Vajiko Chachkhiani's artistic practice is characterised as spiritual dramaturgy through an exploration of decisive aspects of human life: death, the unresolved relationship between the past and present, and the individual perception of pain. Through his sculptures and installations, the artist deals with psychological conditions such as solitude and violence, using them to trace a close comparison with religion, politics and mythology. Frequently based on transformative actions, many of his sculptures have a hybrid nature to them, in which the initial image becomes the key to accessing a deeper and darker dimension, not far from the territory of psychoanalysis.
At the origin of the artist’s work lies his homeland, Georgia, the traditional culture of which is interpreted by Chachkhiani as a powerful symbolic image of the human condition. That’s why objects taken from the Georgian farming and crafts culture appear in his works time after time, not like ready-mades but rather as metaphors capable of speaking of historical events, of collective memory and the temporality of existence. In Chachkhiani’s work, philosophical reflections on freedom and the human experience are subtly interpreted through the elaboration of waste materials without any practical value, such as burnt tree branches, animal bones, the doors of abandoned shacks and other such objects. In many works – sculptural, temporal and performative – the artist short-circuits the relationship between the dimension of intimacy and the public side, investigating the dimension of vulnerability, characterised by isolation and psychological fragility, and represented by structures such as prisons and sanatoria.
The installation work on display, Secret that Mountain Kept (ghosts), starts out from a traumatic local event which occurred in 2015 in Tbilisi – the capital of Georgia and Chachkhiani’s birthplace – when the river Were broke its banks and flooded the streets. The violence of the waters cost the lives of nineteen people, as well as those of over three hundred animals in the local zoo. Many animals from the zoo park, freed from their cages and fences by the destructive impact of the water and having survived the disaster, found themselves wandering around the streets of the city. A tiger attacked a man, lengthening the list of casualties over those days, transforming a natural disaster into a paradoxical conflict between the natural, animal and human kingdoms.
In his work,Chachkhiani alludes to this event, reconstructing a number of traces in symbolic and mythological terms. The exhibition features a series of hollow dry gourds, traditionally used in Georgia to serve wine at the table after having been stored in clay amphorae. In the artist’s elaboration, each gourd acquires a number of individual zoomorphic characteristics through the insertion of various animal teeth and claws. The evocation of the wine element and its two-sided value – both cultural and cultish, the very symbol of human labour but also of the aspiration towards divine transcendence in the Christian tradition – here opens up the traumatic representation of an unresolved mystery. The human and the animal and their different values are placed in comparison in a representation that strips down the minimum data of both. For Chachkhiani the animal world is an abyss, an alterity lying beyond language, and it speaks of the origins of man and of his solitude as a species.
In Chachkhiani's work, we find an echo of the ancient theories of correspondence which reached modern Europe from ancient Greece through the hermetic tradition. The doctrine of the signatura rerum is an original form of thought and of human activity in the attempt to make sense of the world through the discovery of a system of correspondences. Thinking by correspondences foresees the belief that every exteriority has an interiority, the former oriented towards the unveiling of the latter. The comprehension of things does not just allow us to take possession of them, but also to understand their most intimate inner nature. A quantity of elementary experiences repeated for generations in the history of man, such as the crushing of the skin of a fruit so as to access the pulp, or the prying open of an oyster shell so as to gather the pearl to be found within, would thus appear to stimulate the constant search for the inside of things. Such experience seems to have been applied in early medical research and in the practices of alchemy and astronomy before rising to a spiritual dimension. The discovery of correspondences tended to try and explain the whole sphere of life and the entire experience of existence, thus becoming a sort of universal intuition. Thinking by correspondences in fact tends to move from the top downwards, identifying the earthly as a mirror of the celestial, i.e. as a reproduction or completion of an event of a mythical-divine nature. While Chachkhiani alludes in his work to mythical thought in the form of correspondences and the wonders of Orpheus, who would enchant fierce animals with the bewitching force of his lyre, it’s because Secret that Mountain Kept aims to safeguard the positive value of the radical diversity of the animal kingdom, its being an element of alterity that questions man and his role in the world. The artist thus underlines the irreplaceability of every natural, animal and human element in this work, proposing a reflection on the tragic nature intrinsic to every gesture that breaks the harmony of existence. The same interpretation is to be given also to the second element of the installation: wallpaper bearing the traces of images that have disappeared, perhaps removed paintings, in turn another trace of a broken order, of a time of completeness which is no more and which appears destined never to be reinstated.