#9: What do we have in common?


Builders (2004)

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a video project by Chto Delat?

realised by Tsaplya [Olga Egorova], Nikolay Oleinikov, Dmitry Vilensky

This video project is inspired by the painting “The Builders of Bratsk” (1961) by Viktor Popkov. As a Soviet art critic once accurately noted, “the paintings main theme is the ‘resurgence of life.’” By today, this piece has become an iconographic symbol of self-possessed, concentrated people, not only standing on the brink of great changes, but capable of making sense of this transformation and realizing it.

See related materials in the publication of Chto Delat “What do we have in common.”

It is important to note that the workers on the painting are not shown in the process of working, but that they are taking a well-deserved cigarette break. They have interrupted their work and now have the chance to consider both the relations that govern it, but also the significance it will have to the transformation of society at large. This is exactly how the painting was read in its time, as an interpretation we would like to return to today.

Our project’s goal is to apply this ideal image to contemporaneity. We invite the spectator to return to the composition of this painting and to suggest a new version of the process of its creation. We want to show (through a slide show and sound track) what might have preceded this moment, in which they took on a pose that turned them into a symbol of certainty, strength and belief. What was it? Hard work? A conflict in production that found its own solution? Or maybe even a hidden love story? Maybe it was all of these things at once, and maybe none of it happened. Our goal lies in constructing a situation in which people today (ourselves and our colleagues from Chto delat) become “ideal,” stretching to reach this image.

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Artem Magun /// Res omnium – Res nullus / Common thing – Nobody’s thing

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What do we have in common? What does the common mean? How can we invoke this common, realizing it and by doing so, maintaining its existence? Contemporary global capitalism realizes total communization, the exchange of people and things, but this communization takes the form of a rupture of all social connections. In departing from its initial revolutionary impulses, Soviet “communism” created an alienated, unjust system as a consequence. By the 1970s, this system brought on the atomization of society and the victory of an ideology of individualism and consumerism, comparable to the situation in bourgeois societies. But the Soviet experience also had another side: the “common” or the “collective” really was not appropriated fully; in the bureaucratic system of collective irresponsibility, it often turned out to be unneeded, belonging to no-one

The Soviet landscape – a landscape that continues to entrance artists, directors, and writers to this day – is a landscape of abandoned construction sites, empty lots, or the open street-doors of Petersburg, where one could easily urinate or drink a little bottle of vodka…In many senses, the common remained vacant and free… In spite of itself, through a “trick of history”, the Soviet regime achieved a free common where it was not looking for it…Of course, all of this was uncomfortable and ineffective, and the new bourgeois prophets of the Perestroika began by pointing at this scandalous trait of Soviet “communism”, suggesting to privatize it in order to tie humanity more closely to the material “base” of its surroundings. But for now, none of this has worked: the new private owners have little respect for the world of things, which is why they have subjected this world to predatory exploitation (based on the same disrespect), while disrespect for the public sphere is so much of a part of our very existences that we still hardly worry about the environment in our everyday lives; we never fix up our hallways and are rarely capable of uniting for any action in protest.

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Dmitri Gutov – David Riff /// Complete agreement is the ideal of the human race

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David Riff (DR): How did the Lifshitz (1) Institute form? Was it your own initiative? Or did the group come together collectively? Could you tell me a little about how you came together?

Dmitri Gutov (DG): The “Lifshitz” Institute was conceived as a social movement that concerned the discovery of a new phenomenon, namely Soviet Marxism, primarily of the 1930s. A small number of people discovered that there was, in fact, such a phenomenon, a phenomenon that was completely original, substantial, completely incomprehensible and forgotten. Our idea was to re-read old Marxist texts with new eyes, as the final chord of the Communist drama was fading.

David Riff (DR): How did the Lifshitz (1) Institute form? Was it your own initiative? Or did the group come together collectively? Could you tell me a little about how you came together?

Dmitri Gutov (DG): The “Lifshitz” Institute was conceived as a social movement that concerned the discovery of a new phenomenon, namely Soviet Marxism, primarily of the 1930s. A small number of people discovered that there was, in fact, such a phenomenon, a phenomenon that was completely original, substantial, completely incomprehensible and forgotten. Our idea was to re-read old Marxist texts with new eyes, as the final chord of the Communist drama was fading.

All of this happened toward the end of the 1980s. Many people probably still remember what was going on in the country at the time: anti-communism was rampant. If you read Lenin, people looked at you as if you were an idiot, and if you chose works that were written during the epoch of Stalinism, it simply seemed scandalous. The “Institute” was founded on the initiative of Kostya Bokhorov and myself. It was very important to find at least one other person to discuss what actually interested me. But we didn’t found any kind of formal organization.

By the early 1990s, public disinterest in and mockery of Marxism had reached its apogee. It was then that Kostya and I decided to turn our efforts into an organization, to search for allies. The shelling of the parliament in the autumn of 1993 and the complete triumph of liberalism only made us even more determined. The name “Lifshitz-Institute” appeared in early 1994. At this point, our meetings attracted an extremely broad and colorful group of people: students, political activists, doctors of art history, professors of philosophy, Duma representatives, radical artists.

Our idea was very simple. All we wanted to do was to drop a seed (who, for us, was Lifshitz) into the solution of the time, so that related phenomena would crystallize around it. It was our goal to collect those who were interested in classical Marxism and the communist view of art. All of the meetings that took place then had me in a state of constant stress. I just can’t convey exactly how unfavorable the times were to our idea. It seemed impossible to find any common language, and the perspective of spreading Lifshitz to any kind of broader public seemed incredibly dim.

After 2000-2001, when the situation changed yet again, there was a new upwind of interest in Marxism, and we continued our vigil with the next post-Perestroika generation.

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Alexei Penzin /// From Commonplaces to Community

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Why should we speak of “the community”? In its everyday usage, this word simultaneously carries a note of nostalgia and the aftertaste of an almost inadmissible pathos.

We constantly hear trivial words on the “international community”, the “scientific community” or the “expert community”. Can this word be endowed with any other kind of meaning, a meaning that would not simply point toward the attributes of some group of individuals or toward the fact of small “groups” and their coming-together in “societies” and “collectives” of a more complex configuration? Even in this usage, the word community does not correspond to “society”, nor to “group”, nor to “collective”. It still hides a shifting meaning in the shadows of its commonplaces, a shifting meaning capable of bringing us to the epicenter of the political and philosophical thinking of the last decades. For this thinking, the conventional opposition between collectivism and individualism already appears as all too naive. Today, collectivity is carefully modeled by the power of the state, while individuality is guided by the market’s “invisible hand”. Both collectivism and individualism would be incapable of becoming anything more than a failed attempt at escaping a certain kind of “biopolitics”, a strategy of controlling the masses, which does not only affect consciousness, but life itself, the body and its basic habits, its automatisms.

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