On the possibility of Light

A video film Dream of a Protestor (documentation of installation)

The video film “Dream of a Protester” is a part of installation combined the monitor in front of a three photographs of alone standing protestors at the entrance to the Galeria shopping center in Petersburg. The theme of the solitary protester is an important one for grassroots political activism in Russia, since it is the only possible form of legal unauthorized protest.

The protesters engaged in discussion with both random passersby and document the appearance of an actors who conveyed typical points of public discussion in Russia with a Go-pro video camera.

The work has important indirect references to the famous discussion about coffee and the world economy in the film Kuehle Wampe, directed by Slatan Dudow and written by Bertolt Brecht, which reflected the German public opinion just before the Nazis took power.
The film was realized together with participants and graduates of the School of Engaged Art.


On the possibility of Light

Description of the works in the show on the possibility of light

Description of the Projects in the Exhibit “On the Possibility of Light”

– Memorials to Weak Light

A series of sculptures – lamps, gathered around a lighthouse tower modeled on the agitprop constructions of Gustav Klutsis. Each of the sculptures is devoted to a particular hero or event– in most cases the moment of their heroic death in battle, so that it is a memorial in their honor.  All events depicted in these memorials and their subjects are taken from the true stories of recent protests.


Performative Practices of Our Time

A series of photographs from the internet documenting various events of a performative nature, organized by the authorities or by ordinary people in Russia and Ukraine. These practices have become an important feature of our time, when contemporary politics and everyday life constantly manifest themselves through performative rituals, replicated and reproduced by social media.


– Dream of a Protester

A three-channel video installation, made using staged photography documentary footage of a protest in one of Petersburg’s public squares in front of the entrance to a shopping center. The theme of the solitary protester is an important one for grassroots political activism in Russia, since it is the only possible form of protest.  In this work we conducted an experiment, putting three protesters on the square with provocative signs: “Hug Me, I’m Your Enemy,” “Hit Me, I’m Your Sister,” “Pinch Me—I’m Dreaming You.” Each protester stopped passersby with a Go-pro video camera.  The protesters engaged in discussion with both random passersby and a series of actors who conveyed typical points of public discussion in Russia. The film footage underscores the surrealist / oneiric character of what is going on, as it becomes hard to tell who is speaking whose words and why.

The work significantly references the famous discussion about coffee and the world economy in the film Kuhle Wampe, directed by Slatan Dudow and written by Bertolt Brecht, and dismantling a microsection of German public opinion not long before the Nazis took power.

It Hasn’t Happened With Us Yet.
Safe Haven

A film by the Chto Delat? Group
(directed by Tsaplya Olga Egorova, Dmitry Vilensky, Nina Gasteva and Nikolai Oleinikov)

The collective responsible for the film further includes: Аnna Тereshkina, Маria Russkikh, Inna Krasnoper, Аrtyom Terentyev and Los.  Camera operator: Аrtyom Ignatov.

Length: 42 min. Language: Russian-English and Norwegian.

Safe Haven is the name of a network of residences for artists, authors and musicians who live in countries where their life, freedom and human dignity are in danger. In the Safe Haven residences they can decide their further fate– whether to request political asylum or return to their native land. Most of these residences are located in small, pleasant towns in Northern Europe.

We are not yet in need of assistance in the form of a Safe Haven. Regardless of continually growing censorship and repression of any kind of critical statement, we can produce art with minimal risk to life and freedom.  But what will happen if we do have need of a Safe Haven? Or rather, what will happen when we need one? What will happen if at some point we find ourselves hiding from danger in a residence on one of the small Norwegian islands?

In our film we created an imaginary situation in which 5 people arrive at one such residence. Each of them would be prepared to get involved in local life and become a full-fledged member of the local community, sharing their experience of persecution and flight; they are therefore keen to listen to local residents, who in turn are happy to share their views on life as well as stories about the place, and to tell about the particular rules of local living. There might turn out to be a lighthouse on the island, and the refugees constantly invoke that image in their reflections.

The film shows the conflict between the possibility of immersing oneself in normal, peaceful life and the idea of returning to real struggle and dangers. This film is a story of what hasn’t happened with us yet.

On the possibility of Light

Dmitry Vilensky – On the Possibility of Light

Оn the Possibility of Light

In the Chto Delat Collective’s 2014 exhibition, Time Capsule: In a Moment of Danger, we were searching for a visual language capable of reflecting our state of shock at a moment when the foundations of our work—together with social and personal relations and our belief in the possibilities of politics and art—began to collapse before our eyes. The situation might have been described as extreme, critical, or exceptional, and gradually became the norm for our everyday existence. Our activities were forced to reflect the rapid narrowing of the public sphere, the constantly increasing marginalization of the ideas we value, the departure of close associates, the loss of any way of distinguishing fact from fiction (post-truth), and the disappearance of friendly institutions and core funding structures for our work. If earlier, the concept of the crisis situation as a norm through political history had always been present in our analyses, it now began to control our entire lives, wielding its own absurd sovereignty.
Nowadays, having since adapted to this new condition, we perceive the situation through the despairing lens of Ukrainian artist Nikita Kadan: “What was on the extreme right has crept into the enlightened center…And what was on the extreme left crumbled into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Left, the diehard post-Soviet Left, famished materialists, anemic educators, fine-boned humanists. How is it beyond the fringe? How is the darkness? Can you make out each other’s figures? Is it too late to be afraid?” (1)

Earlier, this may have sounded like a diagnosis of the Russo-Ukrainian state of affairs, wherein we perceived an exceptional or excluded position—we see now that the condition has crept and spread throughout the world, so that you can no longer discern which country the Facebook post you are reading is from: Might it be from England, Hungary, Poland, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, or the United States?


The situation in Russia remains unique because of the low level of resistance, calling to mind Bertolt Brecht’s gloomy remark in the poem To Posterity (1939), where he writes of “despairing / When there was only injustice and no resistance.” But even here (in Russia) the question is not yet settled, however, and many scenarios have yet to play out, and we still have the chance to speak, to find like-minded people and to struggle together as we have throughout all these years, full of exciting creative work, obsessive energy, inspirations, and hopes. The darkness—which, following Christian tradition, has always been a major subject on the Left—has not yet closed in. Rather, we are living through a prolonged twilight of reaction, a period of global transformation.

Some speak of the collapse of the humanist project, others of the menace of the dark Enlightenment, a return to the Middle Ages. Many have no firm grasp on anything other than a general feeling of disorientation, depression and powerlessness. But it is important to acknowledge this condition: not as the latest outburst of a moribund conservatism familiar to us from history, but as the scenario of a different kind of universal global condition where the ideas and values on whose behalf we long ago decided to fight are not provided for—they are simply not needed. In their place, ideas of progress and contemporaneity have been put forward which no longer require equality and justice. The Enlightenment tradition has once again been revealed to be fragile and abandoned, in need of new reinterpretation and defense.
***Perhaps this threat will force us to reconsider many things and band together with renewed vigor?

After all, we have nowhere to flee: there is no place left where the old Enlightenment consensus is not in jeopardy. The challenge of encroaching darkness must be taken up.
This can be done mystically, as Giorgio Agamben proposes: “Is darkness not an anonymous experience that is by definition impenetrable; something that is not directed at us and thus cannot concern us? On the contrary, the contemporary is the person who perceives the darkness of his time as something that concerns him, as something that never ceases to engage him. Darkness is something that—more than any light—turns directly and singularly toward him. The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time.” (2)

Or we can turn to Hannah Arendt and her re-reading of the tale of Danko(3): “Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time-span that was given them on earth.” (4)

Or, as Leonard Сohen sang: “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” (5)
Light—you never know where it comes from.
To become more poriferous. To drink some phosphorus. To produce more holes, cracks, and lighthouses.

January 2017

1) *The text reflects recent discussions and publications, and the author would like to express gratitude to those who participated: Mikhail Kurtov for his text “Рассеянность, растерянность, пористость: три режима эстетического” (Absentmindedness, Confusion, and Porousness: Three Regimes of the Aesthetic), the collective behind the journal Просторы (Expanses) for our discussion of darkness, and Taus Makhacheva for her poetic observations.
From Nikita Kadan’s text “Зерна” (Sees) , published on the internet in the journal Просторы (2017),
2) From Giorgio Agamben’s article “What is the Contemporary?” in What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 45.
3) A tale written by Maxim Gorky (Danko’s Burning Heart, 1895) about a hero who, in order to light the way out of slavery for his people, tore out his heart, which shined like a flame.
4) From Hannah Arendt’s book Men in Dark Times (New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), xi.
5) From Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem,” on the album The Future (Columbia Records, 1992).