The Jellyfish in Manhattan – Indigo Magazine

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The Indigo magazine, edition N4, January 2016 (page 38-47)
Art critic, Khatuna Khabuliani’s interview with Levan Songulashvili
Levan Songulashvili by Lado Pochkhua, New York, 2016.

Levan Songulashvili is a young artist. Levan holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) from the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts and is studying in NYC now.

As far as the world of contemporary visual art has been a partially shared experience for us so far, this space, with its complexity, diversity, conflicts and institutions, seems a vague and distant perspective for most of us. My conversation with Levan is developing around these problems.

Indigo: You drew “The Jellyfish” in one night back in Tbilisi, two years ago. You were 22 at that time. What was the source of your inspiration?

Levan: It was the origins of life and what the life is shaped from. Turritopsis Nutricula – is an immortal jellyfish hybrid, the unique organism that is capable to regenerate and rejuvenate. Jellyfish maintains its form for several months only, until it returns to a polyp form again. This cycle continues endlessly in the depths of the ocean, in eternity, where shining cells are lighting the dark.

Indigo: You described it too poetically. I can recognise the extent of inspiration and the efficacy of the work. How did the picture get to the auction?

Levan: I quickly understood that I wanted to change the scale of this work so that it would have become part of conceptual project, where it would develop into the form of installation-performance. However, I went to the USA, and by a swing of fate the work was exhibited at Take Home a Nude auction, where around a hundred and fifty pieces of art are brought together, represented by names famous in the art world, beside whom young artists also appear.

Indigo: It is a very impressive image that stand at some threshold between abstraction and figurativeness, depicting the object in a somewhat exaggerated, secret scale. This is one of the major moods of contemporary art.

Levan: One can put it so too. I am frequently thinking about objective reality, wishing to observe the world and myself from different perspectives; thinking about the language of form, visual codes, music in color, comrehension of image, particles separated from the entirity; about interaction of the eye, mind and soul; about the current and future art by and large…and ultimately I return to a plane and a secret feeling of comprehending the incomprehensible, which means defeat of nihilism for me.

Indigo: How would you describe your art?

Levan: Sensing and analyzing real-life problems can be transformed into a visual language and become the basis of conceptual structure. But, by and large, I do not wish to stop at what I have found, I see a loss in it.

In my view, an artist should have something Don Quixotish. I am familiar with a state, when apart from a reflex, irrational impulses urge you to find water in a desert, which would lead you to the ocean.

Indigo: Can you tell me how did your interview go at Jeff Koons’s studio in Manhattan, where Jeff’s well-known art projects are come to life?

Levan: I learned that Jeff was looking for an artist to work at his studio. It is natural that the environment of world’s art center is competitive, but I did not back. They called me for an interview on the second day after I sent my portfolio. I found myself in a different world at the very moment I entered the studio: extended space, modern technologies, pulsation of art.Consequently, I got excellent evaluations. Jeff’s colleagues were holding photo copies of my works and I was listening to their comments. In short, following the interviews I was chosen as an assistant. 

In my view, an artist should have something Don-Quixotish. I am familiar with a state, when apart from a reflex, irrational impulses urge you to find water in a desert, which would lead you to the ocean.

Indigo: What did they value, technical skills, academic knowledge of painting, aspiration to the depths of graphic skills?

Levan: They were important factors. I do not distinguish between painting and drawing, as art is a visual language spoken in different forms. By and large, graphic art plays an important role in formation of modern artistic thinking and taste, and its capabilities are far diverse, than it can be seen on a canvass at first glance. I immensely enjoy to deal with a color. That’s exactly what makes my “graphic” look like painting, where the environment created with half-tones does not have a specific color. I have worked with many mediums since I was a child, albeit my experience, along with my creative thinking, has been transformed into my artwork, in which the neutral gamma and less chromatization have become methods of speech.

Indigo: How busy is your timetable?

Levan: Too busy at the moment. I am attending a Master of Arts (MA) course, after which I am going to work with Jeff. My work involves performing of large painting composition in different materials.

Indigo: The world of contemporary art, with creation of postmodernism concept, is characterized by extreme liberalism. It encompasses a great number of mediums, forms and materials. All this have yet to be understood in Georgia, with only first steps made so far.

Levan: Whether the society is prepared for new cultural processes, bold steps, can be seen in art, too. As Anatole France once said, we should die in one life before we move to another. Both an artist and the socium need to feel the pace of the world in silence, in order to be able to improvise.

In Jeff’s art projects mostly large forms occupy the space. There, ideas come to life though mixed technique, free imagination and refined mastership, as well as with the help of modern technologies. This is the case, when seemingly banal objects are able to bring modern energy to the Louvre hall, or we get contemporary art by adding a couple of touches to the high renaissance work.

I am frequently thinking about objective reality, wishing to observe the world and myself from different perspectives; thinking about the language of form, visual codes, music in colour, comprehension of image, particles separated from the entirety; interaction of the eye, mind and soul.

Indigo: Did you meet Jeff in the academy you are studying now?

Levan: academy regularly hosts public lectures of renowned artists. They help the students with a search process and with opening of new areas of consciousness. This experience expresses itself in their art in some form, after a while.

As far as Jeff is concerned, he did not come to the academy. Andres Serrano was one of the first, whom I met at the lecture.

Indigo: Serrano is known for his provocative artwork. His series of photographs, particularly “The History of Sex”, part of which is “Piss Christ”, have been extremely popular and have inspired angry reactions. Serrano was a cultural shock for some of the Tbilisi art academy students. What was the reaction of students at NY academy of art?

Levan: They too had equivocal reaction, though their criticism was more mature. We may like or not like an artist and their art, but it is important that we should respect and criticize them on an intellectual level. Sometimes, people’s reaction is stronger to the title, than to the artwork itself.

I met Andres Serrano shortly after the start of my academic year. His visit to the academy was unexpected and even symbolic.

The lecture was entitled “photography, art and politics”. I have posted a video of the lecture in the internet. Serrano showed us many things. His photo series comprised subjects from a morgue to the homeless peple. He even told us the story about some of the photo heroes. For example, the “Black Santa” – an Afro-American homeless man with a black hair and beard, attired in the Santa Klaus costume; one evening, Andres again noticed the man by the waste container and asked if he remembered him. And he joyfully answered –  yes, sure, I do, you made me famous. The man’s photo was published on the cover of an Italian magazine. People recognized him, but no one knew who he was. The second photo portrait was exhibited at one of the museums in Chicago. A lady was standing in front of the picture, who was shedding bitter tears. The portrait reminded her of her son John, who had passed away. Serrano told us that he would continue working on the problems of immigration and the homeless.

Indigo: How did you accept the environment completely different from your native one?

Levan: Sometimes, inspiration can come from a process that develops with lightning speed. I mean adapting and getting used to the pace of living and social life of NYC.

This country is oriented to the future, creating the future prospects, and it constantly is in search of novelties. Despite the very competitive environment, the ambitious, hard working and thinker have the opportunity to realize themselves.

A wide, extended space and the sense of infinity have inspired me since I was a child. Even now, wherever I come across interesting “emptiness”, new ideas begin to occur. As Jean Baudrillard says: “France is only a country, America is a concept…” and harmonizing with its natural, psychological and social rhythm, the process of adaptation to the new cultural environment and its reviving dynamics have proved to be not alien, but on the contrary, even native.

The Indigo Magazine – a new periodical highlighting a wide spectre of subjects, such as art, politics, religion, literature, news, interviews with celebrities, etc.
The Indigo Magazine, edition N4, January 2016, page 38-47.

Khatuna Khabuliani’s interview with Levan Songulashvili (interview in Georgian language).