Open Place interviewed Constantine Kitiashvili, Ekaterina Ketsbaia and Natalia Vasadze - members of the Bouillon Group
October 26, 2013
The Bouillon Group (Natalia Vatsadze, Teimuraz Kartlelishvili, Vladimer Khartishvili, Konstantine Kitiashvili, Ekaterina Ketsbaia, Zurab Kikvadze) was founded in 2008. The Bouillon Group is the one of a few artists’ groups focusing on utilization of public non artistic spaces. The group is concentrated on e active confluence of a space, which is not concerned with art and artistic production or in contrary intervention with non artistic activity in artistic space.
Open Place: When the Bouillon Group was organized?
The Bouillon Group: In 2008. Firstly, the members of the group set up an exhibition separately, within other groups. Then it was held the first apartment exhibition where participants joined partially, and with the next apartment exhibition almost the whole group worked together. So, gradually we united.
Open Place: Why did you choose the format of apartment exhibitions?
The Bouillon Group: Such exhibitions were very popular in the 1980s and 1990s, but after 1990 they were stopped. First of all, we liked that this niche is free today. Secondly, we enjoy the apartment’s space itself, as we work with site-specific, the kind of space and structure together, on which the work is “molded”. Thirdly, we’re searching the place, where we could feel more comfortable: in private space, or in space, which is called “public”, does this space really exists, and whether we can do something there.
As alternative we’ve had galleries with their own programs, policies and curators. All these circumstances always constrain you, but you must take them into account.
Open Place: So, it was an attempt to create your own cultural policy without using already existing artistic space, wasn’t it?
The Bouillon Group: It was an attempt to open a private space, and find out where the public space is. In Soviet times the so-called “public space”, in fact, was used by the regime. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, public space seemed to appear, but, actually, it was private. For 23 years little has changed.
Another problem is that it’s no space where you could do something. All galleries are square and white, but we expect from our place something else. Some apartments give this “something else”: they can be small or locate in an old house of the early 19th century… Visitors don’t know where they go, what kind of space they see.
Open Place: How do you work with site-specific projects? What data do you use? What is the starting point?
The Bouillon Group: We get together, and, if somebody has an idea, for example, to make some performance, we discuss it. As the result we have a completely different work. Actually, it remains without the author, and it’s very important, it’s our specificity. We create projects together. Each of us is the author, because initial ideas transform during our collaboration.
It’s difficult to come to agreement. Sometimes everybody sticks to his own gun, and each of us follows his own concepts. If we don’t reach consensus, we postpone the project. If we find a common vision of some work, we do it.
Open Place: How is important for you the place where each particular work occurs?
The Bouillon Group: The place, a flat or a gallery, is very important for us. In some cases we came to the particular apartment, and a new idea arose right there. Space often dictates to us what we could do there. It’s like a canvas, where you should draw something.
Open Place: How do you consider people you interact with?
The Bouillon Group: They are participants of the work and co-authors. At our apartment exhibitions we involved residents of flats, so they’re the part of the work and our collaborators.
Open Place: What are the tools of this co-authorship?
The Bouillon Group: In one work we changed the direction of the door eyes for some flats. Residents of these apartments allowed us to change the direction of their peepholes. Moreover, some of them opened the doors and let visitors come.
Usually, especially in performances, we have some starting point. We know that we’re going to do something, but it remains open how our work will continue. Until the end nobody knows what will happen next, it’s always very exciting. We try to create a kind of interactive, so an audience could join us maximally. But it’s true just for some works.
Open Place: Does an artist have any limitations?
The Bouillon Group: Only personal morality, if he or she has it.
Open Place: Should an artist be responsible to society?
The Bouillon Group: In principle, we think not.
Open Place: Do you consider your activity as an art only, or it also included other functions?
The Bouillon Group: Things which we do never are just the artworks; they become a part of our life. For example, when we’re doing work with the barbell, we couldn’t imagine that we’d stop going to the gym and raising the barbell, it became a part of our lifestyle. After works which were realized with other people, we often continue contacts made during the project.
It’s hard to tell when the work began and when it ended. Sometimes we repeat the works, but in each case they are different, because of the space, where we reproduce them, and due to the people we communicate with. Where is life and where is art? It’s a very interesting question.
Once we did the Birthday of Georgia’s Mother, the sculpture. For this we set the table and organized traditional Georgian feast. The toastmaster glorified the mother of Georgia, and other mothers from Ukraine, Russia and Armenia. People, who came, didn’t realize whether it was an artwork or it actually happened, because in Tbilisi you can often see such feast, when people just have a drink, and everything is fine. It’s unclear where the border is.
Open Place: Do you define this border or not?
The Bouillon Group: No, we live in a system with no boundaries, so there’re no borders in our works. Anything can be art, and nothing can be art. But if we call something an “art”, it becomes art.
Open Place: Why such art is valuable for you?
The Bouillon Group: Well, we like to do what we do, we learn a lot, we enjoy communication with people, and they like to participate in our projects. This is the first and the most important thing. Also, when we started, our works weren’t funded, we invested our money. Till now we’ve been financing our artworks personally, and we’re pleased to do it.
Open Place: How do you fund the works? Where do you find sources?
The Bouillon Group: It’s very difficult. We’ve never applied for funding. Actually, we always do everything at our expense. When somebody invites us, for example, in European countries, they finance a work production, pay some fee, refund road expenses etc. But we’ve never sought it. This year it was the first time when the Ministry of Culture funded us.
Open Place: What was this work exactly?
The Bouillon Group: The Ministry of Culture invited us to participate in the Venice Biennale. We presented the work – «Aerobics», which we did two years ago in Bialystok, Poland. It devotes to the problem that really exists in Georgia and other post-Soviet countries; it’s religious fanaticism. This year “Aerobics” became relevant again, because on May17th in Tbilisi people, who came out against homophobia were beaten. Those, who beat were basically priests. Just after that, at the end of May we went to Venice.
Open Place:In Venice, as we know, you also did the installation…
The Bouillon Group: There were two our works in Venice. The first was the TV set with aerobics video stylized in aesthetic of 1980s. The second was the albums with photos from our apartment exhibitions.
Loggia in Georgian pavilion wasn’t our work, it was Kamikaze Loggia of Gio Sumbadze, and author of the title is Levan Asabashvili. This supposedly happened in 1990s in the time of lawlessness, after breakup of the Soviet Union. People began to make such outbuildings on the houses. Some of them wrecked, that’s why they got the name Kamikaze Loggia. The theme of work was the last 20 years in Georgia.
So, they did the work about Kamikaze Loggia, and we did the project about religion, which is increasingly radicalized, the situation is getting worse.
Open Place: How do you imagine the audience for such art?
The Bouillon Group: In Georgia the audience and the visitors are artists who work in the same field. In general, they come to see what makes “a rival firm”. But in case of apartment exhibitions, where inhabitants are involved, it’s interesting.
We like working with people. Even unconsciously they engage to contemporary art, however, they need lots of explanations. Last year for one work we’re collecting culinary recipes of all women from the particular street to make the book, and then asked women to cook according to their culinary recipes. We printed the book and invited those women. Our edition looked funny, as we’d done it by scanning old papers, which were yellowish and torn. Women who saw their recipes in the book were delighted, and those whose recipes weren’t included in the work were very upset.
Initially, nobody wanted to participate, they were lazy. When we said that we would bring products for their signature dishes, many of them refused. But some agreed, and their recipes were included in our book.
Open Place: Should art be linked with a place where artist lives?
The Bouillon Group: We work with the themes that surround us, and they could be global or local. We’re working with our space, and if we go somewhere, we’ll work with the new one.
As for the project Religious Aerobics, though it concerns our area, it would be topical in Russia or Poland as well. So, we can work with a local theme, but at the same time it might be global.
Open Place: What about evolution of your art? Do you set some tasks for yourselves?
The Bouillon Group: Yes, we do. Our task for the next year is to go to the residences, because we have a few ideas, but we don’t have any finances for their realization.
Firstly, we want to make the book about our practice. Something we’ve already overcome, now we are at the certain point, and we need to gather together and figure out what we’ve done. Secondly, we want to do a particular work. We have ideas, but we need sources to realize them.
Open Place: So, your development is in a summing-up, isn’t it?
The Bouillon Group: It’s only one point, but we’re not going to stop, we’ll go ahead.
Open Place:You told that there is no support at the state level. Have you tried to influence this situation?
The Bouillon Group: No, we haven’t. But something has become different after the change of government. Now the Ministry helps us a bit. It was the first time when the government chose the project for the Venice Biennale by open call. And if someone has an invitation to participate in a particular cultural event, they can apply, and they’ll be financed at least partially.
We can influence with our works, but in direct way we haven’t done it yet.
Open Place: Is Georgian society structured? Are there any active communities in Georgia? Do the artists interact with themselves?
The Bouillon Group: There’re several communities of artists. Some of them are very isolated, most of their participants are the children of film directors and artists, who contact only with each other and consider themselves as privileged, even toward us.
Artists, who don’t consider themselves as some “elite”, interact with everyone, organize open events. We also work like this: we open our apartments’ exhibitions and invite everyone. As for some specific group, it’s young people.
Open Place: Does civil society exist in Georgia?
The Bouillon Group: There is no civil society, but also there is Facebook, where everybody can express openly, and, in principle, do that.
Open Place: How social networks influence the Georgian local context?
The Bouillon Group: They affect only if they coincide with the certain circumstances, for example, political. If we have elections tomorrow, and today Facebook is very active, it can affect the situation. But if today Facebook is active and it would be no elections tomorrow, there’s no impact, then. Impulse to the debates comes from outside, not from Facebook to the streets, but from the streets to Facebook.
Open Place: Did the Rose Revolution affect your position?
The Bouillon Group: For the five years we’ve been working together, there were no revolutions in Georgia. Of course, politics influence our work, but we don’t organize any actions, we can only join to something. For example, we want to go to the border between Russia and Georgia, where a protest action is being held these days. Different activists take part in it.
Open Place: What kind of protest action?
The Bouillon Group: Activists just stand near the border. If they do something, a war will start. We’re also going to stand. In this way we want to declare our position, we’re against the aggression. But the Bouillon Group never organized any political actions.
Open Place: Do you push the policy away from your works consciously?
The Bouillon Group: It appears in our works, but in very subtle way. Our projects aren’t the open books, people should reflect on them. Our works contain policy and sociology, closely connected with the policy, but primarily we raise social issues.
Open Place: Are you anarchists?
The Bouillon Group: No, but all six of us are different. During working process we often argue. Someone wants to do more politicized things with clearly articulated attitude, and someone doesn’t want to declare position actively.
Open Place: How do you achieve the balance?
The Bouillon Group: Usually we swear hardly, and if we have a majority, it takes a decision.
Open Place: But as a result of this dialogue, even conflict, do you come to a new vision and commit the conclusions? Does this process affect you personally, so that you integrate your feelings into new work?
The Bouillon Group: At some point I (Natalia Vasadze – the author’s note) began recording how we did our works. Then I decided to make a film: I prepared questions, each member of the group answers them individually, and I record it. My questions are provocative, they can really hurt. They’re about our preparation to exhibitions and our perception of them.
Open Place: Do you have any allies locally, in Georgia?
The Bouillon Group: Yes, it’s our friends. It’s very special cases, and it’s not a class or a group, but individuals.
Open Place: Do you have a target audience?
The Bouillon Group: No, we don’t have an audience at all, so no reasons to talk about the target one.
Open Place: To your mind, is it possible to affect the formation of the audience?
The Bouillon Group: Somehow we tried to influence. During our early apartment exhibitions we planned to arrange discussions, but this idea failed.
Open Place: Nobody came?
The Bouillon Group: No, people came, but the questions didn’t concern the theme of discussion, they didn’t develop anything. Discussion turned to chitchat.
We can affect the situation by our works. We let a person be a part of the art-object, and he or she begins to interact with it. It’s the only way to influence, especially if the person isn’t aware of art.
Nevertheless we’ve affected the weightlifters. Sportsmen didn’t understand what we’re doing; they thought we’re preparing for a competition. Weightlifters couldn’t admit that it’s possible to raise the barbell without any specific purpose. They couldn’t understand that we have nobody to compete: our task was to know how much each of us could rise. However weightlifters hosted us for free, we had three professional coaches, and in the gym we felt like at home. Then the athletes came to our exhibition: they were interested in what we did, and that’s great.
Open Place: Did something change in their minds at that time?
The Bouillon Group: We think they discovered something new. Firstly, they didn’t understand us, but then they got used, we became friends gradually, and everything became different.