Chto delat?
An extract of a conversation between members of Chto delat?, Nikolay Oleynikov and Dmitry Vilensky.

First published in the Chto delat? newspaper, #06- 30: Living, Thinking, Acting politically, November 2010.

Nikolay Oleynikov: Over the last year and a half we have launched a series of experimental events that were united by a single format—the 48-Hour Communal Life Seminars. At this stage it would make sense to summarize the experiences we’ve had and attempt to examine the perspectives for this experiment, which has offered “creative workers” and “workers in the field of cultural production” a direction for making sense of their position in society. It has given them the impulse to engage in critical self-education at the local level, while reframing the question of a rapprochement between political and creative practices.

Dmitry Vilensky: I think that your initiative, which was immediately taken up by several collectives, has an interesting and problematic genealogy, and we need to have a precise sense of it. It is clear that all this is directly related to the theme of education, but there is also the theme of collectivity. And that was no accident—for each of our seminars had the qualifier “communal life” attached to it. That is, we have arrived at the understanding that genuine creative education and growth is possible only within collective practices. In the history of art we see many examples of artists uniting to share their vision of art’s development and the meaning invested in this notion. This happened when the existing system of art and education did not fulfill—from the viewpoint of these artists—these functions. That is, it was always a matter of something new, which was not accepted in the academy and society, emerging through a mode of confrontation. We should also note that artists and intellectuals are always in the process of forming their own milieux. The most interesting events take place not at exhibition openings but in studios, kitchens, and bedrooms, where we find an intensive, non-stop dialogue about how to make art, why we make it, who we make it for, and whether it wouldn’t be better to totally reject art as an institutional practice and equate art and life. I think that this permanently present collectivity—which is not formally organized in a determinate way—requires some kind of structuredness and a new degree of intensity from time to time. This gives rise to all sorts of circles, seminars, summer schools, groups, movements, working and non-working groups, and so forth. That is, we’re continuing a certain tradition, and we should try and understand how our initiative, which has already been going on for over a year, is different from what has been and what is.

Nikolay Oleynikov: You’re right. The 48-Hour Communes initiative is an heir to a tradition of creative associations and experimental educational strategies. Our events, however, are built into a pre-set time frame—two days. This duration is capable, at first glance, of generating only an instable temporary community that disintegrates as soon as the event is over. But then, perhaps, it would make sense for us to regard this kind of organization not as a series of separate events, but as a consistent movement that unfolds in time, in various places, and that is realized by various participants who seize this initiative.
This approach gives us the opportunity to discuss very different questions on the agenda with the very different ad hoc communities that emerge. Every time there are different constellations of theorists, activists, artists, critics, curators, members of collectives, and people with a background in individual work. This “instability of collectives” gives us the chance to return again and again to a discussion of key problems while also inserting the acute, urgent issues that arise. A network deployed in space and time thus arises, and a process takes place that dislocates both the notion of the traditional artistic group and the activist cell, and the customary schemes for interacting in the artistic and academic milieux. Consequently, we get this picture of an endless nomadic commune where people interested in developing certain ideas eat at the same table (or at different tables), doze off together in front of a big screen during nighttime screenings of political cinema, and are in constant dialogue. Here, as I see it, is where a phenomenon emer­ges: the production of “common creative time” and “communal (socialized) learning time.” The question is whether this is really a serious alternative to established relations (commercialized on the one hand; institutionalized, on the other), within the milieux that we customarily assign to creative production.

Dmitry Vilensky: It’s a pretty picture you paint, but it is still reminiscent of a general rapturous movement connected more with consumption than production, don’t you think? This makes sense only if we’re going to focus on questions of activist responsibility; that is, if we’re going to ask questions about the degree to which all this impacts the environment outside our seminars. It is vital for us to understand to what degree our ideas are capable of holding up when they’re addressed to an audience that is much broader than a couple hundred privileged people who have access to this luxury of circulating from institution to institution, and who have access to the grants and foundations employed for these pleasant ends.
Moreover, I would once again caution you against this sweeping use of the word production. Of course everything produces something; even the refusal to produce produces quite palpable forms of the economy of refusal. But this word often very imprecisely describes the plenitude of what goes on. You can talk about the production of love all you like, but everyone knows there are many other things involved in love that cannot be described within terms of relations of production. It’s the same with creativity, which is the basis not only of art, but all other forms of activity. As we’ve already said, this is a certain surplus that breaks out of the calculated logic of production. Life is not something that can be calculated and that is why it’s interesting. You’re planning a project, and then you up and die, or you become ill or fall in love. And then there’s no project.