A project by the group Chto Delat
With the participation of the School for Engaged Art
Supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation
Organizer: FABRIKA Center for Creative Industries
February 1 – March 8 2014
“Where do you live? Not in Russia? Why are you asking me these questions?”
Any government and any state is primarily an apparatus of violence (of one class over another), so at least says a famous definition. And society itself? It too is saturated with violence: moral condemnation and exclusion, affirmation of norms, control over corporeality, religious taboo etc. The role of violence varies from society to society, and here, Russia takes a place of its own, a space steeped in various forms of aggression and checkered with spaces of exclusion, where the violence of repressive, punitive shocks is cultivated by both power and the population at large and has a nearly ritual character. Russia sports a highly profitable market of “violent actions,” which acts as an important if not key factor in the local economy: the courts and the police, the prisons and the corporations, migrant labor and cultural production, all of these spheres are based on the consequences of violent raids, each of which comes with a price tag of its own.
The violence of the question “Where do you live? Not-in-russia?” is a sign of our time, and one that every person must answer in his or her own way. Obviously, you don’t ask such questions of foreigners, people unfamiliar with local customs and norms. On the contrary, its hidden meaning assumes that both interlocutors are already bound by the cabal of some “secret knowledge.” It means that something disgusting has happened again (yet another arrest, assault, dispossession, torture, rape, bribe etc.), but that is only natural for our country and our time. That’s the order of things, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But is it true? Is humble consent the only answer?
What seems especially insidious about this question is that as soon as you answer “No, this is not the Russia I want to live in,” they immediately tell you that you can leave if you don’t like it. If you refuse to follow these unwritten rules, it means you are a bad citizen. They will force you into a state of inner (or real) emigration and strip you of your right to be a full member of a society tightly bound by rituals of violence. You become a “foreign agent” in your country, and it goes without saying that you lose your voice.
So how do you avoid the blackmail of this question? Only by formulating a precise answer in the form of a demand: “Yes, I live in Russia. But I will live so that these pseudo-natural relations and their normalized violence would turn into what they are regardless of place – a disgusting form of enslavement.”
Ever since the Greek tragedy, the theme of violence has run through art history like a red thread, and always speaks to artists as a challenging subject, precisely because of the expressive difficulties involved.
If you are an artist living in Russia today, how can you work with this central problem of our society? Of course, by criticizing this violence, taking sides with the victims and joining the “insulted and injured.” But you also have to know how to reveal violence, demonstrate its constructedness (and most importantly its class construction), and the interest behind seemingly irrational and senseless humiliation. Every act of violence tears open a chasm in social existence, and art should not be afraid to put its fingers into this wound. The experiences of brutality and suffering reveal humanity’s endless capacity to resist abuses. In the same way, art is capable of capturing that language of violence, turning a means of humiliating the other into a manifestation of forbidden solidarity.
The exhibition’s display is constructed around two of the collective’s musical films. The first of these, “Tower Songspiel” (2010) is dedicated to the public protest against the construction of the Gazprom City skyscraper in Saint Petersburg. “Border Musical” (2013), a new film by the group Chto delat, tells the story of an ordinary women, a music teacher living in an impoverished mining town who takes her son and flees to Norway. Both films (premiering in Moscow) address real life stories, demonstrating how the ubiquity of different forms of violence shapes everyday existence.
These video works are complemented by the installation “Russian Woods.” Realized here in a new version, it presents popular heroes already familiar from elsewhere: the Double-Headed Chicken, the Oilpump Dragon and the Pipeline Mermaid, the Skyscraper Church, Werewolves with Badges, the “Popular Front” Bear Show, the White House on Chicken’s Legs and others. A new addition is the Woodland Pathologist’s Office, presented for the first time here.
The exhibition also features a series of retrospective posters made for the different events that Chto delat has taken part in. These posters, exhibited here in the form of a timeline, trace the group’s trajectory over the course of the last ten years.
Another crucial element in the project is the Rosa School, organized in collaboration with the participants of the School for Engaged Art with the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. This master class, held in the period before the opening, presents a culmination of the School’s first semester, whose central topic was the analysis of how violence is represented in art as well as a problematization of the violence behind the education process itself. Collective work on the exhibition’s installation brings together the responses of young artists, activists and performers into a unified space of participation.
The Rosa School has also been rehearsing the new Learning Play “Faster! Hotter! Better! – A Produce Spartakaid of the Notinrussia Restaurant,” presented at the day of the opening. The materials for the plays, including videos, elements of the stage set, costumes and so on will later be presented in the exhibition together with the performance’s documentation.
The exhibition is accompanied by the first edition of the newspaper project Rosa School Bulletin, which presents texts and graphic materials conceptualizing “Notinrussia” as well as a series of contributions on problems of contemporary artistic education, made with the participation of the School’s students.