Batumi Backyard Stories, Batumi, Georgia, Credit: Lasha George Phalavandishvili

Seeing in the Dark: Unearthing Batumi’s Hidden Backyard Treasures

By Lydia Matthews

The synthesized term “provotype” was coined by Danish theorist Preben Mogenson to describe a design prototype that is deliberately provocative in nature.[1] Provotypes are created with the intention of being repeated and refined over time, regularly reshaped in response to critical dialogues and contestations. The curatorial structure and evolution of Batumi Backyard Stories, a grassroots urban festival in the Republic of Georgia, is one such provotype, now approaching its fourth incarnation.

This socially-engaged public art project is set in Batumi, a rapidly transforming multicultural and multireligious Black Sea port town with a population of 190,000, a stone’s throw away from the Turkish border. Batumi Backyard Stories has evolved into an annual, research-based cultural project that takes the form of a multi-venue street festival. Its curators invite teams of artists to temporarily occupy domestic courtyards in Batumi’s recently renovated “Old Town”, as well as in the neighborhood’s abandoned buildings once used by older generations during the Soviet era. For a two week period at the height of the summer’s tourist season, multidisciplinary artists interview and collaborate with residents who inhabit the backyards, co-creating art installations and performance events with them. These temporary spatial interventions, which culminate in a well publicized public evening “street festival”, reveal unofficial stories typically lurking in the urban shadows—narratives that stand in contrast to the more polished and cliched versions of Batumi one finds in tourist/business brochures. Instead of reinforcing a façade of Batumi that poses as a city welcoming globalization and modernization, this ‘ethnography meets contemporary art’ project pays homage to the residents’ mundane life patterns and practices, sublimated personal memories, and potentially vanishing cultural legacies – past and present, real or imagined.

The concrete backyards are informal communal spaces shared by several families: sites for hanging laundry, parked cars, old children’s toys and an occasional folding chair or two. They embody self-organized private zones that local residents co-create—sometimes consciously and at other times unwittingly. By default, these spaces serve as informal and intimate neighborhood “commons”. Although a time-honored and familiar residential structure for Batumians, these ubiquitous yards are not immediately visible from the city’s streets. Not surprisingly, they are typically undervalued by local occupants, are absent from the official visual propaganda of the city, and are completely overlooked by the region’s international tourists. More often than not, these yards exist in various states of disrepair, revealing the poor economic conditions that most of the city’s inhabitants experience on a daily basis. Currently, urban developers and governmental organizations deliberately ignore the backyards, instead channeling public and private monies toward renovating exterior facades along Batumi’s well trafficked streets and building ostentatious new structures that stand as testaments to Batumi’s “futuristic” sensibility (Figures 1-5). Until now, there has been little public dialogue about the social or cultural value of these hidden domestic arenas, although some local residents who witness their city’s rapid transformation recognize that these backyards risk being demolished if the city’s “urban renewal” schemes continue on their current path.

Figure 1. Batumi Downtown Skyline (Photo: Dima Malenko,
Figure 2. Recently renovated Italianate “Old Town Piazza.” (Photo: Keizers, N.d., Batumi, Georgia, wikipedia)
Figure 3. Old Town Batumi, characterized by its elaborate lighting scheme. (Photo: Lydia Matthews)
Figure 4. The futuristic 12,000 square meter “McDonalds + Fuel Station” in downtown Batumi, designed by Harvard-educated architect Giorgi Khmaladze, winner of the “2014 best commercial building of the year” from architecture website ArchDaily. (Photo: Giorgi Khmalaze:
Figure 5. Upside down “White House” restaurant serving Georgian food, Batumi (Photo: Lydia Matthews)

These indiscernible architectural zones function as the city’s astronomical dark matter, i.e., they are like the unmapped black mass in the night sky that ultimately supports the glimmering stars. The yards are the places where ordinary citizens carry on their daily lives, sustaining this burgeoning city while remaining largely invisible to the public eye. For a brief period every August, however, the Batumi Backyard Stories project allows artists, local residents and visitors to investigate several blocks of the Old Town, entering its shadowed driveways that lead to these intimate spaces, thus making them the subject of public attention and inquiry (Figures 6-7).

Figure 6. Batumi Backyard Stories poster showing entryway to one of the yards. (Photo: Levan Khujadze)
Figure 7. Typical Batumi backyard shared by multiple families, 2012 (Photo: Magda Guruli)

The project exemplifies what philosopher Giorgio Agamben has characterized as “contemporary”. In his extraordinary essay, “What is the Contemporary?”, he states:

The contemporary is he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light but rather its darkness. . .To perceive this darkness is not a form of inertia or of passivity. . . Rather, the ones who can call themselves contemporary are only those who do not allow themselves to be blinded by the lights of the century and so manage to get a glimpse of the shadows in those lights, of their intimate obscurity. . . The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time.[2]

Batumi Backyard Stories’ curators and artists resist the dazzling abundance of the the town’s grandiose lighting scheme that has earned Batumi its reputation as “the Las Vegas-of-the-Black-Sea” (“Batumi, Georgia”), instead revealing what Agamben describes as the town’s “special darkness.” At a moment of major economic, social and architectural transition in Batumi, this cultural venture encourages artists to take a radically contemporary approach to their practice, collaborating closely with local residents to explore the poetic and political shadows of their home environments. Together, they identify and highlight the town’s potentially vanishing cultural values and rich lore, attempting to provoke as much dialogue as possible about Batumi’s future.

Batumi History and Context

Originally an ancient harbor with Byzantine and Ottoman architectural remains, Batumi established itself as a major trade center in the latter half of the 19th Century. By the turn of the 20th Century, it had become famous for its palm trees and pebble beaches, its elegant Russian Imperial architecture, as well as its lucrative Baku-Batumi railway and Batumi Oil Terminal, which transports, stores and ships a variety of petroleum products. The Nobel Brothers and Rothschild families built this oil transportation infrastructure in 1883, and it is currently governed by the national oil company of Kazakhstan, which owns rights to it for the next 49 years. This infrastructural system allows for the export of petrol from Azerbaijan to the Black Sea, where it continues to be loaded onto freighters and exported globally. During Soviet times the city continued as an industrial port and became a popular and desirable vacation destination, appreciated for its lush, tropical climate, and basic, proletarian leisure accommodations. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Batumi fell under the under the rule of Aslan Abashidze, a corrupt warlord who maintained separatist and militarized policies in the region. During the 1990s, the majority of Batumi’s poverty-stricken residents could rarely access electricity or running water, and the city’s architecture and infrastructure continued to crumble.

To say that Batumi is “not what it used to be” is a profound understatement. Since 2008, this Post-Soviet town has become the focus of aggressive redevelopment and gentrification schemes, made possible by the neo-liberal capitalist policies ushered in by former President Mikheil Saakashvili after Georgia’s Rose Revolution. Currently, Batumi amasses 22 types of crude oil and petroleum products for export at the rate of over 5 million metric tons per year, and its tourist industry is sky-rocketing, attracting over one million visitors and investors per year, particularly from Georgia, Turkey, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past seven years, more than $550 million of state, national and foreign investment has radically transformed the physical and cultural character of the Batumi. Aimed at purging the Soviet past and aligning the city with European and American signifiers, this urban renewal has been characterized by a sudden burst of glass and chrome buildings, multiple casinos, five star skyscraper hotels, hip nightclubs and “theme” restaurants—including a full scale Parthenon, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and an upside down Washington-style White House that serves upscale Georgian food (Cox, 2014). In stark contrast to the dark days of the 1990s, the city now demonstrates a fetishisation of colorful neon lights that brazenly line the streets and building contours of the city’s renovated “Old Town” neighborhood. Despite this seemingly glamorous and hyper-illuminated urban face-lift, however, the fissures between rich and poor remain.

Origins of Batumi Backyards Stories Project

Batumi Backyards Stories was conceived and prototyped in response to this accelerated urban renewal program. The idea for the project originated at the Press Café in Batumi in March 2012, within the “Curating as a Social Practice Workshop” that I co-designed with a team of local and international artists and curators, including Johanna van der Zanden, Otto von Bush and Evren Uzer, and Nikusha Chkaidze [3] (Figure 8). This two day intensive exchange, commissioned by the Open Society Foundation Georgia, offered models of modest, socially-engaged projects from around the world that were generated on “low-to-no” monies. The workshop filled with enthusiastic local curators, arts managers and multidisciplinary artists of all ages, who then self-organized around local issues they identified as meriting cultural attention. Together we explored how people from different professional disciplines and cultural backgrounds could learn from one another while playfully co-creating unconventional art projects that respond to contemporary conditions.[4]

Figure 8. “Curating as a Social Practice” Workshop, Batumi Press Café, March 15, 2012. (Photo: Lydia Matthews)

The core of the Batumi Backyard Stories proposal that emerged from this workshop arose from participants’ desire to gain new exhibition opportunities while expanding and deepening their contemporary cultural practices. They complained that art organizations, educational and cultural venues and governmental organizations in Batumi did not adequately foster enough experimental approaches to art practice. While international jazz and film festivals enjoyed much financial support and served as tourist magnets, the visual arts seemed conservative and unsupported by comparison. Even more disturbing was the fact that during a period of four short years, workshop participants had witnessed their crumbling yet charming Post-Soviet port town transform into a poorly constructed tourist spectacle that denigrated and threatened the unique qualities that they most appreciated about their seaside home. The publicly and privately funded architectural renovation that originally promised an aesthetic facelift and renewed economic opportunity for the region was beginning to be perceived as a potential cultural menace. Many of the most beautiful historic buildings were being decimated, and shiny architectural towers disrupted the town’s human scale. As workshop participants explained, they felt changes had come at such breakneck speed since the Rose Revolution that there had not been time to critically reflect through public dialogue about what was gained or lost through these urban transformations. Moreover, they claimed the cultural community had not yet found effective ways to either capitalize on this “new Batumi,” nor critically respond to its unspoken socio-political agendas.

One workshop team felt compelled to address how “a lack of communal thinking” inadvertently resulted in their passive acceptance of deeply disturbing urban renewal and cultural policies. To counter this tendency, they proposed the Batumi Backyard Stories provotype as a way to encourage artists to work together to create a truly contemporary visual arts festival that would contribute to the cultural life of the city. They wanted to provide jobs for artists to research and reveal the more obscured aspects of their city’s built environment, along with the endangered or amusing expressions of its “unofficial” local culture. Their strategy was not to overtly take aim at the problematic bright lights of Batumi or its governing bodies, but rather to subversively reveal the metaphoric “dark matter” that surrounds and supports the city from “behind-the-scenes.” The workshop team saw their curatorial proposal as a way to capitalize on the tourist industry and the city’s penchant for urban festivals, but to do it in a way that celebrated the quotidian rather than the grandiose.

Realizing the Proposal

A leading voice in this workshop group was Levan Khujadze, the artist/owner of the Vinyl Bar, known for its low-key bohemian atmosphere and eclectic music. After giving up his profession as a dentist, Khujadze established Micro-Phoni, an NGO that enabled him to more easily secure funding to produce music events. Increasingly interested in arts management, he then re-defined Micro-Phoni’s mission to “strategically develop a sustainable platform for dialogue and creative exchange between community, contemporary artists and cultural actors” (“Levan Khujadze” CECArtsLink). Excited by his workshop team’s Batumi Backyard Stories proposal, he led the effort to realize their provotype by developing a small-scale version of the project, launched just five months after the workshop concluded.

Because this kind of complex socially-engaged curatorial practice was new to him, Levan requested that I continue collaborating with him to refine and stage the pilot project. While he embraced the thought of local artists creating research-based installations, he was concerned that visual artists from Batumi did not have enough experience working in a site-specific manner. I recommended that he partner with Magda Guruli (a well established Georgian curator with much international project experience who had also attended my “Curating as a Social Practice” workshop in Tbilisi.) Together they paired more conceptually-oriented installation artists from Tbilisi with younger and less experienced Batumi artists who had local expertise and access to social networks and barter opportunities. We all agreed that at the heart of the project was a kind of radical knowledge exchange, so the staging of the project was as important as its physical outcomes.

By appealing to another workshop participant, Irine Surmanidze, who worked for Adjara’s Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, we secured initial seed money to launch the project. Irine enthusiastically advocated for Batumi Backyard Stories and the project subsequently received 1700 Georgian lari (approximately $10K), which allowed the curators to cover the Tbilisi artists’ transportation costs, provide a modest materials budget for the various artist teams, as well as rent a large house for them to use as their project headquarters while conducting their research. The group lived, cooked and worked together for two weeks, sharing the stories they discovered and strategizing about how best to represent and materialize them. In short, they established an intimate creative community and Batumi-Tbilisi cultural network that would remain in place long after the pilot project was over.

Figure 9. Batumi Backyards Stories suspended like laundry, legible from the street by using provided opera glasses. (Photo: Batumi Backyards Stories Facebook page.)

The backyard installations that resulted included stories suspended on outdoor laundry lines that were legible only by deploying opera glasses (Figure 9); a video portrait about a beloved resident who no longer lived in the neighborhood; displays of residents’ family photographs that reveal specific urban histories; an interactive light and sound installation that visually translated the live data from one backyard’s electric meters, pulsating at the rate of various families’ energy usage; (Figure 10) a memorial plaque commemorating Iuri Dumbadzea, a recently deceased master craftsman who made musical instruments in his home workshop; and culinary celebrations of the the famous Adjarian khachapuri, an boat-shaped dough filled with salty cheese, butter and egg. In one extremely distressed backyard, Khujadze created a site-specific sculpture: a column of unwanted books, mostly outdated Soviet era technical literature that he collected from the residents and other artists. It propped up a crumbling architectural structure within the backyard—a work so loved by the neighbors that they insisted they keep it standing after the festival was over (Figure 11). The local broadcast and print press enthusiastically covered the events, attracting hundreds of curious, multi-generational viewers.

Figure 10. Pilot project for 2012 Batumi Backyards Stories, wherein data from electrical meters were converted to a light show in the driveway leading to the yard. (Photo: Batumi Backyard Stories Facebook page.)
Figure 11. Levan Khujadze’s column of books, Batumi Backyard Stories, 2013. (Photo: Levan Khujadze)

Since August 2012, Batumi Backyard Stories has evolved into a more robust annual cultural initiative supporting over 40 artists, funded each year at a slightly higher level by the local Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of Autonomous Republic of Adjara (Khujadze email)[5]. Each year, Khujadze would scout for new yards and abandoned buildings, engendering the participation of residents so that the selected artists would be able to work effectively in those sites. In 2013 and 2014, the project expanded to include not only Georgian artists, but also artists from Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Russia, Japan, Poland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States. The international artists either participated through self-funding, barter, or support from other partner organizations such as national embassies, non-profit cultural organizations, and universities. In this way, local funding would remain primarily designated for the Georgian artists (Guruli, email).[6]

Subsequent years’ installations included a fascinating reclamation of an abandoned Turkish bathhouse that had been popular throughout the Soviet period, which Khujadze worked with city agencies to secure. Local artist Giorgi Katamadze and others cleaned up and illuminated the space, allowing pedestrians to visit this space for the first time in over a decade. As they walked through they experienced different kinds of spectral phenomena, including full scale video projections of men and women showering (Figures 12, 13).

Figure 12. Transforming the abandoned Batumi Bathhouse, 2013. (Photo: Lasha Phalavandishvili, from Batumi Backyards Stories Facebook page.)
Figure 13. Video of man showering by artists: Zura Chartolani, Amiko Kavtaradze and Docha Ighenti., installed in Batumi bathhouse, Batumi Backyards Stories website, 2013. (Photo: Levan Khujadze)
Figure 14. Mariam Natroshvili and Detu Jincharadze, Museum of Superstitions, 2013. (Photo: Mariam Natroshvili on Natrovshvili and Jincharadze website.)

Included within three rooms of the bath house was the “Museum of Superstitions,” co-created by Tbilisi-based artists Mariam Natroshvili and Detu Jincharadze (Figure 14). While in Batumi, this artistic team discovered that there was a commonly held belief that genies and evil spirits dwell in abandoned bathhouses, which inspired them to interview dozens of local residents about their other superstitions or habitual metaphysical beliefs. They tracked down the local Hodja (who serves in the mosque as a fortune-teller, healer, talisman maker), and met other local psychics living in the neighborhood, as well as interviewing people from different professions, including fishermen. The artists “translated” these accumulated superstitions into physical objects and images, most of which they gathered from bathhouse debris, which were displayed as museum artifacts.[7] In their statement, the Natroshvili and Jincharadze refered to their makeshift museum as a “ghost”:

A bath – a place for body purification – a ritual space of getting rid of negative energy is transformed into some kind of archive, the place for remembering and re-thinking superstitions. . . Knowledge, beliefs and habits that were inherited from the ancestors now fade away step by step, over time, leaving no trace. Reading signs of nature, prediction of the near future, learning the language of sea, wind and rain; inventing amulets for wealth and good fate; protection from an evil eye, attempts to change the future – these are reflections of pagan habits, forgotten secret knowledge in peoples’ daily life habits.[8]

Khujadze recently reported that since the Batumi Backyard Stories installation of 2013, the new government has begun to restore the bathhouse, and plans to use it as the site of a new Batumi Museum. This suggests that the ideas forwarded by the artists and the conversations stimulated by Batumi Backyard Stories can help reshape the local imaginary, and pave the way for more indigenous forms of “cultural restoration” to occur. Enthusiastic about the success of his emerging role as a Batumi-based arts manager, in 2014 Levan Khujadze applied for a prestigious CEC Artslink Arts Leadership Fellowship, which enabled him to spend five weeks exchanging ideas with numerous public art curators in the United States, who will now serve as an expanded cultural network for future projects. He now describes his long-term goals of “transforming of the city of Batumi into the region’s cultural center and working with governmental structures to assist and influence the process of establishment of the cultural policy and priorities of the region.”[9] Because Batumi Backyard Stories is now established as an annual project, Khujadze and his team of local artists collectively build on their past experiences as they realize various backyard installations and performative events.

Wandering Nighthouse in Batumi

The addition of international artists has slowly enriched the project and helped put Batumi on the global contemporary visual arts circuit. In 2013 I returned to co-curate Batumi Backyard Stories alongside Magda and Levan, adding to its budget with grants secured from the U.S. Embassy and support received through the Curatorial Design Research Lab that I direct at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. My primary role that year was to organize the U.S. contribution to the project. I invited Boston-based artists Elaine Buckholtz and Floor van de Velde to adapt their ongoing Wandering Nighthouse (Figure 15) to address this cultural context.[10]

(See YouTube video)

Figure 15. Batumi Backyard Stories, Installation, Elaine Buckholtz, 2013. (Video: television station)

Wandering Nighthouse derived its name from a home in pre-industrial villages where a community would gather after dark to share stories and save energy resources before going to sleep. Buckholtz and van de Velde adopted the spirit of such a communal space while imagining a nomadic version of a house. By harnessing the energy generated by a small truck’s 12 volt battery, they created a sound and light installation on wheels that could be collectively experienced by passengers and passersby. The artists outfitted the truck with external speakers playing van de Velde’s site-specific sound score, which featured local musical traditions. Buckholtz rigged two perforated vinyl records onto small motors on both sides of the vehicle, projecting yellow and blue rotating light patterns onto exterior buildings as the truck moved through the city. Participants were invited to sit on the back of the flatbed truck and share the experience of a mesmerizing ride that took them along a carefully selected route. The piece was a performance, and the people in the back of the truck—as well as those on the streets—were suddenly cast in the role of actors, making up the script as they went along.

In Batumi, Wandering Nighthouse was designed to launch the forthcoming 2013 Batumi Backyard Stories festival. The Wandering Nighthouse truck’s pick up point was the Lagidze Music School building in the Old Town, where we transformed the backyard into an elegant and subtly lit outdoor gathering space. As neighbors from the yard’s surrounding homes and visitors gathered for their opportunity to board the truck, Buckholtz and van de Velde’s Georgian collaborator, David Dsotze, served as DJ for the evening, filling the yard with a meditative party score that mixed music by the school’s namesake, Revaz Lagidze (arguably the most accomplished Georgian composer during Soviet times) with more contemporary electronic sounds. Home-made khajapuri, wine and beer were served, and the local corn-on-the-cob vendor—a common sight in this seaside town—relocated her business to the backyard for the evening. Hundreds of people discovered this otherwise neglected space, sampling the hand-held “optical devices” that Buckholtz had provided as well as fabricating their own lenses out of found materials and crystals in a small makeshift workshop that had been set up on a table. Strangers from various walks of life congregated, co-mingled and shared experiences, reporting back about what they had witnessed while on the truck. The truck made approximately one dozen trips with varying passengers over the course of the evening (Figure 16-19).

Figure 16. Poster for Wandering Nighthouse, 2013.
Figure 17. Wandering Nighthouse yard illuminated by Elaine Buckholtz, 2013. (Photo: Elaine Buckholtz)
Figure 18. Batumi residents take turns riding on the Wandering Nighthouse truck, 2013. (Photo: Lasha Phalavandishvili, from Batumi Backyards Stories Facebook page.)
Figure 19. Wandering Nighthouse in the Arabic part of Batumi, 2013. (Photo: Elaine Buckholtz)

The route of the Wandering Nighthouse not only traversed streets where the selected backyards would be transformed in the days ahead, but also ventured into parts of the city where tourists seldom visit. Passing through the over-saturated, highly illuminated and gentrifying Old Town, the truck’s subtle light projections were barely visible—until the lights would strike a building that said “for sale” or was as yet undeveloped (Figure 20). After crossing a main artery of the city, the truck then passed into the less trafficked Arabic neighborhood, where Buckholtz’s light projections suddenly appeared vivid, magically transforming the surface of people’s homes and businesses. What became visible were neighbors enjoying street life, playing board games or taking their evening strolls. While Wandering Nighthouse participants observed these Batumi residents’ life in passing, the locals were entertained by the roving spectacle, often waving and chuckling as the truck would pass, eager to learn more about the Batumi Backyard Stories festival. [11]

Figure 20. Elaine Buckholtz & Floor van de Velde, Wandering Nighthouse light projection hitting a building’s “for sale” sign. (Photo: Elaine Buckholtz)

These meandering truck rides, while seemingly playful, were meant to provoke thorny questions about what kinds of things can and cannot be easily perceived in the city. They sharpened participants' focus on the contrast between Batumi’s excessive use of light in areas of gentrification, and the dimmer neighborhoods that are off-the-beaten tourist track, where less "hip" daily life experiences can be recognized and appreciated. Wandering in a “nighthouse” also cultivated a new way of seeing a familiar environment with fresh eyes, through the altered lens of a contemporary artwork. In short, Buckholtz and van de Velde rose to Agamben’s challenge: through their art practice, they enabled people to gaze on their own time so as to perceive not its light but rather its darkness.


In his brilliant Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (Espèces d’espaces), Georges Perec identified the “infra-ordinary” of our daily lives and banal habits, not as boring over-familiar routines but as something that is deeply under-examined:

What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event. . . the extra-ordinary: the front-page splash, the banner headlines. . .The daily newspapers talk of everything except the daily. . . .What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?. . How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them a meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are.[12]

Perec suggests that we need “to found our own anthropology,” one that will “speak about us, will look in ourselves for what for so long we’ve been pillaging from others. Not the exotic anymore, but the endotic”. The various works co-created between artists and local residents in Batumi Backyards Stories do precisely what Perec is calling for through the form of participatory installation art. As if prescribing the core of this project, Perec listed activities that would activate such an anthropology, with one being, “Describe your street. Describe another street. Compare.” Such experiences and comparisons allow us to recognize new value in ordinary residents’ backyards, which would otherwise be cast off as mundane, bedraggled, or unremarkable. And when these contemporary art works are successful in their provocations, they may even inspire audiences—as well as Batumi’s city planners—to re-examine and ultimately debunk the increasingly popular belief that what is old or imperfect in their town must be ignored, demolished, or left publically obscured.

[1] Preven H. Mogensen, “Towards a Provotyping Approach in Systems Development,” Scandinavian Journal of Information System, Vol. 4, 31-53 (1992): 31.

[2] Giorgio Agamben, “What is the Contemporary?” in Nudities, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 13-15.

[3] Joanna van der Zanden was the founding curator of Amsterdam’s experimental “Platform 21” design museum laboratory; Otto von Busch and Evren Uzer comprise “Roomservices,” a husband and wife design studio that fosters participatory urban design processes; Nikusha Chkaidze is a Berlin-based Georgian artist whose family lives in Batumi and Tbilisi.

[4] For a more detailed account of this Open Society Foundation workshop, visit the workshop’s website, which includes videos of the workshop teams’ socially-engaged curatorial proposals: For more information on my previous curatorial projects in Georgia from 2005-present, see:

[5] Batumi Backyard Project’s budget has grown gradually. In 2012 the budget was 17,000 GEL (approximately $10K USD); in 2013 it increased to 21,000 GEL ($12,000) + support for foreign artists; in 2014 it raised to 26,000 GEL ($14,000) + international artists funding; for 2015 28,000 GEL ($18,000) has been pledged by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of Autonomous Republic of Adjara.

[6] In 2012 during the first pilot project, all 12 artist participants were Georgian: Irina Torondjadze, Batumi; Lasha Phalavandishvili, Batumi; Irakli Shonia, Batumi; Nina Masalkina, Batumi; Giorgi Katamadze, Batumi; Shota Gudjabidze, Batumi; Vasil Macharadze, Tbilisi; Art Group Bouillon, Tbilisi (Natalia Vatsadze, Ekaterine Ketsbaia, Teimuraz Kartlelishvili, Konstantine Kitiashvili, Zurab Kikvadze). In 2013, there were 18 international artists: Giorgi Katamadze, Batumi; Nina Masalkina, Batumi; Amiko Kavtaradze, Batumi; Gocha Jgenti, Batumi; Zura Chartolani, Batumi; Levan Khujadze, Batumi; Mamuka Japharidze, Tbilisi; Mariam Natroshvili, Tbilisi; Detu Jincharadze, Tbilisi; Denis Gonobolin, Tbilisi; Gia Mekvabishvili, Tbilisi; Manana Arabuli, Tbilisi; Samir Salakhov, Azerbaijan/ Baku; Mkrtich Tonoyan, Armenia/ Yerevan; Maria Saphronova, Russia/ Moscow; Elaine Buckholtz, USA/Boston; Floor van de Velde, South Africa/Boston; David Dzotze, Czech Republic/Prague; In 2014 there were 13 international artists: Giorgi Katamadze, Batumi; Mariam Ramishvili, Batumi; Ana Riaboshenko, Batumi; Gocha Jgenti, Batumi; Zura Chartolani, Batumi; Ana Sopromadze, Tbilisi; Musya Qeburia, Tbilisi; Ana Jikia, Tbilisi; Gvantsa Jishkariani, Tbilisi; Oliwia Beszczynska, Poland; Kateryna Radchenko, Ukraine /Odessa; Masaru Iwai, Japan; Rikiya Yamakawa, Japan. To read more about the project and see additional photos, visit the Batumi Backyards Stories Facebook page:

[7] In a Dec. 21, 2014 email to the author, artists Mariam Natroshvili described the local superstitions they represented in their installation: “If you hear a bad news, you should tell it to a stone. If you handle knife to someone, you will have quarrel with this person. You shouldn’t sew at night, or else your fortune will be sewn. If you cannot keep a secret, tell it to a pit and "bury" the secret in the ground. If one wants to have money, he/she should put the tooth of a pig in their wallet. You shouldn’t throw hair from a comb in the garbage because a bird will take it and use it for its nest, so your happiness will be gone. Breaking a mirror means 9 years of bad luck. If you are going to an important business meeting, you shouldn’t look backwards. If girl manages to go under the rainbow she'll become boy and vice versa. You should knock a silver spoon on the first teeth of baby so that she will have good fortune. Once a person dies, his watch or clock in the house will stop. If salt scatters on floor, there will be a fight in the house.” (Natroshvili, email.)

[8] To see images and gain further insights into their contribution to the 2013 Batumi Backyards Project, visit:

[9] Levan Khujadze, “Levan Khujadze” CECArtsLink, Accessed Dec. 15, 2014.

[10] Elaine Buckholtz. “Wandering Nighthouse,” Accessed Dec. 19, 2014.

[11] To see a video of the Wandering Nighthouse in motion in Batumi, visit:

[12] Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. trans. John Sturrock. (Harmonsdworth: Penguin, 1997), 205-207.


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Matthews, Lydia. Lydia Matthews. Accessed Dec. 27, 2014.

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Natroshvili, Mariam. “Re: hello and some questions for you”. Email message to Lydia Matthews. Accessed Dec. 21, 2014.

Natroshvili, Mariam and Detu Jintcharadze, “Museum of Superstitions”, Accessed Dec. 20, 2014.

Perec, Georges. Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. Translated by John Sturrock. Harmonsdworth: Penguin, 1997. (Originally published as Especes d’espaces, Paris: Galilée, 1974.)

Author Bio

Lydia Matthews is a curator, writer, educator and founding Director of the Curatorial Design Research Lab at Parsons, which spans various divisions across The New School. Trained as an art historian at UC Berkeley and London's Courtauld Institute, her work explores how contemporary artists, artisans and designers foster critical democratic debates and intimate community interactions in the public sphere, often in response to a variety of urgent global and local conditions in their daily lives. Her essays have appeared in numerous journals and exhibition catalogs, and she has lectured internationally on socially-engaged art, craft and design practices. Her participatory curatorial projects in New York, the Post-Soviet region, Turkey and Southern Europe include exhibitions, community-based urban festivals, and multidisciplinary pedagogical exchanges addressing ecological and social sustainability. She is online at:

An Introduction to P[art]icipatory Urbanisms
Karin Shankar and Kirsten Larson
Research Notes from a Black Urbanist
Ronald Morrison
Ghetto Biennale and “Jalousie en Couleur”: The Politics of Post-Earthquake Aesthetics in Port-Au- Prince
Carolyn Duffey
Fugitive Moments and Public Memory: An Improvised Memorial for Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X in Canberra
Rebecca Caines
Reimagining Fluidity: Colliding Bodies and Architecture at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Ying Zhu
The “Good Death” of Buildings: Filling Gaps in Post-Earthquake Christchurch
Heidi Elisabet Käkelä
Spacehacking as Praxis: 3 Projects, 3 Perspectives: raumlaborberlin, Recetas Urbanas, Collectif Etc
Nathan John
Making of the Indignant Citizen: Politics, Aesthetics, and Housing Rights in Madrid and Rome
Andreea S. Micu
Critical Performance Spaces: Participation and Anti-Austerity Protests in Athens
Gigi Argyropoulou
Participatory Aesthetics and Makeshift Urbanism: Cases of Guimarães, Cova do Vapor and Terras da Costa
Joana Braga
‘Space to Wrestle With:’ Social Practice in Gurgaon
Alex White-Mazzarella, Namrata Mehta and Soaib Grewal
Windows on an Urban Village: Participation and Antagonism in Shaina Anand’s ‘KhirkeeYaan’
Rattanamol Singh Johal
invisible Zürichs: Multiplicity of Knowledges in Socially-engaged Artistic Practice
Cecilie Sachs Olsen
Seeing in the Dark: Unearthing Batumi’s Hidden Backyard Treasures
Lydia Matthews
Basketball Now!
Layla Nova Forrest-White
Assemblages of Difference: Place-making and Utopian Agonism on the Open-Air House Music Dance Floor
Kavita Kulkarni
‘O collective Happening’ in Shanghai: “Loose Space,” Participation, and what Sustains between Instantaneity and Permanence
Chiayi Seetoo
Squatting in Non-Spaces: Queering Art and Identity in Global China’s Guangzhou
Jenny Lin
Negotiating Informality: Social and Economic Strategies of Latino Food Vendors in San Francisco’s Mission District
Ginette Wessel and Sofia Airaghi
Beyond Bottom-Up in San Francisco: Public-Private Initiatives and the Potential for Proactive Citizenship
Antje K. Steinmuller