the Bulletin of the School of Engaged Art №2 JUNE 2014
In the late winter and early spring of 2014, the most important subject of our discussions at the School was the situation surrounding events in Ukraine, which again, and in the harshest way, was restructuring our understanding of the political role of art. Thus, this issue of the Bulletin consists of topical writing that speculates on the development of political processes in our countries and their impact on poetics and the possibility of engaged art. It became not only our top priority, but also our answer to the pseudo-relevance and cheap, colonial pathos of huge, mainstream, corporate projects like Manifesta. It naturally became crucial for us to establish direct lines of contact with the new generation of Ukrainian artists and culture workers who have become interested in these same issues, and we invited students from the The Course of Contemporary Art at the School of Visual Communications to join us in Petersburg, along with some of their teachers with whom we hope to continue building on the foundation of comradeship laid by working together on this publication. This issue of the Bulletin of our school appears through the work of the second semester of our work, which has been occupied for the most part with research into monumentality and the politics of memory. Is a new monumentality possible today? What particular forms might it take? It seems that the idea of monumentality has at last been rendered obsolete. Its objects are relics of the past. Today we have traded monuments for theme parks – multimedia spectacles periodically commissioned from famous artists and architects to commemorate some populist version of the past. These spectacles are devoid of formal innovation and depict no heroes – only innocent victims to remind us, “Never again, never again....” This shift has been accompanied by a range of anti-monumental performance practices. Enacted, as a rule, by the members of marginalized social groups, these are generally interventions into monuments and urban spaces that already exist. Often, the idea is to deride them, to call their legitimacy into question, recoding and undermining their positions in the landscape of the polis and the memories of its communities.
CONTENT: Between a rock and a hard place. Mobile platforms for communication between Russian and Ukrainian cultural workers Vlada Ralko | Kiev Diary 2013-2014 Serhiy Zhadan | Maidan as the Defeat of Culture Lana Nakonechnaya | The Zone of Ignorance Slavoj Žižek | Barbarism with a Human Face On the Conditions for The Possibility of Communication: The Position of The Course What has changed in your work? Artist’s answers: Mikita Kadan and Mykola Ridnyi Larisa Venediktova | Maidan in Culture Dmitry Vilensky | Ivory Tower of Art | Set of Postcards Jonathan Brooks Platt Soviet Sculpture in the Expanded Field Oleksandr Burlaka | The Soviet Legacy spontaneous political action by the «eredovoe udozhestvo» cooperative The participants of the school: Alexey Markin, Natalya Tseljuba, Evgenia Shirjaeva, Marina Maraeva Graphics: Gandi group (cover image), Anastasya Vepreva (back); Vlada Ralko, Mikita Kadan, Lilu S. Deil, Dan Perjovschi
Naturally, the government falls back on old habits, casting bronze, chiseling marble, and plopping the monsters it creates into the centers of its derelict and festering power.
There can be no debate: monumentality has retreated into its classic, sublime forms, and we live today surrounded by symbols drained of all meaning, emptied of living memory’s rituals. Can this be true? Can any meaning be salvaged from the most important of our traditions? These questions have suddenly taken on new significance for all of us – the crisis of democracy and the growth of clerical and nationalist sentiment speak to the unresolved conflict between a silent and (supposedly) obsolete archaism and the many voices of the present. If they are to accept the challenge of their historical moment, artists must return to their origins. This situation, to universal surprise, has suddenly taken on new life in the escalation of armed conflict in Ukraine and the brewing of a new cold war in Russia. Everything has become extremely clear as the debate is inevitably revealed as mere bluster entangled in unexamined historical traumas, while iconoclasm is revealed as an inescapable passion for transfiguration. But the argument over who the real heroes are can for now be resolved only by arms. In this conflict, we see both sides using the events of a distant, ideologized past to claim political legitimacy, seeking their identities ever more entrenchedly in the tragic confrontation between Nazism and Stalinism. We see them unable to reconceive of this experience as a lesson in memory and oblivion, a basis to build their future on. We can easily see just how anachronistic this situation is by viewing it against the backdrop of a significant paradigm shift that has taken place in the contemporary politics of memory, based in a continual reconsideration of the concept of sacrificial victimhood. This idea of sacrifice jettisons the archaic opposition between victor and vanquished. To so outmoded a worldview, the martyr is the only figure that matters, the hero sacrificing himself for some grand idea. But the image of the Holocaust, the Siege of Leningrad, the gulags, the Ukrainian Famine – each has engendered a fundamentally different practice of commemoration, having reached an appropriate stage in developing practices of monumentality. The contemporary discourse on monumentality points to two contradictions. First, the erection of a majestic monument to defeat (or to the honor of the vanquished) reflects a blatant mismatch of form with content. If a thing’s purpose is to glorify the vanquished in “weak form”, that thing will obviously be not a monument but a counter-monument, something that overturns and abolishes itself. The second contradiction, to whose paradoxical character western practices of commemoration have clearly contributed, is that weakness and victimization have been turned into a new political power of consolidation, one that can be represented through various deconstructive formal decisions. The Soviet monumental school always embodied the first contradiction, choosing majestic monumental forms for its representations of victimhood. The monument’s vitality was manifested through its dialectical tensions. But today there is a feeling that both these traditions have reached their limits and require rethinking against the backdrop of an ongoing archaization of consciousness and a sense of how banal the glorification victimhood and marginalization has become. If we are ready to talk about the politicization of monumentality and the development of a dialectical monument tradition in earnest, it is worth turning to Benjamin’s insights on the judgment of history: Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was.’ It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to hold fast the image of the past which unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger. The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as a redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious. Today, with the world standing on a dangerous new precipice, we must heed Benjamin’s prophecies and plot new points of reference in the past. If we are in earnest ready to remember and struggle, we have to reestablish, first and foremost, a feeling for ourselves in history – and not just any history, but the history of struggle. This is the only way we can attend to our central task: “saving the dead.” This is the only way we can find meaning in the piles of stone, the marble and steel, groves of trees (whether blinking monitors have been installed in their branches or not), to become an active political factor in the transformation of the world.
Sensitivity to intruding moments of danger is the most important quality with which artists are endowed, and now there is a sense that the industry of art has entered a dangerous new moment in which any project of sufficient size is forced into blind alliance with corrupt regimes of state power, lawless corporations, and a whole range of bastards which want, without loss of profit, to adjust their image in the eyes of society. Now there will be hope not only that their quiet existence in the regime of “business as usual” will be rebuffed by the art community, but also that we can envision viable alternatives endowed with their own legitimacy, their own resources, and their own public – one that has the power to make change in our sick society. It is to this public that we dedicate the present publication.
Between a rock and a hard place. Mobile platform for communication between Russian and Ukrainian cultural workers The events of recent months have lodged all the artists and creative workers of Ukraine and Russia between two brutally opposed countries – Russia with its cold war atmosphere, exaltation of the search for enemies, and the tightening repression of dissent in all forms, and Ukraine flung headlong into direct military confrontation. What yesterday seemed the stuff of chimerical nightmares is today becoming reality, and artists and cultural workers, aiming to relate their work to the actuality of the time have wound up in a very complicated position. How can we carry on creating, speaking and living when we are all hopelessly frozen to our computer screens with anxiety, trying to make sense of the bloody mingling of contradictory and manipulated information, seething hatreds, madness, and desperation? Nonetheless, the cultural producers bear a special responsibility for the right to speak, analyze, feel, and continue shaping values that not only free people from the affects of propaganda but also create a refuge from the inevitable future in which the catastrophe of our situation becomes full-blown, and we all realize that we can no longer live with it. An important peculiarity of the events taking place today in both countries is that they position themselves primarily in relation to the past, to the unresolved trauma of the clash between Nazism and Stalinism, and the crude manipulation of these ideologies that is now taking place – provoking the sensation that the demons of the past have returned to strangle us with their tentacles of blood. Cultural workers, as ever, work with the concept of cultural memory, the critical analysis of ideologies and myths, and it is exactly they who can best exhibit liberation from mass consciousness to the degree that society, over time, is increasingly going to need it. In the current situation, when few of us are able to exert any real impact on the course of events, it seems worthwhile to begin with the modest tasks of supporting dialogue and promoting joint analysis of the situation by the cultural workers of Ukraine and Russia. This direct dialect is crucial in all professional environments – in our case, it seems prudent to begin with meetings between groups of artists that have already cultivated long term creative and personal relationships, people who have become close in searching for a contemporary language of critical reflection on society, and who are well aware that art and creativity are the most vital constitutive part of public discourse. We need to continue together to seek a poetics capable of addressing our historic moment. The first series of Russian meetings will involve the participation of artists from the REP group (Nikita Kadan and Lada Nakonechnaya, Kyiv), Mikola Ridny (Kharkiv, an artist of the SOSka group), Miroslav Kuchinsky (artist and curator of the Odessa Biennale), and Larisa Venediktova (Tanzlaboratorium, Kyiv). The list of participants on Russian side will be confirmed before the events.
Meetings: 1. 30.06.2014-02.07.2014, Saint Petersburg “How Can One be an Artist at the front line?” A meeting of the educational initiatives: “The ‘Chto Delat’ School of Engaged Art” and the Course of Contemporary Art at the Kiev School of Visual Communications. A series of presentations, round tables and discussions. 2. 03.07.2014 - An assembly of Russian and Ukrainian cultural workers as part of the WHW Meeting Point project, Moscow 3. Autumn 2014 - Developing the process of creative interaction in various Ukrainian cities – Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv and Lviv. A project initiated by the ‘Chto Delat” collective
Vlada Ralko | Kiev Diary 2013-2014
The works of Vlada Ralko are also pblished at next pages
Vlada Ralko | Kiev Diary 2013-2014 The idea to make a series of drawings that recall diary entries occurred to me after I was walking through Kiev one evening during the crisis and I saw a giant eye in the crowd—that is, a person in an eye costume. That was when I made the first few drawings for the Kiev Diary, which was part of the diary obsession that swept Ukraine. Near-instantaneous reaction became vital due to the impossibility of creating a complete system, and the temporary and fluctuating nature--as well as the violence-of the developing events. It was bolstered by the need to participate in what was happening, and the equivocality of the facts. It was also crucial to document rapidly developing events, to ‘capture’ them off the bat, before time could transfigure them beyond recognition. Along with the Ukrainian revolution, I documented the reflexes, myths, fears, and hopes--my own and those of others—brought out by these events. Naturally, thoughts about the nature of events that were inspired by the local protest movement grew into contemplations on the nature of humanity. In crisis situations, insignificant, run-of-the-mill views, actions, and desires can turn into either heroism bordering on saintliness or criminality. Time seemed to condense, and this condensed, concentrated stream of time in this space acted like developer in the photo process. I was making images that developed in the solution of our most recent history. Vlada Ralko - artist, lives in Kiev
Serhiy Zhadan | Maidan as the Defeat of Culture (The primary hypotheses contained in the address of author Serhiy Zhadan to the “Ukraine: Thinking Together” conference organized by Leon Wieseltier (The New Republic) and Timothy Snyder (Yale University).) To me, the events of this winter and spring are, among other things, a testament to the devastating defeat of our culture. The disillusionment is utter. And, while this may not be all bad (the loss of illusion can be salutary), we are realizing that such cultural initiatives cannot really change anything. Euromaidan started as a mass act of culture. Until the middle of December, it was one endless stream of concerts, presentations by artistic intelligentsia, flash mobs, performances. That was also how things looked during the Orange Revolution in 2004, and I think many in the crowds that weltered into the central squares of Kiev and other cities expected to relive their experiences of a decade ago. There was a shared sense that when you start saying what’s right, what’s obvious to everyone, you can’t help but win. Truth on your side, failure impossible. It was through this cultural strand in Maidan’s composition that people hoped to publicly demonstrate their constructiveness, their openness to dialogue. Turns out Molotov cocktails work better. Get you closer to victory – if you can’t prove your case, you can at least defend it. Wherever you hear talk of serious situations, grave world events, geopolitical fault lines, culture finds itself at a complete loss. It’s helpless before the world of politics, of finance, of grubby backroom dealings. And this is a massive defeat – one which is perhaps not yet widely understood, but which I find as plain as day. Of course it’s nothing compared with the loss of human life, but for me it’s a cultural defeat, and one of the biggest reversals of the past six months. It turned out that music and words were not enough to persuade our opponent. He wasn’t even listening. At some point the cultural channels conducive to dialogue got blocked, stranding each of us with a personal rendition of truth. Where AK-47s are present, culture is powerless. It’s clear that we’ll soon be seeking compromise, and we’d better find one. There’s an armed civil conflict in our country, and it’s raging under an atmosphere of total, mutual rejection among the elements of our society. Things that were perfectly clear a few months ago now raise pointed questions. Our arguments fail completely to register with our opponents, just as we remain deaf to their pleas. Now we everywhere hear the question: what do we do to protect the integrity of our nation, to hang on to the east? The most common answer is that the people from these regions need to talk, to bring their realities together. But in point of fact this is nothing but a continuation of that absolutely infantile rhetoric of the Donbass: “Hey, listen to us!” But the people with the guns don’t want to talk. They have all the answers they need. I don’t think the promises of culture are going to change their minds.
Lana Nakonechnaya | The Zone of Ignorance
At times like these, when the world ruptures right in the place where you’re standing, and you suddenly find yourself in another, strange world, the usual connections created by the language and ideas that you depend on are broken. They appear in another light, words lose their meaning; reality overpowers all of your ideals. You find yourself in a state of the total defeat of language, in the zone of ignorance. It’s clear how crucially necessary the stabilization of language is today, and this need, in moments of tranquility, engenders a thirst for new images that will create everything anew. This is a desire to once again take control of the world, briefly winning it back. Many people put their faith in art. After at, its primary objective is to create powerful images that tell us about the world, symbols that unite us against a common enemy, and monuments to our heroes. At historical breaking points, it seems irrelevant that images blind us to the world, that monuments replace real memory, and that art, in trying to get to the truth, often obliterates life. For this reason, art is desperate to get into the zone where the dialogue is taking place, to participate in the public and political life. To slightly digress, or rather to get closer to ongoing events, I want to turn your attention to the mode of dialogue creation that dominates the public sphere. I am interested in how speechifying itself becomes a determining factor in building relationships. For instance, in speaking against the propaganda from one side, the opposing side answers it in kind (responding to accusations with counter-accusations, suspicion with suspicion, force with force, and so on), thereby supporting the structure that makes the propaganda possible in the first place. What’s more, this proliferation renders a system of relationships absolute. It would seem that there could only be one other option for action, which is immediately cast aside when there is direct aggression. This is option is to surrender and accept your powerlessness in the moment. In this case, a side’s response remains the same, but it’s put off until later, when we have more power, when we learn to act in a commensurable or perhaps better way. Then, we can go into battle on an equal footing. But is it possible to step out of this cycle of communication? Again, many have high hopes for art. The hopes are different, but lets turn to the one that puts stakes on another mode of action. Art often takes the side that’s like a third side, or an external side, which isn’t satisfied with the conventional distribution of power, geography, nationality; it puts forth a different viewpoint. Here, it’s important to ask: where is this third side? What vantage point is the artist looking and speaking from? Often, it is from the perspective of an authority that stands above everyone and speechifies, and the name for this kind of person is a ‘cultural figure.’ He will not surrender his position and will in fact defend it, considering it of the utmost importance. I don’t think that this kind of action is very different from what is described above. The words said from on high are not far off from propaganda and fall into the framework of the same mode of communication. In this scenario, it stops being important who is telling the truth and whose intentions are pure. (In general, it’s hard to accuse anyone of evil intentions; I believe that the majority of actions are undertaken with good intentions, and almost every decision is supported by a multitude of justifications). Everyone tells their own truth. When people make speeches, the words just fly out of their open mouths and take their places alongside other words without touching them. That’s how twin words come to stand next to one another, like ‘fascist’ and ‘fascist,’ which flew out of two different mouths and float there, side by side, without
As to the question of how Maidan changed the culture: I don’t think Maidan did change the culture – not to the slightest degree. What has changed is our conception of the significance, the role, and the culpability of that culture. We’re much more fully aware of them. You hear a lot of people saying, ’The winter changed us,’ or ’The spring did.’ Nobody was changed. Whoever opposed European integration six months ago opposes it still, only now he’s got a gun in his hands. Whoever disliked Yanukovych six months ago is unlikely to have adjusted his sympathies. Attitudes have become more crystallized and active, but each of us is unchanged in his opinions.
Serhiy Zhadan is Ukranian poet, writer and activist. Lives in Kharkov.
recognizing each other. But the words don’t go nowhere, they go out into the world at a certain historical moment. The amount of time they’ve gone unsaid depends on their significance and immediate relevance, that is, they are created not when they come into the world, but when they appear in people’s heads.
Art produces images and statements, it flings affirmative exclamations into the common space—like any other sector of the dialogue. Thus, the words pronounced by artists are no different that the words or actions of anyone else, they just take up another place in the conversation that is not fated to happen.
Any side can accuse any other side of not listening. The problem isn’t that there isn’t an interlocutor, but within the structure of the dialogue itself.
In peaceful times, this isn’t as glaring, it’s harder to see that the dialogue isn’t coming together. Now, we look on in amazement at the total absence of communication.
Artists continue creating symbols, images, descriptions, everything that tells viewers about the world. The representations of the things that are invisible in everyday life--human relationships, problems and fears---remain important. They deconstruct the coziness of mass symbolic production, take down depictions of the beauty of virgin nature, happy people ,and their healthy food. It’s paradoxical how those who love the most gentle, beautiful, and harmless pictures, images that speak of love and the beauty of life, and who are also the self-proclaimed devotees of so-called ‘high culture,’ turn out to be the cruelest people of all when their idyll is suddenly disrupted by the real world, which isn’t as idealized as the world these people admire. No matter how many times we see the horrors of war, we allow them to become a part of our lives. Perhaps this is because when we see them as works of art, we don’t entirely believe they are real.
Yes, art can act as a translator and bring opponents slightly closer to true dialogue. However, very often, the sides stick to their positions. There is only one art, its non-place is the place of ignorance, which art tirelessly keeps returning us to.
Lana Nakonechnaya (born.1981), artist, member of REP group, curators collective “Hudrada” (Art Council) and ІСТМ - the initiative for self-defence of art workers, teacher at the Course of Contemporary art at School for Visual Studies, Kiev
Slavoj Žižek Again and again in television reports on the mass protests in Kiev against the Yanukovich government, we saw images of protesters tearing down statues of Lenin. It was an easy way to demonstrate anger: the statues functioned as a symbol of Soviet oppression, and Putin’s Russia is perceived as continuing the Soviet policy of Russian domination of its neighbours. Bear in mind that it was only in 1956 that Lenin’s statues started to proliferate throughout the Soviet Union: until then, statues of Stalin were much more common. But after Krushchev’s ‘secret’ denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, Stalin’s statues were replaced en masse by Lenin’s: Lenin was literally a stand-in for Stalin. <…> There was nonetheless a historical irony in watching Ukrainians tearing down Lenin’s statues as a sign of their will to break with Soviet domination and assert their national sovereignty. The golden era of Ukrainian national identity was not tsarist Russia – where Ukrainian national self-assertion was thwarted – but the first decade of the Soviet Union, when Soviet policy in a Ukraine exhausted by war and famine was ‘indigenisation’. Ukrainian culture and language were revived, and rights to healthcare, education and social security introduced. Indigenisation followed the principles formulated by Lenin in quite unambiguous terms: The proletariat cannot but fight against the forcible retention of the oppressed nations within the boundaries of a given state, and this is exactly what the struggle for the right of self-determination means. The proletariat must demand the right of political secession for the colonies and for the nations that ‘its own’ nation oppresses. Unless it does this, proletarian internationalism will remain a meaningless phrase; mutual confidence and class solidarity between the workers of the oppressing and oppressed nations will be impossible.
Lenin remained faithful to this position to the end: immediately after the October Revolution, when Rosa Luxembourg argued that small nations should be given full sovereignty only if progressive forces would predominate in the new state, Lenin was in favour of an unconditional right to secede. In his last struggle against Stalin’s project for a centralised Soviet Union, Lenin again advocated the unconditional right of small nations to secede (in this case, Georgia was at stake), insisting on the full sovereignty of the national entities that composed the Soviet state – no wonder that, on 27 September 1922, in a letter to the Politburo, Stalin accused Lenin of ‘national liberalism’. <…>
No wonder Stalin’s portraits are on show again at military parades and public celebrations, while Lenin has been obliterated. In an opinion poll carried out in 2008 by the Rossiya TV station, Stalin was voted the third greatest Russian of all time, with half a million votes. Lenin came in a distant sixth. Stalin is celebrated not as a Communist but as a restorer of Russian greatness after Lenin’s anti-patriotic ‘deviation’. Putin recently used the term Novorossiya (‘New Russia’) for the seven south-eastern oblasts of Ukraine, resuscitating a term last used in 1917. <…> The resurgence of Russian nationalism has caused certain historical events to be rewritten. A recent biopic, Andrei Kravchuk’s Admiral, celebrates the life of Aleksandr Kolchak, the White commander who governed Siberia between 1918 and 1920. But it’s worth remembering the totalitarian potential, as well as the outright brutality, of the White counter-revolutionary forces during this period. Had the Whites won the Civil War, Hitchens writes, ‘the common word for fascism would have been a Russian one, not an Italian one … Major General William Graves, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force during the 1918 invasion of Siberia (an event thoroughly airbrushed from all American textbooks), wrote in his memoirs about the pervasive, lethal anti-Semitism that dominated the Russian right wing and added: “I doubt if history will show any country in the world during the last fifty years where murder could be committed so safely, and with less danger of punishment, than in Siberia during the reign of Admiral Kolchak.”’
The entire European neo-fascist right (in Hungary, France, Italy, Serbia) firmly supports Russia in the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, giving the lie to the official Russian
presentation of the Crimean referendum as a choice between Russian democracy and Ukrainian fascism. The events in Ukraine – the massive protests that toppled Yanukovich and his gang – should be understood as a defence against the dark legacy resuscitated by Putin. The protests were triggered by the Ukrainian government’s decision to prioritise good relations with Russia over the integration of Ukraine into the European Union. Predictably, many anti-imperialist leftists reacted to the news by patronising the Ukrainians: how deluded they are still to idealise Europe, not to be able to see that joining the EU would just make Ukraine an economic colony of Western Europe, sooner or later to go the same way as Greece. In fact, Ukrainians are far from blind about the reality of the EU. They are fully aware of its troubles and disparities: their message is simply that their own situation is much worse. Europe may have problems, but they are a rich man’s problems.
Should we, then, simply support the Ukrainian side in the conflict? There is a ‘Leninist’ reason to do so. In Lenin’s very last writings, long after he
renounced the utopia of State and Revolution, he explored the idea of a modest, ‘realistic’ project for Bolshevism. Because of the economic underdevelopment and cultural backwardness of the Russian masses, he argues, there is no way for Russia to ‘pass directly to socialism’: all that Soviet power can do is to combine the moderate politics of ‘state capitalism’ with the intense cultural education of the peasant masses – not the brainwashing of propaganda, but a patient, gradual imposition of civilised standards. Facts and figures revealed ‘what a vast amount of urgent spadework we still have to do to reach the standard of an ordinary West European civilised country … We must bear in mind the semiAsiatic ignorance from which we have not yet extricated ourselves.’ Can we think of the Ukrainian protesters’ reference to Europe as a sign that their goal, too, is ‘to reach the standard of an ordinary Western European civilised country’?
But here things quickly get complicated. What, exactly, does the ‘Europe’ the Ukrainian protesters are referring to stand for? It can’t be reduced to a single idea: it spans nationalist and even fascist elements but extends also to the idea of what Etienne Balibar calls égaliberté, freedom-in-equality, the unique contribution of Europe to the global political imaginary, even if it is in practice today mostly betrayed by European institutions and citizens themselves. Between these two poles, there is also a naive trust in the value of European liberal-democratic capitalism. Europe can see in the Ukrainian protests its own best and worst sides, its emancipatory universalism as well as its dark xenophobia. Let’s begin with the dark xenophobia. The Ukrainian nationalist right is one instance
of what is going on today from the Balkans to Scandinavia, from the US to Israel, from Central Africa to India: ethnic and religious passions are exploding, and Enlightenment values receding. These passions have always been there, lurking; what’s new is the outright shamelessness of their display. Imagine a society which has fully integrated into itself the great modern axioms of freedom, equality, the right to education and healthcare for all its members, and in which racism and sexism have been rendered unacceptable and ridiculous. But then imagine that, step by step, although the society continues to pay lip service to these axioms, they are de facto deprived of their substance. <…>
Today’s anti-immigrant populism has replaced direct barbarism with a barbarism that has a human face. It enacts a regression from the Christian ethic of ‘love thy neighbour’ back to the pagan privileging of the tribe over the barbarian Other. Even as it represents itself as a defence of Christian values, it is in fact the greatest threat to the Christian legacy. ‘Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity,’ G.K. Chesterton wrote a hundred years ago, ‘end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church … The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them.’ Doesn’t the same hold for the advocates of religion too? Fanatical defenders of religion start out attacking contemporary secular culture; it’s no surprise when they end up forsaking any meaningful religious experience. In a similar way, many liberal warriors are so eager to fight antidemocratic fundamentalism that they end up flinging away freedom and democracy if only they may fight terror. The ‘terrorists’ may be ready to wreck this world for love of another, but the warriors on terror are just as ready to wreck their own democratic world out of hatred for the Muslim other. Some of them love human dignity so much that they are ready to legalise torture to defend it. The defenders of Europe against the immigrant threat are doing much the same. In their zeal to protect the JudeoChristian legacy, they are ready to forsake what is most important in that legacy. The anti-immigrant defenders of Europe, not the notional crowds of immigrants waiting to invade it, are the true threat to Europe. One of the signs of this regression is a request often heard on the new European right for a more ‘balanced’ view of the two ‘extremisms’, the right and the left. We are repeatedly told that one should treat the extreme left (communism) the same way that Europe after the Second World War treated the extreme right (the defeated fascists). But in reality there is no balance here: the equation of fascism and communism secretly privileges fascism. Thus the right are heard to argue that fascism copied communism: before becoming a fascist, Mussolini was a socialist; Hitler,
B a r barism with a H uma n F a c e too, was a National Socialist; concentration camps and genocidal violence were features of the Soviet Union a decade before Nazis resorted to them; the annihilation of the Jews has a clear precedent in the annihilation of the class enemy, etc. The point of these arguments is to assert that a moderate fascism was a justified response to the communist threat (a point made long ago by Ernst Nolte in his defence of Heidegger’s involvement with Nazism). In Slovenia, the right is advocating the rehabilitation of the anti-communist Home Guard which fought the partisans during the Second World War: they made the difficult choice to collaborate with the Nazis in order to thwart the much greater evil of communism.
Mainstream liberals tell us that when basic democratic values are under threat from ethnic or religious fundamentalists, we should unite behind the liberal-democratic
agenda, save what can be saved, and put aside dreams of more radical social transformation. But there is a fatal flaw in this call for solidarity: it ignores the way in which liberalism and fundamentalism are caught in a vicious cycle. It is the aggressive attempt to export liberal permissiveness that causes fundamentalism to fight back vehemently and assert itself. When we hear today’s politicians offering us a choice between liberal freedom and fundamentalist oppression, and triumphantly asking the rhetorical question, ‘Do you want women to be excluded from public life and deprived of their rights? Do you want every critic of religion to be put to death?’, what should make us suspicious is the very self-evidence of the answer: who would want that? The problem is that liberal universalism has long since lost its innocence. What Max Horkheimer said about capitalism and fascism in the 1930s applies in a different context today: those who don’t want to criticise liberal democracy should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism.
What of the fate of the liberal-democratic capitalist European dream in Ukraine? It isn’t clear what awaits Ukraine within the
EU. I’ve often mentioned a well-known joke from the last decade of the Soviet Union, but it couldn’t be more apposite. Rabinovitch, a Jew, wants to emigrate. The bureaucrat at the emigration office asks him why, and Rabinovitch answers: ‘Two reasons. The first is that I’m afraid the Communists will lose power in the Soviet Union, and the new power will put all the blame for the Communists’ crimes on us, the Jews.’ ‘But this is pure nonsense,’ the bureaucrat interrupts, ‘nothing can change in the Soviet Union, the power of the Communists will last for ever!’ ‘Well,’ Rabinovitch replies, ‘that’s my second reason.’ Imagine the equivalent exchange between a Ukrainian and an EU administrator. The Ukrainian complains: ‘There are two reasons we are panicking here in Ukraine. First, we’re afraid that under Russian pressure the EU will abandon us and let our economy collapse.’ The EU administrator interrupts: ‘But you can trust us, we won’t abandon you. In fact, we’ll make sure we take charge of your country and tell you what to do!’ ‘Well,’ the Ukrainian replies, ‘that’s my second reason.’ The issue isn’t whether Ukraine is worthy of Europe, and good enough to enter the EU, but whether today’s Europe can meet the aspirations of the Ukrainians. If Ukraine ends up with a mixture of ethnic fundamentalism and liberal capitalism, with oligarchs pulling the strings, it will be as European as Russia (or Hungary) is today. (Too little attention is drawn to the role played by the various groups of oligarchs – the ‘pro-Russian’ ones and the ‘pro-Western’ ones – in the events in Ukraine.)
Some political commentators claim that the EU hasn’t given Ukraine enough support in its conflict
with Russia, that the EU response to the Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea was half-hearted. But there is another kind of support which has been even more conspicuously absent: the proposal of any feasible strategy for breaking the deadlock. Europe will be in no position to offer such a strategy until it renews its pledge to the emancipatory core of its history. Only by leaving behind the decaying corpse of the old Europe can we keep the European legacy of égaliberté alive. It is not the Ukrainians who should learn from Europe: Europe has to learn to live up to the dream that motivated the protesters on the Maidan. The lesson that frightened liberals should learn is that only a more radical left can save what is worth saving in the liberal legacy today.
Graphics by Dan Perjovschi (left) and Vlada Ralko (right)
The Maidan protesters were heroes, but the true fight – the fight for what the new Ukraine will be – begins now, and it will be much tougher than the fight against Putin’s intervention. A new and riskier heroism will be needed. It has been shown already by those Russians who oppose the nationalist passion of their own country and denounce it as a tool of power. It’s time for the basic solidarity of Ukrainians and Russians to be asserted, and the very terms of the conflict rejected. The next step is a public display of fraternity, with organisational networks established between Ukrainian political activists and the Russian opposition to Putin’s regime. This may sound utopian, but it is only such thinking that can confer on the protests a truly emancipatory dimension. Otherwise, we will be left with a conflict of nationalist passions manipulated by oligarchs. Such geopolitical games are of no interest whatever to authentic emancipatory politics. The full text of this essay published on 25 April 2014 could be accessible at the London Review of Books at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n09/slavoj-zizek/barbarism-with-a-human-face
On the Conditions for The Possibility of Communication: The Position of The Course*
Equality as the Point of Departure. «Not to pursue equality, but to depart from the position that all are equal» Rancière. Art is capable of conceiving of a person as «naked,» without a passport or nationality, simply as a subject of communication. However, this capability is not unique to art. Communication Breakdowns. All individuals are essentially equal and their thought structures are similar. From here, we see that parties are mutually responsible for failures in communication. Most often, communication is cut off intentionally, on the initiative of one of the sides. Shouldn’t we think about what we did to cause the breakdown? The risk inherent in communication. How can you hear the party that cuts off communication? How do you come to comprehend a way of thinking that’s foreign to you? How can you assimilate information from afar, from the distance of your capacity for sensory perception? From the position of not knowing your interlocutor. The ‘zero’ position is when all we know about a person is that they are a person. An individual is speaking to us, and not their nationality, political views, or religion. This is an idealized situation, when the interlocutor is hidden behind a curtain. All of the differences still exist, but they are camouflaged because they carry the risk of causing communication breakdowns (preconceptions like «I know what they’re thinking,» unpleasant positions). Determining the significance of fundamental positions. This is ‘boring’ and difficult, but it will facilitate further communication. Finding the method for doing this is one of the main challenges of communication, especially in the course of developing events, when communication is immediately crucial (and must take place without risky, oversimplified categories such as «Russia,» «liberal,» and so on). Culture as a field for trans-border cooperation. Reducing the pressure of territorial borders and professional castes in the process of communication. The impossibility of dividing people into Russian and Ukrainian cultural workers; cultural workers and everyone else. At the same time, seeing cultural workers as ‘community functionaries,’ a globalized class that pursues common interests, capable of facilitating communication in a conflict situation. The perceived ineffectuality of art, which was intensified during Maidan. Maidan is not a challenge to culture, it’s a challenge to art and its attempt to take initiative. The art that creates images and masks reality became meaningless in a revolutionary situation. The problem of descriptiveness. During war and revolution, art can, but is not obliged to report on ongoing events. Realistic depiction (pure description) carries the danger of conserving the status quo. New content fills old forms. The basic concepts are not redefined. The objective of ‘alternative’ art is to shake the confidence in the correctness of seemingly settled issues, for instance, who ‘the fascists’ are. Frustration as a resource. Artists have discredited their own foundations. Various cultural workers’ attempts to communicate are the results of this frustration, the feeling of powerlessness, and not being needed. The desire to once again feel real. This frustration is also a point of departure. An artistic approach to disseminating information. Artists are capable of expressing their own special sense of life, in this case, the feeling of losing their foundations. Documenting not only the events, but the feelings inspired by them, art presents a fuller document than the media. This is what makes it valuable in times of war and revolution. It’s a form of knowledge that’s outside of experience. Common values that allow one to find points of communication. These exist, even when there’s a total reevaluation of values. This is the sense of equality and the direct perception of reality, as well as the belief in the right to artistic expression as an integral element of freedom of speech. * The course of Contemporary Art at the School of Visual of Communication, Kiev translated by Bela Shayevich
Artist’s answers What changes have taken place in your work and relationships to the art world since: - the start of Euromaidan in 2013? - the bloody clashes in Kiev, February, 2013? - the annexation of Crimea? - the initiation of civil war in the east?
Mykola Ridnyi – artist, participant in the SOSka group (soska means pacifier). Lives and works in Kharkiv. Since the start of Maidan in 2013, many artists have questioned their place in the unfolding situation. For one thing, the conduct of the authorities, especially in their brutal dispersal of peaceful protesters on November 30, has prompted outrage. At the same time, the dispersal into the protests of large numbers of ultra-rightists has created a tremendous sense of alarm. While it was still possible to express one’s civic position peacefully and make use of artistic experience, I did so, drawing placards or arranging lectures and video screenings within organizations like the Open University that arose within Maidan’s rubrics of self-organization. I didn’t arrange any art shows, though. It seemed inappropriate, considering the lack of socio-political context. Though in fact, shortly before everything erupted, a show opened at the PinchukArtCenter including my piece Dripping Hollows Out Rock, a video interview with a former policeman and a series of granite sculptures representing a wall of police boots. A lot of people later pointed out the parallels with what ended up happening. But by then the gallery had been closed to avoid conflict. When the fighting erupted on Hrushevsky and the first dead bodies appeared, it became immediately clear that this was no time for art. Our first response was shock: such violence at a protest was a new experience not only for Ukraine but for the Europe of recent years. I was in Kharkiv at the time, and went down to Kharkiv’s Maidan with some anarchists who had become permanent fixtures in the park and were beginning to articulate social demands. Putin’s annexation of Crimea took place a week before the long-planned opening of a show at Moscow’s Garage Center of Contemporary Art, to which we had been invited. We decided to join Lada Nekonechnaya and Nikita Kadan in boycotting the show on political grounds. The minute Russia began its aggression, the question of whether to participate in nationally or municipally funded shows in Russia became incredibly thorny. Later, I would similarly decline to participate in the Moscow International Biennale for Young Art. Crimea was just the beginning of the southeastern response. In the Kharkiv of those months, March and April of 2014, there was no peace to be found. The city teetered on the brink of civil war. Every attempt at dialogue between the local Maidan and anti-Maidan factions failed; discussions and roundtables ended as street fights. In time, though, the situation there stabilized – which is more than can be said for the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, both of which have been transformed into gigantic battlefields. It seems to me that what makes the position of the artist or culture worker unique is that person’s ability to act simultaneously as participant and observer. Art demands a certain distance from what is happening, a requisite space for critical reflection. This is all the truer in the case of Ukraine, where hatred of the enemy is being furnaced ever hotter by a war of information. The majority of art shows in response to Maidan have been of an utterly vulgar populism, playing on the situation to the same degree that the new government in Kiev does. Today, the objective of art should be to create dialogue and discussion, not to inflame a continuing escalation of violence. All told, I’ve finished two projects in the past couple months, both of them contemplating these questions: in Kiev, I finished a piece called Refuge; in Kharkiv, one called After Victory. Such discussions, of course, are possible only before the guns spew their noise; in Donetsk and Lugansk, this moment has already gone by.
Nikita Kadan, artist, member of the REP group, Kiev First, a couple clarifications to the wording of your question. Blood was first spilled in Maidan on November 30, and the violent confrontations began on the night of December 10. In the east, this isn’t quite a civil war yet, but rather a fairly brazen Russian invasion, carefully designed to provoke one. Responsibility lies with the Russian regime, without which the protests in the east – which arise not only from the paranoid myth of “the fascist Maidan,” but also from quite tangible social problems – would have gone completely differently. Overall, it’s hard for me to talk about my work as happening “through Maidan” or “during the invasion” – these were just incidents, bit parts in a sweeping historical narrative. And that’s exactly what I’m concerned with in my work: with narrative, the unfolding of events, duration. Events, pivotal or otherwise, inscribe themselves into our narratives – without breaking them, or eradicating previous chapters, or forcing us to start again from the beginning. On the other hand, the problematics of the “historical museum,” which have been slowly taking shape in my work over the past couple years, became extremely pronounced after Maidan. I’d earlier had a predilection for direct social critique (that is, for what they call “protest art” or “activist art,” though neither phrase has ever sat well with me), but I’m now interested in the didacticism of the museum, in ways of building composite narratives with dialectical, portable structures. Narratives of the processes of history, open to outward expansion, and including, of course, the present. The show I put up after Maidan was a “historical museum” of exactly this kind, though I should stress again that this was merely a concretization of approaches that had already been well underway. Maidan was the coming-out of the open secrets in Ukrainian society, the things everyone knew and no one wanted to say. For example, the scale of the police brutality here became visible to the world, as did the reach of hateful ideologies in both the pro-Ukrainian and proRussian camps. I worked with all of these open secrets, so that now that it’s all out in the open I feel as though the reactualization of my earlier work has been confirmed. That said, I want to avoid sweeping statements about the prophetic function of art. Another dynamic that fed into my work was the experience of bodily co-presence, shared participation and the empathy it builds. When the bearer of perspectives you find totally repugnant falls over bleeding right in front of you, or when you spend a night on the square with him, freezing together side by side, then your political position takes on a somatic dimension, and you lose the ability to see your opponent as a caricatured political puppet. Politics is instantly distilled into a choice we make to side with the victims. But then a new complexity arises: Maidan was a powerful reminder that, at any second, everything can be compressed into such incredible simplicity that no metaposition can rescue it. And this ever-present reminder gives my work a new horizon. Finally, “relations with the art world.” For me the art world is unchanged: flesh of the neoliberal order’s flesh, with a side of fundamental cynicism. The Manifesta situation in Petersburg, for example, came as no surprise. For the system of contemporary art, this is well within the bounds of decency. Another thing is that it makes you look for points of balance outside this system. These can be found, in some cases, in the bonds of political (here, anti-war) solidarity, and also in the idea of the “historical museum.” It reveals to me a completely separate world with its own problems, in light of which one’s relationship with “the system of contemporary art” is so frightfully unimportant that we might walk right past it without even noticing. One last thing about my connections with the Russian art scene. Can I even afford to exhibit in Russia? I probably can for at least as long as the anti-Putin and anti-war movements remain active there. Hopefully, in projects with a discernible anti-war and anti-authoritarian orientation. But I’m doing something completely different! And here a little bit of hierarchy is needed: to a framework of opposition-activist projects, we say absolutely, yes! (A whole other thing, insofar as I fit in among them with my historical-museum ideas.) In private and independent spaces, maybe government-funded, inevitably conferring legitimacy on Putin’s regime through “cultural diplomacy” – projects like Manifesta – emphatically no! Graphics by Nikita Kadan
translated by Ian Dreiblatt
Larisa Venediktova | Maidan in Culture. Assembly of Cultural Workers in Ukraine to Replace the Ministry of Culture
“The Assembly for Culture in Ukraine informs the people of Ukraine, Maidan participants, and the Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) about the initiation of an open working group for culture workers and Maidan activists, dedicated to developing the principles of systematic change within the area of culture. The group meets on the premises of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, at 19 Franko St., Kiev.” So opens the manifesto, with which the people who have occupied the Ministry on February, 22, addressed Maidan. Among the demands issued to Verkhovna Rada and to the future (now current) Minister of Culture were: inspection of the previous activity of the Ministry of Culture, lustration of its staff, termination of cultural management and the servicing of any ideology, new focus on the creation of infrastructure instead of the stamping out of cultural products, formation of a real cultural politics, and, most importantly – fundamental reorganization of this state organ.
On its first day about three hundred people joined the Assembly. It was then, that
participants made the mistake of breaking into separate working-groups by the guild principle. Such a tactic is erroneous, for it replicates the structure of the Ministry with its departments – that is, the very structure that the Assembly strives to reorganize, if not to liquidate altogether. Separate groups of musicians, circus-workers, event organizers, designers, advertisers, etc. were formed. Additionally, groups of contemporary artists, analysts and coordinators also appeared.
Participants of the “Analytics” group attempted to build an organizational model of
with the existing system. The Assembly is already criticized for its lack of productivity. This is especially
true now, as the new Minister of Culture, the actor Evgeniy Nischuk (who spent the last few months on Maidan’s stage as its host/M.C.), does not seem to be predisposed to cooperate with the Assembly or to develop new societal mechanisms to influence power. He does not feel compelled to initiate reforms or to take upon himself the difficult task of the reorganization of the Ministry. Here and there appear small articles that assume an ironic tone towards the Assembly, and defend the Minister as a “kind, intelligent, compassionate man,” and “a stage Romantic,” who has to be protected from “the tyranny of having to always consider those-frombelow.” The author of the article quite expressively terms the Assembly as “our own domestic hungweibings. ”
It seems that already the Ministry of Culture is transforming into the Department
of Cultural Preservation and is unlikely to bother with innovations. Well-wishing observers are constantly advising the Assembly to hire experts and lawyers, to legalize the assembly, to transform it into a “normal” social organization with a clear structure of representation, to delegate deputies for negotiations, in short, to make everything comme il faut. The inexorable desire to normalize and optimize everything, to make use of outdated knowledge about how and why things should happen, prevents anything new from materializing. And the Assembly, which from the very beginning has been a bottom-up organization, constantly strives to leap out of this horizontal form, to become something bigger and better, something more useful and less difficult.
the cultural process that would differ from the existing one, both structurally and conceptually. Structurally – by creating agencies responsible for the preservation of cultural heritage, including its modernization and innovation – a process that should be organized in accordance with the functioning of culture, as opposed to generating a specific product. Conceptually – by way of re-orienting culture away from serving the interests of the acting power and towards the cultural needs of all people.
In some regards, the month spent in the occupied basement of the Ministry can
The structure of the Ministry of Culture and the design of the cultural sphere for
Dispositives adopt multiple forms, corresponding to a monstrous multiplication of the forms of subjectification (and desubjectification). From this we can conclude that the category of subjectivity may become moot. But, as Agamben writes, we are talking not about “erasure or an overcoming, but rather a dissemination that pushes to the extreme the masquerade that has always accompanied every personal identity.”  In the end of the “What is an Apparatus?” essay he offers a solution for resisting this “free-spinning machine”: a profanation of such dispositives that would become “a counter-apparatus” to “restore to common use what sacrifice has separated and divided.”  Finding a solution to this problem is urgent for Agamben. “But this problem cannot be properly raised as long as those who are concerned with it are unable to intervene in their own processes of subjectification, and more than in their own apparatuses, in order to then bring to light the Ungovernable, which is the beginning and, at the same time, the vanishing point of every politics.” 
propaganda and management were inherited from the Soviet ideological machine. These forms are not only ineffective, but also dangerous. Empty hierarchy may be easily filled with any content, including the most reactionary. In fact, last summer’s events demonstrated this all too well. The act of censorship and vandalism that occurred during the “Great and Grand” exhibition (as well as the exhibition itself) is a perfect example of this danger. Parading grandeur against the background of poverty, corruption, theft, and general lawlessness is rather shameful and quite in the spirit of the worst Soviet traditions.
As is well known, the Ministry of Culture was invented in 1953 in the Soviet Union to reinforce the ubiquitous dominant ideology, so that no one and nothing would be left outside of its influence and control. In effect, the USSR became the first state in the world that took upon itself the task of governing culture in its totality. “During the period of the Enlightenment, culture was one of those controversial concepts, reaching consensus about which was practically impossible. Culture was understood as an ideal world of Platonic values, as a way of life, as a synonym of civilization, as a production of symbolic meanings. Culture was always hard to define as a separate sphere of human life. It was rather a sub-section, that was defined by a set of themes and problems characteristic of the Enlightenment: civilization and barbarism, domestic and foreign, included and excluded, identity and minority, progress and education, reason and science, art, creativity, etc.” 
Perhaps only the Communist Party of the USSR could transform such a limitless
and nearly impossible to define sphere into an object of direct state administration. Overall, the experiment may be deemed successful; nothing survived of culture except its imitation. A person, who was deprived of a necessity to think (because everything had been decided for him), had to adopt the general line. It is very convenient. Having had experienced the luxury of complete lack of independent thought, to be suddenly deprived of it was tantamount to dying.
The holiday of lethal insubordination that took place in Kiev in the past few months, among other things, offered culture a chance to become what it really should be – a possibility to create different forms of life. The Assembly for Culture in Ukraine made an attempt to become one of these forms. The very notion of an “assembly” implies certain principles, such as, for example, horizontal structure, self-organization, and a consensus-driven decision-making process. Participation in the assembly presupposes the independence of each individual member; personal initiative here cannot be transformed into a directive, there are no bosses and no subordinates. Anyone who is interested may participate in the assembly, but no one may claim the ultimate authority of expertise, that is, to regard the work of the assembly from the outside, to evaluate it. In other words, you are either in, or you are out. However, paradoxically, one is simultaneously in both places.
The chaos of horizontal structure, the absence of leaders or a responsible party,
impatience, the desire to be quickly reassured that work is efficient, the need to prove to oneself and to others that they are not sitting in the basement of the Ministry of Culture in vain, - all of this made the Assembly practically unbearable for many participants. It is very interesting to observe to what extent the consciousness of many people is contaminated with managerial habits, is colonized by the idea of efficacy and responsibility. Such people are making attempts to create groups of executives for the performance of administrative tasks, and to invite lawyers and other authoritative people, so that the participants would rejoin the “normal, legitimate” existence.
For an outside observer, the Assembly may look like a rather suspicious gathering. And many participants believe, as do the onlookers, that it must act, influence, decide, convince somebody to do something… Such a guilty sense of obligation makes participants nervous, impatient, and willing to collaborate and negotiate
be regarded as an illustration of Georgio Agamben’s theory of a dispositif, or “apparatus” that captures any living being. Agamben recognizes the correspondence between a dispositif and “economy.” The latter understood as “a set of practices, bodies of knowledge, measures, and institutions that aim to manage, govern, control, and orient – in a way that purports to be useful – the behaviors, gestures, and thoughts of human beings.”
And here we return to the events that took place over the last four months in Kiev.
The Ukrainian revolution is often called “a dignity revolution.” And indeed, it has provided multiple examples of such dignity. Nonetheless, the current task is to figure out the ways in which we can preserve this dignity. This means that we will have to invent, to demonstrate a “will toward new sociality” – a sociality without hierarchies and power relations. “Absolute egalitarianism of dignity means that its assertion should be disengaged from the hierarchical power relations. We will have to define dignity outside of all power dimensions, outside of the possibility for power.”  “Others may improve many things about this world, but only our own acts will change it completely,” – to cite the writer Vladimir Bibikhin. Our behavior – the acts proper to all and each of us – cannot be improved even by the most organized and wonderful management.
The Assembly for Culture in Ukraine is a gathering of such individuals, none of whom is better than another. Each one has arrived with his or her body and conscience and each has the opportunity to embody the change itself. FOOTNOTES 1. Gefter, Mikhail. “Genesis of Cultural Politics and Mass Culture in the USSR, 1917-1953” from http://gefter.ru/archive/11045. 2. Cultural Red Brigade 3. Agamben, Giorgio. What Is an Apparatus, p.12 (translated by David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella), Stanford UP, 2009 4. Agamben, p.19. 5.Agamben, p.19 6. Agamben, p.24. 7. Boris Nemcev “Will to Dignity against Serfdom” “Воля к достоинству против «крепостного права»”, from http://gefter.ru/archive/11676,)
Translated by Anastasiya Osipova
TanzLaboratorium (Kyiv, Ukraine) is an independent performance group that was founded in 2001. Since 2006 the group consists of Larysa Venediktova, Olga Komisar and Oleksandr Lebediev. Between 2007 and 2010 and since 2013 TanzLaboratorium collaborates with Les’ Kurbas National Theatre Arts Centre. TL is a member of the Art Worker’s Self-Defense Initiative. http://istmkyiv.wordpress.com/manifest/ TL is a fundamentally horizontal structure which has no choreographers/dancers, directors/actors, artists/ performers. The group’s works come about through self-organization — collective practice or the interplay of different solos. TL’s members also realize their own individual projects and participate in other artistic groups.
Dmitry Vilensky | Ivory Tower of Art | Set of Postcards
Jonathan Brooks Platt Soviet Sculpture in the Expanded Field A monument always marks a threshold, at once joining and dividing. If it is a ritualistic idol, it mediates between human and divine and, in ancestor cults, present and past. In the Roman imperial cult, the monumental threshold cuts through the double body of sovereignty. After death and apotheosis, the emperor leaves his statue behind like the exoskeleton of a cicada (to paraphrase Joseph Brodsky)—the hollow index of a divinity since moved on. Alternatively, the imperial monument fills its empty innards with time: the statue’s enduring form and sublime stasis suggest a consummate fullness. Immortalized in bronze or marble, each generation recalls the emperor’s rule, forever honoring and, if possible, imitating the golden age. But this hollowness already presages the ambivalence of the modern monument. With the waning of faith in gods and kings, the monument no longer incarnates an otherworldly perfection but only instructs about the more mundane powers—nation, history, culture—that gather the community together. While an idol breathes its own magic, a modern monument merely reflects the admiring crowd around it. With the “statuemania” of the late nineteenth century, when industrial, imperialist powers become increasingly fond of erecting representations of their glory, the hollowness of the public monument turns malignant. The bourgeois cityscape is littered with statues—so many master signifiers of a culture that must constantly return to the void of its origins, binding the urban flow to historical narrative. This empty proliferation naturally evokes repugnance in those with finer tastes (those nostalgic for a more “spiritual” monumentalism). As the canonical art-historical narrative goes, modernist sculpture rips up the pedestal of the public monument, pursuing autonomy and self-referentiality, experimenting with fragmentary forms and heterogeneous materials, becoming siteless and nomadic. What does it seek? The same void, only exposed now rather than veiled and domesticated. Modernist sculpture relentlessly pursues a degree zero of monumentalism— the precise threshold at which its social, structural being is revealed just as it disappears in an evanescent flash.
Lilu S. Deil
The process of remembering through the actualization of events, images, and personalities from the past in the context of contemporary viewpoints and needs. *Commemoration
As Rosalind Krauss puts it, modernist sculpture suspends itself in a no-man’s-land between architecture and landscape. Here we again encounter the logic of the threshold. A monument can participate in an architectural edifice, mediating between the building’s social function (as, say, a seat of government or an institution of learning) and its authority—what gathers people to it. Or it can define a landscape, quilting order into the bare site (as a park or public square), again gathering the people. As these functions become increasingly strained by automatization, modernist sculpture reduces them to pure negativity in the hopes of effecting a renewal. Sculpture, as Krauss puts it, becomes merely “what is on or in front of a building that is not the building, or what is in the landscape that is not the landscape.” But for all these efforts, there is no saving the monument. Instead, we end up in the “expanded field” of postmodernism with its own proliferation of sites and structures seeking in different ways to actualize the monumental threshold as negativity and paradox. Meanwhile, the public monument continues its ineluctable decline. Most commemorative statues today are little more than expensive kitsch. In their place, a new anti-monumental practice has entrenched itself as the norm—memorializing collective trauma and victimhood. Contemporary art is itself increasingly monumental in scale, but this trend is less about overcoming the crisis of modernist sculpture and more a sign of the bloated market and the need for populist spectacles to justify it.
Yet, the modernist tradition Krauss describes is not the only one possible, and her choice of the term landscape is less obvious than it seems. Driven by a need to account for the innovative power of Robert Smithson’s earthworks, Krauss effectively defines the evolution of sculpture in terms of a strict nature-culture binary. But doesn’t this charaterization of the opposition between the “built” and the “un-built” reek of a reactionary Romantic withdrawal from the plebeian, industrial hordes? Even Benjamin Buchloh’s more conceptual binary between the aesthetic production of reality (architecture, design) and the reality of aesthetic production (contemplated through strategies like the readymade) reduces the history of post-monumental sculpture to an oscillation between engagement and withdrawal. Ultimately, such accounts paint a specific picture of sovereign power at the monumental threshold—one fully grounded in the discourse of the nation. It is modern, national consciousness that seeks its origins in a wilderness of negativity—a primordial emptiness from which heroes emerge to bring language, community, and history to the people. When the sculptural depiction of such heroes marks the threshold of the “built,” we encounter its positive face, veiling the negativity of origins as a hollowness easily filled by the people (or the bureaucrats in a government building). But when it marks the “un-built,” we face the hollowness of the monument as an echo of our own lack. The prototypical scene of a statue encountered in nature is that of the lonely elegiac subject wandering amongst the gravestones in a country churchyard. It is a scene saturated with melancholy affect, the contemplation of transience, and the sweet sorrow of solitude. All the monuments located in the central parks of bourgeois capitals speak in similarly dulcet tones of the negative core of national sovereignty. If the architectural monument is a sign of phallic power, the monument in a natural landscape reverberates with the wound of castration. But there is another negative scene available besides the natural landscape—the public square. Unlike an architectural monument, marking the threshold between inside and out, statues in public squares mediate between urban movement and the stasis of un-built space extended beneath it. When a crowd ceases its circulation through the city to gather in a public square— for trade, celebration, or political action—it inhabits the void of sovereignty not as an individual place of contemplative withdrawal but as a collective site, always charged with the potential for contestation, conflict, and transgression. The specific conditions of radical revolutionary upheaval within a dynastic-imperial culture meant that sculpture in the Soviet Union always privileged the public square over the landscape. The un-built could not be a place of primordial origins but only one of contestation, already historical. At the same time, the Soviet occupation of public squares with new monuments could not merely perpetuate the statuemania of the pre-revolutionary years (even if it often seemed only to amplify this statuary excess). It also had to introduce its own modernist rupture, ripping up the pedestals of the public monument in its own way, seizing the place of sovereignty, clearing it, and renegotiating its gaping contours again and again (as long as the revolutionary impulse remained). The “homelessness” of Soviet monuments is thus markedly different from those described by Krauss and Buchloh. The pre-war Soviet statue does not tend towards suspension between architectural function and contemplative withdrawal. Rather, it seeks the point of maximal tension between architectural construction—the channeling of constituent power through labor, discipline, and consciousness—and the public square as a site for ongoing struggle, resisting the reification
Oleksandr Burlaka | The Soviet Legacy […] While filming the storming of the Ukrainian House (the former Lenin Museum) in February, I suddenly realized that the people standing around me on the slippery granite steps, on the sacks of ice and metal that took down giant stainedglass windows, tensely peering into bristling tortoise shells of riot officers’ shields, had granite bas-reliefs looming over their heads. It’s a well-known fact that that sculptor and architect Anatoly Ignashenko, who created these bas-reliefs, used himself, his colleagues, drinking buddies, relatives, and childhood friends as models for the revolutionary masses depicted in them. The issue is that many architectural complexes that represent Soviet power have lost their ideological weight by representing an unrealized future society. In the case of the former Lenin Museum, the building had ceased to be meaningful for Yanukovich, who planned to close off the atrium and make it into a hall for press conferences, and also for the protestors, who wanted to take the building for tactical purposes. The same feeling dominated the steps of the monument to T.G. Shevchenko in Kharkov, which has sculptures of naked and bound people, a figure with an open jacket, bearing a broken flag staff, a rifle, and a round stone that is suspiciously reminiscent of a tire. The images of monumental propaganda are very easy to repurpose, you don’t always even need to change the inscription. Often, it’s enough to just look at them from the necessary angle.
[…] The mass, elemental dismantling of Lenin monuments that took place in 2013-2014 began with the red granite monument by S. Merkurkov on T. Shevchenko Boulevard. The majority of the dismantling (291 instances according Wikipedia) occurred at the same time as the president and parliament members fled the country, when it had become clear that the government—on the central, regional, and local levels--had fallen. This began in the village of Orlovka in Crimea, when, «as of 12:30 AM over 500 people, mostly spectators had gathered to watch.» The number is impressive, and it’s a mysterious symbolic phenomenon that resembles the cargo cult. For people who had spent several months watching the action in downtown Kiev on TV, it had become essential to go out and perform their own destructive gesture. Monuments without actual cultural relevance made perfect targets as they could easily return to being nonentities after the storm. What were the Lenin monuments to those who toppled them and to those who defended them? The irony lies in the fact that in this battle, pro-Ukranian and pro-Russian nationalists were the ones facing off. It’s important to note that in
of social forces that a traditional monument most naturally promotes. The resulting nomadism is thus not a reductivist narrowing to the degree zero of sculpture. The Soviet monument does inhabit a suspended position of neither/nor, but it arrives there only through the failure of its impossible ambition to produce a monumental image that is both fixed and moving, eternal and temporal, stone and flesh, built and un-built. This tension appears in a wide variety of ways. There is Lenin’s 1918 plan for monumental propaganda, in which heroes of the progressive cultural tradition and the revolutionary struggle were erected in ephemeral materials. These statues, which decayed extremely quickly, existed in two hypostases—first, as a theatrical prop for the speeches that accompanied their unveiling and, second, as a makeshift, indexical promise of the glorious city of socialism to come. The ephemeral monument was soon replaced by a virtual one—at once more stable and more easily circulated through reproducible images. Whatever the practical reasons behind the phenomenon— scarcity of materials, bureaucratic indecision, impossible expectations—the incredible proliferation of models and designs for unrealized Soviet monuments, which were nevertheless prominently displayed in exhibitions and the press, points to a reluctance to allow sculptural production to settle into actual form. The most significant example of this tendency is of course the Palace of Soviets with its 100-meter statue of Lenin— depicted again and again in the press, films, even maps, not to mention postage stamps and chocolate wrappers, yet in fact never rising out of the foundation pit. The permanent virtuality of the palace’s giant Lenin offered a subtle complement to the permanent ephemerality of the leader’s corpse, forever perched on the threshold of decomposition in the Mausoleum. Other monuments depicted subjects heroically striding or poised for a burst of destructive motion, as in Ivan Shadr’s The Cobblestone is a Weapon of the Proletariat. A wild discourse of verisimilitude also points in this direction, as sculptors studied anatomical dynamics—down to the last sinew—even if these preparatory stages would be “clothed” in the final product (as in Sergei Merkurov’s Lenin for the Palace of Soviets, which he first sculpted in the nude). Finally, there is the great love of direct interactions with statuary. These range from ekphrastic descriptions of statues “as if alive” to photographic scenes and montages of dialogue with the statue—as in various images from the 1937 Pushkin jubilee (figs. 1). In the Moscow Metro station at Revolution Square, travelers have rubbed the bronze caryatids and telamones for luck since the station opened in 1938, giving them a gilted polish. The favorite objects of this relational aesthetic attention are the animals and young children in the ensembles (pitying the innocents who should not suffer monumental stasis) and the weapons some of the revolutionaries hold (keeping them warm and ready just in case). In each of these examples, the monument is charged with a tension that casts its fixity into doubt. At the same time, the ideal of monumental permanence is not rejected. Rather, it is either complicated with the admixture of fleshy dynamism or deferred as a future promise. In this way, the Soviet monument is constantly building and un-building
Kharkov, they refused to take down the Lenin monument, while in Kiev, artists came to the defense of a monument with an even more problematic subject: the Chekhists and NKVD officials in the 1930s. It was the first time that monument had been in the news since its construction. The Ukrainian pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale featured Nikolai Ridny’s project Monuments. This work included a series of sculptures of pedestals without figures on them. The empty granite monuments really were powerful, dominating the space around them with their unexpected emptiness. Unfortunately, this was, obviously, temporary. There are two empty army tents under the Lenin monument at Svoboda Square in Kharkov. These are the new symbolic objects--tents, helmets, sticks, tires, posters with ‘concise but expressive slogans’--temporary monuments used by all oppositional camps, as though they are all once again following Lenin’s plan for monumental propaganda. translated by Bela Shayevich
Oleksandr Burlaka (born 1982) Architect, artist, part of the group Burlaka - Melchuk, the Grupa Predmetiv (The Group of Objects), member of Hudrada (Art Council) lives in Kiev.
itself, striving to inhabit both the sphere of architectural construction and of violent demolition, struggling on the public square. But instead of achieving this impossible hybrid, it ends up suspended as neither one, nor the other. When Soviet unofficial artists and their post-Soviet successors “expand the field” of this relationship to explore other possibilities (in the midst of the official culture’s utter automatization and, eventually, ruination), the resulting forms again have very little in common with Krauss’ postmodernist typology. The Russian actionist tradition often engages the monumentalist legacy, using the body of the artist as a kind of living sculpture (often on Red Square where the site of contestation and the citadel of power are in closest proximity). “Vandalistic” appropriations of existing statues for actions are also a mainstay—waking the Soviet monument from its slumber to live and speak again in new ways. The Extra-Governmental Control Commission’s Barricade, an ephemeral monument to the 1968 student revolution, reworks the principle of the public square, using a pile of art objects to block urban movement. The Voina group’s phallic bridge is a monumental kinetic sculpture, at once marking an architectural site (the secret police headquarters) and again stopping traffic with its sexual address to vertical power. Recently the activist Ilya Budraitskis organized a series of lectures at the site of an obelisk in Moscow, which features the names of various philosopher forbears of October. The obelisk is slated for replacement with an earlier monument to the Romanovs it supplanted in 1918. This gathering around the ghost of a monument, literalizing its goals of revolutionary enlightenment, again inhabited the paradoxical space between construction and demolition. Whatever the actual political efficacy of such practices, there is something in them that can be seized upon and taken forward. The global neoliberal revolution of the 1980s outsourced its popular uprisings to the public squares of the Second World. Walls fell, statues tumbled, a lone student blocked a column of tanks. For all the euphoria of these moments, they ultimately served the expansion of predatory capitalism at the expense of the social contract and popular sovereignty across the world. The ambivalence of such emancipatory idol-toppling has become even clearer in more recent years, from the staged celebrations in Baghdad to the assaults on Lenin’s image in Ukraine. What the post-Soviet actionist tradition suggests, however, is that the public square has not yet been wholly colonized by capital, nor released from the revolutionary socialist tradition—including all its failures, compromises, and cruel abuses. The question is why such practices must necessarily address an embodied authoritarianism in polities that cynically disavow their participation in the neoliberal order. It would be interesting to reverse the flow of symbolic power and take the expanded field of Soviet sculpture—with all its tensions between construction and struggle, creation and destruction, static form and living flux—to the squares and edifices of America and Western Europe. Jonathan Brooks Platt is Assistant Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Pittsburgh
YOU ARE A PART OF US spontaneous political action by the «eredovoe udozhestvo» cooperative in the world of citrus
watch video work at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIq6TswatpU
Alexey Markin The «New Monumentality» Manifesto, or What is Tvorism*? «…it’s impossible to say that Tit or Kai will become artists, but one can contend that the movement will breed new artists.» Antonio Gramsci It would seem that few people would have thought that in this day and age, Ukrainian and Russian nationalists would be killing each other near Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, and Donetsk. It was not so long ago that we were enchanted with the peaceful civic protest at Maidan which, at a moment’s notice, turned into a bloody drama playing out on the streets of Kiev. The geography of violence is expanding every month. Is ‘the power of art’ capable of putting an end to this terrible practice? How can the dissemination warmongering insanity and internet handwringing be stopped? We need a new union of art and politics, the conjunction of nearreligious faith in art’s ability to change the world and precisely calibrated political knowledge. Only this union can effectively influence the epidemic of war in society. This is Tvorism. It’s too early to argue about Tvorism. It’s full potential isn’t yet known. I admit that I thought of it recently, but the idea has been in the air for a long time. Now, it’s important to find fitting examples, create a plan of action, to develop tactics. It was essential to invent this name in order to unite disparate forces so they can act together. I am confident that Tvorism is capable, under the correct circumstances, to become a major force, to cross national lines and bring together various communities. It will force society to change. For this, it needs to have a whole arsenal of methods and practices at its disposal, ones that do not lead to the sacrifice of human lives, but which attack the social and media realms. Tvorism’s most important weapon is sincerity. This is what Antonio Gramsci wrote about sincerity, as a reaction to ‘underlying conformism’ and ‘sociality,’ distinguishing ‘cheap originality’ from ‘false conformism.’ «There is ‘rational,’ ‘reasonable,’ conformism, that comes as a response to necessity, a minimum of effort, which is essential for achieving a useful result and the discipline of this kind of conformism is important to support and promote. It’s important to turn it into ‘directness’ and ‘sincerity.’ Conformism means nothing other than ‘sociality,’ but it’s customary to use the word ‘conformism’ to anger idiots.» Furthermore: «Putting the emphasis on discipline, on sociality, and still having pretensions to sincerity and directness, originality, and individuality--that’s what is truly difficult and complicated.» Thus, Tvorism wants to become ‘the true conformism’ and does everything possible to make this happen. It the result of cultural warfare under the conditions of the destruction of the edifice of freedom. Tvorism does not seek to «offer itself up as an image,” it’s the necessity itself, which is accessible to anyone who is interested in it, and who cannot look on with indifference at death in the battle of brave men over multi-colored rags. Finally, what should be the chief target of Tvorism? Of course, first and foremost the old, obsolete forms of monumentality, those that express the ‘sublime sculptural form’ ‘the heroic-epic origin’ and the ‘pathos of the positive ideal.’ In order to hit this mark, it’s essential to have a ‘new monumentalism’ so as to not just be satisfied with the external form, but to penetrate to the internal world of the individual, into his subjective suffering. Wassiliy Kandinsky wrote that, «The purpose of art is catalyzing spiritual refinement, which happens as a matter of course through the summation of certain parallel oscillations.» Thus, the objective of Tvorism is to make souls oscillate together and refine them, so that the ugliness of ongoing events may finally penetrate into them and cause them to be horrified, make them put down their weapons and raise the banner of the sublime ‘new monumentality’--the monumentality of sincere and refined souls. * tvorism is new word which is constructed in Russian. «Tvorit» means to create and has a references to «luchism» and many other word formation done by russian futurists
The Prison Alphabet Hello, my dear young criminal! You have been lucky enough to be born in Russia, the land of opportunity, where everyone, naturally, has their own set of opportunities available to them. It’s not customary to talk about impossible possibilities in the Russian land of opportunity, kiddo. Public declamation about the differences between the possible and reality and can result in a long silence for you. My young friend, if you’re sick of repeating the same thing to everyone and no one listens to you--do not despair! I know how to help you! For this, you will need: 1. A person to talk to through the wall (1) (or several, up to you) 2. An extremity (your choice) (1) And now, we begin: The prison alphabet--it’s the Polybius square--a method for coding the letters of the alphabet into easily transmittable symbols that you could, for instance, knock on the wall. As a rule, the symbols are codified according to alphabetical order, which makes the code easy to remember. Some symbols are excluded. An example of the most widely-used alphabet, consisting of 28 letters, is inscribed in this 5X6 grid: In order to distinguish between rows and columns, you knock at different frequencies. An infrequent knock indicates a row in the table, and then, after a brief pause, the letter is indicated with a fast knocking. On the other side, the transmitted letters are recorded and deciphered. The same code can be used for passing notes through the window by waving a handkerchief. The row is determined by horizontal motions and the position of the letter, with vertical motions. Different alphabets have different letter positions and numbers of letters. As a rule, if the messages don’t need it, differences in codes lie in the position or exclusion of uncommonlyused letters: ъ,ё,й,ь,ы. A similar system has been re-invented many times over. It was used by the Decembrists when they were in prison. Happy knocking!
Evgenia Shiryaeva On the Negative Side of Commemorating Individuals It’s no accident that in Christianity, pride is considered an original sin. Pride justifies the power of man over man through the elevation of personal ambitions over the interests of others, which leads to hierarchy in society. In turn, hierarchy that comes as a result of overgrown pride is the cause of injustice in the social order. From this, it can be said that ‘slaying the dragon’ is only possible through changing this order by means of overhauling the mechanisms that give rise to various forms of power at all levels. Sociologist Max Weber named three types of legitimate power: charismatic authority, traditional authority, and legal authority. The charismatic kind can evolve into the traditional and/or legal kind by means of glorification. Heroes are most commonly commemorated after their deaths, when their images begin to become idealized. The hero needs to become identified with an idea in order to inspire mass imitation and not always advisable but unquestioning obedience. At first, the hero appears to be a positive example of self-sacrifice, denying personal needs in the face of human progress. However, on the other hand, the way people perceive the world is concentrated in the image of the hero, thus eroding the individuality of their consciousness and, as a result, their liberty. A simple person begins to see another person’s life as more meaningful than their own; they dedicate their lives to the service of an idealized image, a perceived morality that becomes the measuring stick for their own actions and development. All of this turns into a cult of personality, with all of the concomitant tools for social manipulation. A hero whose statues line the streets and whose image fills the books challenges us, «Can you be like me? Can you live a life like mine and make as significant of a contribution?» This gives rise to the response, «Why should my path be just like yours?» Moreover, heroes are only relevant in their own time; further progress demands new ideas. In conclusion, in order to try to change the world, one needs to feel personally responsible for the historical process, and for this to happen, one needs to seek out heroes not in a different place and time, but within themselves.
Marina Maraeva | Monument It’s so difficult to live in a country that’s being torn asunder, in a world where all the colors are replaced with the battle of black on black. A medieval doctor has bound the world’s limbs with burning straps and keeps pulling The real enemy of humanity is death. (Aging, disease, meteors, badly behaved continental plates). What can we accomplish in this small number of emancipated years? Stone immortality for the chosen, Stone immortality for all. Scientists were able to double the lifespan of field mice. True immortality for the chosen True immortality for all Sacrificing our lives to the empire, we become the stone idols.
The School of Engaged Art How does one become an artist? Why should one become an artist? What is art today and what role does it play in society?
the widest range of disciplines and use it in the most unorthodox ways. We need a hybrid of poetry and sociology, choreography and street activism, political economy and the sublime, art history and militant research, gender and queer experimentation with dramaturgy, the struggle for the rights of cultural workers with the “romantic” vision of art as a mission.
We aren’t sure that we have ready answers for these and other urgent questions, and this is why we started the school—to meet the younger generation and work out together what is happening with art and the subjectivity of artists here and now, in contemporary Russia.
The distinguishing characteristic of our school is its open declaration of fidelity to the leftist tradition of modernist and avant-garde art and the simultaneous rejection of a dogmatic approach to politics. We want to experiment with collective egalitarian and emancipatory practices, which are still alive despite all the traps of the oppressive political situation. In order to do this, we have to demonstrate a viable alternative to the private interests of oligarchs and corporations and to the senseless machine of mass entertainment. Art, like authentic politics, is a common task. The ten-year activity of Chto Delat and the position of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (the institution supporting our initiative) have always been based on these assumptions; the time has come to affirm them in education.
What do we want from an art school? First of all, we have no illusions about the miserable situation in which contemporary art finds itself today. Least of all are we inclined to indulge the free play of “differences” (of little concern to anyone), which provides an excuse for withdrawing from any kind of responsible position. We want to go against the grain of things and insist that art remains essential for human becoming, that art is always a gesture of negation and a call for the world (and oneself) to become other. This is what defines the active position of the artist in society. Art, like philosophy, has always been and still remains a special space in which debates about truth can occur. But how can one defend this position today, when all talk of truth is suspect, interesting only the marginalized, and the borders between art and life, art and media, art and the social sciences, art and activism have been effaced to such an extent that any desire or opportunity to redefine the meaning of art is blocked?
No one asked us or invited us to open the School of Engaged Art. On the contrary, we encountered a number of difficulties and obstacles that might have made the project impossible. Yes, our school is far from the standards of Western art academies with their wonderfully outfitted classrooms, studios, and teaching staff. But we’re not so bad ourselves, and we can already provide free tuition, a travel and living stipend for students coming from other cities, support for the realization of participants’ projects, and respectable honoraria for teachers.
What knowledge should an artist possess? How should such knowledge be evaluated? Who has the power to judge whether an artwork is good or bad? We are rather skeptical about the “academicization” of art education taking place in Western institutions of higher learning (perhaps because we—the artist-initiators of the school—never went through the mill of an academic education). And like all self-educated artists, we believe in the axiom that art cannot be taught but only practiced. This is why we humbly want to continue the good old tradition, in which artists of one generation try to share with the next generation their faith in art and its power, their doubts and hopes, their fears and passion. The twentieth century produced many similar projects: Unovis in Vitebsk in the 1920s, the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College in America in the 1930s-50s, the unofficial circles that formed around a number of dissident artists in the late Soviet period, etc. Some of these projects left an indelible mark on history; others, hardly anything at all. Even the most serious educational projects often became a force for change among only a very small circle of people, but their mere existence served to preserve hope in the darkest of times. What kind of art education is necessary in the Russian context today—in a situation where basic democratic freedoms are under threat, and the level of violence in society has reached a critical level; in conditions that offer no support whatsoever for an independent, critical culture, and where there are no academic programs in contemporary art at all? In our view, art can and must deal with all the painful processes of our transforming society. Today it is essential to practice art that does not hide in the safety of institutional and pedagogical ghettos. We want an art that will tear itself free of the formalist approach to political and social questions; an art that can appeal to a broad viewership (while still touching each viewer on an individual level), not a narrow group of professionals immersed in discursive and contextual nuances. To achieve this we need to accrue knowledge from
The school works according to a modular structure. We meet with the participants for one week every month. We conduct all our seminars and tutorial meetings during this short, intensive period, including public screenings and lectures. The yearlong program includes five required courses: The History of Modernist Art (Andrei Fomenko), Aesthetics (Artemy Magun), Body Practices and Choreography (Nina Gasteva), Critical/ Poetic Writing (Alexander Skidan), and English for Artists (Emily Newman). The remaining time is devoted to practical seminars led by three core tutors: Tsaplya Olga Egorova, Dmitry Vilensky, and Nikolai Oleinikov. We also invite key participants in the Russian and international art process for thematic seminars and for the school’s public events. A central component of our school is the idea of collective practice. We want to develop a range of models for collective art production while of course continuing to discuss personal projects. We are convinced that a community of learners emerging in this way will have no place for neutral, unengaged abstractions. And this is why we have called our project the School for Engaged Art. Such a school requires all participants to take a position in this world, where fundamental battle lines are drawn by developing a particular ideological/ aesthetic movement. In conclusion it is important to point out that our goal is not to teach students how to make a career as an artist. Instead, we practice art as a vocation. We are not going to provide students with all the right “connections”—we simply want to introduce them to interesting, wonderful people. We don’t promise anyone that they will become rich and famous—we want them to share an experience of that fullness of being, freedom, and becoming, without which no self-realization is possible in the world.
The participants of the School of Engaged art 2013-1014 Mikhail Griboedov | Alexey Markin | Ilya Yakovenko | Olga Kuracheva | Olga Shirokostup | Natalya Nikulenkova | Victoria Kalinina | Sophia Akimova | Anna Tereshkina Polina Zaslavskaya | Natalya Tseljuba | Anastasya Vepreva | Marina Demjanova | Anna Isidis | Alexey Kotin | Marusya Baturina | Lia Husein-Zade | Lilu S. Deil | Evgenia Shirjaeva | Marina Maraeva | Korina Sherbakova | Dani Dugum | Roman Osminkin | Core tutors of the School of Engaged Art: Dmitry Vilensky | Tsaplya Olga Egorova | Nikolay Oleynikov | Cover Image: Gandi group «In a memory of Egor Letov» wheatpaste at the house of the cult punk singer, Omsk 2013 |
The publication was realised with a support of
The logo of the school at the cover: Valeria Nehaeva | Graphics at the back: Anastasya Vepreva | Composition and lay-out: Dmitry Vilensky | Thanks to: Cicada Press for translation, editing and sharing texts - Anastasiya Osipova for proof-reading and Ian Dreiblatt for translations; Cicada Press is small NYC-based imprint. In May, 2014 it released “Circling the Square: Maidan and Cultural Insurgency in Ukraine,” a collection of statements and artworks from Ukrainian and Russian artists and poets. Print version and pdf of it could be obtained here: www.cicadapress.net
and Old School Bar, Petersburg for providing a friendly location for knowledge
The position of the Foundation may not coincide with those of the authors
School of Engaged Art is a project of Chto Delat realised with the support of Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Moscow contact: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us at FB and at www.chtodelat.org отпечатано в типографии ПрофПринт / 194362, Санкт-Петербург, пос.Парголово, ул.Ломоносова, д.113 / Номера заказа:557.