– Autumn/Winter 2018

The Grammar of Collectivity as Experimented by Chto Delat

Irmgard Emmelhainz

Installation view, ‘Chto Delat: Cuando pensamos que teníamos todas las respuestas la vida cambió las preguntas’ (When We Thought We Had All the Answers, Life Changed the Questions), Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), 2017. Photograph: Oliver Santana. Courtesy the artists and MUAC, Mexico City

In 1989, Félix Guattari identified the deterioration of inhuman/human individual and collective modes of life. He observed how capitalist relationships had reduced kinship networks to a minimum, poisoned domestic life through mass-media consumption, ossified family life by standardising behaviour and made hostile neighbourhood relations. For Guattari, the problem resided in subjectivity and its exteriority, that is to say, social, animal, vegetable or cosmic relationality, the implications of which political groups had been unable to understand.1 This situation set a precedent for the current fragmentation of the world and the increasing loss of shared experience; that is with the exception of people coming together in front of screens, or through moments of national communion where foreign threats deploy hollow sentimentality and where fear justifies the use of state violence.

One of the main concerns for Russian collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?) is experimenting with forms of collectivity and the building of communities. The collective is named after Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s 1863 book of the same name, in which the narrative advocates for the creation of small cooperatives based on Russian peasant communities and orientated

  1. See Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton), London and New Brunswick, NJ: The Athlone Press, 2000.

  2. Dmitry Vilensky in an interview with Gerald Raunig, ‘An Issue of Organisation: Chto Delat?', Afterall, no.19, Autumn/Winter 2008, p.6.

  3. Materialist aesthetics are grounded in the Marxist point of view that the role of art is not only to realistically represent socio-economic conditions, but to seek to improve them. This is represented in the work of Kazimir Malevich, Dziga Vertov and Jean-Luc Godard, for example, and theorised by thinkers such as Theodor W. Adorno, Bertolt Brecht, Herbert Marcuse and Georg Lukács.

  4. Chto Delat, ‘From the Chto Delat Lexicon’, in When We Thought We Had All the Answers, Life Changed the Questions (exh. cat.), Seville/Mexico City: CAAC/MUAC, 2017–18, p.151.

  5. Ibid., p.153

  6. Commonly organised in France around May 1968, a groupuscule is a small political splinter group not necessarily linked to a party. Groupuscules would gather around specific political causes, such as, for instance, the Vietnam War, the Palestinian revolution and the Chilean struggle.

  7. In the sense that May 1968 is emblematic of workers’ refusal to identify and represent themselves politically through class relations, giving way to the pluralisation of political struggles grounded in gender, ethnicity, restitution claims, etc.

  8. See Irmgard Emmelhainz, ‘From Third Worldism to Empire: Jean-Luc Godard and the Palestine Question’, Third Text, vol.23, no.100, September 2009, pp.649–56.

  9. Images include soldiers in a heart formation for St Valentine’s day; an organisation of young people against the consumption of industrialised Russian foods; a patient in the intensive care unit who has run away from the hospital wearing only a sheet in 16 degrees Celsius weather, and then proceeds to go a mall to buy a beer; an image of tomatoes confiscated at the border between Russia and Belarus in 2015 about to be destroyed; the winner of a body art contest; a photo session with Stephan, a bear raised by a Russian family; a playboy bunny doll; children having their picture taken with a monkey; the Olympic flame transfer in Lake Baikal in 2013; and many images documenting Victoria Day celebrations and decorations throughout Russia.

  10. The Invisible Committee, Now, New York: Semiotext(e), 2017, p.153.

  11. Subcomandante Marcos is the battle name of Rafael Guillén, a main ideologue, spokesperson and military leader of the Mexican armed group National Liberation Zapatista Army (EZLN).