Exodus and the Autobiography of War at Tbilisi International Festival

Yaşam Özlem Gülseven: Open Space was one of the spaces that impressed me the most during the festival. It was both an exhibition and performance space. When was it founded, and how long you have been a part of it?

Mikheil Charkviani: Open Space was founded by Davit Khorbaladze, Anna Gurgenidze, and me in 2016. Our aim was to create space for experimental artists who are trying to find new ways of making art, and we wanted to connect artists from different fields of art to each other and create new collaborative processes. In the very beginning, we had no space, and different art spaces such as theatres, nightclubs, and art galleries shared their spaces for our performances and rehearsals. We even had our performance Parents Meeting in different flats in Tbilisi. Also, we toured many performances abroad.

After two years we found an abandoned Soviet factory building out of the city center and decided to make our home space there. It was absolutely destroyed, full of garbage, with no windows, floor, or anything. So we started to recreate the space and spent two years on the work, as we were not supported by the government but had the huge support of friends and people who often visited our performances. After a huge work and help from friends, local businesses, and international funds, we have managed to have our own space, and we already try to share it with others.

Because I had no power in me to create the fiction of war while the real war kills so many people. I could not find my function as a theatre artist.

Yaşam: The relation between space and performance always intrigues me. Did Open Space’s venue inspire you as you crafted autobiographical narratives in Exodus?

Mikheil: The building is a huge inspiration—not only for Exodus but for any performance by me—because it is Soviet inheritance. It is an old Soviet factory building, and mostly we research our social and political environment, which is influenced by Soviet inheritance. So yes, the building is often the inspiration for me and it often gives me different directions for my works.

Yaşam: Can you describe the process for Exodus a little bit? How was working with personal stories for you?

Mikheil: Before deciding to make Exodus I used to work on Persians by Aeschylus, which is the oldest surviving of all Greek plays. It is about war. Later the war started in Ukraine, and I could not continue working on this play because I had no power in me to create the fiction of war while the real war kills so many people. I could not find my function as a theatre artist. I could not talk about war because I felt it was wrong. So I decided to share my platform with those who have experienced war and let them share their personal stories.

Later in the process, I found out that those four wars—the Georgian Civil War (1991-1993), War in Abkhazia (1992-1993), South Ossetia War (1991-1992), Russo-Georgian War (2008)—which happened after my birth, affected literally everyone—even those who were not warring migrants or who never faced battle. It is the greatest cruelty in the world; it has ruined everyone’s life. So I invited people of different ages and professions to share their stories, and we worked a lot with the speakers. I nearly lived with these people for two months. I often visited their homes, working places, schools, hospitals, etc., and we all together created different structures for each speaker. Some of them have presented different objects, sounds, videos, photos, and body positions from their stories. So in general, I tried to create a new, personal perspective of the history of independent Georgia.