location georgien
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“Location: Georgia”: German Photographers’ Works on Georgia Presented in Berlin
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© Timo Vogt

“Times change, people remain the same,” commented film critic and journalist Lasha Bakradze on the persistent status quo in Georgia. There is a growing tendency among contemporary Georgian artists to escape this time trap by playing against time and stepping into the world of the surreal.
“Times change, people remain the same.” Back in 1996 filmmaker Otar Iosseliani said following about his film “Brigands”: “The leading power structures have not changed at all: the same persons keep coming back in a different guise. So I had the idea of making a comedy about the same persons emerging in different epochs and playing the same roles in society. I wanted to show that all that we experience today is the replica of what has been going on for centuries.” The film “Brigands” was released shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The film was later awarded a Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.
Otar Iosseliani is deservedly acknowledged as a classic Georgian filmmaker. He belongs to the older generation of artists who have known the struggle against Communist art guidelines. The timing of the film “Brigands” was not random. At the time of its release in the 90s it focused on the events in Georgia after the fall of the Communist totalitarianism – the time of violence and unrest. Yet it showed the country’s latest events in the overall historical perspective without the accompanying naive euphoria. From 1996 on, in spite of the expectations of all-round prosperity the country was faced with severe setbacks. What came instead of the positive transformation was severe stagnation in all spheres including art.
Iosseliani still remains one of the leading figures in Georgian filmmaking. Epochs changed but the main actors on the artistic scene remain the same. All the more so that Iosseliani’s film “Brigands” was chosen as the opening work of the art initiative “Location Georgia” earlier this year in the Ludwig Museum, in Cologne. The event consists of a photo exhibition and a set of films portraying the various topographies of Georgia in the light of its latest artistic crises and perspectives. It is curated by the independent artist Irina Kurtishvili. The photo exhibition and the films have been successfully shown in Cologne, are currently on in Willy-Brandt House, Berlin and will finally travel, Tbilisi.
Through a variety of media the organizers painstakingly try to “locate Georgia” within the contemporary artistic terrain. The country is mainly represented through the camera eye of foreign photographers: Harun Farocki, Nickolaus von Twickel, Andreas Dresen, Thomas Riedelsheimer and others as well as through older films by Georgian directors. The photos capture fragments of reality as opposed to the irrationality of the myth. The images of the deserted land, architectural outlines of communist design gems, black and white portraits make up a scattered image of a periphery, lost in color, frozen in silhouettes. The displayed photos are fragments of the imaginary horizons of a land “on the border of times” as filmmaker Stefan Tolz put it. Considered the country of myths and centuries’ old culture, Georgia is currently resisting the onslaught of globalization. Its urban and rural landscapes emerge in the exhibited works more like battlegrounds of epochs and regimes, a splintered state of mind undergoing the intermediary process. The photographers tried to explore the topographies of a relatively unknown culture, which has always been a periphery within the bigger periphery of the Soviet empire. These works might seem superficial due to a lack of background information but nevertheless sincere and visually expressive. Quoting German artist Benedict Neuenfels, an artist in Georgia is permanently dealing with “a point of interception between autonomy, Americanization and Putin hatred.”
In the recent years the various cultural locations and artistic venues in Georgia can be characterized as cities on the move. The Caucasus Art Forum and the Caucasus International Art Fair supported by the Netherlands-based Stitching Caucasus Foundation were both held in October 2007 in Tbilisi and attracted participants from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and a number of other post communist states. These events aim to redefine the status of the country as a cultural periphery and identify its artistic topographies.

Lily Khositashvili

“Location: Georgien”: International Photo Exhibition in Karvasla. Presented in Tblissi
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© Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

The 8th international annual film festival “Prometheus” opened with a photo exhibition called “location: Georgien”. The material for the exhibition represents works which were done by German film directors, journalists and photographers over the last 12 years, when they have been visiting Georgia for artistic or private purposes. Small parts of this collection have been published in architectural and film journals, but never before has it been shown to the public in its entirety. Karvasla Gallery presents an exposition 150 interesting pictures of different German artists.
“What is Georgia and Caucasus for the European perception? What does the western civilization mean for Georgia today? Do Georgians admit and regret their mistakes or still blame someone else for everything? These are some of the questions that the authors of the works represented at the exhibition try to answer,” says Irina Kurtishvili, the main organizer of the project.
The idea of the exhibition is completely expressed in its title “location: Georgien”: it is about one place in the world – Georgia, in the cinematographic sense. Different visions of German artists describe specific sides of the country from specific angles. As the project organizer says, “The exhibition it is an unpretentious attempt to comment on an affluent Georgian cultural phenomenon.”
“My pictures talk about mysterious country,” comments Christa Frieda Vogel. Her two years regular work is named “Caucasus”, where the artist trustfully shows the Caucasian images to express her point of view and attitude. And they really are expressive.
Harun Farocki, who is considered to be the “father” of German experimental film, chose quite a touristy place as a stage: Stalin’s museum in Gori, but actually, this place was a direct objective of the artist, as he considers symbols of Stalin’s period interesting research material for Georgians.
Thomas Riedelsheimer, born in 1963 in Munich, is a film director and operator who represented the highest inhabited place in the Europe: Ushguli. He definitely is neither the first and nor the last artist who was impressed with Ushguli, but the feeling of ambivalence this place gave him is articulated very beautifully: “I have never experienced such infinity and freedom and simultaneously I have never had such a strange feeling of being constricted and locked.”
To keep on about emotional attitudes, we should mention Stefan Tolz, who after his works in Georgia remembers the astonishing warmth of Georgian people. His collection includes bright pictures of Tsikhisdziri. The set was done in 2001.
Nikolaus Von Twickel made a nice photographic investigation of cemeteries, after which he correctly notices, that a Georgian cemetery doesn’t look like typical European, as here people eat, drink and spend a lot of time with people who passed away, as if they are not dead. “Here death is more beautiful than in Germany,” concludes Mr. Twickel.
Some other artists try to discover Georgian reality in the city. Erik-Ian Ouwerkerk focused on the hotel Iveria, symbolic architectural image of Georgia’s near past. Generally in his works about Tbilisi, the artist looks quite fascinated with its architecture, which, as he says, “represents a synchrony of Jurgendstill and postmodern, mixed with traditional architecture.”
Konstantin Faigle and Timo Vogt raise tricky issues. Timo Vogt expresses the well known problem of Abkhazia in his art, but Mr. Faigle chooses to represent a general condition of the country by using the motive of a tunnel, where the light on the one side of it reflects the bright past of Georgia and the end of the tunnel symbolizes the possibility of having a bright future. For the artist, Georgia is in the middle of the tunnel. The idea of the tunnel itself is simple, but loaded with meaning.
Much more interesting patterns can be found on this exhibition: if you are intrigued, stop by and take a look yourself!

Ana Tsimintia