Q&A with Curator Julienne Lorz
as part of the exhibition “Thea Djordjadze: all building as making”
What role does material play in Thea Djordjadze’s work?
Material always plays a role in art, of course. Thea Djordjadze’s handling of material is of particular significance, however, because her art essentially only begins to emerge within the space as a process. This means that the artworks are not delivered in their final form; instead, materials and components arrive, at which point individual works or exhibitions as installations are created on-site.
Interestingly, she often uses everyday materials: industrial elements such as Plexiglas, aluminium, plaster or foam, frequently combining these with wood, carpets, fabrics, handcraft and painting. A vast range of materials finds expression in many different ways, at times, creating a contradiction of sorts: a chair-like sculpture, for example, made of foam. Since it appears to be a chair, one might expect the material to be rather sturdy, but Djordjadze’s version is fragile and does not represent stability. In that sense, she employs material to promote oppositions in perception.
When interviewed for ART iT Magazine (2012), Djordjadze stated: “I don’t think I’m doing forms. I am working with movements.” This quote also refers to material because in her work, everything is always in motion, appearing in flux. Generally, the artist is on the move a lot in her practice – including during the preparation of her exhibition. She wanders the sites, examining every visual angle in the spaces, and this movement ultimately influences the visitors’ experience of her exhibitions. Djordjadze’s practice circles around art as a physical, atmospheric experience developed over time with transient elements and the visual. Another aspect of movement lies hidden: to see what the artist sees; to experience – through one’s own movement in the space – what she experiences. Rays of sunlight, the weather, the seasons: visual elements that change how material glistens and shadows are cast.
In other words, spaces and their specific conditions function as a kind of compass that guides Djordjadze’s artistic practice. In what ways do spatial and temporal dimensions resonate in the artist’s work?
Djordjadze’s artistic approach typically concentrates on an intense study of specific spatial conditions. She carefully examines the spaces; every detail is crucial. Not only are the architectural elements and attributes of the space important, but also the context: Where is the exhibition building located? How does the light stream in at different times of the day? How do visitors enter and move around in the exhibition? Where are the entrances and exits? Are there windows, and what views do they provide? These different components are part of her palette, so to speak – the material with which she works.
The fact that Djordjadze lives here in Berlin is also an advantage, of course. She was able to develop a different relationship with the building, one that began even before her exhibition. She knows the Gropius Bau, its history, and its more recent developments. She witnessed the institution’s changes over the years and how the various directors’ interventions modified the premises.
What is the relationship between the interior and exterior in all building as making?
The relationship between interior and exterior space is definitely important in this exhibition and generally in the Gropius Bau. Since Stephanie Rosenthal took over as director in 2018, the relationship between “inside” and “outside” has been continuously renegotiated, on a spatial level and regarding the exhibition and event programme. Walls in front of the windows in the gallery spaces were removed, for example, so that daylight can now enter the rooms, making it possible for visitors to experience the Gropius Bau as an open space. From the gallery spaces where Djordjadze’s works are displayed, the trees in our car park – named Gropius Wood – are visible.
Djordjadze also indicates the interior and exterior in her exhibition. She is interested in natural light; for instance, when sunlight floods the rooms, the shiny surfaces of her works change. Inside the Gropius Bau, she will apply thin layers of plaster water or highly diluted paint in different colours to the windows and glass surfaces. This painterly intervention obscures the outside and simultaneously serves as a kind of membrane, accentuating the connection between the indoor and outdoor space.
Djordjadze’s site-specific installations are created in situ, where they are recombined and rearranged. How does the processual nature of her practice relate to a more traditional understanding of art as artefacts or final works?
In her artistic approach, Djordjadze fundamentally questions the traditional understanding of art as a final form. She occasionally disassembles already existing, finished works for her exhibitions, turning them back into material. This process is characterised by ongoing experimentation: discarding, reassembling and repositioning. Djordjadze thus extends her production into the exhibition space, which only becomes a final composition temporarily at the opening. In a way, it is as if time stops at that specific moment and perhaps continues in different constellations in the next exhibition.
For all building as making, Djordjadze asked for specific display elements from previous presentations at the Gropius Bau to be kept for her to potentially include in the exhibition. The underlying idea is that material is not finite, nor must it remain in one state or have one meaning: instead, it always has an afterlife, where it can develop, staying in motion.
What is the role and importance of titles – such as all building as making – in the artist’s practice?
In her exhibitions, the title is negotiated almost like a sculptural element or textual building block that forms a part of the installation. The titles often refer to literary texts, such as those by the poet and essayist T. S. Eliot in Djordjadze’s work As sagas sa (2012) for dOCUMENTA(13). Yet, no fixed narrative or meaning is ascribed to these recontextualised words. The exhibition title o potio n., which the artist used for a solo show at Portikus in Frankfurt/Main (2018), negates or obscures the original meaning through Djordjadze’s intervention in the “space” of the word. The result is a series of letters that could be an abbreviation, an unknown word or even concrete poetry.
Djordjadze’s exhibition title at the Gropius Bau – all building as making – also emphasises the processual nature of her work, simultaneously establishing a link to the exhibition venue through the ambiguity of the word “building” (both a noun and a verb). The Gropius Bau building is architecturally and historically dominant and is by no means a blank slate; the act of “building” is reflected in its past when it housed the Museum and School of Decorative Arts and was a place of production – of “making”.
Many of Djordjadze’s works reflect on visual presentation methods and the relationship between private and institutional spaces. How does this exploration manifest itself in the artist’s work?
Djordjadze repeatedly deconstructs the so-called “white cube” ideology – a neutral space solely for viewing art – promoted by modernism. The concept of “Institutional Critique” might seem relevant here since it reflects on the conditions of exhibiting and refers to presentation methods, such as display cabinets or pedestals. The museum and/or the institutional framework with all of its particularities effectively serves as the artist’s material.
For her exhibition at the Secession (To be in an upright position on the feet (studio visit), 2016), for instance, Djordjadze moved her entire studio to Vienna. The artist was thus temporarily deprived of all the things required for her work and even for everyday life. With this entire inventory, Djordjadze created an installation in which her private working space – the studio – was rearranged to become a public sculptural form in an institutional space. The Gropius Bau exhibition spaces, in contrast, are a kind of extension of her studio in Berlin, serving as a place where the artist can continue to conceive and develop her work.