INTERVIEW WITH ANDRO SEMEIKO
Irine: The 12th issue of Danarti is being printed along with a talk that Davit Kakabadze gave in relation to his sketches of ornaments in Georgian architecture. This talk addresses the imagery in Georgian ornaments from ancient times to the 17th century. In his study, Kakabadze describes and chronologically arranges the different monuments, employing the methods that are often used by the art historians in approaching the works of di erent artists or ages. For example, when analyzing the work of Kakabadze, his works are divided into genres, according to the years of their creation, conclusions are drawn, connections are made with the local traditions, with European modernism and so forth. But if we want to establish the role that the material he has researched plays in his “made pictures”, typological classifcation will not take us too far. Such a method of studying the history of art is often not su cient for reading the method of its work- ing as a form of thought according to which the picture is made. I think that a diferent approach is needed here, probably similar to the way the painter works. Do you believe it is possible to de- scribe this method of organizing space and time, objects and knowledge? Or can such be applied at all in attempting to study the creative work?
Andro: Yes I think it is possible and more rewarding to research an artist’s work by investigating her/his creative thought process. Since the beginning of the 20th century and particularly now artists explore a variety of methods simultaneously for making art. It will be productive to conjecture how these different methods feed and inform each other in the artists’ thinking and ideas. Relating the artists’ work to the socio-political context it was made in will support this method of research. Looking at the artworks in such a way can produce more dynamic and useful knowledge for the development of society and for the development of the future creative individuals of this society. This will also require creativity on the part of the art historians/critics. Interpreting the artworks with this method, I believe will tend to be less dogmatic and more open-ended; giving opportunity to others to view the information as a exible source for further interpretation and transformation... more alive.... what most artists would have wanted ¬— to create not a dead object but something that is animated with thought processes.
Irine: Not only is it interesting with what scrutiny and principal approach Kakabadze studies the ornaments, but also, how he employs the studied material in his own work. This is what he writes in one of his texts: It is through a relief that the real existence of an object in space is discerned . . . Downfall of art is typified by the loss of the specific way of depicting space and a strive towards materialistic and naturalistic forms. It seems noteworthy that it is exactly the question of space that interests Kakabadze in relief, - the effect of light on the surface of the worked stone discerned by the eye. He studies the principle of constructing objects, using its synthesis at different points. For example, in Salt for Svanetia. Nor is it coincidental, that Kalatozishvili touches upon such a problem – A Flmmaker who comes from painting is prone to aestheticizing the lighting techniques and does not use them as a technique for constructing the body. As for optical objects, those are definitely ones which have a primary significance in the storyline. This is precisely what Kakabadze does – instead of aestheticizing, he uses light for plasticity. There are other painters – or the works of later periods – who use the art forms of the past in a more crude and straightforward manner. Do you believe this approach that Kakabadze and Kalatozishvili talk about is typical of Avant-garde? What is the relation between the ornament and the cinematographic approach ( lm ear/eye)?
Andro: Yes, I think this approach is Avantgarde. I see it as paring down of the old to its basis, it’s internal structure and concept. Reinventing it with new ideas, and attempting to nd an original vision. Kakabadze examines the ancient Georgian 3-dimentional ornaments using light and shadow primarily because of his interest in modernism and abstraction, and his experimentations with black and white photography, yet maintaining a strong link with the past. For Kalatozishvili I don’t think the Georgian historic ornaments and details in his lms like “Salt for Svaneti” are as significant as for Kakabadze. Kalatozishvili takes the photographic experiments with light and shadow and couples them with unusual camera viewpoints and rhythm in his films, crating much larger distance with the past. He creates, I think, a parallel narrative over the existing Soviet storyline of his films, a kind of ‘heterotopia’, which is purely abstract sequence of compositions in black and white, and half tones.
Irine: Beno Gordeziani writes about Pirosmani: Some, who are ignorant of Georgian culture and life, have formed an opinion about Pirosmani that he is the best illustrator of life in Georgia. This is untrue. I think, the same can be said about Kakabadze; in his own words: Art is dependent on the local conditions, local requirements and, in general, on the state of life where it develops. This is why it has a local appearance and local forms. I find it significant that Kakabadze, as well as Gordeziani and others (H2so4), on one hand, commits to a certain reassessment of local art and a painstaking study of its form, while on the other hand, rejects the method of romanticizing past and considers its replacement with the classical. He reads the rhythm of local life in the objects created by people, which is probably the reason why he can create a Soviet flag based on the relief fragments of Beka Opizari. In a way I believe that this attitude is also close to the de- velopment of the political thought. Do you discern such relations in the artistic method? I am also interested how these forms of thought and work on material are altered in Soviet time and whether you see a similar relation to the past and localism today, in the practice of diverse painters or artistic groups?
Andro: Yes, I think artists frequently respond to something specific that is around them and often benefit from it. David Kakabadze was particularly sensitive and curious to all the new art movements and innovations surrounding him both in France and Georgia. But I was under the impression that during Communist reality he was focusing on certain aspects of historic Georgian art partly as escapism to avoid addressing the political issues. Similarly I think a lot of artists around me in London avoid and indirectly respond to Brexit and populist politics in the UK.
Elene: We live in a post-post-Soviet time. Because of its specific past Georgian culture has undergone multiple phases in search of its identity. Collapse of Soviet Union has naturally lead to the emergence of an art loaded with nationalist signs, often characterized by populism and presented in popular art on the level of kitsch. Naturally, this tendency for nationalistic strive was evaded by the then young generation of artists, part of who found salvation in the academies of the Western European countries. This was the first step towards the “universalization” of their visual language, perceived by some from today’s perspective as “westernization”. A part of those artists, having returned after this “western” anti-identity politics, is again enriching the language with the history of their own culture. There is a new, slight tendency of turning back to the signs related to the national identity. This is the case not only in Georgia, but also in the contemporary arts of Kirgizstan, Kurdistan, Iran and other marginalized countries. What are the artists today looking for in the history of their own culture?
Andro: Talking from my own point of view as an artist educated abroad, I am looking for emotional as well as critical engagement with Georgian art and history. I have studied at a Soviet school and post-Soviet art academy where I was dogmatically force-fed history, literature and art with it’s outdated ideological interpretations. This caused in me a kind of aversion to anything Soviet and Georgian. Now, having gained some experience as an artist abroad, I have identi ed that unconsciously the Georgian past has always manifested itself within my work. Presently I’m making conscious efforts to bring this to the forefront and to highlight it. I am passionately interested in Georgian art and I feel I can make meaningful and fruitful links with it. I am undertaking a kind of process of relearning it. This activity advances my work further, and also feeds my intellectual growth as an individual.
Elene: These processes are often accompanied by the problems of so-called “self-exoticizing.” One form of critique claims that such art is still produced for the “Western perspective,” to be marketable in the West as a fresh product, a product of exoticism (a group such as “Slavs and Tartars” can be a good example of such a critique). How to you position art in relation to such a statement?
Andro: This is unfortunately inevitable to happen. For example, when at a famous auction house a Georgian artwork comes up for sale it is often put in a category of Russian art. Due to not having a solid art market for Georgian art, I believe we are being sub grouped and exoticized within another exoticized subgroup. I used to be outraged by the failings of the capitalist system but it no longer bothers me as much. I can see that, at least in less dictatorial societies, with hard work artists can develop themselves outside of these categories and maintain a meaningful practice addressing nuances of the world of art and art history, specific to certain geo-political place as well as globally. This is what I also strive to do.
← Andro Semeiko, "Game I", 2019, acrilyc and oil on canvas, 31X26 cm.