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Vajiko Chachkhiani develops an installation for Bundeskunsthalle
Exhibition View. Photo: Peter-Paul Weiler, 2018. © Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH.

BONN.- For the exhibition Heavy Metal Honey, Vajiko Chachkhiani developed an installation, which, through films and sculptures, reflects the cycle of life and the parallelism of histories that are only vaguely visible. Much remains hidden, ultimately comes to light, and flows together when the unexpected happens: The internal now also becomes externally visible. At times, global and individual history is inseparably linked, and only the moment of action and cognition make history (or histories) a turning point which influences narration and perception.

The individual works of the 1985 in Tiflis, Georgia born artist – films, sculptures, performances, photographs, and large-scale installations – are characterized in their overall compositions by a dense narration that suggests various tracks and interweaves everything in dramaturgical density. On the balanced interface between the reality of the outside world and the inner human psyche, they delve into existential questions of life, human perception, and the culture of remembrance.

The materials of his works emphasize historical references, as well as the bond with his homeland, which occasionally leaves its mark on his oeuvre.

Rein Wolfs, Director of the Bundeskunsthalle: “Vajiko Chachkhiani confronts us with a Georgian natural catastrophe, family constellations and mythological symbolism. In his work, kinship becomes universal and the past gains in currency.”

Winter which was not there, 2017 HD video projection, 12:30 min Courtesy of the artist and Daniel Marzona, Berlin
In Winter which was not there (2017) a monumental statue, an apparently historical monument, is pulled out of the sea. Few men are watching the recovery work. Soon we discover that one of them is the man which the statue depicts. Finally, the man lays the statue on the road and ties it to the back of his car. He then starts to drive, dragging the statue on the road. The driver, the protagonist of the grinding process, and his dog act out this business with a ‘stony face’. Alongside other aspects, this underlines the driver’s function as a proxy and visualises one possible way of dealing with history (and even one’s personal involvement). The act implies torture, but the implication of torture provides the statue with another round of living death or dead life. We see the depicted man driving through landscapes, villages, towns. The image of the dragged statue recalls the symbolic ends of totalitarian regimes when monumental statues of dictators move from a vertical to a horizontal position after they were uprooted from their base. The dragging of the statue on the road erodes and pulverizes it until it disappears. Nevertheless, the man does not stop and continues to drive even after the statue disappears and we are only left with the rope.

Secret that mountain kept, 2018 Installation, mixed materials Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist and Daniel Marzona, Berlin
Secret that mountain kept makes one suspect that the task is to set off on a (mysterious) search for clues. The inspiration for this work was a historic event from the year 2015 where the small River Were, which runs through Tiflis, the capital of Georgia, burst its banks because of a severe flood:

19 June 2015, 6:43 pm
Tiger in Tiflis

Escaped Zoo Animals: Following Heavy Floods, a Tiger Is on the Loose in the City. Following the heavy floods in Tiflis, another tiger from the destroyed zoo of the capital of Georgia is on the loose. Huntsman Giorgi Metreweli states that at least 15 citizens have seen the predator on the outskirts of the city. At the weekend, a flash flood in the centre of Tiflis had cost the lives of 19 people and devastated the zoo. Several animals escaped, amongst them a white tiger that killed a man on Wednesday before being shot. Alongside tigers, also a bear, lions, a rhinoceros and a crocodile broke out of the zoo.

More than 50 per cent of the 600 animals at the zoo died in the floods when, after heavy showers, the small rivulet suddenly transformed into a rapid stream.

Nineteen people lost their lives and numerous houses and facilities were destroyed. The flood which brought death to so many at the same time also brought with it a state of expected freedom for some of the animals – albeit a state of freedom which they did not know how to cope with, as life in the zoo had forced them into a state of apathy that suppressed their natural instincts. If anything unexpected does move into their field of vision, their instincts are awoken and it comes to tragic encounters such as the one described above. The complexity and Janus-faced quality of (hi)story and stories is a part of Chachkhiani’s narration.

To the artist, this catastrophe was emblematic for a mythological scenario, and he dedicates the entire narrative to the man who just wanted to do his job like on any other normal day but was killed on his way by a white tiger who had escaped. In the exhibition, this dedication is symbolised by a head made of concrete, hewn, which is presented to the River Were on a rock – it looks as if it had been washed up there and yet as if it were positioned on an altar (dedicated to the gods).

Used materials he has found on site, leftovers of the events, for example, parts of the cage, rods, which, in their brittleness, illustrate an original ‘display’ of compounds and cages will be installed in the exhibition as fragmentary remains of cages. The installation is completed by dried and hollow seed pods placed on top of the rods here and there, to which the artist attached the claws and fangs of various animals. What was originally used as a vessel to decant wine now also points symbolically at the Dionysian celebrations.

Then again, the old, nostalgic carousel figures – various animals, a boat or a car, placed behind bushes – bring to mind our (childhood) memories and give evidence of former activities, former ‘life’; they could have been part of a carousel that once stood outside the zoo.

The old “night shops” are a far more substantial sculptural intervention – they are kiosks that have been removed from the cityscape. To the artist, these kiosks with their historical architecture are mute witnesses of urban nightlife. Seen from the outside in the exhibition, with their poetic, flaky colours, they look like a large abstract painting. But inside, there are dead trees and mud, referring to a past life that was active, and intermeshing reality and the imagination.

Heavy Metal Honey, 2018
HD video projection, 14:15 min
Courtesy of the artist and Daniel Marzona, Berlin

With this work Chachkhiani attempts to understand the structure of inner psychology/ies, so it can be interpreted as a kind of ‘experimental setup’ or ‘family constellations’: a totally normal extended family and their friends meet up for dinner on a Friday night, everyone is busy, everyone plays their usual role, the mother carries the food to the table. Everyone is talking with the other and talking at the same time, everyone is having fun – in spite of the fact that it is raining in the living room and everything is wet and soaked in water.

This rather irritating mise-en-scene functions as a prompt for the ensuing, surreal action. Everyone is sitting at the table, eating and happily chatting about everyday events; only the mother is quietly observing the others. Suddenly, she gets up and walks into the kitchen, where she stays for a while. Although the intensity of the rain is increasing, the others do not let this spoil their ‘fun’. Eventually, the mother walks back into the room, carrying a weapon in her hand, but nobody is paying her any attention. She shoots single members of her family, but when she turns and points the gun at her son, there is no bullet left in the magazine. She sits down again – the rain carries on pouring down.

The film offers us two possible endings: the one taken from the imagination – it is still raining, the camera focuses on the supper again, the family members and friends are talking happily; the mother is watching them all. And then there is the reality: the sun is shining into the same living room, the dying mother is supine on the sofa; she is surrounded by friends and family. In a steamed-up mirror, the onlooker can see blurred silhouettes.

As there is no absolute closure to this story, the onlooker is included quite explicitly, and due to the repetitive elements, the work also stands symbolically for the way history repeats itself, and for the circularity of life, which seems to stand still for a moment here. Even the title, Heavy Metal Honey, alludes to the cycle of repetition: heavy metal (in the earth, in the mud) stands as a metaphor for history, which is always there – sometimes more relevant, when it is washed to the surface; sometimes less so, when it is covered up, and the (sweet but viscous) honey is a metaphor for inner (familiar) structures.

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