#1 What is to be done?
“…a person should always endeavor to be as radical as reality itself.”
V.I.Lenin in conversation with the Dadaist Marq in Zurich
(Dada and Poets, R. Motherwell)
The ability to simply think up the question, “What to do?” came about not long ago, when it suddenly became clear that the time had come for serious and responsible expression: all playful-ironical modes of representation seemed openly obscene. It’s still early to talk about the complete ideological overcoing over the postmodern, but we can already certify that the postmodern has become impossible on a purely aesthetic level.In this situation, it is again necessary to define the avant-garde position in art.Art gains its historical perspective only in coordination with the appearance of a global political avant-garde and the relevant theory that describes it.In recent years, radical protest movements have revealed fundamentally new positions.For the new artistic avant-garde, these movements provide political reference points.Such was the atmosphere at the time of the Revolution, and now, again, the inescapable sensation of change—social, visual and political—is in the air.
May 24, 2003, a group of Saint-Petersburg artists, architects, ciritics, and scholars organized and realized an action entitled “The Foundation of Saint-Petersburg”. In the days of the pompous celebration of the 300th anniversary of Saint-Petersburg, the participants decided to leave the center of the city by train, and then to symbolically found a new center of the city on the far edge of the city.
At 12.30 PM, the participants entered the platform of the Baltic railway station with the large signs of the following content: “I am leaving Petersburg”, “Petersburg from scratch!”, “Petersburg roofless”, and “Petersburg 003”. They marched in front of a large crowd that followed them, running. In front of the door of the suburban train, the manifesters stood, exposing the signs and distributing the leaflets that invited the citizens to think of the city cultural policy.
In his “Theses toward the Politicization of Art” Alexander Skidan applies the Brechtian concept of estrangement as a model of political art.
Estrangement, by destroying the aesthetic illusion, draws the recipient into the process of self-reflection and self-consciousness.
At the same time the very nature of art as such is questioned, suspended.
Estrangement, caesura, self-reflection, fragmentation, destabilization of the subject and dispersion of the narrative – these are the instruments, which work to provide us with the a-semantic gaps, folds of meaning, not yet appropriated by ideology.
In the streets of Saint-Petersburg, one has always to watch one’s step, so as not to fall into this or that pit. But sometimes we raise our eyes and look up one’s leaky roof onto the large Petersburg sky. The sky gets closer.
Today, just before the pompous festivities of the 300th anniversary of Saint-Petersburg, it is about time to think about the future of our city. Its official cultural politics is the suffocating conservatism. Its main focus is all sorts of restauration work; the opening of memorial desks, and speculation on the”great history and cultural traditions”. Since 1991, that is since the city got its old name back, no single new building was build that could compete with the masterpieces of the modern architecture, and what is built is nothing but the cowardly imitation. No single influential journal or newspaper in these 10 years. The situation in the visual arts is somewhat better, thanks to some private initiatives and to the Western funding.
Alexey Levchuk, Alexander Romanchuk and Andrey Juukin // The New Foundation of St. Petersburg – The Manifesto of the Architects
In this manifesto, three Petersburg architects explore the architectural alternatives to representing an increasingly affluent market economy. This text should be read in the context of the speedy renovations made in Petersburg on occassion of the 300th anniversary celebrations.
– The alternative to consumer society is the refusal to take part in its games of the infinite purchase/change of commodities.
– Every product of postindustrial system has poor quality, and could not have a better one, because in this system the amount of updates has killed the quality.
– Speed of the cycles – a product’s cycles of change – is caused by its poor quality and is in direct ratio to deterioration; the consumer is obliged to replace a trendy product before it falls apart in his/her hands. Each new cycle is a sort of a crime made with an aim to conceal the previous ones.
– How should we name the condition of a person who is not included in the senseless race behind the pseudo-updated product? Proceeding from today’s system of values and hierarchies is POVERTY.
– The condition, that we name poverty is a social pace.
– It is not necessary to change society, it is necessary to leave it. What kind of exodus is it important to choose? An individual or a group one? We believe, that the group one is more effective. The number of members in a group is directly proportional to its efficiency. Local communities are doomed to gradual degradation and, finally, to defeat. The mass exodus means a destruction of existing society (an exodus as the base of its dismantling). This is the target of our aspiration, because it is unique now: the reasonable and responsible public action.
A few weeks before his sudden death on August 29, 1992, Felix Guattari sent to Le Monde Diplomatique the following text. Counting on additional weight conferred upon it by its authors tragic disappearance, this ambitious and all-encompassing series of reflection takes on, in some sense, the character of a philosophical will or testament.
Translated by Sophie Thomas
How could we reconnect the head to the body, how could we join science and technology with human values? How could we agree upon common projects while respecting the singularity of individual positions? By what means, in the current climate of passivity, could we unleash a mass awakening, a new renaissance? Will fear of catastrophe be sufficient provocation?
Emphasis must be placed, above all, on the reconstruction of a collective dialogue capable of producing innovative practices. Without a change in mentalities, without entry into a post-media era, there can be no enduring hold over the environment .
The world market does not have to lead the production of each group of people in the name of a notion of universal growth. Capitalist growth remains purely quantitative, while a complex development would essentially concern the qualitative. It is neither the preeminence of the State (in the manner of bureaucratic socialism), nor that of the world market (under the aegis of neo- liberal ideologies), that must dictate the future of human activities and their essential objectives. It is thus necessary to establish a planetary dialogue and to promote a new ethic of difference that substitutes for current capitalist powers a politics based on the desires of peoples.
Antonio Negri, Danilo Zolo // Empire and the multitude. A dialogue on the new order of globalisation
“With Empire, Michael Hardt and I wanted in no way to reach conclusions: the process constituting Empire is still largely open. We were interested in underlining the need to change register: the political philosophy of modernity (and obviously the institutions with which it interacted) is over. The theory that goes from Marsilio to Hobbes and from Althusius to Schmitt is finished. Empire is a new theoretical threshold”
A synoptic translation of this text was published in Russian. For a complete version of the text, visit: https://www.generation-online.org/t/empiremultitude.htm.
The pretext for the creation of the project “Where the wind blows” was the actual situation where we found ourselves during the preparation of the festival “Art-Kliazma 2003” – all our lyrical projects were rejected with a request to make “something more spectacular”. First, we wanted to refuse participating at all, but then realized that this situation was symptomatic, and decided to make a special critical project dedicated to the present condition of the artist who has to serve the Big Client and his capital. Surprisingly, the project was accepted.
The project “Where the wind blows” criticizes the situation where art has to sell itself. It presents a real striptease performed by a professional at the festival “Art-Kliazma”. The post that is used by the performer serves at the same time as a windvane showing the direction of wind. The striptease performance takes place at the special floor where a portrait of the president Cleveland (taken from the largest and rarest bill of thousand dollars) is drawn.
What is to be done?
We, the program “Escape”, are the windvane that provides a diagnosis and a reflection of a situation, being necessarily a part of it. As J.Baudrillard notes in his book “The Seduction”, “any movement that believes in the possibility of subverting the system through its basis, is naive”. We would add: naive or hypocrite? Because the critique of the system is one of the most successful strategies to obtain a place within it. This ambivalence is probably the main problem of the new avant-garde art. How not to lose the capacity of self-criticism? Are compromises possible? These are the questions to which the general question “What is to be done?” leads today.
The place of the artist is on the side of the weak. Weakness makes a person human, and it is by overcoming weakness that heroes are born.
We do not extol weakness, but rather appeal to kindheartedness and humanity.
The time has come to return compassion to art!
Compassion is an understanding of the weakness of others and a joint victory over that weakness.
You cannot call it sentimentality.
It is Freedom standing on the barricade with naked breast, defending the child in each of us!
You say that art is only for the very smart, that its an intellectual game? That there is no place left for true impact, that strong emotions belong exclusively to Hollywood? Its not true! Because in that case, art would be meaningless, cold, incapable of extending a helping hand.
Art is not an abstract game but an adventure; not cold rationalism, but live emotion. The artist is not a mentor or tutor, but a friend; not a genius, but an accomplice. Rather than enacting didactic social projects, we must help people to stop fearing themselves, help them to accept themselves and grow better. Society is made up of people. Only by helping these people follow the path of self transformation, do we change society. There is no other way.
1. Art is political by essence. The new art radicalizes the political essence of art by refusing to alienate itself in the work of art (poiesis) and by stressing the fleeting but repeatable act or gesture (praxis). The work of art cannot fully disappear, but it is no longer meant to be self-sufficient.
2. Praxis is the form of the work of art. The form is the frozen praxis that does not only envelop the contents but penetrates and shatters it from within.
3. Art is action. But it is a special kind of action, which has a character of probe. Not in the sense of an irresponsible prelude for another, serious, action, but in the sense of an experimental test of what seems to be impractical in principle. The utopian contents of a work of art is a world where it would be possible, and the audience that would make sense out of it. The temporal and spatial gap between this utopian world and the real existence of the work of art as a probe of this world makes the form of the work. The work of art keeps affirming itself, in each act of its performance and reception. The irony is only permissible in it as the irony of irony – a chance that your play will turn serious.