Tag Archives: Nikolay Oleynikov

Chto Delat, To Negate Negation (Wrocław)

www.bwa.wroc.pl


 Nikolay Oleynikov, mural at the show Chto Delat, The Urgent Need to Struggle, ICA, London, 2010. Photo  courtesy of Chto Delat

CHTO DELAT
To Negate Negation
April 29–June 16, 2013

April 29, 2013 (Monday):
5 p.m. – Discussion (in English) with Chto Delat (Dmitry Vilensky, Olga Egorova, Nikolay Oleynikov), Jan Sowa, and Jakub Szreder

7 pm. – exhibition opening 
Awangarda Gallery (Wita Stwosza Street, 32, Wrocław)

Curators: Alicja Klimczak-Dobrzaniecka and Patrycja Sikora

Download press materials here


Chto Delat, The Russian Woods. Installation at the show Lessons of Dis-Consent, Stadliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 2011. Photo courtesy of Chto Delat

TO NEGATE NEGATION

Philosopher Georg Lukács once said that orthodox Marxists should not believe in this or that thesis, nor in the exegesis of a sacred book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. By method, Lukács meant dialectics as a means of analyzing and representing the whole of society as a totality of struggling contradictions.

To speak about dialectics makes particular sense at BWA Wrocław. Its architecture confronts the ruin of an old palace with a new modernist intervention, facing us with obvious conflicts between the classics and modernism, between the old functions of exclusive noble privacy and the modern public institution. The current exhibition responds to this living contradiction by presenting a survey of many old and newer Chto Delat projects in a specially developed dialectical display whose main point is to “negate the negation.”

All graduates of socialist schools and universities will remember this negation of negation as the third principle of dialectics, culled from Friedrich Engels’ Dialectics of Nature. What could this principle mean in art today? Confronted with a simple dumbly positive postulate of an artwork, the viewer reacts with a very basic question: why should I care? It looks like the artists are trying to brainwash me but for what reason? I won’t believe it, I’m not that simple; the characters are so conditional, it must be a Brechtian device. Why are they constructed in such a way? And why do they still give me aesthetic pleasure? Perhaps there is something beyond this simplicity? It is with such questions that the negation of negation begins.

We invite the visitor to a tour through a show where art works only communicate by calling one another into question, making complex things simple and simple things complex, as the work of negativity turns into the play of its own negation. But make no mistake. Art is never just a self-referential game. It always suggests further implementations and resolutions outside the gallery space in real life. As Mao once wittily remarked, “Theory (read also art) is the negation of practice while the opposite of practice is of course non-practice. In turn, only when theory is further negated in practical activity is a higher development of man’s knowledge of the world achieved.”

Dmitry Vilensky and David Riff (Chto Delat)

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The Dialetical Play of Opposite: About Chto Delat in the Institutional Framework

Chto Delat have embarked on a quest for a currently attractive, emancipatory potential of leftist ideas. Chto Delat strongly criticize the reality of contemporary political and social life in Russia, art institutions, and Western capitalism. Chto Delat flourish in the international institutional art market, operating in the convenient framework of the capitalist system. Chto Delat embody the dream of engaged Russian art in the Putin era, dreamed of by curators from the West. At the same time they rarely show up in the official salons in Russia. Each of the above statements is true: this is a conclusion one can draw upon a close inspection of the exhibition in Wroclaw, reading the numerous descriptions, theoretical and polemical texts, or studying the performances and documentation of actions published on the collective’s website.

To Negate Negation is a unique exhibition, as it is the first presentation of contemporary Russian art in the Wrocław gallery Awangarda after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is also the first exhibition of the group Chto Delat in Poland, presenting the whole panorama of its activity. As part of the show, we will find all themes characteristic of the artistic practice of Chto Delat, including, in particular, references to the Hegelian and Marxist dialectical struggle of opposites, inevitably driving social change. The title To Negate Negation already contains direct references to the terminology originally borrowed from the idealist dialectic of classical German philosophy, and specifically to one of the three universal laws formulated by Hegel’s dialectic – negation of the negation. In turn, individual projects of the collective shown in the exhibition relate to the dialectical principle of testing the reality which involves the disclosure of its existing contradictions, the study of the clash of these contradictions and the resulting changes, that is, in short, to the principle underlying the methodology of Marxism.

At the core of the exhibition lie projects commenting on the current situation, social and political events in various countries (Russia, Serbia, the Netherlands), petrified by allegorical methods and visualized primarily in film productions, the so-called Songspiels. The actors embody various sections of the society, represent various (age, professional, political) groups and their aspirations, interests and visions, as well as the existing opposition between them, building tension and conflict. Both these projects and other documentary and para-documentary recordings reveal interest in “classic” leftist work – the epic theatre of Brecht and Godard’s New Wave cinema. Apart from film showings, the arsenal of devices employed by Chto Delat consists of a few simple methods. Institutional space, annexed by the group in various parts of the world, is usually organized in a similar manner – by means of simple elements of stage design, reminiscent of home-made banners or mock-ups, as well as prints, murals, flags, posters and publications. These elements are often accompanied by on-site actions, meetings and discussions. Each of these devices is invariably associated with the language of propaganda and agitation, a message addressed to the widest possible audience. In each case, an institution turns into such a propaganda mouthpiece, becoming at the same time the (knowing) object of the collective’s genuine contempt. Yet the collective declares the aim of protecting the institution against the “economization, and subordination to the populist logic of the culture industry,” only to say: “That is why we believe that right now it would be wrong to refuse to work in any way with cultural and academic institutions despite the fact that the majority of these institutions throughout the world are engaged in the flagrant propaganda of commodity fetishism and servile knowledge. The political propaganda of all other forms of human vocation either provokes the system’s harsh rejection or the system co-opts it into its spectacle. At the same time, however, the system is not homogeneous – it is greedy, stupid, and dependent. Today, this leaves us room to use these institutions to advance and promote our knowledge. We can bring this knowledge to a wide audience without succumbing to its distortion.” Institutions inviting Chto Delat decide to play this game. This is the case this time as well. In Wroclaw, the game with the institution takes on another dimension – the game with the potential inherent in the relationship with the audience and with the surrounding reality. Thanks to Chto Delat the monumental windows of the Awangarda Gallery, overlooking a busy street, become stands. The gallery turns into the audience, and the street turns into a performance. There is a clear reversal of the viewer-institution relationship, ascribed to the building by the very architectural device of unveiling and glazing the top coat of the facade of the historic palace ruined during WWII – and, in this way, opening up its institutional interior to constant public view. The metaphor of game and the play of opposing forces present inside and beyond the institutional framework does not merely serve the purpose of turning the set relationship between an art gallery and the external world inside out, but rather of evoking a critical reflection on the observed reality, seen as a potential that can be offered to the viewer.

Patrycja Sikora

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CHTO DELAT (WHAT IS TO BE DONE)?

What is Chto Delat?

The Russian group Chto Delat is a platform that unites representatives of various areas of artistic and intellectual life: artists, philosophers, writers, activists, and social scientists. The group is guided by the principles of collectivism and self-realization. As described by its members, the core of the group is formed by a team of coordinators who cooperate closely with grassroots workgroups that share the principles of internationalism, feminism, and equality. Their activity represents the entire platform and provides a common context for interpreting their projects. Permanent activists of the collective include: Olga Egorova aka Tsaplya (artist, Petersburg), Artemy Magun (philosopher, Petersburg), Nikolay Oleynikov (artist, Moscow), Natalia Pershina aka Gluklya (artist, Petersburg), Alexei Penzin (philosopher, Moscow), David Riff (art critic, Moscow), Alexander Skidan (poet, critic, Petersburg), Oxana Timofeeva (philosopher, Moscow), Dmitri Vilensky (artist, Petersburg), and Nina Gasteva (choreographer).

Where did they come from?

Chto Delat was established on May 24, 2003, in the action “The Refoundation of Petersburg,” during which a group of artists, architects, and critics symbolically founded a new city centre on the city’s outskirts. Inspired by the pompous celebrations of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, the event was seen by the police as a disruption of the ceremony. Shortly afterwards, still unnamed, the group began to publish the newspaper Chto Delat, targeting the international audience. The name of the newspaper, and later of the collective, was borrowed from Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1828–1889), a philosopher, journalist, writer, and socialist, who in 1863 published the novel Chto Delat, one of the creative harbingers of the Russian Revolution. In 1902, Vladimir Lenin referred to the novel in his pamphlet bearing the same title, in which he presented a new look on the problems of self-organization of work groups. In this context, the artists and intellectuals working in the collective see themselves, by way of analogy, as a self-organizing group of “cultural workers.”

What do they do?

Chto Delat actions integrate different fields of intellectual activity: visual arts, literature, journalism, film, theatre, philosophy, and political thought. Created with a variety of tools, their work is a collective action, which means that it has a common context and stems from a deep theoretical reflection. The group realises its principles issuing a newspaper, creating movies, theatre, plays, installations, prints, murals, performing actions.

Program

Chto Delat are preoccupied with the issue of cultural autonomy, considered from the point of view of the artists who can’t perform in the post-Soviet Russia and create outside the mainstream, but also who are active in Europe. The group expresses its concern about art, today often perceived as a commodity or an element supposed to provide entertainment to the audience, a part of a system in which museums and galleries are instruments of power having monopolised presentation of art, while they should be institutions that help art search for truth about the world. The essence of art is to create the viewer’s awareness, to develop forms of critical perception of reality, and to be a tool for independent functioning in the world. This is a public activity, so that no authorities or institutions should have a monopoly over its “distribution.” In their projects Chto Delat discuss how culture functions in the machinery of western and post-Soviet capitalism, showing the culture’s dependence on the money, state, and ideology. Thus the emancipation of art guarantees human emancipation as such, and the role of artists and intellectuals is to expose the current situation and try to define the optimal conditions for the development of free creativity. For them a way to achieve these goals is to return to the original ideas of ​​the Left and fulfil them in a fresh combination of actions from the sphere of art, radical thought and politics.

Where do they work?

Defying the Russian cultural establishment and politics in general, the group operates outside the mainstream of the art world at home, on its outskirts. At the same time, Chto Delat is a very active group, constantly present and performing in the countries of Western Europe, the USA, or Australia. However, the “activity” and “existence” of the group can and should also be seen in a non-material way. Theoretical work, publishing an online newspaper, online meetings and lectures are just as important as the institutional dimension of their activity. The group’s projects have been shown in numerous group and individual exhibitions, including Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki (2004), Museum of the History of St. Petersburg (2004), Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel (2005), Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow (2006), the 3rd Prague Biennale (2007), 11th Istanbul Biennial (2009), the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (2010), the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (2011), Smart Project Space, Amsterdam (2011), Gallery 21, St. Petersburg (2012). The collective’s works are exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, National Museum Reina Sofia in Madrid, Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, the Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Chto Delat has participated in many conferences, seminars, open discussions, meetings, lectures, e.g., Documenta 12 in Kassel (2007),  Working Title: Archives at the Lodz Museum of Art (2009), and Former West in Berlin (2010, 2012).

Alicja Klimczak-Dobrzaniecka

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You Don’t Have to Be Leftist to Think Like That (Petersburg)

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.

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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.

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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.

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All That Is Banned Is Desired: A World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression (Oslo)

artsfreedom.org

All That Is Banned Is Desired: A World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression
The Opera House, Oslo, Norway, October 25—26, 2012

Introduction

Over the two days of All That is Banned is Desired: A World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression, artists, journalists, activists, scholars, curators and others will respond to censorship of the arts around the world.

We will discuss and investigate why, where, and how artistic expressions is condemned, banned and persecuted. In particular, we will focus on the three principal agents of censorship — religion, state and market.

Although the effects of censorship can be easily identified in cases where artists are imprisoned or killed, the social and economic repercussions of censorship are more difficult to measure. A culture deprived of its artistic creations and cultural heritage clearly loses an important link to its history and identity.

Cultural artefacts carry with them the power to influence the minds and motivations of the masses and with it, the power to divert people from an awareness of and compliance with the normative behaviours of a society, as dictated by religious and political ideologies. The control of culture is thus a major concern for both clerics and politicians.

But where religion and state decline in importance in the control of artistic expression, another censor appears quite ready to step in to fill the censorial void — namely the market. And there is no guarantee that it will prove to be any less censorious than its religious and political predecessors.

Censorship is characterized by the contradictory fact that by imposing limits it provokes reactions to those limits. By limiting freedom it helps fuels the desire for even greater freedom, as the title of the conference evokes: ‘All that is banned is desired’.

In many ways, the power of nation-states to carry out censorship is being undermined as global communication networks expand and international trade barriers crumble. This means that it is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to control what their citizens have access to; however, history suggests that nation-states will be reluctant to relinquish control.

Conference participants will be invited to debate these and other concerns in relation to specific cases. These cases will be drawn from a wide range of conditions and contexts and will include some that are well known and others that are known to only a few. In addition to deepening our understanding of the fundamental propositions of freedom of expression, the conference will also work toward proposals for monitoring censorship globally, and organising to advance freedom of expression for artists around the world.

PRELIMINARY PROGRAMME

THURSDAY, 25 OCTOBER 2012

09:00: Registration – 09:40: Doors open – 10:00: Doors close
10:00: BEAUTY UNDER PRESSURE

ZARGANAR, Comedian, Actor and Film Director [Burma]
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, Poet and Filmmaker [Burma]
WIN MAW, Musician and Composer [Burma]

Moderator: FRANCES HARRISON, Journalist [UK]

10:40: RELIGION AND ARTISTIC FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

SVETLANA MINTCHEVA, Director of Programmes, National Coalition Against Censorship [USA]
GURPREET KAUR BHATTI, Playwright and Screenwriter [UK]
AZHAR USMAN, Comedian, Activist and Lawyer [USA]

Moderator: KENAN MALIK, Writer, Lecturer and Broadcaster [UK]

11:40: MORAL PANICS – SEXUALITY AND ART

ZANELE MUHOLI, Visual Artist [South Africa]
PANG KHEE TEIK, Arts Consultant and Human Rights Activist [Malaysia]

Moderator: ROBERT SEMBER, Artist and Researcher [South Africa/USA]

12:30: LUNCH

13:45: CORPORATE CENSORSHIP

LARISSA SANSOUR, Visual Artist [Palestine/UK]
NADIA PLESNER, Visual Artist [Denmark]
FREDRIK GERTTEN, Film Director [Sweden]

14:30: HUNGARY – ARTISTIC FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY IN THE AGE OF XENOPHOBIA

ADAM FISCHER, Chief Conductor [Hungary]
YNGVE ANDRE SØBERG, Soloist at The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet [Norway]

14:45: PUBLIC SPACE AND ART CLASHES

MUSTAPHA BENFODIL, Writer and Visual Artist [Algeria]
LARS Ø RAMBERG, Artist [Norway/Germany]

Moderator: ALESSANDRO PETTI, Architect and Researcher [Italy/Palestine]

15:30: COFFEE BREAK

16:00: TIBET – ARTIST IN EXILE

TENZING RIGDOL, Visual Artist and Poet [Tibet]
TENZIN GÖNPO, Musician [Tibet/France]

Moderator: FRANCES HARRISON, Journalist [UK]

16:30: THE INVISIBLE RED LINE – MANOEUVRING CHINESE ARTS CENSORSHIP

SI HAN, Curator [China/Sweden]

Moderator: FRANCES HARRISON, Journalist [UK]

17:00: STAGE PERFORMANCE

TERAKAFT [Mali]

FRIDAY, 26 OCTOBER 2012

08:45: Doors open – 09:00: Doors close

09:00: OVERCOMING – WOMEN, ART AND EGYPT

SHERINE AMR, Singer [Egypt]
SONDOS SHABAYEK, Writer, Theatre Director and Actress [Egypt]

Moderator: PETR LOM, Filmmaker [Czech Republic/Canada]

09:45: STOP THIS FILTH – ARTISTS UNDER THREAT

DEEYAH, Music Producer [Norway/UK]
ARSHAD HUSSAIN, Actor and Culture Activist [Pakistan]

OLE REITOV, Program Manager, Freemuse

10:05: THE ART OF LOVE: CULTURAL TABOOS AND ARTISTIC REPRESENTATIONS OF ROMANCE IN TRIBAL PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN

GEORGE GITTOES, Painter, Photographer and Filmmaker [Australia]

Moderator: FRANCES HARRISON, Journalist [UK]

10:30: RUSSIA

NIKOLAY OLEYNIKOV, Visual Artist [Russia/Chto Delat]

10:50: COFFEE BREAK

11:20: SYRIA – TUNISIA: ARTS IN RESISTANCE – RESISTANCE IN ART

RACHIDA TRIKI, Film Director and Researcher [Tunisia]
ORWA AL MOKDAD, Actor [Syria]

Moderator: DONATELLA DELLA RATTA, PhD Fellow [Italy]

12:00: FREEDOM THEATRE: WHAT KIND OF FREEDOM?

JONATHAN STANCZAK, Co-Founder and Administrative Manager of the The Freedom Theatre [Sweden/Palestine]

12:20: CUBA (tbc)

13:00: LUNCH

14:00: NOTHING TO ENVY IN THIS WORLD

Moderator: SIGRUN SLAPGARD, Writer, Foreign Correspondent and Board Member of Fritt Ord

14:20: THE LASTING IMPACT OF THE RUSHDIE CASE

WILLIAM NYGAARD, Publisher and Defender of Freedom of Expression [Norway]

14:30: TURKEY

ASLI ERDOĞAN, Writer [Turkey/Austria]
PELIN BAŞARAN, Researcher [Turkey]

Moderator: KENAN MALIK, Writer, Lecturer and Broadcaster [UK]

15:10: THE ARTIST VS. THE STATE: THE CASE OF LAPIRO DE MBANGA

MARAN TURNER, Executive Director, Freedom Now [USA]

CAMPAIGNING AGAINST THE STATE: PUSSY RIOT

ALEXANDER CHEPARUKHIN, Music Producer, Promoter and Founder and Director of GreenWave Music [Russia]

15:40: PERFORMANCE

OUTSPOKEN, Artist and Community Activist [Zimbabwe]

The conference is organised by Fritt Ord and Freemuse, and is generously supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and PostkodLotteriet, Sweden.

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Absolute Democracy (Graz)

ABSOLUTE DEMOCRACY

A conference organized by Carlos Motta (CO/USA) and Oliver Ressler (A) for steirischer herbst as part of the 24/7 marathon camp “Truth is Concrete” in Graz
September 26, 2012 — 8 pm – midnight

Participants: Manuela Bojadzijev, Janna Graham & Dont Rhine/Ultra-red (D/UK/US), Mariam Ghani (US), Nicoline van Harskamp (NL), Jennifer Gonzalez (US), Isabelle Fremeaux & John Jordan (F/UK), Miguel López (PE), Sofía Olascoaga (MX), Nikolay Oleynikov/Chto Delat (RU), and Marco Scotini (I).

The idea of an “absolute democracy” suggests the need for the redistribution of wealth and power and the radical transformation of systems of rule. It denounces the effects of capitalism and in that way challenges normative understandings of class, race, gender and sexuality. “Absolute Democracy” convenes an international group of cultural producers to discuss the construction of a plural, heterogeneous, inclusive and “absolute” democracy. The conference is composed of two sessions: “Forms of Democracy: Activism, Art and Cultural Production,” which features presentations by artists and theoreticians that question past and existing forms of democratic participation, revise historical accounts and interpret forms of artistic production and documentation; and “Thinking Politics Freed From the State,” a session devoted to presentations that imagine new democratic models independent from the State and that envision new understandings of governance and self-determination.

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Session 1: Forms of Democracy: Activism, Art and Cultural Production
Introduction/Moderation: Carlos Motta (CO/US)
Manuela Bojadzijev, Janna Graham & Dont Rhine from Ultra-red (D/UK/US)
Mariam Ghani (US)
Jennifer Gonzalez (US)
Miguel López (PE)
Nikolay Oleynikov (RU)

“Forms of Democracy: Activism, Art and Cultural Production” asks what is at stake in the process of representing, critiquing, and archiving democracy. Presenters discuss artistic and cultural projects that interrogate the “forms of democracy”— its aesthetic and political articulations—and engage with specific representational strategies that comment on democracy as a form of government but also as a mode of cultural production.

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Teaching/Learning Democracy: Delegate Reports from Three Schools of Echoes
Manuela Bojadzijev, Janna Graham & Dont Rhine from Ultra-red (D/UK/US)

The problem of democracy echoes everywhere. The curators of “Absolute Democracy” have called for “concrete statements about how to possibly achieve, construct, arrive at an absolute democracy.” This sounds like an invitation to interrogate what we do, why we do it, and with whom. Since every inquiry presumes a protocol, and every protocol commences around a question, Ultra-red ask, what is the sound of democracy? That sound can be heard in the traditions of radical democracy linking political organizing with education. For the “Forms of Democracy” conversation, delegates from three Ultra-red teams (Berlin, London, and Los Angeles) reflect on their efforts to establish local pedagogical experiments. What is radical democratic pedagogy within the very centers of global capital today? What concrete contributions can cultural producers make to teaching/learning absolute democracy in a moment of crisis in/of capitalism?

Ultra-red is an international sound collective. The group’s diverse membership draws on a broad range of political experiences, intellectual traditions and artistic practices. Founded in 1994 by two AIDS activists in Los Angeles, Ultra-red conduct sound-based investigations as part of our members’ daily involvement in social justice struggles concerning HIV/AIDS prevention justice, anti-racism, migration, education, gentrification, and poverty. Ultra-red teams work in locations across Europe, North America, and South Africa. We learn from musique concrète, conceptualism, popular education, and militant inquiry. In the image-dominated field of political art, Ultra-red seek to develop, test, and teach practices of political listening.

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Kabul: Constitutions
Mariam Ghani (US)

Mariam Ghani will present a guided tour of “Kabul: Constitutions,” her interactive documentary of Afghanistan’s Constitutional Loya Jirga of 2003-4, with a discussion of the strategies of representation employed in the production (by UNAMA and the transitional Afghan administration), experience (by delegates and observers both elected and appointed) and depiction (by the international media and by Ghani herself) of the constitutional assembly. “Kabul: Constitutions” resists the construction of any linear narrative of the events of the assembly, instead choosing to examine the political process through the space in which it unfolded, a multi-million-dollar tent complex constructed specifically for the two jirgas, or “grand councils,” held between 2002 and 2004 to reimagine the fundamental architecture of the Afghan state, in that “open moment” when previous structures and assumptions had been swept away by war, invasions and migrations.

Mariam Ghani is an artist, writer, and teacher. Her videos and installations have been exhibited internationally, most recently at dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel and Kabul, MoMA in New York, and the Sharjah Biennial 10. Her public and participatory projects have been staged in Berlin, Amsterdam, Buffalo, Detroit, New York and online. Her texts have been published in, among others, Mousse, Pavilion, Filmmaker, The New York Review of Books, and the Radical History Review. Her ongoing collaborations include work with media archive pad.ma, choreographer Erin Kelly, anthropologist Ashraf Ghani, and artist Chitra Ganesh, as the roving archive Index of the Disappeared. She is currently a visiting scholar at NYU’s Asian Pacific Institute.

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Does Democracy Have a Visual Culture?

Jennifer Gonzalez (US)

Political theories of democracy generally define the term abstractly according to a set of relations among people that are cultural, legal, participatory and voluntary. Over the past decade we have seen repeated claims that democracy also has a visual component, that, in fact, democracy looks like something. Activists and government officials make this claim; artists and historians substantiate this claim. It seems possible to argue, therefore, that a visual culture of democracy exists. If democracy looks like something, what does it look like? Who gets to decide? How and where do bodies appear, or disappear? What can we learn from looking at early visualizations of the democratic process? What is at stake, politically, in the current battle over articulating new visual forms of democracy? How is the look of democracy tied to the feel of democracy, and why might this connection be important?

Jennifer A. González
is Associate Professor in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her critical writings have appeared in numerous periodicals and journals including Frieze, Bomb, and Art Journal. Her book Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art (MIT Press, 2008) was a finalist for the Charles Rufus Morey book award. She teaches in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, NY, and has received numerous fellowships, including from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Ford Foundation. In 2012-2013 she is affiliated with the Centre de l’histoire et theorie des arts, EHESS, Paris.

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Absolute Transfutures

Miguel López (PE)

An “absolute democracy” requires us to shape our own histories. Any radical transformation of the system demands that we establish new territories and narratives for subjectivities and bodies that have been, for a long time, outside history. I would like to consider here one of the most remarkable examples of this rewriting of the past: the “Museo Travesti del Perú” (“Transvestite Museum of Peru”), founded by the artist and drag queen Giuseppe Campuzano (b. 1969). This museum is a portable collection of objects (masks, wax Virgins, high heels), appropriated images, press clippings and artworks. The project, halfway between performance and historical research, proposes a critical rereading of the so-called “History of Peru” from the perspective of mixed-race transvestite natives. Here transgender, transvestite, transsexual, intersex and androgynous figures are posited as central actors and the main political subjects for any construction of genuine and democratic futures.

Miguel A. López (Lima, 1983) is writer, artist and researcher. He is an active member, since its foundation in 2007, of the Southern Conceptualisms Network / Red Conceptualismos del Sur (RCS). He has published his writing in newspapers and periodicals such as Afterall, ramona, Manifesta Journal, Tercer Texto, The Exhibitionist, Artecontexto, and Papers d’Art. He is co-curator (with RCS) of “Perder la Forma Humana. Una imagen sísmica de los años 80 en América Latina” at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2012–2013), among others. During 2012-2013 he is guest-curator at Lugar a Dudas, an independent art space in Cali, Colombia.

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Communal Living
Nikolay Oleynikov (RU)

Several years ago, Nikolay Oleynikov initiated a series of obshchezhitie projects grounded in collective creative living [obshchezhitie is Russian for “communal living”]. Since then, bringing together practitioners from different fields and organizing temporary communities in constant dialogue, has become an essential element of his artistic practice. This initiative was elaborated and developed in the work of the Chto Delat group and supported by other collectives, and have now taken the shape of experimental non-stop seminars, congress-communes or learning plays. At this stage it makes sense to summarize the experiences we have had and to attempt to examine the different perspectives for this experiment, which has offered “creative workers” and “workers in the field of cultural production” a direction for making sense of their position in society, given them the impulse to engage in critical self-education at a local level, and to reframe the question of a rapprochement between political and creative practices.

Oleynikov likes to think about collective practices as a sort of dance. The aesthetic power of the body language common to public gatherings, protests and assemblies is a kind of “dance” logic, very similar to “contact improvisation.” As Oleynikov was thinking about his “performative” presentation for “Absolute Democracy,” the memory of his Soviet past came to mind and specially the practice of “industrial gymnastics.” Everyone was obliged to make some easy warming-up physical exercises during the work day, despite what industry the worker was involved in, or whether they did physical or intellectual labor, were service workers or creative workers. During his presentation at this conference the audience will make a collective industrial ballet together. A volunteer will lead a simple and slow exercise sequence as Oleynikov talks about collective practices, durational seminars, learning plays, learning murals and the Soviet tradition of communal life practices.

Nikolay Oleynikov (1976) is a Moscow-based artist and activist and member of Chto Delat, an editor of Chto Delat’s newspaper, and co-founder of the Learning Film Group and the May Congress of Creative Workers. He is known for his didactic murals and graphic works that draw on the traditions of the Soviet monumental school, comics, Surrealism and punk culture. Represented worldwide by his solo projects as well as by a number of collective works, Oleynikov has had numerous international shows at such venues as Fargfabriken, Stockholm; Musée d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris – MAM/ARC; Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella; Museo dell Arte Contemporaneo Luiggi Pecci, Prato; the X Baltic Triennale, Vilnius; Welling School, London; the State Tretyakov Gallery and Paperworks Gallery, Moscow.

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Carlos Motta (Introduction/Moderator) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work has been presented internationally in venues such as New Museum, Guggenheim Museum and MoMA/PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, Bogotá; Serralves Museum, Porto; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens; San Francisco Art Institute; and Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin. Motta is currently working on a performative event, which will premiere on February 2013 at Tate Modern, London. Motta is a graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program; he was named a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in 2008 and received a Creative Capital Foundation Grant in 2012. He teaches at Parsons The New School of Design and The Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.

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Session 2: Thinking Politics Freed From the State

Introduction/Moderation: Oliver Ressler (A)
Nicoline van Harskamp (NL)
Isabelle Fremeaux & John Jordan (F/UK)
Sofía Olascoaga (MX)
Marco Scotini (I)

“Thinking Politics Freed From the State” is a session devoted to presentations that imagine new democratic models independent from the State and that envision new understandings of governance and self-determination.

Yours in Solidarity
Nicoline van Harskamp (NL)

Nicoline van Harskamp will talk about the theoretical tradition of anarchism as it applies to artists with an ambition to be somehow instrumental in the world, or more specifically as it applies to herself and her work Yours in Solidarity, on show in < rotor > in Graz from September 29th, 2012.

The work of Nicoline van Harskamp (Netherlands, 1975) addresses the function and power of the spoken word, and its ability to influence perception and shape thought, both of which are instrumental to politics. Her most recent and ongoing project Yours in Solidarity, addressing the contemporary history of anarchism through a correspondence archive, was presented in different stages of completion at the Museo de Arte Contemporanea Universitario in Mexico, the Frankfurter Kunstverein, Hillary Crisp Gallery in London, Manifesta 9 in Genk, Belgium and the Shanghai Biennale. Nicoline van Harskamp was trained at the KABK in Den Haag (BA) and the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London (MA). In 2009 she won the Dutch Prix de Rome. She is a faculty member at the Sandberg Institute Amsterdam and a board member at Witte de With in Rotterdam.

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Paths Through Utopias: Everyday Life Despite Capitalism
Isabelle Fremeaux & John Jordan (F/UK)

As the storms of the financial crisis began in 2007, we set out on a journey across Europe to experience examples of post-capitalist living. For 7 months we traveled through 11 communities and projects, all of which used horizontal forms of organizing and direct forms of democracy. This ranged from a direct action climate camp to squatted villages, a free love commune to self-managed factories, an anarchist school to land reappropriated by precarious agricultural workers.

From this experience came a film-book, Pfade durch Utopia fusing reflective travel writings with an attached DVD. Whilst the book is travelogue, analyzing the communities, their practices and their histories, the film is a magic-realist road movie set in an imagined post-capitalist future. Our presentation will briefly outline the experience and how it changed our own lives and practices. Pfade durch Utopia has just been published in German by Nautilus.
http://www.edition-nautilus.de/programm/politik/buch-978-3-89401-763-7.html

Isabelle Fremeaux was a Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck College-University of London (2002-2011) until she deserted the academy. Her action research explores popular education, storytelling and creative forms of resistance.
John Jordan is an art activist. He co-founded the direct action groups Reclaim the Streets and the Clown Army, worked as a cinematographer for Naomi Klein’s The Take, co-edited the book We Are Everywhere: the irresistible rise of global anti-capitalism (Verso 2004) Together they co-founded the The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, and co-authored the film-book Pfade durch Utopia (Nautilus, 2012). They are in the process of setting up a school of art activism and Permaculture within the new collective La r.O.n.c.e (Resist, Organise, Nourish, Create, Exist) on a farm in Brittany, France.

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Between Utopia and Failure

Sofía Olascoaga (MX)

Between Utopia and Failure is an active research project-in-progress, assessing the productive tension of intentional community models developed in Mexico in past decades. The project traces the work and influence of radical thinker Ivan Ilich, through CIDOC, the intellectual community he started in Cuernavaca, and the role that model has played in the practice of many Mexican and international thinkers and artists. It also looks at Gregorio Lemercier and Sergio Méndez Arceo, who pioneered communal models of education, psychoanalysis and social movements. This critical reassessment focuses on the current relevance of the ideas and forms of organization generated between the fifties and eighties, and on their influence on several generations. The research includes the activation of dialogical platforms with direct participants, scholars, and with younger cultural producers influenced by these experiences, to discuss the pertinence of looking back at them, as a way to respond to Mexico’s disrupted social tissue.

Sofía Olascoaga (b. Mexico City, 1980) works in the intersections of art and education by activating spaces for critical thinking and collective action. Through museum education, artistic practice, and curatorial initiatives seeks to engage in productive ways of questioning and experimenting on art’s social role. Olascoaga is a Curatorial Research Fellow at Independent Curators International, and attended the Whitney Independent Study Program as a Curatorial Fellow in 2010. She received her BFA from La Esmeralda National School of Fine Arts (MX). From 2007 to 2010, she was Head of Education at Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, and was Clinics Director for SITAC X Symposium in Mexico City in 2012.

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Autonomia, for example
Marco Scotini (I)

Contemporary forms of social mobilization breaking out everywhere across the planet these days assert that “there are no alternatives” possible within representative democracy. From the WTO protests in Seattle to those currently enacted by the international Occupy movement, from Zapatista to the Arab insurrections, there is an identical tension (global, chaotic, plural) transforming the world that has never ceased to act. The insurgent movements respond to the irreversible decline of the political model based on representation, to the neoliberal economy’s new hegemony and the reigning police forces, with a devastating political experimentation that dislocates the classic methods of exercising power and resists the logics of representation (political parties, ruling classes, the State). The refusal to delegate the representation of what divides us (property, wealth, power) to political parties and labor unions, and the representation of what we share (citizenship, community) to the State, has its origin in a new concept of political action brought forward by the revolution of the Seventies.

Marco Scotini is art critic and independent curator based in Milan. Director of NABA Visual, Multimedia and Performing Arts Department and M.A. of Visual Arts and Curatorial Studies. He is a Director of Gianni Colombo Archive in Milan and editor-in-chief of the magazine No Order: Art in a Post-Fordist Society, published by Archive Books, Berlin. Co-founder of Isola Art Center. His writings have been published in magazines like Springerin, Flash Art, Domus, Moscow Art Magazine, Brumaria, Fucking Good Art, Kaleidoscope and Manifesta Journal. Recent exhibitions he has curated include Gianni Colombo, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli, 2009; A History of Irritated Material, Raven Row, London, 2010. Since 2005 he has been a curator of the traveling exhibition Disobedience: An Ongoing Video Archive, exhibited in Berlin, Mexico DF, Eindhoven, Nottingham, Riga, Atlanta, Boston, Umea, Copenhagen, etc.

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Oliver Ressler (Introduction/Moderator) produces exhibitions, projects in the public space, and films on issues such as economics, democracy, forms of resistance and social alternatives. His projects have been in solo exhibitions at the Berkeley Art Museum, USA; Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul; Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade; Centro Cultural Conde Duque, Madrid; Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum, Egypt; Bunkier Sztuki Contemporary Art Gallery, Krakow and The Cube Project Space, Taipei. Ressler has participated in group exhibitions at MASSMoCA, USA; Itaú Cultural Institute, Sao Paulo; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens; Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven and at the biennials in Prague, Seville, Moscow, Taipei, Lyon and Gyumri. For the Taipei Biennale 2008, Ressler curated an exhibition on the anti-globalization movement, A World Where Many Worlds Fit. A show on the financial crisis, It’s the Political Economy, Stupid, co-curated with Gregory Sholette, is currently presented at Centre of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki.

Artists involved in the “Absolute Democracy” conference will also participate in the related exhibition “Absolute Democracy” at < rotor > association for contemporary art.

Opening of the exhibition: Saturday, September 29, 2012, 12 noon
Opening speech by Gerald Raunig

Participating artists: 
Julieta Aranda & Anton Vidokle, Petra Bauer, Lenin Brea & Nuria Vila, Miklós Erhardt & Claudio Feliziani, Isabelle Fremeaux & John Jordan, Mariam Ghani, Carles Guerra, Nicoline van Harskamp, Jim Hubbard, Vladan Jeremic & Rena Rädle, Alejandro Landes, Nikolay Oleynikov, Fernando Solanas, Ultra-red

Curated by: Carlos Motta & Oliver Ressler

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Chto Delat, “The Russian Woods”

The Russian Woods

Script & Idea: Tsaplya and Dmitry Vilensky
Music: Mikhail Krutik
Choreography: Nina Gasteva
Set & graphics: Nikolay Oleynikov
Director of Photography: Artyom Ignatov
Stage Performers: Irina Pavlovskaya, Polina Popova, Elena Pasynkova, Sergey Krylov, Petr Pavlensky, Svetlana Erpyleva, Maxim Kulaev

Our work on the musical performance The Russian Woods was largely provoked by political developments in Russia this past winter. While participating in these important events that suddenly emerged from within Russian civil society, we were intrigued by the huge number of mythical images and mythological rhetoric used both by the authorities and the protesters. We decided that this phenomenon was not accidental, that it really reflects the level of political culture in our country. And we wanted to try and analyze it in the form of a fairytale story that would not only reflect the totality of our country’s sociopolitical structure, but also help us and our audience think about ways of overcoming and transforming it.

The film is based on footage from a theatrical performance that took place on May 2, 2012, in Saint Petersburg.

This film is a production of the Chto Delat collective and was produced with support from the Chto Delat Fund. It premiered at Arsenale 2012, The First Kyiv International Biennale of Contemporary Art.

The English-language version of this play was staged on March 25, 2012, as part of Arika Festival 12: Episode 3: Copying without Copying, at Tramway in Glasgow.

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Filed under film and video, political repression, protests, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

I Will Never Talk About the War Again (Maribor)

I Will Never Talk About the War Again

Opening: Friday, June 8, 2012, 8 pm

This exhibition is open until August 30, 2012.

Venues: KIBLA at Narodni dom Maribor and KIT at Glavni trg 14, Maribor, Slovenija

Performance during the opening of the exhibition

Alma Suljević, Holy Warrioress – Interference

Artists: Lana Čmajčanin, Chto Delat, Igor Grubić, Adela Jušić, Nikolay Oleynikov, Shadow Museum/Jaroslav Supek, Alma Suljević

Curator: Vladan Jeremić

The exhibition I Will Never Talk about the War Again will be presented for the first time in Slovenia as a part of the programme created by KIBLA for the manifestation Maribor 2012: European Capital of Culture. The exhibition has been produced by KIBLA and Biro Beograd, with the support of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of the Republic of Slovenia, Maribor 2012 Institute – European Capital of Culture, and the City Council of the Municipality of Maribor.

The exhibition I Will Never Talk about the War Again presents the works of artists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia and Russia focused on critical social analysis and testimonies of violence and trauma connected with recent wars in the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

Under a heavy burden of wars, ethnic nationalisms and socioeconomic stratification processes, generated by neoliberal capitalism’s ideology, almost all states formed after the destruction of Yugoslavia suffer from neocolonial dependency imposed by global capital and permanent crisis at the European economic periphery. In such a constantly antagonistic social and political context there are certain popular positions in which testimonies of war trauma are represented, manifested and interpreted. That is why many representations in the field of cultural production and contemporary art don’t succeed in escaping from stereotypes.

The exhibition I Will Never Talk about the War Again deals with the question of whether contemporary artistic practice can find a language with which it would be possible to speak politically about individual and collective war and post-war experiences, without slipping into exoticization. Is it possible to find an adequate artistic formula, and is it always necessary to create empathy in the process of understanding? Silence and amnesia are the most common reactions to trauma; does art in this sense actually also remain silent by using only the symbolic language of images and sounds, staying in the field of mediation and symbolism?

The title of the exhibition is borrowed from the video performance I Will Never Talk about the War Again, by two artists from Sarajevo, Adela Jušić and Lana Čmajčanin.

I Will Never Talk About the War Again is a modified version of the initial exhibition presented in 2011, as a collaborative effort of Biro Beograd and Center for Art and Architecture from Stockholm Färgfabriken, under the title Psychosis 1 – I will Never Talk About the War Again.

Artwork (above) by Nikolay Oleynikov

Download the exhibition booklet here.

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Moscow Police: Prose Is Allowed (But Not Blank Verse?)

Welcome to Moscow, where it is illegal to sing a couple songs outside a courthouse in defense of people (in this case, the three arrested alleged members of Pussy Riot, whose pretrial detention was extended for another two months yesterday by the Tagansky court) you think have been unjustly accused and imprisoned.

Slon.Ru’s reporter on the scene relates this interesting exchange with one of the arresting police officers:

When I asked the officer supervising the arrests on what grounds the musicians [Nikolay Oleynikov and Kirill Medvedev, two members of the revolutionary folk ensemble Arkady Kots] were being detained, he explained that any organized actions are interpreted as [unsanctioned protests], and that outside a court house they are prohibited by law.

So you’d detain [people for reciting] poems?”
“For [reciting] poems as well — for any unsanctioned actions.”
Is it permitted to converse in prose?”
“Prose is allowed.”
 “What about unrhymed blank verse?”

The officer thought hard but gave no reply. But some activists standing nearby suggested that, given the political situation, blank verse was doubly forbidden.

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P.S. Arkady Kots continued their performance as they were being transported to a police station along with other lovers of blank verse:

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Filed under activism, censorship, feminism, gay rights, film and video, political repression, protests, Russian society