David Riff


Texts // David Riff

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From Communism to Commons? /// David Riff and Dmitry Vilensky

 

It’s all about people… // Published here: https://xz.gif.ru/numbers/digest-2005-2007/its-all-about-people/

 

Chto Delat (David Riff & Dmitry Vilensky) in a dialogue with WHW // Solidarity: with whom, how, against what?

 

David Riff and Dmitry Vilensky // Interview

 

What do we have in common? A Fictional Panel Discussion

 

Answers to Questions Posed by WHW in Collective Creativity Exhibition Catalogue

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From Communism to Commons? /// David Riff and Dmitry Vilensky

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DV: What does it mean today to talk about the ‘communist imaginary’? What is it to ‘imagine communism’? Is it some revenge fantasy with a happy ending; Latin American tanks knocking down prefabs in the American South West? Is it the memory of the Fordist ‘worker’s state’ in the biomechanics of the Moscow Metro? Is it when we collectively invent practices that make temporary worlds beyond private property? Or is it when we imagine that the world is still moving toward the total emancipation of the socialized human senses, conscious species being, that reveals itself in the collaboration of a ‘free community of producers’? Can we imagine a communist government that conceives of governmentality as withering away, made up of our own incorruptible comrades? Or are we just imagining things? Does all of what I have just written sound absurd? That doubt is always there. Maybe its just idealism… If you consider yourself a Marxist, this is hell: banished to utopia. I’m not saying that we should immediately give up ‘imagining communism,’ but maybe we should try to be more “scientific” in an old-fashioned Marxist way, namely by setting out a central hypothesis, and then by proving that hypothesis in practice. It’s funny, but when I was studying at the university we were all obliged to take a yearlong course in ‘scientific communism’. Can you imagine this now? Of course, we played all kinds of tricks to escape this dull course at any price. Now things are quite different for me, and I’ve left that traumatic experience behind. I think that it definitely makes sense to keep on thinking the ‘hypothesis of communism,’ a term Alain Badiou has been using, and I think it’s the right place to start. I too would much prefer this term to the ‘communist imaginary,’ which seems so abstract. You can see it right away: we’re talking about two different intellectual patterns that are always actualized differently. One is practical – a hypothesis you set out to prove; the other is speculation that has no consequences. So what is this ‘communist hypothesis’? Let’s look at Badiou’s definition: given in its canonic Manifesto, ‘communist’ means, first, that the logic of class—the fundamental subordination of labor to a dominant class, the arrangement that has persisted since Antiquity—is not inevitable; it can be overcome. The communist hypothesis is that a different collective organization is practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality of wealth and even the division of labor. The private appropriation of massive fortunes and their transmission by inheritance will disappear. The existence of a coercive state, separate from civil society, will no longer appear a necessity: a long process of reorganization based on a free association of producers will see it withering away.

To me, that doesn’t sound absurd at all, and I see no intellectual problems with still believing in the validity of this statement. But on the level of practice, the realization of the ‘hypothesis of communism’ encounters many obstacles at this particular historical moment as well, obstacles that we should talk about.

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David Riff /// It’s all about people…

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Late last summer, before the schools in Russia reopened, a remarkable beer ad about post-Soviet space aired on Russian TV. Thirty seconds of feel-good Russian classic rock: an active bass and a prominent slide guitar wafted around a voice, always-already middle-aged, slightly flat after working a night shift. Four measure whole notes by the band: the staggered vocal names the brand. Krasny Vostok.

Where the sun rises / the east is red. A new day is dawning / over our land. // How can you resist. Cause’ this land is not made of history’s pages; it’s not made through borders or territorial stages. Our land is made up of people and people are what make our land.

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Chto Delat (David Riff & Dmitry Vilensky) in a dialogue with WHW // Solidarity: with whom, how, against what?

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DV+ DR: Solidarity [a word which we owe to the French Communists] signifies a fellowship in gain and loss, in honor and dishonor, in victory and defeat, a being, so to speak, all in the same boat. Trench. Recently I was rather intrigued by a fragment that I found in one interview that Susan Buck-Moriss made with Grant Kester. She said: “This is Adorno’s point when he speaks of the somatic solidarity we feel with victims of socially organized violence, even when that violence is justified in our own culture’s term. So I want to say that aesthetics is the body’s form of critical cognition, and that this sensory knowledge can and should be trusted politically. It is empathy rather than sympathy, because it is capable of producing solidarity with those who are not part of our own group, who do not share our collective identity”.

I would like to suggest this quotation from Susan Buck-Moriss as point of departure in our exchange of opinions on what solidarity is. First of all, I hope that this statement might help us to bridge the traditional socio-political dimension of solidarity with art and the cultural situation in general.

In the sphere of real politics, there are different modes of “showing” solidarity:“Wear this ribbon to show your solidarity with AIDS victims”,or donate some money to support the victims of repression, or go to the demo, or whatever. Of course, just as in political life, cultural workers now find themselves signing different mailing lists and petitions in support of the victims of different type of repression from the side of the state, fundamentalist groups or intelligence services. This happens in the USA (enough to remember Critical Art Ensemble), in Poland, in Russia and so on…

But is this the only procedure for the demonstrating solidarity? And what are its limitations?

Moreover, the call for solidarity is often an appeal from a marginal position. What I mean is that it is a way of calling out for support when you are rather marginal in the local political situation and the question of your survival hinges upon your ability to mobilize mechanisms of international support (through funding, cooperation etc.). In this sense, the performance of a call for solidarity is rewarded in some way, out of sympathy. More often than not, the (much-needed) support comes from the system it opposes. The system is not homogeneous and there are always lots of “good guys” who are already inside, who can help you to come in, out of solidarity.

The question is relevant because such “shows of solidarity” often seem dangerously ineffective and crumble as soon as “real life” comes back into play. In recent times, we can hardly remember any relevant protest of cultural workers aimed at breaking the routine of the spectacle. The strike of “intermittents du spectacle” was aimed at keeping old social benefits and did not touch the notion of the festivals they worked on. And there are hardly any effective boycotts of biennales, exhibition-projects or institutional activities worth mentioning; it doesn’t not matter how bad and senseless they are and in which direction they seem to be heading. My experience in organizing such open protests and pushing the organizers to provide the artists with more decent conditions to realize their work have been very negative on the whole. At the beginning almost everyone is saying that the project has no sense, that the organizers are assholes and they see no reason to participate, but finally everyone is smiling and taking part in the event that they were opposing. It seems that you have no way to reveal your protest in our heavily competitive world; at times, it even seems really stupid to stand up against what is “just another show”, especially if this “show” doesn’t place your (cultural) existence in question. And even if you do “show” your solidarity, it often seems like you’re simply performing some speech-act or sympathizing at best, without actually experiencing the somatic solidarity that Adorno is talking about.

Isn’t “a show of solidarity” often just a non-committal performance? And what happens to such shows of solidarity when they are aestheticized? Don’t they become the kind of fake shows of solidarity that pretend to be interactive but wind up being little more that venues for cultural agents to “jump on the bandwagon” and profile themselves?

This brings me to the real crux of the matter: maybe solidarity is something that only become possible when we aren’t just expressing our sympathy, but when our “bodies” (to return to Buck-Moriss’ metaphor) revolt, when we empathize with those people who are appealing to us.

Perhaps it makes sense to think of politics as something beyond sympathy, as something based on an empathic experience that leads to the “existential” root of any genuine politicization. (The moment which the critic Dietrich Diedrichsen identifies when someone stands up and declares that “I can’t live like this anymore”, meaning “I can’t live knowing that the others live like this”, or “in fact, nobody should live like this, no matter whether they belong to our group or not”).

The question, then, is: can aesthetics be understood as a conduit for the kind of empathy that leads beyond the closed community of friends, beyond sympathy for some disconnected other, beyond performances that mean very little once these part of thespectacle is over?

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David Riff and Dmitry Vilensky // Interview

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DR: Just two days ago at Tate Liverpool, it was announced that the Turner Prize 2007 has been awarded to Mark Wallinger, for his work “State Britain at Tate Britain,” which consisted of a direct representation of the banners and paraphernalia of Brian Haw’s protest in Parliament Square, London. (The piece, as we know, is a reconstruction of banners, posters, flags and other items used by Brian Haw in his protest against the British involvement in Iraq war as they looked like before being dismantled and removed by 78 police officers on 23 May 2006.) Is it possible in today’s Russia to honor with the highest national art award an artist who identifies with someone protesting so severely against the mainstream politics of the State? Transferring this to the personal level, how do you compare your “status” as political artists within the Russian artscene compared to your status as political artists within the international art scene (which is, I think, practically dominated by the “architects” of Western cultural policies)? What are the differences in the reception or impact of the work of Chto Delat in these two different cultural environments?

DV: Thanks for your question. It allows us to trigger a very interesting discussion. You may not know it, but in parallel to the Turner Prize, in fact on the same day, there was a ceremony in Moscow at which the “Kandinsky Prize” was awarded. Since the prize’s main nomination consisted of the same amount of money (40,000 Euros), and the date were synchronized, we can say that the initiators of this prize (the glossy art magazine ArtKhronika and Deutsche Bank) were trying to match their prize with Turner.

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David Riff // “It’s all about people…”

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Late last summer, before the schools in Russia reopened, a remarkable beer ad about post-Soviet space aired on Russian TV. Thirty seconds of feel-good Russian classic rock: an active bass and a prominent slide guitar wafted around a voice, always-already middle-aged, slightly flat after working a night shift. Four measure whole notes by the band: the staggered vocal names the brand. Krasny Vostok.

Where the sun rises / the east is red. A new day is dawning / over our land. // How can you resist. Cause’ this land is not made of history’s pages; it’s not made through borders or territorial stages. Our land is made up of people and people are what make our land.

Obviously, the ad wants to mobilize the patriotism of its maturing target group, reminding it of forgotten values: hospitality, friendship, little evening get-togethers on the dacha. The Krasny Vostok commercial is supposedly all about people, but there are no people in the ad. In 2004, new legislation tried to curb the spread of beer as Russia’s favorite soft drink. Among other restrictions, it introduced a ban of anything remotely alive in beer advertising, laying off all the cartoon characters, animals, and most importantly people: friendly, slightly crazy fat men, 19th century aristocrats, or teenage hipster heroes about to make it big. These roles have all been taken over by either the beer bottles themselves or their settings. The Krasny Vostok ad is no exception. It personifies (the) “people” as a golden spirit that floats out of the sunrise as a 3D animation: from close ups of fragrant grass, up over dewy meadows and out through the speckled trees, over pine-topped mountains and down a glittering river through a valley, across a suspension bridge into a city, where it reflects in the shop windows of a deserted 19th century Russian street, wafting through lace curtains into a cool, sparkling glass of amber beer standing solitary on a kitchen table. The beer commercial’s potential inhabitants are kept out of public by the medium’s laws. [1]

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What do we have in common? A Fictional Panel Discussion*

Posted in Artemy Magun, David Riff, Dmitry Vilensky, Oxana Timofeeva | 0 comments

A banner in the background announces the panel’s theme: “Creative Commons.” David is moderating. He is flanked by Artiom and Oxana on his right and Dmitry and Alexei on his left.

 

DAVID: What do we have in common? How can we redefine the common without falling back on commonplaces? Or are commonplaces the path to understanding how to free the common, to think the common freely? What would you say, Artiom?

ARTIOM: The common belongs to no one. It is a res nullius. Take the many empty lots in post-Soviet space. They are totally this-sided and profane, but as “zones” apart, they appear strangely sacral. The sacrality of the profane – isn’t this the true formula of democracy? The real common, the common beyond exchange, the common without the universal, lies beneath our feet at the exact place where it belongs to no one. The real question is actually how to keep this common from being taken over by bureaucracy or capitalism, and on the other hand, how to preserve the relationship to it: after all, once they are deeply involved in their private lives, people hardly notice the common void that chases all their particular little worlds away. In order to answer the question of how we can realize and maintain the existence of the common, we need to act in common. This action will not only realize the communal-mimetic potential that we have accumulated, but will be the first step taken toward a free common, owned by none.

DAVID: So how would you describe this communal-mimetic potential? Oxana?

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Answers to Questions Posed by WHW in Collective Creativity Exhibition Catalogue

Posted in Aleksander Skidan, David Riff, Dmitry Vilensky | 0 comments

Published in the catalogue “Collective Creativity”, Kunsthallle Friedericianum, Kassel

1. What example of artistic collaborative practice (recent or historical) is the most important for your work?

Not one but many examples, because the history of contemporary art in Russia is unthinkable without communities and artist-circles, utopias of friendship, creative collectives, autodidactic circles, institutionalizations of friendship. Among the most important for us: Arefjev Group in Petersburg, Collective Actions in Moscow. But there are many more that have formed our experience of artistic collaboration and exchange. Not all of them engaged in collaborative practice, many of them totally disengaged, embarking on singular or multiple metaphysical explorations from the confines of the kitchen, performed for an intimate audience of friends. To rethink this tradition, you have to look to other sources, where collective creativity is more prominent: the experience of the Russian LEF (Left Front of Artists) or those of the Situationist International or Fluxus. The Situationists are probably most important as a trigger for rethinking the somewhat hermetic Russian experience of community as becoming a point of contact with the public sphere and the world at large.

2.    Which collaborative act / event / gesture / movement (recent or historical or both) – as a mode of operating in the world as such is the most important for you?

The concept of multitude by Negri and Hardt, understood as a multiplicity of singularities, drawn together by a common teleology. The appearance of this concept is capable of redefining many of the more isolate community-experiences of the past. It’s important because it supplies a model and an impulse for solidarity, expressed through networking out to other groups and maintaining dialogue with them, even if their “personal ontology” is different from your own.

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