Chto Delat, “The Excluded. In a Moment of Danger,” 2014. Four-channel HD-video installation, color, sound, 56:46 min. Exhibition view, KOW, Berlin, 2015. © Chto Delat. Photo: Ladislav Zajac / KOW. Courtesy of Chto Delat and KOW, Berlin
Russian artist collective Chto Delat’s exhibition, “Time Capsule. Artistic Report on Catastrophe and Utopia,” at KOW in Berlin, is a must see. Whereas most Europeans are mired in controversies over what forms the coming catastrophes might take, to Chto Delat, the apocalypse has already transpired. We are past the tipping point; the “revolution” already happened–it was however not a progressive one. “We lost,” they state in their press release. The exhibition space is clogged with the debris of history: insignias, toy soldiers, cardboard cut-outs, an over-sized human head. Amidst rampant militarism and increased repression––the show opened in the same day Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was murdered––they feel excluded from Putin’s Russia, yet unlike the Soviet dissidents in the past, they can no longer flee to the “West.” There is no “West,” just an economic continuum within which all political debate is framed as a struggle between the authoritarian and xenophobic right represented by Putin, Erdogan or the Front National, and the neoliberal right represented by Merkel and the ECB. The fall of the Berlin Wall didn’t mark the beginning of a global democratic era, but rather its opposite. As a United States Senator once said, the European welfare state was an aberration, an effect of the Cold War; once communism had been defeated, social democracy became redundant.
In the diffuse world of the post-Fordian economy, calls for acceleration feel a bit quaint: the infrastructure is still standing, but capitalism as we knew it is a thing of the past. Under the twin blades of financialization and what is called “the sharing economy,” capital has emancipated itself from the social––which is not to say it did away with work, just the need to pay formal salaries. As for the State, at the moment, its main function is simply to guarantee that credit is converted back onto cash payments, no matter how much misery such conversion elicits. Ironically, as the new Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis put it, it became the Left’s task to arrest capitalism’s free-fall in order to buy time to formulate an alternative––since at the moment the Left remains “squarely defeated,” any upheaval would end up in fascism.
For Chto Delat, to do nothing is not an option, as Oxana Timofeeva argued in her “Manifesto for Zombie Communism,” hoping things will eventually get better is wishful thinking. To paraphrase Hito Steyerl (at a Lunch Bytes conference at the HKW) everything seems peaceful in central Europe because we are sitting in the eye of the storm: a place of relative tranquillity amidst the chaos and turmoil already raging elsewhere, but what looks like recovery is just the tide receding before the tidal waves hit the shore.