Precarious Life (Moscow)

Organized by: Maria Chekhonadskikh

September 24—October 22, 2011
Daily, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Arthouse Residential Complex, Moscow

Participating Artists: Nikolay Oleinikov (Russia), Learning Film Group (Russia), KPd (Kleines Postfordistisches Drama) (Germany), Molleindustria (Italy), R.E.P. (Ukraine), Babi Badalov (France)

Curator: Maria Chehonadskih

Anxiety, uncertainty in the coming day, and the instability of social and economic situations have become the existential foundations of contemporary society. Before our very eyes, the institutions of permanent housing, pensions and social security are being destroyed, and in their place, we find a world of rented apartments with permanently increasing prices, fixed-term contracts, atypical employment, and a 14-hour workday that stretches across weekends. Today, the lives of millions of people depend on the fluctuations of stock exchanges and the decisions of international summits. This “precarious life” has no future and no elderly; it’s racing to fully consume the present, day after day. And in this sense, post-Soviet society is at the forefront of this trend, of its production.

But how we explain this social vulnerability? Under what conditions does our life become “precarious”? In the contemporary world the idea of “vitalism” is usually advanced in justification of the endless series of catastrophes and social upheavals. The human body and its survival can be reduced to simple biology: only the strongest survive. Instability, vulnerability and inequality are ingrained in the essence of nature itself. And thus, the state of emergency becomes the legitimate and “natural” norm. As such, the human body is cast out into a situation of extremity and nakedness – “bare life”; the person is then left alone with nature, his objective only to survive.

However, ever since the age of Aristotle, there has been a tradition of understanding human life politically. As social subjects, we are always dependent on our outside environment, but the outside environment is not some chaos of nature; it is an entire complex of institutions, civil laws, ecology and the physical surroundings. Vulnerability arises from the social life of our constituted bodies; it depends on the political structures that make us either confident or exposed (Judith Butler). Not every body has a significance, and not every body will be protected. And as such, these bodies are prone to disease, hunger, poverty and outside threats. What bodies does nowadays society protect? For whose bodies does it now build fences around houses, elite hospitals, restaurants, and highways? Which bodies remain unprotected and bare? “Traditionally,” it was the bodies of the excluded in many ways — women, migrant workers, students, intellectuals and artists.

The critical anthropology of instability has always been connected to the constitution of an alternative form of life; above all, exodus, resistance or rejection of social discipline characterize the lives of migrants, bohemians, and the inner city. Today we live in a society where one out of every three people – from pensioners to factory workers – have been forced into a “bohemia.” Neoliberalism puts society into this kind of precarious state, and in recent years, these processes are only growing stronger; even now, their formulation becomes increasingly relevant the Russian situation.

The exhibition “Precarious Life” demonstrates ways and forms of working with the problem of precarity, which comprises an entire range of aesthetic, activist and discursive methods of work. Each piece in the exhibition draws from the experience of self-organization and collective work, social and political movements, intellectual debates that have continued to this day. This exhibition endeavors to show the social face of “Precarious Life.” And as its curator and the artists who have agreed to participate in it all understand life politically, then it means that we refuse to see our existence as, once and for all, predetermined by nature or fate. We feel at home everywhere, while we are actually everywhere homeless; our place in the world has been questioned, and now we need to reestablish it, only in the type of world where we would want to live.

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