Chto Delat? / What is to be Done?

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The collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?) was founded in early 2003 in Petersburg by a workgroup of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism.

The group was constituted in May 2003 in St. 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 century writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and immediately brings to mind the first socialist worker’s self-organizations in Russia, which Lenin actualized in his own publication, “What is to be done?” (1902). Chto Delat sees itself as a self-organized platform for a variety of cultural activities intent on politicizing “knowledge production” through redefinitions of an engaged autonomy for cultural practice today.

The array of activities is coordinated by a core group including following members:

Tsaplya Olga Egorova (artist, Petersburg), Artiom Magun (philosopher, Petersburg), Nikolay Oleynikov (artist, Moscow), Natalia Pershina/Glucklya (artist, Petersburg), Alexey 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 realized 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


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Исключенные. В момент опасности. /// The Excluded. In a Moment of Danger (web copy – official version

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Исключенные. В момент опасности. /// The Excluded. In a Moment of Danger (web copy – official version from chto delat on Vimeo.

This video film is official version made on the base of 4 channel video installation

In this video installation we are looking for a new language, adequate at least in part to the new situation in politics (and life in general), in which we suddenly find ourselves. When we began to work on this project, the situation in Russia was bad, but we knew what to expect from it and how to act. Now we stand on the threshold of a senseless and despicable war; what remains of public space is disappearing before our eyes; and we have no levers of political influence. The government brazenly declares a state of emergency, and society answers with full support. Meanwhile there are practically no forces capable of even reflecting upon this danger, let alone resisting it. The situation recalls a nightmare in which one’s habitual reality begins unraveling at the seams. What we thought impossible yesterday is met with enthusiasm today. What kind of art is possible now? Or is it altogether impossible?

We understand that any clear and complete statement will sound false now. To construct such a statement would require at least an approximate understanding of the logic of what is taking place, but this logic is so absurd that it resists all analysis. And so we have taken a different path. We invited our friends and students (graduates of the School of Engaged Art) to participate in our project and try to describe the situation in which we find ourselves together. At first glance it could seem like we are trying to use collectivity as a powerful tool in the creation of art. But, unfortunately, this is not the case. We used to think that collectivity is necessary in order to be strong, but now we realize it is necessary simply to maintain one’s sanity.

The starting point for our film was the fate of Ippolit Myshkin, a militant Russian narodnik and tragic figure of the Russian Revolution. All his undertakings invariably ended in failure, but it was precisely this man’s speeches, pronounced while on trial, that changed the consciousness of Russian society. All his life was devoted to a total concatenation of strength and weakness, victory and defeat. He is an ideal Unlucky Hero, and his image is extraordinarily relevant today, when all of us, whatever our personal successes or joys of self-realization, feel like failures. We are dissidents (what in Russian today is called a national-traitor). We are the excluded. We are excluded from this society, in which 80% of the population supports the war. We are excluded from public life. Our voice is heard less and less, excluded and cut off from the chorus of voices as something harmful and unnecessary. But not so long ago everything seemed possible: the Russian protests of 2011-12 and the Ukrainian Maidan of 2013 gave us hope that all together (it was only necessary to rise up!) we could change the situation. We had only begun to rise when life went all to hell.

What can be done with this state of affairs? We must recognize our failure: here it is before us. We lost. But we are prepared to learn from our mistakes. Where were our mistakes? What were they? Where did we go wrong? This film tests these questions in a situation that has shown all our radiant, seemingly proven intellectual constructions to be inoperative. If we can accept the challenge of these questions, then we can hope at some point to find pathways to transform our weakness into strength, our defeat into victory.

The film was realized in collaboration with graduates
of the Chto Delat School of Engaged Art

Film Concept, set and edit: Vilensky Dmitry & Tsaplya Olga Egorova

Director: Tsaplya Olga Egorova

The film features texts written by all participants: Lilu S. Deil
 / Jenya Shirjaeva / Olga Shirokostup / Anastasia Vepreva / Lia Guseyn-Zade 
 / Olya Kurachyova / Alexey Markin / Dani Dugum / Tim / Georgy Rafailov / Roman Osminkin/ Anya Tereshkina / Anya Isidis / Marina Maraeva / Ilya Yakovenko / Sonya Akimova

Choreography: Nina Gasteva and Mikhail Ivanov

The scenes with voices were conducted by Mikhail Griboedov and Nikolay Oleynikov

Director of Photography: Artyom Ignatov

Object and costumes: Alyona Petit

Makeup: Natalya Vostrjakova

Assistant cameraman: Andrey Nesteruk

Street scene: Camera by Dmitry Vilensky

Director of Sound: Alexander Dudarev

The film was shot at the studio at Lendofilm in St. Petersburg

This film was made possible with support from Seccesion
(Vereinigung bildender KünstlerInnen Wiener Secession);
the Kunstbunker / Forum für zeitgenössische Kunst, Nürnberg
and the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo,

All visual materials used in the film were taken from open sources. In the case of unintentional copyright violation for a given image, please contact KOW Gallery Berlin

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Festival “Poor Dialectics”

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poverty/poor/the poor/ – addressing these concepts immediately places us within the harsh confines of dialectical relations. It compels us to think in terms of oppositions:

weak – strong

little – big

fragmentary – whole

infirm – all-powerful

poor man – rich man

extranormative – normative

oppressed – oppressor

colonized – colonizer

and so on.


We know that the problem of poverty relates to theology – a certain religious view of the way the world is organized, though at the same time liberation theology sees in poverty both the source of sin and the potential for salvation. But not the kind of salvation that translates certain qualities into their opposites (that which is poor becomes wealth and strength); salvation understood as a mystical, transformative event, negating all divisions and leading to the creation of a new world, in which the oppositions of the previous world have been dismantled. How can that happen? In the past, this type of transformation was called revolution, the coming of the messiah, or kenosis. The term “kenosis” signifies Christ’s self-abasement through becoming human, to the point of willingly accepting the agony of the cross and death. Kenosis represented an act of self-abnegation – Jesus renounced his unlimited divine power, becoming embodied in human form and assuming the image of a slave, while yet not ceasing to be god. By this act, he demonstrates the possibility of a new type of transformation, constitutive of his authority: refusal of power for the sake of obtaining what is greater than power – justice, the equality of each with all, surmounting life’s finitude. More recently, similar theological premises have often provided the foundation for a multitude of philosophical conceptions – consider Badiou’s criticism of Agamben in his book Logic of Worlds, where he speaks of “being as weakness,” a weakness that at the same time corresponds to what Badiou calls the “delicate, almost secret persistence of life, that which remains to one who has nothing left.”

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