– Autumn/Winter 2018

The End of the Line: Historicity, Possibility and Perestroika

Simon Sheikh

Perestroika Timeline, 2009, acrylic paint on wall, dimensions variable. Installation view, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (CAAC), Seville, 2011. Photograph: Chto Delat. Courtesy the artists and KOW, Berlin

History, indeed is the Body, but the Chronologie the Soul of Historical Knowledge; for History without Chronologie, or a Relation of things past, without mentioning the Times in which they were Acted, is like a Lump or Embryo without articulation, or a Carcass without Life.

– Alexander Ross1

A recurrent feature in the work of the Russian collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?) is not only the revisitation of historical ideas and forms of art making and political thinking, but also the writing of history itself. This includes the ordering of its source material and constitutive events, as in their crucial post-Communist work Perestroika Timeline from 2009, that concerns itself with the pivotal, and controversial part of Soviet history that was perestroika, the series of mainly economic reforms undertaken by the Communist Party under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev towards the very end of the Soviet empire itself, possibly even leading to its very demise. As a historical form the timeline is an ideological instrument of representation that visualises and orders history chronologically. The timeline solidifies and simplifies history through marked events and dates, particularly if there is only one line, but also when

  1. Alexander Ross, The history of the world; the second part in six books, being a continuation of the famous History of Sir Walter Raleigh…beginning where he left…at the end of the Macedonian kingdom, London: J. Saywell, 1652, quoted in Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton, Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010, p.19.

  2. Immanuel Wallerstein, ‘Social Science and the Communist Interlude’, The End of the World as We Know It, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001, pp.7–18.

  3. Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton, Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010, p.19.

  4. Claire Grace, ‘Counter-Time: Group Material’s Chronicle of US Intervention in Central and South America’, Afterall, no.26, Spring 2011, p.56.

  5. As such, this is closer to Michel Foucault’s ideas of genealogy as a form of counter-memory.

  6. Walter D. Mignolo, ‘Introduction: Coloniality of power and de-colonial thinking’, in Globalisation and the Decolonial Option, Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge, 2009, p.2.

  7. Artemy Magun, Alexandr Skidan and Dmitry Vilensky, ‘A Conversation about Possibilities, about Power and Powerlessness’, CHTO DELAT? / WHAT IS TO BE DONE? # 16, March 2007, p.3.

  8. For more on this argument, see Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh (ed.), Former West: Art and the Contemporary After 1989, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.

  9. At the time of writing, the American president has just lifted sanctions on Russia suggested by his cabinet, further fuelling the suspicions that Russian intelligence not only meddled in the American presidential elections of 2016, but even decided its outcome!

  10. Mikhail N. Epstein, After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism & Contemporary Russian Culture, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995, p.xi.

  11. Ibid., p.331.