‘Living Dog Among Dead Lions’ consists of a house from the Georgian countryside where it rains inside. Rather than an installation, it is a sculpture that has to be experienced from outside and in the round. The artist chosen to represent Georgia this year is Vajiko Chachkhiani.
In conversation with curator Julian Heynen, Chachkhiani explains the intentionality in the choice of that particular house which has been purchased in its abandoned state by ‘us’. Does that mean that this project has joint authorship or is Chachkhiani claiming co-ownership of something that has been bought by someone else? In anycase, this is not any house but one that conveys ‘a strange feeling because due to the manganese and carbonate mines, everything is covered with black soot’. The colour allegedly carry allusions to heavy industries and to ‘a strong working class history’. I must confess that nothing of this is evident at first sight. To get this one must read the texts that accompany the work. In fact, I thought it was a peasant dwelling not an industrial one.
Having said this, artistic choice seems to be thematised here and not any sort of choice but a Duchampian readymade that in this case does not try to address the issue of the artistic institution and the needed theatrical conditions for a work of art to be considered as such but instead tries to convey a sentimental/nostalgic atmosphere. It does not come as a surprise that Chachkhiani is well known for his installations and films. There is a narrative here that is forced upon the viewer/visitor without giving enough visual evidence.
This is confirmed by the artist when saying that ‘the ideas leading up to Living Dog Among Dead Lions’ (as this object/installation is called) relate to the more recent past of Georgia’s country in a very general way and ‘of course, I am interested in the traumata that originated in the wars and civil wars, in the dramatic economical and social changes of the recent past. The traumata of different generations from their psychologies and their attitudes towards life and other people’.
De Chirico and Magritte could evoked in this attempt to isolate and extrapolate a piece of genetic history (as in ‘the ADN of the land’) and inject into it a psychological and sentimental depth. Having said this, this is not done through isolation of the readymade but through the installationism of the smell of the wet (original) wood and its effect in the viewer which is having the experience of its viewing and sensing in the sanitised context of the Biennale.
Personally, I think that in art less is more. There are, however, three overlapping strategies here, as aforementioned which are the following: 1) The Magrittean isolation of a prosaic object to bring psychological depth, 2) What I call ‘genetic allegories’ which are those objects that are brought from their ‘authentic and original place’ and are expected to bring that ‘authentic narrative’ into the gallery space through its mere displacement and 3) The Duchampian’ ‘ready made’, of course.
There is another aspect that has been a common denominator of sorts in this Biennale that is artificial decay as a source of artistic value. I am saying artificial because the rain inside the house has been crafted by the artis and its eroding power acts on the already decaying wood of the original ‘house’. In short, I think that the theatrical aspects of this work attempt against its artistic quality. He is trying to hard and too desperately to please. J A T