The Engines of Visibility

 

“I heard there was a man called Anatole who disappeared from here recently. He lived on the floor above the CCA. When a cat appeared in his place, they named the cat after him, and then the cat disappeared too…”


By the time I met him, Anatole Nikitin no longer frequented 10 Dodo Abashidze Street, the grounds of a former industrial site that he had lived in and worked at for decades. Intrigued by a stray comment that referred to his disappearance, I spent the month of August following the traces that he’d left in his wake. “I heard there was a man called


I followed him through:
The ruins of his apartment above the CCA (projected to become the centre’s educational space) — the minds of his former colleagues at the power station that his residence faced (soon to be re-arranged into the site of Tbilisi’s Oxygen Biennal) — the plans to restore a swimming pool beneath Dinamo football stadium (a recreational facility that would later be replaced by a dance floor); the genetics of his estranged child (who did not return to clear up his father’s space) — the tearful reflections of Mzia (a one-time neighbour who was saddened by his unexplained loss) — the maze of pale green ambulance slips strewn inside his residence (which were slowly falling prey to the appetite of insects) — the final appeals of the security guard (who warned him, in vain, not to wander out at night after curfew) — the indifferent eye of the security camera (whose records have now, as a matter of routine, been destroyed) — the cameras that he had himself possessed (upon which no prior photographic records remain) — the piles of decaying handwritten and typed text (often crossed out and rewritten with minor adjustments) — and the ongoing presence of the cats around 10 Dodo Abashidze Street themselves; the dynasty of felines he’d once sheltered, the children and grandchildren of whom, if never consciously questioning
how they got there, may have found their attachment to the place influenced by a vague, ancestral memory of his care.

 

The influence of this man could even be alleged to extend to the broader patterns of experience for that neighbourhood’s Soviet-era residents: the words that were scanned beneath lamps; the diets that were fed by electric plugs. I was told that he was one of the last employees at the power station, keeping the electricity flowing until it petered from existence. For locals, Anatole, a man so obscured, once kept the engines of visibility burning. Light conceals its source.