A Conversation about Possibilities, about Power and Powerlessness; about Labor, about Faithfulness to the Event; about the Realization of the (Post-)Soviet Experience; about Ascesis, the New Barbarism, and the Ecstasy of Consumption; about Bare Life and Superfluous People; and about How to Be Ahead of Onesel
Dmitry Vilensky: As we begin our conversation about potentialities, we need to make a precise link to our contemporary reality. We need to try and discover what potentialities are arising now, in a period that, in the last issue of this newspaper, we characterized as reactionary. As we found out when we talked with a number of people, both in Russia and elsewhere, most of our interlocutors are in a state of disenchantment; they spoke of their melancholy, of feeling disoriented. That is to say, many people who were full of hope not so long ago (when, as it seemed, a new set of possibilities opened up) now have a greater and greater sense of limits, of the impossibility of realizing their potential. An important personal experience for me was the failure to mobilize for the Petersburg counter summit: the opposition demonstrated its bankruptcy at all levels; the limitations of the movement became quite apparent. Of course everyone loses heart and says to himself, Well, whatever: I'll mind my own business, worry about my career, make some money, take care of my family. One guy escapes into Buddhism, another into Russian Orthodoxy; some people retreat into everything all at once. Once again we see a boom of esoteric practices. Once again the question arises: if our ability to realize our desires and possibilities is more and more limited, then where are our potentialities formed-potentialities that, I persist in hoping, might be actualized by the course of history?
"The past is never dead. It's not even past." [William Faulkner]
We decided to be not so interested in a number of things: in art in general, for a start, in art history as a discrete discipline, and in culture, as art's more cheerful other. Instead, we are much more interested in artistic productions as significant documents of their historical setting, in art history's cutting out the political revolution from revolutionary artistic productions and in culture as a momentous subdivision of general production.
In the ''Space for Actualisation'' we are attempting to work on another form of cut-out, one which plays out possibilities against realities, which measures its cuttings by the hopes it has for the present and which takes the past not for what it was, but for what it could be: An Actualisation is a cut-out from the past, pulled into the present to actualise its potentials and to supersede its own role in a history, whose revolutionary phases were much too short-lived and rare.
More than five years after the insurrection of that Argentine December of 2001 we bear witness to the changing interpretations and moods around that event. For many of us sadness was the feeling that accompanied a phase of this winding becoming. This text rescues a moment in the elaboration of "that sadness" in order to go beyond the notions of "victory and defeat" that belong to that earlier cycle of politicization which centered on taking state power, and, at the same time, in order to share a procedure that has allowed us to "make public" an intimate feeling of people and groups.
Remembering a famous statement by Augustine, we might agree that is not easy to speak about what time is. But it is easy to speak about the fact that there is no time. One of the characteristic traits of the new quotidian of recent years can be found its special temporality. "I can't, I don't have time!" is something one hears quite often, not only among overworked business executives, but also in the various "creative industries," in the arts, and even in academia. People of the older generation still remember a Soviet temporality that made it possible to dedicate years of unhurried reading to eccentric scholarly undertakings lacking any exterior goal. Against the backdrop of today's time deficit, such memories sound like nostalgic legends.
I recently came across a medical term called "mimetic labor,"which means a false start in pregnancy. Painful contractions begin, but the cervix does not dilate. Potentiality rises to a peak. The bubble seems about to burst into actuality. But it doesn't happen. The contractions subside, and pregnancy continues. In English, labor means both the contractions of childbirth and reified work, so that there is a somewhat dodgy metaphorical link to what mimesis does and can do as a mode of actualization.
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Managers of the culture system and private possessors of art pin their hopes on art's futures. The beer brand Beck's, for example, calls its art sponsorship programme Beck's Futures. Financial software service company Bloomberg manage a programme called ARTfutures: For those in the market for cutting edge contemporary art, whether first-time buyers, or new or committed collectors, the Contemporary Art Society's annual ARTfutures, is a "must see"', states the call to collectors in 2007. What is that future that art managers so confidently claim to dictate or discover? On the one hand a simply economic calculation. It signals to collectors buy here, buy now, for future return. Bloomberg tracks and predicts emerging markets as well as emerging artists. Beck's is a brand worthy of investment, so too its hallowed artists. Of course, it cannot just be this and Beck's Future's, like all such projects, claims that the future it is interested in is the artist's own, allowing its successful sponsees to develop their work. The future in art has a long tradition: it is an element of avant-garde production. Better-world-boosters - futurists, constructivists, productivists - conceived blueprints for the future. This did not mean that art re-presented tangible images of future worlds. Rather it instituted modes of non-commodified production - collaborative, or refusing single authorship in the bourgeois sense by subjection to the public statement of the manifesto. And they piloted transformed social relations by what Brecht called refunctioning'. As Benjamin wrote of Brecht's practice in The Author as Producer' (1934), refunctioning is the transformation of the forms and the instruments of production in the way desired by a progressive intelligentsia-that is, one interested in freeing the means of production and serving the class struggle'. In the case of the Soviet artists especially there was some justification for functional transformation of the forms of art in an effort to test run new social relations and skills. The Soviet avant garde operated in times of transformation, not least times of transformation for art, which emerged from the galleries and museums, dropped its preoccupation with individualistic artists, instead organising itself into agit-prop groupings, grasping towards new technological forms of expression, and rushing forward to meet its audience on newly defined terms.
Frans Josef Petersson: Two years ago you initiated Konsthall C in Hökarängen, a suburb south of Stockholm, as a part of your artistic practice. The project can be described as a reflection on a political model - the social democratic welfare state, the just society, the 'Swedish model' or whatever one may call it - as this was manifested in the planning and construction of Stockholm from the 30s onward. What does Konsthall C and Hökarängen signify for you, and what do you think about the model they represent?
Monday, in front of a cash machine at Siam Square in Bangkok. I wonder if it is a video module of some sort or if I am standing in front of a machine that actually will provide me with a financial service. On the screen there is a moving image of a smiling man, dressed in yellow and jewellery that I recognise as the Royal Highness of Thailand - the King. Why is he on this cash machine greeting me before I insert my VISA card?
A moment later: inside the enormous shopping centre in line for the toilet. I notice that a majority of the people here wear yellow t-shirts. The walls inside the rest room are made of thin frosted glass and the entire interior is exclusively designed in steel and stone. Large flat screens are inserted in the thin glass and they scream out a diversity of commercials for us in need.
What options of personal and collective imagination are still open in a society whose "Shop till You Drop" consumerism philosophy gets strongest opponent in the Catholic Church and whose primary patterns of social behavior are patriarchal representations of national identities? Can there be a rift, a critical change in perception that will unearth complex relationships that that keep getting ignored, made unfashionable by their lack of "New Europe glamour" and non-marketability, swept under carpet or even openly suppressed, such as relationship to the past and construct of history, negative impact of economic transition, questions of national identity and nationalism, post-war normalization, pro-EU orientation and status of ethnic minorities (primarily Serbian) in contemporary Croatian society?
The image of an activist, a protester, a demonstrator...
Some years ago I worked on a film, "Exterior City", in which I wanted to investigate some thoughts and images about urban planning in the light of social democracy and its history of turning 'masses' - a idea of a disorderly, disruptive and chaotic force of bodies - into 'a people', implying an orderly collective entity with direction and name. Part of my investigation was carried by my curiousity for how this production of 'people' (or 'citizens') was in many ways contingent on organization of an address and articulation of a demand.
Is today's working class subaltern? Or, to paraphrase the title of Gayatri Spivak's notorious text: "can the working class speak?" At first glance, this question is shocking. At second glance, it seems misplaced. Can one really say that the working class faces the kind of radical exclusion from social representation that the notion of subalternity suggests? In the light of the worldwide spread of social democracy, and its countless trade unions and labor organizations, the question sounds paradoxical and even somewhat crazy. What does it mean to claim that today's working class is silent?
Chto Delat (What is to be done?) was founded in early 2003 in Petersburg by a workgroup of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism.
The group was founded in May 2003 in Petersburg in an action called “The Refoundation of Petersburg." Shortly afterwards, the original, as yet nameless core group began publishing an international newspaper called Chto Delat. The name of the group derives from a novel by the Russian 19th author Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and immediately brings reminiscences of the first socialist worker’s self-organizations in Russia, which Lenin actualized in his “What is to be done?” (1902). Chto delat sees itself as a self-organizing platform for cultural workers intent on politicizing their “knowledge production” through reflections and redefinitions of an engaged autonomy for cultural practice today.
The platform Chto delat is coordinated by a workgroup including following members:
Tsaplya Olga Egorova (artist, Petersburg), Artiom Magun (philosopher, Petersburg), Nikolai Oleinikov (artist, Moscow), Natalia Pershina/Glucklya (artist, Petersburg), Alexei Penzin (philosopher, Moscow), David Riff (art critic, Moscow), Alexander Skidan (poet, critic, Petersburg), Oxana Timofeeva (philosopher, Moscow), and Dmitry Vilensky (artist, Petersburg). In 2012 the choreographer Nina Gasteva has joined a collective after few years of intense collaboration. Since then many Russian and international artist and researchers has participated in different projects realised under the collective name Chto Delat (see descriptions of each projects on this web site)
Chto Delat collective in Kronstadt in 2005
Standing: from the right: Oleynikov, Gluklya, Timofeeva, Shuvalov, Tsaplya, Riff, Penzin
Sitting: Magun and Vilensky)
Our Principles: Self-Organization, Collectivism, Solidarity
The Chto Delat platform unites artists, philosophers, social researchers, activists, and all those whose aim is the collaborative realization of critical and independent research, publication, artistic, educational and activist projects. All of the platforms initiatives are based on the principles of selforganization and collectivism. These principles are realized through the political coordination of working groupsthe contemporary analogue of soviets.
The projects undertaken by any of these groups represent the entire platform and are closely coordinated with one another. At the same time, the existence of the platform creates a common context for interpreting the projects of its individual participants. We are likewise guided by the principle of solidarity. We organize and support mutual assistance networks with all grassroots groups who share the principles of internationalism, feminism, and equality.