Texts // Dmitry Vilensky

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INTERVIEW WITH DMITRY VILENSKY by Cosmin Costinaş and Maria Hlavajova

  • Location: Amsterdam
  • Date and time: 12 March 2010 at 12:00
  • Duration: 1:42:26


Они говорят…

стихотворение 2005 года – впервые опубликовано в ХЖ №60


Dmitry Vilensky // Theses on the Soviet Experience


Dialogue Victor Misiano – Dmitry Vilensky // Singular Together!

Published at the catalogue of Chto Delat solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Baden-Baden

(see here:


Дмитрий Виленский // Критика «живого романтического образа».
Комментарий к взаимоотношениям нового акционизма и искусства в России

Опубликовано в Московском Художественном Журнале №81, 2010


О репрезентации и участии. Современное политическое искусство и социальные движения.

опубликован в журнале Luxemburg 01 на немецком языке




Искусство траты (заметки о питерской ситуации) /// 2001

опубликовано в 2001 – Художественный журнал N°33 (не опубликовано на сайте)


Sven Spieker in Conversation with Dmitry Vilensky

Artmargins, internet journal, Aprill 2010

Chto delat’? The Theory and Practice of Critical Intervention: Sven Spieker in Conversation with Dmitry Vilensky (St. Petersburg) (Podcast)


We Teach With Our Works And Our Lives

DMITRY VILENSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH BORIS BUDEN published at transversal journal, An-academy, 12-2010


Activist Club or On the Concept of Cultural Houses, Social Centers & Museums

at New Productivism, 09 201; eipcp  transversal


Искусство будет оставаться левым или его не будет вообще

опубликовано на


Lolita Jablonskiene & Dmitry Vilensky // Hybrid Spaces for Common

Published in “Printed Project”Nr 10, 2009


Dmitry Vilensky // On the current situation for engaged artist in Russia today, distribution of knowledge and the political transformation of aesthetic experiences

Interview with Bankleer, Berlin, 2008


Marina Gržinić in conversation with Dmitry Vilensky // What is to be done?

Published at Reartikulacija 03, 2008 


Интервью Дмитрия Виленского // Обществу нужно демократическое пространство площади, агоры, а не фаллосы

Опубликовано на Закс.ру, 2008


Thomas Campbell’s interview with Dmitry Vilensky

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum


Redas Dirzys in a dialogue with Dmitry Vilensky // On Alytus Art Strike Biennale

published at (in Lithuanian) and


Олеся Туркина задает вопросы Дмитрию Виленскому // Ответственность художника

Опубликовано в 2006 году


Frédéric Maufras and Dmitry Vilensky dialogue // The case of first Moscow Biennale

Published at Neue Review, 2005, Berlin


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Materialities of Independent Publishing: A Conversation with Aaaaarg, Chto Delat?, I Cite, Mute, and Neural

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Jodi Dean, Sean Dockray, Alessandro Ludovico, Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Nicholas Thoburn, and Dmitry Vilensky

This text is a conversation among practitioners of independent political media, focusing on the diverse materialities of independent publishing associated with the new media environment. The conversation concentrates on the publishing projects with which the participants are involved: the online archive and conversation platform AAAAARG, the print and digital publications of artist and activist group Chto Delat?, the blog I Cite, and the hybrid print/digital magazines Mute and Neural. Approaching independent media as sites of political and aesthetic intervention, association, and experimentation, the conversation ranges across a number of themes, including: the technical structures of new media publishing; financial constraints in independent publishing; independence and institutions; the sensory properties of paper and the book; the politics of writing; design and the aesthetics of publishing; the relation between social media and communicative capitalism; publishing as art; publishing as self-education; and post-digital print.

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Russian Woods (2011-2014) – documentations

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First presenation of the installation Russian Woods at the solo show “Perestroika: XX years after”

Kölnischer Kunstverein, 2011

When working abroad we often ask ourselves what we represent in this context and why we have been invited. There is the hidden pressure to talk about some exotic, artistic/activist experience drawn from our own country, where politics somehow survives against coercion more brutal than that in the West. As we have often written, there is a certain problem with this outsourcing of politics. As Elena Filipovic correctly notes in a recent article about our group, we have to represent “a certain history while overcoming common preconceptions in order to act as international translators.” But what are we actually translating/representing?

The point of departure for our solo show at Kölnischer Kunstverein is our first songspiel, *Perestroika Songspiel: Victory over the Coup* (2008), which marks the end of one period in Russian history. For most of us, it was an event that was crucial in shaping our political subjectivity: we date the history of the new Russian state to this moment. So we asked ourselves what remains in our memories after all the transformations of the past two decades, and we ran head-on into a set of disturbing, weird, grotesque images. As usual, our narration is based on the media and the popular imagination: we merely decided to push them to the limit and reveal their inner irrational and vital functions, and to try and confront them with our body of documentary film works. That’s how the installation *The Russian Woods* began to grow.

This time we have decided to try and find a way to represent the Russian unconscious and to examine how far the language of art is able to take a representation of reality rooted in its historical dynamism, brutality, and lack of transparency. What can we do with this reality’s horrible and largely indescribable violence that renders all varieties of artistic virtuosity powerless? It is not our intention to sensationalize or demonize Russia: we are convinced that the Russian situation is very much the result of the global division of labor and geopolitical confrontations triggered by capitalism, and that its political system is no less irrational (or, for that matter, rational) than the “Russian soul.” So we must speak about Russia in the context of a new global order where sheer exploitation of the periphery goes hand in hand with the accumulation of enormous wealth by the minority who control all resources (human and natural), the self-elected few who deprive the majority of the fruits of their labor, forcing them to live in poverty and misery like modern-day slaves.

It is important not just to demonstrate our negative attitude to Russia’s current regime, but also to offer a visual explanation for why we continue to oppose our country’s current development and the mode of governance that has brought it to a dead end.

Dmitry Vilensky, August 2011

The description of the figures

Print, MDF plates (various dimensions) Concept: Dmitry Vilensky and Tsaplya (Olga Egorova)

Visuals: Nikolay Oleynikov

List of Objects1/1. Hares with Sour Faces

The Hare is a popular character in the Russian Woods. Usually in danger of being eaten by the other animals, the Hare is cowardly and embittered, and always on the lookout.

1/2. Two-Headed ChickenRapacious and merciless to its foes, the Chicken appears on the official seal of the Russian Woods.

  1. Oil Derrick Dragon

The fire-breathing Dragon guards Oil, the main treasure of the Russian Woods. It has all the qualities of a regular dragon. Greed and ferocity are its dominant traits.

  1. Oil Pipeline Mermaid

The Mermaid evokes the wraith of unquenched desire. In the Russian Woods, she serves the Dragon. She prefers the company of Bears, and despises Hares.

  1. Skyscraper Church

The Skyscraper Church is the symbol of modernization in the Russian Woods. The modernization process draws foreign Merchants, Foxes, and Robbers to the Russian Woods.

  1. New Year’s Tree The magical New Year’s Tree produces the most desirable gifts for the Dragon, the Chicken, the Mermaid, the Bears, and other characters in the Russian Woods.
  2. Special Purpose Police

The Special Purpose Police serve the Dragon, the Chicken – and themselves. They are corrupt and criminal. They show up in the most unexpected places, often intoxicated. For the most part, they are engaged in individual entrepreneurship.

  1. Toadstool The Toadstool is the main intoxicating and poisonous mushroom in the Russian Woods. It clouds the mind with nightmarish fairytales, which often become reality. Caucasian Warriors (a new generation of soldiers in an endless war) wait in ambush under the Toadstool.
  2. “Free Education!” Fence Fences are an important element in the constant repartition of the Russian Woods. Spells known as “protest slogans” are usually written on fences in the Russian Woods. The “Free Education!” spell was inscribed on this fence by the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement.

10/1. Black Widows outside a Metro Station

Metro Stations are entrances into caves in the Russian Woods. The Black Widows (the insidious spawn of the Toadstool) blow themselves up in these caves, taking the lives of other inhabitants of the Russian Woods.

10/2. Stalin Empire-Style Chandelier

The favorite nesting spot of Spy Bats in the Russian Woods.

  1. “Popular Front” Bear Show

The Bear is the beloved hero of the Russian Woods. As a performer in the Popular Front show, it skates, juggles, and does various magic tricks. In the arena, it is jolly, kind, and fond of children. Outside the arena, the Bear is often a defendant in cases involving the repartition of the Russian Woods.

  1. Glamour Tank

The main sources of pride in the Russian Woods are weapons and beauty. They are also its principal exports. The tanks and girls of the Russian Woods are unfailingly popular amongst respectable men outside the Russian Woods.

  1. The Mausoleum

Despite the fact that mushrooms have sprouted on it, the Mausoleum remains the most important historical monument in the Russian Woods.

  1. White House on Chicken Legs

Government house in the Russian Woods. After being shelled by tanks in 1993, it is always ablaze. The chicken legs enable it to turn in any direction on the orders of its Owner. Possession of Fabergé eggs is a sign of love for the Powers That Be. They grow on the inhabitants of the White House on Chicken Legs, who thus display their proper national orientation.

  1. Wolf-Girl

Wolf-Girls are the contradictory elements of history. They laugh, dance and obey no one. Their habitat extends beyond the Russian Woods.

  1. Dog’s Heads Separated from the body, the Dog’s Heads faithfully serve the Powers That Be of the Russian Woods. They are invisible and merciless.

The videofilm “Russian Woods”

Русский Лес /// The Russian woods from chto delat on Vimeo.

Russian with English subtitles

Our work on the musical performance “Russian Woods” was largely provoked by political developments in Russia last winter. By participating in these important events that all of sudden have emerged inside Russian civil society, we were intrigued by the huge amount of use of mythic images and rhetoric, both from the government and from the protesters. We found that this phenomenon is not by chance and really reflects the level of a political culture in the country. And we wanted to try to analyze it in the form of a fairy tail story that would be able to not only reflect the totality of socio-political structure of our society, but also think about the possibilities of its transformation.

The film is based on the documentation of the theatrical performance which happened in St. Petersburg on 2nd of May 2012

Film Concept and script: Vilensky Dmitry & Tsaplya (Olga Egorova); Director: Tsaplya (Olga Egorova); Composer: Mikhail Krutik; Choreography: Nina Gasteva; Graphics and Set: Nikolay Oleynikov and Dmitry Vilensky; Director of Photography: Artyom Ignatov

This film is a production of the collective Chto Delat

The First Kyiv International Biennial of Contemporary Art

This film was produced with support from the Chto Delat’ Fund.

The English version of this play was staged on 25th of March in a framework of the festival “Speaking and understanding” // Episode 3 Copying without copying, concept and production by Arika (

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Александр Скидан // Pawel Lwowich Tselan, russkij poet

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Die Liebe loscht ihren Namen: sie

schreibt sich dir zu.

Paul Celan

Редко какой текст, посвященный Паулю Целану, упускает случай припомнить сакраментальную фразу Адорно о «невозможности поэзии после Освенцима», с тем, чтобы посрамить философа, а в его лице и мысль вообще: дескать, суха теория, а искусство дышит где хочет. В самом деле, разве не опровергает «Фуга смерти», да и вся поэзия Целана, еврея, чьи родители сгинули в немецком концлагере, максиму Адорно? Между тем, никакая это не максима, а вырванная из контекста, покалеченная цитата, которую, как культю, не возбраняется пользовать в культурных целях, что в точности соответствует той диалектике культуры и варварства, о которой как раз и ведет речь Адорно в работе «Критика культуры и общество». Целан знал, более того, в 1968-ом участвовал в семинаре Адорно (задолго до этого тень философа мелькает в «Меридиане» и «Разговоре в горах»); год спустя в письме он так отозвался на его смерть: «Я почувствовал боль, я и сейчас чувствую боль. Это тяжелая потеря. Он был гениальный человек, богато одаренный, и одарил его не дьявол. Теперь мы читаем некрологи – они такие безлюбые, кажется мне, ну что ж…». После этих слов, мы, быть может, сподобимся иными глазами прочитать то, что в «Негативной диалектике» (1966), переосмысляя сказанное им в 1949-м, говорит Адорно: «Многолетнее страдание имеет такое же право выразить себя, как истязаемый – кричать; поэтому, должно быть, ошибочно было утверждать, что после Освенцима писать стихи невозможно. Не ошибочен, однако, менее “культурный” вопрос: а можно ли после Освенцима продолжать жить тому, кто по справедливости должен был умереть, но благодаря случайности избежал смерти? Их длящееся существование уже с необходимостью подразумевает равнодушие, этот основополагающий принцип капиталистической субъективности, без которого Освенцим был бы невозможен: глубочайшая вина тех, кого пощадили. Как своего рода воздаяние, втайне их преследуют сны, в которых они не живы, а задохнулись в газовой камере в 1944 году, как если бы все их существование после этого свелось к чисто воображаемому, к эманации блуждающего, бесприютного желания того, кто был убит двадцать лет тому назад».

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Когда необходимо сказать мы: искусство как практики солидарности /выставочный проект/

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Exhibition project

When it is urgent to say WE

a project of Laboratory of Critical Art at

European Univercity, Sain Petersburg

Документация выставки

Проведенные в рамках выставки мероприятия:

29 мая в помещении выставки “Искусство как практики солидарности” в Европейском Университете состоялось обнародование крафт-книги Романа Осминкина Товарищ-вещь

голос: Роман Осминкин / гитара: Антон Командиров

Также выступила активистская группа “Аркадий Коц

стихи: Александр Бренер / голос, гитара: Кирилл Медведев / клавиши: Олег Журавлев

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Борьба на два фронта

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Книга о «маоистском» периоде Годара, вышедшая в «Свободном марксистском    издательстве»

Борьба на два фронта
Жан-Люк Годар и группа Дзига Вертов. 1968 — 1972

Москва, 2010, 111 стр.

Составление : Кирилл Медведев, Кирилл Адибеков.

Перевод: Кирилл Адибеков, Борис Нелепо, Станислав Дорошенко, Кирилл Медведев,

Марксистский период в творчестве Годара некоторыми воспринимается как одна из   причуд его эксцентричного гения, другими — как лишнее доказательство того, что  подлинное новаторство в искусстве невозможно вне связи с освободительной политикой  и левой мыслью. Точно можно сказать одно: интуиция Годара привела художника в нужное время в нужные обстоятельства, и за несколько лет, прежде чем заодно с большинством интеллектуалов разочароваться в прямом политическом действии он сумел не только кардинально обновить собственное искусство, но, что важнее, существенно и глубоко, а вовсе не на уровне поверхностных веяний и конъюнктуры, развить критическую, брехтианскую линию в левом искусстве и арт-теории. В книге собраны материалы, связанные с этим периодом.

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Networks, partners and friends

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Here we mention our long-term collaboration partners and good friends – very sorry if we missed anyone

our works are represented by KOW Berlin


> Street Univercity, St. Petersburg

> MoscowArtMagazine ///Московский Художественный Журнал

> Russian Socialist Movement/ Российское Социалистическое Движение

> DSPA /// Движение Сопротивления имени Петра Алексеева

> May congress of creative workers /// Первомайскийконгресстворческихработников

> Collective Action Institute //ИнститутКоллективныхДействий

> FreeMarxistPublishingHouse /// Свободное Марксистское Издательство (С.М.И.)

> Translit /// Альманах актуальной поэзии и теории “Транслит”

> Галерея Экспериментального Звука (Experimental Sound Gallery)

> Европейский универиситет Спб/ European Univercity Saint Petersburg


> Р.Е.П. / R.E.P. Revolutionary Experimental Space

> Visual Culture Research Center


> Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung
> KOW Gallery 

> Rosa Perutz is a self-organised discussion context, dealing with nationalism, statism, and the specific conditions of production and reproduction in contemporary art

> NGBK (Neue Gesselschaft fuer Bildende Kunst)

> Interflugs ist eine selbstverwaltete und von Studierenden geleitete Organisation an der Universität der Künste Berlin

> Ex- Argentina & Potosi Principle net-work
(Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann)

– Hito Steyerl, Simon Sheikh, Boris Buden, Kathrin Becker, Kesrtin Stakemeier


> Biro for Culture and Communication (Vladan Jeremic and Rena Raedle)

> Prelom Collective & Jelena Vesic

> TkH is a Belgrade based independent platform for performing arts theory and practice

> KUDA centar za nove medije, Novi Sad (Serbia)

Buenos Aires

> Etcetera… formed in 1997 in Buenos Aires the group is composed of visual artists, poets, puppeteers and actors, most of who were under 20 at that time. They all shared the intention of bringing art to the site of immediate social conflict -the streets- and of bringing this conflict into arenas of cultural production, including the media and art institutions.!/grupoetcetera

Collectivo Situationes; Federico Geller; Eduardo Molinari


> ex. Free University (Jakob Jakobsen)

> The Learning Site focuses on the local conditions in which its art practice is located. This entails a critical examination of the material resources and economies available within specific situations. Each situation may entail examination of economic and environmental factors, but also labor rights, property rights and the production and distribution of knowledge, which are investigated in tandem to produce a variety of different critical perspectives.


Perpetuum Mobilε, co-founded by Ivor Stodolsky and Marita Muukkonen, is a conduit and engine to bring together art, practice and enquiry. It acts as a vehicle to re-imagine certain basic historical, institutional as well as theoretical paradigms in these fields, which often exist in disparate institutional and political frames and territories. Perpetuum Mobilεzations include projects such as RE-ALIGNED (, the Perpetual Romani-Gypsy Pavilion (, The Arts Assembly ( and Perpetuum Labs.


> Rotor


> The Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon

> Anarchists Against The Wall

The Netherlands

> Artist at Occupy Amsterdam network!/groups/155194434576968/

> BAK, Utrecht

> Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven

– Charles Eshe;Merijn Oudenampsen; Jimini Hignett; Matthijs de Bruijne; Thomas Peutz & Una Henry


> Universidad Nomada& Marcelo Exposito


> Mute Magazine – Culture and politics after the net

>Third Textis an international scholarly journal providing critical perspectives on art and visual culture. It examines the theoretical and historical ground by which the West legitimises its position as the ultimate arbiter of what is significant within this field.

> Precarious Workers Brigade are a UK-based growing group of precarious workers in culture & education. We call out in solidarity with all those struggling to make a living in this climate of instability and enforced austerity.

> Historical Materialism is a Marxist journal, appearing four times a year, based in London. Founded in 1997, it asserts that, notwithstanding the variety of its practical and theoretical articulations, Marxism constitutes the most fertile conceptual framework for analysing social phenomena, with an eye to their overhaul. In our selection of materials, we do not favour any one tendency, tradition or variant.

> is a not for profit artist run organization based in Tower Hamlets

– Steve Edwards, Gail Day, John Roberts, Susan Kelly


> REARTIKULACIJA is an art project of the group Reartikulacija (Marina Gržinić, Staš Kleindienst, Sebastjan Leban and Tanja Passoni). It is based on a precise intervention logic; through contemporary political theory, critic, art projects, activism and self-organization, it aims to intervene in the Slovene, Balkan and international space. The platform allows networking with other political subjects, activists, artists, who are interested in the possibility to create and maintain a dialogue with concrete social and political spaces in Slovenia, Europe and worldwide.

> Radical Education Collective

Bojana Pishkur, Marina Grzinic, Zdenka Badovinac, Vadim Fishkin, Mladen Dolar, Slavoj Zizek


> Disobedience Archive is an ongoing, multi-phase project curated by Marco Scotini and produced and presented by PLAY platform for Film & Video. The first phase started in Berlin in January 2005 and after Prague the next step will be in Mexico City in September 2005. Disobedience is a video station and a platform of discussion dealing with the relationship between artistic practices and political action.

Sao Paolo

> The BijaRi is a visual arts and multimedia breeding center. Developing projects in various platforms, the group operates between analog and digital media offering artistic experimentations, especially of a critical nature. Urban interventions, performances, installations, video art and design become a means to engage people, generating impact that generates a questioning of the current reality.


>Zanny Begg – artist and activist web site


> 16 Beaver is the address of a space initiated/run by artists to create and maintain an ongoing platform for the presentation, production, and discussion of a variety of artistic/cultural/economic/political projects. It is the point of many departures/arrivals.

> Greg Sholette web site

> Artist Organisation

> Brian Holmes blog

> Creative Time

> Tidal, occupy strategy journal


> WHW (What, How and for Whom?) / Galerija Nova, curators collective!/groups/70785898206/

> Theater collective

> FRAKCIJA, a Performing Arts Magazine

International networks

> eipcp – European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies and multilingual web journal

> Former West a long-term international research, education, publishing, and exhibition project (2008–2014), which from within the field of contemporary art and theory: (1) reflects upon the changes introduced to the world (and thus to the so-called West) by the political, cultural, artistic, and economic events of 1989; (2) engages in rethinking the global histories of the last two decades in dialogue with post-communist and postcolonial thought; and (3) speculates about a “post-bloc” future that recognizes differences yet evolves through the political imperative of equality and the notion of “one world.”

> ArtLeaks is collective platform initiated by an international group of artists, curators, art historians and intellectuals in response to the abuse of their professional integrity and the open infraction of their labor rights. In the art world, such abuses usually disappear, but some events bring them into sharp focus and therefore deserve public scrutiny.

> International Errorist movement

> Ultrared
Activist art has come to signify a particular emphasis on appropriated aesthetic forms whose political content does the work of both cultural analysis and cultural action. The art collaboration Ultra-red propose a political-aesthetic project that reverses this model. If we understand organizing as the formal practices that build relationships out of which people compose an analysis and strategic actions, how might art contribute to and challenge those very processes? How might those processes already constitute aesthetic forms?


Documenta_12_magazines – was very important!

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The First Open 48-hours May Congress-Commune of creative workers will take place in Moscow, April 29-30, 2010.

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In the course of the two days, artists, researchers, translators, teachers, curators, union leaders, journalists, writers and musicians from all over the country will take part in several round-table discussions, talk-marathons, poetry readings and concerts. In the recent years, most of the participants have been part of important artistic and research initiatives that address the social and economic situation of creative professionals in contemporary Russian society. As neo-liberalism continues to establish its hold, its ugly manifestations are becoming a daily reality for all of us. Not only are exploitation and lack of freedom taking on increasingly elaborate forms, but also the very resourcefulness and the creative potential of an artist or researcher are appropriated and capitalized on by employers. It is against this backdrop that the issues raised by the phenomenon of precarious labor are becoming ever more pressing. It is our conviction that the reassessment of precarious workers’ position in today’s economic structure calls for a joint action in search of a new cultural space and an alternative educational platform outside of and beyond the fraudulent logic of the neo-liberal market economy. Alongside the struggle against the injustice at a work-place, collective advocacy of civil rights within professional unions, and the street-politics of manifestations and protests we are now making another crucial step towards the re-examination of our position and therefore, towards change. The May Congress builds on and develops the experience of several earlier projects, such as “Drift. Narvskaya Zastava” (St. Petersburg – Moscow, 2004-2005), “Self-Education(s)” (exhibition, Moscow, 2006), “68.08. Street Politics” (exhibition, Moscow, 2008) and “Leftist art. Leftist history. Leftist philosophy. Leftist poetry.” (seminar, Nizhny Novgorod, 2009) among others. The Congress proceedings will be organized around two main thematic clusters: LABOR and SELF-ORGANIZATION. The third, practice-oriented, part will take place in the morning, on May 1, the International Workers’ Day that celebrates unity and solidarity, when the Congress participants will walk out into the streets of Moscow to form their own joyful and creative column.

The Congress will provide modest dorm-like accommodations for its participants on the premises of Proekt-Fabrika.

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Experiences of Perestroika

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Maria Hlavaiova

Perestroika Timeline installation, 2009/2013

This installation by the collective of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers Chto Delat? (a name that echoes the famous writings of Nikolay Chernyshevsky and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin) reflects through videos and in situ wall drawings upon the notions of social emancipation and collectivism. Referring to perestroika, the process of “restructuring” of the Soviet political and economic system, the work offers a timeline as it were of “what has happened” between 1986 (introduction of perestroika and glasnost by Mikhail Gorbachev) and 1992 (disintegration of the Soviet Union), including the statements on the massive impoverishment of population and extreme forms of nationalism and religious obscurantism leading to civil wars and terrorism. This summary is followed by a hypothetical, analogous chronology titled “What Might Have Happened.” This “what if” list involves imaginaries such as: “The Soviet Union is transformed into a federative state based on broad autonomy of republics, districts, and cities,” and “Workers take full control of all factories and enterprises,” or “Governments fully disarm and unite to create a fund to ensure the future of the planet.” But also: “The West undergoes its own version of perestroika. Inspired by the processes underway in a renewed Soviet Union, western societies carry out a series of radical social-democratic reforms,” a parallel to the proposition of “former West” in regards to the need to rethink the place of the so-called West outside of its self-claimed hegemony in the world. (MH)

 Documentation of the installations
Perestroika Timeline at 11th Istanbul Biennale, September-November 2009


here is documentation of the installation

Perestroika Timeline at Former West, Haus Kulturen der Welt, Berlin March 2013

View of the Perestroika Timeline Installation at CAAC, Sevilia 2012


Why Perestroika? History is not given.

‘The true picture of the past flits by’

These words by Walter Benjamin have the most direct possible relation to the phenomenon of the Perestroyka.

What exactly was this experience? And what does it mean today?

Today, nostalgia for all things Soviet is a popular commodity that is so fluid precisely because its underlying experience has already been hollowed out. As the Soviet experience returns in new capitalist packaging, even the right to interpret its history becomes an object of unabashed speculation.

A host of contemporaries is attempting to construct a comfortable image of the Perestroika as unescapable way to capitalism and to legitimate a flimsy power and a shabby everyday. To interrupt the din of this choir, it makes sense to turn to the central question that Benjamin asks in his theses on the concept of history: who is the subject of history? For those who take on the task of continuing the struggle for emancipation, the answer to this question is unambiguous: ‘not man or men, but the struggling, oppressed class itself is the depository of historical knowledge,’ a class-multitude that clearly realizes and rejects the status quo that fetters its lives, dreams, and the dignity and strength of constituent labor: all those who still remember the pride of belonging to the human struggle for freedom.

If we resign ourselves to the history of the victors, this will be a betrayal of the Perestroika experience. But if we are willing and ready to inherit the Soviet project, we need to rethink it as the history of the oppressed, as a battle for the actualization of the emancipatory potentials repressed in Soviet history and particular at the time of its end. Without this paradoxical gesture, we stand little chance of drawing anything positive from the experience of popular power betrayed.

One of the meanings of art lies in its capacity for actualizing the potentials of the past, which we rush to ‘seize hold of a moment of danger,’ as they are ‘becoming a tool’ in the hands of the victors. Creativity draws closer the moment in which the actualized elements of the past interweave with what is taking place in the presence of the now (Jetztzeit), leading to the composition of a new Event.

This text draws upon Walter Benjamin’s ‘On the Concept of History’. The text contains both direct and oblique references to it.

Perestroika Songspiel

Perestroika Songspiel. /// Перестройка Зонгшпиль from chto delat on Vimeo.

Chronicles of Perestroika

Chronicles of Perestroika / Хроники Перестройки from chto delat on Vimeo.

a film by Dmitry Vilensky; Music: Mikhail Krutik
Running time: 16:46 minuteThe film Chronicles of Perestroyka is based on the documentation of different manifestation at the time of Perestroyka from 1987 till 1991 in Petersburg. Materials are generously provided by the Saint Petersburg Studio of Documentary Films
Special thanks to all camera men who preserved these unique moments of history and to Sergey Gelver, who has saved and is taking care of these precious materials.

What’s Next after Next?

Commentary to a video installation

The installation included video film ‘What’s Next after Next?’ done during discussion at CopenhagenArtAcademy between students of academy (part of them were actively involved with Ungdomshuset (‘Youth House’) movement) and activist of Next Stop Soviet Movement from 1988. Also the part of the installation was a few original films produced during the visit to Soviet Union organised by Next Stop. And graphic panels that were based on the canonic imagery used by Next Stop and Ungdomshuset (these panels were realised by Nikolay Oleinikov and students — special thanks to Alexander Marchuk).

perestroikaThe installation at the show — it was shown at the U-turn, Quadrienalle for Contemporary Art, repeat the discussion environment that was specially produced for making film.

Next Stop Soviet was a Scandinavian initiative that organized the visits of thousands of young Scandinavians to the Soviet Union in 1988. The idea was to continue breaking the isolation of the USSR through manifold human and cultural exchanges. The outcome was that five thousand Danes went to the USSR through more than one hundred different projects. The Danes lived in private homes with young people with the same interests or occupations as their guests. Among the hosts was Dmitry Vilensky, a member of Chto Delat? It was his first contact with foreigners.

Ungdomshuset (‘Youth House’) was the popular name of the building formally named Folkets Hus (‘House of the People’), located on Jagtvej 69 in Copenhagen. It functioned as an underground scene venue for music and a meeting point for various leftist groups from 1982 until 2007, when it was torn down. Due to the ongoing conflict between the municipal government of Copenhagen and the activists occupying the premises, the building has been the subject of intense media attention and public debate since the mid-nineties.

The idea of the film was to gather around table two generations of Danish activists—the legendary but now-forgotten Next Stop Soviet and the young artists who participated in my seminar ‘Art and History,’ most of whom also participated actively in the life of the Ungdomshuset. The discussion took place in a specially constructed environment of movable screens on which we had placed iconic images linked to the perestroika era and images symbolizing the struggles of the Ungdomshuset.

Why did I find it important to engineer the semantic collision of these two periods? There were a lot of personal motives. Objectively speaking, however, these are the two major instances of international youth mobilization initiated by Danes. That is, it was necessary to exchange the political experience acquired during such different periods.

I start with two parallel premises. First, there is my personal experience of involvement in perestroika, which to a great extent formed me politically; this experience includes my involvement with Next Stop Soviet. Second, there are my observations of the current conjuncture in Russia. In 2006, the composition of protest forces began to be quite reminiscent of the situation during the early phase of perestroika. That is, I had the sense that time had gone into reverse. Whereas Soviet society moved in the direction of strengthening civil liberties during perestroika, today the situation is evolving in the opposite direction. The suppression of all forms of opposition has as it were sent society back to the beginning of perestroika, when certain things had become possible, but the state’s repressive apparatuses still totally controlled the situation. The difference is obvious, however. Perestroika happened at a rare moment in history when the ruling classes didn’t want to go on with business as usual, but the grassroots were unable to formulate their own common vision of a better society. It was this paradoxical conjuncture that led to the collapse of society, which was then once again reborn as a single-party authoritarian state. The time had thus come to recall the dramatic experience of perestroika.

The case of the Ungdomshuset is somewhat different. It happened in a different period, but this period bears a certain resemblance to perestroika. I primarily have in mind a situation when any interests that don’t fit into the economization of life are sacrificed to profit and imaginary security.

The dramatic defense and demolition of the house in 2006, and the subsequent historical street battles with the police, numerous unlawful arrests of participants, and attempts to find a new house, which mobilized a large number of young people in Denmark and Europe, came to symbolize the continuing struggle for another world, the defense of people’s right not to submit to the total control of biopolitical power. But it turned out that this mobilization had a lot of weak points. It proved unable to exit the narrow framework of identity politics and find a way to appeal to the whole society or to all oppressed groups. I hoped that turning the spotlight on the history of political movements would help us get our heads around today’s problems.

What can we take from history? It was important for me to compare the two periods. To understand the logic of mobilization. To understand what it means to suffer defeat. Later on during the discussion one of the participants said in a fit of anger, ‘We lost everything.’ And the room went silent.

I was amazed by the indifference of Danes to history. The symbols of the revolutionary part — the declaration of International Women’s Day (March 8), which took place at the Ungdomshuset, Lenin’s visit — seemingly have no role at all in the present. The discontinuity of historical experience is obvious, and I think this weakens the movements.

Leftist consciousness is always dramatic. It is built on an analysis of the experience of cruel and often bloody defeats. We learn through the experience of loss. Even history’s seemingly most vivid moments — the Paris Commune, 1917, 1991, and such smaller episodes of struggle as Next Stop Soviet or the Ungdomshuset — are simultaneously defeats. But if humanity can continue to make sense of them, the experience of these defeats proves to be more important than the senselessness of capital’s victories. It is through these defeats that we can genuinely question ourselves and society at large. Each defeat that we have comprehended turns into a pure potentiality that works to create a new historical breakthrough. This is the only way that history is made.

In essence, the only question that remains is this: are people willing to imagine that they make their own history?

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Chto Delat? / What is to be Done?

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Chto Delat publication

at Seccesion, Vienna
Posters Time line and Lexicon

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) – active till 2011, 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 2012). 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)


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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Drift. Narvskaya Zastava (2004-2005)

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Research and Exhibition Project

drift_tablichkaThis collective project was an artistic inquiry into one of Petersburg’s most fascinating and contradictory neighborhoods, Narvskaya Zastava.

Surrounded by a ring of factories, railroad tracks and shipyards, Narvskaya Zastava is a historical hotbed of dissent. After the revolution, the neighborhood was redeveloped extensively to improve life for Narvskaya Zastava’s working class. However, today, Narvskaya Zastava has drifted into a de-industrialized malaise, becoming a ghetto despite its central location: the majority of its inhabitants live below the poverty line; public space and cultural institutions are undergoing privatization, and the ecological situation remains dire.

In summer and early autumn of 2004, the workgroup Chto delat invited sociologists, architectural historians, and fellow artists to collaborate in a research and exhibition project about this neighborhood, using diverse sociological and artistic practices, used in combination with a derive.

The project’s result have been previously published in Chto delat 7, and were shown to the public in two exhibitions in Russia. The following is a more detailed documentation.

Research and Exhibition Project, 2004-2005

The exhibition project “Drift. Narvskaya Zastava” was an artistic inquiry into one of Petersburg’s most fascinating and contradictory neighborhoods. It was undertaken by the workgroup “Chto Delat” in the summer of 2004 with the support of the “ProArte”-Institute. Its results were presented to the public at the Museum of the History of Petersburg (October 2004) and National Center for Contemporary Art, Moscow (February 2005).



If you look at a map of Petersburg, you will immediately see that Narvskaya Zastava is an isolated zone, surrounded by a ring of factories, railroad tracks and shipyards. Before the revolution, it was part of the city’s proletarian outskirts, a historical hotbed of dissent.

The first shots in the 1905 Revolution were fired here, and in 1917, Narva Square served as a www ground for the Bolshevik troops storming the Winter Palace.

During the 1920s, as a symbolic gesture of gratitude for Narvskaya Zastava’s working class, the new government decided to establish the neighborhood as the administrative center of a new, socialist Leningrad. These efforts resulted in some of the most significant ensembles of Constructivist architecture.

Today, Narvskaya Zastava is undergoing slow but certain de-industrialization. It has taken on some of the qualities of a ghetto, notwithstanding its central location: its buildings are falling apart quite quickly; the majority of its inhabitants live below the poverty line; public space and cultural institutions are undergoing privatization, and even if many of the factories have stopped working, the ecological situation remains dire.

The neighborhood has become a “blind zone” in the great megapolis and has taken on the typical traits of a industrial post-Soviet town in the provinces, where the transformation from the old socialist model of society to new market-driven forms of social interaction has been frozen in time.

It is this “paralysis” of the state of transformation that provides the observer with the rare historical chance to analyze everyday life in the moment of its painful historical transformation.


you can see general documantation of the exhibitions, photographs and stills from the film here

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Recent Selected Publications

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– Global Activism, Art and conflicts in 21st century, a ZKMbook, MIT Press, Cambridge, London

– Entry Points: The Vera List Center Manual on Art and Social Justice, No. 1, VERA LIST CENTER FOR ART AND POLITICS, THE NEW SCHOOL, 2015 


Chto Delat. Time capsule. Artistic report on catastrophes and Utopia. Published on the occasion of the Chto Delat exhibition at Seccesion, Vienna, November 2014

 Chto Delat catalogue published by Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 2011 VERLAG DER BUCHHANDLUNG WALTHER KÖNIG with a contribution by Simon Sheikh, Victor Misiano and Johan Holten at:

The best of times, The worst of times, the catalogue of the first Biennale of Contemporary Art, Kiev, 2012



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