Shalva Nikvashvili
Interview

- I’d like to talk about your first solo show in Tbilisi and want to know how you decided what you would show? Are these just the recent series (Tamada, Shishi (Fear)) you have been working on lately, or is this a message for the homeland?

 

-Both; it is what I have been working on for the last two years, but at the same time - there is a message. Both works were first shown in Europe - in Germany, France and Belgium. I could see people gazing at the works with icy cold expressions, I was observing people who could not feel anything. The only comment was that they did not feel comfortable. It is true that everyone, in every country, has gone through some hardships, but what we have been through in Georgia, especially in the 90s, what I personally went through, they have not experienced that in Europe. Therefore, I was always annoyed by the reactions of these people to both works.

 

When you offered me an exhibition, the first thing that came to my mind was these two works; I was sure many people would feel what I put into these works. Some may disagree because everyone has different personal experiences.  But this is exactly what I try to do with my work to evoke emotion, whether it is positive or negative, it does not matter to me. So I sent a part of me to a place where I have not been for the last 9 years and I wanted to send you exactly that emotion.

 

-Presented works can be considered provocative; there is nudity, hypertrophied forms created through tissue and artificial hair...

 

​-It is very difficult to use the human body and sexuality in art, it is not easy to find a balance and do not go in a direct, cheap way that brings you closer to pornography. There are artists who work alone on the shock factor. And I, whenever I try to express my emotion, be it through photography, sculpture, or video art. When the organs of the body have to become visible, I always think about what I am trying to say, which emotions I want to evoke.

 

In Tamada the genitals are in your face, it is very direct. It all has to do with the culture, our traditions and the sexist attitudes that have existed with us for centuries. This work is not only about the Tamada (toast master) tradition, but also other elements from the Georgian traditional culture, such as Chikhtikopi (female headpiece), I turned it into a collective trinity and made a unified reflection on the traditional culture.

When I started working on Tamada, I heard reactions from Georgians that one should not show our traditions so negatively... But my goal is to show what I feel. In these traditions I see discrimination, fascism, sexism, homophobia ... everything I am against. It does not matter to me how Tamada recites a poem, or how he dances and how much wine he can drink.

I did my first Tamada performance in Berlin, then I was invited to the Antwerp Art Weekend, where for the toast to love I read a poem by an anonymous author from the collection of the poems by Vakhushti Kotetishvili, in which I see the greatest sincerity, filth and the reality with which I was heartbroken:

‘My breasts are blessing

      The dick of Shepherd, Garai

Chipping the cunt as

 As the saw cuts tree.

I could throw a thunder-ball

On to the dick of intelligentsia,

He’ll gently touch, then the penis will crook

      He’ll help with the hand,

      In the end he’ll apologize

     ‘I had a lecture today’.’

 

It is amazing how much this one Georgian poet says, but if I go deeper and think, there is some many negative connotations. This is also the problem with Georgians, in my opinion, that we cannot take anything seriously.

 

For me, Tamada is a farewell work, thus I will say goodbye to this period of life.

In Shishi (Fear), the main accent is on fabric, however, the hypertrophied penis that is knotted, is more about the impotence of sexuality.

- It is as if you divide the works into chapters and title them - Shishi (Fear), Tamada ... It always refers to uncomfortable feelings, does it have a therapeutic function for you?

 

- I cannot say I will ever defeat these feelings. I have expressed my opinion through my work and maybe I can show someone something different... Little Shalva, whom I often think about, the memories and experiences that are my inspiration ... Maybe my art will motivate someone to express their protest. When someone writes that I have become an inspiration to them, these words mean so much to me, because I know how it feels to be inspired and motivated by someone.

 

-You do several works around one topic, you often work in different media, as it is presented at the exhibition; How does such diversity come to you, what is the creative process?

-If someone records my work process, they will not understand anything, because I myself cannot understand anything. I do not know what I am going for, but I work on 5, 6 things at once; It is always like that, I work on everything together and in parallel. Again and again, it is so that I do not get bored from work and instead, get pleasure from it. But, I developed this working process through time, I was not born that way. I have lots of notebooks where I write ideas and make sketches. For me daily work is a necessity and I cannot imagine not doing it. I try to combine everything and connect them harmoniously. I cannot approach my work or life academically. The theme ends, the work ends. Maybe the topic will come up again, but when I feel like I have exhausted the topic, I will not go back to it. For me, it is very important for works to feel organic, as with people, I would like my artworks to have lifespans; some will live longer, others won’t. If it stands the test of time and somehow survive, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, that’s also natural. I really treat the works like living beings.

 

That's why it was difficult for me to be at the Academy of the Arts in Tbilisi and then when I saw how the professors treat young students at the Academy of Arts in Antwerp... what rules, laws, attitudes are in place, I realised that there is no difference between a factory and an art school. In general, there should be no academic training for artists. There should be galleries, museums, interesting books, more biographical films ... I have learned a lot of things by observation, reading. I get obsessed with biographies... before I get obsessed with any of the works, I must first read the biography of the artist and research the person thoroughly.

 

Many think that because you are an artist and an artist, you are not required to be disciplined, which is wrong. For example, if I have a plan to work on sculpture, I will not change it regardless of anything. Even people close to me say ‘you’re just lucky’, which makes me so angry! I am not lucky at all, I just work everyday non-stop. I won’t accept criticism from everyone, I will only listen to it when it is honest and comes from personal experiences.

-How did you find this strong emotional side in you? How did you explore this path and find courage and sincerity?

 

-When I moved to Europe to live alone: ​​I believe that solitude should be experienced by every artist. I am still alone, no matter who is next to me and no matter how many people I am with, I am still alone. There is no point in thinking about who will tell you what, who will think what and who will call you what ... One should be alone to develop character. You just have to listen to yourself and ask what you want. You have to give yourself freedom not only in art but also in life and give yourself the right to express what you want ... It does not matter if someone likes you or not. The problem is that people do not give themselves this freedom, because they are not left alone and are dependent on one another.

-Should an artist be a good person?

 

-No, Why?! Also, what is a good person, or good for the society?! So, you must insincere and then get accepted. The greatest happiness is when you, whoever you are, know at the end of day, that you were sincere. I have broken my nose many times because of this sincerity, but it is precisely what brings self-confidence. That’s who I am: explosive, direct, I often lose my temper, I won’t apologize for using bad words ...

-When did you start doing performances and why?

 

- I started doing performances after Slavs and Tatars contacted me and offered me to work on Tamada. It was my first public performance, but apart from that, I live in a performance every day.

Working on performance is very interesting because during the process I do not just think about the work, I think about the emotion. Because what I do is all about maximizing communication with the audience. At this point the audience does not stand and stare at me, it becomes part of the performance. I like what emotions I evoke and the adrenaline I feel is like sexual arousal. During the performance, the performer becomes a work of art and at the same time the object of art comes to life, in fact, that is the strongest part of the performance. I’ve done two different performances 6 times already and before each performance I destroy myself; it has became my workout routine, then once I put on the mask, I enter the role I have worked on. 20% of my performances are planned, 80% is improvisation on the spot. The premiere in Sweden was amazing, because I caught the public’s emotions. I undressed people, made them sing, dance ... nothing that happened there was planned. I catch their emotions and maybe, that’s my fantasy, but I have no limits when it comes to performance.

 

-Performativity, which is so present in your work, is somehow related to fashion industry. Your introduction to art was through fashion. Do you see the connection?

 

- I enrolled on the faculty of fashion because it was forbidden for me. I have more connection to taste than to fashion, I care more about fabrics than clothes. Taste is important to me and not fashion or some trends. I observe the colors on the streets, I do not judge according to which designers people wear, I observe the aesthetics and often that is exactly why people do not understand whether to connect me with fashion or not. Identity, which is the main research topic in my art, is very much related to fabrics and clothing, for me it is sculptural, beyond that the fashion industry does not interest me.

​I can’t see a connection between my photos and the fashion industry. I have no education in photography, everything I do is by intuition. Photography is part of my performance and the clothes I wear are just a translation of my aesthetics. Photos act like documentations of non-existent performances, so I cannot relate myself to fashion.

 

​-What advice would you give to young artists?

 

- Do not graduate from the art schools, enrol if you wish, see, but do not graduate, because you will disappear. Do not listen to anyone; very often do not listen to yourself too, because often you have others thoughts in your head. Don’t be afraid and do what you want. Never held a camera in your hand? If you want to take a photo, take it. The most interesting work comes out when you have no idea about anything and you do it with your intuition, your discretion. The most interesting work comes out when you have no idea about anything and you do it with your intuition, your opinions. You have to fail a million times. You have to fall many times, because without that you cannot succeed. Going through hardships gives you exactly that - you get up, then you fall again and it never stops. Neither I am an established artist nor has anyone been. We do not live long enough to materialize this, we have to grasp everything in a very short time. This is exactly what I want to say to young artists, not to waste this little time in a small cafe, smoking a cigarette and calling yourself an artist, when there are a lot of things to do in every direction ... Do not waste time. There were many people in my life who turned their backs on me ...The only thing that motivates me is my work as an artist. You can have a wife, a husband, a girlfriend, but no one should exist except your work. You can have people around you, but if you are not fully engaged, you will not enjoy it.