Anna K.E.

Anna K.E. on her presentation for the 58th Venice Biennale

Anna K.E., REARMIRRORVIEW, Simulation is Simulation, is Simulation, is Simulation..., 2019, 3-D rendering.

That harmony, like beauty, often comes from invention within repertoire and constriction is reflected in the Tbilisi-born artist Anna K.E.’s work, which is marked by the gestures of a ballerina and the design of a choreographer. For the Fifty-Eighth Venice Biennale, K.E. will bring together performance, video, sculpture, and hieroglyphs from Asomtavruli, the original Georgian alphabet, in a single architectural environment for the Georgian pavilion, curated by Margot Norton. Below, she discusses REARMIRRORVIEW, Simulation is Simulation, is Simulation, is Simulation, 2019, which will be on view from May 11 through November 24, 2019.

BEFORE GOING TO ART SCHOOL, I was trained as a professional ballet dancer—I was basically turned into a robot, a cyborg ballerina. I quit only much later, a couple of years into art school in Düsseldorf, as I felt I had to make the sacrifice in order to become an artist. It was painful and difficult, transforming myself from a dancer into a sculptor. I was so used to six to eight hours of training; all of a sudden, without it, I could barely walk, and one day after another I was just falling apart. After dedicating myself to art, dancing became a painful memory and disappeared out of my biography. Yet, as much as I’ve tried to get rid of it, I can’t, and I’ve realized my mind is still obsessed with discipline and the routine of going to the studio every day to draw, read, and think.

For me, making art feels always like finding a new language. For the Venice Biennale, I’ve created a rather simple gesture—a tribunal right in the center of the space, like a little island or a stage. Usually when you go to the theater or a sports game, a performance is happening in front of you as you sit back on the bleachers. I wanted to flip this situation by bringing the chairs to the center as a public stage, where one can sit and observe, but the observer also becomes a performer. 

I used only aluminum for the piece, a material that for me has something very digital and nonhuman about it. There’s something more human about the way steel, for example, rusts and reacts to the surrounding elements. Aluminum, though, is sterile. The tribunal consists of several stairs made out of engraved aluminum plates that simulate a tile structure. From afar they look handmade and fragile, but close-up you can see they’re mechanical and grid-like. There are many subtle things happening in the piece, which viewers can discover walking up, down, or around it. There are choreographic marks engraved in the tiles—signs, numbers, and spots that suggest certain sequences of movements—which you can take part in.

Those markings lead spectators through a selection of video pieces, a kind of retrospective accompanied by water fountains circulating through metal sculptures. These look like normal faucets, but they bend into the shape of letters from the original Georgian alphabet, Asomtavruli, from 430 CE. Typically, many alphabets start organically and become more geometric over time, but Georgian had the opposite development: The letters were super geometric and architectural but are now very organic and round. These hieroglyphs, which are adjusted and simulated, spell out the word deranged.

My private life, especially following the fall of the Soviet Union and my move to the West, has always been deranged, off-track, moving from one place to another, taking from all these languages and cultures and areas and people. I feel like there are no true roots behind my work or behind me, even, and every moment, every day is about failing—I mean that in a beautiful sense, not like existential human failure, but just in terms of the errors that appear in life that then become such an important part of existence. It’s always a test to create a new language for myself—to find those moments of catharsis when something clicks and all these disparate elements come together into a whole.

The end result of the Biennale piece will be twin tribunals combined into one. They’re black and white, so they’re an inversion of each other in a kind of dramatic, Sisyphean way, as if to remind us of how ancient metaphysical binaries have existed since Socrates—good and evil, harmony and chaos—while the water never ceases to flow.