Chto delat? (2003-2007)

Chto delat/What is to be done? was founded in early 2003 in Petersburg by a workgroup of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod (see full list of participants on the web site) with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism.

Since then, Chto delat has been publishing an English-Russian newspaper on issues central to engaged culture, with a special focus on the relationship between a repoliticization of Russian intellectual culture and its broader international context. These newspapers are usually produced in the context of collective initiatives such as art projects or conferences.

The group was founded in May 2003 in Petersburg in an action called “The Refoundation of Petersburg .” Shortly afterwards, the original, as yet nameless core group began publishing a newspaper called Chto delat/What is to be done? The name of the group derives from a novel by the Russian 19th author Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and immediately brings reminiscences of the first socialist worker’s self-organizations in Russia, which Lenin actualized in his “What is to be done?” (1902). Chto delat sees itself as a self-organizing platform for cultural workers intent on politicizing their “knowledge production” through reflections and redefinitions of an engaged autonomy for cultural practice today.

The platform Chto delat is coordinated by a workgroup including following members: Olga Egorova/Tsaplya (artist, Petersburg), Artiom Magun (philosopher, Petersburg), Nikolai Oleinikov (artist, Moscow), Natalia Pershina/Glucklya (artist, Petersburg), Alexei Penzin (philosopher, Moscow), David Riff (art critic, Moscow), Alexander Skidan (poet, critic, Petersburg), Kirill Shuvalov (artist, Petersburg), Oxana Timofeeva (philosopher, Moscow), and Dmitry Vilensky (artist, Petersburg).
Chto delat works through collective initiatives organized by “art soviets,” inspired by the councils formed in revolutionary Russia during the early 20th century. These “art soviets” want to trigger a prototypical social model of participatory democracy, translating an open system for the generation of new forms of solidarity into the realm of contemporary cultural work. The “art soviet” takes on the function of a counter-power that plans, localizes and executes projects collectively.

Usually, this process results in artistic interventions, exhibitions, or artworks (video films, radio plays, performances), which, in turn, trigger new issues of the newspaper. Most of these projects have a two-fold intent: on the one hand, we are interested in the translatability and actualization of left theory (classical Marxism, post-structuralism, post-operaism, critical theory) and artistic practice (situationism, documentalism, urbanism, realism) under post-Soviet conditions and how this relates to parallel efforts elsewhere. On the other hand, we have also often focused on actualizations of the potential of the Soviet past repressed in the course of Soviet history, floating signifiers that need to be captured and used before they are subsumed totally by the present mode of production.

To give a few examples: in 2004-2005, Chto delat carried out an artistic examination of a working class neighborhood in Petersburg, attempting to actualize the communitarian utopias of its constructivist urbanity through the community, adrift with an enactment of Debord’s derive. This research into the Fordist utopia of the late 1920s and its incomplete, uneven transition to late capitalism was presented in two exhibitions and a newspaper. Another actualization of the Soviet legacy can be found in the project “Builders” (2005), in which the group restaged a classical socialist realist masterpiece from the late 1950s, which then falls apart and comes back together. In September 2006, Chto delat collaborated on a project called “Self-Educations”, an international exhibition and seminars-program at the NCCA in Moscow, dedicated to alternative, community-based forms of self-learning as emancipatory practices.

All of these projects have been accompanied by newspapers. 17 newspapers have been produced so far. The newspaper is fully bilingual (English/Russian). The editorial process draws artists, critics, activists and philosophers into a heated editorial debate, which results in theoretical essays, art projects, open-source translations, questionnaires, dialogues, and comic strips. This take-away publication is distributed for free at congresses or exhibitions, social forums and rallies where it reaches a broader cultural public. A complete set of issues, as well as documentations of art projects and current information can be found on this site.

David Riff and Dmitry Vilensky

Since 2003, the workgroup Chto delat has been publishing a newspaper. The newspaper is edited by Dmitry Vilensky and David Riff in collaboration with the workgroup Chto delat.

The newspaper is bilingual (Russian/English), and appears on an irregular basis (roughly once every 2 months). It varies between 16 and 24 pages (A3). Its editions (3,000- 9,000 copies) are distributed for free at cultural events and exhibitions by its producers. A visual documentation of the newspaper’s production and distribution can be found in the Art Projects section here.

Each newspaper addresses a theme or problem central to the search for new political subjectivities, and their impact on art, activism, philosophy, and cultural theory. So far, the rubrics and sections of the paper have followed a free format, depending on theme at hand. There are no exhibition reviews. The focus is on the local Russian situation, which the newspaper tries to link to a broader international context. Contributors include artists, art theorists, philosophers, activists, and writers from Russia, Western Europe and the United States.

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