What happens to a monument when the ideology behind it loses its power? How does history transform its message, its legacy, or its place and function in public space? Re-Monument by the Georgian-Australian artist Nina Sanadze centers around traces of erased monumental history. Having migrated to Australia with her family in the late 1990s, bringing her Georgian heritage and memories from her motherland with her, Nina Sanadze’s work not only symbolizes time and ideologies of the past, but also material and bodily displacement. Her work has been described as “conceptual art dressed in classical form,” and examines the act of remembrance through artefacts such as plaster models, moulds and fragments, questioning the symbolic power of monuments and the ideas they represent.
In the works presented here, Nina Sanadze resituates material leftovers from an original studio archive of the prominent soviet sculptor Valentin Topuridze (1907-1980). Once adorning Georgian cities, expressing the grandeur and ideology of the communist party, the statues were torn down shattered along with the fall of the Soviet Union, left to be forgotten along with the artist who created them. While many of Topuridze’s official public monuments were destroyed in post-Soviet Georgia and lost to history, some studio models and moulds were preserved by the family as artist’s private archive. In the works presented in Re-Monument, Sanadze turns the biography of this once famous sculptor into an example from the long history of iconoclasm.
As neighbors and close friends with his family, Sanadze recalls frequent visits to Topuridze’s studio throughout her childhood, playing around and with the sculptures which she later inherited and brought to Australia where they now serve as basis for various installations. This actual, as well as symbolic displacement of once glorious monuments raise questions that are just as pertinent in our own time: what does the destruction of monuments from the past do to our collective perception of history? And if not destroyed, where are these pieces to go? What can be done to sculptures that do not live up to contemporary values?
In Re-Monument, two installations and one short film are presented. The works investigate stubbornly reemerging traces of erased monumental history, both transculturally and through the ages. Encouraging an examination of the resonance of history through its artifacts, Sanadze seeks to contribute to current global discussions about the symbolic power of the monument and the sometimes-disturbing ideologies they represent.
Apotheosis (2021) is made up of fragmented sculptures piled up on the gallery floor. Assembled like a dumping ground for statues, the installation points to the phase of destruction following the breakdown of the Soviet Union, when statues and other monuments were torn down en masse during a short period of time. Fragments of once magnificent works of art could be found scattered in the strangest places. Here, you are invited to walk around the discarded remains and inspect them from every possible angle. Symbolizing a journey through history, Apotheosis invites us to reflect upon historic parallels even further back in time.
In 2018, when the first version of the installation was created, Georgia was about to celebrate 30 years of independence from the Soviet Union, the same time (1989-1991) when soviet propaganda sculptures were toppled in a symbolic gesture. The title, apotheosis, speaks of elevation to the status of a god – a term which is used both literally and ironically when speaking of how some individuals cross the dividing line between gods and men. In this work, Sanadze turns this process on its head by turning ideological art into a heap of trash. This reflects the irony that the sculptures carry with them as products of the Plan of Monumental Propaganda: a comprehensive strategy proposed by Vladimir Lenin in 1918 in the wake of the October revolution, to erect thousands of monuments and adornments celebrating revolutionary icons throughout the Soviet Union. As part of this plan, monuments of the Tsar regime were destroyed. Thus, these sculptures were themselves part of an iconoclasm replacing what was before.
This dual history is especially poignant in Head under the bed (2023), a new work created by Nina Sanadze for Kunsthall 3,14. The installation restages a photograph taken in Georgia in 2018 by Sanadze. The image captures the moment she first saw an original 160-year-old marble head of the Russian emperor Alexander II, sculpted by the renowned sculptor Baron Peter Clodt (1805-1867). Hidden in the Topuridze family home for nearly 100 years, the photograph captures the moment the head was revealed for the first time publicly. The photograph and installation alike confront the audience with the physicality of the century-old history of political turmoil in Georgia where imperial monuments were destroyed as part of the communist regime’s iconoclasm in the 1920s.
As a young sculpture student at the time, Valentin Topuridze was part of the team tasked to destroy the emperor’s statue. However, he decided to salvage what he could from a tip secretly smuggling out this particular head, which stayed hidden in his family home until discovered by Sanadze. Later becoming a prominent sculptor himself, Topuridze’s colossal Lenin monument would later replace this sculpture of the emperor in the center of Tbilisi – only to be torn down, in turn, with the fall of the Soviet regime in 1989. The photograph was taken in the Topuridze family home, some 38 years after he passed away.
The film Terminus (2020) is made with the artists mobile camera in her own home and garden. A significant part of the film takes place in a library, where the camera inspects the bookshelves one by one. The literature, including both fiction and nonfiction, contemporary and historic texts alike, reflects how stories of the past continue to live with us, while also being recontextualized, rewritten or added to. Presented side by side with sculpture fragments carefully placed, almost like bookends, between the books, literary and material history symbolically merge, pointing also to how the living can contribute and curate the stories that will live on after us.
The moulds and models encountered in Re-monument carry the potential to recreate the sculptures, or to be displayed in a museum as relics of the past. In the gallery space, however, they can represent ever-changing ideologies and the evolution of culture. As they lay here, mere fragments, the beautiful patina seems to transform the sculptures, enabling them to transcend the language of representation, to morph, instead, to become part of a family of artefacts corroded by the ravages of time. What other stories can they tell?
Nina Sanadze (b. 1976) is a visual artist from Georgia, based in Melbourne, Australia. Her practice is dedicated to peacebuilding, often including narratives built upon personal stories from within the experience of conflict; a wall of remembering that acts as a fortification against repeating histories. Presenting appropriated original artefacts, blunt replicas or films as witnesses and evidence, she seeks to re-examine grand political narratives from a diametric personal position. Deploying any appropriate medium, Sanadze's work responds to the most immediate socio-economic and political global developments with urgency. With a solid background in book design and illustration, Nina’s more recent fine art practice mainly manifests itself as sizeable installation projects and social practice.