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.