Ted- St Petersburg

The Chto Delat pamphlet was largely fragmented because most of it was written in Russian. The portions that were translated were done so in broken English; however, there would be portions of the pamphlet that were written well enough without some of its meaning being lost in translation. One of these portions was the Chronic of the Action “The  foundation of Saint Petersburg” and Manifesto 003.

This protest movement started on the 300th anniversary celebrating the Russian capital city, Saint Petersburg and all the progress it as made; however, the protestors saw this anniversary as nothing more than a celebration of a stagnation of culture, “largely seen as a tomb, a necropolis of the aristocratic prerevolutionary culture”. This 300th anniversary, while clearly marked the many achievements of the long and many advancements throughout the history of Saint Petersburg, it also highlighted the lack of progress made in the most recent decade, especially the time following the fall of the USSR.

“The excess of the historical feeling
degrades into the antiquarian, uncritical attitude to the past and covertly subverts the present.
It subverts the possibility of the future – of the project, a draft, that would, in a utopian way,
anticipate and affirm the future.”

So instead of a traditional celebration of the city by going to the center and marching in a parade, the protest, “The foundation of Saint Petersburg” instead went away from the city center, away from the anachronistic culture, hoping to escape the old ways and “lay the foundations” of a new city center that incorporates modern innovations and advancements. After they were stopped by armed policemen, they were detained and taken to the police station where they had a four hour “discussion”. It was after this discussion that the protestors deemed the place as the new city center,placing a stone there as a symbol of their motion. Perhaps the discussion that occurred and the complete release of the protestors (given they had to pay fines) was itself a representation of the progress that was made that day in contrast to the days of the USSR when instead of being let go, the protestors would most likely be detained and sent to prison. By being freed with little penalty except fines for illegal marching, the protestors must have had a feeling that there is hope for advancement in the culture of Saint Petersburg.

This aggravation with society and culture that has been taken from the hands of the people is apparent in this piece. However, unlike several other movements of the past that refuse to collaborate with the State and other forms of authority and/or organization, the Manifesto 003 says:

“We have to work on the persistent transformation of the city environment – streets, squares,
houses, sculptures, transportation, journals, collective actions. The city authorities, on their
part, should involve the modern avant-garde artists while planning the city space.”

Currently, they see the city authorities as blind to progresses made by the modern avant-garde artists. This is apparent to them based on the aesthetics of the city itself. Instead of modern buildings being erected, “what is built is nothing but the cowardly imitation”. The writers of the Manifesto 003 strongly believe that the city has much potential to truly advance and become like the Saint Petersburg that was known for its modernity if the authorities and the modern artists work together.


Blog Post 12: Second Thoughts and/or Equivocation

The Chto Delat short entitled, “Museum Songspiel: The Netherlands 20XX,” reminded me of a few things we did this semester, specifically the “Transborder Immigrant Tool,” as well as the Coco Fusco & Guillermo Gómez –Peña piece, “The Couple in the Cage.”

To provide some background, the premise of the short film is that there is a group of illegal immigrants that take refuge in an art museum. Of course, this isn’t just any museum, rather the museum seems to be known for its rather…well, provocative exhibits. So, when the immigrants appear in the space, the director of the museum is faced with a problem, a problem that is complicated by the moral compass of the artist in residence, the director and like.

There seems to be a recurring theme in this class of art as a refuge, well, the short embodies this in two ways: first, the museum is physically a place of refuge for the immigrant family, and second, and second their performance acts as refuge, at least for some time. What struck me as different about the film was the equivocation—in all of the other works we’ve seen this semester, the artists are vehement about their ideals, their goals, etc. In “Museum Songspiel,” we as an audience at least seem some hesitation. Comments such as “what are you crazy?” The woman reminding the director that she has kids at home suggests a worry about future employment. All of these things are suppressed in the works that we’ve discussed, but it is not as if they weren’t there. What artist, what extremist, what revolutionary doesn’t have second thoughts about what it is they’re doing and its effect on those around them?

What’s more is that was even more interesting in terms of equivocation was the viewers featured in the film. Having just seen or heard about the immigrant performance, the couple at the end is intrigued, and outraged by the fact that the immigrants were arrested. They resolve to do something about it—to protest, or to make a stand against it. Upon realizing that who arrested them, they begin to shrink back from the idea. They begin to have doubts, and feel it is not their duty to go against the grain. It’s funny, earlier in the film the following line is sung:

“It’s not allowed but it happens…”

Is it? Does it—I mean, can it happen if there is doubt—if there is too much doubt, too much equivocation, too many second thoughts? Can it still happen then? Not always?

“Any regime needs art.” But how strong does the artist need to be, to push back against the regime—in pushing against the regime for this sort of revolutionary, avant-garde art to come (back) into existence?

When All Options are Co-Opted, Rejection Remains

When one considers the Avant-Garde, I don’t think it is a stretch to imagine the inaccessible. Or at least, I view this as the popular expression of a definition for the avant-garde. That which is too wrapped in its own machination to bother making sense. But, while in many ways this definition is not completely without values, it fails to recognize the true nature of the ‘front lines.’ It is not meant to represent the static value of “modern” art in a post-modern world. Instead it posthumously describes those that somehow predicted the lilt of culture as it plunges into the “Next Big Thing.” But prediction is a misnomer, if the future cannot truly be known. The mechanisms of the avant-garde, those mechanisms that filter upwards through cultural discourse as if they were some lucky genetic strain, are what define it. And, as those that ask “What is to be done?” claim that these are the machines of rejection; and rejection finally must be executed on a cultural scale.

In a Post-Soviet St. Petersburg, artists are challenged precisely by this definition. Shortly after the revolution towards the beginning of the 20th century, the Soviet Union became actively invested in promoting art. This is not something new for the State; it dates back to the Classical poets and their epics. But, being invested in Marxism as the Soviet Union was, they strove (in the early days) to create “Revolutionary” artwork. Where the Avant-Garde had to claw its way towards social standing in other cultural systems, the Soviet Union sought out that which abraded cultural norms for the sake of eternal revolution. In modern Russia, Chto Delat points to the resurgence in architectural nostalgia that the fall of Leningrad brought with it. The longing for a missing Golden Era; a prayer laid with every brick as some theater is revived or as expensive apartments for the Oligarchs’ families are erected. The work of the revolutionary art movements of Soviet History continues to exist, but it has been absorbed by the state and is re-expressed as the function of the “Tourist’s History” that is constructed through State nostalgia.

And so what had been the Avant-Garde has been folded into the machine of the Old, it is part of a market of nostalgia that simultaneously makes it acceptable (accessible) while stripping it of the components that made it once novel. Thus the one-time routes of the Avant-Garde are no longer successful in truly expressing the new and exciting. Chto Delat realizes that this does not exclude the possibility of the front guard. Art, to be new, must become that which cannot be acquired and re-appropriated by the state (even if such appropriation seems innocent or ideologically appropriate at first), for once it does it will only function as the historically Avant-Garde. Instead they focus on the praxis, the processes mechanical and intangible, that have driven the production of novelty in the past. They grasp at the moment, in its repetition and uniqueness, that cannot be folded directly into society. They avoid the clutch of nostalgia through the purifying act of rejection. They realize that history, at least the history of art with the purpose of creating the New, urges to be rejected. And in this rejection, the New becomes only inevitable.


Blog Post #12 -Holly

The videofilm What is to be Done tells of a group of illegal deported immigrants who decided to seek asylum at the museum, because of their belief that  “art is on the side of the oppressed”. The director answered to the reporter that the museum is open to everyone, and that their aim in opening and running a museum is to “wake society up”. Without it, he questioned, “who will pose and discuss these questions?” Art as a means of activism has been an ongoing theme we’ve explored in class this past semester, from the Yes Men to the Barbie Liberation Organization, artist-activists have been using performance and tactical media to provoke and question society and the ruling order. Art is “completely harmless,” as it is mere representations, meant only to “make us think.” In order to open up the museum to visitors again after news reports on the immigrants, the director and in-house artist decide to turn the situation into a piece of art, Victory of the Sun, a performance on the deportation of immigrants. As “actors” to a performance, the immigrants cannot be arrested because what they are doing is in the name of art, and thus poses no direct threat to society. While there are laws and orders in place to protect and to ensure the smooth running of society, the choir in the film sings that  “we should hear [illegal immigrants] out: They’re people, too!” These people need shelter, food, and protection, and “they’ve got kids!” Since the Dutch call themselves a “hospitable nation,” and that “humaneness has not been abolished,” a country cannot call itself respectful of human rights if it were to forcefully deport illegal immigrants to camps that are “horrible.”  If laws and regulations are in place to protect the people, it should protect everyone in the society at that time, regardless of how they got there and whether or not they have a right to be there. The film portrayed the illegal immigrants as kept within The Eye, and that whatever they say or do are soundless to the people outside. This represents the actual situations of illegal immigration around the world, many live their lives as aliens in a foreign country, their voices are not heard, and their needs are not addressed. Their situations are often worsened by mainstream media’s negative and exaggerated reports to the threats of illegal immigrants to the country, often blaming them for crimes and trafficking. In the film, the news reporter also repeatedly referred to the immigrants as criminals and extremists, accusing them of posing severe threats to the safety and stability of the country. The Director retaliated that the media should be more restrained in the name-calling, because it’s not up to the them to decide who is a criminal and who isn’t. The “hysteria” the media creates often brews unnecessary fear and frenzy among the people, villainizing innocent victims who actually need our help and sympathy.

Marshall Blogpost 12

The public and the government react in very strange ways to immigrants. Often they are met with condescension and hatred by an ignorant and xenophobic population, yet there is also the backlash of sympathy from those on the opposite end of society. In both cases there is a tendency, albeit absurd, to consider these immigrants as in some way inferior. The video “Museum Songspiel” plays on this view of society, reminiscent of the reactions to the Transborder Immigrant Tool, highlighting both the blind antagonism of media and government toward immigrants and the fear of the public to step up to challenge it openly.
In both the Transborder Immigrant Tool and Museum Songspiel “artists” hide their activism behind the word art to absolve themselves. For Transborder Immigrant Tool, even though they can argue because their ‘artwork’ was never used that it is simply that, the label of art keeps the detaches the artist from the potential inherent illegality of his piece. This same concept is revived in “Muslim Songspiel” as the artist and museum owner conceal their attempt to aid the fugitives as part of their artwork. Though unsuccessful, this again brings up how the line between art and activism can be extremely blurry, if existent at all.
Another connection between the two pieces is the reactions of people to each. The provocative reporter, clearly opposed to the cause of the immigrants, attempting to incriminate the museum owner is all too similar to the fiery Glenn Beck, rallying public opposition to Ricardo Dominguez based on little more than fear and blind hatred of immigrants. “Museum Songspiel” even goes a step further with their fictitious government body “the Center for Extremism Prevention”. Simply stating their title seems to rally fear in the citizens in the movie, as evinced at the end by the immediate retraction of the woman’s suggestion to protest the arrest of the immigrants upon hearing the Center for Extremism Protection took them.
For me this was similar to the growth and spread of the Nazi’s in WWII. Even though the majority of the public may have been opposed to the rise and oppression of the Nazi’s, they were too afraid for themselves to stand up when others were persecuted. This theme and internal struggle is addressed consistently throughout the video, particulary during the Greek-theatre-esque choral interludes.
Without much background it is hard to side wholeheartedly with one group or another. Though the video clearly leans toward sympathy for the immigrants and the cause of the museum owner, they were still breaking the law and without sufficient knowledge of the laws its difficult to judge them as unjust. However, i couldn’t help but feel some level of contempt for the woman and man at the end who clearly lament the fate of the immigrants yet feel no need to do anything about it. I found it strange that her reason for wanting to help was that they were actors and deserve to be above the law as a result. This aspect of art being more important than law that was brought up several times in the piece seems rather ridiculous to me. However, simply the injustice of the law and the demotion of people to subhuman is the problem, regardless of their artistic importance in society.

taliya blog 12

Chto Delat’s video film What is to be Done provokes thought on the issues government creates in disregarding humanity of its citizens. It serves as a social critique on how the government values paperwork over human lives. Delat touches on similar ideas that Hakim Bey mentions Temporal Autonomous Zone, and Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker mention in Tactics of Nonexistence. These ideas revolve around the notion that you can claim nonexistence by eliminating the objects by which you can be accounted for and focus on caring about the things that really do matter in life. This is possible because of the government’s narrow eyed view on people. Such claims can be viewed in the film when the “actors” or immigrants are arrested solely because they did not have their papers, and the fact that they were participating in something that mattered was disregarded.


The film begins with a man strolling through a gallery until the music rattles, and the view turns group of people huddled together behind a museum glass. The scene is then transported to a man reporting the escape of a few immigrants from a deportation train. These people fled the departing train and sought shelter in the Het Oog (The Eye) of the Dutch Museum of Contemporary Art. These people, protected within the Eye, are being called criminals for escaping and breaking into the museum. There is questioning as to whether it is considered breaking and entering because the Eye is an outdoor portion of the museum that does not have a roof. So, is it the architect’s fault for leaving the space open for one to seek refuge, or is it the immigrant’s crime that led them into this viewing patio? A chorus chimes in demanding an explanation. The chorus insists on receiving an explanation as to why the immigrants are in the museum, and what is going to be done about their presence. This shows the irrational fear that people hold towards other’s perception of their “national values.” They believe that if they do the more humane thing, and help these immigrants, they will be labeled accomplices. The museum is faced with the concern that if they chose to incorporate the immigrants into an art show, they will be labeled “too bold” and funding will be cut because of their ‘dangerously extreme’ actions. The director of the museum relays a powerful line explaining perhaps why the fleeing group chose the museum for their safe haven, “Art is on the side of the oppressed.” The purpose of the museum itself is to wake up society, and for this it is open to all—including the immigrants. The decision is made to reach out to these misplaced people despite the fact that the museum is running the risk of loosing their opportunity of further exposing truths to their community. The show runs, the chorus sings, “humanness hasn’t been abolished.” But the following actions lead me to believe otherwise. The law and order of the Dutch, they claim, is to be hospitable to those who respect their laws; however, the peaceful performers were immediately arrested not because what they were doing was harming the peace of the country in anyway, but because they lacked the documentation needed for their presence to be allowed. No protests will occur because no one will be directly affected by this arrest other than the people who shortly will be shipped off to deportation camps notoriously known for their mistreatment.

Blog Post 12- Jonathan Hanna

In the Chto Delat piece, What is to be done?, Delat begins by asserting that that the “postmodern has become impossible on a purely aesthetic level.” I believe Delat here is calling for a cessation of the purely theoretical and aesthetic approaches to postmodernism. Postmodernism’s only feasible conduit has to be on a pragmatic level, not on the abstract, purely artistic level. Delat then continues on to define the avant-garde’s role in art. The many extremist protests that have occurred in recent years provide a “reference point” for the new avant-garde, a situation similar to the time of the Revolution, specifically the Russian Revolution, and now again the aura of change is unarguably present throughout society. Russian artistic life had become, as Delat emphasizes using abstract English phrases, dependent on the ability to net-work, work as a community, remain “socially engaged”, and keep the view going that social change is possible. Russian artists, most crucially, hold the notions that they are no longer bound by anyone else’s rules, that they are capable of forming a society in which “life will be creative and the world fair.” Thus, the artists are motivated and driven to affect social change without thoughts to the feasibility or immenseness of their task. Without giving thoughts to how best represent themselves ot the general public, the artists must be willing to give, and thus, even the most meaningless and inconspicuous  of acts can have far-reaching social consequences. Society must be saturated with the position of people to deny consumerist culture and reject the desires affected by the products of consumerism; this is the most dangerous weapon we have against the current situation of society. The artists, according to Dealt, no longer have a right to be “passive or pessimistic,” because if art is made a genuinely autonomous medium, then we will achieve the “capability to form and disseminate alternative models of aesthetic and social transformations.” Only then can the details and smaller aspects of original work be discussed with new inspiration, and thus, according to Delat, the artist will become as radical as the newly formed reality. Now I would like to talk a bit about Manifesto 003, in which the city of St. Petersburg is paid special attention to. The Manifesto calls the reader to rethink the future of St. Petersburg. Delat claims that the conservative politics of the city’s politicians ios choking the city. The only focus of the city is to restore what once was great, to focus on the past culture and history of St. Petersburg; however, there has been nothing new done, no new buildings built, no influential newspaper, that rival their counterparts in other areas of the western world. The city’s leaders need to involve the new avant-garde artists in the city’s planning in order to secularize the city and open it up. The authorities and artists should join forces in developing city projects as well as rejecting old, clos-minded traditions, such as the jubilee. Only then can the city be opened up to a series of artistic actions, performances, discussions, texts, aimed at the transformation of the city space and of the cultural politics” which will eventually also renew the city into a free space, without “roofs or barriers.”