Looking From Afar textiles and sewn decorations, filling, by Elene Rakviashrili, Georgia

In July three galleries in The Hague, Billytown, Trixie, and Quartair hosted exhibitions, a symposium, a book launch, workshops, and artist talks under the title Back to Normal. This title reminds me of the Dutch expression, “doe normaal” meaning be sensible or do the expected, which of course you can’t expect a virus to take any notice of. But what has made the most impact on the arts scene has been the restrictions on travel and hence intercultural artist exchange, so a major part of this event was the arrival of artists and curators from Artisterium (Tbilisi, Georgia), Sandwich (Bucharest, Romania), U10 (Belgarde, Serbia), SODAS 2123, Vilnis, Lithuania) Ormston House, Limerick, Ireland), C5cnm (Beijing, China), Flux Factory (NYC, USA), UniArte, (Curaçao) and other artist initiatives. Hague based, the Alternative Art Guide and Artist-Run Network Europe (ARNE) coordinated these events and exhibitions. Each of the three Hague galleries showed works throughout July by artists from the diverse artist initiatives and locations.

In Trixie Iva Kuzmanovic’s diptych was one of the works by five artists from u10 in Belgrade, Serbia, which were interwoven with works by the Trixie studio artists, such as the arrangement of small paintings by Jonas Raps, along a slanted wooden shelf reminiscent of mantelpiece. In days gone by when each home had a fireplace, the mantelpiece was a feature for displaying memorabilia. Jonas Raps’ beautifully drawn expressive lines and delicate colours verge on nostalgia – perhaps for a time before Covid? 

Iva Kuzmanovic’s eery backlit work also rests on a horizontal – a support that provides both illumination for the figuration on the glass slabs and a sense of vulnerability. That glass could slip and shatter, the power could go off, and just like the imagery of Greek antiquity, the medium used here (a type of fluorescent paint) fades over time. These days few would recognize Apollo, God of music (as a form of the mathematical), medicine, and perfection or well-being. This referencing underlines that notions of what is considered normal are cultural and contingent.

Billytown’s show in a larger space in an old school building, incorporated by artists from China and Romania, as well as Hague-based artists. Two works stood out for me here. Romanian artist, Daniela Ralimariu, also one of the coordinators of the Bucherest gallery, Sandwich , had suspended two steel objects called Family VIII hung in one of the large windows. The hung forms, based on packaging, have been flattened out and reproduced in highly polished steel so the reflections on the surfaces change with each step you take. Family and identity are other aspects of normality. We could correlate the slight distinctions between the two forms to DNA from two (related) lines or to the geographic or interpret family here as referring to how family is defined – as connection.

Belgian Hague-based Bram de Jonghe’s neighbouring mechanical work, The glass was half full, dispenses with borders all together in the simple gesture of the meeting of two glasses. The aftermath of the gesture spills over, is splattered across the wall, in muted dribbles and spurts. The action is immediate and simple, and yet the visible traces, are loaded with significance and so serve as a foil for meditative self-reflection on art, culture, society, you name it. The work is a witty toast – a faith in a non-defined different perhaps better ‘normal’ that emerges, somehow, from the spillage.

Where Bram de Jonghe’s work is joyful and the clinking of glasses is universally recognized, Manuchar Okrostsvaridse’s photographic installation in the converted bakery building which has been Quartair’s Gallery and studio space for over 30 years, draws on the specifics of Georgian culture. The text in Georgian script and in English below the row of gold tinted photographs, Since the Sun Shines on Roses and Dung Equally  are a line from the 12th century epic poem, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin by Shota Rustaveli. I was surprised to hear that anyone in today’s Georgia would recognize the imagery as a reference to this poem. It means that the language has changed very little  – as if the average English-speaker today would be able to recognize phrases or imagery from Chaucer. This indicates a culture where outside influences, even neighbouring Russian cultures, have not made great inroads on Georgian norms.

On the other hand, the work by compatriot, Elene Rakviashrili’s, Looking From Afar, reads simultaneously as location specific and universalist. Here the thread-thin shadow of a girl with pigtails extends along the floor and up the wall across from an intricately embroidered voluminous hyper-colourful snail. The disparate forms refer equally to a specific tale of a girl’s (or snail’s) encounter, or to longing or belonging, to a home (the baggage) one carries.

American Lehna Huie of Jamaican descent has hung a grid of 29 disembodied figurative ink drawings based on photographs in her family album – a cherished item for peoples of a diaspora – of lives lived not only in past times but also outside her own place of upbringing. Perhaps that is why the figures float as disembodied forms surrounded by a void?

In the centre of the main Quartair gallery space Dana LaMonda’s suspended heavy charred-looking door frames a shadowy vanishing point imprinted on glass. It seemed both ominous and uplifting. The glass serves as a point of perspective and sort of viewing point through the massive barrier but it is too high and too opaque to allow a view through. Instead the door remains as an object and the glass serves as a screen, leading the eye up. Just beyond on the floor is a video projection of what at first seems like a cooking show surrounded by estranged domestics – a tap above a grid of glazed ceramic tiles and a cutting board sporting a carved abdomen. In the video, The Hague artist initiative Hgtomi Rosa artist, Yukari Nakamichi, bakes a Japanese recipe with materials sourced from The Hague shops. In the small space beyond, Barney de Krijger’s filmic image, RE-SIDO-ALITY, is one of a number of his works which collectively function as thread in between works by other artists in the gallery spaces. The dominant theme of his works being the optics of the viewer. Some photographic works do this literally with stark mirror-like imagery or photographs taken in a mirror, while other works, such as Travelling Eye play on ways we humans read the natural world. Here meters move gently over maps of the world in a time-worn shallow panel that looks like a dispenser unit which is dominated by vivid imagery of foliage. The slightly moving needles indicate a change that is always there, and so there’s no going back to normal because the meter reading shows that ‘normal’ has moved on.    Sonja van Kerkhoff      September 2022