A video screening and presentation in the CCS Bard Bulletin Board of previously published newspaper projects will debut work by the Russian artists’ collective What is to be Done (Chto Delat). The screening of Scarlet Sails (2004), Perestroika Songspiel (2008), and Partisan Songspiel: Belgrade Story, (2008-2009) exemplifies the group’ stylistic developments during the last decade. By and large, the project questions the form and content of political art: what is political about political art today? The screening will be mediated by Ivet Curlin and Ana Devic, members of the Zagreb-based curatorial collective WHW (What, How, and for Whom), curators of the most recent Istanbul Biennial entitled “What Keeps Mankind Alive,” which included works by Chto Delat.
What is to be Done (Chto Delat) is a Russian collective and a has been a leader of Left activism in Moscow and St. Petersburg; producing newspapers, visual art, and carrying out public actions in support of democracy, political justice, and the pathos of the workers’ movement. The beginning of new millennium was a tumultuous time, embracing the liberated spirit of the early 1990s and the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2003 What is to be Done (Chto Delat) blasted onto the streets with actions and rallies in support of Leftist intellectual theory and the workers movement, in a wake of the onset of a ruthless market economy. The group interventions were derived from the ideas of Situationist psychogeography and the Russian avant-garde. The collective also started an English-Russian newspaper with the same title at that time as a platform for democratic intellectual culture and has its origins in the idea of revolutionary media communication developed by the Russian avant-garde. As time passed these public actions gave way to more indirect gestures in the form of video works and newspapers, and concessions were made both politically and artistically in response to the country’s pro-Capitalist turn. Taking the group’s stylistic development as a model the bulletin board project and the screening propose to investigate the variety of strategies that are available in political art today. The concluding remarks by curatorial collective WHW and the Q&A will aim to map out the question: What is political about political art today?
Scarlet Sails (2005) is based on an eponymous story, written in 1962 by the Russian writer Alexander Green, about a little girl Asolle who waited many years for a ship with billowy scarlet sails. Filmed in black & white, the piece begins with the scene of romantic young women sewing sails. Then elderly women rush into the workshop and fight over the sails. By taking away the sails, they halt the dreams of youth. In their hands the gray fabric bleeds and turns to red, evoking the image of a rebellious red flag in the film The Battleship Potemkin by Sergey Eisenstein (1925). The video is framed by a romantic song about friendship by Vladimir Landsberg (1966).
Perestroika Songspiel (2008) constitutes a heretic account of Russian history starting from the Perestroika in 1989. The four representatives of the newly emerged classes—democrat, businessman, nationalist, and liberated woman—engage in a heated discussion about their country’s democratic future. As the action develops, their initial enthusiasm sours into disjointed remarks and reactionary exclamations. The final scene is telling: the group has been overtaken by the children wearing white tops, black skirts and wolf masks – Wolf-Girls – the embodiment of ‘history’s elemental spirit of contradiction’. The work traces Russia’s political situation regressing from progressive to nationalistic and anti-democratic over the span of two decades. The video is framed by documentary footage of the Perestroika rallies (1987-1991), provided by the Petersburg Documentary Film Studio.
The Partisan Songspiel: Belgrade Story (DVD 2008-2009, 15 min) refers to the political confrontation between the Serbian neo-liberal government and the Roma people in the wake of the Universiade – a sports festival that took place in Belgrade last year. The film addresses the polarization of the society into ‘ruthless tycoons’ and social minorities. The confrontation between the protagonists—worker, Roma woman, Lesbian, Veteran, and the city officials—takes place in a dilapidated factory resembling a post-Fordist slum. In the background, the figures of ‘dead partisans’ wearing latex white suits haunt the scene like ghosts of the endless ideological wars.
Perestroika Songspiel and Partisan Songspiel: Belgrade Story employ conventions of Brecht’s radical reformulation of theater and devices of the 1920s Russian avant-garde. The methods of didactic spectacle and narrativized ‘gestus’ were appropriated from Brecht, while ideological memorabilia (slogans and political portraits), a chorus, and the elements of dance originated from the practices of Russian avant-garde. Also Songspiel is the term coined by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht to describe a musical-dramatic work with a German text. A contemporary reference could be found in the “Complaints Choir” by the duo Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen from Finland. Attacking political issues similar to the concerns of Sots Artists (Komar and Melamid), What is to be Done (Chto Delat) uses metaphors and evasive gestures instead of biting satire and contempt. These stylistic changes suggest that political art revised its visual codes and it now writes its new chapter.
The title of the group What is to be Done (Chto Delat) is based on a Lenin’s 1902 political text ‘Chto delat’, which maps out a future strategy for a young Soviet state. The book has been widely quoted in colloquial speech to describe a process of active strategizing among small opposition groups. Along with its title, the collective has concern with the future of the Left movement both in Russia and internationally. The collective works at the intersection of political theory, art and political activism. Recent exhibitions include the 11th Istanbul Biennale in 2009, the 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale in 2009, the 17th Biennale of Sydney in 2008, and the Documenta 12 Magazine in 2008.
The Perestroika Songspiel (DVD, 2008, 26 min) project was realised by Olga Egorova (aka Tsaplya), Dmitry Vilensky, Natalia Pershina (aka Gluklya), Nik Oleinikov together with composer Mikhail Krutik.
Partisan Songspiel: Belgrade Story (DVD 2008-2009, 15 min) video film by Chto Delat, music by Mikhail Krutik. Directed by Olga Egorova (Tsaplya), assistant directors: Vladan Jeremić, Rena Raedle, Dmitry Vilensky; Scriptwriters and stage designers: Vladan Jeremić, Olga Egorova Tsaplya, Rena Raedle, Dmitry Vilensky, costume design by Natalya Pershina Gluklya, choreography by Nina Gasteva and Tsaplya, editing and post-production were done by Olga Egorova Tsaplya and Dmitry Vilensky. Production was done in Belgrade by Biro Beograd – Biro for Culture and Communication Belgrade in July 2009.
What is to be done (chto delat) is curated for The Bulletin Board by CCS Bard Graduate Student Yulia Tikanova.
THE BULLETIN BOARD
The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College is the third venue to host Matthew Higgs’s (Curator and Director of White Columns) bulletin board project. CCS and Higgs collaborated to begin a bulletin board program at Bard in the fall of 2007 with the understanding that the graduate students at CCS would curate it. The bulletin board is an enclosed glass case divided into three panes by aluminum bars. As of January 26, it has migrated from outside of the CCS Library to its new location in the Bertelsmann Campus Center, adjacent to the billiard tables.