Художественный журнал
digest 1993 – 2005

What is to be done?

Dmitry Vilensky
Dmitry Vilensky. "Negri Speaks", stills from the video, 28 min, 2003
Dmitry Vilensky. "Negri Speaks", stills from the video, 28 min, 2003
Several months ago, our mood was resolute; it seemed that there was some feeling of social, visual and political change in the air. It seemed that these changes would depend totally upon our position, upon the projection of our ideas in the future: net-working, getting together, being concerned and socially engaged, community feeling, and slogan like "Another world (view) is possible" stopped being little more than English-language abstractions and foreign contexts, and became pressing necessities in Russia's artistic life. Most importantly, we began to feel that we were not simply hostages of somebody else's incomprehensible game, but that we might be able to create our own reality, a reality in which life would be more creative, a reality in which the world would be more just, a world in which people would love one another.

This feeling was an echo of the 1960-s when, according to the testimony of eyewitnesses, "young twenty-year old radicals honestly felt that the world would be of his own making".

However, today (04. 05. 2003), as I write this text, this wonderful feeling of euphoria and clarity has already been lost, so that I find myself asking what has changed since then.

Of course, first and foremost, America's destruction of Iraq influenced our perception of the situation at hand, because it showed the entire world that the opinion of millions of people who stood up for a peaceful solution have no meaning whatsoever in opposing the interests of corporations and military cliques. It turned out that all discussions about the decentralization of power or the new "network principle" of the empire's construction do not work. The world is ruled by brute force and this brute force has a clearly defined center. Its power is so efficient that it can spit upon everything. Any hope for alternative globalization has been called into question, while Europe, being the only one who tried to keep an ethical position in this conflict, has been called into question as well.

However, it makes little sense to despair in this climax of reactionary sentiment. As Toni Negri has precisely noted, " The revolution is over, but in the end of revolution what wins is a completely reactionary mode of living. And the nostalgia of the poet is really the attempt to reconstruct in this passage, this reactionary desert in which humans have been thrown, to reconstruct those other values, pushing them forward." This, in fact, is what art should do today. The time of socially servile cynicism has passed at any rate, and the criteria for recognizing the division between "us" and "them" have become even clearer. More and more positive negation is accumulating: yes, we may not know how things should be, but we can clearly see the ignobility of things as they are.

Society expects art to develop a new ethical position. I feel that the position of the artist as a witness of what is happening in the world is one possible position. The artist can become the witness of "another" history, the history of the oppressed. In this case, his position gains an ethical dimension: the witness becomes an activist, confirming that the system has committed so many crimes. The new documentalism that has appeared of late shows that everyone is becoming a victim of the conditions today, held hostage to the new world order.

However, this is not all: the spaces that art institutions provide need to be used to develop strategies of effecting aesthetic and ethical changes in society at large. Today, a political understanding of the world and the processes of art are returning to the fore: after all, the most dangerous thing for the system is its confrontation with a mass of people that rejects the consumerist conception of pleasure, the totality of cynicism in commodity-money relations, relations that suffuse from head to toe. The slogan is the same as it was before: from the economy of consumerism to the economy of the gift. It is time to stop thinking about how to make an effective sale; we need to learn how to give. This is where real social change will begin. And then, even the smallest gesture could have the widest public consequences possible. Even within the autonomy of the art system, there is still a possibility for realizing models of aesthetic utopianism with the potential for influencing society at large.

We need to start with simple micro-gestures: make the world around you better – paint the walls, build furniture, make artists of your friends, collect books and music that you like and share them, organize autonomous cells inside any system, cells that are free from operational relations that work according to the scheme of mutual interest, think of how to make your gestures more effective and then share your experience with all others. Nobody will do this for us.

Like in the 1960s, we might remember that love is still the main political category, since love is still something you can't buy. And if we have love, then everything will be in our power.

Just love and one of its manifestations: the unselfish love to art.

Dmitry Vilensky
Born in 1964 in Leningrad. Artist, curator and critic.
Participant of the Creative Platform "What is to Be Done?".
Member of the MAM Editorial Board.
From in Berlin (Germany) and St-Petersburg.
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