Shin Gallery opens The Charm of the Surface and the Grammar of the Abyss today
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Shin Gallery opens The Charm of the Surface and the Grammar of the Abyss today
Installation View of Gia Edzgveradze: The Charm of the Surface and the Grammar of the Abyss at Shin Gallery, New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- Gia Edzgveradze, Artist, & Hong Gyu Shin, Gallerist, request the pleasure of your company for a reception to celebrate The Charm of the Surface and the Grammar of the Abyss this Friday, 7 April from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m at SHIN GALLERY.

Gia Edzgveradze’s Charm of Surface and the Grammar of Abyss is made up of a heterogeneous array of prismatic small-sized paintings and larger black-and-white canvases. The smaller works utilize brilliant colors with which Edzgveradze endows his scenographies an otherworldly spirit that is nevertheless strikingly familiar. Cerulean-blue sportive men and apple-green women in contorted figures go about their day, reading books on a toilet, balancing anonymous structures on their limbs, jovially dancing in a piano lounge, navigating serpentine corridors, or playing basketball. This is, indeed, a familiar world insofar as instruments, paintings, restaurant rooms, garments, tools, and various artefacts are readily identifiable. However, the uncanny pervades these works with equal vigor: faces are ultramarine or plum-purple while muscles are pulled into eerie, fantastical poses. Faceless man lay splayed against tennis nets, their backs arched, while hands and feet protrude across the canvass, distended and swollen like those of a frog. The monochromatic larger works, on the other hand, tend to be tethered to geometric experimentation. Again, familiar indices float around: we can make out some loose symbols that are strikingly similar to numbers, musical notation, and a mathematical grid, but these are all also made foreign such that what, exactly, they represent is ambiguous. In turn, Edzgveradze’s playful works invite questioning but offer no direct answers.

Aesthetically, Edzgveradze’s motley of splashy figures is somewhat reminiscent of Matisse’s Fauvist studies or Gaugin’s so-called “primitivist” scenes. However, contra Matisse and Gaugin, Edzgveradze is interested in presenting moments of linguistic and social breakage as they relate to our contemporary moment. In short, Edzgveradze uses the medium of painting to elucidate the invisible thread and force of language. Edzgveradze notes that his work is interested in the “[o]ntologization of social codes and symbols.” To understand the ambition behind these colorful, expressive works—which present us with social acts and semiotics manifest in expressive scenes—we ought to understand what “ontologization” amounts to and how it relates to the “social codes and symbols” depicted in Edzgveradze’s paintings.

Simply put, ontology, as it relates to the philosophical branch that is metaphysics, characterizes those things which exist, both mind-dependently and mind-independently. For instance, according to the program of “critical philosophy” inaugurated by Immanuel Kant in the late 18th century—a response to his “dogmatic” rationalist predecessors—the world, taken as a sum total of everything that is real, includes both a fundamental transcendental register and a less fundamental empirical register. The transcendental register is the supersensible, mind-independent realm that includes things in themselves that genuinely exist but which cannot be known in space and time. The empirical register, on the other hand, is the mind-dependent sensible realm where objects of knowledge and sensation exist. Artworks and our sensory responses to them thus take place on the empirical register. But fundamental ontology—and, consequently, the “ontologization” that directs Edzgveradze’s practice—is tasked with accounting for all the objects, speech acts, emotions, material objects, etc., that exist, regardless of whether we perceivers and thinkers are around to observe them.

As aforementioned, the second prong of Edzgveradze’s work deals with “social codes” and (semiotic) “symbols.” How, then, does this relate to the first prong, “ontologization,” and how does it relate to painting? Do our ethical codes and social norms—for instance, the way we greet one another, prepare food, play sports, kiss our partners, and make love—“exist” in the same way that a tree, hammer, or chess board “exists”? Or, alternatively, is that which “exists” the material, physical, measurable, objects that cause and give shape to our social norms and practices? Edzgveradze’s work is explicitly interested in changing beliefs and staging these changes with his art. Each scene takes a distinct practice or series of normative practices as its subject. For example, Dissolved Disagreement Between Catholics and Protestants (2020) shows two men—a black man with a wrinkled forehead and emerald eyes, the other a white man with, splotched pink skin and a long, beak-like nose—lighting their cigarettes before a cloaked blue figure with blazing flaxen hair and equally yellow hands. The three figures are not only lighting their cigarettes together but also closely poised, using the same stubby match to do so. Regardless of what led these three people together, this is a social interaction, a snapshot of intimacy that Edzgveradze has crafted. The cigarettes and match here become a semiotic symbol for a larger social episode.

Hence, regardless of whether social codes and symbols “exist” in homologous fashion to how chess pieces, basketballs, and books exist, Edzgveradze’s work successfully represents how beliefs and normative practices come to be recognized as “existing” between members of a recognitive community. Language is the binding through which we recognize these beliefs and practices as extant. Staging encounters between various different people from different ethnic backgrounds—some abstracted and others more realistically tethered—Edzgveradze uses painting to show how language comes to be recognized through bodily movement. If we understand language as not just made up of speech acts but also gestures, then we come to realize the “existence” of norms, practices, and beliefs in how they are articulated. As an artist primarily working in painting, Edzgveradze is staked with slowing down this linguistic process of articulating beliefs and norms, drawing our attention to specific social acts and scenes.

This is precisely why works like Hotel “Pregnancy” (Malfunction with Feminism) (2020) show paired-off pregnant bodies laced into couples along a serpentine path. This is an unfamiliar scene—as the title suggests, one that deals with “malfunction”—but also one where we recognize linguistic acts in how the impressionistically-stylized women rub their pregnant stomachs and face one another. Relatedly, in Judgement Day (2020) three brightly painted men—colored cyan, auburn, and coral—lay their genitalia along a long wooden table, to be “judged” by a nude arbiter on their knees. It is not clear what belief or social code is being staged: is this a sexual encounter or perhaps a clinical review of sorts? Again, Edzgveradze is not interested in answering such questions but, instead, unspooling curious, sometimes eerie, moments of social arrest that make us aware of what norms are being displayed or challenged, and how these norms inform our dormant ideologies. In turn, regardless of whether one might agree with whether norms or beliefs “exist” in and of themselves, their representations, whence brought forth upon Edzgveradze’s canvases, undoubtedly do exist.

Gia Edzgveradze

Georgian-born artist Gia Edzgveradze (*1953) currently lives in Düsseldorf, where he produces unconventional work that eludes any sort of categorization. He began with large-format black-and-white paintings, later creating three-dimensional installations for the Tate. In 1997 he visualized paradigms of the history of knowledge for the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. At the Ludwig Museum in Budapest, in the middle of an installation extending through several rooms, he presented a bed in which a handsome man lay under a blanket with the inscription: “Come and join me, and we could make an art-baby . . .” This invitation touches upon the central question in Edzgveradze’s work: What is artistic consciousness, and what is its role in society? The answers he provides in his work are always cryptic and full of irreverent humor and astringent irony.

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