You Don’t Have to Be Leftist to Think Like That
An Exhibition as a School
A project by Chto Delat
October 29–November 18, 2012
Curators: ТОK Creative Association of Curators
Opening: November 8, 2012 at GEZ-21, Pushkinskaya-10 Art Center, Petersburg
The opening will feature a new concert program by the popular leftist band Arkady Kots. The concert begins at 8:00 p.m.
The project has been made possible with support from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
The line “You don’t have to be leftist to think like that” was uttered by a striking worker in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1972 film Tout va bien. Forty years later, it has the same ring as it did then: not as a depoliticizing slogan that abolishes a traditional way of marking political differences, but as a simple statement of the fact that leftist views and convictions have ceased to be a set of hackneyed ideologemes and are, rather, something basic to humanity’s survival.
Chto Delat starts from the notion that art and culture’s educational function are an essential aspect of its production of knowledge and meaning. Unlike other artists, who insist on art’s apolitical nature, Chto Delat has consistently upheld the idea that cultural production is implicated in the current political struggle and that cultural workers must constantly insist on the value of emancipatory politics and counteract culture’s commercialization.
In our exhibition projects we aim to create spaces and situations where audience and artworks engage with each other. In this project we want to turn the process of conceiving and producing an exhibition into a continuous series of workshops, seminars and round tables on art’s role in political development. We are confident of the project’s relevance for the current Russian conjuncture, in which the general public has shown greater interest in issues of political education and the desire to take responsibility for the country’s development. The project aims to equip participants with a set of creative tools for critically analyzing, understanding, liberating and transforming society.
But how can we achieve these aims given the absence of a civil society, at a time when the authorities show a flagrant disregard for both their own basic obligations and the law, thus untying the hands of the most reactionary forces and openly encouraging their violence?
It is a natural reaction to events in our country to come out against the authorities, join in the democratic demands of anti-government forces, and get involved in rallies and protest campaigns. But will anything change by endlessly chanting the mantra “The government has got to go”?
The question arises as to what kind of society can and must replace it. We believe that the most acute issue now is the development of an alternative public space for intellectual and political resistance. Obviously, this space can be generated only by a broad network of self-organized initiatives that require no external hierarchical coordination, because they will be based on the specific solidarity of cooperation.
This network must be recreated everywhere—in everyday life, at work, in the streets, at home. If this model of civil society is unable to achieve a critical mass of participants, superficial transformations of power will not lead to significant real changes. Culture and art have always played an essential role in man’s formation. They are our principal defense from the constant threat of barbarism. It is therefore necessary to fight for their values and oppose all forms of clericalism, bigotry, slavery and outright violence. The authorities understand this all too well and are thus carrying out a directed assault on the very idea of secular, critical and politically committed culture and education. Intellectual and research work, seriously underestimated by the opposition, can and should be a focus of the new mobilization as the unequal confrontation between state and society continues. To make this happen, we need to tackle a number of our own specific problems, which would help us impact the situation and turn it in a direction for which we are prepared to take responsibility.
Based on a real understanding of our circumstances, we first need to articulate our mission in our own workplace—that is, amongst people engaged in the production of culture, education and research.
We should first articulate these tasks and demands for ourselves, without holding out the hope that the current powers that be are in the least capable of carrying them out. On the contrary, we articulate them with a clear understanding that only a decisive change in the political situation can make it possible to begin the ambitious program of cultural transformation without which our society will be thrown backwards for many decades.
We want our project to serve as a platform for generating cooperation and consolidation within the fragmented and as yet apolitical milieu of cultural workers. If we do not do this now, tomorrow it may happen that most basic foundations of contemporary art, culture and education will not only be threatened, but will simply disappear from the map of the places where they had a chance to materialize.
And you don’t have to be leftist at all to think like that and make sure this does not happen.
The process of constructing the exhibition (from October 29 to November 7) will begin with a seminar entitled “Educational Fresco.” Seminar participants will join seminar leader Nikolay Oleynikov in creating a monumental sculptural and graphic work that in comic-strip form reflects on the dynamics of the political struggle in Russian society.
Sessions of the “Teaching Theater” seminar will be held at the same time. The seminar will build on the experience gained by the Chto Delat theatrical studio and is based on the tradition of Bertolt Brecht’s “learning plays.” During the exhibition run, we will hold a series of meetings, introducing the concept of the “teaching theater” as an essential method for shaping political consciousness and showing the principles of writing a play by dramatizing a single, jointly selected episode from the actual practice of emancipatory struggle. The seminar will be lead by Tsaplya (Olga Egorova), Dmitry Vilensky and Nina Gasteva.
In addition, we have planned a special workshop, led by Gluklya (Natalya Pershina), on the concept of clothing design as a form of the subject’s emergence and its position in society. We will also organize discussions of institutional critique by analyzing the development of contemporary art institutions in St. Petersburg and Russia.
The exhibition will also feature an extensive program of lectures, open discussions and seminars led by well-known artists, curators, performers, philosophers and poets (see the program schedule) who offer a real alternative to Petersburg’s official reactionary cultural policy. Thus, the exhibition space will function as a school where artists and audience will discuss the most pressing issues of contemporary art and its relationship to the development of society and the formation of the individual.
All workshops will be organized around an open call but limited to fifteen to twenty participants.
As part of the project, a digest of the most important texts from past issues of Chto Delat newspaper will be published.