Ani Gurashvili: The soft breeze of mortality
Sept 9 - Oct 10, 2021
30 Orchard St, Gallery 2
Ani Gurashvili’s paintings crackle with precision. Working primarily in small and mid-size canvases, she presents a fully codified visual glossary, aimed at a set of daunting problematics: the shifting of the picture’s subjectivity from human to animal, the confinement of the figure via dubious pictorial expanse, the implication of the viewer via the material facticity of the canvas, finally, the staging of narrative affect free from narrative itself. Her paintings are exquisite objects: she folds and staples them carefully by hand using a technique that saddles them with delightful lumps. She creates depth by layering oils with a dry brush technique that makes the canvas itself a character, one that is then folded back into a procession of surfaces within surfaces, windows beyond windows. Her colors are rich and specific, and because light sources play such an outsize role, the room tone is always in question. These paintings implicate their surroundings, altering our sense of what’s demonstrably true, and time spent in their presence is fleeting, melancholic, perplexing and profound. Gurashvili’s treatment of reflective surfaces, bits of metal and glass, screens and windows is sublime; she teaches us that light is a thing with volume and mass, one that illuminates and obscures in equal measure. There is always a spate of primaries hiding in a dot of white light-the trick is to show us the gleam, not the bouquet.
In Optical Illusion, we see a fractured visage, framed by three oddly shaped mirrors. They hover delicately, head to their rich, chalky bodies, but cast back a look of caustic rapture. Are we the woman whose arm protrudes from beyond the frame, sleeve tied shut around fleur-de-lys tattoo? Do we gaze back on her, ourselves, or something else? Gurashvili’s whisper thin Turrell portal casts a lugubrious glow, broken by a backlit net whose hovering shadow place it somewhere “over there.” These smeary scrims, like James Ensor’s knife-edge grounds, unfix us from our vantage point. We understand depth as the byproduct of perceptual tweaks, not an immutable physical fact. This expansion of experience is elaborated further in Seer’s chamber, a mid-size painting that recalls the seething red interior of Jorge Pardo’s legendary “Mountain Bar,” in which two hands, outstretched RPG-style, escape the shadow cast by a Kong-like vase—but also, surprisingly, in smaller pictures, like “Treasure Chest.” Here, the POV perspective Gurashvili uses to expedite our descent into the picture plane needs no horizon, no dangling limbs, no furtive glance. What appears to be a narrow trompe l’oeil jewelry box is a phenomenological probe; this painting is figurative because its technical pedigree is so arresting, the viewer is “in” the picture by sheer necessity.
In The portal, a brilliant blue-green canvas that recalls the fox wedding from Kurosawa’s “Dreams,” a mediating plane of frosted glass separates humanoid from animal; here Gurashvili challenges the dominance of a human perspective, suggesting that the painting is as much “for” the chipmunk as it is for us. In Dagger, one of her latest and most ambitious pictures, a bloody weapon is left beside a body of water that sparkles with bioluminescence. It is unclear whether the crucial event has just happened, or will soon occur, and this uncertainty allows the moment to unfold endlessly. A text supplied by the painter suggests she hangs out in a smoke-filled studio with her cat, Albunia, hazily contemplating her next move. This is a ruse-she has no cat. Ani Gurashvili is nothing if not exacting. Her paintings are full of the stuff of fantasy: jewels, mirrors, charms, veils, lamps. This might be the legacy of the Wiener Werkstätte, but like Karen Kilimnik’s nostalgia for the present, or Sue De Beer’s collapsing of the “goth” with the Gothic, these precocious trappings linger in the picture long enough to engage the senses, but only that long. They are in service of something far worthier: the staging of narrative affect without narrative itself. It is only through these layers, this jockeying woolgathering and punctiliousness, that we might glimpse our own fleeting condition, aloft, for now, on the soft breeze of mortality.
Ani Gurashvili, b. 1990, is a Georgian painter living in Vienna. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Media Arts from the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts in 2012 and a Diploma in Painting from the University of Applied Arts, Vienna in 2021. Group exhibitions include Patara Gallery, and Why Not, Tiblisi; Pilot, Vienna; White Crypt, London (forthcoming).