Chto delat? – The Urgent Need To Struggle

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on October 22 2010

The event: Chto delat? (What is to be done?) – The Urgent Need To Struggle
Date: October 9 – October 24
Location: Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH
Price: Free entry

This project has been created by Tsaplya (Olga Egorova), Nikolay Oleynikov, Gluklya (Natalya Pershina-Yakimanskaya), Nina Gasteva, Vladan Jeremic/Rena Rädle and Dmitry Vilensky…

A dream for any political and cultural theory geeks; this exhibition even comes with a handy reader – a newspaper of texts to help further your understanding of the theoretical ground the artists have started from but can still be appreciated by those looking for something less involved.

‘This exhibition… tells the story of the struggle of ‘ordinary’ people against the government, the authorities, oppression, inequality but also the feeling of hopelessness that can engulf activists at their low points…’

The Urgent Need To Struggle is a modern take on old school leftist principles, which, as history seems to go round in circles, are still relevant today. It gives a series of thought provoking proposals on varied movements and works to unite cultural workers and all working people together in their struggles, rejecting any perceived artists’ pretention.

The view of artists as part of the wider workers’ movement is central to the work of Chto Delat, the platform of artists and thinkers who created this exhibition, and was “founded with the goal of merging political theory, art and activism.” They take their inspiration from revolutionary Russian working groups and basing their work on principles of self organisation, collectivism and solidarity.

These principles are immediately recognisable in this exhibition which tells the story of the struggle of ‘ordinary’ people against the government, the authorities, oppression, inequality but also the feeling of hopelessness that can engulf activists at their low points…

The room’s strong red, white and black colour scheme hits you instantly as does the main focal point: A cinematic screen faced by ascending double beds, an installation that wouldn’t look out of place as a bedroom on Cribs. There is also a viewpoint where you can attempt to sing a song called Partisans Forever – in Serbian – along with a video of people in white boiler suits. The walls are decorated with pages from the reader, an issue of Chto Delat’s paper, quotes from well known leftist leaders and images from the films that make up the main depth of the exhibition.

The amount of film content means the exhibition needs time to be explored fully. Each short film or trailer centres on a different struggle, many are bizarre and abstract fiction; whereas others are simple documentaries or a series of stills with commentary. Although many of the issues explored are very much in he present, history never feels that far away.

Chto delat have presented a valid and useful series of thoughts on the position or art in activism and the importance of cultural workers in the wider workers movement, although I can’t help thinking that some of the more conceptual representations of struggle, such as the musical films, echo exactly the type of pretetion they are trying to avoid.

The Urgent Need to Struggle is central to the Institute of Contemporary Art’s (ICA) current season titled ‘Dissent’; in which they ask whether culture can be a site for protests in a time of economic crisis. The season has included numerous events including talks and debates and a big focus on film with an artists film club and the regular screening of Collapse from American director Chris Smith.

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