Travelling perception – a long distance fictional documentary between Zinaïda Tchelidze and Xebe, the rider
Inspired by Jan van Eyck’s paintings and the antique myth of the Golden Fleece, The one who wears the Golden Fleece becomes a hero by Zinaïda Tchelidze questions the production of knowledge, cultural transfer from ancient readings to contemporary interpretations and the speculative analysis of the myth. The Golden Fleece is a symbol of knowledge, art of metallurgy, art of agriculture, development and civilization. In Tchelidze’s adaptation, the sheep is the central character of the story. In Greek mythology, the Golden Fleece is made out of the wool of Chrysomallos, a golden woolled, winged ram, sacrificed to Zeus and held in Colchis by the king Aeëtes. Jason and the Argonauts quested for the mythical Golden Fleece, Jason becoming a hero through his efforts to bring the Golden Fleece to the King Pelias. The general perception of the characters is often confined to their assigned role, as much as by the content of the myth, as by its appropriation as common good in Western society. In the project, the characters participate in shaping fictional pillars around notions such as sacrifice and ordeal endured all along the myth.
Matter of facts
The myth is the starting point that frames the story documented by Tchelidze and whose images were produced remotely by Xebe, the rider*. Documenting the superposition of temporalities and spaces, the different registers of the presented images (low quality images, cinematographic staging, and conversation recorded via communication networks) disturbs our perception of time and distance. The realities between personal memories and documentary images intertwine and become the core of a process of fictionalizing facts. We aren’t given any information to identify where the images were filmed, and when. The only clue of the spoken language resists a possible cultural transfer because in reality Tchelidze is retracing the geography of the myth. The images, filmed by Xebe in the South Caucasus between March and June 2020, identify places as the mythological theater of the Golden Fleece. Some people living in the mountains of the Greater Caucasus still practice gold panning. The wool from the sheep helps them harvest the gold flakes from the rivers, using the fleeces as a net. Colchis (currently part of Georgia) is where the myth took place.
Matter of concerns
Using the codes of ancient and contemporary heroic tales, Tchelidze sets the scene for an alternate history (a rewriting based on the modification of the past facts). The people involved in this fictitious documentary become characters playing a role. A performance that Tchelidze has guided remotely by telephone. First there is the shepherd, followed by the craftswoman working with wool and finally the rider who makes the link between them and whose mission is to carry out the artist’s project. The sheep is replaced at the center of a system of exchanges and skills related to crafts and knowledge of the surrounding natural space. They also rediscover the strangeness of artisanal gesture and ancient wool work in a global large scale context. If today raw wool has become a difficult material to work with, because it requires time and means, it becomes a disposable good like any other. However, shearing sheep is a necessary gesture for their hygiene and health. Therefore who do we soften the wool for? Who owns this material when it is removed from the lamb? When he wears the cape made out of his own wool, the sheep becomes the hero of the story because according to myth, the conquest of the Golden Fleece allows Jason to obtain the status of a hero. By upsetting the hierarchy of characters, the story turns the distinction between humans and animals around, as between the sacrificed and the hero.
Beyond the reinterpretation of the myth, Tchelidze reinvents its storytelling in order to question the moral values it conveys. What values can we derive from it today? What sacrifice do we concede on a daily basis? In Western societies we are not sensitive enough to fiction, but fiction can help us create new models and narratives. Tchelidze poses fiction as an attempt to divert to the incontestable truths of the myth, like those of the moral values associated with each character, but also of a reality too often rigid to give way to a share of imagination and rewriting of stories.
* Following the Covid-19 crisis, all the images presented in this project were collected remotely from Brussels (between March and June 2020) by the artist and produced by different people (The rider: Xebe – Temur Ivachidze, the craftswoman: Rusudan Otaridze, the shepherd: Temur Antsukhelidze, Tato Natsvalaidze, photographer) in Georgia.
Written by Patricia Couvet, edited by Ella Strowel