Rusudan Khizanishvili: Rooms & Beings

Installation view, Rusudan Khizanishvili, Rooms & Beings, November 7- January 9, 2021. 68 Projects, Berlin. Photo courtesy of the gallery and Gerhard Haug.

Rusudan Khizanishvili: Rooms & Beings

68 Projects (Kornfeld Gallery) (Berlin)

November 7 through January 9, 2021 

By LARISSA KIKOL, December 2020

Georgian artist Rusudan Khizanishvili (1979*) shows her latest paintings in 68 Projects, a project space of the Kornfeld Gallery in Berlin. The exhibition was curated by Nina Mdivani.

The first thing you notice are the animals with human heads. In black, purple, night blue or orange. These mixed creatures are no strangers, you know them from cultural history. They were often monsters, brought destruction over the country, killed or strangled travelers. Many hybrid beings had no good reputation. Not even the Sphinx - a lion with wings and a woman's head - the daughter of the monsters Typhon and Echidna. According to Greek mythology, she lived on a mountain, a traveler came along there, she gave him a riddle. If he could not solve it, his life was lost.

The hybrid beings in Khizanishvili's paintings are different. Often smaller, sociable, perhaps already cuddly. Like in the work The Last Room/Exit. Here such a creature appears on the knees of two women, like a lapdog proudly presenting itself. In a moment it will lie down and purr, the viewer thinks. "I do not see them as tamed in these paintings, they are strong, victorious, and independent", the artist tells me later. Have I misunderstood something here? Maybe other paintings will help me to understand these beings. In Victory the creature stands on top of a circus platform like a magnificent lion. It shows off its fur, which could also be wings. The face is female, it wears a crown. Where does it come from? 

Rusudan Khizanishvili, Coronation, 2020. Acrylic, spray-paint on canvas, 47 1/4 x 94 inches. Installation view, Rusudan Khizanishvili, Rooms & Beings, November 7- January 9, 2021. 68 Projects, Berlin. Photo courtesy of the gallery and Gerhard Haug.

The painting Coronation provides an answer: the being receives a golden crown, stretches, is awarded, is accepted and seems to have finally arrived. So, it is not a monster, but neither is a pet. It is more like a trusted friend who visits and assists people in their rooms. Thus, a reconciliation is initiated, and this happens on several levels. Constructed beings are people's fantasies, they come from what they already knew, what frightened them, and what they could not clearly understand, and thus seemed even more eerie. Reconciliation with these unknown dangers now becomes possible. Reconciliation with our own projections and fears, our alter egos, but also with our cultural history. Khizanishvili grew up, lives, and works in Georgia, country that had to culturally, economically and sociologically redefine itself after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A change or liberation, but like any letting go of old structures, brings with it precisely that fear. From this perspective, these hybrid beings also appear as mythical creatures that represent this exact transformation. 

Rusudan Khizanishvili, The Last Room/Exit, 2020. Acrylic on canvas,58 2/3 x 58 2/3 inches. Installation view, Rusudan Khizanishvili, Rooms & Beings, November 7- January 9, 2021. 68 Projects, Berlin. Photo courtesy of the gallery and Gerhard Haug.

Back to the painting The Last Room/Exit. I now look at the two women more closely and I notice that they look like twins. In reality, they are mother and daughter, because Rusudan Khizanishvili is already a mother of two grown-up children, she gave birth to them when still young. The two women wear the same clothes, the same hairstyle and have the same facial expressions. As individuals they step back. The face of the dark being, however, is not recognizable. Thus, it becomes a mystery, a black hole in the middle of the picture, absorbing everything. In this face and painting every projection about personalities and relationships finds its place. The two women seem like two surreal placeholders; it is not about them directly, but about their circumstance. A small room without any specific purpose, in it they are both present with the two visiting beings. Almost like a scene from a David Lynch film.  

The painting technique is as hard to define as are the painted scenes. Khizanishvili mixes several styles, sometimes they remind one of Art Brut or naive painting, sometimes of Van Gogh, and sometimes the two-dimensional flat colors seem completely contemporary. It is a sampling of different epochs and influences like on a mixtape. The hybridity between the ingredients and the self-confident appropriation of heterogeneous approaches mark the current zeitgeist. 

Like mother and daughter, the two men's faces on The Boys Room are covered with many small brushstrokes. Similar to what Van Gogh did, the colors are mixed by the direct juxtaposition of the strokes, like a woven carpet of different yarns. This makes the men in the Boys Room look scraped or carved out of wood; on the other hand, the expressive hatching of the slightly crooked contours also looks like the Outsider Art. For neither the bodies nor the rooms are naturalistic. The clothing of the men, like the shirt and vest of the right figure, their shoulder posture, their clumsy arms and hands also speak a naive painting language. In it, bodies are assembled in the way one imagines them roughly from memory. Natural proportions and the exact fit of joints and bones are not adopted. Also, with Khizanishvili the paintings of the bodies are, just like the hybrid beings, rather thought pictures then nature studies. Imagination as anatomy teacher. 

Rusudan Khizanishvili, The Rising Star, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 47 1/4 x 70 3/4 in Installation view, Rusudan Khizanishvili, Rooms & Beings, November 7- January 9, 2021. 68 Projects, Berlin. Photo courtesy of the gallery and Gerhard Haug.

In The Rising Star a woman with long blue hair holds a childlike being in the center of the work. The being seems to be half child, half monkey and half worm. The woman's hands look like coarse paws, similar to a child's drawing. The mise en scene is completed by peacocks, plants and another woman. Some plants appear like intestines, the arms of the dark woman like long tubes and her dresses with pinstripe motif look like the bodies of octopuses. Thus, the figurative pictorial objects dissolve. They are transformed into a chaotic, yet controlled composition of colored areas and painting styles. The narrative recedes and the painterly strength of the artist appears most clearly in this work.  

Seen in this light, hybrid beings are not the only subject of change and transformation. The language of painting also plays with different styles and eras, new and old, as well as with the figurative and the abstract. I understand the exhibition title Rooms & Beings not only as referring specifically to interiors and figurative (fantasy) creatures, but also as a metaphor in which 'Rooms' stands for epochs and 'Beings' for individual painting styles. The artist mixes everything up and finds her own surreal world.

The curator Nina Mdivani has also demonstrated a good balancing act, in which she has selected the works so that one can distinguish narrative stories among them. These are also interrupted by individual works such as Collecting Pets or The Flowers From Our Garden. These two paintings in particular seem to function as an intermezzo in the exhibition. They are part of it, but the woman in the cool animal print in Collecting Pets is herself taking a breather from cultural sampling. The zebra leggings do her good, refreshing the mythological allusions with a twinkle in the eye. WM

Larissa Kikol

Larissa Kikol (1986* Germany) is an independent art critic and art historian. She works and lives in Germany and France. She writes for Kunstforum International, Die Zeit, art das Kunstmagazin, Spiegel Online or Halle 4 – the online magazine of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. She also writes in artist catalogs, museum publications and for gallery exhibitions. Kikol received his doctorate in art science. In 2016 she won the 1st prize of the international talent competition of the C/O Amerikahaus Berlin in the field of art criticism.

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