This is the first article of our interview series, where I ask artists, curators, and artisans from the central areas of Eurasia (East Europe, Central Asia and Inner Asia) who were introduced to me by Selbi Jumayeva, my co-lead associate. I ask them about their thoughts on Beuys’ legacies, their perception of Eurasia and their own socio-cultural background, in addition to their current activities.
This time, I talked to Wato Tsereteli from Tbilisi, Georgia. Wato is the founder and director of the Center of Contemporary Art in Tbilisi, where he organizes a master program on Creative Mediation where he tries to direct creativity from studio and individual practice towards social reality and its innovation. Wato explains in detail why he considers Beuys’ greatest achievement was his educational practices, and how education is critical to discuss the contemporary state of Eurasia.
The interview was conducted on 26th May, 2021 on a Zoom meeting.
Wato Tsereteli is an artist, curator and author who has led startup creative institutions and platforms that break ground in the Georgian contemporary art scene. He was an Associate Professor of Media Arts at Tbilisi Art Academy from 2005 to 2014. In 2010 he initiated the Center of Contemporary Art in Tbilisi that has become an international educative and cultural platform with a nine-month informal master programme on Creative Mediation. The study programme helps students develop social innovation projects by directing artistic thinking from the studio to social reality and has received international recognition through important exhibitions and workshops. Since 2012, Wato is the initiator, co-curator and artistic director of Tbilisi Triennial. He has participated in art exhibitions and written and edited publications. In 2000, he initiated Media Art Farm (MAF), the first Georgian platform for education, research and the development of contemporary art. Georgia’s first four-year accredited bachelor programme, the Institute of Photography and New Media, was a part of MAF. Wato successfully graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp in 1998.
Dominique: Wato, thank you so much for accepting this interview. As I have already explained to you about the concept of Beuys On/Off and the Eurasia program in particular, could you now please let us know about your background?
Wato: Well, first of all, many thanks for this meeting and this opportunity. I think that you are doing a really great job because Joseph Beuys is completely underestimated yet. And, elevating or showing the ways he has created in art, there is an urge for that, and I will elaborate about why and how. To just say one thing about the idea that Beuys, an artist who understood in the seventies said, environmental issues should become politics, and he initiated the first ever Green party. This is quite a largest impact he has created, I think. However he left his party and whatever happened, but he was the guy who understood the shift of environmental challenges into politics, I think this is very important.
About myself, I am an artist, I am from Tbilisi from Georgia. Georgia is actually the place where Eurasia is meeting, and Georgian language is not Indo-European language. Though, it’s a separate, small language group, very old language, but not in the Indo-European and this is actually even more paradoxical because we really are in between of this big civilizations. And, we incorporate actually many things from all of them. For example, Georgian polyphony, you can relate it to Byzantine style of singing but it is using quarter tones or eighth tones which is very oriental way of dealing with sound. Or in the architecture, we have also our own architecture, but, it’s also Christian Byzantine, you can have some relationship to it. But still, it is full of oriental elements in it.
So, that’s why in my understanding our country is also having this perspective of Europe and Asia, let’s say. Ourselves being in between, but being from other contexts, as a language and as a context; our ideal role should be to be a bridge or be a mediator because we understand both, you know. So I have been in India, I have been in Taiwan, in Korea, in China and Central Asia and in Europe and United States and I have perspective of being in each cultural context. What is different is also quite visible. But, I think that our role should be one of mediator actually.
So when in 1991, I started to study film. In Georgia, there was a quite good film institute but soon after the independence there was a civil war here, and the school was actually breaking down here in a way. So I had this kind of obsession somehow to get a good education so I left Georgia and I started study in Antwerp, Belgium. From 1994 to 1998, I studied photography there and it was really a very important experience for me, also from this perspective of being from the Soviet Union and going to a very Western part of Europe and getting knowledge about sociological and anthropological aspects of photography and not just aesthetical, which was the case in the Soviet Union.
So then in 1998 I had a kind of very surprisingly good end of my academy because I got a prize and I got money and I got opportunities to work with museums and with the galleries and collections but I only stayed one more year. And then I went back to Georgia because this predetermined artist gallery life was not interesting for me. And, Georgia was still a very vivid place because it was imminent in certain aspects. There was the transformation from an old Soviet state and regime and mentality, and this is not yet done still, we have lot of work to do to overcome this. But, that’s why it has a chance to kind of flourish in a more ecological[MOユ1] way. This is our dream and wish.
If I resume my last 20 years of life, I have been setting up different types of independent educational platforms, which are also related to Beuys. In that sense, I can say that actually, all my life has been related to Beuys. I don’t mean that I was completely influenced, or I was aware of it. But what I was doing in Georgia was setting up different platforms for education and contemporary art, research and residencies and this kind of ecosystem around art. But, the means to access to this ecosystem was always education. So first it was four years education for photography that I set up in 2000 to 2005. Then after it became part of the state academy of Georgia. It became actually the first photographic department at the art academy because there was not yet ever in Soviet Union, you know. It was about truth, so it was not possible to study photography, because you study truth. You didn’t need to study truth under the Soviet regime.
So, that’s why in 2005 it became part of art academy and I was an associate professor for nine years and I was happily withdrawn from there, because it is a very anachronist institution at the moment, I don’t event want to speak about it. But in 2009 I understood that because of art academy is actually hijacking everything; resources, students, time… and there has to be some kind of relevant education which would be a more responsive education. A kind of education which would respond to contemporary actualities. And then I set up this Center of Contemporary Art where I am now also. It’s a collective of people that are doing different projects. It’s also a kind of ecosystem, it’s also kind of station where people can just connect. Like outside now are people from Koeln, a couple artists and their kid playing because, they are not in our residency program, but they just come here and connect and hang around and make presentations. So it’s very important to make this kind of platform.
But, why this is connected to Beuys; because the biggest value that we can extract of his life was probably how he opened up the idea of creativity, changing social reality. Creativity changing reality, environment around us, which he called social sculpture. I mean, looking back these 20 years I set up three different educational programs. I consulted in Kazakhstan for example, we did a three months work where Selbi was also involved and they will start independent art school by themself, which I was kind of leading this work. The link is that in my case creativity goes not just in creating new social settings, but also creating a new education. So, in my case it’s creativity thrown into education because education seems to be a key factor that I decided 20 years ago. I still stick with this idea, and there is no rapid change possible. We need to understand it, we have to learn from the nature that process just happens. We have to generate a new form of consciousness here.
So, I think that what the mythology about Joseph Beuys and all the stories, I don’t think this is something we have to actually dig into. I think, especially in the pandemic times, we are aware that the reality needs to be reconfigured in a way. Things should be changed, we should adapt. And things are changing even before the pandemic when we started the informal Masters program. In 2010, we introduced Creative Mediation; it’s a notion of an artist working as an individual practitioner, but extending this practice into social renewal. Changing environments, creating new opportunities, new social structures, especially with participation of others so it’s from individual to collective, from me to we.
In 2010, I was completely aware that changes will be coming rapidly. The things will change, the life is accelerated with technology, information, now this virus, and others unexpected elements since we don’t now yet what are coming up. So we have to be flexible, it seems that flexibility is the key today It’s a very important factor. So understanding that, Beuys actually opened us that opportunity from the perspective of art, not from the perspective of entrepreneurship, profit and economy. But from the perspective of art, as an active social innovator, let’s say. Seeing it as art, completely a work of art, I must say there is another person whose book we translated now in Georgian; this is by Nicholas Bourriaud.
Dominique: Nicholas Bourriaud, do you mean Relational Aesthetics?
Wato: Yes. He’s good friend of mine, I have had many different encounters with him. Lately, he invited me to Lisbon, 2019, in a meeting of museum directors and I was the only one who was not a museum director. Then people were asking “Why is this guy here?”, and when I was commenting things or suggesting things, then Nikola says “that’s why I brought him here.” Anyway, Nicholas Bourriaud’s idea of relational aesthetics is exactly the same as what is social sculpture, in my understanding. It’s that art is not an object but art is a kind of situation, relation. Extended notions, endlessly extended notion of art. And this acceleration of time and our ability to adopt it or master this ability to adapt to the changes, this is what we can learn from Beuys and this is the way how creativity is important today to be involved in those processes.
Dominique: Thank you so much for summing up your past 30 years, full of important life events. And I appreciate how you also make the connections of your activities to the contemporary thinking in art and outside of art. I have already found so many important keywords in what you have told me. So, let me ask you a few questions in order; first of all, I am really curious about how you perceive the world in relation to Eurasia. I am asking this question as an epistemological question; you told me that Georgia is actually the bridge between the Eastern and the Western cultures and how the music and architecture have this kind of mixture of both and that you think yourself that Georgia should act as a creative mediator between the East and West. Do you think that’s a consensus, or a widespread idea in Georgian intellectual people or people working in art industry, or do you think that is what you as an individual is thinking in a kind of radical way?
Wato: You know, to be honest this is not my idea, this is just a reflection of reality. Unfortunately, Georgians did not create or offered any role in international community yet. Georgia is just saying we are pro-Western democracy, this is not the concept of how you can be specifically useful to the world, you know. So, we are luckily, we have a fantastic resource in our history. Tbilisi is a cosmopolitan city, it’s actually a place where no intercultural conflicts happened. No ethnical or religious tensions have happened here, where for thousands of years Jewish communities have lived. If you look at Muslims, here in the mosque, Shia and Sunni are praying together. A couple of hundred kilometers from here, outside of Georgia, they make war with each other.
So there’s this kind of tolerance, a historical tolerance in our city. I have published an article, it is about my idea of Tbilisi Method. This article was published in International Biennial Association and an exhibition catalog also, and I am trying to recognize what would be really meaningful for the world that Georgia can offer. Georgia can offer historical perspective and this perspective projected into the future. Because in our past we had this peaceful co-existence but why don’t we make it forward for the future and think of becoming a peaceful city; city for peace, city for conflict resolution, city for negotiations, you know. And this probably would be an interesting idea… The whole idea that under the city there are many hot springs of sulfur. Because Tbili means warm, Tbilisi actually means “warm place”.
So, I was thinking about this energy of the city coming from the hot springs and we should create this building that would be a new architectural project especially for conflict resolution, designed with integration of the hot springs.
Dominique: That’s really interesting because in Japan, where I live now, you know, we have so many hot springs too. Because Japan is such a volcanic island, right? So taking public bath with others is a very traditional culture in Japan. Is it the same in Georgia? Do people go to hot springs and take bath together?
Wato: Yes, yes, yes.
Dominique: Wow, that’s interesting. So you’re trying to make a concept out of this “warm place”; Tbilisi as a warm place with a historical cultural torrents, of different and diverse people. That’s very beautiful, I can already imagine the cultural connection between Georgia and the far-eastern Japan. Now I’m curious, about how you echoed with Beuys’ philosophy. As you know, Selbi, in her article, was trying to evaluate justly what Beuys gave as an inspiration source, but at the same time, quite critical toward his use of nomadic cultures in his works. I too have a slight feeling of strangeness toward this idea of a German artist who refers to shamanistic practices of the Siberian nomads without ever visiting Central Asia.
Just to tell you what kind of project this is; you might think this is a project initiative by the Ghoete-Institut so maybe everyone has to be respectful toward Beuys, but the fact is that many of my colleagues in this project are quite critical toward Beuys, which I find interesting. I really appreciate the Ghoete-Institut being very open-minded about that, but you are maybe the first person that we are interviewing who is actually very positive about him. So, I’m wondering, why is that? To understand better, I’m also curious about how you came to know Beuys existence? How do you think as a Georgian person, how do you think his idea cohere with your own cultural background and maybe this original cultural tolerance in Tbilisi?
Wato: You know first of all I want to say about the connection with his ethnographical, what we call, element in his work; if you speak about certain understanding of colonialism, Beuys is not a good example for that, definitely. It was his private experience, and artists may use the materials from his private experience. It was very deep, very traumatic private experience which actually healed him, as far as we know. However, it was a private experience, he was not any missionary in the colonial context somewhere to describe some tribes or something like that, right?
So, this one thing, I think if we want to speak about colonialism, this is a very big taboo and I think that this is a very big problem in the world because, before the colonialism will be re-evaluated, the tension will be only be growing in Eurasia. Also in the world, but also in Eurasia. Because I myself, when I was living in the Soviet Union as a child I remember that we knew that state was pressuring us, that state was our enemy.
So to destroy state property was okay, because you were kind of dissident, you were anti-state, you know. And I remember this legitimation, inner subconscious legitimation, I can destroy whatever that belongs to the state because the state destroys me, right? This kind of legitimation I recognize in Europe by people who came from the colonies; so you destroy my country, now I destroy your country, no rules. And so this taboo of decolonization which should happen in first instance in Europe itself, kind of recognition of these deeds, which were… also not just recognition but also really expression and articulation of what exact numbers are we talking, you know? What exactly was damaged, how many lives it took, how many resources it took. So if we want to kind of clarify the world, first we need to speak to European and English and other people about colonialist and not to Beuys in first instance. This is the last thing we can speak to Beuys about, I think.
And it’s not being about positive or negative, it’s about what you see as a value. What he left as a value. In my life, as you are asking me, as an artist. I cannot change myself to become non artist. I am an artist and I am doing anything as an artist, right? So I am doing an organization, I am doing an institution, I am doing educational program outside some field space different things. Beuys was one who actually opened these doors. Not just for me, but for the world. And maybe these doors have been open forever, of course. Anyone who created a new education was an artist. But, in certain period of the 20th century, he really opened up and went beyond gallery and museum and let’s say flooded the world with creativity which I think has very big potential. And why I was congratulating you about doing this project was because, I am 100% sure he is still completely underestimated.
He is not really understood. I don’t want to make a cult figure of him, it’s not about that. But I want to stress the importance of what we can, of what this can result in contemporary art regime of today. How to transform a regime today. Because I must say one thing, the whole world mostly is reliant on intellect, right? Intellect became a leading force. We know from art it’s not only about intellect; art is intuition and we welcome intuition. But rational thinking is still there, it doesn’t go anywhere else. It’s not just prioritized, right?
Then you have other modes of thinking like “accident”. Artists are looking for accidents. You make mistakes. Artists are looking for mistakes. This is the way out, mistakes; an accident. Then you have paradox, contradiction, which is also a way of art. Then you have imagination. So you have actually a polyphonic process which is creativity, and this polyphonic process has different abilities to grasp than just intellect. It’s a more complex way of perception or dynamics. In any case, I think in any challenge, in any problem, in the world, there should be artists also involved because artists will propose non-typical, different solution. Different solution; not logical. Because this is the urgent need of our adaptation to the new world; even rethinking internet, rethinking nature, you know. Creativity has more abilities for that than just rational thinking.
Dominique: So you think that today’s world is severely divided even in the western world, or anywhere else, especially in the pandemic period as you mentioned earlier. To heal this kind of situation, you think Joseph Beuys’ take on education or ecology and other kind of open-ended public discussions, opened up a kind of new possibilities to think how to solve these problems that still exist today. I really agree about that because especially in those three or four past years, many problems are rising from social division on the Internet that is accelerating people’s political division especially; which is also accelerated itself by the pandemic situation because people have to be staying in their homes and not meeting people, so actually we are trying to understand each other only by mediated ways using videos, audio and text. But we can’t smell each other, we can’t hug each other, we can’t touch each other, which are important factors of communication. So I really understand that this non-logical, intuitive aspect of art is needed to face the situation.
In my first article for this project, I disclosed my own ignorance about the contemporary state of affairs in Central Asia and other parts of Eurasia. So I’m trying to study myself by reading books about geopolitical situation, cultural tradition et cetera, but I confessed to Selbi that I’m pretty much ignorant and she will have to teach me and introduce me to people so that I can know. And through this process, we want to transmit your voices and to try to see the world from the core of Eurasia.
So I want to ask you more about your urge to invoke or to summon Joseph Beuys’ methodology in today’s context. From a larger scope of what we can call Eurasia, how bad or how hopeful is the situation according to you? That could be a political problem; of course we know all the struggle in Gaza in Israel that has been going for a long time, and there are many other regions of conflicts. But what we have also talked with Selbi and what I have learned from that, is that she told me that she is an outcome of colonialism by the Soviet Union, and it’s also more complicated than I can imagine. So you have the problem of ethnic and cultural identity, but what is going on right now in your place?
Wato: You know Georgia has been an important part of Russian Empire in the sense that, and still it’s very big longing from Russian Empire, but Georgia was one of the republics that saved the languages of Soviet Union. All other republics have given up their language and made Russian a state language, Georgia was the only country not to do that.
Dominique: So you still speak in Georgian?
Wato: Yes, and we even spoke Georgian in Soviet times. I mean, we kept it a state language. So we are quite difficult to assimilate. The colonialism of which you are speaking of Central Asia is different than here. We are not so much influenced as they are, they have lost all their languages, they gave up their languages and turned into Russian and this is already very big shift. This didnt happen in Georgia. We always spoke our language.
Dominique: So how did that happen? Why could Georgia save its culture from Soviet Union like that?
Wato: This is a very big subject because…
Dominique: I know, I’m sorry to ask you this sort of thing.
Wato: No, because you know, Georgia has definitely a special meaning or special importance and power also because when it was also one of the first countries that crashed Soviet Union, because there were first suffering people who died here from Russian soldiers and the world got to know from it that Soviet Union was killing the people. But, historically it is 30 years ago from now, but there’s still the “Soviet hangover”. In my understanding there is not enough attention to guidance to get over it, because if you want people to transform there should be a certain guidance. Like Moses guided people for 40 years, you don’t need 40 years to go from Egypt to Israel, it’s quite near, you know. But he did it and he made them walk and walk and he was a kind of guru, he was a kind of guide who educated them. So it was 40 years of work of education, you know. Not just being around. Just being around doesn’t change you.
So this is what initially Soviet Union happens and some people are getting awake. It’s very important for Georgians, who live in a small country between mountains, to go visit bigger Eurasian states like Kazakhstan, or China and then come back and reflect. There is a process of transformation going on and I don’t see any clear formula I can give you of what will happen, because this is quite complex, because we are a Christian country so I think certain things by that are limited in our knowledge, you know. We don’t know so much things because Christianity likes to censor. So, even Judaism likes to censor because it’s a monotheist religion.
Dominique: You mean, as a general tendency.
Wato: Yes! And dualism, like black and white; monotheism is like monoculture. Like you have permaculture and you have monoculture, you see. So in India I had found about permaculture.
Dominique: Yes, so I am very curious that you had gone to India because I saw a YouTube video of you speaking in Russian, so I couldn’t understand, but I could hear the name of Mahatma Gandhi and I knew you were talking about him in the beginning. I think you were speaking in front of an audience about creativity actually and so I’m pretty sure you, as a mediator of East and West, and you have been influenced by people like Joseph Beuys and also by prominent Eastern cultural figure like Mahatma Gandhi.
Dominique: So, I’m still very curious about what you have told me about your passion, your need to think about what Georgia can offer to the international scene. It could be a concept, it could be some cultural perspectives. I’m asking this to you because I am also kind of a product of this culture mixture between East and West. I have always received Western education system in a French school. But, as ethnical background I have very Eastern Asian cultural background including religion which is totally not monotheistic, so you have like eight million gods in Japan, and you worship and respect each one of them.
Dominique: So I sympathize with what you say about you are trying to become a mediator between East and West and I find similarities between Eastern Asia and your cultural situation in Georgia. But I’m also interested in differences, meaning your original position in these cultural dynamics. By asking you about this political situation around your country, I wanted to know more about your concerns, not as in a global situation, but in a more local context that you are living everyday. And then maybe I can understand more how you respect Joseph Beuys’ activity.
Wato: You know my most deep concern is about, we spoke about it, we are still suffering Soviet past and why we are suffering, there are two main things that I must mention. One is that in Soviet Union there was only one political party, and taking initiative in in any form individually was a crime. So individual initiative became hard knocked and almost mutated away, faded away. So people now, even the children that are born in liberated Georgia, independent Georgia, their parents were grown up with an idea that everything will be just the state will do. You don’t need to do yourself, the state will do, you see. So all Soviet Union was fed by that. The state is like a babysitter, it will do everything. You don’t need to take any initiative because anyway the state will do.
This is still going on now, people have no awareness of their own potential. This is a big trauma. It is like a person who drops something, but he doesn’t pick it up because he doesn’t know how he can pick it up. He doesn’t know this idea that he can pick it up with his hand. This is the first thing; the trauma of taking initiative.
And the second trauma is about collectiveness. Because in Georgia, still now exists but vanished mostly, there is a lot of traditions of self organization knowledge. Traditional Social security. For example, in the village, if someone is sick, there are the people who help them to grow their vegetables and do other works for that family. So they support each other in a system. And this is an old system. But when the Soviet Union arrived, they kill and cut all the systems and they created a very cold system which was collectivization. It was actually very painful, very violent. Hard working farmers were taken away everything and then said now that’s ours together.
What I want to say is this oppressed collectivism didn’t result really into collectiveness because people get very anti-collective and ego-centric. I mean, best example if you travelled to Soviet Union is all flats are clean but the staircases are dirty. It was common. So the idea of common sense got lost, you see. This is the second problem, second trauma, where your potential, your awareness and tools and mechanisms of self organization were negated.
So in 2015 for example we did a second triennial, which was called SOS – Self Organizing Systems. So these are two backgrounds which are still very important concerns.
Dominique: That’s really important and it helps me really understand what you are trying to think, you know, the Georgian way of not just imitating the Western democracy, but not just staying in this Soviet hangover situation and how to get out of that. Now I understand why you are a friend of Nicholas Bourriaud and how you appreciate his relational art approach, and I especially understand why you care so much about education because maybe you consider it’s the only way out of this very long lasting impact of Soviet hangover and restore the association the traditional collective culture.
Dominique: One more thing I really want to ask you is about the idea of creative mediation that you’re trying to put in your educational program which will lead to social renewal with participational aspect of organization. Then you said a shift from “me” to “we” is a very important keyword in this program, because I am also conducting research in cultural psychology, where we compare many different cultures and try to analyze the psychological characteristics of, for instance, Japanese people and American people. And there is a very interesting index which is called Individualism Index. So, for instance, the United States is a very highly individual country whereas Japan is a very collectivistic country, relatively. It doesn’t mean everyone is thinking the same way, of course. But, it’s interesting to compare epistemological differences among different cultures, so to get out of the box. And as you know, in Western philosophy people discussed about accidents, errors and all of these sort of post-modern key concepts, to try and think beyond the limitation of Western modernism and the narrow concept of an individual who’s split from other people.
Many scholars in Japan right now have a very interesting discussion about how to rediscover traditional cultures in Asia and in Japan and how you can kind of rediscover, for instance, religious concepts and values and how to bring it to contemporary philosophical discussion or post-humanity discussion or even how to incorporate it, how to engineer information technology in accordance with them. And I kind of feel the same vibe as what you are telling me today and I’m glad to feel that sympathy because I can see that it’s also happening in your world, in your region, in your country. I wanted to ask more about how you envision this shift from “me” to “we” in your own particular context and maybe you could relate to what Joseph Beuys has done.
Wato: You know in this case there is a culture which is developed in science of looking inside yourself. Looking inside oneself and this is called yoga and the yoga literally means union. So it comes from yoga the idea from me to we actually. I think that generally any consciousness in today’s world especially, with all the challenges that we have, with all the information that we have, we have to make use of this science and also perceive our potential; learn ourself, learn our mind, learn our energy, learn everything. Learn to use this in a right way.
I also agree with Indian thinking that does not so much appreciate the mind itself. The mind is a very Western idea, where you think that the mind is everything. The yogis say no, when you shatter the mind you have different perceptions and that is enhancing the world in this union. You are joining the world, you are not anymore an individual, separated beings. So I think if you speak about me to we, we need definitely to learn ourselves, everyone of us to first be peaceful with the world and start our day or our life or our journey with that point. Because the deeper sense of the life probably is that we fully experience the life, that we live fully our life, that it is not just some parts of a healthy life, let’s say. That we are really realizing our potential, the full impact of it and how to create impact is also about being yourself in equilibrium, in balance aligned way with the cosmos and the world.
Without it, we cannot do nothing. Unfortunately, many cultures don’t accept yoga, and think that yoga is some kind of religion. But this culture gives you this tool and this technology and I think that what is very optimistic now is that in this turbulences people are able to awaken and develop themself easier. If you look at education for example, yes, to reorientate a person that is disoriented, because many people in the world now are professionally confused. They don’t choose the professions they wanted. They don’t study what they wanted because their parent, because of their mistake, because of bad education. So people want to reorientate and this can happen now very short period of time.
From 2000 to 2018 our study program was functioning as nine months study program. So 150 people went through it and 80 completed. And all of them are very busy people, if you call them they have no time to talk because they are all connected. They now own conceptual galleries, own projects, own social spaces, so they really went through education which was actually a process to become active in society. Create new social structures, new patterns, new settings, new opportunities. This gives of course again hope that in contemporary time with information technology that we have we can very quickly evolve. And this is a good thing.
Dominique: Okay. Can I ask you one more question about what you told me about that traditional culture about the self organization as a collective which was kind of destroyed by the Soviet Union. Does that culture have a name in Georgian?
Wato: This was called nadi.
Dominique: Nadi. N A D I?
Wato: Yes, yes.
Dominique: So what does nadi mean in Georgian?
Wato: Nadi means exactly what you explained. Nadi is a kind of rule of the community. And if one family, if someone is sick or disabled, to work on their property to have food after, the community day-by-day by switching themself going to this family and helping them.
Dominique: That’s amazing.
Dominique: So was that kind of a legal system that people kind of obeyed, or was it kind of spontaneous response?
Wato: No, it was a tradition. It is still existing in some places In Georgia. It was a tradition or old, let’s say, community rule or kind. A Tradition, yeah. And then also when these families couldn’t work they could cook at least. So when these neighbors came to work on their field, after cook meal and would drink wine and have a party and this kind of really joyful. You know singing together and stuff.
Dominique: That’s so beautiful. And, I’m pretty sure similar types of culture would exist in the world, could be in Europe, or Eastern Asia. Because in Japan too, before 300 years from now when Tokyo was called Edo and there was only like one million people living here, especially poor people in Tokyo would collectively live together in these very small houses that were built one next each other. And they would raise children together beyond this barrier of nuclear family in contemporary context. There are people are discussing about it in Japan in a contemporary context and trying to learn about how people were self organizing without the need to obey any legal system or any technological system. But people were acting spontaneously, intuitively, and maybe that has to do something with what Joseph Beuys was saying about everyone can become an artists and there’s a social sculpture going on, and that it’s not only the contemporary artists which are sculpting the society.
Lastly, I wanted to convey to you and also have your opinion that what me and Selbi have been discussing is that I really appreciate Joseph Beuys’ concept of expanding the notion of art beyond art museums and artistic education and when I looked at all the traditional historical cultures in Central Asia and also in caucuses are in Siberia in Mongolia in Asia, I wanted this project to focus on artisans and what contemporary artisans today are doing in Eurasia. I’m pretty sure there’s a cross over between artisans and contemporary artists, which I’m already discovering through Selbi’s network. Many people work with artisans to create contemporary art installations.
And you just told me that through your educational program people who graduated from that are really creating new businesses, new professions by themselves. And that’s the social creativity that you have been inspired from Beuys. My last question for today would be, how would you bridge the traditional cultures to contemporary artistic practices? As in, when you talk about mediating the East and West.
Wato: Yes, you know, I have one program that we are developing as Center of Contemporary Art here, which is called Art Meets Craft.
Wato: Unfortunately, there are some craftsmen in Georgia who are phenomenally good but in general, they are also in this post-Soviet hangover. They are also doing Soviet Union crafts which was very much raped by the Soviet ideology. Because Soviet ideology should come in front of these ethnic differences, the old folklore and craftsmanship became very superficial and very decorative. So, unfortunately, many craftsmen here, they don’t know what to do new. They don’t know how to come to new productions. So my idea is to assist them by reflecting strategies of artistic research, and how artists are dealing with the creative project and creating finally a new complex production.
So, my answer to our reality is this program. That means working with craftsmen and coming to new production by learning contemporary ways of research and development their projects. I think it’s very necessary for them.
Dominique: Is that a program for people who have studied craftsmanship, or people who have studies contemporary art?
Wato: This is actually a program for craftsmen mostly. So, for example, the setting would be like two artists make a collaborative workshop with maybe 10 craftsmen from different fields and they make a production and this is then exhibited.
Dominique: Wow. That’s beautiful.
Dominique: Do you have any information on the Internet about that program?
Wato: You know actually this program is just in starting point. It’s not much happened that I can show you yet. There are different other projects that are related to crafts and my friend, Edisher Beradze who is sitting here, he is part of our team and he has something called manufaktura[MOユ3] . This is about artists who make crafts, who produce something. It’s a very interesting project also. Artists that don’t produce craft necessarily but produce something like objects of creative industry.
Dominique: I’m very curious about your program.
Wato: Yes. I am sure it will work because it’s about empowering people. Real empowerment of people happens when they get the mechanisms, knowledge of how to do things. Yes.
Dominique: It’s very interesting because a similar kind of phenomenon is also happening in Japan because for instance we have a very rich culture of fermented foods. For instance we make Sake which is a traditional alcohol beverage made with rice, and you know many kind of pickles, and many other kind of other fermented foods. But what’s happening in Japan in traditional fermented food cultures is, sometimes very big corporations like Goldman Sachs or other advertising agencies would come into this traditional industry and spend money to promote by encapsulating these products with contemporary marketing methods, and they sell it quite well. Then young people get interested in traditional value, which I think is good in terms of keeping the traditions alive. But I think it’s fundamentally different to what you are doing, to what you are trying to do with educating or training craftsmen with artistic mindset or way of thinking.
And I think that’s more important than a big corporate trying to resell the traditional culture, because again, as you said it’s about how to create a long lasting impact in the culture and not just try to sell it in a short time span. So I’m very curious about the outcome of this program. So we are going to be active until the end of October of this year, so me and Selbi are going to be interviewing many other people and we’re going to try to make panel discussions if we can and we are going to also ask craftsmen all over Central Asia, inner-Asia and hopefully from Georgia too if we can have access to ask to provide some kind of cultural artifact that they would create. Thinking about the cultural past but also from the contemporary point of view.
Wato: Yes, it’s possible that I could make if you think that makes sense, I could make also align some process with these craftsmen of your… I mean, I could share this creative research methodology and make kind of presentation with them if you think that makes sense. Later on, I mean.
Dominique: Thank you so much, I think that would be fantastic.
Wato: Another thing I just want to say is that, when we speak about Joseph Beuys or when we speak about me and you, you know, in fact these things are not our ideas. It’s not even Joseph Beuys’ ideas that art should be everywhere, it’s more recognition of reality and the challenges in reality happens and the needs of reality. The same way in Georgia. If Georgia were like Switzerland maybe I wouldn’t go into social sculpture because it’s all set, you see. Here nothing is set so here everything needs a new interpretation. The country needs new interpretation and that’s why I think we have to recognize that we should do this, that we should set up the education. Not because it’s our idea, because we react, we respond to reality.
Dominique: That’s a very important point. Because the interpretation and the meaning of what Beuys did depends on the contexts that you live. It was really refreshing for me to speak to you today because for the past few months I’ve been talking to people in Europe and people in Japan, who are, not everyone of them of course, but many of them was quite, trying to be critical toward what Joseph Beuys was doing. But, you really re-evaluated, especially for his educational practices and I really agree that we shouldn’t label someone like Joseph Beuys or any other past artist as something fixed but we also have to reinterpret and to create new value out of their activities for our contemporary lives. So, thank you so much. I learned a lot about Georgia and you know, I especially liked the Nadi tradition! I want to look it up on the Internet or any other books.
Wato: Well, you know, you were saying before about people being critical about Beuys. You know, this for me again is a confirmation that there is not enough awareness about him. About what he actually did, you know. That he is lacking of awareness and like with Jesus, he is also like, how Jesus was born and how he died, but no one look in his life which is most important. The miracle is how he was born and how he died. People think these miracles are most important, but they are not, his life is the most important thing. The same way what is most important of Beuys, this is actually the shift of creativity into life. This is losing time, I think to now think about and if one wants to speak about colonialism, definitely Beuys is not the right example at all.
We can speak about other things. Thank you very much! It was very enjoyable. I feel completely we have correspondence in the mind and I am happy to meet you.
Dominique: Yes, I would be happy to discuss other topics in other circumstances like, I have also been influenced by Nicholas Bourriaud and his concept of relational aesthetics since when I was a student. I have found many similarities and common interests. Now, I guess it’s about evening in your time? What time is it now?
Wato: No, now it’s two o’clock afternoon.
Dominique: Okay. Right now it’s seven o’clock PM. So I’m going to prepare dinner with my wife and my daughter.
Wato: Okay, great. Enjoy.
Dominique: I wish you a pleasant rest of the day, and yes, I will contact you again. Thank you so much!
Wato: All the best, bye-bye!
Talking to Wato gave me a fresh angle on the reception of Beuys’ work in the contemporary world. I understood how the education of art, and artistic practices are crucial for Georgia as a nation and its people to emancipate and set free from the specter of Soviet colonialism. Before the interview, I could not imagine that what Beuys did in expanding the notion of art into education, ecology, economy and politics could give such a deep inspiration, as Wato stressed. This is probably because the regions where I have lived (Japan, France, and the US) were not affected by the same type of cultural oppression Georgia went through in the Soviet era; at the same time, I became more aware these nations where I grew up have practiced colonialism and imperialism in the past.
As for the prospects, I was excited to know how Wato is trying to reconnect local Georgian traditions and values, not just to overcome what he called “post-Soviet hangover,” but also to generate creative contribution as a mediator of Eurasian cultures. His Art Meets Craft program at CCA is in a continuum with Beuys’ concept of social sculpture: crafts and folk arts are indeed means of self-expression and cultural representation that can co-evolve with contemporary contexts, and thus generate new social reality that affects our perception of the world anew.