#06- 30: Living, Thinking, Acting politically


Oxana Timofeeva // Living Politically

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The idea of organizing a communal seminar in Maastricht came to me in January 2010, when I arrived in the city from Moscow for two years to do research (on animals in philosophy) in the theory department at the Jan Van Eyck Academie. The Chto Delat collective and the Vpered Socialist Movement had already organized a 24-hour seminar in Nizhny Novgorod and were planning a 48-hour May Day forum for creative workers in Moscow. The goal of the Maastricht seminar was to integrate this form – “communal life seminars” – into the international context. Everyone saw this as an important challenge. When two active participants in the Nizhny Novgorod event, Nikolay Oleynikov and Kirill Medvedev, and I were in the early stages of the discussing the project, we asked ourselves a question. What if things that were apparent to us turned out to be completely unapparent to a European audience adapted to different political realities – for example, the meaning of the Soviet-era term obshchezhitie (both “communal living” and “dormitory,” “hostel”), which can hardly be adequately translated into English? But this was precisely the point of the project – to gather people from different contexts and force them to search for a common language of the “political.” A search like this is seemingly in the order of things, but what was really interesting and new was the fact that the premises of our experience, which in our local situation we considered self-evident or axiomatic, here became a barrier to understanding, and this barrier had to be overcome. The way we originally asked the question was: how do we – you and me – make sense not only of our daily lives, but also of professional work in political terms? To put it simply, what meaning do we invest in what we do and how we live? All this established yet another important dynamic of difference, which during the course of the seminar revealed itself, albeit fairly hypothetically, as a productive conflict between art, theory, and activism. Each of these forms of work has its own trajectory of desire, but the question is how, when, and where an intersection of these trajectories is possible, and whether it is possible at all. The title of the event – Living Politically – reflected both this dynamic, which informed the seminar’s content, and a formal moment: this was an event in the experimental format of “life,” that is, it was a matter of combining “life” and “politics” in a limited time and space.

The 48-hour communal seminar in Maastricht took place on July 2–4, 2010. This dialogue is based on a discussion that arose at the end of the seminar. Dmitry Vilensky, Oxana Timofeeva, Pietro Bianchi, Katja Diefenbach, Aaron Schuster, Alexei Penzin, Andrei Berdnikov, and others took part in this discussion.

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Steve Edwards // Auto-critique of a Leaflet distributed by Stan Evans at the London Learning Play organised by Chto Delat (10th September 2010)

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As representatives of Historical Materialism (a London-based journal of Marxist theory) Steve Edwards and Antigoni Memou participated in the 48-Hour Communal Life Seminar, convened by Chto Delat, ‘What Struggles Do We Have in Common?’ The seminar was productive in bringing together activists, artists and thinkers (and these need not be separate people) to talk and live together for two days. We met comrades from Russia and Belgrade; we also met activists, artists and media workers from Britain – even from our own city – who we did not know. Introductions of this type can be significant in developing networks of resistance to capitalism. We found the discussion fascinating (we talked much); the film screenings were instructive (we learned together); and we enjoyed the dumplings, vodka and the company (we laughed a great deal).

The question posed by the seminar is an important one for artists and activists, but so is the question ‘what struggles do we not have in common?’ One possible criticism of the seminar is that it lacked antagonism on questions of fundamental importance for all involved: is the distinction art and activism a genuine opposition? Is art activism in any way effective? What critical and theoretical resources do we need to create revolutionary change? Which legacy and which way forward? Who? Many questions; few answers.

In the learning play that emerged from the seminar Antigoni Memou played an activist; Steve Edwards (beside himself) intervened from the audience as Stan Evans who called for a boycott of the whole event as a mere charade of revolutionary politics served up for the well-heeled audience of the ICA. This intervention revolved around a leaflet written by Edwards and Vlidi Jerić of the Prelom Collective and issued under the name of the ‘League of Revolutionary Cultural Workers’.

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