Emptiness

A Collective Video-Collage: The Jarti Gleaners

“The Jarti Gleaners” by Tamta Khalvashi was one of four works featured in the online Art Exhibition for the “Emptiness: Ways of Seeing” conference, held on 30 September 2021. Most of the photographs and video clips included in the video-collage are from people who took part in this project as ‘accidental ethnographers’ and capture their unintended encounters with scrap metal gatherers.

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This video-collage is a collective exploration of scrap metal collection in various Georgian cities and villages. It is assembled through accidental collective ethnographic inquiry in which not only ethnographers, but also ordinary citizens alike, are involved in capturing with their mobile phones transient movements and the precarious labour of scrap metal gatherers. The way in which this collective ethnographic accident came to be was by asking people to film their unintended encounters with scrap metal gatherers. But the initial impetus for such an experiment came from numerous videos and photos that I noticed people were posting in different social media platforms. The form of this video then repeats the form of the social action and reaction.

The scrap metal gatherers or jartis shemgroveblebi in Georgia drive around different neighborhoods of the cities and villages with their worn-out Soviet Ladas to call out for scrap metal collection through sound amplifiers. People who wish to get rid of old radiators – once connected to the Soviet central heating system – outdated air conditioners, stoves, or even parts of broken elevators carrying valuable metal in them, give away these items from their often-crumbling residential spaces. More often than not, this is the only source of income for scrap metal gatherers, and sometimes for scrap metal recyclers, too. Scrap metal gatherers then are like urban gleaners, living off the remnants of what has been left behind by the Soviet and post-Soviet state formations. For they are constantly on the lookout for the fragments and leftovers of broken infrastructures containing aluminum, tin, copper or brass, by appearing and disappearing from the streets of Georgia in search of a metal harvest. See the collective video-collage:

As we watch an ensemble of videos featuring various cars driving around with scrap metal items secured to their roofs, we do not see or know where these cars and their scrap metal actually come from, and where they go. Collection of ethnographic material is a similar endeavor, as we collect things often not knowing what will come out of them, what form they will take in our own work, or where they will go. In this sense, this video is also a way to think about and reflect upon anthropological fieldwork. This ethnographic experiment also enables us to see a certain practical homology between researchers and urban gleaners. Both of them are involved in an accidental encounter with and collection of broken material which they need to notice and reuse in their own work. Gleaning or reusing of broken materials, like scrap metal or poor quality videos, show the shared value of broken things or images. In a recent review of ethnographic engagements with reuse, Cindy Isenhour and Joshua Reno (2019: 3) formulate reuse practices as a form of ‘carework’, in which discarded, broken things come to matter “in terms of what they are composed of and what else they can be made to accomplish”. Production of poor quality videos and collection of scrap metal could both be conceived of as a form of ‘carework’, for they are invested in what I prefer to call an ethics of noticing things and people that otherwise are considered marginal and meaningless.[1]This work is part of the research project Tbilisi as Urban an Assemblage funded by Rustaveli Foundation.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 This work is part of the research project Tbilisi as Urban an Assemblage funded by Rustaveli Foundation.

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