Salome Vakhania and Natia Bukia interviewed by Nino Macharashvili (Curator and Director at FLAG ART GROUP).
1. Let’s begin with your start-up. What factors in the Georgian and Caucasian art scenes moved you to establish the online platform, Project ArtBeat? And, what made you decide to go beyond your online scope?
Project ArtBeat is the result of three friends’ mutual wish to nurture and promote Georgian contemporary art both locally and internationally. In addition we are aiming to create an environment in Georgia that will act as an artistic hub for the region. We believe that artists from post-Soviet countries still haven’t had a chance to express their full artistic potential internationally. Let’s take Art Fairs, the number of artists from post-Soviet countries you come across during fairs is very limited, it is time to expand the canon. In order to do so artists need to be accessible internationally and the best way to do so we believe is via the internet. At the moment we are mainly working with Georgian artists but soon we are planning to have some changes. From the beginning we never wanted to only work with a selected few collectors and art lovers, we were inspired to reach as many people as possible, a crowd that does not usually attend exhibitions. With our Moving Gallery, which is a shipping container that has a different location for each exhibition, we decided to go to people instead of them coming to us. Recently we decided to open a permanent space in Tbilisi as well, so that when our Moving gallery is travelling we can offer our visitors exhibitions in Tbilisi. Last but not least Art Fairs are a major part of our programme, we have so far participated in around fifteen Art Fairs such as Art Dubai, Contemporary Istanbul, Volta Basel and NYC, Start at Saatchi gallery etc.
2. What major developments have occurred in the Georgian and Caucasian art scenes since Project ArtBeat was established?
It would be too ambitious to say that in the last two years we have caused major art developments in the region but I believe with active international representation of our artists through Art Fairs, press coverage from main art magazines and newspapers such as Observer, Artnet, Artsy, Calvert22, Blouinartinfo etc. and collaborations with foreign artists such as Oscar Murillo, Brian Griffin, Jesse Darling and Takeshi Shiomitsu, we are definitely pushing the Georgian Art scene to the right direction. I can even say that our active participation motivated other Georgian galleries which had never take part in Art Fairs before to participate. I find it exciting because the more Georgian galleries are active internationally the higher the exposure to the Georgian artists will be. When we started we didn’t have anyone to ask for an advice it was tough but by following our instincts and hard work we managed to find our way around. However, the most important part of my work is to observe how our artists have developed since working with us. To name a few: organising Irakli Bugianis first solo show at the D. Shevardnadze National Gallery, followed by the publication of his first catalogue was an amazing experience. Also being able to witness how photographer Beso Uzndaze started painting in the last year or so is incredible, one moment he is a photographer and next moment he becomes a very talented painter as well. At the moment we are working with 27 artists out of which only 7 of them are female. I hope that we will change that soon and the ration between female and male artist be equal.
3) How about art collectors? Has there been an increase in the number of collectors since Project ArtBeat was established?
I think this is the biggest challenge in Georgia for us. Since Georgia is not a wealthy country, there is little culture of becoming a collector, people just buy art works here and there, without any structure or consistency. There is only one so called collector-based Tbilisi, who buys from time to time, but other dealers are so desperate, we haven’t even tried to approach that person. However, we have started working with lovely young collectors who are placing their trust in us and hopefully our relationship will grow together with their collections; we really enjoy working with them. In my opinion to be a collector one has to support artists that they believe in throughout their career, we hope to be the bridge between people who care about art and our artists. In addition we aim to change people’s perspective and make visual art more appealing than a Chanel bag.