The First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art has chosen “The Dialectics of Hope” as its theme, which, incidentally, is the title of a book I wrote in 1980. Naturally, I have no exclusive claim to the word “hope”, nor to the word “dialectics”, for that matter, nor to their combination. However, the organizers of the Biennale have never hidden the fact that the name of the project has been connected to my book from the very beginning; what’s more, they have made several public announcements to this effect. Thus, I feel that I have the right and even the duty to make a few remarks on the processes that are taking place around the Biennale.
My book, which was banned from publication in the Soviet Union of the 1980s, was dedicated to examining the perspectives for the development of a world-wide left-wing movement. For this reason, I expected that the biennale would develop in this very direction. Yet now, I read in the press that Evgeniy Zyablov, the commissar of the biennale, and Joseph Backstein, its curator-coordinator, answer the direct question as to the political direction of the biennale with a clear no: this artistic project will not favor “the Left” in any way. Of course, the organizers of the biennale have the right to decide upon its political direction, but then why use the name of a book which is so obviously and unambiguously linked with left-wing ideology?
All of this gives rise to an unexpected and somewhat paradoxical situation: the context of my work is used to legitimate a project that enjoys the support of the Russian elites, who have hardly ever been very s ympathetic to the theory and praxis of the left. Of course, “leftist” and “progressive” rhetoric has become fashionable again; for an example, it accompanies any legal project focused on depriving the working class of yet another privilege. The same thing seems to be happening in culture, where it seems quite natural and timely for official culture to appeal to left-wing discourse. However, for progressive, independent art, this “improper” use of words and images is inadmissible, even fatal.
For contemporary Russia , and for the entire world, it is extremely important to realize projects that supply form to new radical-democratic models of cultural development, since little else leaves much hope of implementing authentic left-wing principles in cultural work. In the sphere of politics, the rise of social forums supplies a model of this type, becoming a basis for the formation of a network or movement that broadly opposes the world-wide order of imperialist capitalism. In culture, an analogous network of independent artistic communities seems to be emerging. I would have thought that a biennale with the name “The Dialectics of Hope” would have continued in this vein, developing new models for the dialogue and representation of these communities, who are interested in changing and politicizing the space of culture on a grass-roots level. Groups and artists of this sort already exist today, both in Russia and in the West. The ongoing discussion on the Moscow Biennale, which unfolded on the pages of the “Moscow Art Magazine” in 2003, gave me the impression that serious work in this direction was already taking place and would continue along these lines.
[On August 24th, 2004 , an open letter was published at https://www.gif.ru/themes/culture/no-miracle/open-letter/ . This letter demanded an official clarification of the reasons for the removal of Viktor Misiano from the curatorial group.] I find myself sharing the concerns of the authors and signatories of [this] open letter, the majority of whom, incidentally, belong to Russian initiatives and communities of the type described above. Their main concern is that the biennale, in its current form, does not even foresee the most minimal space for their participation. Needless to say, the exclusion of Viktor Misiano, the editor-in-chief of the “Moscow Art Magazine”, from the curatorial group is the result of the internal conflicts and bureaucratic intrigues that afflict any larger organization. But in the situation at hand, these “changes in the management” seem deeply significant and symbolic. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong in this unfolding “administrative” conflict; what matters is that it has objective political consequences, as well as a general social and cultural significance.
One could say that in Russian culture, as in society at large, the struggle for the means of production has begun. The key question is whether they will belong to the bureaucrats or the artists and intellectuals themselves. Will the workers of immaterial labor prove capable of putting the means of cultural production to use for the common good instead of providing yet another service for the new elite?
This is precisely why I support the initiative of the Russian artistic community and its demand for the democratization of the productive processes of culture. Those who are in charge of the world do not only prevent anyone from changing the system, but even refuse to make any concession at all until they feel that their own power is at risk. The opposition, even if it rarely succeeds in taking control of power, only becomes effective when the ruling class begins to understand that it runs a very real danger of losing its power base. This is why I would tend to see this local act of resistance in the broader context of the authentic and uncompromising struggle for emancipation.
In the future, I would ask that those in power avoid confusing our hope with the official reality of the ruling class’ politics of corruption.