The Radek Community emerged from dissatisfaction with the Moscow art scene. It arose within Avdei Ter-Oganyan’s School of Contemporary Art (SCA) project, which was an educational institution, habitat, and tool for transformation rolled into one.
The actions of the SCA (School of the Avant-Garde, 1997; Get Out of Art, 1998), the Non-Governmental Control Commission (Barricade, 1998; Mausoleum, 1999) or our own group actions and statements (Demonstration, 2000; Sheaves, 2001) were not the extent of Radek’s activity. Most of the work was focused within the group and was outside the sphere of artistic representation. The group was not just a space for self-education and discussing ideas. It not only created a context in which its participants could develop, but itself was a subject of our theoretical and artistic energies. Attention was focused on structuring relationships amongst ourselves, experimenting with forms of communication, avoiding the formation of hierarchies within the group, insisting on collective decision making. In the artistic field we refused to sign our own names, using instead the group name. The group was a space for making continuous, intense ethical, aesthetic and intellectual demands on one another and challenging outsiders. What to say, how to say it, how to act and how to appear (although not at all in the sense of being fashionable or looking a certain way) were important. Philosophy was a direct guide for how to manage our time, our feelings and our body, the body of the group. But theory was not the only reference point for what Radek should be. We kept abreast of the art situation and conceived of ourselves primarily as an art group.
Anatoly Osmolovsky, in whose seminars we received our education in theory, considered Radek more of a subculture. In contrast to most youth subcultures, however, our “idols” were not only rock musicians, but also, and to a greater extent, certain contemporary artists and French intellectuals. The slang of our subculture was thus made up of philosophical terms and language borrowed from the analysis of contemporary art practices. All these attributes did not serve only to set us apart from society at large. Rather, they were tools for analyzing it and constructing our own existence, whereas ordinary subculture slang is usually driven by narcissistic intoxication with one’s own exceptionality. Nevertheless, the group possessed certain qualities of a subculture community. For example, members were given nicknames like Pavlo (that’s me), Ipso (Bystrov), Maxo (Karakulov), Chtak (Chtak), and Dato. But even you view us as a subculture, you should keep in mind that we attempted to raise it to the level of an artwork. One rare episode when the event that was the group itself reached this level was when three of us went to a nightclub dressed in women’s clothes. We had a photographer with us who captured on film the atmosphere of boredom and aimlessness that suddenly appeared before the lens instead of the nonstop entertainment that should have banished such feelings. Unlike transvestites, we did not imitate women. Rather, we allowed our feminine sides to move freely and tried out new self-images. Such quests can sometimes be more political than selecting one of the subjectivities already offered by society, even when that subjectivity is considered political.
There were a few places where we constantly spent time together. In Perovo we made a lot of music. That is where Maxim Karakulov (with whom I created the group i wanna kiss you) lived. That is where Osmolovsky’s seminars were held, and we often lived there for a few days at a time. We hung out a lot at David Ter-Oganyan’s place; he was living in the squat on Baumanskaya at that time. At other times we lived in other places. But especially at Petr Bystrov’s place because Maxim Karakulov had him as a thesis adviser, and Chtak lived there for months at a time. Everyone gave what he had at the moment to this space of intense exchange, and we tried not to waste time.
We also often exchanged clothes, displacing notions of ownership. Such practices generated even more radical ideas. For example, Petr Bystrov decided to never buy new clothing, thus opposing the media’s appeal to consume fashion. That was an important step for a student of the RussianStateHumanitiesUniversity, a hotbed of unbelievable fashionistas. At one point we published a theoretical pamphlet entitled HandRADEK, which contained two or three small texts, a poem, and a bit of political information. We had a music group all that time. We would organize performances during our concerts. For example, we wrapped audience members in tape, creating fleeting commonalities among them that formally consisted of coincidence and colored tape. The Freestooler movement is one of the many things that was beyond artistic representation (which, by the way, we perceived as nothing more than a compromise). We would gather in a square with our own chairs and hold a discussion right in the middle of the city, thus reclaiming it for ourselves.
An important strategic step that enabled Radek to exist for a few more years was the opening of the France Gallery. It was important to create our social machines at a distance from the market and the state. But, of course, having your own gallery is a joke. It only allows you to hang on for a couple years longer. You also need to devise a strategy for independence on the level of the basic necessities, like food and clothing. The group broke up because it lacked such strategies, and also because it lacked the decisiveness to act together and an understanding of what to do next.
The street art of the nineties was not at all intended for the gallery or the museum. Its long-term goal was social transformation. The artists took their activity beyond the context and institutions of art, appealing in their actions to passersby and the mass media. Radek inherited from their teachers a distance from the institutions and an interest in politics, and not only in its molecular, interpersonal aspects. But it is important to keep in mind the difference between our actions and traditional political activism so as not to perceive this art as half-baked politics, just as activism should not be perceived as routine. This distinction has to be made so that we can move toward overcoming it.
The final action of the Radek Community was the “Hunger Strike without Demands.” The point of it was to defamiliarize the hunger strike as a tool of political struggle. Any hunger strike has two fundamental premises:
1. There is some external authority. We acknowledge our subordination to this authority
and we even expect it to act humanely.
2. This authority is capable of meeting our actual demands.
We considered these premises dubious and, therefore, when we held our hunger strike we did not make any demands. We made a pure demand that could not be satisfied by any existing authority.
We were unburdened by organizational work and the affective involvement in specific problems that prevents political activists from freely thinking through their actions and interrelationships. Of course, our analytical stance left us vulnerable to the ethical argument: unlike activists, we were not immersed in the real problems of real people. However, we were able to use our bodies not only as a tool for achieving a specific goal, but as a tool of thought. After all, subjecting one’s life to the idea of efficacy in itself leads to estrangement.
If we compare our hunger strike with the June hunger strike in support of Loskutov and against the May 1 excesses of the cops in Petersburg, then it becomes even more apparent what kinds of differences we are talking about. We are faced with several questions. In our practices, can we acknowledge our subordination to state power, and is there any sense in expecting it to act humanely? Also, the artistic practices of the last hundred years provide us with many examples of street actions that were more thoughtful, innovative, and clear, that did more than simply transfer the technical means of classical painting into the space of political action. It would seem that we should not reject the meaning of actions for the sake of the false idea that they should be subordinated to efficacy, because the efficacy of an action is itself bound up with that meaning.
This ability of Radek—the ability to set off sparks of opposition and a clear perception of social relations in the murky matter of daily life—is not worth much on its own. Without a well-conceived strategy, without the will to joint action, without a group manifesto, a group cannot be viable, just as the absence of self-reflection and attention to their own configuration makes us doubt whether there is a fundamental difference between many political groups and parliamentary politics. That is why the experience of the Radek Community is valuable. Thanks to the attention given to the very substance of interaction, an environment was created that did not permit this lack of distinctions and that by its very configuration differed from the dominant type of social relations.