Tolia Astakhishvili, The First Finger, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and LC Queisser, Tbilisi, Georgia
Tolia Astakhishvili: The First Finger
Mar 25 – Jul 30, 2023
Bonner Kunstverein
Bonn, Germany

Tolia Astakhishvili’s The First Finger profoundly transforms the space of Bonner Kunstverein. Realized across architectural interventions, installation, paintings, drawings and moving images, the exhibition comprises a large body of newly conceived work, alongside collaborations with Zurab Astakhishvili and James Richards, and contributions by Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Kirsty Bell, Vera Palme and Ser Serpas.

Tolia Astakhishvili’s materially charged practice keeps returning to the lived environment: to the composition and logic it acquires over time, to how it shapes and is shaped by its dwellers. There is a constant slippage between the need to create spaces of protection and continuity, and the compulsion towards more destructive and destabilizing impulses. In some ways, this is a reflection on survival, or more specifically on surviving, and the ways in which the spirit of life and liveness rubs off on material environments. For Astakhishvili, it is a practice of attending to the discarded, to objects that have been used over time, employing and re-conceiving them beyond the functions they were once assigned.

The title of the show, The First Finger, testifies to a certain grappling with the idea of an embodied container, one where the integrity of inside and outside is stubbornly volatile. A body exposed to critically low temperatures sacrifices extremities to focus circulation in the core. It is an ambivalent, at times violent image that speaks of care and the labour of keeping things alive, even though they may be painful and compromised. This tension haunts the work in ways that start small and radiate outwards – rooted, specific, then traveling. Moving through the exhibition, there is an intimate, dream-like quality perforated by piercing encounters with the ‘world out there’. In shifting between these registers, Tolia Astakhishvili conjures a sense of instability that starts from the human body but also evokes broader social and political dimensions. This porousness is further reflected in the formulation of The First Finger across two chapters, at Bonner Kunstverein and Haus am Waldsee. In a process of layering and accumulation, Astakhishvili treats space and time as something permeable, opening up worm holes and resonances between the two venues – a process traced and expanded on in newly commissioned writings by Kirsty Bell.