (Shavgulidze, 2021). This collective unites creatives from different disciplines: fashion designers, art historians, performers, visual artists, etc. who aim to oppose patriarchal and chauvinist trends. However, not all artworks are destined to act as weapons for alternative politics: some artists prefer to distance from socio-political issues and there are some trapped (in-)voluntarily by the Russian underlying agenda of demonizing the West on pseudo-left-wing grounds. Finally, along with world-famous Demna Gvasalia, Thea Jorjadze and Andro Wekua, who consciously or unintentionally act as the ambassadors of Georgian culture, there are many other promising talents in Tbilisi and beyond committed to the development of the legacy of global contemporary art. When we speak about whether or not a country is successful in terms of its contemporary visual art scene, it has been integral to understand if artistic utterances disclose the genesis (otherwise there is a factor of levelled collectivism). I believe that what should matter instead, it is the artists’ ability to offer unique and individual worldviews. Alexander Belgarishvili’s installation - Tunic of Mine (2021), Group Boullion’s performance – Religious Aerobics (2010) or Porridge from a Kalashnikov (2015), Solomon Aphroditus’s video art - Martyr (2021), and Tamuna Melikishvili’s controversial Annunciation series (2010 - ) are just a few examples which, on the one hand, shake the local culture, and on the other hand, provide global audiences with unprecedented artistic research subjects and intriguing visual strategies. footnotes:  Main motto of Social Realism: “National in form and socialistic in content”.  Reference to the title of the book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation by Alexei Yurchak (2005)  In 2014, Zurab Tsereteli openly supported Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
Inspired by capturing spiritual states, colours, sexual identities, suppressed emotions and beauty and imagination.
Nino Eliashvili, Leafeaters, (2021), watercolour on paper, 29x42cm. This artwork belongs to the series “Leafeaters” (2021) that focuses on the multiple relationships between humans, nature and silk material. A project that resulted from an art residency she did at the State Silk Museum of Georgia.
Nino Eliashvili, Pose Tiger Kiss (2021), Pose series, watercolour on paper, 25x35cm. Eliashvili is an artist intrigued by the human body and its ability to transform. In this series “Pose”, focuses on the relationship between plants, animal shapes, elements and imaginary details.
Nino Eliashvili (Georgia, b.1989) was born in Tbilisi, Georgia. She has a MA in Fine Arts at the Georgian State Academy (2013). She works mainly with drawing and illustration. Her watercolour projects focus on themes related to femininity, transparency and the forms of the human body. In 2021 she had an exhibition at State Silk Museum and created a special series inspiration from the museum Objects: “Leafeaters”. She also participated in the group show at Vanda Gallery (2015) and “Abstractions” at the Art Gallery (2013) in Tbilisi.
Lizi Budagashvili (Georgia, b. 2000) is a young Georgian artist currently living and studying in the USA. She is a student at Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, FL. She graduated from United World College, Dilijan, Armenia in 2019. Lizi’s creative work addresses solitude, beauty of human nature, aesthetics of emotions and vulnerability, human relationships, love, abstract places, serenity, and dreams. In her artworks human figures are presented in abstract environments and most of the characters look sorrowed. The artist tries to state that there is nothing wrong with being worried, sad, overthinking. Human sadness is a part of thinking. Most of my human figures in Lizi’s art are pictured either alone or in duet. This reflects on artists' belief that humans are all alone at the end of the day, however, as long as humans have themselves, they are not alone.
Nikoloz Nadirashvili is a contemporary art researcher and curator. From 2017 to 2022 he managed Contemporary Art archive – Tbilisi and worked as a Research Projects Manager at Propaganda. Since 2013 he assisted and (co)-curated medium- and large-scale exhibitions, amongst them the shows at the Georgian National Gallery, State Museum of Georgian Literature, etc. He worked as a Projects Manager and later, as a consultant for Oxygen Biennial. Since 2020 Nikoloz co-manages TRANSCENDENTALIA, an art program of the Evangelical-Baptist Church of Georgia. His first academic research – Supra in Contemporary Georgian Visual Arts (2014) concerned creative practices of the XXI century challenging Soviet legacy and the “national” traditions. In 2015 he presented another academic work – Contemporary Visual Arts World in Georgia: the map highlighted the major agents of the sector and revealed blind spots within the system. In 2018 he authored the monograph “Georgian Art History”. The text encompassed an overview of the Georgian visual arts from cave painting to the present. Since 2017 his articles are permanently published via www.at.ge and www.stories.propaganda.network. At present he is committed to the PhD research: Iconology of Sacred: The shifting political value of religious-themed secular art in the late Soviet and post-Soviet realms. His research scope also extends to queer art. In addition to art historical research and curatorial projects, Nikoloz is a culture policy critic. After working at the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Youth of Georgia from 2015 to 2017, he advocates for democratic reforms within the State culture policy in Georgia and since 2019 works as a Local Expert for EU & UNESCO funded project: Designing Creative Cluster Ecosystem in Georgia. He has a six-year experience of giving the lectures to BA and MA students at Shota Rustaveli Theatre and Film State University and at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts in Arts Management and Research. Nikoloz obtained a BBA from the Georgian-American University (GAU) in 2013, a MA in Cotemporary Visual Arts Theory from the Tbilisi State Acadmey of Arts in 2014 and another MA in Arts Policy and Marketing from the University of Groningen in 2015. He is a member of Association Internationale des Critiques d'Art.
Mariam (Mako) Lomadze (Georgia, b.1991) is a contemporary artist based in Georgia. She has a MA in fine arts from Tbilisi State Academy (2017). Her artist practise comes from her subconscious thoughts and the esoteric, inner world and attitude towards the world in general. Mako usually paints nature, mostly tropical, as well as, self-portraits. She describes her art style as “magical realism with elements of pop art.” Her main medium is oil, which calls it “deeper”. Mako Lomadze had three solo exhibitions in Tbilisi. She regularly participates in local and international art projects, art residencies and group shows.
Otia Chagelishvli (Georgia, b.1978) was born in Tbilisi, Georgia. He comes from an artistic family. His father Gogi Chagelishvili is a well-known Georgian artist. Otia's practice focuses on socio-political themes and environment that surrounds him. He is inspired by nature and quite often paints landscapes charged with symbolic meaning. During the worlwide pandemic turned out to be very fruitful for him and during this period he created several artworks which lead him to have two online exhibition shows and two solo shows in Tbilisi.
Art Inception is an art communication platform that connects Georgian artists with modern, tech-savvy audiences locally and globally. Art inception is an online marketplace, a showroom of talented Georgian artists and a platform where art lovers can find and purchase artworks online, without barriers and with a new experience. The motto and main message of the platform is “Art, simply brought to you”. Art Inception encourages artists to create an international career while being in Tbilisi. On the contrary, Art Inception’s art advisers assist art lovers while buying artworks and bringing them into living and working spaces. Art Inception creates value for both - artists and art lovers.