Performance Where has Communism Gone?

Where Has Communism Gone? (Former West, 2013)

We are used to the reality principle of one-dimensional liberal propaganda, according to which, nothing can be better than the present state of things, which in fact means the neoliberal economy accompanied by the rhetoric of human rights and legal democracy. They say that communism was a utopian project, which ended in disaster, with violence and totalitarianism, and that the only thing we have left to do is to forget all hope for a better future for society and rather focus on our individual lives, to enjoy this eternal present, to use our possibilities and skills in order to succeed in working our way up a pyramid built of money, trampling the heads of others as we climb.

However, today, after decades of excessive ideological overproduction of the monstrosity of communism, a general anti-communist phobia has ended in a new disappointment. The liberal utopia, based on the notion of free individuals freely operating in a free market, was demolished by the intervention of the reality of a global economic, political, and ecological crisis. From this perspective, all the debates about communism became valuable and actual again, not only with communism as a valuable experience from the past, but also as an alternative for the future.

The only problem is nobody really takes it seriously.

Neoliberal institutions easily give their money to any kind of creative and sophisticated critic of the present, taking for granted that all these debates are based on market exchange, and that all the ideas discussed have their own nominal values. The ghost of communism still wanders around, and to transform it into a commodity form seems a good way to finally get rid of it. Conferences and artistic events dedicated to the idea of communism are going on one after another, speakers are paid or non-paid, advertisement production machines function well, and the sphere turns round as before.

But beyond this exhausting machinery of actualization and commodification, we still have as a potentiality this totally new desire of communism, the desire which cannot but be shared, since it keeps in itself a “common” of communism, a claim for togetherness, so ambiguous and problematic among the human species. This claim cannot be privatized, calculated, and capitalized since it exists not inside individuals, but between them, between us, and can be experienced in our attempts to construct this space between, to expose ourselves inside this “common” and to teach ourselves to produce it out of what we have as social beings.

We invite you to think, discuss, and live through these issues together at our seminar and try to find a form of representation for our debate.

During this seminar the platform is represented by Tsaplya Olga Egorova, Nina Gasteva, Artemy Magun, Alexey Penzin, Natalya Pershina, David Riff, Oxana Timofeeva, Alexander Skidan, and Dmitry Vilensky.

About FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects

FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects consists of artworks, talks, discussions, rehearsals, and performances in various constellations of documents and prospects that offer a multitude of encounters with the public for negotiating the way of the world from 1989 to today, and thinking beyond. The seven-day period is guided by five currents that feature contemporary negotiations on Art Production, Infrastructure, and Insurgent Cosmopolitanism, with Dissident Knowledges contributions offering dynamic interventions into the ongoing program with artworks, performances, and statements. Finally, Learning Place operates alongside the full program involving students in workshops and inviting them to engage in the week of discussions.

Conceptualized by Maria Hlavajova and Kathrin Rhomberg in collaboration with Boris Buden, Boris Groys, Ranjit Hoskote, Katrin Klingan, and Irit Rogoff. FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects is a joint project by Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin and BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht.


Chto Delat? / What is to be Done?

Chto Delat publication

at Seccesion, Vienna
Posters Time line and Lexicon

The collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?) was founded in early 2003 in Petersburg by a workgroup of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism.

The group was constituted in May 2003 in St. Petersburg in an action called “The Refoundation of Petersburg.” Shortly afterwards, the original, as yet nameless core group began publishing an international newspaper called Chto Delat?. The name of the group derives from a novel by the Russian 19th century writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and immediately brings to mind the first socialist worker’s self-organizations in Russia, which Lenin actualized in his own publication, “What is to be done?” (1902). Chto Delat sees itself as a self-organized platform for a variety of cultural activities intent on politicizing “knowledge production” through redefinitions of an engaged autonomy for cultural practice today.

The array of activities is coordinated by a core group including following members:

Tsaplya Olga Egorova (artist, Petersburg), Artiom Magun (philosopher, Petersburg), Nikolay Oleynikov (artist, Moscow), Natalia Pershina/Glucklya (artist, Petersburg), Alexey Penzin (philosopher, Moscow), David Riff (art critic, Moscow) – active till 2011, Alexander Skidan (poet, critic, Petersburg), Oxana Timofeeva (philosopher, Moscow), and Dmitry Vilensky (artist, Petersburg). In 2012 the choreographer Nina Gasteva has joined a collective after few years of intense collaboration (since 2012). Since then many Russian and international artist and researchers has participated in different projects realized under the collective name Chto Delat? (see descriptions of each projects on this web site)

Chto Delat? collective in Kronstadt in 2005
Standing: from the right: Oleynikov, Gluklya, Timofeeva, Shuvalov, Tsaplya, Riff, Penzin; Sitting: Magun and Vilensky


#6: Revolution or Resistance

Alexander Skidan, David Riff // Godard Number Nine

Since the 1960s, people have always asked the question whether Godard was a revolutionary pornographer or a pornographer of revolution. Just another Beatle (cf. Spectacular Society, chD 1)? A “Maoist liar”? (Debord). Or was Godard really the one of the greatest revolutionaries of the cinema? Don’t Godard’s early aesthetics provide ways of opening new understandings of what politics actually are? Was he able to codify and transport these new meanings, to encapsulate them within a cinematic anti-narrative made to survive the Thermidore?

#3 Emancipation of-from Labor

Victor Misiano & David Riff /// Dialogue No. 3: The Positive Crisis of Intellectual Labor

DR: As I was preparing for our conversation, I hit upon a link to a text “Justification of Art or the End of Intelligentsia”, written for “Flash Art” in 1996. Yet I was both disappointed and intrigued to find that this link was dead: I was only able to find its ephemeral digital artefacts. I thought this dead link as a point of departure for our conversation on intellectual labour. In how far do you see the crisis of the Russian intelligentsia during the 1990s as a concession to the ephemeral production of “concepts” and “projects”, which very soon lose their meaning? And does the fact that the link is dead mean that your views from 5 years ago have lost any of their original significance?

VM: As far as I can remember, the text you’re talking about provoked the enthusiasm of Marat Guelman. I don’t know whether Marat actually read the text or not, but he immediately became enthused with the term “post-intellectual”. He wanted to translate the text into Russian, and to publish it on his site, which is probably how the link appeared. But his interest faded as quickly as it came up, which might be why the link died very soon. This situation is very symptomatic and brings me to your question.

My view then was that Russia’s “thinking class” had departed from the idea of the “intelligentsia” without ever identifying itself with the conception of the intellectual (in the sense of Sartre). By the early 1990s, the dissident intelligentsia’s conception of intellectual labour had already become the subject of wide-spread criticism in the press, and the figure of the “intellectual” was something that was hardly understood or understood intuitively, but rejected as inappropriate to the social perspectives of neo-liberal reform. Members of the post-intelligentsia and pseudo-intellectuals opted for media that were far more fast-paced and, at the same time, more socially effective. This gave their “intellectual labour” a new temporality: it was necessary to work quickly, more superficially, with great flexibility. Determined by an exalted metaphysical view of money and an ethos of “standing up for one’s right to proper pay”, this new form of “post-intellectual” labour demanded a certain kind of anti-fundamentalism and plasticity, an ability to adjust to new tasks, epitomized most compactly by the political technologist. Such highly talented individuals are willing to sell their intellectual services to political groups or leaders with views that differ drastically from his-her own. By now, Russia’s political technologies have actually become one of Russia’s main export goods, although they have very little in common with the quality of a classical European intellectual’s products; the European intellectual’s production actually means something because it is firmly based in a ethos of convictions. This is something that the “post-intellectual” has not reached. Е ven if the neo-liberals organized rock-concerts and commercials on TV; “post-intellectual” production has not yet established one serious analytical or scholarly institution. Furthermore, what makes me wary is that all the deconstructions of the intelligentsia’s codex were quite obviously motivated by the authorities: in the situation of ethical relativism, as the critical senses of the “thinking class” dulled to the point of social dissolution, it was much easier to conduct radical reforms and whole-sale privatization.

#2 Autonomy Zones

David Riff // Discipline and Autonomy

All too often, the assertion of artistic autonomy of art seems like no more than a peaceful demonstration, controlled and held in place by a “living wall” of water-canons and billy clubs. Even if art, in its autonomy, claims the right to make a difference in all of society, it is kept back and fixed in place by the authorities by which it is surrounded. But what of the peaceful demonstration’s potential for violence? Or, to put it differently, can we expect art to break the conventions of contemporary society, finally regaining some of the relevance that it has lost?

Autonomy, one might argue with Foucault, is a natural result and goal of discipline. Like any other social sub-system, the discipline is an organized multitude, held in place by hierarchical structures and “rules of fair play” (conventions). Its organization guarantees that it will be a discrete social system with a strong contour. In other words, art only becomes an autonomous system when a multitude of art-professionals agrees to use a certain language of reference and power, to adhere to a discipline. The chaotic multitude, the crowd, has been fixed and rendered controllable. On the one hand, it has gained its right to existance. On the other hand, it is easier to keep it place. Thus, the discipline (autonomous to a degree but only to a degree) is a social necessity rather than a construct or an opressive measure (cf. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish).