Producing Space: Having Wine, Playing Nardi with Friends, and Taking Care of Customers
Meaning is context-bound, but context is boundless – Jonathan Culler
Eliava, GeoAir, and the Images
Below are pictures that I took in a section of the Eliava market in Tbilisi that offers second-hand car parts, as well as some new parts. Second-hand tires brought from Europe, parts of Soviet-era cars, and parts of cars that are damaged in car accidents predominate the commodities exchanged in this corner of Eliava.
For different reasons car accidents are frequent in Georgia.
The pictures were taken during late spring and early summer of 2014. I also visited the market in 2017.
In 2014, I accompanied four GeoAir resident artists who were doing their art work under a project called Discover Eliava. There were two conceptual artists, who did most of their work on in one of the market stalls on the ground level, and two sculptors, who did their work on the second floor of a structure under construction. I stayed at both places in order to observe, interact with people, and take pictures. I also moved around the market and took photos.
This was not the first time the Eliava market was a site for artistic encounters and exhibitions. In 2012 a group of artists from different parts of the world, in addition to some Georgian artists and members of the Georgian public participated in a project at the Eliava market.
I would like to thank GeoAir and the resident artists who let me to join them as an observer.
My special thanks go to those who work at the market and gave me the opportunity of observing and recordings their work, interactions and bonds of friendship. I observed how they perpetuated their bonds and produced their place/space on a daily basis, in (for the majority) precarious conditions. They did this in a particular urban public space, in a market site in Tbilisi, with a post-soviet history, and, in multiple ways, imbedded in the complex and dynamic global neoliberal capitalist economy.
I have organized the pictures with a mobility/immobility framework in mind.
As the below text indicates, the (im)mobility framework has its advantages and challenges:
“We argue for the importance of anthropology to “take on” mobility and discuss the advantages of the ethnographic approach in doing so. What is the analytical purchase of mobility as one of the root metaphors in contemporary anthropological theorizing? What are the (dis)advantages of looking at the current human condition through the lens of mobility? There is a great risk that the fast-growing field of mobility studies neglects different interpretations of what is going on, or that only patterns that fit the mobilities paradigm will be considered, or that only extremes of (hyper)mobility or (im)mobility will be given attention. The ethnographic sensibilities of fieldworkers who learn about mobility while studying other processes and issues, and who can situate movement in the multiple contexts between which people move, can both extend the utility of the mobilities approach, and insist on attention to other dynamics that might not be considered if the focus is first and last on (im)mobility as such.”
Post-Soviet Public Space Petty Bourgeois Urban Movements
It is said that by the 1980s the (petite bourgeoise) desires for an apartment and a car was dominant in the Soviet Union. Eliava is, mainly, a market for car- and house-related commodities. They are from different industries, and have different networks of mobility of commodities related to planetary urbanization.
The mass apartment building project started in late 1950s. This type of housing, called Khrushchyovka, can be seen on the other side of the street to the west of Eliava.
The Eliava market is one of those markets that emerged suddenly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some of these markets, like those in Bazorba, around the central train and metro station, emerged as extensions of a previous market. But the Eliava market emerged in an “empty” (socialist state) space in a central part of Tbilisi.
Creation of such markets were “urban movements” in spatial, economic, and social terms.
These were revolutionary movements, in the sense of their sudden emergence. They continue to be a site for urban daily resistance movements, in the sense of their negotiated continuation after the liminal years of transformation to a capitalistic era.
Spatially, they are about taking over of soviet state/public space and its contestation in the post-soviet era by people who became full-time or part-time members of a growing population who took over public/state space for their economic activities —such as sidewalks, areas around metro or bus stops, or areas either in the cities or their peripheries that were not under usage, like the Eliava market.
Economically, they represent an informal, or from below, movement away from the formal soviet economy, towards a neoliberal economy, practiced both informally and formally by petty commodity owners.
Socially, they have become a new urban site for places of both work and sociability, that is production of “second and third places” in dynamic and precarious post-soviet integration into global capitalist economy.
The stalls are spaces the emerged by (informal) practices of citizens in the immediate post-soviet years.
Some of the people who operate at the stalls sell second-hand items made during the soviet times, they sell the soviet past, but there are also those who sell new car parts (but mostly of soviet-era cars), or a mixture of new and second-hand parts. They come from different educational backgrounds. Many stall-operators have university degrees, mostly acquired during the soviet period, but, for some, during the post-soviet years.
In addition to the stalls, there are newly constructed shops that sell second-hand tires, or new parts.
Construction of new buildings and infrastructure was going on during the time I took photos.
Changing Cars and Shops/Stalls
Two set of connected transformations are noticeable at the market :
1) Transformation Related to Cars (car mobility-related) – A transformation from a soviet-car economy to a post-soviet car-related economy of petty merchants that are connected to the capitalist global economy.
2) Transformation Related to (Immobile) Shops/Stalls – a transformation from stalls created after the collapse of the soviet union (by independent individuals) to newly constructed buildings to be rented as shops (where the state and the finance economy play their dominant roles).
One could, perhaps, talk about the market as a site for multiple ambiguous temporalities.
Mobile and Immobile Economic Actors
Furthermore, those who make a living in the market could also be categorized into two groups:
1) Those who operate via (Immobile) stalls/shops.
These are mostly males, except females who have their stalls cooking or make coffee/tea and could also deliver – their stalls are around the edges of the market.
2) Those who sell their commodities by being mobile at the market on foot (carrying their products or pushing modified baby carts, mostly sell their commodities to the first group). Most of mobile sellers are female. The push-cart operators that carry loads are males.
I like posting B/W pictures, but color pictures may include more
Nardi has its own mobilities/immobilities
Nardi is a popular board game in the Caucasus, and countries around that region.
It is a game that is played by males in urban public spaces (like markets, parks, sidewalks, street corners) by those whose work time is filled with long periods of waiting for customers, or those who are retired. It is also played at homes, in rooms and courtyards.
It is an ancient game, similar boardgames have been found by archaeologist in the Mesopotamia (Ur) and south eastern Iran (Burnt City).
It is considered to be the classic game of skills plus chance, and thus representing real life more than chess.
It is a game played by two, but others join as involved audience.
In the market it is played by neighbors-friends; those who work in shops or stalls situated close to each other.
Playing nardi (or observing it played and occasionally participating) forms a particular punctuated and varied time-period of “play/leisure/social activity/waiting-for-work” that is part of the workday of those involved.
Not everybody at the market plays nardi. Some play more than others, and there are some who don’t play at all.
There are people who are interested in other board games, like chess or dominos.
People at the market do not bet playing nardi (or table boards). Monetary transactions are not involved in these game/play activities.
During the play the bodies of the players (and even spectators of the game) get closer to each other. Playing nardi has its own form of embodiment, skills/knowledge, and materiality.
Punctuating Work day with Nardi (Play/Leisure)
Work – Changing Tires
Playing backgammon is stopped by arrival of a customer.
The shops and stalls are operated by small mercantile owners.
The shop-owners could employ wage labor to complete their transactions with their customers.
Changing the tires is a labour intensive activity with its own skills, and forms of knowledge/skill, materiality, embodiment, and masculinity.
In a hot and slow day workday could be punctuated by siesta immobility.
A supra (feast) also means a halt in playing nardi
A new passage (road) is constructed next to the a building under construction, yet the checkers players continue their game next to the working bulldozer.
The mobile sellers register their credit-based transactions.
One sells cigarettes, the other socks, they are Georgian-Armenians, very close friends. and are usually mobile in the market together.
She got the order, now going to her stall to prepare coffee.
Carrying coffee to the customer
Sunflower Seeds Mobilities
She was a truck driver during the soviet times, and drove even to central Asia.
Now, walks in the market and sells sunflower seeds.
Seasonal (Items of Desire) Mobilities
Khachapori is something desired in all seasons, but there are also seasonal items of desire.
Other mobile sellers
Requires skills and knowledge about the products gathered, and demand for them.
A mobile gatherer and a mobile seller
Mobile Between Europe and China
Car owners come to this part of the market to change their old tires with second-hand tires brought from Europe. It is said that he old tires, like those in the corner, are sent to China.