Edit 1/2 in Tbilisi — Interview #6 — Otar Karalashvili
Who are you?
I am Otar. I am teaching book design - or book art - at the Arts Academy in Tbilisi. It’s really just by accident that I do this. I studied mathematics, but I gave it up in the 90s and founded a publishing house with some friends. We started very small, and, since I was the only one with some skill in visual arts, I started to learn computer layout, and was in charge of designing all of our books, learning more and more about it as time went by. Later I started an advertising studio, doing graphic design, copywriting, shooting video commercials, all sorts of things. However, advertising was very much monopolized in Georgia by that time so we basically went bankrupt and after I became a freelance designer. At some moment I felt like I was degrading in the quality of my work. So I came to the Art Academy and asked to be admitted to the course to learn graphic design and they said no, you are too old, but if you want to, you can teach. I said OK and I started teaching, just by accident.
What makes you or made you do what you do?
Partly, I just react on what happens around me. Basically, I see students in need of space or some way to develop their thinking, and I am thinking all the time how to help them with it. This is one of my motivations, to keep the door open all the time. I think it is very important to encourage people to have confidence in themselves. One thing I really hate is fear and I hate people making others afraid and trying to intimidate them, and this happens all the time. All the time people are discouraged to try out any kind of unusual ideas. I think it is also sort of a political issue, trying to keep people timid. It is like this in Georgia, like in many countries…
What is your dream? Or your ambition?
The ambition is to remain young. It’s very hard when you have accomplished something, not to become a slave of what you have accomplished. I met many, many people, really nice and I liked them a lot, but somehow they got enslaved by their own accomplishments. Afterwards it is very likely that you become very rigid and not able to move. I think the most interesting thing is to never stop getting curious or excited about different things and also not repeat what you have already done, just because you know it has worked once. That is important for me at the moment.
Could you tell us a childhood memory?
I used to sit on the window sill of my father’s room quite a lot, while he was typing at his desk, and watch what was going on outside in our backyard. There was a beautiful poplar tree growing right in front of the window. I remember one day we had a thunderstorm, in late May I think it would be. There was a really heavy rain and in the middle of the night, 3 o'clock in the morning or something, and the lightning struck the tree. The noise was terrible, like a bomb exploding, we all jumped from our beds. In the night we could not really see much from the window, but in the morning, when I looked out, the whole backyard was full of this poplar tree. Somehow when it fell it grew in size, it filled the whole backyard with its branches and leaves. I remember there was a girl I really liked. I was 6 or 7 years old and she was the only one I knew who had roller-skates. She was so graceful on this roller-skates, but she was 2-3 years older than myself so I had no chance at all. She had very long, dark hair. In fact I never had talked to her, but I knew where she lived because sometimes she would come out to the balcony, and I saw her out of my window. And this poplar tree had gone right into her windows. Somehow this made the whole thing even more exciting and beautiful for me. Although that morning she never came out to the balcony.
What do you do when you don't do anything?
I remember during the Soviet times we had summer vacations which lasted for 3 months. Both my parents worked at the university. So basically when the term was over they had more than 2 months free every year. Mid June we were going out of the city till the end of August, to a village where we rented a small house, and did just nothing! Just be there, we sat on the balcony, somebody was reading a book, probably my mother was cooking, my father sometimes had to go to Tbilisi. For me it was just sitting there and watching all kinds of things that happened and really doing nothing. Then as you get older, you start feeling that your time is limited, and you have to hurry because there are things left to be done, which is a stupid feeling, because it is no more limited than it was, you might die at any moment, even when you are 22. You have this feeling of it being urgent. Basically, now I am doing something all the time and I think that is out of this feeling that there is not much time left, which is stupid, anyway.
What is the place in Tbilisi you like the most?
Today I would say that what really interests me is the suburbs. Life is not active and that is why when you go to the suburbs, sometimes you have the feeling that the time has stopped. All these new buildings you see when you walk in the center and all the new cafes and shops and places where something else used to be. When you go to the suburbs it evolves much more slowly. Traveling to the suburbs is traveling back in time. The one interesting place is called Moscow Avenue, towards the airport, where you have basically block houses, old buildings. Or you can go to Gldani too. There are many people living there, but time is running differently there. You have a feeling that you are on a strange planet.
Could you tell us a Georgian personality you find inspiring?
There are people I admire in Georgia, like Mamuka Lekiashvili for example, who is I think the one living poet in Georgia and whose writing and his whole life are absolutely amazing. I admire him, and he is my friend, and I enjoy being with him, but he is not inspiring me at all. I think People cannot be inspiring, ideas can be. Things somebody has done, a film by somebody, or one work, or series of work can be inspiring, but it can be also something which comes from somebody you do not like at all and there’s just this one thing that gives you the push.
What inspires you?
I think I have answered it more or less, ideas inspire me.
Do you see any relationship between your work and the city of Tbilisi?
My work is in two directions basically, or three. One part of my work is creative work. Here I think it does not really connect to Tbilisi. The other part is thinking about teaching methods. The third thing is the political aspect of what I am doing and I think that what I am doing is quite political. For me it is important that I am doing it here and not in any other place in the world. I feel this responsibility for the place I am living in. I want to act here, on a very small scale maybe – because I like this place. Tbilisi is an old city and it has had a very special atmosphere, traditions and relations between people, because the city was on the crossroad, where many cultures were mixing. I have felt this openness and readiness in cities like Amsterdam or Berlin somehow. What I like about Tbilisi is the ease of communication between people. They have this century-long training of how to say hello to people because they had to communicate with Arabs and Persians and Russians and Greeks. This is very much alive still, and I think it is important. I enjoy this culture of being easy with people.