Rhisoma Lab: the intercultural hub for creatives in Tbilisi
January 31, 2024

Rhisoma Lab: the intercultural hub for creatives in Tbilisi

In the centre of Tbilisi, groups of creatives are solving real spatial problems with environmentally and socially sustainable approaches. Established through the support of the European Union, under the EU4Culture project, Rhisoma Lab offers its ever-evolving community of architects and designers the opportunity to defy hierarchical standards, offering rhizomatic project development processes, access to equipment, and creative networks for anyone who is interested.

After arriving in Georgia, Belarusian architect George Zaborski said he found that “a lot of the so-called forced migrants of the new wave are very capable of doing projects, which are at the intersection of social and creative spheres.” He also felt that individuals like him were not integrated into the local social fabric and were only networking within their bubbles. Keen to find ways of establishing non-hierarchical connections between creative communities of locals and expats, George was jotting down ideas in his notebook.

EU4Culture opportunity: a catalyst for implementing a new idea

Soon afterwards, he learned about an EU-supported EU4Culture call for applications for Belarusian artists interested in developing Cultural and Cross-Innovation Projects. According to George, the call served as a motivation and “a tool to switch from just thinking about [the project] to having a real design”. The application to EU4Culture for the Rhisoma Lab thus became the foundation for implementing a platform for building and empowering decentralised creative communities.

From November 2022 to June 2023, with the EU-funded grant of €25,000, George and his colleagues were able to access the equipment and space necessary for developing a lab and environment for networking and collaboration. Rhisoma Lab was established in a 19th century building in Tbilisi, connecting to an Italian garden and a tightly knit neighbourhood of locals.

The Rhisoma Lab community

Now, made up of approximately 150 members, Rhisoma Lab provides architects, designers, and other creatives with equipment and spaces. Within the ever-growing non-hierarchical and inter-cultural community structure, architects and designers from Belarus and Georgia are utilising Rhisoma Lab to develop projects, network, and provide, as well as receive, consultations. The goal of connecting Belarusian creatives with local communities and supporting them in overcoming the “overwhelming anxiety and total loss of their own relevancy in the new and terrible circumstances” is thus being achieved.

“The core community consists of 50 individuals and its outer part of around 150 people,” says George, “we have no straight borders and that is why we call the project Rhisoma. Trying to show the possibility of non-hierarchical and inclusive structures is especially important considering all the political events – the protests and repressions in Belarus and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Partnering with Georgian institutions and creatives

George points out that, within the framework offered by the EU-supported Rhisoma Lab, Belarusians and Georgians are actively partnering on various projects. Currently, in collaboration with the Centre for Contemporary Arts Tbilisi (CCA), the community of architects and designers are at the forefront of the spatial conceptualisation of an educational facility for artists and local farmers near the historic site of Uplistsikhe. He points out that the establishment is meant to foster artistic mediation – “a dialogue with farmers, and local activists, along with an art residence to help artists participate in this process.” Rhisoma Lab supports CCA in defining the vision of the lean, green, and affordable physical design of the educational facility.

“To design such a green building, we realised that we need to know a lot about the local historical construction,” George points out, emphasising that “sustainable architecture uses the local experiences of ordinary historical structures such as houses, structures for cattle, and not of historical monuments.” This approach, according to him, is suitable for sourcing construction materials, which are available in the area, making the development process more cost-effective.

The art of community gatherings

Through face-to-face, online, and hybrid gatherings, Rhisoma Lab shares updates about their ongoing projects, including about the educational facility on the bank of the Mtkvari river. This is done to ensure that processes are inclusive, with diverse groups of people involved in them. “We are a team of experts in the 21st century, almost in the second part of it,” says George, adding that “knowledge is spread – the main thing is to listen and combine the perspectives of different persons.” He adds that standard networking events last for “two hours and two hours later you just say bye to each other.” This is why, he states, “you have to collaborate over something” for a gathering of creatives to have longer-lasting community building, as well as collaborative effects. 

The community also gathers regularly to listen to presentations by keynote speakers. During such events, field experts share with the multicultural community of creatives innovative solutions such as 3D printing and computer-aided design for creating realistic building and product visualisations.

Additionally, Rhisoma Lab, in partnership with Georgian institutions such as CCA, has organised a multicultural exhibition where artists from Georgia, Switzerland, Russia, Ukraine, Iran, and Poland took part. Therefore, beyond architecture and industrial design, the project is also delving into broader directions within the creative industries.

Rhisoma Lab’s present and future

The equipment and the events held at Rhisoma Lab have laid the ground for 12 productive collaborations between Belarusian and Georgian creatives. The community of architects and designers has been involved in five projects for Georgian institutions and two global initiatives. Thus, Rhisoma Lab’s initial objective of ‘building bridges and connections’ between Belarusian creative migrants and Georgian society has been achieved and continues to evolve.

The success of Rhisoma Lab is also apparent in its economic sustainability – beyond the EU4Culture grant, the community has been able to raise funds from other donor institutions and partners. Moreover, the project has been branching out beyond Georgia, establishing ties with architects and designers living in the European Union and Armenia. George thinks that Rhisoma Lab offers “a possible model for the future”. According to him, the project serves to acquire skills of mediating horizontal, less hierarchical processes, which can then spread in other regions. With environmental sustainability, inclusivity, equality, among other horizontal issues at the heart of the projects and event themes, the community of at Rhisoma Lab hence continues growing in a rhizomatic manner, characterised by decentralised, interconnected, and adaptable spatial layouts that challenge traditional hierarchical approaches. “We should not try to sell something to someone but solve real problems,” says George, “the real philosophy of design is to solve problems”.

About EU4Culture’s support of cross-innovation projects from Belarus

Through two calls for applications, the EU4Culture project has already provided financial assistance to 28 cultural and cross-innovation projects of artists and cultural professionals from Belarus. The aim of the grant opportunities is promote culture and creative industries as resources for socio-economic development, inclusion, and citizen participation, while enhancing intercultural dialogue, as well as knowledge exchange among the creatives from Belarus.

EU4Culture is a four-year project funded by the European Union to support the culture and creative sector with a special focus on non-capital cities and towns in the Eastern Partnership Countries. The project is implemented by Goethe-Institut (Lead), Czech Centers, Danish Cultural Institute and Institut Français de Géorgie.

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