First published in 365

Tbilisi, Georgia

March 2021

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Excerpt, published on the occasion of pending upending, an exhibition by Kobby Adi at Goldsmith's CCA Gallery

2021

1412

 

Film | Digital | Sound | 5" | Georgian

In the anonymous rooms of 5-star hotels in cities and resorts across Georgia, thousands of people have been learning what it means to be locked inside the same room for two weeks. These people live behind a veil; they sleep, they pace, they examine the life that exists beyond their window pane — perhaps exchanging furtive goods, or words of camaraderie with their floor-mates; those with whom they share lost time.

1412 received the jury prize in the COVIDEO section of Batumi International Arthouse Film Festival.

It also featured as part of a video installation, Mementos from the 14th Floor, at Project Artbeat's Moving Gallery in Orbeliani Square, Tbilisi, 12-20 Sept 2020.

Work-in-progress notes, presented in Rachel Elizabeth Ashton's

Internal Sun

 

(For Mamuka, who films the sunrise every morning from his home)

Internal Sun takes its cue from the 12 hour time difference between the filmmaker’s original home in Tbilisi, Georgia and the far-flung home that they established in Northern California during the state's first shelter-in-place order. Whenever one is bright, the other is invariable dark; the film dwells on this paradox of simultaneous opposition, convening both sides of the sun into a personal and improvised logic.

Text written to accompany solo exhibition, The Cabinet, at Treignac Projet, France

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The Nocturnal Hum

16mm film, digitised | Sound | 5" | English

 

"It's not a military secret. It's not the sanitation district. It's not the Army Corps of Engineers. It's not an extraterrestrial, a nuclear device, or a Russian submarine."

The Nocturnal Hum concerns the filmmaker's discovery of acoustic similarities between two forms of sound that are native to Northern California: the warble produced by foghorns as they guide ships in the bay to safety, and -- beneath the very same waters -- a resonant hum that is produced by the toadfish during mating season. These sounds have undulated through the Bay Area for generations, perforating public and private space. The film is told through a lattice of whispers that express the misgivings and colorful speculations generated by the sounds.

 

The film is also about the visual similarities between fog and smoke, the signals that guide us, and the place perceptual multiplicity in light of the increasingly unequivocal presence of climate change.

Avirbin Chamovirbine

 

Looping video installation | Sound | 25" | Georgian and English

 

Avirbin Chamovirbine consists of a series of discrete, non-linear scenes that are set in an unspecified country. The film is arranged somewhat like a song without a chorus. It offers a series of glimpses and suggestions, drawn up from an indentured feeling of longing and inconsolability.

Snake Eaters 

I often find myself faltering when I’m asked to explain what my films are about. I find it much easier to explain how they came about — the consequences that shaped them, like the angles of geography that guide water to curve itself in a particular way.

My current film was germinated by the reminder of a childhood mythology. As a child, I always thought that the colorful mosaic that stood above the theatre on Vazha-Pshavela Avenue was the place that people visited when they fell asleep. Carried by the unvalidated conviction that tends to harbor in the imaginations of children, I thought the mosaic was called ‘Iavnana’, lullaby — the place of dreams. This perception was bolstered by the apparent inaccessibility of the structure in waking life. It had neither doors nor windows, only a hallucinatory, three-dimensional facade that was ornamented by pulsating forms.

As summer condensed into the sticky heat of August, I began to think about Georgia’s Soviet legacy in a localized sense. The theatre on Delisi was flanked by a long slab of temporary construction walling, a surface that was pasted reiteratively with posters of politician’s faces. Dig just a millimeter or two beneath, and you would uncover an archaeological site of expired political claims, battling with the other advertisements and expletives that tend to stack up in public space. I could never remember this wall not being there. Like much of the landscape of Tbilisi, the provisional had inadvertently become permanent.

Directly opposite the wall, a huge billboard was emblazoned with Bidzina Ivanishvili’s face, which was used to advertise the words ‘Georgian Dream’. But what had happened to our dreams, to our collective feeling for the horizon of possibility? Did these photographic renderings of middle-aged men’s faces, multiplied into oblivion, indicate the length and breadth of our ability to dream?

In late September, as the evenings dawned ever-earlier on Vazha-Pshavela Avenue, I began to notice the dancers that rehearsed on the floor of the theatre below the mosaic. The grace of their movements, elevated from the senseless ammunition of the traffic of the street in which I stood, moved me. Through focus, through artfulness and discipline, they seemed to negotiate a liminal space between the unwieldy utopia of the mosaic — the derivative of an empire that had fallen from grace — and the unhappy overload of impressions below.

I began reflecting on the naming of the street on which this building stood. Its namesake, Vazha-Pshavela, had written a poem called The Snake Eater that began to hold increasing relevance to me. The poem explores the revival of its protagonist Mindia’s consciousness of the many tongues by which the earth speaks, and the intense grief that is triggered by his insight into nature’s speech. If Vazha were to stand on Vazha-Pshavela Avenue, would he recognize the place that was named after him? Or would he share the alienation of Mindia, who was so defeated by his homesickness that he conspired to die by drinking his masters’ brew?

I too, carried a kernel of that grief. I had begun to feel climate change blowing into daily life more and more, like autumn leaves cascading beneath a gap in the door. Our fruit trees had a limited yield, and our nut tree had no harvest at all. There were two days until the parliamentary election, and public consensus suggested there would be another lockdown following the result. Planning a film felt like standing on a sheet of melting ice.

I cast my first ever electoral vote in Georgia on October 31st. The following morning, a morning when the election result changed depending on which television channel you listened to, I noticed my grandmother preparing muraba. She was carefully sorting through each piece of fruit, making sure none of the bad ones ended up in the chosen pile. Accompanied by the sonic vitriol that bled from our household TV, I was reminded of the political process of counting votes. I was also reminded of the process of infection — the infection of covid-19, the ‘infection’ of electoral fraud, the ‘infection’ of Russia’s imperialist influence on Georgia, the risk of infection that comes with improperly conserved food. Even Zurab Tsereteli’s mosaic, which I had once imagined as the face of an uninhibited utopia, turned out to have courted its own controversy; I learned that the sculptor has often been criticized for his affiliation with Putin’s regime.

The days were blinded by accusations of stolen voices.

As autumn took hold, it was marked by ongoing preparations for winter. Whilst my grandmother made her muraba, my uncle Mamuka began to prepare grapes for their hibernation in amphoras, which he kept above ground. He was, in a sense, lulling the grapes to sleep, but it was a sleep in which the fruit dreamt with all its senses open — every undulation of the climate, every visitation of snow and rain, would come to inflect the eventual taste of the grapes. Wine thus becomes a parable of the year in which it was made.

Soon afterwards, chance drew me towards a Georgian folk music ensemble called Ialoni. Ialoni were busy preparing to record an album from the ancient and highly diverse genre of Iavnana songs. Iavnanas are lullabies, but they were initially sung in rituals that were intended to heal children who were sick; many of the lyrics refer to illness, and the batonebi songs refer to a pre-Christian spirit that visits the household when a child has taken ill. I began to think further about the therapeutic potential of art and the alternative, exploratory politics that it invites for our consideration.

During one rehearsal, the teacher Nino asked some of her students with stronger voices if they could hold back a little on the delivery of a song, in order to avoid provoking a harmonic misbalance in the group. I wondered what it would be like if these practices and values could be scaled up, or translated to other fields. In the field of architecture, for instance, there is very little regard for the balance of forms, or for any sense of cultural continuity; everywhere you look in Tbilisi, a building company is enthusiastically vying to erase the legacy of what was, and to dominate the field of vision of civilians. If only those politicians, those architects behind the structures that arrange our lived experience, could reflect these sensibilities. If only the cultural traditions, the songs, the grapes, were more than a refuge or a place of escape, but an integrated part of the societal landscape.

Until that time, I try to locate the pinpricks; the living traces of a summer dream that have continued, trembling, and against all reason, to persist.

They live as lessons, as asterisks, as glowing retaliations against a winter that pretends it could exist no other way. They are the jars of fruit, the hand-me-downs of ancestry that sustain us in the hope that conditions will, one day, be ripe again for another becoming.

Radiations

Like something that would continue.

The sentence sits there in reserve, emphatically italic, and it sidles out as a cagey epilogue whenever I blink in doubt, whenever I pause to give any given thing a second thought.

It's been following me all week.

Pension schemes, like something that would continue. My mother, planting Cypress trees, like something that would continue. It's as flimsy as it is unyielding, a pretense that's continually shocked, beaten down, and bought anew; yet our compass is inclined to live as if it could always be true (as if, as if -- the imposition of continuity).

Now the poles that led the compass have come askew, and it's becoming clearer that nothing in this world exists in the places we have been directed to.

 

I'd like to issue a search warrant for the future we were told there was to be.

This present mode of thinking brings an unusual tenor to my memories -- I feel like the future that I leaned on in my past has collapsed into an irretrievable hologram. The memories themselves feel amputated, made unreal.

I miss the idea of a legacy; something you would want to get right. I also miss the future that was gestured to in the closing lines of children's stories. If time were read against the grain, could these moments exist if they didn't rise back from some future space? That's the wound to which I am trying to attend: that these stories, these life events, didn't proceed to be cut from the stem; that this was -- still is -- part and parcel with that future that gave that past shape.

I wonder how things would appear without the tacit presumption that they'd continue to be. How many singular things are out there that we might not see, because we were blinded by the will for continuity? How many last times have we unwittingly seen off with a shrug. How many first times are now quietly submerging us, because we are starved of the words by which to address them.

I wonder what happens if we lose our ability to project. If there is something good to be found there, it may be the experience of a novel sensitivity. No more reaching for things. You know, I have been loving the word ambivalent recently.

Maybe it's not the finitude of the world that's troubling, but its openness, its unfinishedness.

Regarding the tireless itinerary of construction that sprawled ahead of us, a friend of mine once asked: "when will London be finished?"

Improper Canning Procedures
 

Before words or continents, there were vowels without consonants.

The vowels would give rise in winces and in kisses (a! o!) -- in encyclopedic tremors of breath,

in the knifelike warbles that emerged,

Like arithmetic between the flesh.

The early risers pass fruit and shards of light down to the forest floor.

Everything is made of small things, but some of them heap up.

As continents gathered, they clamored for consonance. The engine of sense began to contour air; it studied into air, and found it pliable. The vowels, ever fluid, were congruent to the shape of things.

As the consonants staccato'd over gulps of air, they sculpted intermittent differences everywhere.

We imagined what we were, and so we knew what the difference was.

I can't sleep and I'm crying over visions of dead insects. My mother says eschatology has always existed.

She says children can see ants better, they're closer to the ground.

She tells me there are plenty of fish left in the sea.

 

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Til human voices wake us, and we drown.

-- T.S. Eliot

The brittle filaments of the citadel

Were only as fine as the scaffolding of the insect's spine.

Following the first involuntary sigh, the artefacts and insects reappeared.

The 7 day week was intercalated by vowels, curtains of loosening breath.

Unseen things began to reappear;

They remained unseen, and it was good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cabinet

Like a whale-bone corset, like a world that never breathed.

Subdued beneath a  fine layer of dust, the cabinet is a scene beyond its own appointment.

Perfectly still, the china lies unthought, delivered from carnality, and only monumental.

Only for the occasional glance does it perform: a solemn play of light, an affected bow,

a sequence of rehearsed images.

Formality reigns, setting a place for ideal forms that -- having never arrived -- are never considered gone.

This formality signs a contractual release for the hurried, irregular mass of living to go on.

The cabinet conserves the role of a drab paragon,

called to testify upon the release of a tension for perfection.

As far as anyone is concerned, they are as deaf, dumb, and as mute, 

and as necessary, as icebergs.

Pause with the spirits of utility.

They are hard-heard and uneasy, like a draft beneath a door. 

They belong to a world without mirrors, and deflect the gaze. 

When their backs break, when they go to rest, 

they take their final lodgings in the tide

— Just as one of a thousand things moving

gradually, without very much ceremony, from sight. 







 

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As the world, and the fog attenuated
And the images grew —
All too few,
And too clear

The fish grew silent,
And the signals did too

And it would, one day,
Become hard
To communicate

The passage
To safety



 

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K'edeli (The Wall)

Split-screen video installation | Sound | 15" | Georgian

 

K'edeli shifts between two oral narratives based in the village of Surami, Georgia: one, a legend of the local village fortress, and the other a true, familial account of marital kidnap, as recounted by my grandparents at our kitchen table. The screens place these tales in equivalence, as they meditate on the ways collective fictions propagate through lived experience.

 

Showings

Exhibited at Treignac Projet, France, as part of Waiting to Speak, July 2018

Exhibited at Goldsmiths BAFA Degree Show, London, UK, June 2018

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