PRINT April 2013

Wato Tsereteli

F+F Schule für Kunst und Mediendesign Zürich’s workspace, with contributions by U.S.E., RELAX, Rene Fahmi, Chantal Romani, Miro Schawalder, Studio Action, and Judith Weidmann, at the 1st Tbilisi Triennial, Center of Contemporary Art—Tbilisi, Georgia, 2012. Photo: Lexo Soselia.

IN 2008, the artist Jean Dupuy visited Tbilisi and gave me a drawing as a gift. It is sketched on A5 paper and depicts a pencil with an eraser. On the pencil is written: THINK & SUGGEST. This sentence, like a blessing, has been a constant reminder of my approach to art.

Georgia is made of an old substance, one that is still suffering from a Soviet hangover—the atrophy of individual potentialities. Neglecting the populace’s range of unique energies for so long resulted in a deep trauma—three generations were forbidden to act beyond the regime. And though the country may have achieved its first democratic transfer of power, in October 2012, this does not mean its citizens now feel responsible for the operation of their nation.

Art can play a key role in suggesting the future for a culture that is just awakening to its imaginative opportunities. It at least creates something that did not exist before—something new. And besides its function as short-term shock therapy, art also poses a crucial long-term reconstructive strategy: the development of generative educational settings.

Art education has taken two increasingly polarized forms in Georgia during the past decade: bureaucratic, state-funded academics and flexible, unaccredited programs. Since 2000, I have been launching and running smaller, independent art schools, one of the first of which was the Institute of Photography—an undergraduate program licensed by the Ministry of Education. After the Rose Revolution, we were threatened by a policy change whereby private schools, many of which were basically functioning as moneymaking machines (selling degrees), were restricted from getting licenses. We decided to save our program by integrating with the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts’ department of photography, where I now work as department head. I am also the founding director of the Center of Contemporary Art—Tbilisi (CCAT), a nonprofit exhibition and educational venue.

Unfortunately, the contrast that I face between these two different realities—state-funded and independent—is tremendous. Outside the establishment, we are able to insistently examine and reevaluate conventions, proposing new possibilities, while within the framework of the academy, the breadth of artistic praxis is limited by commercial or ideologically outdated concerns. The Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, lacking perspective on contemporary art and unable to adapt to the quickly changing world, does not offer its students an opportunity for broader, theoretical reflections. Of its fifteen hundred students, the majority are producers (i.e., artists), and a small portion are researchers (i.e., art historians), but there is no training offered there for those who synthesize current modes of production and create new frameworks (i.e., curators).

On the other hand, the communities revolving around independent educational platforms in Georgia are visionary, discursive, and experimental. CCAT’s Informal Master Program introduced a section two years ago dedicated to the idea of context production, or mediation. This subject not only opens up the full scope of curation and helps to build an exhibition infrastructure for the many artists in the area but also challenges notions of what context itself can be. In my own lectures and in the curriculum at CCA—Tbilisi, emphasis is placed on stimulating individual initiative in a post-Soviet audience, as well as on encouraging artists to put their inventive skills to pragmatic use—an aspect of international artistic production that has been thriving in Georgia as well. A course taught by artist Mamuka Japharidze at CCA—Tbilisi, “Organic Farming in Relation to Art Practice,” for example, aims to apply creative tactics to actual issues of agricultural fieldwork. We continually find that the practical implementation of artistic thinking provides unpredictable, alternative solutions.

Wato Tsereteli is an artist and curator based in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he recently co-organized the 1st Tbilisi Triennial.