In light of the developing situation around the Subvision project in Hamburg, we find it necessary to make following statement with regard to our participation.
Only a few months before the festival opened, we – and many other participants – received private letters warning us that the festival is a product and instrument of neo-liberal hegemony and a means of advertising the creative potential of Hamburg’s gentrified Hafen-City. We were also told that Subvision had taken money out of funding usually given to local initiatives, money that was now being used to brand Hamburg as a center of the “creative industries.”
Of course, we do not know enough about Hamburg, so it has been hard to find out what is really going on. The letters we received contained a great deal of contradictory information and personal detail, but their accusations were clearly well-founded. (see on the case here
Nevertheless, we have decided to participate in Subvision.
Like everything we do, this is a political decision based on our collective’s principles in dealing with institutions. What are these principles, and how do they relate at hand?
1. To begin with, we must say it clearly: Chto delat is not an “off” project. True, the conditions in Russia are very repressive. So our resources and visibility are limited. Nevertheless, we insist that self-marginalization is not an answer. In our experience, it depoliticizes and ghettoizes artists and intellectuals in a comfortable non-conformism that lacks any clear articulation. Instead, we feel that it is of the utmost importance to use and contest any space that by weird chance opens up to provide a venue for our uncensored propaganda and art. Participation is not just collaboration, but a struggle for control over means of cultural production. We feel that it is we who produce the values and decisions that are important to culture and society, and not just the institutional frame. This means that we are willing to interact with projects and institutions even if we do not agree with their goals. Because we have goals of our own.
2. For Chto delat, one of the most important points to keep overarching projects from dictating, censoring, or distorting our work. In the case of Subvision, there were no attempts to do any of this directly. If such things appear on site we will protest it immediately by boycotting and leaving the festival. But there is, of course, an indirect distortion that comes with the curatorial framing of the project in its particular location. We are not naive and realize that our contribution – which is about the collective search for alternatives in a highly repressive situation — is “global protest,” and we are highly critical of the way this representation is being handled. We fear that we might be brought in as artistic Gastarbeiter to confront the local “off-scene.” But we also think it is very important to create real spaces for solidarity and exchange between intiatives that ARE searching for alternatives, and this, after all, is Subvision’s stated goal – and our task is to make it true. When we were shown the list of invited participants, we were not only happy to find that many fellow Gastarbeiter are already our friends and comrades, but also because their presence reflects responsible political choices on the part of the organizers. In particular, we agree with the choice to invite Israeli artists who are searching for alternatives to a nearly hopeless situation of conflict. This decision goes against the unspoken boycott of Israeli artists and intellectuals in Western Europe today, which, unfortunately, is hitting the wrong people. In other words, we hope that actual communication between these different groups will outweigh the inevitable instrumentalization and distortion of our respective positions.
3. Adequate economic conditions for cultural workers are an important political question. It is important to realize that self-organization should not necessarily mean self-exploitation, and that there is nothing to be gained by refusing payments, as if there was such a thing as “dirty money” or “pure commerce.” Incidentally, we did not sign any kind of contract with Subvision, nor did we give them the copyright of our work. The financial conditions that Subvision offers are fair enough in view of the project’s scale and allow us to concentrate on fulfilling those tasks that we have set ourselves as artists and writers in this context. Moreover, they allow members of Chto delat to travel to Western Europe and to react to the disheartening context of Subvision directly, with interventions of their own.
We are fully aware of the fact that ANY cultural product can be instrumentalized as a commodity against its producers. But we are also sure that it is necessary to fight for the reappropriation of the ideological and material dividends that neo-liberal cultural policies will try to draw from our work. This is only possible by occupying spaces within the object of our critique, and using them to challenge the status quo. Here, we need to practice a fundamentally different politics based on egalitarianism and collective participation. We do not think that we are too weak to resist some diabolical plan that would instrumentalize our work for something we oppose.
In fact, we can say it publicly: our politics aim at making sure that places like Hafen City would be a thing of the past not only in Hamburg but anyplace else. If the developers suddenly see the need to bring us in, our goal is to create a situation in which art does not need developers. This contradiction remains fundamental to our participation in the project. Which also means that the real battleground in culture can also be inside such a project as Subvision and not only outside, in the “off.” It is here that we can contest the nature of such a project and show it as our strength.
4. We believe collective political articulation – understood as self-clarification – to be the central goal of our work. We sincerely hope that our presence in Hamburg will help to spark a concretization of the Subvision project’s critique. For now, this critique has been influenced by the vagaries of personal correspondence, rumors, and facile judgements, as if everything were “already clear.” But the points of consensus remain blurry, and have not been sufficiently articulated collectively or in public. We have a unique chance to meet in person and to discuss the situation. Chto delat is more than willing to provide a platform of the critique of Subvision and other festivals and camps like it; moreover, we are willing to do anything we can to make sure that this critique reaches as broad an audience as possible.
Thus we invite you to a discussion loosely themed “Self-Organization: Between Repression and Recuperation? Where is the Way Out?” which we will hold during our stay in Hamburg on August 29th. Let’s use this space. Let’s not be “off”! Instead, let’s kick out those who think that they can use the dirty tricks of dividing artists, and using art for their shitty purposes of gentrification and promoting inequality!