Photographer Anna von Stackelberg met artist Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili and talks about work, family histories, and life
The artist Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili welcomed us into her home in a rainy afternoon in Berlin.
Ketuta and I sit down with a large cup of coffee as rain pounds the window – her presence and the mood of the apartment make you forget the gloom outside. Old Georgian carpets lay beneath modernist furniture and light, Japanese-like wooden walls border shiny, black concrete floors. The space feels like a collection of life experiences and objects placed like memories throughout a light and calm space. It is cozy.
So we dive into memories. We talk about the twists and turns of life and – specifically – about how our meeting today would have seemed impossible at the time of our birth. That’s because Ketuta was born in Tbilisi, the beautiful capital of the Republic of Georgia, in the last throws of its existence as a part of the Soviet Union. Like fishing up pearls from a deep dark sea, her family stories are fascinating: Stalin executing all the men on her mother’s side of the family, her mother being raised by 6 widowed women, her noble great uncle fleeing to New York and marrying Helena Rubinstein. There is the civil war in the 90s, the anarchy and freedom that saw snipers on the roof of her childhood home and the burning of soviet uniforms in her school. Her early childhood, with its many solitary hours spent recuperating from long bouts of asthma, and then her move to New York city as a 14-year-old.
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It is perhaps this dynamic start, a contrast of countries, cultures, and philosophies, that led Ketuta to experience the limits of clear definitions, a realization that has, in turn, become central to her art practice. Working with photography, collage, and interferences with negatives and photo paper, Ketuta’s work is like a collection of visual fragments. There is a layering, a hiding and revealing, a presence of visual traces of unseen actions. Her work has an otherworldliness about it while, at the same time, it holds an eerie stillness that speaks of a life already lived. It exists in an undefined and unclear space.
When I ask how having a young daughter influences her work, she explains that motherhood gave her a new structure with which she has been able to become more productive and free. Her daughter acts as a constant reminder of what truly matters in life, while also moving into focus how, in the end, the only thing that will ever truly be hers is her work. Her art practice and her family hold equally important places in Ketuta’s life. Citing her own mother as a role model, she explains how she too was raised with an endless love for a mother who also made sure to never forget herself in the process. A difficult task, but one that Ketuta seems to have mastered very well.
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