Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PHOTOESSAY: A Dip Into the Black Sea. Photos by Petrut Calinescu & Text by by Kerri MacDonald (lens.blogs.nytimes.com)

Nina and her daughter (background) fish from a jetty for Frog fish. The catch suppliments their meagre diet which is limited by her monthly pension of about 50 Euros. Ochamcira, Abkhazia; Copyright by Petrut Calinescu

Slideshow & Full Text: lens.blogs.nytimes.com
Kerri MacDonald www.kerrimacdonaldonline.com
Petrut Calinescu www.petrut-calinescu.com

(lens.blogs.nytimes.com) As a boy growing up in Constanta, a Romanian city on the western coast of the Black Sea, Petrut Calinescu made the seaside his playground. He spent his afternoons with friends, searching for German bunkers and plotting adventures. He recalls being drawn to the mystique of the open water.

“Once you look at the sea, you always want to know what is across the sea,” Mr. Calinescu said recently from his home in Bucharest, a few hours by car from Constanta.

But for most of his 36 years, he never made it to the other side. SoThe Black Sea,” a project he pursued jointly with the writers Stefan Candea and Ioana Hodoiu, was born out of nostalgia for an unknown place.

Except Mr. Calinescu had never traveled there before. He didn’t think it was exotic enough. Romanians have typically been more interested in traveling to European cities, he said. He had always assumed that the Black Sea had nothing to offer — that nothing there has changed, or will change.

But with a grant from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Mr. Calinescu and his colleagues began to explore what he calls “a black hole” in the Romanian mind-set. They traveled more than 9,000 miles in 80 days, documenting their journey on a blog. Some of his most surprising pictures were taken underwater near a seaside resort using a blog-friendly digital camera (Slide 6). “It was a funny lottery,” he said. “I was doing pictures, but never knew what was going to be recorded.”

They started in Romania and from there went to Bulgaria and Turkey, to Armenia and Azerbaijan (neither of which borders the Black Sea, though both are included in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation). They visited Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, and traveled to separatist republics: Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria and Abkhazia.

Overwhelmingly, the region’s “Communist” aesthetic felt familiar. But Mr. Calinescu was struck by the beauty — and the peculiarities — of Abkhazia, a breakaway region in the former Soviet republic of Georgia that was, at one time, a hub for tourism.

“It was the dream of every Soviet citizen to have one time in his life a holiday there,” he said.

Today, postcards for Abkhazia could feature scenes reminiscent of the cold war era, and buildings speckled with bullet holes. Yet Mr. Calinescu’s pictures capture something rather jubilant, like a pair of Russian women dancing a samba in the early evening light (Slide 16).

Mr. Calinescu, who is represented by Panos Pictures, went to school for journalism, studying to be a writer. He started taking photographs, mostly for fun, in high school. Now, he concentrates on projects, including one that explores the effects of labor migration on traditional populations in Romania.

But he isn’t finished with the Black Sea. He sees it as a metaphor for life in the region. Some spend much of their lives dreaming of the beach, he said, and working to make it there. But, “once they get to the seaside, they see that it’s very expensive, crowded and ugly.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Calinescu and Mr. Candea are applying for grants to continue their travels. In July, they received a second grant from the German Marshall Fund, which will allow them to return to their Black Sea travels beginning this fall to publish in-depth reports online.

“It was like a dip into the sea on an August day,” Mr. Calinescu wrote on their blog, using another Black Sea metaphor.

“After five minutes out of the water, you want to go back in.”

Follow @kerrimac and @nytimesphoto on Twitter. Lens is also on Facebook

Sunday, July 29, 2012

SOUND: Live@Twilight #4. By Tusia Beridze (TBA) & Nika Machaidze (Nikakoi) - (youtube.com)

Published on 28.07.2012 von Artareatv

with TBA, and Max Machaidze

Saturday, July 28, 2012

VIDEO: Terra X - 45 - Gletschergold - Die Schatzkammer im Kaukasus (youtube.com)

Im Westen des Kaukasus lebt seit Jahrtausenden völlig isoliert ein kleines Bergvolk: die Swanen. Europa erfährt erstmals um 1900 durch den deutschen Alpinisten Gottfried von ihrer Heimat Swanetien. Auf den Spuren des Bergsteigers gewährt der Film Einblick in uralte sakrale Schatzkammern und die Traditionen der Swanen.

Friday, July 27, 2012

ARCHITEKTUR: Flüssigkeit, die brennt, Hadids Kulturzentrum in Baku in Flammen (baunetz.de)

Hadids Kulturzentrum in Baku in Flammen
Bildergalerie ansehen: 7 Bilder

Zum Thema: Download der BAUNETZWOCHE#262 – Baku – Vom Winde durchweht 

(baunetz.de) Kaum eingeweiht, schon abgebrannt: Das Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku ist das – nach eigenen Angaben – „flüssigste Gebäude“, was Zaha Hadid Architects je entworfen haben. Allein die flüssige Form reichte jedoch nicht, um den Kulturkomplex vor dem Feuer zu schützen. Am vergangen Freitag stand die neue Landmarke der aserbaidschanischen Hauptstadt für mehrer Stunden in Flammen. Etwa 1.000 Quadratmeter Dachfläche sind bei dem Feuer beschädigt worden. Das Innere des 52.000 Quadratmeter großen Kulturzentrum sei Medienberichten zufolge nicht in Mitleidenschaft gezogen worden. In Folge des Brandes inhaftierte die Polizei drei verdächtige Männer.

Im Mai erst war das kontroverse Bauprojekt Hadids anlässlich des 89. Geburtstags seines Namensgebers eröffnet worden: Der 2003 verstorbenen Heydar Aliyev war mehr als 20 Jahre Chef des KGB und späterer Präsident Aserbaidschans.

Es ist bereits das Zweite Mal, dass ein Hadid-Bau in Flammen steht: Auch die von der Architektin gebaute Oper in China war 2009 in Brand geraten.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

EXHIBITION. Lulu Dadiani in the TBC Gallery (youtube.com)

Personal Exhibition of Lulu Dadiani was opened in TBC Gallery. More than 30 paintings were exhibited which were painted by Lulu Dadiani from 1990.

Lulu Dadiani is a famous Georgian painter. She is the author of many personal exhibitions in Georgia as well as in Europe. She is also a book illustrator. The books illustrated by Lulu Dadiani are as follows: Prose collections by Rainer Maria Rilke (V books), Henry Von Ofterdingen by Novalis, etc.


more from TBC Bank

It has been already four year that the building of TBC Bank in addition to being a head office of the bank, successfully holds the function of one of the cultural centres of Georgia.  In TBC Gallery located in the building of the TBC Bank head office various cultural events are held. Among those events are presentations of new books, movies, audio discs, exhibitions of paintings and photos, and various performances. Tens of thousands of people come to visit the events held in TBC Galleries and this significantly contributes to the popularization of Georgian art.

Currently “TBC Gallery” is also open in two other cities of Georgia Batumi and Signagi and is expanded annually. This way we try to help artists from regions and give them an opportunity to expose their works to public. 

Link: tbcbank.ge/tbc_gallery

PHOTOESSAY: Legends of Khevsureti. By Archil Kikodze (cenn.org)

(cenn.org) Iakhsar (1) rushed into Lake Abudelauri after the devi (2) and killed him there with a whip. The devi shed so much blood that Iakhsar was trapped in the water for three years. The Khevsuretians became sad. They could not help their deity who had saved them. Finally, after three years, a sorcerer advised them to sacrifice a ram from the village of Blo, which had four ears and four horns. The devi's blood subsided, and Iakhsar could get out of the lake.

I tell Eleanor this old legend while we are sitting on the shore of the lake. Lake Abudelauri is too small to be the arena for a fight of two supernatural beings - one kind, one malicious - but the silence around us, the rocky peaks of Chaukhi (3) behind us, and a small lake at the edge of glacial moraines lost in green really create a mystical effect ...

We are in Khevsureti, a region of Georgia where myths are mixed with reality and concrete geography. A young hunter was lost on one of the peaks of Chaukhi - Sindaura when hunting for Caucasian goats. His death gave rise to many folk verses and poems. Mindia,(4) who drank snake's blood when he was in the captivity of enemies, understood the language of plants and animals and became an invincible hero and protector of the Khevsuretians, lived in the village of Amga, in the Arkhoti community, which is at a distance of one days journey from here. The legend about Mindia is one of the most popular legends in Georgia. Many famous writers in different times tried to develop this theme ...

But we do not have far to go to meet a legend. It is near, several meters from us. A high rock rises from the middle of the lake. It is cleft in two - the work of Iakhsar, rescuing the people from the devi. The first stroke of his whip missed the devi and broke the rock ...

The etymology of the word "Khevsureti" belongs to the late middle ages. Formerly, Khevsureti, together with the neighboring region Pshavi, was called Pkhovi. This ancient name is retained in the language of Chechens, neighbors of Khevsuretians, who call then "Pkhie" even now.

Today the proximity of the northern borders is felt as never before. My guest and I felt it in the first village we came to in Khevsureti and at the regional centre of Barisakho. There are a lot of people in military uniform (Khevsuretians, like other mountaineers of Georgia, undergo military training on their native land). The road going to Chechnya is controlled. A military unit is now based in Arkhoti too, where the border three years ago was protected only by several locals. We met the military helicopter several times on the road from Roshka to the lake Abudelauri. The situation is rather depressing for the average tourist, but Eleanor is not an average tourist. She is a writer and adventurer, an experienced naturalist and former member of the Greenpeace. Moreover, she comes from Ireland; therefore the only problem for her is a delicacy of the people of Pshavi - a nutritious but very greasy cottage cheese (we spent some days in Pshavi before coming to Khevsureti). Eleanor hunted for seals and whales and ate uncooked meat together with the Eskimos so as not to offend her hosts. But the cottage cheese did its work, and now she eats only potatoes in Roshka.

At the end of our path we could now see Roshka, where about twenty families sharing one surname - Tsiklauri - live. It is a very large village for Khevsureti and has a great deal of pastures and meadows. The Khevsuretians are very good mowers. They mow on very steep slopes and often have to use climbing equipment. In this regard the denizens of Roshka have easier conditions - their meadows are not so steep. They gather a good harvest of potato, a main crop of our mountains, which Eleanor knows better than I do now.

We reach Roshka in the evening, when the cattle come back from pastures. The villagers, like other Khevsuretians, breed cattle. They used to breed sheep as well, but unlike their neighbors, (the people of Pshavi, Gudamakari and especially Tusheti), they had never engaged in nomadic sheep breeding. Khevsuretians consider pigs to be foul animals, and even now refrain from breeding them. This is probably the influence of their Muslim neighbors. One old villager complained that his son, who lives on the plain, brought him pigs for rearing and offended and dishonored the old man ...

The migration of the people of Khevsureti to the plain started in the nineteenth century, but in the 1950s this voluntary migration became obligatory. At the direction of the government of that time, many high-mountainous villages were deserted. The people from these places settled for the most part in the southeast of Georgia. The majority of their descendants live there even now. As a rule, at least once a year these people visit the mountains to attend the summer pagan holidays or just to see the homeland ...

If you have an occasion to travel with a Khevsuretian going to his native land, it is an unforgettable show. As the road goes up to the mountains and his native land gets closer, the Khevsuretian becomes brighter and more cheerful. The way back to the plain is the opposite. The man who used to laugh and sing a few hours ago now becomes taciturn and sits silent in the car near you. Khevsuretians especially avoid the large capital. If they have a business there, they try to arrange everything very quickly and immediately come back without even visiting their close friends, if such live in the town.

Yesterday Eleanor and I met four Khevsuretians living in Kakheti5 on their way to Arkhoti. They rushed into the village by a car that had broken down several times during their trip, brought out drinks, and the sounds of their feast were heard all night long from the house where they stayed. Everybody knew about the presence of drunken Khevsuretians in the village. But early in the morning, they saddled their horses and headed to their villages by the road through the pass, occasionally shooting from their guns...

We are at home already. Our host Shota came back very tired: all day long he had been dragging hay with the bulls. Shota and his wife Tina have got three daughters and a three year old son Uturga who is supposed to continue the family name. The girls help their mother cook dinner. Tired Eleanor leaves to have a rest, Shota finishes his work in the courtyard. I look at the village from the balcony. I see the cattle coming back from pastures like a live current. Farther on I can see the road going to Northern Khevsureti and the mountain pass, Bears Cross. That part of Khevsureti is still illuminated by the sun, but in Roshka it is evening. An old woman comes out the verandah of the next house and looks over the village with binoculars. Perhaps her cow has not come yet. I go into the house for my camera, but the woman notices me, hides the binoculars, and enters the house grumbling ...

I am thinking about tomorrow and my way back to the large city without pleasure. It is October now and probably I will not be able to come here until next year. Most likely I will be silent and thoughtful on my way back like a real Khevsuretian ...


1 A pagan deity of the people living in the mountainous region of Georgia - Tusheti, Pshavi, and Khevsureti.
2 A fabulous monster; a huge, ugly and evil creature having immense strength.
3 The mountains in the Central Caucasus.
4 A hero of Georgian legends.
5 Region in the Southeast part georgia.

Full Photoessay >>>

Archil Kikodze

He is a professional photographer, famous Georgian writer, ethnographer and finally wildlife tracking guide. He has traveled widely in Caucasus and knows every corner of Georgia well with its people’s traditions and culture, that’s why his interesting stories make every trip unforgettable. His photographs have won many awards and have participated in various national and international photo exhibitions. Furthermore Archil has published various articles on environmental, ethnographic and social themes in magazines: “Surviving Together”, “Caucasus Environment”, Horizonti, “Mshvenieri Sakartvelo”, “Tskheli Shokoladi” Author of three guidebooks for developing science tourism in Georgia (Khevi, Svaneti, Bakuriani), Switzerland. At the request of Ministry of Environment of Georgia wrote books on Kolkheti, Tusheti and Vashlovani National Parks and Lagodekhi Reserve.


REVIEW: Fariba Zarinebaf on Ali and Nino: A Love Story (lareviewofbooks.org)

A Tale of Love and Nostalgia across Religious Divides in the Caucasus

July 17th, 2012

(lareviewofbooks.org) "We were a very mixed lot, we forty schoolboys who were having a geography lesson one hot afternoon in the Imperial Russian Humanistic High School of Baku, Transcaucasia: thirty Mohammedans, four Armenians, two Poles, three Sectarians, and one Russian."

The opening lines of Ali and Nino takes us back to a classroom in Russian-controlled northern Azerbaijan at the wake of World War I, to Baku, an oil-boom port city on the Caspian Sea. The ethnic mosaic of Muslim Azeris (mostly Shi’i), Armenians, Jews, and Russians, the continued Russian colonial rule that dated back to early 19th century, the oil boom, and various imperial rivalries all gave rise to social, religious, and ethnic tensions that characterized not only life in Baku but in other cities across the Caucasus and the Balkans. The novel may be described as a Caucasian version of Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric, or of Romeo and Juliet: it tells the tale of two young lovers, an Azeri Muslim boy and a Georgian girl who try to overcome religious divides and rising ethnic tensions to preserve their love, against the odds.

The story is told from the point of view of Ali Shirvanshir, a young man who, despite his love for the Georgian Nino, closely identifies with his Muslim heritage and the Shirvanshahs, his aristocratic ancestors who once ruled the region. Romance between a Muslim and Christian is forbidden by both religions, and the two lovers face a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly polarized. The Old Town is where Ali lives, and it is a different world than that of the Outer Town, where Russian culture and control dominate. In the Outer Town:

"There were theatres, schools, hospitals, libraries, policemen and beautiful women with naked shoulders. If there was shooting in the Outer Town, it was always about money. Europe’s geographical border began in the Outer Town, and that is where Nino lived."

After two major wars against Persia in the early 19th century, Russia established its rule over the Caucasus as a whole, occupying northern Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. A massive migration of Muslim Turks to the Ottoman Empire and Iran took place in the course of the 19th century as greater Azerbaijan was divided between Iran, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. Modern national borders were absent, and people moved between these empires frequently. In the novel, for instance, Ali’s uncle from Persia visits Baku for medical reasons, and Ali vacations at his uncle’s house in Tehran.

"Much blood has flowed through the centuries in the alleys of our town. And this blood makes us strong and brave. Zizianashvili’s Gate rises up opposite our house, and here too noble human blood has been shed, becoming part of my family’s history. That was many years ago, when our country Azerbaijan still belonged to Persia, and Hasan Kuli Khan ruled over Baku, its capital."

We were a very mixed lot, we forty schoolboys who were having a geography lesson one hot afternoon in the Imperial Russian Humanistic High School of Baku, Transcaucasia: thirty Mohammedans, four Armenians, two Poles, three Sectarians, and one Russian.

The opening lines of Ali and Nino takes us back to a classroom in Russian-controlled northern Azerbaijan at the wake of World War I, to Baku, an oil-boom port city on the Caspian Sea. The ethnic mosaic of Muslim Azeris (mostly Shi’i), Armenians, Jews, and Russians, the continued Russian colonial rule that dated back to early 19th century, the oil boom, and various imperial rivalries all gave rise to social, religious, and ethnic tensions that characterized not only life in Baku but in other cities across the Caucasus and the Balkans. The novel may be described as a Caucasian version of Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric, or of Romeo and Juliet: it tells the tale of two young lovers, an Azeri Muslim boy and a Georgian girl who try to overcome religious divides and rising ethnic tensions to preserve their love, against the odds.

The story is told from the point of view of Ali Shirvanshir, a young man who, despite his love for the Georgian Nino, closely identifies with his Muslim heritage and the Shirvanshahs, his aristocratic ancestors who once ruled the region. Romance between a Muslim and Christian is forbidden by both religions, and the two lovers face a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly polarized. The Old Town is where Ali lives, and it is a different world than that of the Outer Town, where Russian culture and control dominate. In the Outer Town:

There were theatres, schools, hospitals, libraries, policemen and beautiful women with naked shoulders. If there was shooting in the Outer Town, it was always about money. Europe’s geographical border began in the Outer Town, and that is where Nino lived.

After two major wars against Persia in the early 19th century, Russia established its rule over the Caucasus as a whole, occupying northern Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. A massive migration of Muslim Turks to the Ottoman Empire and Iran took place in the course of the 19th century as greater Azerbaijan was divided between Iran, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. Modern national borders were absent, and people moved between these empires frequently. In the novel, for instance, Ali’s uncle from Persia visits Baku for medical reasons, and Ali vacations at his uncle’s house in Tehran.

Much blood has flowed through the centuries in the alleys of our town. And this blood makes us strong and brave. Zizianashvili’s Gate rises up opposite our house, and here too noble human blood has been shed, becoming part of my family’s history. That was many years ago, when our country Azerbaijan still belonged to Persia, and Hasan Kuli Khan ruled over Baku, its capital.

Old Baku is described as the beautiful maiden (Maiden’s Tower) over whom many heroic and proud men have fought for centuries against the Russians, sacrificing their flesh and shedding their blood in order to save her, to save their city and culture. But Nino, as a Christian woman, represents Europe, alien and intrusive. Nino sees Muslim culture through a Russian, western lens, with which she views the world she describes as ‘barbarian,’ though she is also deeply attracted to it and to Ali. More than anything else, she and her family are concerned about the way Muslim culture treats women. Therefore, the question of marriage to a Muslim boy raises deep-seated anxieties on both sides. The novel is punctuated by passages that place Ali and Nino worlds apart, in the Old Town of Baku and the Outer Town that represent the Muslim and Christian cultures with their ever-growing tensions and tractions.

"Our old town is full of secrets and mysteries, hidden nooks and little valleys. I love these soft night murmurs, the moon over the flat roofs, and hot quiet afternoons in the mosque’s courtyard with its atmosphere of silent meditation. God let me be born here, as a Muslim of the Shi’ite faith, in the religion of Imam Ja’far. May he be merciful and let me die here, in the same street, in the same house where I was born. Me and Nino, a Christian, who eats with knife and fork, has laughing eyes and wears filmy silk stockings."

These tensions, which are mostly hidden below the surface, emerge during World War I, when the local population is ordered to sign up and volunteer for the war on behalf of Russia. But most Muslim Azeris, like Ali, support the Ottoman Empire and are awaiting the arrival of Turkish soldiers to settle old feuds. In addition, ethnic tensions between Muslim Turks and Armenians engulf Baku and the Caucasus and threaten to pull apart the pluralist society of Baku as was the case in many Balkan and Anatolian towns. Ali is torn between his love and loyalty to Nino and his political sentiments. When an Armenian kidnaps Nino, Ali is enraged, determined to take revenge to defend his honor. He captures and marries his sweetheart. Ali and his family have strong ties to Persia, and flee there during the war. Ali and Nino end up in the Shah’s Harem on soft pillows and silk blankets, after a long journey. Ali starts writing his memoir in Persia, having a sense of the looming future in his hometown. But Nino is unhappy and forces Ali to leave the “Asiatic country,” where women are only objects of desire, to return to Baku. When the British take over Baku from Turkish forces, Azerbaijan gains a short-lived autonomy and Ali becomes the minister of foreign affairs for a brief period. The Bolshevik revolution and the ensuing civil war divide Azerbaijan once more between the Christian forces led by Russia and the weak local forces. Ali falls in a bloody battle against the Russians on a bridge dividing Ganja. Thus ends the transitory autonomy of Azerbaijan Republic.

The authorship of Ali and Nino remains a mystery despite recent debates and disputes about the real identity of Kurban Said, a pseudonym used by the author. For a long time, he was thought to be the local Azerbaijan Muslim author and diplomat, Yusuf Vazir Chamanzaminli (1887-1942), who perished in Stalin’s Gulag. But an American author by the name of Tom Reiss has argued in his book The Orientalist that the author was Essad Bey or Levi Nusinbaum (1905-1942) who converted to Islam and fled the Bolsheviks in 1920 and published the novel in Germany in 1937. Betty Blair, the editor of Azerbijan International, has recently argued that the real author was Chamanzaminli and that Essad Bey in fact revised the story and published it under his name.

Regardless of who the real author of Ali and Nino may be, it is clear that the historical and political backdrop to the novel shares several historically and politically significant features with similar novels written in the Balkans after World War I. Ali and Nino is a novel about love, nostalgia, Muslim-Christian encounters, ethnic tensions at the dawn of imperial rivalries, the rise of nationalisms that tore apart communities of faith and pluralist societies like Baku in the Caucasus and Bosnia in the Balkans, and a world and lifestyle that was once the norm but is no longer even an ideal.

Recommended Reads:
* "Lighting Darkened Corners": N.S. Morris on Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East
* "Libya, 1931": Ibrahim N. Abusharif on Desert Encounter by Knud Holmboe

STORY: Superlatives Visiting Dignitaries by Timothy Farrington (newyorker.com)

(newyorker.com) The other day, the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, came to town to see an old friend: Donald Trump. In the atrium of Trump Tower, beneath a banner reading “TRUMP INVESTS IN GEORGIA,” the two men announced a plan in which Trump will lend his name and expertise in superlatives to two new buildings—one in Tbilisi, the capital, and another in Batumi, a resort on the Black Sea—that will be the tallest in the country.

That evening, the Georgian delegation, a group of young people who looked as if they had just come from an open call at a modelling agency, joined a dozen Trump employees and friends at the Four Seasons to celebrate. Trump himself was a late scratch (family emergency), but the afterglow of mutual regard from the press conference (“one of the greatest personalities in the world”; “one of the great leaders of the world”) barely wavered. During the cocktail hour, in the Grill Room, Saakashvili, who is six feet three, with close-set eyes and floppy black hair, explained that he had been a Trump fan since the mid-nineties. After getting a master’s in law from Columbia, he worked at a New York firm that was a Trump tenant. “I met him in an elevator,” the President recalled. “He asked me whether we liked the building. I said to him, ‘You better fix the showers on our floor,’ and it was done within, like, twelve hours.”
The Trump touch left an impression. “I always stay in New York in Trump hotels,” Saakashvili said; this time it was the International Hotel and Tower, at Columbus Circle. Georgia, too, is known for hospitality. When asked about arranging a chat with Saakashvili, Raphaël Glucksmann, a thirty-one-year-old aide, had been obliging: “We’ll kidnap you! It’s an old Caucasian tradition.” How he would know about the region’s customs wasn’t fully clear; he is French, born far from the Caucasus, and has lived in Georgia only since 2008. (Saakashvili is evidently more forgiving of where politicians were born than Trump, who has taken up the birther cause as part of his threatened run for President.)

Glucksmann turned to Vera Kobalia, the twenty-nine-year-old Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development (portfolio: “everything growing and green”). Grinning, he asked her, “Can you say something nice about our culture?”

“I lived in Canada for fifteen years. I was happy, but I still moved back to Georgia,” she said. She was appointed last July, seven months after returning from Vancouver. Saakashvili’s tenure—he took office in 2004, after leading the Rose Revolution the year before—has been a sort of “olly olly oxen free” for bright members of the diaspora. Some have more enthusiasm than experience; Kobalia notes in her official bio that she graduated from high school (King George’s, ’99) and that from 2004 to 2006 she worked as a producer for “Destination Funny Entertainment.”

At dinner, in the Pool Room, Glucksmann sat next to Camilla Olsson, a Swedish fashion marketer. “I introduced the fabulous Trumps to the Georgians,” she said. Standing in for his dad was Donald Trump, Jr., just off a plane from Scotland, where he had checked on a Trump golf course. Donald, Jr., who was wearing a white shirt with red stripes and a red-and-white tie, explained that he and his family would make sure that the Georgian projects were up to “Trump standards.”

To Olsson’s right, Temuri Yakobashvili, the brand-new, forty-three-year-old Georgian Ambassador to the U.S., listened as Carol Alt, the eighties supermodel, touted her raw-food diet, leaving the grilled Dover sole in front of her untouched. Like Trump, Alt was eager to ease the pangs of a country starved for luxury. She mentioned that she was about to begin Georgian distribution of her natural skin-care line, Raw Essentials.

“You guys can buy it in Duane Reade, but it’ll be very exclusive in Georgia,” she said. There seems to be a market: earlier in the week, a member of a Georgian delegation had been picked up for shoplifting at Century 21, though his diplomatic immunity nullified the arrest. Alt has never been to Georgia herself, but she had heard good things: “My girlfriend says the earth smells sweet.”

Few of the guests had visited the country, and efforts by those who had been there to describe its charms produced some striking mashups. On Batumi: “Monte Carlo meets Las Vegas.” On Georgia: “The best of Italy combined with the best of France.” On Georgian cuisine: “It resembles some kind of Indian food, but, in a sense, it’s Mediterranean.”

Around 10 P.M., the President posed for a photograph with Alt, then swept out. Trump’s absence appeared to leave no hard feelings. Earlier, Saakashvili had suggested that Trump could always emigrate: “If he decides to run for President in Georgia, he might win.” ♦ 


PHOTOGRAPHY: Postcard from Nagorno-Karabakh and Beyond. Posted by Whitney Johnson (newyorker.com)

(newyorker.com) Bruce Haley has photographed conflict and aftermath all over the world, but I first met him at the San Francisco Arts Institute, where he spent the better part of the evening recounting tales from Afghanistan and Burma at a local bar. “I love that guy,” recalls the photo editor Jason Houston. “Under that uber-tough exterior he’s a big teddy bear who really, really cares about people. Sort of the perfect field journalist for the types of places and sorts of stories he covered.”

Haley’s monograph, “Sunder”—to break apart or in two: separate by or as if by violence—begins in Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region in the South Caucasus, in 1994, and takes us across several post-Soviet countries. He told me recently about a journey he took on an old locomotive, “supposedly the last steam train in Europe that was still being used for actual work purposes”:

Early one morning, I rode that train up to the border with Moldova, along with a group of lumberjacks. The tracks followed a narrow river valley, with mist rising up from the water and the sparkling grass. As we rounded a bend, I looked out the window and noticed a young shepherdess, in traditional dress and headscarf, tending to a flock of sheep in a meadow. It was like something by a late 19th century or early 20th century Pictorialist. As we drew closer and the train skirted the meadow, I could see that the young girl was holding something and her head was bent towards it slightly, and she was looking very intently. As the train continued around the meadow, and I got my best look at her, I saw that it was a Game Boy.

Haley describes the sequence of images in the book as a musical composition, with high notes and low. And though many of his images are devoid of human figures—desolate buildings, or abandoned remnants of war—I found myself most drawn to his people, with memories etched on their faces, and hope, too.

You can meet Haley at the Daylight book launch party for “Sunder” and Alejandro Cartagena’s “Suburbia Mexicana” at CPW25, from 9 to 11 P.M. Friday night.


Success Stories: Bruce Haley (lenscratch.com)


Daylight Books and Charta Editions are proud to present Sunder a monograph by Bruce Haley

Featured by the
New Yorker and New York Times
144 pages
55 black + white photographs
Introduction by Kirsten Rian
Foreword by Dina and Clint Eastwood
Essay by Andrei Codrescu

Produced between 1994 and 2002, the images in SUNDER sweep the viewer along on a far-reaching journey through numerous former USSR and Iron Curtain countries, stopping at landscapes of ruin and moments of grace in equal measure. Haley's explorations were intuitive, responding to a deep curiosity to taste the last drops of the would-be Utopian ideology that dominated global politics during the first thirty years of his life. Using black and white film, the notion of remnants and transition would sustain Haley's photographic investigation for some eight years. The resulting images present a stark perspective of the collapse of the communist empire. Haley’s photographs are bleak and brimming with the realism that only a photographer as seasoned as he could achieve. Given the contrast with Haley’s conflict-based coverage, which was dominated by lush color imagery depicting the most horrific acts of violence imaginable, it seems as though this personal project is as much a portrait of the photographer himself as it is an invaluable historical archive. Co-published with Charta Editions.

Bruce Haley : Sunder from Daylight Multimedia on Vimeo.

ARTIST: The Process from Mari Bastashevski (maribastashevski.com)

My projects are set in regions where well-intentioned political mandates lead to corruption and abuses of power. The objective is to understand the ultra vires acts, as well as the use of information control mechanisms, and how said mechanisms facilitate the unaccountability of government officials.

In an attempt to engage the conventions of traditional conflict reporting, I choose to oppose the scenographic habits in photojournalism by giving equal weight to text and image. The established convention is to combine these languages; on one hand, the image is used as an illustration of text; on the other, the text explains the image in an attempt to confirm it as reality. The intention is to use these mediums separately; so that the image is treated as 'an object' open to interpretation - a trigger for hypotheses; and the text as a separate stream of information: finite and transmitable through precise repetition.


In The Caucasus

File 126.The Topography of Abductions in The North Caucasus
On the 9th of December, 2001, three armed men in military uniforms and masks stormed the bedroom of newlyweds Zarema and Mohammed Edilov. They pulled Mohammed out of bed and handcuffed him. Shouting and cursing, the men dragged Mohammed out of the house and threw him into an APC. They also assaulted Zarema, who tried to block the front door. On the following morning, Zarema discovered that other residents of Valerick - Ali Vadilov, Ahambi Isaev and Rizvan Suleimanov - were also abducted during the operation. Zarema made numerous attempts to have the abductions investigated, but the case was repeatedly closed due to a lack of evidence and identifiable suspects. The whereabouts of Mohammed Edilov, Ali Valilov, Ahambi Isaev and Rizvan Suleimanov remain unknown.

In May 2009, a suicide strike on MVD Grozny in Chechnya left a toll of four dead and twenty four wounded. The authorities instantly blamed Beslan Tchagiev and the terrorist cluster of Dokku Umarov for the attack. 24 hours later, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) issued a press statement explaining in summary how and where the security forces ferreted out and liquidated four future suicide bombers connected with the attack. The photographs in this series were taken in the precise locations listed in the reports as the “theater of operations”, and were taken immediately after the MVD press release went online.

Zatchistki Weekend
The Russian North Caucasus tourism cluster project won prestigious MIPIM Asia Awards competition in 2011 in the category ‘Best Project of the future of Central and Western Asia. This award is important not only for the ‘Northern Caucasus Resorts’ company. This is a serious, significant victory of Russia. We have proved that they are able to realize an innovative, modern, forward-looking project.
-Director General of JSC ‘Northern Caucasus Resorts’ Alexei Nevsky.

Yuny Specnazovec (YS) is the first Russian-sponsored youth military sport camp in Chechnya, an enclave in the North Caucasus recovering from two wars against Russia. While majority of children enrolled in YS have previous criminal records, YS is not considered a punishment facility. Participation is voluntary and parents can choose to withdraw minors from the program at any time. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, which was in charge of preliminary selection, says it experienced no difficulty filling the camp with volunteers. The key attractiveness of the program for the parents is that it is marketed as an opportunity for the participants to expunge their criminal records as well as to secure a future in the security forces, be it of Chechnya, or Russia.


On and Off the Walls: Mari Bastashevski’s “File 126 (Disappearing in the Caucasus)” Posted by Whitney Johnson

Read more newyorker.com

IN CAUCASUS: Lo'Jo: tour de force. By Andy Morgan (guardian.co.uk)

Members of Lo'Jo
Members of Lo'Jo in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photograph: Andy Morgan/The Guardian
(guardian.co.uk/music) Globetrotting French daredevils Lo'Jo tell Andy Morgan why being shot in Chechnya only made them play harder

It's a rainy night in Georgia, but Randy Crawford is the last person on anyone's mind. This is Georgia in the Caucasus, not the US – and the French band Lo'Jo are taking the stage in a pine-filled park on the edge of Tbilisi. Someone asks our genial host, Niaz Diasamidze, master of the panduri or three-stringed Caucasian lute, if the rain usually stops Tbilisians venturing out. "It depends," he says. "If there's a revolution going on, they'll come out."


Thirty years of travelling with open ears has given Lo'Jo's sound a unique richness. They play funky dubbed-up chanson, raw yet intricate, with a bewildering variety of influences. It all adds up to a brilliant whole that scorns classification. Fronting the drums, double bass, keyboards and violin is the polyglot growl of Péan, who could be the gallic cousin of Tom Waits. Just behind him swells the sweetly disorientating vocal assault of the Nid el Mourid sisters, who come across like the Berber cousins of the B52s. In three decades of marginal music-making, Lo'Jo have picked up fans as diverse as Robert Plant, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib from Tinariwen and Robert Wyatt, who sings the opening lines of Cinema El Mundo, the band's 13th and latest album, which is out in September. The crowds at Womad will get a taste of it this weekend, when the band hits the Wiltshire festival.

A powerful curiosity drove Péan and the band to join Babel Caucase. A humanitarian caravan of musicians, film-makers, artists, circus performers and ordinary big-hearted folk, it traversed Europe in 2007 with the aim of raising awareness about the suffering of the Chechen people. The caravan, led by the French documentary-maker Mylène Saunoy, was heading for Grozny, but in the end it got stuck in Georgia, where Lo'Jo came aboard. It was their first visit to this country whose charm, according to Péan, "is beyond discussion or analysis". He found the "sober rurality" of its countryside evocative of rural France from a century ago. For singer Nadia Nid el Mourid, it was like "Africa, only white not black".
The band played a gig in a Chechen refugee village up in the Pankisi Gorge, a deep and strategic gash in the high mountains of eastern Georgia. It turned out to be another of those happenings that Lo'Jo specialise in: an adventure of bewildering strangeness, beauty and danger, all made possible by music. "It was very tense," Péan remembers. "There was a lot of excitement, thanks partly to alcohol, and partly to the fact that the caravan was there. I had the same feeling that I have had at times when we've played in the high-rise housing estates of the French banlieues – that slight sense of vertigo, of uh-oh, what's going to happen? We were surrounded by people whose blood was very hot, and you had to be very honest if you didn't want to be thrown out."
During the first song, Yamina Nid el Mourid was hit just above the eye by a pellet fired from a gun. "All these Chechen kids had these handguns because they were celebrating the Festival of Resistance," she says. "I was worried the pellet could have blinded me, but at the same time it gave me the strength to win them over, to say, 'Yes! We're here.' By the end of the gig, it was very powerful, because the audience were on our side. The music broke the barriers down. It was beautiful."
Cinema El Mundo is out on World Village/Harmonia Mundi on 24 September. Lo'Jo play Womad this weekend. Follow the Guardian's daily festival coverage at guardian.co.uk/music

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ART: Ulysses. By Guram Tsibakhashvili - Author: Zurab Karumidze (caucasusartmag.com)

(caucasusartmag.com) “Ulysses” by Guram Tsibakhashvili tells us a story of two cities. Or rather translates one into another`s language. 

Dublin on the brink of the XX century – the capital of colonial Ireland, and Tbilisi of 90’s, to which the expectation of national independence has finally come true…

"Dear dirty Tbilisi” – as once Dublin was for James Joyce. . Anatomic shapes move, eat, laugh, sing and dance on the background of gloomy post-soviet landscapes, inhuman architecture (De Chirico would be envious), naked electro equipment, communication and canalization tubes... Vicious book “Ulysses” is - messing up a mind just as the chivalric novels did to Don Quixote. Guram once said: "After Ulysses my perception of the world has changed"… The perception is everything for the photographer: "The inevitable modality of the visible" – this flash of Aristotelian meaning in Stephen Dedalus’s consciousness, drives us to Guram’s modality of vision. It’s marginal; his world has neither hierarchical order nor the compounding axis of the whole system. Everything is equal facing everything. The detail exists as the whole and the marginal gets in the center of attention. The stream of consciousness flows as the spontaneous visual impressions. The photography is a static genre – it has intended to freeze the time in the present space. No shot from Tsibakhashvili’s photos follows this principle. I have no idea how, but in these pictures even most sustainable things are dynamic and keep on flowing. Thus Joyce’s “stream of consciousness” principle is being adapted by the “photo-stream of consciousness.”

images/e-books/ulysses-cover-e-book-guram-tsibakhashvili-AhuahuGuram’s vision is that of some lizard – peripheral. Some photos look like they were seen with the inverted eye, an eye of a lizard sitting on the rock. This lizard lives at the cemetery. It seems like the whole photo series carries the spirit of Joycean “Hades” episode. Everything wears the mask of death in these pictures. In an urban environment death has the citizenship of its own: It is no more the resurrection phase as in hunter-gatherer cultures. Death in the city first of all is a natural and unique phenomenon which involves equally everyone in its macabre dance named Farandole. Exactly, a Photo-Farandole is being created by Guram… The stream of faces bespeaks the transitory nature of the faces; moreover -- these individual faces bespeak their own transitory nature.

I would label Guram’s vision as “photo-writing” – i.e. the compound term “photography” acquires its literal meaning in this case. From one side he illustrates urban textual environment: street paintings, agendas, achromatic posters, epitaphs... And from another every photo is followed by a quote from Ulysses - with the obvious mismatching: this is not the illustration of the novel by Joyce, but the merging, attaching, annexing of two texts -- a citation, or more precisely -- “de-citation” due to that very mismatching… Such is Guram’s photo-grammatology (if you can excuse this Derridaism of mine) punct 

E_BOOK >>>

Monday, July 23, 2012

ANALYSIS: Capital of South Caucasus. By Georgy Kalatozishvili (vestnikkavkaza.net)

Tbilisi – Tekali. Exclusively for VK (vestnikkavkaza.net)

Capital of South CaucasusThe Tekali Village on the crossing of Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani borders has held public hearings within the framework of the Tekali process to discuss mechanisms of affecting the situation on the contact line. The meeting was organized by several NGOs and National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a global structure operating all over the world.

Guests arrived from Baku, Akstafa, Gyumri, Ganja, Yerevan, Injevan, Marneuli, Noemberyan, Tovuz, Kazakh. They discussed trans-border problems, situation in nearby villages, pastures, mine-clearing at roads, frontline situation. In other words, they talked about fundamental issues of Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, situation around Nagorno-Karabakh, global role in the Caucasus Region and interests of superpowers.

The conference hall was set at the vineyard of an Azerbaijani local’s two-storey house. All speeches were constructive and honest. The Azerbaijanis and Armenians who arrived in Tekali wanted to find common grounds. They started recalling the times of good-neighbourhood and mutual understanding, bringing in examples, simple stories of people, without histrionics and contrivedness.

People in Tekali speaks in Azerbaijani, Armenian, Georgian and Russian. Their accent cannot does not allow to distinguish the three Caucasus peoples. The local minibus driver who took us to Tekali spoke with Armenians and Azerbaijanis in their language, yet he turned out to be a Georgian. However, an Armenian writer rouses in pure Azerbaijani.

At times, it seemed as though there were no inter-ethnic conflicts. Regardless of diplomatic skills, it is impossible to play such benevolence or desire to understand others. Even the most edgy topics were discussed without hatred or aggression. “We used to fight with our Armenian neighbours when we were kids, but we became friends again. When one of our Armenian guys invited me to his place, I heard that his mother started telling him off and kept repeating “Turk”. But I am grateful to her, because I started thinking that I am really a Turk and proud of it”, Zaur Dargali from Marneuli said.

Russia still has mixed Armenian-Azerbaijani villages and schools. The Kvemo Kartli (Borchaly) Region has Armenian and Azerbaijani villages located in a checkboard order. You cannot move from one Armenian village to the other without passing an Azerbaijani one and vice versa. There are no conflicts thanks to Georgian authorities and local communities.

The case is more complicated with villages on the border of two states. Nonetheless, attendants found common grounds with the help of the Tekali process. They withdrew snipers during harvesting and mine-clearing. “Each subdivision has a sniper and if he shoots, he shoots according to an order, not own will. The same happens in Armenia: the military are ordered by politicians and we need to make our politicians stop giving such orders”, political analyst from Baku Zardusht Alizade said.

An Armenian film director called the Armenian authorities a “criminal group”. Yet, Tekali obviously lacked opposition mood. Rare invectives against Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities were neglected. The forum was organized for consolidation of opposition in Armenia and Azerbaijan. But they seemed more like episodes.

Armenians criticized the OSCE Minsk Group working on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: “A mediator is always promoting own interests that cannot coincide with interests of process-involved sides”.

Special attention was paid to cooperation of rural administrations on opposite sides of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and violations of the cease-fire regime on the frontline around Nagorno-Karabakh. Speakers avoided accusations. They joked about requesting governments to give a square kilometer of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to form the so-called South Caucasus Republic with the capital in Tekali. Georgian organizers presented designs of the Tekali Palace, a place where attendants of the talks could meet for further development of dialogue.

At the end of the official part of hearings, organizers offered all people to speak out at the forum. There were many volunteers with all speeches constructive. The inter-ethnic dialogue continued at a joint dinner. The only thing that spoiled the Tekali hearings was the incident after their conclusion. A member of the Armenian delegation, calling himself the head of the Noemberyan District, did not return to Armenia and went to Tbilisi instead. He was making rude jokes and frivolous comments to foreigners. He insulted a member of the international organization with diplomatic immunity (threatening to “make a corpse out of him”) and was about to start a brawl. It is surprising how such a man could be part of the Armenian delegation where most participants arrived to Tekali not for insults, drunk fights, abuses of foreign guests or encouragement of incidents, but for the sake of mutual respect and dialogue on complicated and sensitive problems of South Caucasus.

More: araratmagazine.org

REISE: Gourmetreise in Georgien (reisebloger.blogspot.d)

(reisebloger.blogspot.de) Privatreise: Gourmetreise in Georgien
Kurzreise 3 Tage/2 Nächte ab/bis Tbilissi


Privatreise mit Chauffeur
deutschsprechende, örtliche Reiseleitung
tägliche Abfahrten

Die georgische Küche ist sehr kreativ und abwechslungsreich. Sie verwendet ungewöhnliche Gewürzmischungen und leckere Saucen. Bei dieser Reise haben Sie die Möglichkeit, die kulinarische Vielfalt Westgeorgiens kennenzulernen. Und auch die köstlichen georgischen Weine werden Ihnen nicht vorenthalten.


1. Tag: Tbilissi - Mzcheta - Kutaissi
Abholung von Ihrem separat gebuchten Hotel in Tbilissi und Fahrt nach Mzcheta, der alten Hauptstadt und des religiösen Zentrums Georgiens. Sie besichtigen die Sweti Zchoweli Kathedrale (11. Jh.) sowie die Dschwari Kirche (6. Jh.). In Mzcheta nehmen Sie ein typisch georgisches MIttagessen ein: Georgische Bohnensuppe mit Maisbrot. Weiterfahrt in die Imereti-Provinz nach Kutaissi in Westgeorgien, der zweitgrößten Stadt Georgiens. Kutaissi war im Altertum die Stadt des Goldenen Vlies. Besuch einer Karsthöhle mit interessanten Formationen von Stalaktiten und Stalagmiten. Abendessen und Übernachtung in einer Privatunterkunft (Zimmer mit eigener Dusche/WC) 2 Sterne Ca. 270 km (M, A)

2. Tag: Kutaissi - Samegrelo - Kutaissi
Am Morgen besichtigen Sie den Gelati-Klosterkomplex (12. Jh., UNESCO-Weltkulturerbe). Danach fahren Sie in die Region Mingrelien. Bei einer einheimischen Familie werden Sie die Vielfalt der megrelischen Küche kennenlernen. Diese Küche ist besonders scharf und kennt eine Vielfalt von Gewürzen. Hier verkosten Sie unter anderem die Käsespezialität „Sulguni“, aus der auch das bekannte georgische Käsebrot „Chatschapuri“ gebacken wird. Eine weitere Spezialität dieser Region ist „Chartscho“- ein besonders schmackhaftes Gulasch, das mit Walnüssen zubereitet wird. Dazu gibt es „Elarji“, einen Maisbrei mit Käse. Am Spätnachmittag Rückfahrt nach Kutaissi und Abendessen sowie Übernachtung in einer Privatunterkunft (Zimmer mit eigener Dusche/WC) 2 Sterne Ca. 200 km (F, M, A)

3. Tag: Kutaissi - Satschchere - Tbilissi
Morgens besuchen Sie einen Bauernmarkt in Kutaissi. Anschließend Fahrt in ein Bergdorf in der Region Imereti. Dort besichtigen Sie einen Familienweinkeller und verkosten köstliche Weiß- und Rotweine aus den unterirdisch vergrabenen Tonkrügen (Qwewri). Das Mittagessen nehmen Sie heute bei einer Bauernfamilie ein. Die imeretische Küche ist sehr reich an Vorspeisen, die meistens mit Kräutern, Walnüssen und verschiedenen Gewürzen zubereitet werden. Hier lernen Sie auch noch eine weitere Spezialität der Region kennen: „Ratscha“, Hähnchen mit Knoblauchsoße. Nach dem Mittagessen Rückfahrt nach Tbilissi zu Ihrem separat gebuchten Hotel. Ca. 200 km (F, M)


täglich vom 1.4.2012 - 31.12.2012

Eingeschlossene Leistungen


Kurzreise im klimatisierten PKW (ab 3 Pers. im Minivan)
2 Nächte in der genannten oder gleichwertigen Privatunterkunft (Zimmer mit eigener Dusche/WC)
Verpflegung gemäß Programm: F = Frühstück (2 x), M = Mittagessen (3 x), A = Abendessen (2 x)
Programm lt. Reiseverlauf
deutschsprechende, örtliche Reiseleitung
hochwertiger Reiseführer „Georgien“ von Trescher mit den Reiseunterlagen

Mindestteilnehmer: keine

Nicht eingeschlossene Leistungen

Trinkgelder, persönliche Ausgaben

Gut zu wissen
Für diese Kurzreise ist mindestens 1 Übernachtung vor und nach der Reise in Tbilissi erforderlich. Wählen Sie aus unserem Hotelangebot auf der Seite 125.

Programmumstellungen und -änderungen auf Grund von Öffnungszeiten vorbehalten. Bei Buchung von 3 bzw. 5 Pers. wird für die 3. bzw. 5. Person autom. der EZ-Zuschlag von EUR 30 berechnet.

Frühbuchervorteil: 5% Ermäßigung bei Buchung bis 31.1.12

Sunday, July 22, 2012

VIDEO: SosaniART & Physical Theatre ImproART. "The crazy" - demo (SOSANI) (youtube.com)

The demo video of new performance from Event Company and Physical Theatre "ImproART". For more info please visit www.improart.ge

Saturday, July 21, 2012

TRAILER: On the Edge of Time. By Stefan Tolz (youtube.com)

Trailer of the feature documentary by Stefan Tolz on male domains in the Caucasus. The documentary was shot in 2000 and 2001 in Georgia, Dagestan and Azerbaijan and received serveral awards among which are the Golden Gate Award (San Francisco) and the Grand Prize of the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival.  

More information at www.on-the-edge-of-time.de

PUBLIC LECTURE: Disintegrating Progress: On the Emergence of Contemporary Art Practices in Armenia. By Vardan Azatyan. (geoairresidency.blogspot.de)

GeoAIR Residency 
(geoairresidency.blogspot.de) 5 Tabukashvilis st. (behind Qashveti church), Tbilisi state academy of art. department of restoration, art history and theory. 2 fl.main hall. 24.07.2012 14.00

In his lecture art historian Vardan Azatyan intends to discuss the conditions and dynamics of the emergence of contemporary art practices in Armenia in 1970s. He considers contemporary art practices in Armenia as a last spark in the long history of the disintegration of the Bolshevik cultural policies introduced by the Sovietization of Armenia in 1920. He argues that precisely because of being the final point of the breakdown of those policies, contemporary art practices in Armenia are in structural opposition to, and therefore haunted by the cultural policies of Bolshevism.

Vardan Azatyan is an art historian and translator specialized in the history of contemporary art and art historiography. He is Associate Professor in art history at Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts, Armenia. He was a Visiting Professor at Columbia University and a Guest Teacher at Dutch Art Institute. His recent publications include articles in Oxford Art Journal, Human Affairs, Springerin, The Internationaler. He is a member of International Association of Art Critics and a co-editor, with Malcolm Miles, of the volume Cultural Memory (University of Plymouth Press, 2010). He is the translator of major works by George Berkeley and David Hume into Armenian. 


06.20.2011 23:16 epress.am
Art and the State: Why the Conversation is Failing. Interview with Vardan Azatyan

Art critic and curator Vardan Azatyan left the curatorial team responsible for Armenia’s Pavilion at the 54th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia (the Venice Art Biennial) due to the lack of a budget for the project. Azatyan said this himself in an interview with Epress.am.

Why did you leave the curatorial team?

As you know, the Pavilion’s commissioner has two functions: to appoint curators and to secure a budget. The second function, due to various reasons, became impossible to ensure — even during the critical period in implementing the project, about 20 days before the Pavilion’s official opening. From that point on, the project did not have a budget, but financial assistance from the commissioner, who, through local leverage available to him, had to save the project and with it, his reputation as commissioner.

This put the implementation of the project before unpredictable risks and our had to enter emergency mode; that is, the curators were no longer going to supervise the project implementation process at least to the extent necessary for the project not to fail. And I’m convinced, the calling of any intellectual (be that an artist or curator) is to be able to perceive that unacceptable point when his involvement in a process passes the divide when the vicious social relations within society become more powerful than the possibilities of changing them. In this case, the last option in such change is to resign from one’s own involvement.

Indeed, the project could’ve failed at every step purely due to time or technical difficulties. The project’s being or not being was dependent on the companies preparing the works to be exhibited, the people packaging the works, the workers shipping them, the catalogue printers and so on and so on. Any … or delay during their work (circumstances from which no one is ensured) could’ve overthrown the project. Moreover, let’s say it wouldn’t have been possible to get the works from the company preparing them since the necessary invoice wasn’t paid. And in the absence of a budget, this payment process itself has unpredictable consequences. The project being partially displayed during the exhibit was one of the consequences of this uncontrollable and emergency situation: as you know, it was not possible to display Astghik Melkonyan’s work on the official opening day.

Could that have been a cause of the problems that arose in Armenia’s Pavilion?

I think it’s clear from what I’ve said that my resigning [from the curatorial team] was not the reason for the problems that arose during the process of implementing the Pavilion, but the move that was made as a result of the existence of these problems. My curator colleagues and I worked together in full harmony. In truth, one of the greatest achievements of this year’s Armenian Pavilion was this: people very different from one another were able to work together for the greater good. This fact, in a way, valued also the commissioner, but it seems he didn’t wholly realize the full importance of this reality.

As a result, it became so that he preferred the option of placing the project under risk instead of (taking on) the risk of ensuring a necessary budget. It’s odd, but from what I can judge, as a result, a much greater expense was made for implementing a project that was partial and for me unacceptable in terms of the human cost than that minimum budget which was needed for implementing the project successfully. I have to say, as a result of the harmonious cooperation among us three curators, all of our decisions were approved and carried out with agreement on all sides. It might sound surprising, but in the absence of a budget, the decision to resign from the project was approved together. At a regular working meeting with the commissioner, we gave him a deadline, for ensuring the minimum budget we agreed to, and we said if there was still no budget by that date, us — the three of us — would resign from our curatorial duties. Regretfully, it was only I who stayed true to this decision that the three of us jointly agreed to. Thus, the decision to resign from the curatorial team was not my personal decision. But, the truth is perceived as such that it was a decision I made alone.

How do you assess Armenia’s participation in the festival generally and compare it to previous years?

I’ve always been of the conviction that the success of national pavilions is not the success of its representation, no matter how that is, but first and foremost, it is the possibility of bringing positive changes to art and cultural policies inside the country. The latter should be the subject or topic of the conversation that the pavilion offers to foreign audiences.

The success of any national pavilion depends on whether the given country, without fears of appearing bad to others, is able to formulate its internal issues and propose in such a way that their not being “purely internal” is revealed — this way becoming a subject of overall dialogue and debate.

We, the curators, conceived our Pavilion particularly from this view, and the project conception is excellent evidence of this. The beneficial difference of this year’s project from previous years was in that fact. The curators hadn’t adopted a so-called sports approach. Contemporary art is neither football, with its corresponding diplomacy, nor an ethnographic ensemble, with its success depending on representation. A discursive and participatory approach was adopted this year (which was repeatedly stated during the press conference and in our speeches preceding the start of the project). As one of the curators, Nazareth Karoyan, often says, “We don’t want to present; we want to talk.” The project was envisaged in such a way that the exhibited works were not representative, but were rather a physical and conceptual platform for dialogue. The project was to include a number of international conferences on issues of concern to us today.

I particularly want to emphasize that this wasn’t simply a component of the project, but a constructive aspect of it. As a result of problems I have noted, it didn’t become possible to successfully implement even the exhibit part of the project. And I have to say that this pains me greatly, when I see that my colleagues found themselves in a situation in which they are forced to see the success of what was done not in “speaking” but in “presenting.”

What impact did the precedent of state support and involvement in the organizing of Armenia’s participation in the Venice Biennale have on the final result and preliminary work? Can this be considered a new page in relations between the state and contemporary art?

One of the most important features of this year’s Armenian Pavilion was the state assistance you refer to. Though there has been state support before, past pavilions and no individual was fully dependent on local financial resources. In this sense, this year’s pavilion was a new page for the Republic of Armenia in the Venice Biennale. And this was the reason that my two colleagues and I became involved in implementing the project. As you can assume from what I said before, for none of us was curating the pavilion an end to itself; rather, it was a means, an opportunity to lay the foundation for local sponsorship of contemporary art in Armenia, to establish such working relationships which would be the foundation for consistent and effective activities in this issue.

It truly pains me that those who were officially responsible for these changes — the RA Ministry of Culture and the commissioner — for various reasons, were unable to successfully fulfill their functions. As a result, the vicious work method common in Armenia was again employed — based on sacrifice, or as the people say, on the principal of “tearing the flesh to give.” This testifies to the fact that the institutionalization of society in Armenia (ministries, establishments, departments, plenipotentiaries and so on) are essentially fictitious by nature. Instead of carrying out their direct duties, they act as symbolic bureaus, which in the name of the “homeland,” in the name of “the nation’s honor,” are “authorized” to exploit and decimate the country’s most expensive resource — human energy. If this was taking place in a disguised or concealed fashion in previous Armenian pavilions, then the unprecedented significance of this year’s Armenian Pavilion was these social relations common in Armenia coming to Yerevan at the contemporary art project level.