Chto Delat publication
at Seccesion, Vienna
Posters Time line and Lexicon
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) – active till 2011, 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 2012). 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 operates through collective initiatives organized by “art soviets,” inspired by the council politics that originated in revolutionary Russia in the early 20th century. These “art soviets” want to trigger a new model of politics of collective work, based on the synthesis of participatory and representational politics. In general Chto Delat is based on the principles of initiatives and shared responsibilities which function as a counter-power that plans, localizes and executes projects collectively. Apart from artistic and research activities the Chto Delat also conceives itself as a new type of institution and community building tool. Each 3 core members of Chto Delat? have a right to initiate a new project unless other 3 members veto it.
Usually, this process results in a form of art displays and installations build around certain topics which include different media (video films, radio, graphics and murals, flags, learning theater and school), that, in turn, trigger new issues of the newspaper. Most of these projects have a two-fold intent: on the one hand, we are interested in the current development of leftist theory and artistic methods (dialectical realism, estrangement devices, situationism, militant research, institutional critique etc.) under post-socialist conditions and how these relate to parallel efforts elsewhere. At the same time, we have also often focused on actualizations of the potential of the Soviet past repressed in the course of Soviet history. Also Chto Delat experiments with a new forms of collective curatorial work which involves not just a core memeber of the collective but also other participants who share a protocols of participation offered by Chto Delat.
Since 2008 a part of collective has been developing new forms of music plays that are realized in the form of video films. We started to use this term to describe a special form of political musical where we introduce the audience to a set of characters acting in a particular historical situation and a singing chorus that comments on their position and behavior. This particular form and method refers to ancient tragedy and is also a specific development of the Brechtian method of estrangment, which through song and subversive dialogue reveals relations of power. All our songspiels, concert and musicals are attempts to create a new form of contemporary tragedy in which people (the public) call for consolidation in order to combat the collapse of society.
All of our projects have been accompanied by newspapers. Most of newspapers are fully bilingual (English/Russian). The editorial process draws artists, critics, activists and philosophers into a heated debate, that results in theoretical essays, art projects, open-source translations, questionnaires, dialogues, and comic strips. This take-away publication is distributed for free at congresses or exhibitions, social forums and rallies, where it reaches and forms different constituencies.
Since 2013 “Chto Delat” has established its own educational structure – The School of Engaged Art The school is working on permanent basis in Saint Petersburg but also engage into temporary projects internationally.
The activity of Chto Delat is developed under the Creative Common Licence. A complete set of issues, as well as documentations of art projects, video works, theater plays can be found on this site and on our FB page.