Chto Delat (What is to be done?) was founded in 2003 in Petersburg by a working group of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism. The group’s name recalls the first socialist workers’ self-organizations in Russia, which Lenin portrayed in his “What is to be done?” (1902). Chto Delat as a collective operates in different media such as video films, graphics, and murals, learning theater, newspaper publications, radio plays, and militant theory. The artistic activities of Chto Delat are orchestrated by four member artists—Tsaplya (Olga Egorova), Nikolay Oleinikov, Glyuklya (Natalia Pershina), and Dmitry Vilensky.
Chto Delat presents:
Builders, 2005, 8:16 min
This video project is inspired by the painting “The Builders of Bratsk” (1961) by Viktor Popkov. As a Soviet art critic once accurately noted, “the paintings main theme is the ‘resurgence of life.’” By today, this piece has become an iconographic symbol of self-possessed, concentrated people, not only standing on the brink of great changes, but capable of making sense of this transformation and realizing it.
It is important to note that the workers on the painting are not shown in the process of working, but that they are taking a well-deserved cigarette break. They have interrupted their work and now have the chance to consider both the relations that govern it, but also the significance it will have to the transformation of society at large. This is exactly how the painting was read in its time, as an interpretation we would like to return to today.
Our project’s goal is to apply this ideal image to contemporaneity. We invite the spectator to return to the composition of this painting and to suggest a new version of the process of its creation. We want to show (through a slide show and sound track) what might have preceded this moment, in which they took on a pose that turned them into a symbol of certainty, strength and belief. What was it? Hard work? A conflict in production that found its own solution? Or maybe even a hidden love story? Maybe it was all of these things at once, and maybe none of it happened. Our goal lies in constructing a situation in which people today (ourselves and our colleagues from Chto Delat) become “ideal,” stretching to reach this image.
Museum Songspiel: The Netherlands 20XX, 2011, 25:25 min
The fourth songspiel by Chto Delat represents a similar new form of contemporary tragedy as the first three musicals of the “Songspiel-triptych”. But whereas the first three productions were based on accounts of historical events the “Museum-Songspiel” is realized in a tradition of dystopia film. The script takes place against the backdrop of an imaginary scenario of Dutch politics in the year 20XX, where all immigrants have been banned from the country.
The first scene – which in contrast to all most other scenes of the film was shot on location at the Van Abbemuseum – shows a Museum’s guard who is controlling the galleries. The dramatic soundtrack accompanying the scene seems to anticipate his confusion, when stumbling upon a group of illegal immigrants, who have sought refuge in a large display case designed for street art incorporated into the museum. The museum seems to be the only institution in which they hope to be able to evade their deportation. The situation reminiscent of a (human) zoo, where one group is separated from another through a large glass wall, is finally resolved when the museum director tells the outraged journalist, that the museum never intended to hide the immigrants from the authorities in the first place, rather they were merely hired as actors for a performance.
The film raises the frightening question of which particular role the museum and therefore also art might be forced to play under political circumstances borrowed from the realities of Russian current political situation. The film is a kind of acid test on how socially concerned art might operate under severe pressure of control by nationalistic populist governments.
Border Musical, 2013, 48:30 min
Ola from Finnmark meets Tanja from Kola. They fall in love, Tanja abandons her past and moves with her son to her new husband. Through joys and challenges of their mixed marriage we get a glimpse into today’s Russia-Norwegian borderland across cultural and social norms and values. How our behaviour and worldview are influenced by culturally laden relations between individual, family and society? To what degree we are responsible for our actions and to what degree we leave it to the state? Who defines areas of responsibility? The Norwegian state and Ola’s best friend help the couple to build up a family based on the sound Norwegian values.
BORDER MUSICAL is not a description of the reality; it is a reality served in a spicy manner: through polished language and sharp definitions, exaggerated images and multifaceted characters, bizarre movements and eccentric scenes. Why cheer a mutual understanding when we learn from our differences?
Chto Delat‘s web site: www.chtodelat.org