It’s one of those unforgivably hot and blindingly sunny D.C. days when I meet up with Tati Pastukhova and Sandro Kereselidze. They’re the managing and artistic directors (respectively) of Artechouse, D.C.’s hard to define art space that manages to mix technology, art, projections, interactions and cocktails into one perfectly balanced highball. Since they started Art Soiree in 2009, Tati and Sandro have taken their jobs as D.C. art ambassadors seriously, constantly pushing our city’s conception of how the public can (and should) connect with art… But nothing is quite like Artechouse. By eschewing framed art for more ephemeral materials like light and sound, the subterranean space challenges everything about the conventional museum experience. There’s no gift shop, no lines to keep you from getting too close to the art and dancing like a mad person to trigger the motion detectors is flat out encouraged.
In just five minutes of conversation, It’s easy to see exactly how Tati and Sandro compliment each other. When I ask about their first jobs, Tati talks about working at the Library of Congress while going to college in D.C. She paints a romantic picture of long winter days spent searching through the libraries vast catalogue. When I ask Sandro the same question, he gets a wistful look, sighs and says, “I washed cars. Now that was a dream job.” Like Artechouse’s combination of art and technology, they’re the perfect mixture.
Artechouse’s newest exhibition, New Nature, opens on October 12. You can get tickets here.
Why did you want to open Artechouse in D.C.?
Tati: D.C. is our hometown and we thought it deserved a place like that. A couple of years before, we had a wonderful museum, the Corcoran, and it closed. Seeing things like that, not seeing enough spaces in the city, pointed us to having a dedicated space for new mediums in arts.
What Artechouse does is not just unprecedented for D.C., it’s unprecedented for the U.S. and in a certain way, the world. As we travel more, as we talk to artists we’re finding out that what we’re doing is really important to them. We’re creating a platform for them to showcase their work, but more than that, we’re helping them make the artwork. We’re producing with them. It’s beyond their computer screen, beyond their studio, it’s available to the public. Working with them on presenting it, it’s like working with a scriptwriter or a writer of a book and making their book available to the public in a movie format. Or as a play. It’s a lot of work that goes into it, but we’re really proud to be able to support the artists in that way and let the public experience and connect to it. [We want to] empower them with the tools and inspire others.
D.C. was our hometown and we wanted D.C. to be the first to experience it. Now that we’re going to other places, we’re excited to bring them something that originated in D.C.
Sandro: I get that question from artists all the time. Why D.C.? Why not. I think D.C. is a wonderful city and I consider myself a Washingtonian because I’ve lived here more than half of my life. If I have a chance to make my city a better place, I’ll take that chance. I think we’re able to accomplish that in a short period of time… Publications from New York Times, to USA Today, to National Geographic, to CNN, BBC, mention Artechouse as pioneering this type of art in the United States. I think it’s great recognition for our capital.
How do you figure out who you want to work with on an exhibition? How do you find the artists, decide what the exhibition space is going to look like? What’s the process?
Sandro: It goes through my head and then to the organization. I work as an artist myself. The first exhibit we showcased was a traveling exhibit. That’s the one we’re taking on the road right now, this type of exhibit doesn’t really exist. You can count the number on your fingers. What we do in Artechouse, and why we’re pioneering this, is because we work with the artists to create these solo exhibitions.
We’ve been seeing a lot of work like this at festivals… And there are a lot of talented people out here that I’m working with to create this type of experience, using talent and collaboration. That’s the process. In a way, it’s really similar to a movie. As a director, you have an idea and then your talent, the actors, inspire you to create the story. Or the cinematographer has the vision, and you create based on that. It’s very collaborative. With all of the artists that we showcase, we create these things together.
Tati: There work has to, in a certain way, inspire us. To make us want to create something together. It’s more of a collaborating than a pragmatic calculation. “Oh this artist does this, and this is the trend and it’s going to be popular.” It’s more about inspiration. Do they have that unique eye? Do they have potential? Is there something we can showcase? Then how do we work together to make something that would be exhibition worthy? Something that people can explore, and they can get something from it. There’s multiple layers, but most importantly, it’s the mutual inspiration that comes from that collaboration.
Who is your favorite artist you’ve worked with so far?
Tati: We don’t work with artists who aren’t our favorite.
Sandro: Yeah, that’s the thing. One more thing… We’re working with internationally known artists, but we’re taking them to the next level. Uniqueness is one thing, but if I see an artist being showcased everywhere and being presented in different places, it makes me not interested in working with them. I like artists that haven’t been discovered, I like to be the first one.
Tati: And that comes down to the creative process. Some artists have found their niche and they’re marketing that. But even with Adrian and Claire, whose work we showcased without much of our involvement, the process, the way that they work with things is very appreciative. They do a lot of research, there are many years of research that went into the details and the aesthetic and presentation. One can appreciate that. It’s easy in this medium, and in general, to have fast food art. It can be just created. Especially with abstract art, that can really be fast food, but there are artists that have a certain way and they won’t change their principles. There’s a respect and appreciation to the way they do things. That’s really important to us.
Sandro: That’s the curation format. Unfortunately, I see some talented people in this city, but they’re showcasing their stuff in clubs and other places.
Tati: And that’s their outlet.
Sandro: Yeah, that’s their outlet, but there’s potential to grow, for sure. For me, as a curator, I like to discover them. That’s my principle. I don’t showcase someone because they’re popular. Some places just take you, not because of your art, but because, “Oh you have so many followers.” For me, what’s most important is the talent.
That’s your brand.
Sandro: Yeah, our standards. Even the artist that we’re going to be showcasing next, he’s been in this industry for forever, creating incredible stuff, but he’s never had a solo exhibit. He’s showcased here and there, but he always kept a low profile.
Tati: We like to ignite the stars, what’s in our mission is that we create a platform for artists that empowers them to do things bigger and better. Some of them have been doing things, Nonotak is an internationally recognized artist group, but their 10 day residency at Artechouse pushed their limits to new levels. They’ve never had a large solo exhibit. They’ve created works for Cartier and large festivals, they’ve created commission pieces, but this was a turning point in their art career. They got to present things to the public as an artists. For them to rethink their work in an exhibit format where people can walk through and get something, it was very different.
Sandro: Every artist, after XYZT, none of them had ever had solo exhibits like Artechouse. That’s what’s unique. Every city on earth has places where you can watch movies, where you can see theatre, where you can listen to music, where you can see fine arts… But there is no place that shows exhibits like we do. That connects the public to arts and technology. That’s what Artechouse is. I don’t want to call it a studio, but it’s like a studio… I always compare it back to the movies. It’s a 20th century medium.
Tati: Movies changed a lot of the perception of things and the experience of storytelling.
Sandro: Arts and technology is the new tool for artists to use. It’s a 21st century tool.
It’s the museum of the future.
Sandro: Right. We don’t put ourselves in a museum category…
Tati: We’re an arts space.
Sandro: We’re Artechouse. We have our own category.
Is the dream to have an Artechouse in every city? Like you have a movie theater?
Sandro: That’s right.
So where are you going next?
Sandro: Miami… The goal with Artechouse is not only to be a movie theater, but be a frontrunner of showcasing this type of art and artists. We want to inspire where ever we go, we want to inspire the city and the movement. So many people come to our door and 99% of them have never experienced arts and technology in this type of format. So we’re pioneering this concept.
We’re stepping into a new era, where this art is available to many creative people. But not every creative person can make a masterpiece. Not every artist can be Picasso. It gives us inspiration but we can never be on that level. Now, we’re going to see this medium of projection and interaction used in different places. We’re going to be seeing a lot of these things in museums.
Arts and technology, it’s all around us, but museums don’t create new exhibits. They’re showing whatever is available. They don’t create the new content because they can’t take a chance. But we do. We’re creating new content. We can make a mistake. People might not like it, but we can take that hit. Whatever we do, we’re testing it. Whatever we see next month has never been shown that way. We’re creating on the spot and we’re taking all the heat. That’s why I’m getting grayer with every exhibit.
It’s sounds like working with the two of you is more like making a piece of art than throwing a show. The space is the art, the art is the space.
Tati: When you referred to the “Dream Job” column, I think that’s the dream in a sense. You’re able to form that, create that, shape that, be at the forefront of this new medium that’s becoming more and more popular. We have the chance to educate and present this to the public, while empowering the artist with the tools. Having that ability is a lot of responsibility, but at the same time it’s really exciting.
With Artechouse going to new locations, or course we want to go to large cities and different areas of the country. Miami is a wonderful south location. Miami has a great art scene, especially in the past 10 years. It’s a great place for artists to live. You get so much out of it, which is why we wanted to have a location there, so that we can open up a dialogue. We’re also opening right around the corner from one of the largest art fairs, Art Basel. For the longest time, and even still, the fair is all about that framed art we’re taught in schools about. It’s the art that is within certain parameters. It’s 2D art, in most cases.
Sandro: It’s more about the art that you can take home, and we are about the art that you have to take home with your experience. Whoever comes through our door, it’s their responsibility to explore. Our responsibility to present it, but whoever comes and connects to it, that’s their responsibility. That’s what the medium is, it’s a medium of experiments. It’s not about buying something to match with the couch, it’s about how it’s changed you. How it affects you in that moment.
It sounds like you have an incredibly strong sense of what your principles are with Artechouse. Did you have those nailed down before you opened? Or is that something you’re still evolving and changing with?
Sandro: We had that because we’ve been working on this project for more than five years. It took us two and a half years to open the doors, but we work as artists. We’re not an institution that has critical principles. We have basic principles, but we’re flexible.
Tati: We’re adaptive.
Sandro: We learn as we go. We change, how we experience things changes, technology changes. Yes, we have our standards, we have our principles, we have our mission and vision, but we also have that flexibility, like water.
Tati: Certain things are rooted in what we’re doing, but it’s more the means of delivering them that we’re definitely adaptable to.
Who inspires you both as business people and artists?
Sandro: Each other. Tati inspires me and I think I inspire Tati. I never look at what others do.
Tati: I think the biggest inspiration to us personally is god. God is the biggest creator in everything we do. No matter what we do, it’s an imitation. The other day, I was working from my living room and I looked up and I saw on the ceiling a projection from a window of the sun coming through the branches of the trees. You have this colorful tree forest projection on the ceiling and I sent it to Sandro and I was like, “This is such a natural occurrence and it’s what we’re trying to do.” That’s what it is. Everything that comes, he’s the biggest inspiration. Inspiration comes from natural things.
Sandro: The number one creator is the god. The number one artist. It’s god who designed all this, who created all this. Everything has a design, everything has a meaning, even technology. Everything has life. For us, we want to leave something behind. My belief is you come naked, you go naked. I can’t take anything with me. It’s not about building a business, it’s just to do what we love to do. To dream with a creator that created all of us.
Tati: When you talk more about people, we were in Barcelona three or four years ago and we were exploring the works of Gaudí. I think that was a big inspiration in the way that he took nature and was inspired by that. Also, his dedication to his work and his principles, he was giving everything to see his buildings built and his messages delivered, rather than being worried about fame. At least on my end, that was a big inspiration. If you’re really focused on what’s important to you, that’s real happiness. No matter how many hours you work or how your day is structured.
Sandro: The dream job is to keep on dreaming. That’s what pushes you forward. If you wake up without dreams and goals, the day is worthless.
Artechouse has officially celebrated its first anniversary. What surprised you from your first year? What did you not expect?
Sandro: For me… I knew what we were doing, but at the same time, the biggest surprise is to see the emotions of people who experience what we do. I see people crying, I see people laughing and jumping and dancing. The other day, I had a couple sitting at the bar and I just passed by and the guy went to the bathroom and the lady stopped me. She said, “I know you’re the founder and you’re the one who created this,” and I was like, “Yes!” and she said, “I just want to thank you, actually, you just saved my marriage.”
Sandro: Yeah, I guess the time that the coupled spent in the exhibit sparked something. That’s the most important thing. To make sure we affect everyone. That’s what art is.
Tati: The ways people can get touched, sometimes we can’t expect it until it happens. Last summer, I remember it almost brought me to tears, was when the staff told us that we had a family with a child with disabilities who visited at least four times. The mother had never seen her son so happy and so able to connect with something. She said, “I’ve taken him all over the place, to see different art and theaters.” And the way that he was able to enjoy himself, and the way he was able to interact, she was like, “I’ve never seen it.”
You do things because you enjoy it, and you hope that others will, and hearing the stories of people and the ways it touched them is something you don’t expect. It makes it so much more meaningful.
Sandro: If that’s not art, I don’t know what art is.