All that glitters…

In Batumi (at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara) we meet with Minister Giorgi Tavamaishvili and the Head of Department of Culture, Irine Surmanidze, to discuss potential cooperation with Borderland Academy. Later, Krystof Czyzewski made a lecture to the cultural management course students at Batumi Art Teaching University – with translation by Levan Khetaguri. He spoke about what interested him most in contemporary art – work that is about empathy and social engagement. He spoke of how theatre work in Sejny drew its inspiration not just from local stories but from other places, such as Indonesia, working  with different disciplines. Students at the university spend their first year following a standard university arts curriculum and only in their second year choose a speciality – cultural management, media studies, theatre studies, marketing, cultural economy. Several students wanted more detail of the summer academy and how to apply for future editions. There were also discussions about the possibility of a Georgian summer academy.

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We have a brief walk in between the monumental buildings of Batumi, from the old town, past immense public art sculptures on every available roundabout, along the lengthy sea boulevard – which recreates a variety of world architecture including a greek acropolis, an Italian piazza and so on. And of course, we also find Medea in the rain… Much of this has been constructed since 2007 – a playground for contemporary architects, with a lot of gold trimmings and glittering statues. Undoubtably a popular location with the crowds of tourists is the summer is the all singing and dancing fountains at Batumi Pier –  with a line of speakers blasting out (of all things on such a wet evening as this) a popular Polish song from the 1964 by Filipinki.  Menawhile, towering far above us, the palm trees, the plasma screens and Circe’s niece, is the highest building in Batumi. The fate of the Technological University – with 37 floors – is uncertain. It currently remains empty.

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The next day Brendan Jackson made a presentation to students at the Art Academy about his artistic practice and the value of creative thinking. He summarised it as involving the spirit of cooperation, the spirit of curiousity, the spirit of simplicity. He spoke of collaborations with health workers, IT workers, community leaders, as well as with curators and other artists. He highlighted the following projects – a project in the Black Country, ‘A Most Peculiar Place’, an installation and exhibition; a film project with Geoff Broadway for the Olympics, ‘Raising the Sky’; the Atlantis project, work with Borderland and young people in Krasnogruda, Kėdainiai, Kaliningrad. He also gave some examples of work made by other artists he worked with in Laundry, an arts association based in the West Midlands of England. The session was translated by Levan Khetaguri.

The presentations at the Art Academy were organised with Nato Tskvitinidze from the Student Development Centre.

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In the afternoon the Head of Department of Culture, Irine Surmanidze, joined us for a tour of Gori (or Apsaros), one of the most important Roman fortified towns in ancient Colchis (Western Georgia). Though excavation date the earliest settlement of this area  to the 8th century BC, by the 2nd century AD it was a considerable Roman settlement. In the the sixteenth century it was occupied by the Ottomans and only rejoined Georgia in 1878. It has been a Museum since 1994. The fort is associated with the Apsyrtos, a Prince of Colchis who appears in the Greek epic poem ‘Argonautica’ – killed by Jason, he is supposed to be buried here. It is also believed to be the burial place of Saint Matthew, one of the original Apostles.

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After a final meeting in the evening to share and summarise our findings and thoughts, we finally depart to Tbilisi, an 8 hour rocky road trip mostly made by truckers heading to and from Turkey. (No sleep till Warsaw…)

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