#06- 30: Living, Thinking, Acting politically
Nikolay Oleynikov & Dmitry Vilensky // Creative Time in Common
Drift: Narvskaya Zastava (Saint Petersburg, 2004)
Aside from researching the urban environment during a two-day walk around a chosen location, an important component of this project was the results of communication within the group, the personal lives of its participants, and the associations that arose in connection with the places that were researched. An objective mapping of the site was organized in parallel with the subjectivity of the community, which gained new experience by jointly living through a certain moment of time in an environment alien to it. The methods developed in Drift were a continuation of the Leningrad-Petersburg tradition of strolling around strange places. This culture is directed towards the experience of communities that are based on friendship and aspire to a reclaiming and détournement of urban space, thus demonstrating with their own experience the contrast between what life is and what it might be.
Maria Chehonadskih // 48 Hours of Common Effort: How Cultural Workers and Political Activists Met and Talked
The entire spectrum of problems connected with the condition of creative workers has recently become the focus of fundamental discussions and reflections on the part of the artistic community as well as a number of leftist political and social activists. These discussions have revealed points of convergence between creative workers and workers engaged in nonstandard forms of employment, which have become more and more widespread in Russia. The search for new ways of regrouping radical leftists, trade unions, and social movements makes new forms of dialogue possible. The 48-Hour May Congress-Commune of Creative Workers was the first initiative to task itself with tackling both theoretically and practically the host of problems connected with the nature of the work done by cultural workers and labor relations in the cultural field.
1. Informal Relations and “Protections of Proximity”
Precarity as the norm for labor relations in Russia emerged in the nineties in connection with the transition to the market economy. Shock therapy and a sharp decrease in production led to massive unemployment that was in no way regulated by the state. The first forms of self-enterprise played an important role in forming the new system of nonstandard employment: unemployed people united into groups and networks or operated independently, hiring others as “day” workers. As a system of labor relations, precarity emerged spontaneously and at the grassroots, via family ties and friendships, informal relations between former colleagues, and a broad network of mutual assistance and mutual dependence. Nonstandard employment was not officially recognized for a long time because this kind of (self-)enterprise was a semi-legal form of private business and part of the shadow economy. The situation remained invisible, and the problems occasioned by it were long left unarticulated.
Oxana Timofeeva // Living Politically
The idea of organizing a communal seminar in Maastricht came to me in January 2010, when I arrived in the city from Moscow for two years to do research (on animals in philosophy) in the theory department at the Jan Van Eyck Academie. The Chto Delat collective and the Vpered Socialist Movement had already organized a 24-hour seminar in Nizhny Novgorod and were planning a 48-hour May Day forum for creative workers in Moscow. The goal of the Maastricht seminar was to integrate this form – “communal life seminars” – into the international context. Everyone saw this as an important challenge. When two active participants in the Nizhny Novgorod event, Nikolay Oleynikov and Kirill Medvedev, and I were in the early stages of the discussing the project, we asked ourselves a question. What if things that were apparent to us turned out to be completely unapparent to a European audience adapted to different political realities – for example, the meaning of the Soviet-era term obshchezhitie (both “communal living” and “dormitory,” “hostel”), which can hardly be adequately translated into English? But this was precisely the point of the project – to gather people from different contexts and force them to search for a common language of the “political.” A search like this is seemingly in the order of things, but what was really interesting and new was the fact that the premises of our experience, which in our local situation we considered self-evident or axiomatic, here became a barrier to understanding, and this barrier had to be overcome. The way we originally asked the question was: how do we – you and me – make sense not only of our daily lives, but also of professional work in political terms? To put it simply, what meaning do we invest in what we do and how we live? All this established yet another important dynamic of difference, which during the course of the seminar revealed itself, albeit fairly hypothetically, as a productive conflict between art, theory, and activism. Each of these forms of work has its own trajectory of desire, but the question is how, when, and where an intersection of these trajectories is possible, and whether it is possible at all. The title of the event – Living Politically – reflected both this dynamic, which informed the seminar’s content, and a formal moment: this was an event in the experimental format of “life,” that is, it was a matter of combining “life” and “politics” in a limited time and space.
The 48-hour communal seminar in Maastricht took place on July 2–4, 2010. This dialogue is based on a discussion that arose at the end of the seminar. Dmitry Vilensky, Oxana Timofeeva, Pietro Bianchi, Katja Diefenbach, Aaron Schuster, Alexei Penzin, Andrei Berdnikov, and others took part in this discussion.
A hot summer day. An artist, a philosopher, and an activist are strolling in a small park in the Dutch city of Maastricht. The park is not far from the academy named in honor of the famous artist Jan van Eyck. The park is filled with ducks, geese, goats, and other small domestic animals.
Activist: So what does it mean to “live politically”?
Philosopher: It depends what we mean by “life” and what we mean by “politics.” Aristotle, for example, said that man is a “political animal.” Both these things – politics and life – are already packed into this phrase (moreover, in a fundamental way) because an animal is something that has anima, that is alive. And so this animal somehow lives “politically.” Politics is intelligent life, the capacity of human consciousness to correctly define its place in being and history and draw the proper conclusions. So theory, above all, is vital for politics. Theory makes us vigilant and itself is a kind of practice.
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