#5: Love and Politics


Editorial

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Why is this so important? The original premise: feminism as a means of “liberating” feminine subjectivity. The politics of love. Love and politics. But what is feminine subjectivity? And even more importantly, what is subjectivity at large? What is love? And how can they be connected? Is love limited to sweet intimacy, excluding any third party? The isolated community of two, lost to the world? Or maybe love is a movement that takes you beyond the boundaries of what seemed possible? The disjunctive union of two, asocial to the outer world, moving toward the horizon of the future, to resistence and struggle? Is the political dimension of love rooted in this disconnected excess?

After all of our discussions on subjectivity, on the Other, on Nietzsche, on machismo, on ethics and psychoanalysis, repeated ad nauseum, we came to the conclusion that any subject – no matter whether masculine or feminine – can only be defined pragmatically as a social actor. She or he only becomes you or I (i.e. a subject) when she or he gets up off his-her ass and responds to the world, facing the political challenge of living with others. This response is unique. It is articulated through the specific modulations of its voice. Without our unique voices, you-I-we remain silent victims, but even more importantly, we are ultimately irresponsible: we are not engaging the world; we aren’t answering. It is only be raising our voices and facing other people politically that we can produce subjectivity. Without our voices, we will only be producing language, captured in an unanswerable web of secondary meanings, discourses of useless desire.

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Factory of Found Clothes /// Dialogue #1: Dmitry Vilensky – Gluklya

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D. I remember that when you and Tsaplya started working together, you tried to distance yourselves from any attempt at locating your work within the framework of feminist tradition. But at the same time, you also cooperated with some of Petersburg’s key figures in the feminist cultural discourse, such as Alla Mitrofanova and Ira Aktuganova. What has changed in recent years? How would you re-sketch your position today?

G. Our art has always addressed the inner world. It’s always been about the poetization of ordinariness, so that life would stop being so dull and depressing, so that the routines of everyday life would take on the infinitely gripping spirit of a performance. Tsaplya and I were drawn together by a love for adventure; this desire was always connected to opposing the existing order of things. We worked with clothing and with people, bringing them into our lives and our creativity. Of course, our work inevitably reflected the fact that we are women. At the time, we thought that feminism is when women go out onto the barricades carrying the slogan “To hell with men!” We were sure that politics were something unclean, that it was vulgar to get involved in politics. But now, everything is changing. We have already explored the problems of the inner world’s devices quite a bit and have come to understand that all of this “inner life” is connected to society, that it is important to take an active role in society.

D.I agree as far as your description of Petersburg during the mid-1990s is concerned. In Moscow, many leading artists worked as political consultants at that time. But in Petersburg, politics were understood as something that totally corrupt and alienated, hardly deserving any attention at all. Instead, most people immersed themselves into their personal worlds. They understood this self-imposed distance from practical politics as the most radical form of resistance.

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Factory of Found Clothes /// Dialogue #2: David Riff – Tsaplya

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D. In “Streetcar named Desire”, your latest action with the Factory of Found Clothes, you invited eight girls whom Gluklya has been working with recently. Although they weren’t artists to begin with, each of them brought a historical street-cars in a Petersburg tram-museum to life with their independent work, consisting of installations and performances. When we talked about this action, both Gluklya and you spoke about “giving a voice” to these young girls. What does “giving a voice” to someone mean to you? Is this simply a figure of speech?

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Ts. “To give a voice” to a girl – or to anyone else – means helping them to develop their own voice, their own means of expression. The girls are the perfect example. They are still at a voiceless age (by the way, ‘age’ is also a metaphor for a certain state of mind). They don’t really know what their voice sounds like yet. What is it they really want to say? Which strength, timbre and fullness can they reach in doing so? Of course, we’re talking about the “voice” as the possibility for telling the world that you exist. As of yet, the girl’s voices sound uncertain, unoriginal, vulnerable. But the main thing is they are “speaking with their own voices” and all of the thing that they are made up of. Of course, there is always a great deal of danger: you might never find your voice, no matter how hard you try. This won’t ever happen to our girls, or so, at least, we hope. Because they have already developed the habit of “making themselves heard”. Our role is to supply a framework or a platform. On the one hand, this space supplies the voice with form. On the other hand, it creates a situation in which the girls NEED TO raise her voice. This seems very important to me: many people are cowards or simply have no idea how to go about saying something in a voice of their own.

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Artemy Magun /// Between the feasts of love (dialogue)

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Yulia: Who am I to love someone?

Kolya: I know how to love a child, in sending him or her out into the world. But how can I love a woman, whom I would rather eat?

Yulia: You know how to make her fall in love.

Kolya: But not how to love.

Yulia: Well, forget about love and make me a baby. I’ll be happy like my girlfriends.

Kolya: So we both have the right to love a child?

Yulia: Yes, I will have enough faith in myself. But it seems that this is because, in the child, I’m sending myself somewhere, like an envelope. To love from above, as God loves, means to hide in lofty heights. But how do you love an equal? If you are consumed by him, how can you set him free?

Kolya: (touching her hip tenderly): Yulia, be a boy!

Yulia is insulted. She stands up and goes to the bathroom. The doorbell rings. Kolya rapidly pulls on his pants and goes to open the door. Enter two friends: the foreigner Z. and his translator Magun. They have both just returned from an Alpine expedition, and have had time to get quite drunk somewhere.

Z.: Hey Kolya. Where’s Yulia ? We were hoping for co-ed company…

Yulia (comes out of the bathroom, naked like freedom, gets red from shame, then covers herself with a blanket). Kolya, give me back my blanket! Oh, how great that some people of knowledge have come! Please tell me what you know immediately, I can’t wait to hear.

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Penzin – Savronov – Timofeeva /// Love history

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A. Penzin: In talking about love, it is actually important to gain some distance from the ideological languages of sex and sentimentality. I am especially suspicious of the latter, since it is a reaction to the confirmation of sex as a power-apparatus and a product of the cultural industry, in its variant as a mass-cultural romance, as well as in the slightly cynical anti-psychologism of intellectual culture.

Barthes’ famous analysis of love as an archive of discursive figures is a type of refined sentimentalism, a melancholy menagerie of figurines. It places the reality of love, its status as an event or a form of praxis with political results, into semiological brackets. “There”, we find nothing but the reverberating emptiness of desire’s impossibility, or the alibi of the sexual act, which is neither necessary nor ever enough.

Considerations of the “gift”(no matter which role this notion has played in other theoretical contexts) appear as yet another form of soulful sentimental ideology…

Thus, I would like to find a constellation that might allow us to connect love with praxis and history. I would like to address the famous pop-cultural dramatic composition of “love against the backdrop of historical events”, a genre that has given rise to comically excessive models like the film “Titanic”). In the spirit of a late Marxist analysis, we need to uncover the repressed utopian content of this cultural material.

Usually, this use of history is considered as a primitive scenic device, which reduces History to the spectacularly costumed horseman of one single narrative. A catastrophic event, a rupture, a revolution will bring on the collision of two heroes, allowing the plot to unfold: as a rule, it allows the introduction of the archaic dimension of loss and self-sacrifice. The comic overvaluing of long-suffering love against the scenery of crumbling towers, bubbling lava, sinking ships, the noise of battle, or the cries of revolutionary crowds is not simply a means of naturalizing history, a libidinous infection of the phantasm’s arrangement. Its essence does not simply lie in its formal dramatic effect. Instead, it means that every love, something private, even “petit bourgeois”, stubbornly searches for this disjunction in history.

This is not trivial “resonance”. Instead, historical events, love’s harassments, and words become impossible to differentiate: the final scenes of the love-affair between Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis took place in the exploded Moscow of the post-revolutionary period, when “facts had already become theory”. Was it this approaching break or rupture that made their relationship so unreal?

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Pyotr Bystrov – Tsaplya /// Doing Right by Lena (A Conversational Fragment)

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Pyotr Bystrov (P.) …Lena Kovylina, my women, doesn’t make my life very comfortable at all. Zero point zero zero comfort. Nothing but discomfort. But I find it motivating to face her endless demands, her claims, the conditions that she sets. They motivate me to grow personally. I’m telling you: unlike all the other guys, who sit around at home comfortably, sleeping and eating, nobody’s degraded or anything, they’re all still alive, but it seems like they’re all resting or hibernating, because their girlfriends let them do so. But I’m constantly chasing Lena, who is a person you will always have to catch up with. She never yields and is far more energetic than me in many ways. She’s a person who has made herself what she is. Like Baron Mьnchhausen, she’s constantly pulling herself out of a swamp by her own hair. She’s strong enough to take any risk, to win or to lose, to experiment. So our love and our relationship is actually completely different from all of the relationships or loves that my friends are involved in, some of which, in my opinion, have lowered the stakes of their experiments, deciding to take it easy.

Tsaplya (Ts.) Recently, you’ve been taking part in Lena’s projects as an assistant and have been less focused on pursuing your own art, even though you’ve been quite successful by Russian standards, both as a member of the “Radek” group and as an artist in your right. Does this mean that you’re willing to play a secondary role for the sake of your relationship?

P.I can afford to play a secondary role. I’ve always been immensely attracted to those figures in culture who didn’t realize even half of the potential they had.

Ts.Like who?

P.Examples would be arbitrary. I could give you examples, but this would only confuse your perception of what I’m saying. There are people who demonstrate some kind of drive or strength, a readiness to throw themselves in the breach, which they then never actually realize. Needless to say, there’s strength in weakness. A great deal of strength. And having a great deal of human potential consists in doing less that you are capable of. I’ve stepped back from my own art and my own ambitions for almost a year now, in order to help Lena with some of the technical work. In a way, this refusal can be read as strength. To be more precise, it can contain a form of strength. You don’t necessarily always have to come out on top in order to be a leader, a strong, independent person. Intimacy demands a certain measure of self-denial, in terms of time, health or whatever.

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Victor Mazin /// Commentary on the questionnaire

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1. I feel uncomfortable about writing for women. And this isn’t because I think that I am a man. Hell no! I can’t speak for men either, even more so because I don’t even want to speak for them. I don’t feel comfortable about speaking for anybody of any category at all. Speaking for women (for the elderly, for children) is a task that can be left to the politicians and their “masculine” mugs. After all, they need to go on and on chopping their teeth in order to divert our attention from the Black Flag. In this sense, I agree that feminism is “an integral part of neo-liberal ideology”, or to be more precise, of “neoliberal” oligarchy. But this does not mean that the “liberal” does not turn into a patriarch at home, nor does it imply that the laws passed by “liberals” have any pro-feminist quality. Was the trial of the American president’s phallus really a perfect example of in how far feminism has spread to the American legal system? In the end, the President didn’t only launch his rockets into the open mouth of bureaucracy; he also fired some missiles at the Third World, even if this wasn’t the only reason. Phallocracy may well wrap itself in the cloak of feminism, but does it ever really succeed? Isn’t the entire neo-liberal discourse perforated by rockets, missiles that you will never be able to hide?

Perhaps we should remember that any talk that addresses the variety of feminism will still be refering to a mass of highly complex theories, of variagated interweaves of Marxism, psychoanalysis, criticism, deconstructivism etc. In sum, the American capitalization of feminism, even in its legal guise, is nothing more than camoflage for neoliberal ideology. In this context I remember this one thing that happened in Rio de Janeiro. One guy from America, a professor for psychoanalyis and feminism, totally turned “the discourse of the Left” upside down. One night, he happened to find himself in a certain club, which was actually a whorehouse. By morning, he had already forgotten all about how the girls had reached this place. With a shaking voice, he was babbling deliriously: “They’re all mine, if I want them, they can be mine and mine alone”… I don’t want to pass judgement on him. I also don’t want to talk about what the United States have done to Brazil. Read Chomsky. I simply want to emphasize the following: discourse is commerce, among other things. Discourse can be exchanged for money. Discourse helps you to valorize yourself, reserving a place in society’s structures. That American was just plowing the fields of feminism. Feminism is a way of making money.

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Love History

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A. Penzin:

In talking about love, it is actually important to gain some distance from the ideological languages of sex and sentimentality. I am especially suspicious of the latter, since it is a reaction to the confirmation of sex as a power-apparatus and a product of the cultural industry, in its variant as a mass-cultural romance, as well as in the slightly cynical anti-psychologism of intellectual culture.

Read More

FNO1: Working with Girls

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Dmitry Vilensky (D.) I remember that when you and Tsaplya started working together, you tried to distance yourselves from any attempt at locating your work within the framework of feminist tradition. But at the same time, you also cooperated with some of Petersburg’s key figures in the feminist cultural discourse, such as Alla Mitrofanova and Ira Aktuganova. What has changed in recent years? How would you re-sketch your position today?

Glucklya (G.) Our art has always addressed the inner world. It’s always been about the poetization of ordinariness, so that life would stop being so dull and depressing, so that the routines of everyday life would take on the infinitely gripping spirit of a performance. Tsaplya and I were drawn together by a love for adventure; this desire was always connected to opposing the existing order of things. We worked with clothing and with people, bringing them into our lives and our creativity. Of course, our work inevitably reflected the fact that we are women. At the time, we thought that feminism is when women go out onto the barricades carrying the slogan “To hell with men!” We were sure that politics were something unclean, that it was vulgar to get involved in politics. But now, everything is changing. We have already explored the problems of the inner world’s devices quite a bit and have come to understand that all of this “inner life” is connected to society, that it is important to take an active role in society.

Read More

Doing Right by Lena – A Conversational Fragment

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Pyotr Bystrov (P.) Lena Kovylina, my women, doesn’t make my life very easy. Zero point zero zero comfort. Nothing but discomfort. But I find it motivating to face her endless demands, her claims, all the conditions she sets. They motivate me to grow personally. I’m telling you: unlike all the other guys, who sit around at home comfortably, sleeping and eating, nobody’s degraded or anything, they’re all still alive, but it seems like they’re all resting or hibernating, because their girlfriends let them do so. But I’m constantly chasing Lena, who is a person you will always have to catch up with. She never yields and is far more energetic than me in many ways. She’s a person who has made herself what she is. Like Baron Münchhausen, she’s constantly pulling herself out of a swamp by her own hair. She’s strong enough to take any risk, to win or to lose, to experiment. So our love and our relationship is actually completely different from all of the relationships or loves that my friends are involved in, some of which, in my opinion, have lowered the stakes of their experiments, deciding to take it easy.

Tsaplya (Ts.) Recently, you’ve been taking part in Lena’s projects as an assistant and have been less focused on pursuing your own art, even though you’ve been quite successful by Russian standards, both as a member of the “Radek” group and as an artist in your right. Does this mean that you’re willing to play a secondary role for the sake of your relationship?

P. I can afford to play a secondary role. I’ve always been immensely attracted to those figures in culture who didn’t realize even half of the potential they had.

Ts. Like who?

P. Examples would be arbitrary. I could give you examples, but this would only confuse your perception of what I’m saying. There are people who demonstrate some kind of drive or strength, a readiness to throw themselves in the breach, which they then never actually realize. Needless to say, there’s strength in weakness. A great deal of strength. And having a great deal of human potential consists in doing less that you are capable of. I’ve stepped back from my own art and my own ambitions for almost a year now, in order to help Lena with some of the technical work. In a way, this refusal can be read as strength. To be more precise, it can contain a form of strength. You don’t necessarily always have to come out on top in order to be a leader, a strong, independent person. Intimacy demands a certain measure of self-denial, in terms of time, health or whatever.

Read More

Between the Feasts of Love. A Dialogue

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The girl goes beyond all borders
(From a street conversation, 15 April 2004 ).

 

A humid Saint-Petersburg morning. A room in disorder. Bottles of vodka, cigarette ashes, and spent condoms cover the floor. The clothes of Kolya and Yulia, who are sitting on the floor and smoking pensively, are also in disarray. Yulia is wearing Kolya’s shirt. Kolya is wearing Yulia’s towel..

Yulia: Who am I to love someone?

Kolya: I know how to love a child, in sending him or her out into the world. But how can I love a woman, whom I would rather eat?

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FNO2: Voice and Resonance

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D. In “Streetcar named Desire”, your latest action with the Factory of Found Clothes, you invited eight girls whom Gluklya has been working with recently. Although they weren’t artists to begin with, each of them brought a historical street-cars in a Petersburg tram-museum to life with their independent work, consisting of installations and performances. When we talked about this action, both Gluklya and you spoke about “giving a voice” to these young girls. What does “giving a voice” to someone mean to you? Is this simply a figure of speech?

Ts. “To give a voice” to a girl – or to anyone else – means helping them to develop their own means of expression. The girls are the perfect example. They are still at a voiceless age (by the way, ‘age’ is also a metaphor for a certain state of mind). They don’t really know what their voice sounds like yet. What is it they really want to say? Which strength, timbre and fullness can they reach in doing so? Of course, we’re talking about the “voice” as the possibility for telling the world that you exist. As of yet, the girl’s voices sound uncertain, unoriginal, vulnerable. But the main thing is they are “speaking with their own voices” and all of the thing that they are made up of. Of course, there is always a great deal of danger: you might never find your voice, no matter how hard you try. This won’t ever happen to our girls, or so, at least, we hope. Because they have already developed the habit of “making themselves heard”. Our role is to supply a framework or a platform. On the one hand, this space supplies the voice with form. On the other hand, it creates a situation in which the girls NEED TO raise her voice. This seems very important to me: many people are cowards or simply have no idea how to go about saying something in a voice of their own.

Read More