Sunday, October 20, 2013

ART: The Visual Diary of Georgian Melancholy. By Lado Pochkhua. Contemporary art from Georgia, Caucasus. (

( 'I remember in 1981 when Dinamo won the UEFA Cup Winners Cup Abkhazians were happy too; Tarba and Agirba among them. They were shooting guns celebrating the victory. Years later the same guns were fired at Georgians.' Now a resident of United States, Lado Pochkhua was the guest of the Artisterium this year, arguably presenting the most interesting part of it. Pochkhua's photo series the Anatomy of Georgian Melancholy 1993-2004 ties in perfectly with the theme of identity- the focus of Artisterium VI. 'At the age of twenty-three I lost everything: family, friends, my hometown, my house, my documents. In Tbilisi I discovered a new, disorderly and hungry life as a refugee from Abkhazia. That is, I’m no one. Zero. A person without a social function. After receiving my first package of humanitarian assistance, a US Army kit of beans and meat packed in tinfoil, I promised myself that I would get out of the trouble I had fallen into'. The photographs are taken while living in Tskneti, the suburbs of Tbilisi, where part of the refugees including Lado had settled after escaping the war in Abkhazia. The crucial point in life of the artist, as his describes it was heavy with unbearable living conditions, particularly tough winters and even more so the shock of being thrown into such a reality.

The seemingly poetic title of the series has a very interesting story- when determined to learn English and escape the intolerable surroundings of his, Lado came across and bought the Anatomy of Melancholia by Richard Burton 'where the philosopher describes types of melancholia. I began learning English with this strange book. I was translating the texts. If you ignore the witchcraft, wizards and witches- you can find the real reasons for sadness and grief- poverty, fear of the future, war, deprivation and loss of property, death of loved ones'. These are the determining factors for the themes of the black and white photos, documenting the life which none of these people had chosen or were guilty of and their dealings with it.

The exhibition begins with a close-up portrait of a smiling girl- Eka, dressed in the national costume. This is a recurring face, which later comes across as the signifier of the series- an emblem of 'the tragic discrepancy the ceremonial national dress on a beautiful girl and the overwhelming poverty around her. Today I think it portrays the life in Tskneti most precisely; this is a symbol of the life where the high hopes are crushed against the incapability of overcoming the banal problems of everyday life.'

The exhibition is accompanied with text. Often popping up from the middle of the wall, it recreates the initial sensations of the artist when he was taking the photos. Adding a very personal touch, it feels like going through an old diary.

The exposition is dominated by the snow -as if giving away the artist's most traumatic experiences of living in Tskneti - the winter. When the day gets shorter, the air is colder, the nature dies and the survival becomes especially hard and most of all, it is such an alien condition to meet completely unprepared. 'The things change their statuses in Tskneti. Simple household items attain sacred value. The list is simple. Clothes- shoes, a sweater, a jacket or a coat. The living room- an electric heater, a 'burzhuyka' stove, a kerosene lamp and candles. The kitchen- buckets of water storage, plates, spoons, forks. The Bath- tanks, bucket, a dipper. All that is necessary for survival. To die in Tskneti is much easier than to live.'

The portraits of closest and dearest, as the shared difficulties usually bond people like nothing else (many of them have attended the opening of the exhibition) gaze to the camera vibrating with life- true to the human nature focused on survival. 'In Tskneti everything becomes a spectacle, any event has an audience. Life itself, no matter how heavy, is a cure for fear and boredom'- Lado himself analyses the livelihood of his shots. The captions of kids are particularly emotive, especially of the two children playing with what once used to be a bicycle. The photos as such carry more radical messages than it seems- 'what kind of a childhood is one supposed to have when the country is governed by bastards? Like this- with the toys from garbage, with the tense eyes and the malnourishment. Let this photo be a reminder of the years of Shevardnadze's governing, who had managed to transform the population of the warm, fruitful country into refugees and destitute.' This photo being used as a poster for the exhibition speaks of the emerging trend for analysing, revaluing and concluding the newest history of Georgia.

The photo archive of what did not get printed for the exposition is shown on a slideshow accompanied by the audio of the reportages and interviews of the familiar voices concerning the Abkhazian conflict and the fall of Sokhumi. This material is a reminder of the scale of the problem- it was not the couple of people on the photos that got affected with the politics, but the lives of tens of thousands are still predetermined by this conflict. It is the recurring trauma that the people suffer from even 20 years later. The voices so detached, formal and impersonal are such a contrast to the images projecting on the wall- personal, intimate, lively and tragic at the same time.

The quotes are taken from the interview of Lado Pochkhua to the newspaper PrimeTime (14.10.2013) and the statements from the exhibition. 


Georgian Art Platform is a blog conceived by Ellene Kapanadze and Lika Tarkhan-Mouravi. The aim of the blog is to introduce 'the Georgian Art' to an English speaking audience. We aim to inform and keep the reader up to date with the current developments and trends in the Georgian art market. Ellene Kapanadze graduated from the faculty of Art History, University College London, in 2013. Her main interest is contemporary art. She has interned for various London-based galleries and auction houses and feels that Georgia has a lot to offer to the international art scene. Lika Tarkhan-Mouravi studied Liberal Arts in Berlin, and did her MA in Public Policy (cultural Policy) at the Central European University in Budapest. Since 2010 she's worked for a contemporary art gallery in London, and believes that there is a growing interest in the emerging art market of the Caucasus, and particularly of Georgia.

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