GeoAIR’s project Tbilisi Chess Palace aims to rethink the role of Soviet Modernist architectural heritage in Tbilisi, through the case of one particular building and the surrounding public space, while dealing with its complex transformation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The larger goal concerns bringing research-based contemporary art practices closer to the wider public and making creativity more contextual and engaged in transforming the complexity of the environment we inhabit.
The Tbilisi Chess Palace, situated in a public park, opened in 1973. Recent talks with Tbilisi inhabitants show that this once highly praised building has become “invisible” for most of the city’s dwellers. It might be due to the fact that throughout the years it has become a part of their everyday life or that it shares the fate of post-Soviet legacy, which, generally speaking, instead of rethinking the recent past usually implies that “all from that period is bad and invaluable.”
By inviting artist-sculptor Iza Tarasewicz, whose practice researches mobility, flexibility, and the reorganization of systems, we want to approach the Tbilisi Chess Palace as a large scale public sculpture and create a playground for research regarding encounters, relationships, and involvement in a space.
– Nini Palavandishvili
Knight’s Tour, 2016
Tbilisi Chess Palace
Organised by GeoAIR
“The chessboard should also be included in the list of secret objects. Because it represents an autonomous, hermetic world, alternative to our world. It also has time, but its own: space, objects, resistance—everything its own. It has mechanics, precise and no worse than ours, which we study on earth and in the sky. And with this autonomous world we can make a decisive experiment: to dematerialize it.”
– L. Lipavskii, Issledovanie uzhasa (Исследование ужаса)1
The installation Knight’s Tour takes its departure from a knight movement diagram—an isolated motion of the knight figure. This chessman is the oldest unaltered structure in chess movement. The diagram shows the choreography of tactical possibilities of a knight. The isolation of the figure is associated with an internal fight of the individual in general and a player who is isolated from the surrounding during the game/fight. And while the fight is reduced to a regulated form on a two-dimensional board/field, most images of tactical possibilities (performance) take place in the imagination of the player. The installation is an attempt to turn the two-dimensional movement of a knight figure into a three-dimensional object and imagine it in a space. Performativity and choreography clearly comes to the fore here.
In relation to the Tbilisi Chess Palace project for which the Knight’s Tour was created, the question of accessibility and close encounter is interesting. Unless seen from underneath, the viewer has no possibility to read the two-dimensional diagram translated into an object; without entering and exploring from the inside, it is meanwhile impossible to encounter the once “transparent” Tbilisi Chess Palace.
Theatricality was an indivisible part of chess performances, especially during the Soviet period. Taking Tbilisi Chess Palace as an example, we can speak of palaces dedicated to this sport, where the “play” was performed on a stage in front of hundreds of compassionates. Only through the additional player, who would repeat the moves on a vertical board, was it possible for the audience to follow the imaginary world of the players. This additional “player” creates another spatial dimension of the stage with the horizontal chessboard projected on a vertical axis and the time delay.
Thus, an alternative, delayed, parallel world is created, which is only meant for the audience. The spectator is engaged in it, however, in different time and space. Today, Tbilisi Chess Palace can be examined also from this perspective: once a public common space, it is currently accessible only to the chess-related audience.
Knight’s Tour follows this logic and translates a two-dimensional horizontal board into an object resembling an architectural construction that welcomes close encounter. The artist goes one step further and invites an additional person to enter the object (accessibility) and through repeating the knight’s ability to “jump over” other pieces, it demonstrates the symbolical act to be the most powerful in closed (restricted) positions.