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I_Residency: Projects created by female artists duos during isolation
Photographs: Natela Grigalashvili
Text: Nino Tarkhnishvili
17 Steps to Freedom
This room is 17 steps on diagonal. Moderate, neither big nor small, 17 slow steps. Exactly the kind of steps I make going to my mother – calm, tranquil, sometimes lazy, or even better – dauntless. When you have a small bag over your shoulder and wear neither outer nor home clothing – three-year-old jeans with the peach stain from the last year you were unable to remove, t-shirt battered on the shoulders and you can’t go to work in it anymore, that has faded, but you still wouldn’t get rid of it. If we bring the insipid epithet into our narration – the clothes you wear visiting your mother are like the verge of day and night, neither here nor there.
Where have we been? Ah, yes, we were at the room’s diagonal. So, like I said, this room is 17 steps on diagonal. With two large windows on the southern wall. And flower-patterned wallpaper on the northern.
This pattern somehow resembles one of my mother’s dresses, one she was wearing in her youth, when she was even younger than I am now, when she was 26 and I was three. Why do I remember that dress? Or even how do I remember? It happens sometimes that images of the very early childhood pop up in your mind like the old photos discovered in drawer chest, so this exactly is the case. Dress was lettuce-green, decorated with the cream flowers. With the flowers that don’t even exist, buttoned with the mock-pearl balls – car turns from the end of the street, mother runs to me and picks me up. I play with these mock-pearl buttons by my fingers, press my chick against her shoulder and the cream, non-existent flowers come too close, blurand mix all together.
So, the wallpaper in this room looks like the flowers on my mother’s lettuce-green dress. There are 48 flowers in each column and 185 flowers in each row on the wall. They faded a little because of the sun, but otherwise they’re okay. Let’s see, maybe next year we will even replace them. But, knowing myself, I will regret tearing down the wallpaper that resembled my mother’s youth dress and replacing it with the new.
Buying this black metal ball in the center of the room, so called chandelier, was not a good idea, now I regret it, it’s doing nothing but collecting the dust. It requires cleaning every other day. If you don’t clean it, sun coming in from the southward windows whirls the dust blown off of metal ball. Then, lazily stretching, you take old t-shirt turned into the dustcloth and, sneezing once in a while, try to remove the dust from the chandelier.
But chandelier cleaning process is charming, when it is made of crystal and when mother is doing this. Well, to be more precise: when she was doing. She can’t anymore. Feels dizzy.
Mother would pour a water in large enamel mug, steer in the vinegar, dip old muslin in it, then would slide the table under the chandelier, climb on it and remove each crystal ball, tear, icicle polishing them by the vinegar-wet muslin. The muslin rubbing against crystal would issue the screeching noise. Boy, I loved that sound. Mother would hold the polished crystal against sun beams entering from the window, close one eye and, after making sure there was no trace of dust, would hang it back to the metal core of the chandelier. After almost two-hour ritual, she would drop her arms, complain how tiring the job was, jump down from the table, reach the switch hiding behind the piano and the miracle would come about – the white crystal chandelier would turn into the glimmering rainbow…
And this my metal ball, you dust it, light and it lights. Just lights like this.
I was saying something about the room’s diagonal. Yes, so, if you stand at the fridge and go towards the opposite corner of the room, you will pass the old Arabian carpet with the torn edges, table with six chairs that nobody ever dines on, simple, unsightly, made of… what do they call it? Laminated chipboard, isn’t it? Or something of that sort. Not like the one at my mother’s – wooden, antique, that can sit 12 persons and even accommodate 16, if need be. Well, it could accommodate, rather. When she was arranging large birthday parties for me. Not only for me, but for all the family members – old or young – too. She would boil, fry, bake, simmer, stir, decorate, serve, clean, wash, dry, store in the cupboard and then, exhausted of all these efforts, would sit with frozen glance till morning, unable to sleep.
Well, one of these days, when I was also sitting with frozen eyes, not tired of anything, though, and did not think much about anything, I discovered that this wooden table, my mother’s table, has never ever been served for my mother’s sake. Mother never celebrated her birthday. And, as far as I am concerned, nobody has ever offered her to celebrate the birthday, to invite the friends, to blow out the candle on the cake, even just for fun. In my early childhood, when the mother’s birthday would come, I was always surprised – just for myself, silently, internally – how could this be just an ordinary day, just like the day before or the day after, and how could it go just like any other day – from dawn till dusk. I would watch my mother and try to discover something special, festive in her walk, in the way she would prepare the dinner or wash the dishes. But no, I could not see anything even close to this mood. She would comb her hair, light the gas stove, take products out of fridge and clean the floors exactly the same way… as years passed, this astonishment turned into the habit, and cast to oblivion ultimately. Mother’s birthday is just an ordinary day, just like the day before, and nothing else.
And coming on the diagonal from the fridge, I was unable to reach the other corner of the room, the corner of the bookcase. Or, to be more precise, the Christmas tree corner. If one is not having idee fixe or some special incompatibility with Christmas, every house has such corner – the Christmas tree corner. And that’s exactly the spot, where my 17th step brings me. And I stick with my nose to the wallpaper that so resembles my mother’s dress and, just like in childhood on my mother’s shoulder, these flowers blur and mix with each other.
My mother’s Christmas tree is stored on the balcony, on the uppermost shelf of the cabinet. That’s where it’s been stored many years ago too. When my brother and I were kids and would go after my mother. Would tirelessly chase her: take it down, take it down. Oh, my mother would say, you’re not going to give it a rest, are you? She would abandon washing dishes and we would follow her like dog’s tail.
The frost would rush in from the open window. My mother would pick a checkered skirt, would put one knee on the window pane, then the other, would get up and reach out to the upper shelf. Brother and I would grab her skirt: scared on the one hand – lest she fall out, and excited on the other, and would wait till she passed the cardboard boxes to us.
We would rest the boxes on the bed like a baby, would free our share of the Christmas from yellowed cotton: the glass balls, cones, stars… mother would jump down form the window pane like a little girl, close the window, close the blue curtain, warn us to be careful and leave us alone with our happiness.
It’s three months now that I ramble around the room that is 17 unhurried steps on diagonal. If I were any good at maths, maybe I would be able to calculate how many kilometers did woman walk from point A to point B (from the fridge corner to Christmas tree corner) in 93 days, if the space she was walking in comprised 17 moderate, calm and dauntless steps. Exactly the kind of steps she would make 93 days ago, or even before that, when she was going to her mother. And now she stands at white cabinet, searches the only drawer, which is empty, and looks for the photo – she’s 4, sitting on the tricycle, with white beret on her head; mother standing beside her, with slightly bended leg, in grey light overcoat, long and straight hair collected in the bun on the back of her head, and halfheartedly smiling to the photographer.
The room that has 17 steps on diagonal is lettuce-colored. On the north side it has one barred window never letting sun in. Time is standing still.
I_Residency (inside, isolation residency) project was created in partnership with the Tbilisi Photography and MultimediaMuseum and Tbilisi Photo Festival with support of the UNDP and the Governmentof Sweden through the UN Joint Project for Gender Equality.