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)

020_opening-kronstadt

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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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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