The new group exhibition State of Play: Art in Georgia in 1985-1999, at the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, showcases the rich artistic vision of 23 artists who have been pivotal in the birth of the country’s contemporary arts scene. Sophie Breitsameter speaks to participating artist Koka Ramishvili about what the exhibition means to him and how his work has changed in recent years
Every thriving contemporary arts scene owes some inspiration to the generation that came before, and in the case of Georgia, it was the generation who created work in the 1980s and 90s that particularly marked an important time in the country’s’ cultural development.
Parsing through the social and political changes the country was undergoing through this period, this generation’s artists saw a marked shift in visual style, as people moved away from classic portraiture and political propaganda to a more experimental, underground arts movement. Here, amongst the backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Union, an economic crisis and civil war, artists experimented with bolder styles and messages, and sewed the seed for the contemporary Georgian arts scene as it stands today.
All of ths is explored in the Heydar Aliyev Center’s latest exhibition State of Play: Art in Georgia in 1985-1999, showcasing an artistic movement that, despite its significance, remains relatively unknown. Through the works of 23 Georgian artists, audiences are able to explore a period of change during which the artist community radically reinvented itself.
One of these artists is Koka Ramishvili. Since the turn of the millennium, he has lived and worked in Geneva, having previously studied design, architecture and cinema at the Academy of Art in his native Tbilisi. He works across a range of media (including video and audio) and explores and questions the relationship between them. Significant projects include representing Georgia at the 2009 Venice Biennale, as well as major exhibitions in New York and Geneva. Here, we speak to Ramishvili about State of Play and how his experience of Georgia comes through in his work.
What does this exhibition mean to you personally?
The project is a mix of three groups of artists in Georgia from the 1980s and 90s. During this time, we were quite removed from the major cultural centres of the rest of the world – this was not because we particularly wanted it to be this way, but because we were under the Soviet Union. This exhibition is special to me, as it shows audiences that we had strong ideas for the future, even then. This show is our history.
As an artist, what is your preferred medium?
I actually like working across several different media, and interdisciplinary art is what I am most interested in. I focus on image migration through different disciplines, be they painting, sculpture, photography or video. I do believe that the days of the single medium artist are gone. Today we live in a multidimensional world, and so too, art has become multidimensional and interdisciplinary.
Tell us about your pieces in the State of Play exhibition. How does your experience of Georgia come through in your work?
My installation ‘EDNICMPSSR’ (pictured below) is a good example, as it is a piece that represents the idea of a two-dimensional painting becoming a three-dimensional sculpture, before it evolves into text (e.g. which has no dimensions, as it is not physical). So, this work has a three part evolution. It takes its title from the religious text Ex Deo Nascimur, In Christo Morimur, Per Spiritum Sanctum Reviviscimus, which translates to ‘From God we are born, In Christ we die, in the Holy Spirit we are reborn’.
This saying apparently originates from mid 15thcentury Germany, where a small group was formed by Christian Rosenkreuz, the alleged founder of the Rosicrucian Order, a spiritual movement that gained popularity in Europe in the 17thcentury. Basically, their focus was on the reformation of mankind. This group created a series of Axiomata (sayings) along with a secret dictionary, a mysterious wheel and a house to serve as their temple.
To represent this Axiomata, or mantra of theirs, I used one of the most basic materials used in painting: wooden stretchers, which are behind the painting itself and what the canvas is attached to. This idea of wooden stretchers is integral to the piece, as something behind the painting. So we are looking at a painting, but it’s also about what one doesn’t see – a kind of evolution of the history of painting.
This sounds quite conceptual! How would you describe your art?
Most of my works have an Eastern European element to them, with economical minimalism and a spiritual sensibility. For me, art is both a way and a style of life. It’s a chance to see the invisible and make it visible, and find the liminal space between science and spirituality. I am interested first and foremost in the idea, the information behind the work.
What art movements or artists have influenced you?
I would say the art and artists of the 1960s have influenced me a lot, specifically conceptual art, and movements including arte povera and minimalism as well as artists such as Joseph Beuys.
Where do you look to for inspiration?
I look back on my life, my homeland, as well as music, science (quantum mechanics and spiritual science in particular) and the subconscious…
What are you working on at the moment?
Watercolours! I love the process of painting with them, and seeing how the water creates different forms and colours. Water is a wonderfully natural substance. With regards to what I am working on next, it’s always a mystery.
Main image courtesy of Georgian National Museum. Images courtesy of Hausler Contemporary, YouTube and Heydar Aliyev Center