The line “You don’t have to be leftist to think like that” was uttered by a striking worker in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1972 film “Tout va bien”. Forty years later, it has the same ring as it did then: not as a depoliticizing slogan that abolishes a traditional way of marking political differences, but as a simple statement of the fact that leftist views and convictions have ceased to be a set of hackneyed ideologemes and are, rather, something basic to humanity’s survival.
Chto Delat starts from the notion that art and culture’s educational function are an essential aspect of its production of knowledge and meaning. Unlike other artists, who insist on art’s apolitical nature, Chto Delat has consistently upheld the idea that cultural production is implicated in the current political struggle and that cultural workers must constantly insist on the value of emancipatory politics and counteract culture’s commercialization.
In our exhibition projects we aim to create spaces and situations where audience and artworks engage with each other. In this project we want to turn the process of conceiving and producing an exhibition into a continuous series of workshops, seminars and round tables on art’s role in political development. We are confident of the project’s relevance for the current Russian conjuncture, in which the general public has shown greater interest in issues of political education and the desire to take responsibility for the country’s development. The project aims to equip participants with a set of creative tools for critically analyzing, understanding, liberating and transforming society.
But how can we achieve these aims given the absence of a civil society, at a time when the authorities show a flagrant disregard for both their own basic obligations and the law, thus untying the hands of the most reactionary forces and openly encouraging their violence?
It is a natural reaction to events in our country to come out against the authorities, join in the democratic demands of anti-government forces, and get involved in rallies and protest campaigns. But will anything change by endlessly chanting the mantra “The government has got to go”?
The question arises as to what kind of society can and must replace it. We believe that the most acute issue now is the development of an alternative public space for intellectual and political resistance. Obviously, this space can be generated only by a broad network of self-organized initiatives that require no external hierarchical coordination, because they will be based on the specific solidarity of cooperation.
This network must be recreated everywhere—in everyday life, at work, in the streets, at home. If this model of civil society is unable to achieve a critical mass of participants, superficial transformations of power will not lead to significant real changes. Culture and art have always played an essential role in man’s formation. They are our principal defense from the constant threat of barbarism. It is therefore necessary to fight for their values and oppose all forms of clericalism, bigotry, slavery and outright violence. The authorities understand this all too well and are thus carrying out a directed assault on the very idea of secular, critical and politically committed culture and education. Intellectual and research work, seriously underestimated by the opposition, can and should be a focus of the new mobilization as the unequal confrontation between state and society continues. To make this happen, we need to tackle a number of our own specific problems, which would help us impact the situation and turn it in a direction for which we are prepared to take responsibility.
Based on a real understanding of our circumstances, we first need to articulate our mission in our own workplace—that is, amongst people engaged in the production of culture, education and research.
We should first articulate these tasks and demands for ourselves, without holding out the hope that the current powers that be are in the least capable of carrying them out. On the contrary, we articulate them with a clear understanding that only a decisive change in the political situation can make it possible to begin the ambitious program of cultural transformation without which our society will be thrown backwards for many decades.
We want our project to serve as a platform for generating cooperation and consolidation within the fragmented and as yet apolitical milieu of cultural workers. If we do not do this now, tomorrow it may happen that most basic foundations of contemporary art, culture and education will not only be threatened, but will simply disappear from the map of the places where they had a chance to materialize.
And you don’t have to be leftist at all to think like that and make sure this does not happen.
1st and 2nd May Congress Moscow (2010/1011)
In the course of the two days, artists, researchers, translators, teachers, curators, union leaders, journalists, writers and musicians from all over the country will take part in several round-table discussions, talk-marathons, poetry readings and concerts. In the recent years, most of the participants have been part of important artistic and research initiatives that address the social and economic situation of creative professionals in contemporary Russian society. As neo-liberalism continues to establish its hold, its ugly manifestations are becoming a daily reality for all of us. Not only are exploitation and lack of freedom taking on increasingly elaborate forms, but also the very resourcefulness and the creative potential of an artist or researcher are appropriated and capitalized on by employers. It is against this backdrop that the issues raised by the phenomenon of precarious labor are becoming ever more pressing. It is our conviction that the reassessment of precarious workers’ position in today’s economic structure calls for a joint action in search of a new cultural space and an alternative educational platform outside of and beyond the fraudulent logic of the neo-liberal market economy. Alongside the struggle against the injustice at a work-place, collective advocacy of civil rights within professional unions, and the street-politics of manifestations and protests we are now making another crucial step towards the re-examination of our position and therefore, towards change. The May Congress builds on and develops the experience of several earlier projects, such as “Drift. Narvskaya Zastava” (St. Petersburg – Moscow, 2004-2005), “Self-Education(s)” (exhibition, Moscow, 2006), “68.08. Street Politics” (exhibition, Moscow, 2008) and “Leftist art. Leftist history. Leftist philosophy. Leftist poetry.” (seminar, Nizhny Novgorod, 2009) among others. The Congress proceedings will be organized around two main thematic clusters: LABOR and SELF-ORGANIZATION. The third, practice-oriented, part will take place in the morning, on May 1, the International Workers’ Day that celebrates unity and solidarity, when the Congress participants will walk out into the streets of Moscow to form their own joyful and creative column.
The Congress will provide modest dorm-like accommodations for its participants on the premises of Proekt-Fabrika.
When it is urgent to say WE
Research and exhibition project of Laboratory of Critical Art at
European Univercity, Sain Petersburg
Проведенные в рамках выставки мероприятия: 29 мая в помещении выставки “Искусство как практики солидарности” в Европейском Университете состоялось обнародование крафт-книги Романа Осминкина “Товарищ-вещь“, а также выступила активистская группа “Аркадий Коц”
Free Marxist Publishing House
Книга о «маоистском» периоде Годара, вышедшая в «Свободном марксистском издательстве»
Борьба на два фронта
Жан-Люк Годар и группа Дзига Вертов. 1968 — 1972
Москва, 2010, 111 стр.
Составление : Кирилл Медведев, Кирилл Адибеков.
Перевод: Кирилл Адибеков, Борис Нелепо, Станислав Дорошенко, Кирилл Медведев, kinote.ru.
Марксистский период в творчестве Годара некоторыми воспринимается как одна из причуд его эксцентричного гения, другими — как лишнее доказательство того, что подлинное новаторство в искусстве невозможно вне связи с освободительной политикой и левой мыслью. Точно можно сказать одно: интуиция Годара привела художника в нужное время в нужные обстоятельства, и за несколько лет, прежде чем заодно с большинством интеллектуалов разочароваться в прямом политическом действии он сумел не только кардинально обновить собственное искусство, но, что важнее, существенно и глубоко, а вовсе не на уровне поверхностных веяний и конъюнктуры, развить критическую, брехтианскую линию в левом искусстве и арт-теории. В книге собраны материалы, связанные с этим периодом.
The newspaper of Street Univercity 2009 and 2010
Second issue of the StreetUniversity group’s newspaper. In Russian.
First issue was published as a numbered issue of Chto Delat newspaper. See here.
Русский Лес /// The Russian woods from chto delat on Vimeo.
Duration 42 min
Script & Idea: Tsaplya and Dmitry Vilensky
Music: Mikhail Krutik
Choreography: Nina Gasteva
Set & graphics: Nikolay Oleynikov
The participants in performance: Irina Pavlovskaya; Polina Popova; Elena Pasynkova; Sergey Krylov; Petr Pavlensky; Svetlana Erpyleva; Maxim Kulaev
Our work on the musical performance “Russian Woods” was largely provoked by political developments in Russia last winter. By participating in these important events that all of sudden have emerged inside Russian civil society, we were intrigued by the huge amount of use of mythic images and rhetoric, both from the government and from the protesters. We found that this phenomenon is not by chance and really reflects the level of a political culture in the country. And we wanted to try to analyze it in the form of a fairy tail story that would be able to not only reflect the totality of socio-political structure of our society, but also think about the possibilities of its transformation.
The film is based on the documentation of the theatrical performance which happened in St. Petersburg on 2nd of May 2012
Film Concept and script: Vilensky Dmitry & Tsaplya (Olga Egorova); Director: Tsaplya (Olga Egorova); Composer: Mikhail Krutik; Choreography: Nina Gasteva; Graphics and Set: Nikolay Oleynikov and Dmitry Vilensky; Director of Photography: Artyom Ignatov
This film is a production of the Chto Delat collective
The First Kyiv International Biennial of Contemporary Art
This film was produced with support from the Chto Delat Mutual Aid Fund.
The English version of this play was staged on 25th of March in a framework of the festival “Speaking and understanding” // Episode 3 Copying without copying, concept and production by Arika (arika.org.uk)
“The Lesson on Dis-Consent“ was recorded in Baden-Baden on October 28, 2011, during the opening of the exhibition Chto Delat? at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden.
Drehbuch/Script & concept:
Tsaplya (Olga Egorova) & Dmitry Vilensky
Gluklya (Natalya Pershina) & Nikolay Oleynikov
The Lesson on Dis-Consent
This performance was recorded at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden on October 28, 2011.
This piece continues the series of musicals (songspiels)* written and produced by Chto Delat and composed by Mikhail Krutik over the past three years.
The occasion for this latest work was the Chto Delat solo show at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. We could not pass up this opportunity to engage in dialogue with the legacy of Bertolt Brecht, who premiered two works, Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927) and The Baden-Baden Lesson on Consent (1929), at the new German chamber music festival in this same city. We wanted to produce a new piece in direct dialogue and debate with the work of this great master.
The piece is based on a critical reading of a number of texts produced by the anti-psychiatry movement, which emerged in the late sixties and early seventies in the Europe and US, especially those of the well-known Socialist Patients’ Collective in Heidelberg. In our performance, a “chorus of patients” that has been invited to appear at the exhibition opening becomes engaged in dialogue with the audience.
It is also noteworthy that Baden-Baden is a city with deep historical ties to Russia, and even today it is frequented by members of the Russian elite, who go there to relax and seek medical treatment. We thought it important to critically reflect this state of affairs: thus, one of the characters in our performance is a “typical” Russian businessman, who argues with the chorus and voices the values of this new class.
Our work critiques the modern concept of a healthy lifestyle and discusses how we might radicalize this concept and “turn illness into a weapon.”
* You can view our songspiels at the Chto Delat web site:
Концерт в Баден-Баденском Кунстхалле состоялся 28-ого Октября 2011 года
Эта работа продолжает развитие мюзиклов (Зонгшпилей*), над которыми Что делать и композитор Михаил Крутик работают последние три года.
Поводом для последней работы стала персональная выставка Что Делать? в Кунстхалле Баден-Бадена, и мы не могли не воспользоваться этим случаем, чтобы не вступить в диалог с наследием Бертольта Брехта, который в рамках немецкого фестиваля музыки, именно в этом городе, реализовал ряд премьер «Махогони», «Говорящий Да» и «Баден-Баденские уроки согласия» (1929). Нам хотелось реализовать новую работу в прямом диалоге и полемике с творчеством этого великого мастера.
В основу работы положено наше критическое прочтение ряда текстов движения антипсихиатрии, получившей свое развитие в Европе в конце 60ых начале 70ых годов и, прежде всего, известного Гайдельбергского «Коллектива Социалистических Пациентов». В концерте перформансе принимают участие «хор пациентов», который приглашен выступить на открытие выставки и оказывается вовлеченным в диалог с публикой, пришедшей на открытие.
Также, важно отметить что Баден- Баден – это город, традиционно имеющий глубокие исторические связи с Россией, и сегодня остается местом отдыха и лечения российских элит. Нам было важно также критически отразить эту ситуацию и один из героев концерта, полемизирующий с хором является «типическим» образом русского бизнесмена, выражающего ценности этого нового класса.
В целом можно сказать, что наше произведение посвящено критике современной концепции здорового образа жизни и о том, как можно радикализировать и «сделать свою болезнь оружием».
* смотрите Зонгшпили на сайте Что Делать?
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)