The Russian collective, Chto Delat, is conceived of as a self-organized platform for a range of cultural activities aimed at politicizing the production of knowledge. When We Thought We Had All the Answers, Life Changed the Questions looks into the wide range of media comprising their artistic production, while insisting on the questions shaping their practice—all variations on the one that gives the group its name: What Is To Be Done?—and the answer that, up to now, has enabled them to navigate in the dark: disseminating models of activist self-education that reconnect political action, engaged reflection, and artistic innovation . This is the first exhibition of this group in Mexico and although some seminal earlier works were incorporated, it focuses on their most recent production including a new work developed from their interaction with the Zapatistas in Chiapas. The works engage the recent past, the present and also posible futures with mise en scénes that generate aesthetic experiments to test the possibilities of engage art, as a reality and dimension of its own, to operate under extreme conditions. A remote northern island, a country on a state of exception in the threshold of war or a country that has completely banned and criminalized inmigrants, are some of the scenarios where key figures of contemporaneity emerge: the solitary protester , artists turnned into political refugees , the excluded, the unlucky hero,etc.. All possible alter egos of the members of Chto delat asking the question: when collectivity is needed to fight , or when is it needed simply to survive? As we normalize the global instauration of dark times and our intelectual constructions often prove to be inoperative, Chto delat insists on producing new languages that can organize pessimism in a way that makes the emergence of light possible, because (in their own words): artists should strive to convinve their audiences that there is something other tan shit...
The collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?) was founded in early 2003 in Petersburg by a workgroup of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism.The group was constituted in an action called “The Refoundation of Petersburg.” Shortly afterwards, the original, as yet nameless core group began publishing an international newspaper called Chto Delat?. The name of the group derives from a novel by the Russian 19th century writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and immediately brings to mind the first socialist worker’s self-organizations in Russia, which Lenin actualized in his own publication, “What is to be done?” (1902).
In 2013, Chto Delat initiated an educational platform—School of Engaged Art in Petersburg and also runs a space called Rosa’s House of Culture. From its inception, the collective has been publishing an English-Russian newspaper focused on the urgent issues of Russian cultural politics, in dialogue with the international context.
The artistic activity is realized across a wide range of media—from video and theater plays, to radio programs and mural, including art projects, seminars and public campaigns. The works of the collective are characterized by the use of alienation effects, surreal scenery, typicality and always case based analyses of a concrete social and political struggles. The aesthetics of the group is based on the heretic unpacking of the artistic devices offered by Bertolt Brecht, Jean-Luck Godard and Reiner Fassbinder.
These activities are coordinated by a core group including Tsaplya Olga Egorova (artist), Artiom Magun (philosopher), Nikolay Oleynikov (artist), Natalia Pershina / Glucklya (artist), Alexey Penzin (philosopher), Alexander Skidan (poet and critic), Oxana Timofeeva (philosopher), Dmitry Vilensky (artist) and Nina Gasteva (choreographer).