THE SECESSION SESSIONS
at Bétonsalon, Paris and Bergen Kunsthall
Abkhazia seceded from Georgia, in the Caucasus, during a civil war in 1992-1993. Like all disputed lands, Abkhazia is entangled in a conflicted narrative. To many Georgians, the breakaway State is a rogue nationalist regime, an amputated part of Georgia. To the Abkhaz, independence saved them from cultural extinction after years of Stalinist repression and Georgian domination. To many observers, Abkhazia is simply a pawn in the Great Game Russia and the West have always played in the Caucasus. "The Secession Sessions" acknowledges these competing narratives and does not seek to write an impossible objective historiography. It does not parse, verify or document any competing claims to a land. The project starts with this observation: Abkhazia has had a territorial and human existence for twenty years, and yet it will in all likelihood remain in limbo for the foreseeable future, which makes the self-construction of its narrative something worth exploring. If Abkhazia is a laboratory case for the birth of a nation, then its Garibaldis and George Washingtons are still alive and active. Maxim Gvinjia is one of them.
When I dropped an envelope in a mailbox in Paris a year ago, I fully expected that a letter addressed to "Maxim Gvinjia, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sukhum, Republic of Abkhazia," would come straight back to my studio with the notice "destination unknown." But to my surprise, ten weeks later, I got an email from Max telling me he had received my letter, but could not reply on paper since the post office in Abkhazia cannot handle international mail. I have no idea how or why my letter arrived. EB.
"The Secession Sessions" is conceived as a series of invitations to investigate the question of statehood through the prism of the stateless state of Abkhazia. The exhibition is composed of various elements: regular public office hours at the Anembassy of Abkhazia created at Bétonsalon for the duration of the exhibition, and staffed by Maxim Gvinjia, former Foreign Minister of Abkhazia; daily screenings of a new film titled Letters to Max; and a program of talks, public events and classes with scholars and artists from various backgrounds, exploring the issues at stake in "The Secession Sessions."
LETTERS TO MAX
A film by Eric Baudelaire with Maxim Gvinjia.
Screenings from Tuesdays to Fridays at 3pm and 5pm.
The methodology of the film came from serendipity: sending the first letter was a kind of joke, a wink to the world of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi that Maxim Gvinjia seemed to inhabit. But fiction has penetrated the real. And so Eric launched on a letter writing campaign, 74 letters sent over 74 days, a script for a voiceover to a film in which Max becomes the narrator. The film is structured by this exchange: letters that should not have arrived and yet somehow reached Max, his recorded responses, and images that Eric filmed in Abkhazia once their correspondence ended.
THE ABKHAZIAN ANEBASSY
With Maxim Gvinjia, former Foreign Minister and Anambassador of the Abkhazian Republic in Paris
Open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 11am to 3pm.
Every day, Maxim Gvinjia, the Anambassador, holds regular office hours. He makes use of the space as he pleases. The Anembassy is a performance (can it be called anything else?); it is not official and has no function in an operational sense. It functions as a ritual that is at once real (after all, Max was Foreign Minister) and a fiction, but a fiction meant in a very political sense: fiction as a territory of resistance for those who are given no space in the real.
THE SATURDAY SESSIONS
Saturdays at 3pm
A program of weekly saturday afternoon talks, public events and workshops with scholars and artists exploring the issues at stake in The Secession Sessions.
Improbable Abkhazia: a conversation between Maxim Gvinjia & Leon Colm
Identity Ploys and Dangerous Fictions: a workshop hosted by the journal Vacarme
State Desire: a seminar by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez & Elena Sorokina
The Nitty Gritty of the State: a lecture by Fabien Jobard
The Bergen Sessions: live broadcast from Bergen Kunsthall
The Secession Sessions is WithOut Wall: an intervention of the WithOut Wall collective from Georgia
An Epistolary Session: Morad Montazami & Eric Baudelaire
Reinventing the State? A conversation between Alain Badiou & Pierre Zaoui