Vajiko Chachkhiani, Winter which was not there, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 12 minutes 30 seconds.

Vajiko Chachkhiani, Winter which was not there, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 12 minutes 30 seconds.

Vajiko Chachkhiani

Vajiko Chachkhiani, Winter which was not there, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 12 minutes 30 seconds.

“For me, it is important to let works happen—I don’t approach a work by thinking, ‘Now I’m going to make a sculpture,’” Vajiko Chachkhiani once remarked. The Georgian artist’s recent exhibition “Summer which was not there” certainly foregrounded the question of what makes certain works feel “natural” and others less so. The show consisted of nine sculptural works and two videos, of which the latest, Winter which was not there, 2017, was without a doubt the show’s highlight—its down-to-earth poetry and fine sense of understatement conveyed a convincing inevitability.

As the video begins, we see a statue being pulled out of the sea by a crane as a man watches from shore. One thinks of the statues of Lenin that were removed after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. But this is no Lenin: The stone face looks like that of the man watching. One wonders who he could be.

Whoever he is, the man gets into a truck and backs it up to the statue. Then his journey begins, with the concrete figure dragging behind his vehicle, throwing off sparks as it is towed along. We hear scraping sounds and see the white traces the statue left along the road, like chalk on a board. The whole thing seems all the more absurd because the main character acts without showing any emotion, as if performing his daily job. There is no dialogue, no voice-over, only the man’s silence and that of the dog that accompanies him. The car stops for a while; the man observes some cattle on the hills. When he restarts the car, the head of the statue drops off and stays behind. This journey is clearly not about making a delivery; it is about taking something with you and slowly losing it, or getting rid of it on purpose. The man is dragging his self-image, or his past, behind him until it disappears. Maybe he is bringing himself home this way. He drives until the job is done—until the sculpture has fully been destroyed, broken to pieces through contact with the road. Eventually he arrives in a poor, dusty neighborhood (filmed in the artist’s hometown of Tbilisi) with run-down houses. Again, the crumbling stone seems to belong to the landscape. 

Chachkhiani must like stone: The primordial material appeared in two other works in the show. The video We drive far, you in front, 2016, shows pieces of rock tumbling onto one another in slow motion. We see the impact close up, witness the breaking of the stones. There’s something hypnotic about this spectacle, but it lacks the mysterious suspense and ambiguity of the main movie. Also on display were seven works from the series “You touch parts of me, I did not know before,” 2017, each consisting of a moss-covered stone block with metal splitting pins stuck in it. They show, once more, material being “hurt.” In these works, I sensed the artist’s decision to perform a certain symbolic act a little too explicitly. Winter which was not there, on the other hand, aroused no such thoughts. It activates a stream of consciousness and poetic associations: thoughts between an outer, bare, Georgian winter landscape, political history, and an inner journey. It feels natural and unpretentious, right from the start. The movie is absurd, melancholic, and very dry in its realism. It just happens.

Jurriaan Benschop