Vajiko Chachkhiani: From Image to Immersive Reality
Sponsored Translation by Banyi Huang
As a medium, can moving images that represent objects and phenomena transform into immersive psychological realities? This appears to be the question Vajiko Chachkhiani explores in his two recent exhibitions at White Space, Beijing.
Exhibition view: Vajiko Chachkhiani, Finger, Fist, and Thumb Sucking, White Space, Shunyi, Beijing (17 September–27 October 2022). Courtesy the artist and White Space.
Titled Finger, Fist, and Thumb Sucking (17 September–27 October 2022) and Video (9 September–20 October 2022), both exhibitions considered the layout between the artist's early films through 16 of his video works arranged to be viewed from different perspectives.
Throughout the films, elements such as stone sculptures, flames, wind, water, and blood repeatedly appear. In White Suite (2012), four dark, glass bottles are quietly submerged in water and sealed with black cloths. They are Molotov cocktails, which are used primarily as an explosive. Streams of white liquid pour into the water, dispersing like smoke and spreading into oblivion as the entire screen turns white.
With the help of time-lapse photography and long takes focused on seemingly static or constantly moving objects, the Tbilisi-born artist's documentary-style tableaus always bring about an internal state of distraction.
Since the Soviet Union's dissolution, Georgia has been undergoing social unrest brought about by geopolitical divides due to its location in the southern foothills of the Caucasus. As Chachkhiani turns his camera from people to objects, the role between viewer and viewed, subject and object, gradually becomes indistinguishable.
Lower Than the Sky (2021) is centred around the Georgian refugee crisis that began in the early 1990s. In a simple composition, the film depicts two fishing boats that once transported refugees in the Black Sea. The ship approaches slowly from a distance, but just as it is about to reach the shore, it turns around and slowly departs.
The very moment the ship draws near, viewers can clearly see the crowds standing on the deck. Looking directly at the camera, they hold the viewers' gaze until the hull has fully turned around.
In several narrative films that Chachkhiani created in recent years, protagonists often break away from their habitual thinking by way of distraction, whether intentional or not.
In Winter Which Was Not There (2017), the artist leads viewers through a process of psychological transformation, from excavation and revisiting to catharsis—all from a male protagonist's perspective. Figurative statues that symbolise the self and history are hoisted from water, tied to the protagonist's car, and dragged until they are completely shattered. Along the way, viewers encounter cattle, flocks of sheep, a teenage boy looking back from a distance, and young people on a shuttle bus.
Composed of documentary-style footage, the imagery lies somewhere between memory and reality. In the final moment, the linear narrative is disrupted by a street scene, captured by the camera's accelerating lateral movement.
Viewers can venture beyond novel plots to actively reconstruct and reimagine their surroundings.
In Heavy Metal Honey (2018), the title alone implies a mundane situation fraught with tension. The story revolves around an ordinary family gathering. A female host is busy preparing a meal and reminds the children to set the table, but they are either indulging in shooting games or glued to their phones.
The host of on-screen characters—the husband who has just returned home, gossiping female relatives, or the selfish elderly—remain detached or tirelessly ramble on. The female host's escalating emotions are conveyed by a green plant quivering in the wind. It then begins to rain heavily indoors. In this absurd atmosphere, the host retrieves a gun and calmly shoots the family members one by one with resolve, as blood and rainwater splash and flow in all directions.
After this, the dinner reverts to a normal state of domestic peace. However, faint traces of blood on the family photo once again hints at presiding inner conflict. In the last scene, a blurry image of a man in the mirror seems to transfer the psychological lead of this rupture to the eldest son. As the female host runs out of bullets, the man who has remained silent throughout the film survives the surreal carnage.
In the film, objects and substances like curtains, jewellery, green plants, blood, running water—and even expressions: voices, limbs, glances, and sounds—are portrayed with equal weight, as part of an intertwined structure. Each reveals its consciousness as the video dissolves differences between people and objects, the boundaries between groups, and the distinctions between personhood, objecthood, and social structures.
Chachkhiani's documentary-style tableaus always bring about an internal state of distraction.
Such a Chachkhiani-esque sense of rupture manifests through the passage of time or sudden eruptions of violence. Some films stem from bodily discipline and the breakage thereof. Some take advantage of the protagonists' infinitely wandering minds to reboot reality, and others switch between perspectives to exhaust the characters' repressed desires.
A new work, The Warm Winter Sun (2022), recounts the story of a protagonist who, during a visit to a childhood home, suddenly sets it on fire. More than half the shots depict details of burning flames, both indoors and outdoors.
With the aid of Chachkhiani's highly immersive visual language, viewers can venture beyond merely following novel plots to actively reconstruct and reimagine their surroundings.
This seems to echo the intent behind the artist's two recent shows at White Space, which sought to impartially present different stages of his explorations. Such differences and progressions are precisely what a very real, yet increasingly fragmented world bestows upon us. —[O]