Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Introduction to the Caucasus
If I were asked to describe the Caucasus region, I would say Armenia was the most rational and knows where it’s heading, Georgia knows it should be sensible and get things done but its innate irrationality gets in the way, and Azerbaijan impulsively - but unpretentiously - heads nowhere (this is why Georgians prefer Azeris to Armenians; Georgians claim that Armenians always have secret agenda, but the real reason may be resentment of the fact that they actually get things done).
One can observe the same thing in the field of contemporary art: in Armenia spaces for contemporary and experimental art, opportunities for discussion and information resources are most developed. Art historians consciously try to put the work of young Armenian artists in the context of a recent tradition, thereby supporting their work and helping them develop it further. There is a catalog of contemporary Armenian art; curators make international presentations of Armenian Contemporary art, and every two years Armenian artists represent their country in the Armenian pavilion in the Venice Biennale (though when you look at the CVs of some of these artists what you find is a series of regional exhibitions interspersed with show at the Venice Biennale).
Georgia knows it needs all this: work needs to be contextualized, the art scene needs to become more unified, buildings need to be acquired for non-commercial artistic purposes, but all this remains at the planning stage, presumably because of a lack of organizational skills and a sense of common purpose.
Azerbaijan simply neglects all this: its artists claim to be the first and only ones to be working in their respective fields, they rarely mention each other and each one considers himself the best, if only he were recognised as such. Exhibitions are organized in order to produce glossy full colour catalogs, rather than the other way round.
Needless to say, no significant cultural development can take place in a region where national borders between states remain largely closed, especially when we are talking about countries as tiny as Armenia, whose territory covers 29,800 km²and has a population of 3.5 million people, Georgia, which covers 69,700²km and has a population of 4.5 million people, and Azerbaijan, which covers 86,600 km²and has a population 8.5 million people. What is more, these tiny counties have a tendency to get smaller and smaller: some having regions in a state of semi-conflict, others in a state of frozen conflict; some with territories recognized by international bodies such as the UN, others with unrecognized territories, living in a state of legal limbo.
These three countries also have a tendency to hate their immediate neighbour and to have friendly relations with their next neighbour but one – or in the case of Georgia, with neighbours some distance away.
If artists don’t start talking to each other, if we don’t realize that ideas have to be shared and that we will only achieve anything significant from a common ground, we will remain small countries with insignificant cultural lives slavishly following the dominant trend. We will condemn ourselves to always being one step – or several steps – behind.