The art of camouflage
Koka Ramishvili, born in Tbilisi in Georgia in 1956, has been working since 1985 as a free-lance artist and is now living in Geneva. His works use various media and arise in a precisely viewed field of tension between the codes of politics and the insignia of art.
Koka Ramischwili´s exhibition in the House of World Cultures in 1991 was like a window opening upon Georgia. It was surprising, since up to that time little had been known in Berlin about Tbilisi. The works proved to be illuminating in two senses. On the one hand they gave viewers an idea about the history of Georgia and of a culture which had kept its autonomy and awareness of independence from Moscow, and on the other hand they highlighted materials and the preconditions for art, using a conceptual approach which had been known only within the framework of the western art-market.
At that time Koka Ramishvili was still living in Tbilisi, and there were great hopes that an independent Georgia could draw, from its cultural and spiritual traditions, a strength able to support the transition to democracy. These political and intellectual hopes have been dashed. In the various work-complexes which Koka Ramishvili has since created, critical comments on the development of his land have always been a feature. He observes changes of values and reacts to them in his choice of both media and themes.
Already his works from 1989/90 gave a startling view of what lies behind art. For his canvas he used dark green army cloth which was not, however, painted like canvas in the usual way but cut and rolled up. In his work ´The Wall´, only a small portion of the picture-plane was left and drew the gaze beyond the canvas, rolled up like a curtain, to the wall beyond. The fact that, instead of the expected content, there was only a blank may have referred, among other things, to metaphysics and meditation. This feature relates Koka Ramishvili to the Russian avant-garde of the 80s and 90s, who often pointed at emptiness, partly in opposition to authorities´ treatment of works of art as insignia of power which only they had a right to interpret. The fact that Koka Ramishvili´s canvas was army-green seems to be a further reference to the state monopoly of violence and interpretation.
Letters were cut out of other green fields and formed the words ´sex´ or ´morphium´. These questioned not only the function of art as representation but also the worth of the system ´art´ itself. They implied that the liberation which had been experienced or hoped for in the field of politics and art had rather been felt in more commercial fields. Other works had been made out of the wood of picture-frames, or out of cardboard boxes for photographic paper. All these works were about the dissolution of art in a twofold sense. On the one hand the materials were destroyed and taken to pieces, and on the other hand these works questioned the need for art. But out of this double negative there seemed to arise a logical coherence of form and content.
In 1993/1994 Koka Ramishvili created the work-complex: ´Collection of Bad and Wrong Words´. Once more he used Latin letters and English or Latin names, not Russian or Georgian. This time he let the words ´ego´, ´sex´, ´criminal´ and ´corruption´ appear as needlework by Dodo Baramitze, who is experienced in traditional Georgian church-needlework. The style of the ravishing initials on white silken cushions is derived from sacral art and texts about religion and faith. The plain contradiction between form and content indicated on the one hand a gap, the lack of a religious connection, and on the other a notable tension. When the concepts for criminality and corruption remain in a foreign tongue, they are like parts of a costume, not parts of one´s own body. One can wear them more or less without being infected. Thus, in the representation of language, a kind of camouflage is shown. The concepts also show a way of dealing with the land´s riches which tallies with neither socialistic nor democratic ideals.
After a long time of isolation, every new contact acquires more symbolic meaning. In 1997-98 Koka Ramishvili took the opening of new embassies in Tbilis as an occasion to question cultural codification and state-forms of representation. He did so with wit and irony by bringing the high art and great demands onto little coins. He visited the embassies of France, Germany, the European Union, the Vatican, China, Poland and the USA, studied their locations and facades, photographed their furnishings and viewed their public and private facets. The project ´Pronostic Éventuel´ was then carried out in various media, according to the place of exhibition and publication. There were, for instance, cards of the size of telephone- or cheque-cards, showing eight easy-chairs which, in a game, the player can try to ascribe to the right embassies.
The ways in which Koka Ramishvili uses materials and various media show mostly a precise observation of their use. He is interested in codes and their origins – in what their forms convey beyond the obvious meanings. Hence, at the start of the 90s, it seemed that he had once and for all left the traditional domain of painting, so it was all the more surprising in 2002 to see water-colours from him in Geneva, where he has since been living.
His water-colours seem at first glance to be just the opposite of the earlier works, concerned with public forms of representation and socio-political discourses, since both in format and in motif they turn to a very intimate space. Recorded are fragments of gestures, often with sexual connotations: a nape tilted back, a hand with varnished red fingernails slipping into an opened zip, the chin of a woman poking her tongue out. To the water-colours belong video-images, close-ups of Koka Ramishvili´s hand in the act of drawing. Thus the eroticism of the motifs is related to the production of art, to his sensibility and sensitivity. In this way of not only using a medium but also of commenting on its connotations, the connection to his earlier work is to be found.
But the hiatus and the unforeseeable are just what make Koka Ramishvili´s work so exciting. He cannot be reduced to a mannerism. A red thread running through his works is the search for alliances with other artists with similar themes. Many of his publications are small and camouflaged like those which he has made together with the Swiss artist Roman Signer and which are documented in a folder about the size of a Swiss passport. Another group-project concerns identity-cards of the Republic of Georgia. Ramishvili´s fondness for camouflage had long been plain from his use of army-materials.
(Translated by Phil Stanway)
Author: Kathrin Bettina Müller
Born in Tbilisi in Georgia in 1956, Koka Ramishvili studied at the State Academy of Arts in Georgia then designed costumes for the group Georgy Balanchivadze. Since 1985 he has been a free-lance artist, and during the civil war in Georgia in 1991-92 he also worked as a documentary photographer. In Germany he exhibited for the first time in 1990 at the invitation of the artist Wolfgang Flatz, with whom he lived for awhile in Munich. Ramishvili is a member of the art-group ´Sector of Visual Investigation´ and published the art-magazine ´Signal´ from1997 to 1999. He is now living in Geneva and takes part in many networks between the eastern and western parts of Europe.
Group exhibitions (choice)
Exhibition / Installation,
"Expression", Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, Great Britain
"Zeitbezünglich" –with Rainer Flatz, Kunstverein, Dilingen, Germany
"Heat and Conduct", Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffild, Great Britain
Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, Great Britain
"Actionsforum", Praterinsel, Munich, Germany
"Rooms", Nationalmuseum, Prague, Czech Republic
"World of Feeling", Zentrum für zeitgenössische Kunst, Moscow, Russia
"NEW NAMES", Museum für moderne Kunst Tsaritsino, Moscow, Russia
„Sector of Visual Investigation“, Planification urbaine dans les conditions extrêmes, Tbilissi, Georgia
"Artist, Time, Space...", Museum für moderne KunstTsaritsino, Moscow, Georgia
2. Biennale für zeitgenössische Kunst, Cetinje, Montenegro, Jugoslavia
"Europa 94", München, Germany
"Media - Space", Nationalmuseum, Tbilissi, Georgia
"Kartesian reflection and experience of heart", Museum für moderne Kunst Tsaritsino, Moscow, Russia
"Cadavre Exquis", Cologne, Germany
"VIS A VIS", Benger Fabrik Bregenz and Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, Austria
"FPKKS", Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany
"Entre Photographie et Peinture", IFA (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), Berlin, Germany
"OSTRANENIE 97", Electronic Art Media Forum, Bauhaus, Germany
"Trans – Formation", UNESCO, Paris, France
"HYBRID FACTORY", (Ars Electronica), Linz, Austria
1999 - 2000
"AU VERSO DE l’HISTOIRE" , Zentrum für zeitgenössische Kunst La Ferme de Busson, Marne-la Vallée, France
Contemporary Art Museum in Athens, Greece
"CAMUFLIAGE", Europahaus, Genf, Switzerland
"STOCKHOLM CONNECTION", Attitudes, Genf, Switzerland
"AFTER THE WALL", Modern Museum Stockholm, Sweden
Ludvig Museum,Budapest, Hungary
Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany
"Here nor there" – Cube, Bristol, Great Britain
"Electronik December" – Watershed, Bristol, Great Britain
Tirana Biennalle, Tirana, Albania
Photoforum Pascua Art, Centre Pascua Art, EXPO 2002, Biennale, Switzerland
CREDAC (Center of reserch and developing of Contemporary Art), Ivry, Paris.
Lanscape & Territory, Exchange project, N Gallery, Tbilissi, Georgia
Caspar Hauser, Storys. One man show, Edward Mitteran Gallery, Genf, Switzerland
Architectur and identite. Center Photography in Genf, Switzerland
Solo exhibitions (choice)
Exhibition / Installation,
„Farben, Form und Raum“, Galerie Kunsthaus Tbilisi, Georgia
Neue Werke aus Georgien, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany
„Art in Process“, Galerie Vayhinger, Möggingen-Radolfzell, Germany
„Collection of Bad and Wrong Words“, Kulturmanagement Häusler GmbH, Munich
“Don’t follow yourself it’s dangerours for you”, Raum Aktueller Kunst, Vienna, Austria
“Loop the loop”, Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany
Galerie Edward Mitterand, Genf, Switzerland