Wato Tsereteli is an artist, curator, and creative administrator. He studied film in Tbilisi and obtained an MA from the Department of Photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (Belgium). In 2010, he established the Center of Contemporary Art Tbilisi—an institution that occupies abandoned places in the city and transforms them into zones of urban creativity. In 2012, Tsereteli initiated the Tbilisi Triennial—a long-term project focused on education and research into self-organized and independent art practices worldwide. Tsereteli’s artistic works are two, three, and four-dimensional objects with well-structured spatial organization, while his larger initiatives recreate public and private spaces into artistic and social settings.
1. What was your motivation to found/curate the Tbilisi Triennial?
In 2011, when CCA Tbilisi , we invited about fifteen active curators, artists, and cultural managers in Georgia to discuss the international context and what Tbilisi could offer to international audiences. Unfortunately, this meeting went nowhere; there was no common result achieved. Then the team of CCA Tbilisi decided to initiate a new international project, the Triennial, that would not focus on city branding, but on developing long-term processes; it would brand, if you wish, the subject, which ultimately became Education. Internationally even today academic institutions have difficulties being time-responsive; we don’t mention visionary any more. Luckily, we met Henk Slager, a curator and researcher who has already been doing extensive research for years on matters like the Bologna Process, etc. The dialogue with Henk actually created the Triennial as it is now.
2. How can you describe the model of the (first) Tbilisi Triennial you created, also compared to other biennials?
As Tbilisi, and Georgia itself, is quite substantially unstable, our Triennial resonated with that reality. Generally, the choice of the rhythm of continuity was also an issue—to not create a kind of marathon, but rather to have a broader view.
The Triennial grew into a larger event that was a compilation of independently curated and produced projects. It’s rather a rhizomatic, horizontal project. So, there is not this classical big-name curator and placement of a work…Diversity equals quality. The Triennial very much vibrates together with the reality here in this place.
3. What goals/wishes were/are connected with the Tbilisi Triennial? What should be achieved?
There cannot be a final point in this process. It’s always directly educative: we call it the “dramaturgy of education.” No drama, please—but you need to know the ways in which things are being offered. So, education is always there, in many forms. And then we try to activate certain fields in reality that are oriented toward change.
A triennial or any other long term project should be re-born over and over again. Reassembled…but if the structure and people are responsive, it usually works well.
4. Biennials provide a point of convergence for the art world, expose large audiences to art (and other disciplines and mediums), and catalyze interest in cities and regions with global aspirations. Do biennials necessarily have a positive social and economic impact?
The potentiality of a positive effect is there. A negative effect is probably the most banal and boring result of something totally different. If one is not fully dedicated and does not understand the larger context, it can be matter of doing a project just to do a project.
5. Can you talk about the funding processes and sources? How do you think this affected the Triennial? (Does it affect it at all?)
Politics are what affect the Triennial the most for us. And it’s about things like elections, or other political events. In this moment, no one from the governmental side is able to make decisions. We managed to build quite constructive relationships with both the Ministry of Culture and also the Culture Department of Tbilisi’s city hall. I must say that it’s a great pleasure and sign of optimism that in both institutions, and also other governmental bodies, there are very curious, nice, and also intellectual people working. There has been immense change from 15 years ago…The Triennial is recognized by the Georgian government like , e.g. Georgia is the guest country at the 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair. This takes quite a lot of resources.
6. What sort of curatorial, institutional, or technological innovations can help to ensure the vibrancy and relevance of biennials going forward?
The formats, according to which we all live must be checked and updated—that’s what social innovation can probably mean. Any format of an event should be re-thought and subject to experimentation. In 2015, we did SOS—Self Organized Systems; it was the second edition of the Triennial. Artist Gio Sumbadze made a sculpture that had the purpose of hosting a theoretical forum at the Triennial. The forum indeed had a completely different atmosphere, informal but full of responsibility.
7. What sort of curatorial, institutional, or technological innovations can help ensure the vibrancy and relevance of biennials going forward?
The main problem in Georgia and many post-Soviet countries is the tremendous gap between the potential and the consciousness of the society. The philosopher Merab Mamardashvili described this as the “infantile condition of the society.” It comes from the 70-year mutation process applied by the regime. For three generations, the individual initiative was punished and oppressed; collectivization also did not work. For the second Tbilisi Triennial, we initiated research into how self-organization worked before the Communist occupation. There are two volumes that were published with 20 case studies. Cooperatives, emancipated female associations, communes...these were very popular and self-sustained from the end of the 19th century right up until Communist rule. As the team at CCA, we do recognize the importance of those aspects. It turned out that, without really being aware of it, our study program is oriented to support leadership. Soviet education, like the colonial kind, did not focus or develop this aspect, which in the end is initiative and responsibility.