#2- 26: Another commons: living / knowledge / act
In these pages, we (artists, researchers, activists) try to rethink the experience of collective creative living here and now. Living for the sake of knowledge, art, and action.
Here we describe and elaborate a method for working with reality. The general method applied here, in this newspaper, was first tried out in kitchens, in blogs, and on the streets.
Most of the texts and drawings in this issue were not only created collectively. They were also lived collectively—for nights and days on end, together. These include:
- The collective hunger strike of our Petersburg comrades, inscribed in the historical moment by their radical interpretation of this experience.
- The production of a new activist film. It re-enacts and ponders the thrilling events of the collective experiencing and socialization of leftist knowledge in our communal seminar in progress.
- The wave of protest actions in support of a Novosibirsk artist.
- The resolution to write a collective political communiqué.
- Engagement instead of escapism.
This method is applied by merging all these elements into a single juncture in a particular place, into a concrete historical moment that we have collectively experienced and acknowledged, and by analyzing this moment in medias res.
idea of the film and directing
идея фильма и режиссура:
Dmitry Vilensky // Дмитрий Виленский
Script and film crew / Сценарная и съемочная группа:
Oleg Zguravlyov, Nikolay Oleinikov, Kirill Medvedev, Dmitry Vilensky
Олег Журавлев, Николай Олейников, Кирилл Медведев, Дмитрий Виленский
Camera /// Камера:
Dmitry Vilensky // Дмитрий Виленский
Монтаж /// Edit:
Dmitry Vilensky // Дмитрий Виленский
The participants of the seminar “Communal Living: Leftist Art, Leftist Philosophy, Leftist History, /// Communique on politization of art
We, the researchers, artists, and activists who initiated and participated in the “Communal Life” seminar, which took place on May 9, 2009, in the Nizhny Novgorod branch of the National Center for Contemporary Art (NCCA) and was subjected to an illegal raid by the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), call on everyone to protest the crude violations of constitutional rights and liberties that have become the norm in today’s Russia.
We see only one reason for law enforcement’s attack on our seminar: the fact that activists were among the participants. Society has been sent a signal about how far art and academic work can be politicized: If you involve people who are under the surveillance of the Center for Extremism Prevention in your cultural and academic events, then the authorities are prepared to intervene.
Drawing on the historical tradition of political practices in art and thought, we affirm that visual art, poetry, philosophy, and the humanities possess a powerful emancipatory potential. That is why contemporary culture is unthinkable unless it extends to people who are not indifferent to the processes taking place in society. This is what scares the policemen who, in the worst traditions of TV crime serials, carry out raids on people as they peacefully discuss art and philosophy, watch a Godard film, and think about the place of art and thought in public life.
Material for a Screenplay /// Two Plus Two / Practicing Godard (The Story of the “Communal Life” Seminar)
Screenplay working group: Nikolai Oleynikov, Oleg Zhuravlev, Dmitry Vilensky and Kirill Medvedev
I was inspired to make this film after the police forced me to delete video footage of the OMON raid on our seminar in Nizhny Novgorod. I was struck by their brazen confidence that they could erase things from people’s memory as easily as you can delete a video image. This film is meant as a response to their challenge. It shows that we can not only document the crimes of the authorities for posterity, but also shape our own space of interpretation. We can recreate our own histories, in which the deeds of the police will be remembered as shameful acts against society. —Dmitry Vilensky
The “communal life” seminar unites four disciplines and four young activists, representatives of two self-organized leftist collectives:
Nikolai Oleynikov (artist, Chto Delat workgroup)
Alexei Penzin (philosopher, Chto Delat workgroup)
Ilya Budraitskis (historian, artists, and activist, Vpered Socialist Movement)
Kirill Medvedev (poet and activist, Vpered Socialist Movement)
May 9, 2009
Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Gorky – Jagger
The following fictitious text appears over footage from the beginning of the seminar:
Center for Extremism Prevention
Nizhny Novgorod, May 2, 2009
Ilya Budraitskis, Anton Damstruen, Alexey Penzin, Dmitry Vilensky, Nikolay Oleynikov /// Le joli mai: a chronicle of the “long” month of may 2009
This chronicle attempts to place several events that impacted our coalition of activists, artists, and thinkers during May 2009 within the broader context that generated and shaped them. We might have begun our chronicle of this “merry month” much earlier—for example, in July 2002, when the first version of the Russian federal law on “extremism” took effect. We should at least return to the equally “merry” autumn of 2008, when the Interior Ministry’s organized crime unit was reformed as the Department for Extremism Prevention, the so-called Center “E” whose operatives have played a key role in many of the events we mention here. This reform took place amidst public avowals by high state officials that they would not allow “extremists” and other malevolent forces to take advantage of the growing world economic crisis to “destabilize” the country.
The past autumn and early winter were also marked by a wave of attacks on Russian social activists (e.g., Carine Clément, Alexei Etmanov, Mikhail Beketov) that culminated in the murder of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, in January of this year. Meanwhile, in what might be seen as another salvo in Russia’s “history wars,” the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office raided the Memorial Society’s Research and Information Center in Petersburg on December 4, making off with hard drives containing archives on the history of state terror in the Soviet Union. While that case ended, in the spring, with a court victory for Memorial, other episodes of police and prosecutorial abuse did not. Anti-fascist Alexei Olesinov was convicted by a Moscow court of “group hooliganism” (for a minor incident outside a night club) after a trial his defenders denounced as a farce of justice. In echoes of the Loskutov case, Yakutia trade union organizer Valentin Urusov saw his conviction for drugs possession first overturned and then reinstated. A senior Moscow police official’s supermarket shooting spree, in late April, provoked the rudiments of a public debate on the urgent need for reform of Russia’s law enforcement agencies and belated revelations that such violence and abuse (albeit sometimes “milder” in form) were standard police “procedure.”
1.In medias res
It is very difficult to understand what is going on in medias res, from the inside: these are events that are in the process of development, that affect us personally and assail us from all sides without allowing us to assume the stance of a dispassionate observer. These events affect many of us, sometimes in the literal, physical sense. The command “Hands against the wall!” A stunning blow to the head in a bus filled with people nabbed at a demonstration. Or, for example, the indescribably grotesque intrusion of a detachment of armed, shouting men during the showing of a Godard film at a peaceful leftist seminar. For about a year now the solidarity networks have been constantly delivering reports of new arrests, unlawful summonses for “discussions,” and beatings of activists. It is possible, however, that we should not be so focused on ourselves. The bad news concerns not only the minority of activists and intellectuals. The news also comes from those who are not involved in politics, education or research—from “average citizens.” The very texture of post-Soviet society in recent years has been steeped in anonymous, free-floating violence committed by the “forces of law and order.” Violence against civilians has become a kind of collateral damage, an excess of the existing system of political management. Sometimes this anonymous violence takes on personal and transgressive features. For example, in the person of a police officer who shoots at customers in a supermarket with the cold-bloodedness of a character in a computer game.
The Kiev Arts Council (Khudsovet), founded in summer 2008, unites a number of young artists, architects, translators, political activists, literary theorists, curators, designers, and journalists—a total of nineteen people.* The Arts Council functions as a curatorial group and, at the same time, as a discussion and self- (mutual-) education community. The projects of the Arts Council are based on communication, which the participants perceive as something intrinsically valuable, as a source of pleasure, and as an opportunity to go beyond the limits of alienated fields of specialized knowledge.
The work of the Arts Council is built on total verbalization and clear argumentation. Decisions made in this non-authoritarian space are repeatedly bathed and formed by the flow of words. This obviously restricts the mobility of the Arts Council: produced via irregular meetings and written correspondence, its activity can attain only a quite limited velocity. But such deceleration also holds us back from the competitive environment of today’s culture industry, where the speed of production and exposition renders the artistic utterance completely empty and senseless.
This essay will not be about the Street University. I’m tired of retelling the story. Anyone who has heard of it, regardless of their opinion of the experiment, knows that its “self-organized classes are held in the street” and its “actions are aimed at putting the public back into public space.” But what is the Street University really, with its disorderly organization, its surplus capacity for generating myths, and the constant disappointments and charms this practice provokes in its participants.
From May 28 to June 10, 2009, several artists in Petersburg organized a plein air session outside the Smolny Institute (Petersburg city hall), where they painted the horror (of Russian reality) from life.
From May 28 to June 10 those artists were on a hunger strike.
It would be best to quote their words first:
The beautiful views of St. Petersburg conceal a grim reality: summonses to prophylactic interviews, intimidation of civic activists, and cops acting with impunity in the streets. It is the duty of artists to reflect reality, no matter how horrific, by exposing its darker aspects. […] The illegal mass detention of the May 1 street demonstration organized by Petersburg artists, along with the arrest of our ‘brother in art’ Artem Loskutov in Novosibirsk on an absurd charge leave us with no doubts, and no choice. We, the artists of St. Petersburg, are forced to declare a hunger strike with the goal of appealing to the authorities to observe their own laws and our constitutional rights, and to cease the repression of artists. There must be an end to the criminalization of contemporary art.
This is an abridged text. The full version (in Russian) can be found at: www.ikd.ru/node/9926
The case of Novosibirsk artist Artem Loskutov, arrested on May 15 of this year, is now widely known outside of Novosibirsk. It has given us serious cause to pay particular attention to the work of the law enforcement authorities, particularly the Department for Extremism Prevention (the so-called Center “E”), which took such an interest in Artem’s art. On the other hand, it should cause us to reflect on the methods and forms of resisting what should be characterized as Kafkaesque absurdity rather than growing idiocy.
It would appear that the heightened interest in the Loskutov case is connected not so much with his activism. And not only with the fact that the charge of “possession of a large quantity of narcotics” or the efforts of Center “E” to uncover Loskutov’s involvement in the organization of an international criminal group seem totally ludicrous. It is rather that the absurdity of the charges and the obvious partiality of the judges, who unexpectedly and harshly remanded him to police custody, were perceived by many people, including those who have nothing to do with politics, as a challenge. A friend of mine, an apolitical photographer, noted that for the first time he had an acute sense of the difference between “us” and “them.”
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.
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