Tag Archives: communism

Where Has Communism Gone? A Learning Play (Open Call from Chto Delat)

Where Has Communism Gone? Open Call for Learning Play



Where Has Communism Gone?, a Learning Play initiated by Chto Delat as part of FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin).

The process takes place between March 16 and March 23, 2013. You are invited to participate in a four-day seminar led by the artist collective Chto Delat, and develop and perform the collective learning play Where Has Communism Gone? as part of  the main program of FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects, at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin from 18–24 March 2013.

Using playwright and director Bertolt Brecht’s model of the learning play, Chto Delat invite 25 participants to collectively develop an educational didactic performance. Centered on the question “where has communism gone?” participants are asked to work on and articulate their own positions throughout the process of acquiring and advocating for their attitudes towards this theme. The seminar consists of four subsequent sessions of collective discussions-rehearsals, which culminate in the staging of a Brechtian learning play on Thursday, March 21, at 21:24.


Seminar: Saturday, March 16 & Sunday, March 17, 12:00–19:00 
Tuesday, March 19, and Wednesday, March 20, 19:00–23:00
Rehearsal: Thursday, March 21, starting at 10:00
Learning Play: Thursday, March 21, 21:24

Involvement is limited to 25 participants. Participants must commit to full attendance for all five days’ activities, including seminar, rehearsal, and the staging of the learning play. Each participant receives an honorarium of 150 euros and a week-long pass for FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects.

In order to participate, please send a motivational statement to Dmitry Vilensky dmvilen@gmail.com and Annika Kuhlmann annika.kuhlmann@hkw.de. Annika can respond to all organizational questions, and can also be reached by phone at +49 30 39787 224.

*** The application deadline is Sunday, March 10, 2013 ***

Where Has Communism Gone?

Where has communism gone? This question refers, firstly, to Russian revolutionary writer Andrei Platonov. The hero of his novel Chevengur suddenly awakes in the middle of the night after a dream asking where socialism is, searching for it as if it were an object, a thing which supposedly belongs to him. Following the line of thought in this passage, socialism or communism is communicated as an object of desire, and this kind of desire, as Marxist political theorist Fredric Jameson says, has not yet found its Sigmund Freud or Jacques Lacan. By posing the question about communism, we aim to explore the nature of this political desire, which, in spite of the demise of what is called “real socialism” or “communist regimes,” is still persistent, at least in the field of contemporary theory and art.

We are used to the reality principle of one-dimensional liberal propaganda, according to which nothing can be better than the present state of things, which in fact means the neoliberal economy accompanied by the rhetoric of human rights and legal democracy. They say that communism was a utopian project that ended in disaster, with violence and totalitarianism, and the only thing we have left to do is to forget all hope for a better future for society and focus on our individual lives, to enjoy this eternal present, to use our possibilities and skills to succeed in working our way up a pyramid built of money, trampling the heads of others as we climb.

However, today, after decades of excessive ideological overproduction of the monstrosity of communism, a general anti-communist phobia has ended in a new disappointment. The liberal utopia, based on the notion of free individuals freely operating in a free market, was demolished by a global economic, political, and ecological crisis. From this perspective, all the debates about communism became valuable and actual again, not only with communism as a valuable experience from the past, but also as an alternative for the future.

The only problem is nobody really takes it seriously.

Neoliberal institutions easily give their money to any kind of creative and sophisticated critic of the present, taking for granted that all these debates are based on market exchange, and that all the ideas discussed have their own nominal values. The ghost of communism still wanders around, and to transform it into a commodity form seems a good way to finally get rid of it. Conferences and artistic events dedicated to the idea of communism go on one after another, speakers are paid or not paid, advertisement production machines function well, and the globe turns round as before.

But beyond this exhausting machinery of actualization and commodification, we still have as a potentiality this totally new desire of communism, the desire which cannot help but be shared, since it keeps in itself the “commons” of communism, the claim for togetherness, so ambiguous and problematic within the human species. This claim cannot be privatized, calculated, and capitalized since it exists not inside individuals, but between them, between us, and can be experienced in our attempts to construct this space between, to expose ourselves inside this “commons” and teach ourselves to produce it out of what we have as social beings.

We invite you to think, discuss, and live through these issues together at our seminar and try to find a form of representation for our debate.

—Chto Delat

During this seminar the platform is represented by Olga Egorova (Tsaplya), Nina Gasteva, Artemy Magun, Alexei Penzin, Natalya Pershina, David Riff, Oxana Timofeeva, Alexander Skidan, and Dmitry Vilensky.

About FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects

FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects consists of artworks, talks, discussions, rehearsals, and performances in various constellations of documents and prospects that offer a multitude of encounters with the public for negotiating the way of the world from 1989 to today, and thinking beyond. The seven-day period is guided by five currents that feature contemporary negotiations on Art Production, Infrastructure, and Insurgent Cosmopolitanism, with Dissident Knowledges contributions offering dynamic interventions into the ongoing program with artworks, performances, and statements. Finally, Learning Place operates alongside the full program involving students in workshops and inviting them to engage in the week of discussions.

Conceptualized by Maria Hlavajova and Kathrin Rhomberg in collaboration with Boris Buden, Boris Groys, Ranjit Hoskote, Katrin Klingan, and Irit Rogoff. FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects is a joint project by Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin and BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht.

For the full program, complete list of contributors, and live streaming, as well as full project archive, please visit the FORMER WEST Digital Platform at www.formerwest.org.

FORMER WEST (2008–2014) is a long-term research, education, exhibition, and publication project initiated by BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht and aimed at a critical reinterpretation of post-1989, post-Cold War histories around an artistic imaginary of “formerness,” countering the persistent hegemonies of the so-called West within a global context.


Filed under contemporary art, critical thought, open letters, manifestos, appeals

Vision and Communism (Chicago)

Viktor Koretsky, "Africa Fights, Africa Will Win!," 1971. Poster. Ne boltai! Collection

Vision and Communism
September 29, 2011–January 22, 2012

Thursday, September 29, 5:30–7:30 pm

Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago
5550 S. Greenwood Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637

The Soviet artist and designer Viktor Koretsky (1909–1998) created aggressive, emotionally charged images that articulated a Communist vision of the world utterly unlike that of conventional propaganda.

In the last thirty years of the Soviet Union, Koretsky’s art sought to ensure world Communism’s moral health. In contrast to more conventional Soviet propaganda—filled with happy workers, glorious leaders, and uplifting slogans—Koretsky created striking scenes of survival and suffering that were designed to create an emotional connection between Soviet citizens and others struggling for civil rights and independence around the globe.

This vision of a multicultural world of shared sacrifice offered a dynamic alternative to the sleek consumerism of Madison Avenue and the West and, according to the exhibition curators, can be thought of “as a kind of Communist advertising for a future that never quite arrived.”

Drawing on an extensive private collection of Soviet art and propaganda, Vision and Communism presents nearly ninety of Koretsky’s posters, photographs, and original maquettes. Together with the October 14 symposium Agitation!, a related book that explores the dissident public culture nurtured in the Soviet bloc, and a screening of films by Aleksandr Medvedkin and Chris Marker, Vision and Communism offers a striking new interpretation of visual communication in the USSR and beyond.

Robert Bird, Associate Professor, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, The University of Chicago; Christopher Heuer, Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University; Matthew Jesse Jackson, Associate Professor of Art History and the Department of Visual Arts, The University of Chicago; Tumelo Mosaka, Curator of Contemporary Art, Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Stephanie Smith, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Smart Museum of Art; with Richard A. Born, Senior Curator, Smart Museum of Art, as coordinating curator.

The Soviet Arts Experience
Vision and Communism is part of The Soviet Arts Experience, a Chicago-wide showcase exploring the art of the Soviet Union. See a calendar of related exhibitions and events and learn more at www.SovietArtsExperience.org.

Leave a comment

Filed under art exhibitions

Engineers of the Soul (New York City)

Инженеры человеческих душ

October 23 – December 4, 2010

Postmasters Gallery
459 West 19th Street, NYC

Opening reception: Saturday, October 23,  6-8 pm

A show about communism and artists’ relationship to power with:

Chto Delat? (What is to be Done?)
Yevgeniy Fiks
Rainer Ganahl
Lu Xiangyou
Yuri Shalamoff
Wang Jianwei

This time it’s personal.

For better or worse Tamas Banovich and I are children of Communism, having grown up in Hungary and Poland respectively. We have always wanted to organize an exhibition that brings together Communism’s past, present, and future and shows artists’ ongoing relationships to power and ideology as they negotiate the treacherous zones of propaganda and dissent.

The moment seems right. With growing political extremism at both ends of the spectrum, Communism is on our collective radar. Since the fall of the Soviet block in the early nineties, we have thought of Communism as the past, yet there are millions of people who are still living under communist regimes and many more who live with its consequences and legacies.

“Engineers of the Soul” is a cross-generational show of artists from Russia and China and a citizen of the world, Rainer Ganahl.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the emerging communist system recognized the power and usefulness of the arts to disseminate the new ideology. Lenin assigned a central role to the creative avant-garde; artists and intellectuals were granted a privileged position within the social order—as long as they obeyed, of course.

The phrase “Engineers of the Soul” was originally used by Stalin during his meeting with the Soviet writers:“The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks…. And therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul.” (Joseph Stalin, Speech at home of Maxim Gorky, 26 October 1932). It was then taken up by Andrei Zhdanov and developed into the idea of ‘Socialist realism.’ The term is still used extensively in the People’s Republic of China to refer to the teaching profession.

the past

Two groups of historical photographs by Lu Xiangyou and Yuri Shalamoff form a symmetrical base for the exhibition. The trenches of propaganda were always located in the media (newspapers and film); photographers were deployed at the front lines of war and peace to deliver a message through their images. The photographs in the show are the real deal—rare, authentic documents, representing the leaders of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Both photographers are unique documentarists operating in close proximity to the “party elite” (an oxymoron if there ever was one!) from the era of “humanization” of the leaders.

Both Yuri Shalamoff and Lu Xiangyou were thrown into the whirlwind of history at a young age. Yuri, a teenage veteran of Second World War, started his career in Leningrad (St Petersburg) and by 1960 worked for the Soviet daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. His photographs became the public image of the leaders of the regime, symbols of the state’s power, and the official chronicle of history (or the chronicle of official history). These were modern times: successive air-brushings of out-of-favor-politicians were replaced with the daily barrage of carefully manicured information delivered via the image. Most of Shalamoff’s negatives were confiscated by the KBG when he immigrated to the US in 1974. The ones that survived are poignant documents of this time.

Lu Xiangyou, who died in 2007, was born into an illiterate peasant family in 1928. By the age of 20 he was an important war correspondent for the People’s Liberation Army and, a few years later, the photographer for the People’s Daily and Chinese News Service. He was assigned as the official photographer of Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and later Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun. The images you see in the show ARE the true representation of the times. In Mr. Lu’s pictures, the transition from the cult of personality into the era of  ‘humanized’ collective leadership is apparent, particularly in the shifting representations of Mao, Deng, and others.

the present (three versions)

Yevgeniy Fiks is deeply involved in researching communist threads present in our contemporary environment. One of communism’s achievements was to make the absurd seem normal. Every year on February 16, the birthday of the “Dear Leader” of North Korea Kim Jong Il, there is a “Kimjongilia Festival” dedicated to a specially bred red begonia that flowers on this important day. According to North Korean sources, the flower symbolizes wisdom, love, justice, and peace. Fiks’s series of paintings of Kimjongilia celebrate the flower itself to focus attention on the extreme manifestations of the personal cult.

Addressing the repression of the history of the Left, Fiks will present a one time lecture/performance “Communist Tour of MoMA (the off-site lecture)” at Postmasters on November 20, at 6.30 pm. Yevgeniy will guide us through the revered temple of bourgeois art and paint the rooms pink. Fiks augments the MoMA tour-map with a layer revealing a historical aspect not usually represented on museum tours: the influence of Marxist ideology on progressive artists of the early twentieth century and their communist affiliations. Does it change our view of these works? Should it?

Wang Jianwei is a conceptual and performance artist known for his large-scale multimedia installations and videos. Wang’s recent project, “Hostage,” plugs into contemporary Chinese reality with a grand staged spectacle rooted in Chinese SocReal opera. In the choreographed, almost silent performance, the video unfolds a story of harmonious, isolated community – a perfect mechanism suddenly being shaken and destroyed by progress. We don’t know where it will end or what will replace it – the question is not answered. The camera alternately surveils the “walled” community and acts as the eye of a narrator/referee intent not to miss the nuances of the action.

“The Tower: a Songspiel” is the latest in a series of ‘”songspiels” — Brechtian musical theater video projects — by Chto Delat? (What is to be Done?), an artists collective based in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The singing video performance – a sort of “spectacle of the people for the people” — wrestles with the reality of contemporary, post-communist Russia. It tells the story of a bitter wrangling over the energy giant Gasprom’s plan to build a skyscraper into the otherwise carefully managed horizontal cityscape of St. Petersburg. The actors representing the powerful—the businessman, the Mafioso, the politician, the orthodox priest, the art dealer, and the favorite artist—are in a dialogue with the choir of ordinary people. Meant to be a straightforward, painfully accurate representation of the contemporary Russian condition, it sometimes sounds surprisingly familiar to, say, our Ground Zero saga? The script is based on research into public documents and media material about the actual ongoing debate.

the future

The tenets of communist doctrine and Diamat (dialectic materialism) are not widely understood today. In the US, the word communism is used almost as loosely as Nazism. People’s ignorance is exploited as the word is used as an insult or to instill fear. Rainer Ganahl’s video “I hate You Karl Marx” projects the current China-phobia into the future. It is 2045, Berlin…. Berlin, China. The strangely endearing rant of a young Chinese-speaking German woman directed at a statue of Marx induces a nervous smile: you want to laugh but you don’t want to appear nervous and scared. It even makes Rainer nervous.

Enjoy the show.
Magdalena Sawon and Tamas Banovich


Postmasters Gallery, located at 459 West 19th Street between 9th Avenue and 10th Avenue, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 – 6 pm.

Please contact Magdalena Sawon or Paulina Bebecka with questions and image requests:  postmasters@thing.net


Photo credits: Yuri Shamaloff, Nikita and Castro, 1963/2010, black and white print, 20 x 24.5 inches; Lu Xiangyou, Deng Xiaoping swimming in Dalian Bangzhui Island, 1983/2006, color photograph, 20 x 24 inches; Yevgeniy Fiks, Kimjonlilias a.k.a. “Flower Paintings” no.6, 2008, oil on canvas, 48x 48 inches; Rainer Ganahl, I Hate Karl Marx, 2010, video, 5 min 43 sec, video still.

1 Comment

Filed under art exhibitions, contemporary art