Liza Zhvania: In the Context of Cultural Peripheries

25th November 2019

Throughout the last decades, with the development and diversification of the artistic practice, the art scene in Western countries has acquired new social meanings, and this process has been institutionalized. Forms of visual art have been established, which go beyond an individual studio practice, and which have diversified the social role of an artist. Although, a large part of the global art scene still depends on commercial activity – the work of many artists involves cooperation with galleries, auction houses or art fairs, a parallel dynamic has evolved in many countries, connecting art to education, activism, placing it in the realm of “public good”.

Many West European countries, like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Great Britain etc., put a lot of effort in developing contemporary art, supporting educational institutions, as well as museums and non-commercial art organisations. Along with supporting the development of an artist, on an individual level, the institutions acquire the function of reconceptualization and reformation of the social critique, history and values.

Western countries create culture as a tangible value – a definitive element of a social identity. An artistic language is being established on a global level as a form of communication. The political efforts of certain countries are aimed at establishing an influence on this language. At the same time, the values, which are created by the Western cultural/artistic policies, claim a certain kind of self-criticality, self-reflexivity and inclusivity. On one hand, the contemporary art world exemplifies the dominance of the Western culture, on the other hand, the values, which it establishes, entail the inclusion of marginalized social groups. In the context of the Western cultural “centre” and “peripheries”, this process encompasses a certain dialectic: the identification of the periphery – definition of the “strange reality” in the language of the global culture (which in many cases can be exotification) and a representation, self-expression – which might cause the strengthening of marginalized social groups.

Considering that the connection between Georgian and European artistic processes has been growing and strengthening over the last few years, it is important to analyse this process and the possibilities it entails in the context of “cultural geopolitics”. From this perspective, it was interesting for me to attend the forum organized by “Create to Connect -> Create to Impact”, where a discussion was centred around the following question: how effective is participatory art and why do we keep doing it?

CtC->CtI unifies the member organizations  from counties from Western Europe (Noorderzon – Netherlands, Culturgest – Portugal, NTGent – Belgium, ect.), as well as organizations from Eastern Europe (AltArt – Romania, Drugo more – Croatia, etc.) Cooperation with CtC->CtI from the part of Georgia is being carried out by “Public Art Platform”. “Performance Days” were organized last fall, as part of this collaboration, which introduced a few very interesting artists to the Georgian public.

The members of the network represented different countries, where the contemporary art practices have different histories. While the Western European cultural organizations are supported by various kinds of educational and cultural institutions, such organizations from post-soviet countries exist, in most cases, as a result of independent initiatives and social efforts. This is precisely why cooperating with interconnecting initiatives such as CtC->CtI represents a large alternative resource for them (and us).

CtC->CtI considers art as a mechanism for change, founded on interconnectivity. This is the ideological frame around which this project of the European Committee is founded.

  1. Importance of an active involvement in the society
  2. Importance of multiculturalism and inclusivity
  3. Art as a form of creating connections and a tool of social change

On the other hand, the art platforms, which are members of the network, have a completely different understanding and perception of what artistic practice is and what it means to be involved in it. This difference is founded in the cultural differences and the cultural policies, which are executed in various countries.

In countries, where the state’s effort is aimed at developing contemporary art, a certain kind of social infrastructure is created. The produced artwork, the art-market chain, as well as other effective factors hold their place in particular societies. In cases where culture effectively mediates social reality, cultural policies, institutions and the artistic language itself become intentional. The values introduced enter the realm of ideology on a cultural level. The self-expression of an artist becomes a form of navigation within the existing system of values. At the same time, the artistic practice involves a degree of self-reflectivity, which turns the cultural production into a dialectic process.

In Georgia, like other post-soviet countries, the government puts scarce resources into developing contemporary art. Consequently, the role of art in the society is fragile and based on human relations rather than concrete principles or institutions. On one hand, this inhibits the possibilities for career-growth, the existence of a healthy, constructive criticism, in many cases complicating the possibility of collaboration, as well as the creation of a common axis for development. Due to the inclination of the “advanced West” to exotify the periphery, there is also a danger of self-exotification (Berlin is out Tbilisi is in).

In the absence of institutional mediation and governmental support, it becomes the responsibility of self-organized groups to create a public art space, which is difficult for many reasons. Due to the scarcity of resources and forms of self-expression, the fetishization of the Western aesthetic forms prevails, along with the danger of imitation. Considering the fact that the interest of the “Western centre” in Georgian art is in most cases due to our “peripherality”, the national inclination towards egocentricity increases even more.

If there is no initiative on a state level to create and sustain a structural framework for cultural mediation, art can serve the role of social empowerment, rather than cultural propaganda. For this to take place, self-organized groups must work out mechanisms for cooperation, oriented around systemic improvement. In this case, through the consideration of institutional difficulties and the preservation of criticality, it will become possible for us to use the “European interest” for self-development. As long as we don’t lose ourselves in our own reflection and don’t forget what we truly need.

The article was published on 25th November 2019 in the Georgian platform