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What is to be done? On Chto Delat

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.


if this equation is correct, I wonder why all these political art shows from Russia take place in this non-existing West and not elsewhere? still, the equation fails anyway: Putin’s right is authoritarian, xenophobic AND neoliberal


The neoliberal right can also be authoritarian and xenophobic, it depends whom it addresses, but it is usually more tolerant of personal freedom (a loose category that also comprises artistic expression)
that said I think the EU welcomes criticism of Putin’s regime for obvious reasons but just last week the macba in Barcelona canceled and then reinstated an exhibition because of an art-work representing the former king Juan Carlos, so the issue of censorship really depends on how you cut it…
thanks for your reply btw, its the first time I try this!

Just recently, Pussy Riot’s Nadeschda Tolokonnikowa and Marija Aljochina absolved their bumpy screen debut on a Netflix’ House of Cards episode. It is hard to decide, what is more bizarre in relation to their ongoing political efforts: a) Pussy Riot agreeing to be presented as a ratified, beautiful protest corps capable of creating a mirage of freedom of speech in the middle of the White House or b) Toloknnikowa and Aljochina choosing to take it up with the cameras themselves. In their exhibition Chto Delat prove to be more than aware of the inevitability of stardom leader logic when it comes to revolution. Their actors are also very nice to look at. That we are looking at them post-apocalypse according to Chto Delat makes up for a tear in perception: the first step in “doing something” – as the video and its actors suggest – is to enlist to a past of failures, state insolvencies, war catastrophes and crimes as well as personal losses. A second step is to embrace neglected, neutralized or unruly condemned revolutionaries. With Ana Teixeira Pinto mentioning Timofeeva’s manifesto these revolutionaries must be the longed for zombies. Following up on Boris Buden demarcation of fascism as the contemporary Internationale covering the whole of the territory of the former West, the only enclave left for the zombies must be on a surfboard, riding the tidal wave.


I find the idea that the Left (and maybe we all) fulfill significant effort now not to change things, but to keep them as they are for some time, just to avoid sliding into total disaster, extremely interesting. It might also explain some aesthetical choices, the aesthetic economy, in particular Chto Delat’s drift from rather declarative and simplistic poster-like gestures towards more complex and especially slow (and desperate) things, either realistic-documentary or baroque (but always mimetic, with a touch of 19th century). Or everybody’s obsession with endless research might mean that as well. Malevich thought to “stop the progress” a quickie like black square was enough, now one has to invest time and effort, to stop the time with art. But your text, Ana, is so rich, there is more than that in it…


This is a really good point, I think their work really needs to be seen as a response to the agitprop tradition and how inside that environment one has to first create a literary space in order say something political, but the same holds true for artists today, political work always needs to build its own arguments and metaphors, else its just flat.


yes, though not naturalistic, their work is quite realistic but what I find most interesting is their insistence in art as a practice, at a moment when there is such a market push towards post-art aesthetics. But I love the idea of using art to stop time, you know that Zizek saying that “the marriage of capitalism and democracy is over”? I think its rather the marriage of capitalism and the middle class that is over and a certain idea of culture will die together with it. On a more sinister note I couldn’t help recall that in Pre-Columbian cultures when time would come to a halt it would require a human sacrifice to set it back in motion, maybe one could say that it always requires a human sacrifice to jump start a market cycle and the only way to avoid it seems to be keeping time standing still.


Thanks Ana for your very deep insight into our work - actually it was our old polemic with accelerationists - which role the left and art could play today and very glad that it is activated again in a new situation. And I also want to comment Alexey remark - luckily for this film it was well shown outside of western world - in Brasil and Turkey and, what the most important, here in Russia, where we thought there is no place for such an art statement, but luckily there is and we consider it a a good sign of possible change. The only wish is to show it in Ukraine :slight_smile: but may be it creates rather different image of Russia as Ukranian public want to see…


i’m sure that ukrainian premiere of this film should take place in crimea and donetsk.

Interesting “Pre-Columbian sacrifice” metaphor…! it seems to embody perfectly the mirror of nowadays self illusion of “Capitalism=Democracy” as well as the failures and aftermaths of this economical, political and cultural system which always aimed to increase its benefits by making the subject of any society its own object through a paradoxal illusion of keeping it into a self satisfaction… Multiplication of sacrifices are claimed everywhere to either start a new era or end an old one these days. Sacrifices today aim to be shown through the endless flow of mass social medias : they are the extension of capitalism and what came between the Pre-Columbian era and today : and Hydra with several heads but the same body : Modernity. Colonisation, Slave trade, Christianisation, Capitalism, democracy… Indeed as hito says “we are sitting in the eye of the
I would rather say : Neither begining nor end, if there is a continuum is the "purification agency " because History already taught us about that myth of the sacrifice…

Thank you for your interesting text Chto Delat I never heard about them befor and can’t wait to see this exhibition or follow what they do.

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thanks, you can see the video here btw: http://032c.com/2015/revolution-starts-in-hell-interview-with-russian-activist-art-collective-chto-delat/
scroll down til you find the window!

‘Berlin, the capital of radical chic’ - overheard at the Eurovision- like gathering of activist/artist organizations. The anti-climactic ending of the event turned into a desperate attempt to find the actual reason for gathering or a common cause of struggle, (now that people are already here, participating or not, with different levels of uneasiness), and, ideally, one that could provide an ad hoc external meaning to it all. The wide spectrum of potential agendas started popping up: climate change, saving Greece, helping Azawad and ultimately, after all the grand ideas - launching an e-mail list where we could continue to discuss future urgencies and circulating petitions! Here we are now, entertain us, it’s fun to lose and to pretend, the suicidal icon of the cynical, depoliticised youth prophetically announced at the very beginning of the 90s, around the same time when Jameson famously invoked the new Marxist aesthetics - that of cognitive mapping; and, around the same time when state socialisms of Eastern Europe crumbled. Cobain’s lyrics were enigmatic, the song is made out of contradictions, they said. Post-apocalyptic work of Chto Delat has been painfully precise in diagnosing the contradiction of the condition that many on the left, especially after '89, seem to suffer from but rarely acknowledge: that notorious pathological attachment to the object of revolutionary loss (of both artistic as well as political avant-gardes). Benjamin was first to delve into it. More recently Wendy Brown and Jodi Dean addressed it, although from different perspectives. There’s no need to name it folks – we all know what it is. So the question is: how to keep finding ways to engage and question the overall status quo in the middle of the scattered debris of the social, political and ideological ruins of the short 20th century - that of the disappeared socialist states and of the failed neoliberal democracies? And how to do it with grace, without cynicism but also without pathos? There seems to be no escape, since there is no other side. There never was. The only real escape would be that longed-for militant exodus, outside the teleology of means and ends and outside the charade of the nation states and corporate-parliamentary politics. In the meantime, we might as well embrace what is already being done. The success of the contemporary ‘movement parties’ like Podemos, Syriza or Zdruzena Levica might provide us with a solution, albeit a temporary one. But, to quote a piece by J.Aranda - temporary solutions from the past only prove that it is possible to find temporary solutions. So one might as well keep searching, with or without succumbing to the radical chic. Not succumbing to it means finding the right aesthetics. And when it comes to confluences of ideology, pedagogy and art – all the major concerns of Chto Delat – Jameson reminds of the triad of slippery tasks: ‘to teach, to move, to delight’, all of which Chto Delat seems to be tirelessly confronting and managing to pull it off for years - in the middle of all this dusty, suffocating debris. Not saving Greece, not saving Azawad, not saving the planet, but in times when art seems to be increasingly rendered obsolete, saving some of the belief that the right politics of aesthetics can still ‘teach, move and delight’, might be more then just good enough.


In a way all solutions are temporary but I wouldn’t underestimate Syriza and Podemos: at the moment all questions about macro-economic policy are off limits to voters, but democracy doesn’t mean anything if only cultural issues make it to the ballot, and people are called to vote on gay marriage but have no say about wages not meeting the costs of living or rents being higher than medium income. Syriza managed to re-politicize the political debate, which is a major feat, and I am also inclined to agree that a break-down of the euro zone can lead to a swift proliferation of extreme right parties, thus maybe we literally need to buy some time.
About the revolutionary form, aesthetics often tries to displace a scattered social with an image of culture as totality,
its in that sense that I like Chto Delat’s insistence on art as a practice, when most artists seem to treat every problem as a picture.



When the early man developed the use of his hand, his consciousness began to change.
Our brain needs stimulants as to change its structure, it is a malleable being.

When the hand moves the pen, brush or a tool; it sends signal to brain for a change
in its electronic circuit resulting in millions of new connection thus adding to
human consciousness.

Now a days mechanical and electronic devices are taking over the labours of hand, thus
reducing the capacity for expressions of our faculties. Such pragmatism is of limited concept.
Around us there are other numerous forces, named and un-named, which only the sensitivity
and intuition of fingers can express , resulting in new creations.

To me painting especially oil painting is a mode of sensing and exploring the world
around us, through the medium of hand. It is to me of prime importance that we retain
this capacity. Conceptual and ready-made art is opposed to such spirit.

Durlabh Singh.

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This is still an inspiring post/topic. Only now took the time to read it, after I watched another good video work of Chto Delat (“Russian Sound”).

Time Capsule also make sense for the thread itself, as over the past three years things pointed out here have taken their course - the “relative tranqiulity” of Europe has tangibly been shaken. The so called migration crisis and the rise of right wing populism are only the two things that come to mind most easily. While politics in more states is openly undemocratic and autocratic or drifting in this direction and the idea of the nationstate is revived, Varufakis’s and others’ formulation of an alternative are pan-european movements.

What’s art got to do with it?

Russian Sounds quotes from the Invisible Manifesto’s “The Coming Insurrection”:

The more fiercly I express myself, the more exhausted I am. I cling, you cling, we cling to our selves like an odious prop. We have turned into representatives of our own selves, into gurantees of our own individualization, which in the end smacks suspiciously of amputation.

Acting collectively (not networking), for me, is what this is pointing to socially, politcally, culturally, artistically. Is this also something that is meant with “art as practice”? Enaging in the social or political itself, or more directly, rather than trying to displace it with images? That

resonates a lot with me, as it formulates the doubts that you have as a visual artist. When working, expressing, constructing, documenting with images (predominantly but amongst other elements), there’s always ambiguity of meaning, questions of representation, the tendency that they show and hide the world at the same time. However Chto Delat’s videos also rely partly on images and other media.