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)
Chto Delat works through collective initiatives organized by “art soviets,” inspired by the councils formed in revolutionary Russia during the early 20th century. These “art soviets” want to trigger a new model of the politics of collective work based on synthesis of participatory and representation 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 conventional set of artistic and research activity the Chto Delat also conceives itself as a new type of institution and community building tool.
Usually, this process results in artistic interventions, exhibitions, or artworks (video films, radio plays, graphics and murals, learning theater), which, 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 translatability and actualization of left theory (classical Marxism, post-structuralism, post-operaism, critical theory) and artistic methods (dialectical realism, estrangement devices, situationism, institutional critique etc.) under post-soicialist conditions and how this relates to parallel efforts elsewhere. On the other hand, we have also often focused on actualizations of the potential of the Soviet past repressed in the course of Soviet history.
Since 2008 a part of collective has been starting to develop a new forms of music plays which are realised in a form of video films. We started to use this term to describe a special form of political musical where we introduce to the audience a set of characters acting in a particular historical situation and a chorus that by singing 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 these projects have been accompanied by newspapers. The most of newspapers are fully bilingual (English/Russian). The editorial process draws artists, critics, activists and philosophers into a heated editorial debate, which 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 a broader cultural public. A complete set of issues, as well as documentations of art projects and current information can be found on this site.