The end of the 20th century brought on the complete negation of everything that gave it content and meaning. It was no coincidence that the fashionable philosopher Francis Fukuyama took to writing on the end of history. There was massive rejection of the many ideals that people fought and died for. The slogans of the bygone epoch were subjected to ridicule and declared meaningless. It seemed that some strange magic had turned back the hands on the clock by one hundred years, not only stopping the clockwork, but also breaking the clock entirely to prevent it from ever ticking again.
It is late in the evening in the Moscow Metro but the train is full, nevertheless. An Activist and a Theoretician are riding together. Across from them, there is a glossy advertisement for some kind of pate, flying off into outer space to the slogan "The whole world is not enough!" Beneath it, one can see a public notice from the militia informing all visitors to the city that registration is mandatory. A travelling salesman with a big plastic bag is demonstrating the newest kind of glass cutter, dissecting glass samples for the passengers' pleasure: "If I've caught your interest, don't hesitate to ask." A Chinese man sits nearby, flipping through a book with hieroglyphs on the cover. Across from him, a group of teenagers is loudly discussing the newest types of smartphones. A 40-year old man is stretched out sleeping on one of the benches at the back of the car. An empty beer bottle rolls back and forth on the floor to the rocking of the train.
The kaleidoscope must be smashed.
Walter Benjamin, "Central Park"
The political in art does not consist of the degree of engagement in its form, but in the basic quality of the artist's perception of reality and the social context, which, in turn, rests upon the immediate interaction between the author and his audience. The phenomenon of the artwork as both object and subject at once as an independent aesthetic value - impossible outside a multi-faceted interaction with its situation - defines its real political quality. It is reality as a concrete historical condition experienced by society that is the basis and the determining resource for the work of the artist and the creation of active, living culture.
I have been living in the EU for a month now... It's not what I expected it to be... I mean, you only need to look at the holes on the roads they have all over there! Just the other day I drove somebody off to Sofia Airport - my God, what a dreadful ride! And they say EU is an elite club..., elite my ass, I say!
At least the government of this country, not that I voted for them mind you, has already started the procedure for Bulgaria to join the Euro zone as soon as possible, like in 2-3 years. That's good I tell you, for they will finally get off our backs. They will have to recognize our home-made money; all those Euro bills that we are traditionally printing here in the country will no longer be treated as forgery!
Driver: How much time is there?
Passenger: The question is not how much time there is, but what kind of time it is! We have plenty of time, but all of it is the time of reaction. Look: here in Russia, they are breaking up demonstrations, putting people into prison without due process, and creating loyal oppositional political parties. A small group of people is capable of pushing through any decision it likes. And most of our fellow citizens don't contest this: they have no time to react! They go to malls, repair their apartments, and discuss their purchases on their mobile phones. People don't regret their enclosure in private life: in this private life, they satisfy desires shared by others, desires that are advocated in reality shows, TV series and blockbusters! And even to criticize your government makes more sense if you use a mobile phone... But if these fellow citizens actually start thinking about something serious, they will be immediately given some religion or some occult bullshit substitute.
In December of 2005 in the city of Sao Paulo, at the annual conference of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM), a German critic named Walter Grasskamp challenged the twentieth-century claim that the museum can be the institutional frame of a universal aesthetic language. He pointed instead to the globalisation of an essentially Western set of cultural codes, including the all-absorbing code of exoticism - a cannibalistic aesthetic whereby any sort of curiosity is admired because it is different. For Grasskamp, the art museum is comparable to the Wunderkammer, or curiosity cabinet. According to him, it's very small - what you see all across the world, at the basis of modern art museums, are the same 100 artists. The rest are just curiosities.
David Riff: In the last three or four years, Moscow's contemporary art scene has undergone some intense development, bringing new galleries, foundations, institutions, and big events. The homogenization of the public sphere has heralded processes of consolidation that go in hand in hand with an influx of capital in search of representative cultural investments. A gentrification that has been approaching Moscow for the last 10 years is now in full swing. It often seems like there is no escaping this process' entrepreneurial logic and its pervasively glossy results. But when people try to come to terms with the new situation, they find themselves resorting to blanket notions: it is chalked up to the "market," a figure of speech that is just as homogeneous as the "power" Russian liberals used to lament. Which realistic view could help us avoid conceiving of the new culture industry as a new version of the same old "bad totality"?
Therefore, what we are lacking (for we do lack something in particularthere is no point in hiding that it is politics we lack) is not at all the matter and the forms from which myth might be fabricated. For that there is always sufficient rubbish, ideological kitsch that is as banal as it dangerous. What we lack, however, is the insight necessary to discern the events in which our future truly has its origins. They are not, of course, produced in the return of myths. We longer dwell in that dimension, in the logic of the source. We exist belatedly, in a historical future perfect. Which does not rule out the fact that the limit of belatedness might prove to be the starting point of some innovation. Moreover, it is precisely this that demands our thought.
- Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, Le mythe nazi
Many visitors to the pretentiously titled I Believe! (which opened on the eve of the Second Moscow Biennale) share the opinion that the show is no different from any other group exhibition of contemporary Russian art. Even critics previously hostile to the show and several participants agree with this assessment. They differ, perhaps, only in what they choose to emphasize.
In the 'strength of negativity,' Hegel saw the vitality of the spirit, and, consequently, of reason. In the final analysis, this strength was the strength to grasp and change given facts in correspondence with the development of potentialities, and through the negation of the 'positive' as soon as it became an obstacle blocking the path of free development. At its very essence, reason is contradiction, opposition, and negation until freedom does not become a reality. If the contradictory, antagonistic negative force of reason suffers a defeat, reality moves in accordance with its own positive laws; meeting no resistance from the side of reason, it unfolds its own repressive force.
Herbert Marcuse, from 'Reason and Revolution'
I'm not exercising censorship but face control. You have to know what times we're living in.
Oleg Kulik on his curatorial role in the project I BELIEVE
[Alain Badiou gave this interview on the occasion of a conference titled "Is a History of the Cultural Revolution Possible?" The conference was held at the University of Washington in February, 2006. Most of the following questions were prepared by Nicolas Veroli, who could not be present. Diana George conducted the interview.]
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.