Nov 21 2011

Artisterium IV “Free Fall” in Tbilisi

by Anuka Lomidze

Swiss artists Mariann Oppliger and Sophie Hofer (pictured), collaborated with local artist Bessa Kartlelishvili, for “Genuine Georgian Chicken Egg” (2011). Performance documentation. Courtesy the artists.  

The festival Artisterium IV, one of the largest contemporary art events in the South Caucasus, was held between October 31 and November 12 in Tbilisi, Georgia. About a hundred artists participated this year, invited by 12 co-curators from 18 countries. Referring to the show’s title, “Free Fall,” head curator Magda Guruli explained in the catalog: “This year participants are offered a chance of unrestricted movement in space, time, free from any emotional or intellectual directives. They are at liberty to select their own theme, develop ongoing interests in relation to the place where the work is to be shown. The artist can choose any subject, medium, social or philosophical position.” 

In the “Genuine Georgian Chicken Egg” (2011), Swiss artists Mariann Oppliger and Sophie Hofer collaborated with local artist Bessa Kartlelishvili. So as to raise the necessary money for travel and accomodation between Bern and the Tbilisi-based festival, over a period of several weeks the Swiss pair dressed in chicken suits, selling “Georgian-certified” eggs as artifacts for 20 Swiss francs (approximately USD $22) at certain Swiss art events. Later at “Free Fall” the artists gave a presentation regarding the projects intentions and showing how even their minimal costs had not been met. This provoked a discussion about relations between the arts and funding institutions.  

Well-known international artists have also been taking part in the festival. This year included renditions of Tino Sehgal’s This Situtation, first realized in 2007, which Sehgal describes in the Artisterium 2011 catalog as “a kind of playful salon.” Other international works included Masaru Iwai’s video “Galaxy Wash” (2008), in which we watch the artist carefully wash a carrot, carp, book, glass, meat, teddy bear and shoe, meticulously filmed from below a transparent water-filled container. Viewing the eagerness with which Iwai cleans each object seemed to obliquely reference the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, yet as the artist explained: “We wash objects because we know water makes them beautiful. But the beauty starts to emerge during the process of washing and the object doesn’t become beautiful because it’s washed . . . We have to be careful to keep washing our eyes every day as they are eyes with which we view art; there is no guarantee that the art we saw yesterday will hold the same beauty tomorrow.”

Viewer interacting with the Fleet Group’s “Personal Rotation” (2011). Courtesy of the artists.

Local works included art collective The Fleet Group’s interactive computer game installation, Personal Rotation(2011), in which participants were asked to match the sounds of different women achieving orgasm to a selection of national flags, as a purported  interrogation of socio-cultural conditioning. Stigmat, a group that produces videos and performances, led by poet and multimedia artist Giorgi Bundovni, staged De-formation (2011). At the entrance of the main exhibition hall Niko Tsetskhladze’s installation The Space that Laughs (2009/10), lured participants to a white wall to read the small text written there, triggering the sound of laughter. Different audience reactions were in turn recorded in situ by a discrete camera, as a playful form of audience participation.

In its fourth iteration, Artisterium continues to attaract interest both in the region and overseas. For a country with a dearth of art fairs and fundraising institutions, this is a unique opportunity for local, regional and international artists to stay in touch and develop new connections.