Food for a Museum

«Museum and the culinary traditions are not really something that people would think together most of the time… [During the project] somehow the boundary has shifted a little bit» says Data Chigholashvili from GeoAIR, art initiative based in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Yulia Kostereva interviewed Data Chigholashvili and Nini Palavandishvili

August 25, 2015
Melitopol, Ukraine


Data Chigholashvili is working between social anthropology and contemporary art, exploring the connections between them through theoretical research and projects. Since 2012 Data is affiliated with artist initiative GeoAIR. Nini Palavandishvili joined artist initiative GeoAIR in 2006 and since then she is actively engaged in curating and organising international exchange project in Georgia and beyond its borders. Through her projects Nini researches on social and political contexts and its interpretation in the context of cultural production and contemporary art. 

“Nobody really spends a thought on which role does cuisine and culinary play in our everyday life”

Yulia Kostereva: How does your previous experience intersect with your activities in Melitopol?

Data Chigholashvili: I think first of all the context is of course so different, the idea of many ethnic groups, or nationalities that come together – that is very actively present here. We’ve been working with people from different countries who live in Georgia, but there the context and the project was different. It was very interesting working with the group here, everybody had so much to contribute and most of them were so active and had lots of useful ideas for the project and it was also quite interesting that all of them were women. Here and there we had few men who stopped by, but most active ones were all women. Maybe that is stereotypically due to the fact that the project was about recipes and food, which is also an interesting fact. And in terms of what we were emphasizing – the exchange aspect was a starting point for the project in Melitopol, which was again another perspective on foodways.

Nini Palavandishvili: If in the previous case it was an exchange between us and our project participants, in this case it was an exchange among all the involved individuals. All the participants had to exchange among themselves and share. And this was very interesting to see and to observe it in this group of people.

Yulia Kostereva: Why did you suggest such an activity for Melitopol?

Data Chigholashvili: This year and last year we have been working a lot with cooking and we wanted to look at it a bit differently this time. It was mostly recipes and details, like culinary notebooks, again it was limited around the culinary aspects, but at the same time it was about the memory connected with this recipes and food. What I think was important about this project is that the museum and the culinary traditions are not really something that people would think together most of the time. Even though a lot of things that museums show, about whatever period, are connected to food and to kitchens and how people got food, what instruments did they use, a lot of things are there about the kitchen, etc. so why not bring contemporary foodways into a museum? And, I think, one of the good examples was that a woman who was doing the TV shows about cooking, she brought this film here after she attended the first session. She thought that it is OK to show it in the museum. I’m thinking she could have shown it before, and now somehow the boundary has shifted a little bit.

Nini Palavandishvili: And it is an interesting thing, that very often when you have different cultural activities, especially exhibition openings – vernissages, finissages – there is always food present at this kind of events, but nobody thinks of talking about this food, and why exactly that food is present. Nobody really spends a thought on which role does cuisine and culinary play in our everyday life.

“In the museum there is already quite a big number of people who are the community”

Yulia Kostereva: To what extent have your expectations regarding this work in Melitopol come true?

Data Chigholashvili: I think it’s wrong to have any precise expectations for a work, which is based on the process. This is very short term what we did here. One thing is what you see as a final result, or maybe the final event, but generally you work for a day or two and most of the things change during the process, which does not mean there is something wrong with the project, if nothing changes, then there might be something wrong. Sometimes, if the context and/or participants require, one can even go further from what one initially wanted to work on. We had some thoughts – maybe we go this or that way…

Nini Palavandishvili: But then these thoughts are about the process not about a final result or an outcome.

Yulia Kostereva: Did you notice any particular issues connected with working in a small town?

Nini Palavandishvili: It very much depends on a place and on a community. I think in the museum there is already quite a big number of people who are the community and they are visitors, they are friends, they are close participants of these events. It can be also in a big city when there are not many people participating in such events and that can be a village where people are disinterested. But in this case it was definitely very nice to see that so many people come to the museum and appreciate what is done here and also looking forward to new things and to get engaged.

Yulia Kostereva: How can the museum in Melitopol develop?

Data Chigholashvili: Personally, I would add more contemporary elements on the first floor, which they already have in a way, but not only to find the person who does caricatures or does portraits and make their exhibition in the museum, but also to look at things that are a bit different, but speak so much about the people, maybe, also have open calls and get some ideas from locals on what to exhibit temporarily. For instance, the recipe books, they can be so interesting in the context of this museum and in the context of the multicultural environment of Melitopol.

Nini Palavandishvili: And it is interesting always to rethink and to look anew on the museum collection and to work with it. To work and change the permanent exposition they have, to make more thematic exhibitions from the collection they have and also to add new things. And of course with the participation of many different people and to opening it more up.

Data Chigholashvili: Involving people in the work instead of just offering them something, so that they know that it is also part of their city. And that is very important, that it is more doable here, than in the bigger cities, in the bigger museums.

Yulia Kostereva: What other conclusions or thoughts following the project would you like to share?

Nini Palavandishvili: Wishes maybe, that these kind of initiatives are not temporary and single initiatives. That the museum also takes it over. Because that is also what we’ve been talking about, that you or any other artist won’t be able to work here permanently. I would wish, that they would continue this kind of work themselves, they would look for different people, they would themselves initiate things to trigger their own creativity and to developing the museum themselves.