by Lilly Wei
That’s the intriguing but also rather curious question that is the title of a new work—and the exhibition—by Georgian artist Levan Mindiashvili. He adds to it studies for a “Book of Patterns (Morphemes of my Consciousness)” that consist of other significant objects from his childhood.
The exhibition is carefully, ceremonially staged as a “psychological tableau,” as he dubs it, conjuring an experience from the artist’s earliest memories. Most of these objects are placed to be viewed from a child’s height.
An elegant, planar fixture with grow lights drops a few feet down from the ceiling, suspended by wires. Shades of a ravishing, alchemizing magenta illuminate everything within its range, creating a hothouse-like ambience. Draped through it on the left cascading to the ground is a double-plied natural latex curtain that suggests flesh, stripped from the body’s architecture. Its color, without the grow lights, approximates the artist’s skin tones. The back panel is longer and sweeps across the floor in an haute couture swirl. The room seems to expand and contract, under the spell of the incandescent pinks that he persuades us is surely the color of memory.
Silkscreened onto the latex skin, a tattoo of sorts, is a positive and negative version of a snapshot of the artist as a cherubic, naked three-year old, seated on a rock, knee-deep in the sea, engrossed. There is a teasing note handwritten by his mother scribbled across the photo: “as you turned me black at the Black Sea, now turn me white at the White Sea.”
A hazily reflective metal platform that mimics water functions as the installation’s base, floating a few inches above the floor. On it is a potted tangerine tree, some additional stones, a photo of one of those stones, a branch snaking gracefully out of a clear beaker of water, and other similar objects. Recurrence is frequent in this project. Alongside the platform is a child-sized edition of a kind of hassock that is jauntily trimmed in fake orange fur. Peering in, there is a short video loop of a hedgehog, an amiable creature that was Mindiashvili’s earliest awareness of an existence distinct from his own.
Hung on the wall behind this installation is an image of a child’s gridded chalkboard, one of three that refers to a common tool used to teach reading, a process dependent upon rote but also on a leap of the imagination. My Consciousness Patterns is spelled out on them, one word per board, in Georgian script. There are also a number of framed silkscreened remnants of his cherished baby blanket, no longer in one piece.
Standing against the wall to the right as if in the wings of a theatre, waiting to make its entrance, is a palm tree, its base swaddled in a vintage fur coat, cast in the character of a matriarch that seems both comedic and forceful, beloved and feared. Next to it, in white neon, is the central text: what color is the Black Sea? The words facing the viewer are painted black, but the light of the reverse side bounces off the wall, brilliantly haloing them.
Mindiashvili’s question might seem straightforward at first, but he doesn’t ask it flippantly and it becomes increasingly complicated as the exhibition points to the slipperiness of memory and its encryptions. Autobiography is not his concern as he proposes different methodologies of representation and analyses that are both verbal and visual, to see past events in the present tense, from other perspectives. Yet the exhibition inevitably refers to what particularly concerns him. For instance, it might allude to blackness in Georgia and its cultural and social implications which differ from what constitutes blackness in the United States (although hierarchies, discrimination and inequities are not monopolies of either country, of any country). That perpetrates other questions. As a Georgian, for instance, is he European, Asian, or Eurasian, and if the latter, does he incline more East or West, leading to yet other questions about identity such as queerness and intersectionality.
“What color is the Black Sea?” is a kind of trick question with countless responses but no ultimate answer. For Mindiashvili, the exhibition focuses on consciousness and the capture of foundational moments in the construction of self, a framework for reassembling memories and reconsidering them. It is a renovation of sorts, an amelioration, poignant glimpses backward that lead forward.
Levani's Room: AMERICA (“I STAND AT THE window of this great house [...] as night falls. The night that is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life. I have a drink in my hand, there is a bottle at my elbow. I watch my reflection in the darkening gleam of the window pane. My reflection is tall, perhaps rather like an arrow, my blond hair gleams. My face is like a face you have seen many times. […] My ancestors conquered a continent, pushing across death-laden plains, until they came to an ocean which faced away from Europe into the darker past.”), 2020
Installation view at The Immigrant Artist Biennial, EFA Project Space, NYC. September 9 - October 24, 2020.
Excerpt from James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room" transferred on translucent chiffon, outdoor string lights cord, LED black light bulbs, hanging hardware. Curtain: 12 x 14 3/4 feet, String Lights: 48 feet, bulbs 24, Overall dimension 12 x 14 x 2.5 feet.
Referencing James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” (1956) – a seminal book in the history of queer literature, it is a love story between two men, that begins and ends in a rented room. Within this space, David -a white American - tells his story all the while looking at a reflection of himself in the window.
As the opening paragraph makes it clear, the book is as much about the denial of the right to love, as it is about race, colonial history and guilt, class inequality, and privilege. “Giovanni’s Room” is also the first queer story I read in which I could relate to the protagonist’s fears, and to the personal struggle with imposed cultural structures. After my journey in Argentina first, and now in New York, where I can finally claim a room in Bushwick as my home, I start to tell my story of becoming, told through the reflections of my culture, history, and experiences. A real-size print of my room on a sheer fabric will become the setting for most of the presentations - “Rooms,” that will entail exhibitions, performances, podcast, communal dinners, and raves. It will culminate in an all-encompassing artist book and an online archive.
The first iteration, “Home” held at Spring/Break NY, explores the sense of belonging and community, and the role of Brooklyn’s underground rave culture in my inclusion of New York’s creative scene. Playfully titled “HOME EP,” a set of 15 “tracks” depict architectural details of my apartment along with the logos of underground venues and clubs, parties, and mailing lists, flyers, and other memorabilia.
The soundscape of this installation, co-curated with Arthur Kozlovski, features sets from the raves that had significant importance for me, along with specially created ones. "Home" also marks the first iteration of our ongoing collaboration that brings together traditional art-making and underground rave culture and explores the new ways of presenting them in different contexts. Among contributed artists are (in alphabetical order): Bouffant Bouffant, The Carry Nation, ChadKid, Double Body, Arturo Kozlov, DJ Leeon, Manu Miran, Punshukunshu, Xiorro, Wrecked (The list will be updated daily).
Specially designed wristband will grant access to the visitors of the fair to BASEMENT NY on Fiday night, March 6th.
*The artist would like to extend a very special Thank You to Eriola Pira for her help in developing the overall concept of “Levani’s Room.”
“I Should Have Kissed You Longer” explores the mechanisms of construction of the national cultural identities and spans between the language, architecture and the thriving nightlife of Tbilisi. An immersive, modular metal structure transforms the entire booth into a performative setting with a DJ table in it. At the same time it contains and holds all the artworks, offering a self- contained display system. The soundscape for the installation is a debut album “Self” (released by Kingdoms) of Sophia Saze - a Georgian born, Brooklyn based DJ and producer. She combined the fragments of her childhood sounds with down-tempo beats and created a very intimate soundtrack of her personal journey.
This installation is based on a painting “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now” (2016), the first one from the ongoing blackboard series. The same detail is repeated in three different physical representations - woven textile, mirrored plexiglass, and hydrocal tile. The yellow neon stands for "Here" in my native Georgian language. The rest of the painting became source material for six accompanying “hyperlinks” in the liquid mirror. As the work deals with the contemporary condition of constant flux and fluidity, the work itself has changed during the run of the biennial.
My solo presentation at NADA, takes the point of departure the oeuvre of LA-based Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, and mainly his last piece titled “In Search of The Miraculous” (1975) in which Ader attempted to sail across the Atlantic on his way to the upcoming show in Groningen. The discovery of his boat 10 months later and disappearance of his body, inevitably fueled already existing longing for erasure of the border between art and life, endured by the fact that Ader’s conceptually rigorous oeuvre was deeply invested in its seeming antithesis: Romanticism, and for him, the authenticity of the work of art lay not in representing philosophical concepts, but in embodying them. In works presented here, I explore conditions, in which despite the ever-growing complexity of our everyday reality, our perception of the world is reduced to the single digital image: ephemeral and temporal, moderated and conditioned either by us - ourselves or by technology and algorithms. If pigmented hydrocal tiles attempt to grasp ultimate physicality of the digital image, my hand painted mirror “Studies of Impossible Image” become the point of encounter of the work and it’s surrounding - not depicting it, nor dissolving in it, but the synthesis of these two.