Archive for the ‘The Conversations Project’ Category
If you know me, you are not surprised that this happened, with the help of my Geoair pals:
Tuesday night in Tbilisi, Elizabeth White and I held our first public conversation at the Center of Contemporary Art — Tbilisi. We devised a series of questions that would act as prompts for our audience to interview each other, translated into Georgian:
- What do you do to make money?
- What do you do to have fun?
- How do you define yourself?
- What types of creative activities do you regularly engage in (writing, singing, art-making, dancing, etc.)?
- With whom do you share these creative activities?
- Do you feel you are part of a creative community? Who else is engaged in that community?
- Has there been anything in the last ten years that has made you want to engage in the world more creatively or disengage from the creative process, whether political, financial, personal issues, lack of space, etc.
- What kinds of responses to your work make you want to engage in the world more creatively (applause, laughter, money, recognition, awards)?
- What kinds of responses to your work make you disinterested in engaging in the world creatively (public apathy, lack of recognition, lack of funding, political fears)?
- Ideally, what would you be doing with your time?
- Ideally, what resources would be in place for you to be able to do that?
- List three reasons why you don’t do more creative work.
- Propose three policies or laws that would make it easier for you to do more creative work.
- Draw, map, or diagram the ideal social network or physical space for you to share and experience creative work.
- Are there other questions you believe should be asked here?
The participants spent half an hour or so interviewing each other and taking notes—in German, Georgian, English, and Russian—and then we convened in the upstairs hallway of the CCA – Tbilisi building.
Upstairs, we asked everyone to write on the windows: bottom row for phrases that came up regarding creative identity, middle row for phrases that came up regarding barriers to creative freedom, and top row for words and phrases that talk about ideal environments for creative expression.
Relevant here is the graffiti that appears around town with some frequency, “Sorry, Where is the Contemporary Art Museum?” Which by the end of the night had been transcribed along the top tier of windows.
First night in Georgia. Georgians sing when they drink wine and they drink wine when they are awake. Sometimes, if you are lucky, they also dance.
We finished up an amazing first Georgian meal on a hilltop restaurant called Racha, above the Ethnographic museum.
Two tables behind us began singing and then, dancing.
What I’m trying to explain is that the tables weren’t connected before the singing started, but then, once the guitar started being passed from person to person, various other diners joined in.
You might also be interested to hear the songs themselves. Georgian Feast
The New York Times ran a piece on the Georgian art scene a few days ago, featuring Nini Palavandishvili of GeoAir, one of the sponsoring organizations for the project Liz White and I will be conducting there in July (and a friend from our days in Leipzig). Here are some telling bits of information:
The fact that Tbilisi does not have a permanent contemporary art museum is one of myriad problems facing the city’s art scene, much of which is rooted in the country’s turbulent recent history. During Soviet times, only officially approved art was exhibited, though there was a movement of unofficial artists who worked in secret. Until the 1980s, the teaching of both the Western art movements of the 20th century and of Tbilisi’s vibrant avant-garde scene from the 1910s and 1920s was discouraged by the Soviets, leaving a hole in the country’s art history education. Since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Georgia gained its independence, the country has been involved in two wars (the last one being in 2008 between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia), a revolution in 2003 that brought President Mikheil Saakashvili to power and a crackdown on the corruption that had become pervasive across Georgia throughout the 1990s.
“During these days, there was no time for art because people were concentrating on more existential problems,” said Nini Palavandishvili, the curator of GeoAir , a foundation that provides a data base covering more than 40 contemporary Georgian artists. “The government was not interested to do anything about contemporary art so it was left up to individuals to start taking responsibility for the scene and to build their own initiatives. … I would say in the last few years there is a lot happening, maybe too much.”
“Yesterday I went to three art openings and today I have three more I have to attend. Sure, there is the question as to whether what they are showing is good quality but at least there is something going on and this is a good starting point to develop things further.”
For those of you who don’t keep up with my daily schedule—and I count myself among you, to be honest—I recently discovered that I had been awarded a grant I didn’t apply for and had never read, in cooperation with my pal, Elizabeth White. Who had read it. And wrote it. So when she sent it to me, I was delighted to read that we had been granted some funds to go talk to the Caucasian people in a program Liz had entitled, “The Conversations Project.” (Check all the CEC Artslink awardees listed here.)
Now, the Caucasus is the more common name given the former Soviet Union territories to which Liz and I will be traveling, but I’m enchanted by the idea of exploring Caucasian-ness—mine, the area, the historical—which does, according to The History of White People‘s Nell Irvin Painter, come from one Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who first used it on my birthday (although exactly 175 years before I was born), when he:
applied it to a large swatch of humanity on the 11th of April, 1795, with the publications of the third edition of his dissertation, in Latin, about the varieties of mankind. He used the word “Caucasian” because he wanted to underscore the beauty of white-skinned people. He thought they were the most beautiful. He located these people in Europe, east into Russia, south into India and southwest into North Africa. The Caucasus is a border area between Europe and Asia and it’s an area freighted with mythological baggage — Jason and the Argonauts, Mount Ararat.
(Read the rest of Painter’s interview with Salon.)
Not to, in anyway, call into question the beauty of the Caucasian people, which I intend to judge for myself this summer, but this is pretty interesting. Interesting because, hell, I have never really thought too much about the origins of the word I’m supposed to check on my census forms—although African-American, Asian/Pacific-Islander, and Native American were all covered in grade school, and I sat in on practically an entire college-level semester-long class (of all-white students) which was devoted to the differences between Hispanic and Latino/a. And keep in mind, I was born into a relatively rich racial environment, a white child on an Indian reservation, that made me conscious of difference at the same time as it projected that difference to be elsewhere. Subtly. Naturally.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years thinking about how my perceived racial identity precedes me. In Cambodia, of course, my racial identity does not so much precede me as it does, often, stand in for me entirely.
Things have begun to stick in my craw that never used to because of it. A deeper awareness not of privilege, but of the specific presumptions that emerge from it—all, strangely, different varieties of erasure. Political discussions that become heated around issues of race, with one member spouting off about the “all-white crowd,” although as I look around the room on these occasions I often see mixed-race or brown-skinned people, possibly shamed into silence by the part of themselves that identifies with the overculture. Mixed-race friends downplaying one aspect of their racial heritage, professing to hold no interest in it—always it is an impoverished locale that fails to hold the attention of the speaker, although being, as we are, in the US, perhaps embracing one’s whiteness to the exclusion of other identities is a survival tactic.
But my brief look into the history of the region gives me the impression that the original embrace of “whiteness” as a cultural and racial identifier wasn’t about obfuscation—it was about transparency. That areas such as Georgia, for example, years ago, were deeply mixed—ethnically, religiously, culturally. Some sources seem to indicate, sexually. Muslim and Christian—until the general conversion to the latter at least—the nation even sat squarely, and seemingly peacefully, in the confusing space known as Eurasia. The novel Ali & Nino even opens with a fantastic debate on the merits of identifying as either European or Asian. An enormous number of plusses and minuses are given, and in the end, the lead character Ali simply agrees with whatever his girlfriend Nino says is best. Whatever.
I have more to read on this, of course, but adopting a strategy of whiteness without implementing the cultural imperialism that has come to imply would seem to have originally been about openness, acceptance of difference, even acknowledgement of change. It causes a bit of intellectual whiplash to then start looking at the tools—all accrued in the last few weeks, although I’m sure there are more and better ones out there—in order to reinstill an abiding acceptance of difference in modern white people:
- Tools for White Guys Working for Social Change
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (Peggy McIntosh)
- White Women and the Privilege of Solidarity (Houria Bouteldja)
- White Privilege Diary Series #1—White Feminist Privilege in Organizations (Hepshiba)
- How Not to be an Asshole: A Guide for Men (related, although not race-specific/aware)
So. If you want to know what I’m going to be doing in Caucasia this summer, I will jokingly tell you that I’m super into white people these days, which is not even untrue. It’s just that I’m not talking about the same kind of whiteness that most people talk about.