#01- 25: What is the use of art?
Alexei Penzin – Dmitry Vilensky /// What’s the Use? Art, Philosophy, and Subjectivity Formation
Dmitry Vilensky: The theme of our number is formulated in the style of “crude thought,” which often asks art or critical reflection a simple question: “What’s the use of what you do?” This question can, of course, provoke a quite negative reaction: it might be regarded as completely out of bounds, naive or just meaningless. If we take a closer look, however, we’ll find that it is both legitimate and essential. It is clear that when we analyze it, we arrive at the traditional problem of the difference between the exchange and use values of everything produced by human activity. Today, we can hardly take seriously the idea that art’s importance has to do with its anti-functionality, with its eluding attempts to instrumentalize it on the part of the culture industry or direct political action. The idea of the modernist object’s “silence” is merely reinforced by the astronomically high price it commands on the market. The idea that art should dissolve into life, that it should be totally abolished in favor of daily life’s most basic functions, can likewise hardly be taken seriously. Based on the opposition between “to have” and “to be,” this old rhetoric risks descending into pure moralizing. How can we today find a way to continue not only the project of Bildung—the process of individual development via aesthetic education (despite all the obvious sympathy for it)—but also find a new continuation for the project of art and thought as a “coming out under the open sky of the sense of solidarity” (Schiller)? From Schiller’s time on, the goal of art as aesthetic education was the harmonious development of the individual, the formation of a whole man capable of creativity. This concept, however, was oriented toward the individual bourgeois subject: in the final analysis, it leads to the formation of the egoistic individual. It is clear that a return to this concept today would be reactionary, which is exactly what the last Documenta proved.
David Riff /// When art once again becomes useful
1. When we ask “what is the use of art?” today, it immediately sounds like an admission of ontological guilt. Aesthetic enjoyment, still the use of art par excellence, is nowhere to be found, at least not in its messianic form. Art is generalized into production and now works on a much more modest scale; sometimes it makes people think, sometimes it makes them smile, sometimes it makes them ask the right questions, and that’s all we should aim for, right? Wrong. Because it gets much worse.
Igor Chubarov /// Productionism: Art of the Revolution or Design for the Proletariat?
The now-traditional view of the Russian avant-garde and Constructivism, which limits itself to two or three big names (Kandinsky, Malevich) or discrete works by leading figures (Rodchenko, Tatlin), reduces not only the sociopolitical context of these artistic phenomena, but also the dominant form in which they existed during their historical period—namely, as a form of Productionist art, which conceived itself as a species of collective artistic labor. It was a social practice that aimed at the revolutionary renewal of society and the creation of new types of relations among people—communist relations, to be precise. It was an art that could not imagine the creation of new artistic forms happening outside the transformation of social forms, and by this transformation it had in mind the production of “forms of intercourse” (Marx).
Lolita Jablonskiene in Conversation with Dmitry Vilensky /// Spaces for Art, Political Learning, and Subjectivation
Lolita Jablonskiene: I would like to start our conversation with a historical note, taking a glance at Alexander Rodchenko’s Workers’ Club. After all, you chose to reference its title in the name of your project. I know that you have some interesting and rarely published material on Rodchenko’s Club? What is it and why does it appeal to you?
Dmitry Vilensky: The idea of the Activist Club diverges from the original concept of the Workers’ Club introduced in the USSR in the mid-1920s and represented by the famous piece made by Alexander Rodchenko. Created in 1925 for the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, it was never produced in real life. So it was a sort of a model of how such a places should be organized.
John Roberts /// Productivism and Its Contradictions. A Short History of Productivism
Lenin’s decision to reintroduce certain aspects of the free market into the Soviet Union after the ravages of War Communism was a form of what might be called ‘revolutionary pragmatism’. The industrial base of the country was devastated, the working class atomised, and peasant discontent widespread, and therefore, a modicum of modernity had to be restored immediately. Without this, Lenin surmised, the fledgling revolution could be split apart and lost by the failure of the new state to meet simple, everyday needs.
Devin Fore /// Soviet Factography: Production Art in an Information Age
If facts destroy theory, then all the better for theory.
—Viktor Shklovsky, “In Defense of the Sociological Method,” 1927
Any discussion of factography first has to deal with the conspicuous strangeness of the word “factography” itself, an awkward and selfconsciously technicist term coined in Russia in the latter half of the 1920s to designate a certain aesthetic practice preoccupied with the inscription of facts. Those who are familiar with contemporaneous avant-garde movements in other countries and who may also be skeptical of the early Soviet zeal for linguistic invention will wonder if factography is not simply another word for documentary.
Keti Chukhrov /// On the Use and Harm of Art for Life
It is a commonplace that art is useless, that art is not utilitarian. This is in fact the case. However, art’s anti-utilitarianism often implies elitism, while, on the contrary, the resistance to elitism often results in the instrumentalization of art, in the application of its idioms towards one or another practical end.
- Вальтер Беньямин /// Автор как производитель
- Борис Арватов /// Искусство как производство
- Давид Аркин /// Искусство бытовой вещи
- Declaration of October group
- Benjamin Buhloh /// From Faktura to Factography
- Devin Fore /// The Operative Word in Soviet Factography
- Sven Lütticken /// Attending to abstract things
- M. Stewart // The absolute artwork meets the absolute commodity
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