Nov 28, 2011

Chapter 3: Birth of “Eurasian Laboratory’’,its essence and aims

We decide to publish few chapters from Esma Berikishvili's book "Eurasian Laboratory:Poetry,Prose and Music in Georgia" - socio-anthropologic research about earlier activities of our smArt Groupware.
the book will introduce  you to the brief history of Georgian cultural field and state ideology, 80-90s underground art and contemporary art-practice by smART-GROUPware ELY -- through the prism of Bourdieu's field theory and Cohen's theory of Symbolic communities.
the whole pre-version of the book you can read here:

you can purchase the book here:

<The artistic wonderland of Georgia - full of passion, breeze of Chernobyl, five floors Khrushovka's, professor grandfathers and drug addict fathers, black sea and mains of Chiatura, beautiful girls and boys, abandoned industrial buildings and dreams about Georgian Cosmonavtica - seen through theoretical prism. The book takes you to the world of Georgian artists who in their twenties experienced war, fear, darkness, cold, drug addiction, alcoholism, three unsuccessful attempts to build the state and consequently became abhorrent enough to "dance on the ruins". Follow the book and let new artistic viruses in.>


Chapter 3: “Eurasian Laboratory”
In the following chapter I will discuss the emergence of “Eurasian Laboratory”. I will show how
the art collaboration was formed, the priorities and goals that they try to archive, how the
alternative” community is constructed and how it establishes the “alternative” social and
cultural space for performing without any symbolic violence. I will be looking at different
projects that “Laboratory” runs and illustrate how they produce knowledge which is an
alternative to the State discourse. I will also demonstrate the external influences on 
Laboratory’s” art and expose how this particular art group struggles for legitimation: “for the
right to monopolize the exercise of “symbolic violence” (Swartz 1997:123).

3.1 Georgian Underground in 1980-1990

It is important to examine how underground movements emerged in the 1980s in order to
theorize the state of arts at that time and also to follow the appearance of “Eurasian Laboratory”.
In this part of the chapter I will look at how underground movements were formed in Georgia in
the 1980s and show how with the rise of the nationalistic movements the art scene and creation
was somehow stopped in 1990. At the same time I will demonstrate how new artistic movements
emerged from the historical context and how in 2006 “Laboratory” was established.
In 1980, before the national movements were established, the Georgian underground started a
new era in its development. The most important aspect of 80’s scene was that Georgian artists
and especially musicians started to create their art in Georgian language. The culture that was
present in Georgia in the 1980’s was characterized by a strong social load and it had significant
elements of protest. It can be argued that in the 1990’s Georgian underground culture
experienced highest level of development. For that time there were a significant number of
individual artists and collectives who did not suit the established clichés of Communist culture.
The most important was the musical scene and its sufficient element rock. During this period
various bands were performing not only in the capital of Georgia – Tbilisi, but also in Kutaisi,
Batumi, Gori, Rustavi, Telavi and many other small towns. Most of the alternative music was
performed in Georgian. From the late 80’s there were several important art groups performing in
the underground scene: Lado Burduli and his band “Recepti”, Dada Dadiani first with “Taxi”
and later “Children’s Medicine”, Kisho Glunchadze and the band “Kisho and Inteligencia”, band
Outsideri” with the leader Robi Kukhianidze. A bit later Irakli Charkviani started the individual
career. The art that was created by these outstanding artists was not only a pure art; it had a clear
message of social protest. As it is acknowledged “rock is a political phenomenon both because
rock artists sometimes take positions on controversial issues (or on the elites themselves) in their
songs and because political elites may use legislative or coercive force to suppress, inhabit or
regulate rock performers, regardless of the political intent or content of their songs” (Ramet
1994:102), and the same was true for Georgian rock scene.
The political and social situation that emerged in 1991 had a great influence on the later
development of the art scene in Georgia. The circumstances made those bands to fall apart, most
of them went abroad and others who were still in Georgia had no chances to work. However,
when civil war started artists who were still in the country did not stop artistic work, but their
performances lost their scale and after the war, the rock and underground scene were facing the
destruction, as nearly everything in Georgia. And still in 1996 the big festival “Margarita-96”
was held where newly emerged artists were present; nevertheless their art lost that social and
political aspect which was the main characteristic of 1990’s art (Lasha Gabunia).
As it is obvious from this small description, Georgian art and most importantly subversive or
underground art lost its ‘soul’ from the 1990’s, moreover the process of cultural development
was in a significant stagnation as a result of hard political, social and economic conditions that
war brought in Georgia. Irakli Charkviani’s words are a clear demonstration of this process:
There is no culture in Georgia against which the counter culture or underground art should be
directed”. However, as I showed earlier, new transformations of the nation and the state after the
Rose Revolution in 2003 made it possible to think about culture, and the state even designed the
cultural policy. The new political situation brought new problems and issues for Georgian
society and accordingly new art groups were established, whose art was directed at the protest
against the new political “regime”. One of the most significant movements or art collaborations
that emerged in 2006 is “Eurasian Laboratory”, which is the focus of this thesis and will be
discussed in the following parts.

3.2 Birth of “Eurasian Laboratory’’
The group of Georgian artists known as “Laboratory” is an alternative movement which was
established in 2006. “Laboratory” is a collaboration of artists Ana Tabatadze, Beso
Kapchelashvili, Misha Bajhsoliani, Tazo Liparteliaini, Zura Jishkariani, MK-ULTRA, Paata
Shamugia, Leo Nafta and Acorn Guy. The official definition of art group that can be found on
their blog reads as following:
"ELY" [Eurasian Laboratory] is experimental post-art movement from the ghetto of the
third world. Dreamhacking, Art Experiments (audio, video, visual...), Theatre of the
Nuclear Sunrises. ELY is ever changing, think tank collective of artists, writers,
musicians, programmers, psychonauts, dream hackers, scientists and just experimentlover-
party-people (
Throughout the interviews with the members of the art group it became obvious that
Laboratory” started as “tusovka” (party) of people who shared the same ideas and values;
however, after a short period it was already established as a collaboration of artists.
Notwithstanding the fact that members of “Laboratory” refuse to define themselves in terms of
artistic collaboration, I still argue that all characteristics of the group lead us to acknowledge this
project as the art group.
Judging from my interviews, all members of art group agree that “Laboratory” is a life style. The
roots of “Laboratory” can be found in Acorn Guy’s apartment where as he explained different
people were meeting for years, talking about art, drinking etc and according to him it was
tusovka (party), many people where coming and going and those who stayed finally understood
later that they are in the role of observers and decided to create something out of these multiple
“Laboratory is the life style. When it was established there was no idea of art group. We,
people who formed “Laboratory” in the beginning we were living together and were
drunk for almost one year. It happened so that everybody had some problems, personal
ones, from childhood and everybody was taking the psychotropic pills and I realized that
it was a “Laboratory”, there was a medical aesthetic everywhere. At the same time, there
were demonstrations, wars, the revolution and I got the feeling that Caucasus was the big
laboratory where they make experiments to create a mutant and I discovered that we are
all mutants. We are not Europeans for Europeans and we are not Asians for Asians, we
are absolutely different species, we have mixed consciousness”. (Zura Jishkariani
If we look at “Laboratory’s” art it is easy to identify elements of avant-garde, alternative culture
and other subversive forms of art and yet “Laboratory” according to its members is out of any
cliché categories. In order to identify, or if you like stigmatize, or on the contrary to argue that
Laboratory” is or is not an avant-garde or alternative art, it is essential to look at how avantgarde
and alternative movements were formed and theorized later on.
The avant-garde and alternative movements brought a significant change in the concept of art
and culture in a broader sense. The term avant-garde can be dated back to 1825; however for that
period avant-garde served not only as a term referred to art, but to the political radicalism as
well. From Saint Simon the avant-garde was characterized by a balance between art and politics,
but from 1930 the ways of these two notions separated and as Huyssen asserts “the avant-garde
has lost its cultural and political explosiveness and has itself become a tool of legitimation”
(Huyssen 1986b:221).
However, before Huyssen suggested this interpretation of avant-garde, there were different
attempts to define what is avant-garde and how it works in society. Even naming the scholars
working on this issue would surpass the capacity of this work. The very beginning of the works
concerned with avant-garde was Renato Poggioli’s 1962 book The Theory of the Avant-Garde
(Poggioli 1968) and Peter Burger’s (1974) Theory of the Avant-Garde (Burger 1984). They
defined avant-garde as non-conformist art and argued that avant-gardists question current trends
and ideals. Consequently, avant-garde artists are often estranged from society; moreover they are
on the margins of society. The concept of avant-garde refers entirely to marginalized artists,
writers, composers and thinkers whose work is not only opposed to mainstream commercial
values, but often has an uncompromising social or political edge. The ideas of these two
academics were different to some extent, but it is not the subject of this paper. One of the most
influential works in addressing the matter of avant-garde was Clement Greenberg’s (1939) essay
Avant-garde and Kitsch”, where the author showed that historically avant-garde was opposed to
mainstream” and “high” culture and argued that it was contradiction to mass culture as well, a
culture which was produced with industrialization (Greenberg 1939). Avant-garde movements in
art such as Dada, Surrealism, Futurism, Constructivism and Productivism attempted to overcome
the art/life dichotomy. However, Huyssen (Huyssen 1986b) argues that these avant-garde
movements, later marked as historical avant-garde, tried to challenge bourgeois “institution art”
and this process largely depended on the transformation of bourgeois society itself, and
according to him, since this transformation did not happen these movements failed. After the
technological revolution new avant-garde emerged, which was again concerned with overcoming
the art/life dichotomy; however for this time the new technologies played a significant, even
crucial role in defining what is avant-garde.
The avant-garde movements varied from county to country. For instance, Russian avant-garde
aimed to create a socialist mass culture using the technical opportunities of the 20th century. And
it was visible that technology helped to some extent to instigate the avant-garde artwork and its
break with traditional art and values, but later on it “deprived the avant-garde of its necessary
living space in everyday life” (Huyssen 1986a:227). As opposed to the avant-garde, the cultural
industry or mass culture succeeded in overcoming the art/life dichotomy and in changing
everyday life in twentieth century.
Notwithstanding the fact that historical avant-garde failed to some extent, today in the world of
mass culture and production there can be observed different neo-avant-garde movements
radically shaped by internet communication and different advanced software programs, which
had a significant effect on all kinds of communication and forms of life and to a large extent on
the “art world”. It can be argued that art created in twenty first century is characterized by the
use of internet and working on the global level.
If one looks at “Laboratory’s” art it becomes apparent that it suits the characteristics of
alternative and avant-garde art and, at the same time they, are pushed to the margins of society
and are opposed to the mainstream values; however, it is hard to argue that they are alternative or
avant-garde artists, but it is possible to suggest that they suit more the neo-avant-garde
movements. It is obvious that “Laboratory” is not a mainstream art, but is hard to claim that they
are alternative since the members define themselves in absolutely different terms, moreover
some projects of laboratory fell exactly in the category of mainstream, and for instance Tazo
explains that one of their projects “Kung Fu Junkie” is precisely directed towards the pop scene.
This practice can also be viewed as one of the strategies that laboratory works with in order to
spread the subversive viruses in the society. It is important to see how they ‘classify’ themselves
and by ‘classifying’ themselves how they ‘classify’ others (Bourdieu 1992). For Zura Jishkariani
laboratory is an “experimental post-art movement from the ghetto of the third world” and as he
told me during the interview, this art collaboration is a “new world disorder”.
Acorn Guy makes it clear:
If we look at famousness of laboratory in Georgia then yes it is of course underground.
But if we look at the things from the artistic perspective I think that we are not neither
underground nor pop culture. We do different things, we create not only underground or
alternative style but we have many pop projects, using hip hop etc, everything is our
instrument. We are not standing on any side (Acorn Guy)
This line is continued by Paata Shamugia, according to whom in the begging they were called
the “underground project”:
In the begging it was seen as an alternative and then we moved to counterculture, since
we realized that what we were doing was not an alternative culture. Alternative culture
means that you as an artist are still in harmonic relationship with “official” art. It
appeared that we were not practicing that, moreover we are sharply opposed to the
official art discourse. It happened not because we were “cool”, but because our creation
was not acceptable for society and for artists as well. We wanted to provoke society and
we did, but we somehow overdosed and that is why we were marginalized. We were
teenagers when we were already marginals
As for Leo-Nafta, he also agrees that in the beginning they were underground, but he also adds
that at some point they left the underground “since being and fixed there is not an art”. Leo-Nafta
also has more radical claims about being alternative, counter culture or any other categorization
even though we are still called alternative I would ask you: for what are we alternative, where is
the culture”. (Leo-Nafta)
The reason why we cannot claim that “Laboratory” is underground is, as explained by Zura
Jishkariani, that even though in the very beginning they were underground this was the period
when they were not officially performing, they were somewhere in the suburbs and were not in
any kind of field. “We were not even offline; we were online, but online that nobody needs”
(Zura Jishkariani interview). After giving some performances they entered the field and as Zura
claims they are now the parallel culture. “Maybe for this culture it is a subculture, but I would
rather call it parallel culture, it exists as a parallel, it is against everything and yet we cannot call
it counter culture since at same point we realized that as banal as it is to be the counterculture, it
also troughs you in a such field where you are left alone and you cannot take any action. That is
why we chose another strategy”. The other strategy can be understood as following, some
members of laboratory are at the same time in so called mainstream culture and are working in
that environment. They enter that field and function as a mechanism to spread laboratory’s
viruses”, in that field they do “Laboratorial” things. Zura claims that this is a new cultural
strategy “you do and say absolutely opposite things and yet you are in that culture”. Eco,
relatively new member of art collaboration is totally against any kind of definitions and as he
says in his interview “Why underground? I am undersky”.
Overall, even though one can easily identify aspects of alternative or avant-garde art in
Laboratory’s” art we cannot claim that they fall in these categories, since the members of the
group refuse to acknowledge any kind of categories.

3.2.1 “Laboratory”: its essence and aims
According to different definitions the word “Laboratory” means the facility that provides
controlled conditions in which experiments, scientific research and measurements can be carried
out. In a similar manner the credo of “Laboratory’s” art is free creation and unlimited
experiments. According to its members, “Laboratory” is interested in schizophrenia, autism,
atomic dawns, cosmic migration, the perspectives of cyberspace, and the resistance of the third
world, embryonic dreams, coma, totalitarism, and the post biological opportunities of humans,
conspiracy and paranoid theories. Media art group “Laboratory” is working on different projects,
which includes but is not limited to eight musical projects, translation of various literatures, the
project of internet television, painting and producing poetry and prose.
The identity of “Laboratory” is characterized by claims that they live in the country which is in
the world’s underground (meaning Georgia). They are just 20-22 years old and have already
experienced “war, fear, darkness, cold, drug addiction, alcoholism, dead (lost) relatives and three
unsuccessful attempts to build the state. Consequently, they have enough abhorrence, mistrust
and yearning for warmth to dance on the ruins” (Zura Jishkariani).These above mentioned
aspects of lives of “Laboratory” members are crucial for defining their identities. They are
heavily influenced by the instability of the state and the enormous number of different wars in
Georgia. They are children of war.
On the other hand “Laboratory” is inclined towards Timothy Leary’s ideas and this can be seen
in their activities and art. They claim that human mind can be seen as a biocomputer, where
different practices of human life are accumulated and the individual can reset, delete, change and
release anything from those programs that are installed in his/her brain. They refer to Leary who
started to investigate the possibilities of programming the human mind seen as a biocomputer.
Laboratory” has an ambition to be global and they argue that with their art they are talking to
the whole planet not only to Georgia. However, as it can be seen in their art, for this level they
are more concerned with local problems and fight against local stereotypes. They call in question
the values of traditional society and struggle against the tyranny of authorities.
Laboratory” has different aims: lots of demonstrations, concerts and diffusion of created mediaviruses
(demonstration for supporting the first unborn Georgian Cosmonaut) psycho-geographic
campaigns, creation of alternative informational stream- magazines, journals, forums, recording
studios, radio etc. The projects which are already realized are psychotropic poetry of Zura
Jishkariani (patient number 0), imperativism of Paata Shamugia (patient number 13) and
fragmentary prose of Aryis Bichi (patient number minus infinity). Art group “Laboratory” aims
experiments on the ontological basis of civilization, experiments on the basic codes of culture
such as: classical physics, family, moral, economy, taboo, art, religion, law. They have and
ambition to be total. As Zura Jishkariani, one of the founders, explains “Laboratory is Antonin
Artaud’s the theater of cruelty (for more details about the theater of cruelty see Antonin Artaud
The Theater and Its Double” 1958), it is the vagina where progressive mutations are born,
Laboratory does not care about government (and Vano Merabishvili - Interior minister of
Georgia), Laboratory asks for legalization” (Zura Jishkariani 20062).
Laboratory” addresses their art to different types of audience. Their audience includes the
inhabitants of huge, post-industrial and small, anonymous towns, empty flats, self-made
laboratories, inhabitants of ghettos and soviet electrification underground. The synthesizers of
probing drugs, stripteaser beginner writers, feminist gays, triple pilled lesbians, desperate
housewives, young penniless chemists, aliens dressed as a neighbors of sleeping humans,
constantly unavailable abonents of all networks, ozone logs of the system, proletariats who are
motivated with new ideas of beauty, viruses of elite, the teachers of geography with strange
habits and cocaine in globe, melancholic’s with post-apocalyptic instincts, children of forgotten
wars, cheaply sparkling queens of spoilt ghettos, retired secret generals and astrophysics,
cybernetic shamans with ugly eyeglasses, failed self-murderers, researchers of dreams and
anonymous painters of town walls from communal settlements, documented citizens (Zura
Jishkariani 2006). However, the current audience of art collaboration is not that wide. As
members of art group explained in their interviews, in the beginning their audience was limited
to their friends and a very small circle of people, but today the audience is growing and this
tendency can be mainly observed on their concerts. As Acorn Guy explains in his interview,
even though their audience is not that wide, the most important is that people who come to their
performances leave the place with slight changes in attitudes and start thinking in another ways:
this is the highest satisfaction for us as artists” (Acorn Guy interview).
2 The texts by the members of Art Media “Laboratory” are translated by the author
It can be argued that “Laboratory” is industrial since it is based on five elements of industrial
cultural collective established by Jon Savage in the introduction to “Industrial Culture
Handbook” (Savage 1983). These elements are: organizational autonomy, the processing of
information, the usage of electronic and alternative music, the usage of extra-musical elements
(elements which are out of “musical borders” and choking tactic). Artistic collaboration
Laboratory” can be addressed in the same terms and viewed as cultural collective that is
industrial since they are successfully using the above mentioned aspects.
Laboratory” uses different strategies to legitimize itself. They are often giving performances in
public places, for instance, parks, cafes, famous rock clubs. They publish journal “Sindromi”
(Syndrome), where one can find their prose, poetry CD’s etc. “Laboratory” is an active user of
different web cities ( and many other social networks,
blogs and web 3.0) and at the same time every member has his/her personal blog. They are quite
famous in Georgian art-space; however they still manage not to assimilate with mainstream
culture and are devoted to their “unique” art code."

Esma Berikishvili

to be Continued..

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