Peaches, “Free Pussy Riot!”
Peaches, “Free Pussy Riot!”
It is with growing alarm and concern that we, members of the Third Text Advisory Council and close supporters of Third Text, have watched the Board of Trustees take unilateral actions that are hurtful to Founding Editor Rasheed Araeen and damaging to the shared artistic, intellectual and political vision of this journal.
We write this letter to say that we will not allow the continuing disrespect of Rasheed or the undermining of the shared principles that form the core of Third Text’s ethos and politics. We will take collective steps to defend the vision of the journal and make it clear to its global readership that this vision is being seriously compromised.
Third Text has been published since 1987 by Black Umbrella, an organization founded in 1984 to fight the routine institutional exclusion of non-Western artists in the London art world. Since 2002, Taylor & Francis have published Third Text on behalf of Black Umbrella, with funding from Arts Council England.
It is crucial to remember that Black Umbrella and Third Text were founded in a long political struggle against discrimination and exclusion, a struggle in which Rasheed Araeen played an integral role. Third Text stands for a globalized art and culture of liberation and justice. That is why we care about it and will defend it. Moreover, if today Third Text represents a truly global conception of art and critical practice unequalled by any other journal published, and has earned a truly global readership, this achievement reflects Rasheed’s tireless work and commitment over decades. We, the writers, advisors, and supporters of Third Text, understand this and underscore here our deep respect for Rasheed’s founding vision and leadership.
In this light, the actions of the Trustees since July 2011 aiming to oust Rasheed constitute a fundamental alteration of the vision and character of Third Text. This conservative agenda is visually confirmed in the face that scowls from the latest issue of the journal, replacing the world map that has graced its cover since its founding.
We are not concerned with the small details and disputes of this crisis. We are concerned with the large actions that have done damage and threaten the vision we share. The essential chronology is as follows:
In July 2011, the Trustees took the extraordinary unilateral action of dismissing Rasheed Araeen as Executive Director of Black Umbrella, in effect locking him out of the day-to-day running of the journal. They did this without consulting with the Third Text Editorial Board or Advisory Council and without any attempt to publicly explain or justify such a drastic action.
Nearly a year later, in June 2012, Rasheed wrote and circulated a letter notifying us of the Trustees’ action and the subsequent failure of all attempts to resolve the disputes. For most of us, this was the first we heard of the crisis within the journal.
Mario Pissarra, the managing director of Africa South Art Initiative (ASAI) and Lize van Robbroeck, editor in chief of Third Text Africa, responded with an open letter calling on the Trustees to explain their actions and urging writers and Advisors in the meantime to refrain from submitting or recommending further articles to the journal.
The Trustees responded to Pissarra and van Robbroeck’s letter on 2 August 2012. While professing allegiance to Rasheed’s vision, they nevertheless presumed to be its true interpreters and caretakers and proceeded to condemn Rasheed in bureaucratic and legal language.
Four days later, five of the nine members of the Third Text Editorial Board rejected these explanations by resigning in protest. In their letter of 6 August, they called for an independent investigation and review of the management and editorial structure of the journal, including the role of the Trustees.
This is the context of the present letter and collective action. In our view, what has taken place is unacceptable. Clearly, there were major divergences and sharp disputes regarding funding strategies in the current financial crisis and official turn to austerity. But no such differences justify the removal, without consultation or justification, of the man who more than any other defined the vision we share and established the standards of the journal we know and love.
Far more than the Trustees – who hold their positions because Rasheed was generous enough to so honor them – we, the writers, readers and Advisory Council members of Third Text, are the practice and life of this journal. Without us, its pages will lose much of the diversity and commitment that have contributed over the years to its intellectual vitality. We know this and will not stand by and passively watch the transformation of an exceptional and necessary journal into one more depoliticized concession to market forces. If Third Text is to be made to betray its vision, then it will be without us – and the parting of ways will then be real.
There is one way to avoid that. The Trustees must fully and immediately reinstate Rasheed Araeen in his former positions as the Executive Director of Black Umbrella and working Founding Editor of Third Text. This would be the first step in assuring us that the vision of the journal has been protected. It would also open the door to a more dialogic and consultative process of negotiation and resolution.
Should the Trustees fail to reinstate Rasheed by 31 August 2012, we will take collective steps to prevent their action from acquiring any appearance of legitimacy. Those of us who are on the Advisory Council will resign our positions. Together with the others who are signing this letter, we will urge a global boycott of the journal among our peers and well-wishers of Third Text across the world.
Third Text Advisory Council Members:
Rustom Bharucha International Research Centre, Berlin, Germany
Guy Brett Honorary Professor, University of the Arts, London, UK
Geeta Kapur art critic and curator, New Delhi, India
Tabish Khair Aarhus University, Denmark
José-Carlos Mariátegui Editor, Third Text Latin America, Lima, Peru
Benita Parry University of Warwick, UK
Mario Pissarra, Africa South Art Initiative, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Gene Ray Berlin, Germany, and Geneva University of Art and Design, Switzerland
John Roberts University of Wolverhampton, UK
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Columbia University, New York, USA
Julian Stallabrass Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK
Victor Tupitsyn Professor Emeritus, Pace University, New York, USA
Slavoj Zizek Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London, UK, and University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Third Text Associates:
Durriya Kazi Third Text Asia, Karachi, Pakistan
Nighat Mir Third Text Asia, Karachi, Pakistan
Everlyn Nicodemus Edinburgh UK, former Third Text Advisory Council member
Nafisa Rizvi Third Text Asia, Karachi, Pakistan
Lize van Robbroeck Editor in Chief, Third Text Africa
Kristian Romare Edinburgh, UK, former Third Text Advisory Council member
Third Text Contributors and Supporters:
Tejpal S. Ajji University of California Los Angeles, USA
Shahidul Alam Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Vivien Ashley London, UK
Etienne Balibar, Professor Emeritus, University of Paris, France, and University of California Irvine, USA
Hans Belting Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany
Sutapa Biswas Film and Video Umbrella, London, UK
Iain Boal Birkbeck, University of London, UK
Kamal Boullata artist and writer, Menton, France
Anthony Bond Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Susan Buck-Morss Distinguished Professor, Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA
Andrea Buddensieg Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany
Liu Ding artist and curator, Beijing, China
Laura Fantone San Francisco Art Institute, USA
Jose Fernandes Dias Lisbon University, Portugal
Peter Fillingham artist, Chatham, Kent, UK
Stephen Foster John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton, UK
Richard Gott London, UK
Gabo Guzzo artist, London, UK
Brian Holmes art critic, Chicago, USA
Darren Jorgensen University of Western Australia
Pierre Joris State University of New York Albany, USA
Fredja Klikovac Handel Street Projects, London, UK
Carol Yinghua Lu artist and curator, Beijing, China
Juliet Flower MacCannell Professor Emerita, University of California Irvine, USA
Courtney J. Martin Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Fiamma Montezemolo University of California Berkeley, USA
Lynda Morris Norwich University of the Arts, UK
Barbara Murray International Association of Art Critics, UK
Anna Papaeti University of Göttingen, Germany
Clive Phillpot writer and curator, London, UK
Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen Copenhagen University, Denmark
Francesca Recchia journalist and independent scholar, London, UK
Colin Richards University of Cape Town, South Africa
Alaknanda Samarth actor, London, UK
Hamid Severi curator, Tehran, Iran
Gregory Sholette Queens College, City University of New York, USA
Joni Spigler University of California Berkeley, USA
Pep Subirós Gao lletres, Barcelona, Spain
Margarita Tupitsyn curator and art critic, New York, USA
Donovan Ward Africa South Art Initiative, Cape Town, South Africa
Peter Weibel Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany
Lara Weibgen Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Chantal Wong Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong, China
Adrian Thomas Wilson University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Eddie Yuan San Francisco Art Institute, USA
Buenos Aires: http://www.facebook.com/events/271199299647295/
Derry, Ireland: http://www.facebook.com/events/102245836592357/
Mendoza, Argentina: https://www.facebook.com/events/488788877798731/
St. Petersburg: http://vk.com/freepussyriot170812spb
Tournai, Belgium : https://www.facebook.com/events/372254449510600/
Via Free Pussy Riot!
This trial is highly typical and speaks volumes. The current government will have occasion to feel shame and embarrassment because of it for a long time to come. At each stage it has embodied a travesty of justice. As it turned out, our performance, at first a small and somewhat absurd act, snowballed into an enormous catastrophe. This would obviously not happen in a healthy society. Russia, as a state, has long resembled an organism sick to the core. And the sickness explodes out into the open when you rub up against its inflamed abscesses. At first and for a long time this sickness gets hushed up in public, but eventually it always finds resolution through dialogue. And look—this is the kind of dialogue that our government is capable of. This trial is not only a malignant and grotesque mask, it is the “face” of the government’s dialogue with the people of our country. To prompt discussion about a problem on the societal level, you often need the right conditions—an impetus.
And it is interesting that our situation was depersonalized from the start. This is because when we talk about Putin, we have in mind first and foremost not Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin but Putin the system that he himself created—the power vertical, where all control is carried out effectively by one person. And that power vertical is uninterested, completely uninterested, in the opinion of the masses. And what worries me most of all is that the opinion of the younger generations is not taken into consideration. We believe that the ineffectiveness of this administration is evident in practically everything.
And right here, in this closing statement, I would like to describe my firsthand experience of running afoul of this system. Our schooling, which is where the personality begins to form in a social context, effectively ignores any particularities of the individual. There is no “individual approach,” no study of culture, of philosophy, of basic knowledge about civic society. Officially, these subjects do exist, but they are still taught according to the Soviet model. And as a result, we see the marginalization of contemporary art in the public consciousness, a lack of motivation for philosophical thought, and gender stereotyping. The concept of the human being as a citizen gets swept away into a distant corner.
Today’s educational institutions teach people, from childhood, to live as automatons. Not to pose the crucial questions consistent with their age. They inculcate cruelty and intolerance of nonconformity. Beginning in childhood, we forget our freedom.
I have personal experience with psychiatric clinics for minors. And I can say with conviction that any teenager who shows any signs of active nonconformity can end up in such a place. A certain percentage of the kids there are from orphanages.
In our country, it’s considered entirely normal to commit a child who has tried to escape from an orphanage to a psychiatric clinic. And they treat them using extremely powerful sedatives like Aminazin, which was also used to subdue Soviet dissidents in the ’70s.
This is especially traumatizing given the overall punitive tendency and the absence of any real psychological assistance. All interactions are based on the exploitation of the children’s feelings of fear and forced submission. And as a result, their own cruelty increases many times over. Many children there are illiterate, but no one makes any effort to battle this—to the contrary, every last drop of motivation for personal development is discouraged. The individual closes off entirely and loses faith in the world.
I would like to note that this method of personal development clearly impedes the awakening of both inner and religious freedoms, unfortunately, on a mass scale. The consequence of the process I have just described is ontological humility, existential humility, socialization. To me, this transition, or rupture, is noteworthy in that, if approached from the point of view of Christian culture, we see that meanings and symbols are being replaced by those that are diametrically opposed to them. Thus one of the most important Christian concepts, Humility, is now commonly understood not as a path towards the perception, fortification, and ultimate liberation of Man, but on the contrary as an instrument for his enslavement. To quote [Russian philosopher] Nikolai Berdyaev, one could say that “the ontology of humility is the ontology of the slaves of God, and not the sons of God.” When I was involved with organizing an environmentalist movement, I became fundamentally convinced of the priority of inner freedom as the foundation for taking action. As well as the importance, the direct importance, of taking action as such.
To this day I find it astonishing that, in our country, we need the support of several thousands of individuals in order to put an end to the despotism of one or a handful of bureaucrats. I would like to note that our trial stands as a very eloquent confirmation of the fact that we need the support of thousands of individuals from all over the world in order to prove the obvious: that the three of us are not guilty. We are not guilty; the whole world says so. The whole world says it at concerts, the whole world says it on the internet, the whole world says it in the press. They say it in Parliament. The Prime Minister of England greets our President not with words about the Olympics, but with the question, “Why are three innocent women sitting in prison?” It’s shameful.
But I find it even more astonishing that people don’t believe that they can have any influence on the regime. During the pickets and demonstrations [of the winter and spring], back when I was collecting signatures and organizing petitions, many people would ask me—and ask me with sincere bewilderment—why in the world they should care about, what business could they possibly have, with that little patch of forest in the Krasnodar region–even though it is perhaps unique in Russia, perhaps primeval? Why should they care if the wife of our Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wants to build an official residence there and destroy the only juniper preserve in Russia? These people . . . this is yet another confirmation that people in our country have lost the sense that this country belongs to us, its citizens. They no longer have a sense of themselves as citizens. They have a sense of themselves simply as the automated masses. They don’t feel that the forest belongs to them, even the forest located right next to their houses. I doubt they even feel a sense of ownership over their own houses. Because if someone were to drive up to their porch with a bulldozer and tell them that they need to evacuate, that, “Excuse us, we’re going raze your house to make room for a bureaucrat’s residence,” these people would obediently collect their belongings, collect their bags, and go out on the street. And then stay there precisely until the regime tells them what they should do next. They are completely shapeless, it is very sad. Having spent almost half a year in jail, I have come to understand that prison is just Russia in miniature.
One could also begin with the system of governance. This is that very same power vertical, in which every decision takes place solely through the direct intervention of the man in charge. There is absolutely no horizontal delegation of duties, which would make everyone’s lives noticeably easier. And there is a lack of individual initiative. Denunciation thrives along with mutual suspicion. In jail, as in our country as a whole, everything is designed to strip man of his individuality, to identify him only with his function, whether that function is that of a worker or a prisoner. The strict framework of the daily schedule in prison (you get used to it quickly) resembles the framework of daily life that everyone is born into.
In this framework, people begin to place high value on meaningless trifles. In prison these trifles are things like a tablecloth or plastic dishes that can only be procured with the personal permission of the head warden. Outside prison, accordingly, you have social status, which people also value a great deal. This has always been surprising to me. Another element [of this process] is becoming aware of this government functioning as a performance, a play. That in reality turns into chaos. The surface-level organization of the regime reveals the disorganization and inefficiency of most of its activities. And it’s obvious that this doesn’t lead to any real governance. On the contrary, people start to feel an ever-stronger sense of being lost—including in time and space. In jail and all over the country, people don’t know where to turn with this or that question. That’s why they turn to the boss of the jail. And outside the prison, correspondingly, they go to Putin, the top boss.
Expressing in a text a collective image of the system that . . . well, in general, I could say that we aren’t against . . . that we are against the Putin-engendered chaos, which can only superficially be called a government. Expressing a collective image of the system, in which, in our opinion, practically all the institutions are undergoing a kind of mutation, while still appearing nominally intact. And in which the civil society so dear to us is being destroyed. We are not making direct quotations in our texts; we only take the form of a direct quotation as an artistic formula. The only thing that’s the same is our motivation. Our motivation is the same motivation that goes with the use of a direct quotation. This motivation is best expressed in the Gospels: “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:8] I—all of us—sincerely believe that for us the door will be opened. But alas, for now the only thing that has happened is that we’ve been locked up in prison. It is very strange that in their reaction to our actions, the authorities completely disregard the historical experience of dissent. “[H]ow unfortunate is the country where simple honesty is understood, in the best case, as heroism. And in the worst case as a mental disorder,” the dissident [Vladimir] Bukovsky wrote in the 1970s. And even though it hasn’t been very long, now people are acting as if there was never any Great Terror nor any attempts to resist it. I believe that we are being accused by people without memory. Many of them have said, “He is possessed by a demon and insane. Why do you listen to Him?” These words belong to the Jews who accused Jesus Christ of blasphemy. They said, “We are . . . stoning you . . . for blasphemy.” [John 10:33] Interestingly enough, it is precisely this verse that the Russian Orthodox Church uses to express its opinion about blasphemy. This view is certified on paper, it’s attached to our criminal file. Expressing this opinion, the Russian Orthodox Church refers to the Gospels as static religious truth. The Gospels are no longer understood as revelation, which they have been from the very beginning, but rather as a monolithic chunk that can be disassembled into quotations to be shoved in wherever necessary—in any of its documents, for any of their purposes. The Russian Orthodox Church did not even bother to look up the context in which “blasphemy” is mentioned here—that in this case, the word applies to Jesus Christ himself. I think that religious truth should not be static, that it is essential to understand the instances and paths of spiritual development, the trials of a human being, his duplicity, his splintering. That for one’s self to form it is essential to experience these things. That you have to experience all these things in order to develop as a person. That religious truth is a process and not a finished product that can be shoved wherever and whenever. And all of these things I’ve been talking about, all of these processes—they acquire meaning in art and in philosophy. Including contemporary art. An artistic situation can and, in my opinion, must contain its own internal conflict. And what really irritates me is how the prosecution uses the words “so-called” in reference to contemporary art.
I would like to point out that very similar methods were used during the trial of the poet [Joseph] Brodsky. His poems were defined as “so-called” poems; the witnesses for the prosecution hadn’t actually read them—just as a number of the witnesses in our case didn’t see the performance itself and only watched the clip online. Our apologies, it seems, are also being defined by the collective prosecuting body as “so-called” apologies. Even though this is offensive. And I am overwhelmed with moral injury and psychological trauma. Because our apologies were sincere. I am sorry that so many words have been uttered and you all still haven’t understood this. Or it is calculated deviousness when you talk about our apologies as insincere. I don’t know what you still need to hear from us. But for me this trial is a “so-called” trial. And I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of falsehood and fictitiousness, of sloppily disguised deception, in the verdict of the so-called court.
Because all you can deprive me of is “so-called” freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom. It lives in the word, it will go on living thanks to openness [glasnost], when this will be read and heard by thousands of people. This freedom goes on living with every person who is not indifferent, who hears us in this country. With everyone who found shards of the trial in themselves, like in previous times they found them in Franz Kafka and Guy Debord. I believe that I have honesty and openness, I thirst for the truth; and these things will make all of us just a little bit more free. We will see this yet.
Translated by Marijeta Bozovic, Maksim Hanukai, and Sasha Senderovich
Photo courtesy of daylife.com
FREE PUSSY RIOT Public Reading
Co-sponsored by Amnesty International & Breslin Bar and Dining Room
Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel
Produced by JD Samson and FreePussyRiot.org
Tomorrow night, August 16th @ 7:30pm EDT, on the eve of the trial’s verdict, Pussy Riot’s inspirational court room statements will be read by supporters of the Free Pussy Riot movement, including Chloe Sevigny, Eileen Myles, Karen Finley, Johanna Fateman, Mx Justin Vivian Bond (+ others to be announced) info here.
The event is co-sponsored by Amnesty International & Breslin Bar and Dining Room at Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel. Produced by JD Samson and FreePussyRiot.org
On the eve of the verdict in the Pussy Riot trial, an energetic evening of readings of the inspirational court room statements by the detained women of Pussy Riot. The narrated program will also include selected prison letters and other translated material along with court room attendees written observations. The event will be streamed live HERE.
Mx Justin Vivian Bond
Breslin Bar and Dining Room presents Liberty Hall at the Ace Hotel
20 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001
Thursday, August 16th
Doors open at 7:30pm EDT
Free and open to the public
Additional information about Pussy Riot: