Mariam Natroshvili & Detu Jintcharadze: Urban Artists in Georgia

“To make a change in society, to start a dialogue, our tools are public art and we hope that the art will engage local communities in a discussion on how to change their communities around them”


Mainly we are working on text based art, which in public space, we are interested in art in public space and social engaged art and participatory art, which is quite not so new in Georgia, new in the case that some parts are happening. For example participatory art. But, for me they dont have a real impact. Well, I myself haven’t worked much on it, it is more.

The Batumi backyard stories, we have created the museum of superstition, collecting all the knowledge of the people living there and it was more ethnographical or anthropological kind of research and then to translate it to visual language and artistic language.

Also, we are continuing the ghosts museum project, we will continue it this summer in garikula we are collecting stories from the people in the area, from the villages, and also translating it to visual language. But is more informative, it should have an informative outcome. It is kind of subjective, it is knowledge and lifestyle of the people which is disappearing, the legends, and how does this influence the people living there.

The text based art, HTTP, that we are making is always in a an open space, most of the time it is without any permission, those text which are ready made texts we take from the media, internet. For example “I feel lucky” text is from google. We have made this text in an abandonned taxi garage on the nutsubidze plato, where now IDPs live from the 1990s. So, we’re changing the contexts of these texts and putting them in another place which is… Those message are to wake up, Try to change visions of people. Also, there is always one problem, why ar those texts in english? And maybe that is right, maybe we should do it in Georgian.

We started this project homework, with just words, not ready made texts. The first one was in the popiashvili window project: “ghval” “tomorrow”. And it was on Rustaveli avenue. It’s actually the first time we also made the Georgian text. It was “dghes an ghval” “today or tomorrow”, and we also made it in batumi. It’s the sentence you here every time. When you are asking, when is the project ready? Today or tomorrow. It is constant reality. It’s never today. It is always today OR tomorrow. The second one was “time” “dro”. Which we made on the rose revolution square in front of the radisson. The idea came from John fekner work from the 80ies in new york. He used abandond billboard. Kind off hacking reality, using spaces which are not supposed to be for art. Use spaces where art is not supposed to be or has not been before. So we asked, who is a billboard company, and we asked them to give one billboard for free every month and they gave it to us. And then we asked Irina Popiashvili to collaborate with us, but then we couldnt find funding to print . City hall has promised for 3 months already to give us the money, but they haven’t transfer it, so the project stopped… We did make two. The first one was ‘dro’ and the second one was by david kukhulashvili, he is also an artist, on deisi. Itwas on a pink background, four guys in suits with spacemen, kosmonaut fishbowls and the text was ‘Georgian politicians’. When you are making urban art, or art in public spaces, it should be critical. Because for beautification of walls of spaces, that should not be the point.

Then the 25 million project. I always seperate activism and art in a way, it is even not in my portfolio. BUT art can be a really good tool for activism. It was funny how much it blew up, the impact it had. It was a present for the patriarch, for his birthday. And we are thinking to continue these kind of projects in the future. For example in HTTP, the text based art projects I mentioned before, are not always clear, for one it can be political, for the other romantic, so it’s not so obvious. We got a lot of messages, a lot of people were upset. It was unimaginable to them. But the conversation has to continue, it started, but I dont think it continued. The main thing of this texts was to question why do we have to in this poor country give so much money to the church, an institution which is distributing hatred? And then what should we do? Should we cancel it, or? Or, when should we cancel this agreement? Or what they did in Germany, where they opened the archives and you can find who was KGB. Those were two main objectives which I wanted to be the result, which need to be done.

I started doing this kind of work, because I want to start a conversation, I want to question things happening in society. To change it maybe. But I dont have any illusions, just to start the conversation. Artists should always ask questions, not answer it.

For examle with “dro” “time” billboard, there were millions of interpretations which always ended up with politics. My favorite versionwas one taxi driver who said that misha saakahvili had to make a talk on the video screen where our text was now on for new year and bidzina ivanishvili di not allow it and he burned it down, and then saakashvili was angry and wrote dro. And that’s what I like, our work doesnt have any author, my connection to the text ends when we make it. The authors of the text are the people themselves. The interpretations and mythologies that they are building on these texts or words comes from their own conscious or unconscious.

First when we started it was much more linked to urban problems, and architecture. Like, abandned buildings and soviet stye buildings and creating a new language of the city. And that is what urban art is for me, creating a new language. Language of the people that can not talk or are invisible. That is one of the reasons that we are making spaces talk. Like, literally.

The first thing we actually made was a poem by Carlo Kacharava, he’s a poet and writer from the 1990s and we made his poem, rally critical interesting texts on the wall. We wanted to make the city as a book and use contemporary not so poluar writers, because georgians are too much necrofilic, it’s always about dead poets that are popular. But we only made one. It was a diificult project because too much work. I was teaching at the Centre for Contemporary Art at the time. I was making workshops and exhibitions with students together, and it was with students, ‘instant street-art’ and we had to make some work in urban space and with students we started making these words in pulic space. To be honest I was always more interested in art in public space than in a white cube. Because, espcially in georgia. No one goes to museums, in galleries you always see the same faces, so to bring the art to the people, you need to bring it out of these spaces. Also, art can be a tool, or like, if we tell really rough, it can be a tool for social changes and innovations. That’s why it would be more interesting to continue working or in tbilisi or other small cities in social engaged art. BUT, there is no funding. It is impossible.

Detu and I always collaborate together. We sometimes work with others, but mostly with other curators and not with artists.

I am not sure what our skills are. Hacking Reality? Once we needed funding for something, 2000USD. On facebook we made a huge list with our skill set, but no one took it seriously. I guess now it would come in handy.

We are also curating some projects, when we started. One was in CCA and one in an abondend building and the last we were thinking how can we change it? And then we try to get inspriation, it just happens. And now we are trying to get funding for one big project, which is about rethinking the city. We started working on it by thinking about what we are interested in and what are we inspired by. And also the problems the city has. Or society has. Rethinking the city: dividing the city into historical parts, from the 20th century. And we are thinking the periods through architecture and art. So the project starts on the nutsubidze plato (late 80ies) and we would like to have a festival there, then it continues to khrushokas 960ies), then old city, and crazy transformation in old city and devaluation of the cultural heritage. Power symbolics in soviet period and post revolution power symbols, it consists of seminars and lectures and urban art, etc. Quite a big project.

In this case we were combining our interests with problematics, what we think is most important now. Sometimes when I wake up ideas like this come to my mind, but often it just develops and shapes throughout the course of a year. We define how can we change the present and the future.

The largest obstacles we face are just funding, nothing else. Well, ok, human resources in a way as well. Experience that I have is that most of the people don’t take their work serious here, or artists perhaps. Young artists. It’s more like having fun than working and thinking theoretically. And that is why we are so fucked up in Georgia I think. And also the engagement, for example, we have participated in some workshops and projects which were on urban space, on the transformation of urban spaces – most problematic thing for me is that organizations are finding funding and just doing it for the sake of I don’t know what. It doesn’t have impact for me, no visible impact. The most important part of urban art is engagement of the local communities. And I have not seen that yet. But maybe we in Georgia don’t have experience in that.

We dont want funding for the text based art, I am against funding street art. But the other projects which art participatory projects, that’s where funding is needed. More curated projects with architects, urbanists and art historians. Such projects should be a tool to bring society something.

There is a problem that most of the people dont know, are are not close to new art, for most people public art is the golden statue of saint giorgi on freedom square. That is why iare Pekhit’s projectGiorgi Makhradze’s art was destroyed. Because hey just dont really understand. Or for example the bycicle on rose revolution square, today I passed by and part of the pedal is broken. Because people dont really understand the meanings. Contemporary art is a way of thinking. The professionals and artists should try to bring this information to people, it’s a new and different way of thinking. If you think you dont have an agression and you wont destroy anything and you would think about changing future, present and even past. So, that’s also a problem, to bring meanings and definitions.

The most thing that I hate is paperwork. You need to do this to get funding or go somewhere, but I am not an accountant who likes this. Other things we need to do is research and get inspiration: thinking, drinking. But sometimes when I drink I cant work. Well, you know, it’s like more, I cant describe it. I don’t have systematized working schedules. Sometimes its spontaneous, but if there’s a deadline it’s much more organized.

What we would need, what I would like is exchange of knowledge. Human resources: clever people who have experience in this field. And seminars, workshops, etc. Intensive, and not just once per year. To exchange ideas and knowledge and experience.

I dont need media exposure. I usually refuse it.

With the text based work I also dont want to discus it, afterward, it’s like a game we’re playing. It’s out of my hands when it’s finished.

For projects such as Rethinking the City we could use people who are more experienced, even artists. Invite artists and speakers – we are organizers and curators – and what we would need is people who experience in these kind of projects. If we wouldnt need any support we would be great.

It would be great of someone would support our trip around the world for inspiration, but what we really need is education, knowledge.

We are also in need of how to find funding, I am not so good at that, fundraising.

Here in Georgia, similar initatives are GeoAir for example, or Iare Pekhit, but Iare Pekhit is more about public art and not about art with communities, etc. CCA, the what is cool is that there is a new direction, before the master course is a 9 month informal master program with installations etc etc, but now inclusive mediation is part. Each student has to do a roject with inclusive groups, an artistic project. Thats a great iniative, these are young artists that really have to get out of the white cube.

In Georgia, what is contemporary art, according to the ministry of culture, its funny. You can go to the museums and you are in a time machine, you go back to the 50ies for example. This year, Venice Beniel (I could not understand this, Mariam) on architectural, they could not find anyone, but they sent a group of fashion designers. And that does not make sense, that’s like asking me to do accounting. But it happened because on the jury were people from certain institutions that still live in soviet times. They didnt rethink the way they were doing. Why in Georgia dont we have the museum for contemporary art, why is it not established by the ministry of culture?

But I have a new attitude. Everything is so much, so destroyed. And we can not really erase it, for exaple the new building that is being build behind us. So why not make everything worse? As we cant erase it, we can at least make it worse.

Pooling resources to me means bringing together peoples minds from different backgrounds and create more and deeper and diverse projects.

Mutual support is a definition that does not exist in Georgia. Why is there an art scene in georgia, of 5 different groups, that then don’t cooperate. Maybe it’s the Georgian Ego. Last January we tried a collaboration of groups working in urban problematics: guerilla gardening, iare pekhit, tiflis hamkari, etc. First try failed. Now are only 4 or 5 organizations left that decided to work together, and last protest at the sulfur baths was organized. But I don’t know. It is impossible to work together. Someone always has different ideas or different thoughts, and discussion doesn’t exist here. Everybody just goes with their direction and doesn’t want to share the ideas. Maybe also, you know, it is an issue of time, experience. It may also be fear. It is often communication problems.

When you are struggling and you have the same aim, you have to leave your ego behind. We can have different background, different ideas, when you have a difficult situation as we have here in Georgia now, in every field, why should you not collaborate and work together?



Inge, I found this way of presenting the interview somehow musical- the rhythm of the writing. Maybe

Now about the content itself. Did you understand anything about the methodology? It would be good to be able to ask them more details about the 25 million project and about their methodology and impact in more detail.

On a more general level I am seeing a theme emerge already. Not sure what to call it, but it’s something at the intersections of cultural production and reshaping urban environments.

Yesterday @Susa and I went to a presentation/conversation at Prinzessinengarten in Berlin and heard two project presentations related to this. Marjetica Potrč presented the work they did on a project called Ubuntu Park in Soweto. I’m meeting Marjetica today to interview her and see if there is some way of collaborating. If we have time I will present her the text above, maybe gather her feedback also.

Another was The New York Invisible lunch sessions. I did not really understand what they wanted with this implementation, but the topic of interest was the affordable city. When I asked one of the students what he had learned about affordable living his learning from the project was that the key lies in communities owning land. @Caroline_Paulick-Thiel for this suggested someone who is working on affordable living solutions who I am going to check out. 

Perhaps we could check out the work of some of the organisations like 596 and then see if there is anything comparable in the six countries? ping @nataliegryvnyak @Hazem @Driss

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Hello, so i went through the transcript and decided to update text. In this text our projects and concepts are be more clear. mariam.

On the streets, bridges, blank walls. In strange cities, forgotten stations, absurd buildings, ghost bathhouses, white cubes, abandoned shooting ranges, non – existing factories. Anywhere: We play a game. Forbidden, magic and ephemeral game. Something to change all.

Our concepts are inspired by stories and biographies of places and people.

With interventions in different contexts with our works we  emphasise biography, past and present of places.

We are interested in disappearing knowledge, invisible people, forgotten places, ignored spaces. With our works we create new language, mythology to derive new meanings and new visions, to restore memories, remember what is gone, create future.

Since 2011 Im working in collaboration with Detu Jintcharadze. We work in two directions - text based art - interventions in public spaces and ghost museums - site specific installations inspired with different stories, knowledge and mythology. 

Project Hyper Text Transfer Protocol :

Hyper Text Transfer Protocol is language of forgotten, abandoned places. Places which are not on the map any more.

Texts are “ready – made “ messages from internet, social media, different programs or websites.

Bringing message to different context re-creates its initial meaning and transforms the text into content that is multiple and flexible, subjective and personal.

It can be a question from another, simulated reality.

It can be a warning in safe zone, leaked from invisible worlds.

It can be a note from future memories.

Project Homework:

Homework is a series of word “paintings”; each word functions as a symbol that represents a concept. The meaning of the word-symbol depends on viewers and the context it is presented in.  Perception of the word is subjective and depends on each person’s individual association with the word.  Thus “Homework” plays with public’s consciousness, its ideas and associations. Remembering forgotten meanings and words. 

For me personally our works are conversation with society, attempt to start critical dialogue, some times our texts are reactions, sometimes predictions. 

Street art or art in public space - I’m always for art without bureaucracy and without permissions. Im always for art under the sky - not under the roof of galleries or museums. Im for art which can change, which can question and provoke.

25 000 000 project - this was a reaction, a question. Me and young artists Gvantsa Jishkariani mad this stencil in from of patriarchs residency on his birthday. This is a amount which church gets from government every year. Country where social and economical problems are severe government pays 25 million to organisation which is speaking with language of hate and threatens people with hell. Organisation which organised 17th may pogrom. We had problems with police and patriarchs security after this project. As the text was made on pavement - legally police couldn’t fine us - but together with patriarch’s security in police department they tried to threaten us so that we wouldn’t ask any questions again. 

Our works/projects are connected to soviet past and inevitability of rethinking this past for future development. As after fall of soviet union Georgia never had time to think and plan future - most of political and social processes are based on emotional, impulsive decisions. In such environment development is impossible. Soviet ideology is not gone, and partly is replaced by other ideologies and power. All this process is well visible in architecture and art. So architecture and urban processes can be interesting tool for re-thinking past for changing future. 

At the moment we working and searching fundings for projects which are directly connected to urban development and architecture. One of the project  - Re-thinking the city is focused on different periods of city development - project is based  on  research of soviet and post soviet architecture, divides history if the city in 6 different periods and themes and aims to realise artistic interventions in different districts of Tbilisi. Also exhibitions, workshops and seminars are planned within the project. Project will continue during 1 year and will have as artistic, also educational function. 

As city is in crisis in present and future is also undefined exactly now we need to re-think, decontextualise and reload the city for future development. 

After the disaster (flood in Tbilisi on 13th of June) we have once more discovered  that government and city hall are totally impotent and its time to take initiative in our own hands. Its time to change, its time to act. 

Engagement of civil society is really poor in Georgia(well, much better then it was 3-4 years ago, but still not enough to influence decisions of government). So instead of planning one more protest we together with other activists decided to start new movement which wont ask people to gather in front of city hall but to act.

We are trying to focus on different problematic issues as: domination of cars, unsafe city, uncontrolled investments and new buildings, lack of green spaces. 

We already started to give some examples how to reclaim the city e.g. we have blocked one of the sidewalks with flower pots made out of tires. Parking on sidewalks in Tbilisi is allowed, so to walk in street especially with children or for old people becomes more and more dangerous as cars are sometimes even driving really fast(on sidewalks!) sometimes sidewalks are just blocked with cars and one has to cross the street or walk over the cars. So we made a video instruction - how easy it is to occupy sidewalk. Officers tires were moved after one day and plants were through away. But video was shared in Facebook hundred times and also other people made the same in different streets. Except this we are marking different places with stencils: e.g. here once was public pool or here once was a market and etc - on places where instead of different public spaces now monster building are built. 

So in September - on one of the problematic areas of the city, former hippodrome, we are planning big event - ideas laboratory, ideas fair “ Conquer the city”. This will be kind of exhibition, open call will be announced and students, artists, architects, urbanists or housewives, anybody who thinks that city needs help, will be invited to present their ideas on platform. For example - one wants to make garden on garage in front of his block but doesn’t have funding or just needs help - he/she can bring visualised idea to fair where we also invite different funds and companies - aim is to help people to realise those projects, to start change from small scale, to create different form of resistance, to reclaim the city. And yep, we have to start from our street, ow yard, or block. We have to act, we have to change. 

Well, except of paperwork and search of funding we enjoy every single step of the work. For the projects we do in streets (artistic not curatorial projects as homework or http projects) we don’t need funding, most of the time we fund our works ourselves, if its not within some festival. 

But to fund bigger projects is quite difficult. Once when i was working at the school of Center of contemporary art -Tbilisi, we had to make final exhibition of students. Funding was only 300 Gel. which is about 120 euros. I suggested to go to casino with this money and gamble together with students. If we would win - we would make exhibition focused on money and funding in art (as in Georgia, also abroad), if we would lose, we would still make a show - presenting only the video which we would get from casino - how we lost money for exhibition, Well, finally i had to refuse from this idea, but maybe i will do it once. Why? to start the discussion how to survive as an artist and that only way for getting funding for exhibition of young artists is to gamble. (also gambling is huge problem in Georgia). So ministry of culture is organisation which doesn’t have any clue in contemporary art and sends designers to Venice Biennial instead of artists. (Ah, why Georgia didn’t send politicians to biennial, that would be best pavilion in Venice! Best representation for country’s absurd reality)

ok. Yes. Funding, $$$$$$$$$$$. that is problem. 

Education. Even bigger problem then funding. 

We need more professionals, we need more initiatives, we need new visions. We need change. 

Of course we have individuals who struggle to create better future, to mark Georgia on contemporary art map, to change reality but its too hard to survive. 

Revolution, revolution in ourselves - that is what we need. To wake up and to change reality. 


Wow guys

This is a lot of information – very interesting it seems. Maybe time to tidy it up into an actual case study?

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