Abkhazia is something of a paradox: a country that exists, in the physical sense of the word (a territory with borders, a government, a flag and a language), yet it has no legal existence because for almost twenty years it was not recognized by any other nation state. Abkhazia exists without existing, caught in a liminal space, a space in between realities − which is why my first letter to Max was something of a message in a bottle thrown at sea.
The existence of Abkhazia invites all kinds of questions. How do you build a new state? Is the idea of the state based on inclusion or exclusion? On what criteria can a state be considered to exist, and what forms of representation allow, or prove, this existence to be real? If all states are fictional collective constructs, what to make of Abkhazia: a fiction within a fiction?
Abkhazia seceded from Georgia after a civil war fought 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 many 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 Giuseppe Garibaldis and George Washingtons are still alive and active. Maxim Gvinjia is one of them.
Back in June 2012, when I dropped the first envelope in a mailbox in Paris, 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 a notice from the post office marked “destination unknown.” But instead, to my surprise, ten weeks later I received 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. Instead, Max said he would speak his answers into a voice recorder. In September 2013, I went to visit Max in Abkhazia, and while listening to his recorded answers to my letters, I shot images for a film we had decided to make together • From the program for The Secession Sessions at Bétonsalon, 2014