Amid a massive influx to Georgia of Russians fleeing mobilization, some emigrant artists are building a community where they can speak freely on issues of politics and belonging.
On a sprawling property in Georgia’s wine-growing region of Kakheti, several Russian artists -- many of whom recently escaped mobilization, came together in mid-October to display their works and share their recent experiences. Filmmaker and photographer Alexander Fedorov spoke to the artists about their work.
A painting by Aleksei Kovalchuk referencing the iconic 1910 La Danse by Henri Matisse. Kovalchuk grew up between Kyiv and St. Petersburg. After the Russian takeover of parts of Ukraine in 2014 he says he felt “that being apolitical was a luxury that I could no longer afford.”
The installation Home by Aleksandra Poliakova is a human-sized nest of twigs. At the bottom of the nest is a hole.
Speakers inside the nest play recordings of various different songbirds that usually do not mingle in nature. The artist says the project is the only way to listen to the birds' joint singing.
An interactive installation called The Hanged Man which uses sensors to reflect people’s reactions to this lynched mannequin dressed as a Russian soldier. The reactions of spectators are displayed on a screen in the form of cartoon avatars.
Such an exhibit would likely result in prison time for the artist if the work was shown openly in Russia.
The art exhibition was held on a property in the Khaketi region of Georgia called Chateau Chapiteau. The site was founded by a Russian-American entrepreneur who fell in love with Georgia, and whose stated goal with the property is to make “an epicenter of positive changes for people around us.”
The festival came amid openly visible tensions in Tbilisi, where anti-Russian graffiti (pictured) can be seen throughout the city, and a massive influx of Russians fleeing mobilization has exacerbated already skyrocketing rent and property prices.
Russia and Georgia fought a war over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia in 2008 and many Georgians resent the presence of Russian troops in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another Russian-backed territory that has unilaterally declared its independence from Georgia.
Fedorov says the artists he spoke to “fully understand” some of the anger in Georgia though there is worry that feelings could become more extreme. For now, however, the photographer describes Tbilisi as “safe and calm.”
Borderline Car, a vehicle made from twigs and branches by a Russian artist couple who work under the name “porcupine.”
The car references the massive outflow of Russians through the Caucasus mountains and into Georgia after Vladimir Putin's announcement of a mobilization in September. The artists say the installation, which people can sit inside, gives viewers a chance to “relive the moments before the inevitable crash.”
Artists Polyna and Alyona set up a kind of postal service for open letters between Russia and Georgia. The pair collected letters from an earlier art festival in Moscow addressed to unknown compatriots in the Caucasus.
A letter from Russia written in the summer. The artists say “the connection between those who left Russia and those who stayed is weakening, and it becomes more difficult to follow the changes in the lives of people close, and distant.”
A performance by a Russian-Austrian art group who met in Georgia after the mobilization order was announced.
Photographer Diana Smykova shows a set of six photos together with explanations of the images. Her project, Postcards Home, features "stories of people from different cultures on the topic of feeling at home... what is a 'home' and how is a connection with it built throughout life?"