Democratisation and Gender in Contemporary Russia

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The system of art believes in its social microrevolutionary democratic engagement. Nominally, this is definitely so. One of the important symptoms of such a contradictory condition of contemporary art at present was the Berlin Biennale Its claim was that if the political and social ambitions of art happen to be socially futile, then the art territory—the art institution—should be occupied by efficient social practices not generated by art production. If the artist makes a political claim to social change, but artistic production is not able to accomplish it, then the decision is to find groups more efficient with social work and let them occupy the institution—thus attempting the collapse of the art institution in favor of its becoming a socially efficient tool.

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However, even in this case, the resisting procedures were contained within the institution. This happened with the modernist picture, which internalized the collapse of the image and its depth. But he also tried to show that such a democracy unfolds in a hermetic, self-referential realm—self-referential because such is the logic according to which contemporary art history is being recorded.

In any other situation, to demand that an artist or art institution influence social conditions directly compels one to conform to mainstream policies of liberal democracy and its social design. This represents quite an eloquent case for the appropriation of public and participatory art by the government—depoliticizing it and turning it into applied design.

Thus we are constantly pressed between a false openness of democracy and the reestablishment of an outdated notion of aesthetics. The question is whether the category of aesthetics can be applied in reference to modern and contemporary practices that were not conceived as aesthetic experiences at all. Aesthetic judgments were incompatible with the languages of contemporary art, inherited from avant-garde practices. Already in early romanticism, the beautiful was superseded by the sublime: the sublime is the dimension that goes beyond the aesthetic contemplation—toward the extra-sensory and cognitive search for the idea, for the unknown, ineffable, unimaginable, non-perceivable, and so forth.

The sublime is often taken metaphorically as a synonym for metaphysics in art or as the Wagnerian kind of sublimity so fiercely criticized in works by Adorno, Nancy, and Lacoue-Labarthe. On the other hand, the sublime is what Lacan meant by the real and Deleuze meant by the event. It is something that is happening in its irreversibility, and artistic repetition then deals with clearing up that very incomprehensible thing that happened.

The Russian avant-garde, guided by the idea of a new world and presupposing revolutionary movements as the medium of its achievement, was definitely closer to the logical category of the sublime than to that of the aesthetic. It is generally believed that there were some esoteric themes developed predominantly by Malevich, but that other artists—such as Sergey Tretyakov or the LEF and Proletkult members—simply went public.

It is true that the art of the Russian avant-garde aspired to reject itself for social experience. But the social experience itself had to be aimed at something in some sense sublime—sublime, because the political aspiration for a new socialist order made life non-utilitarian. It means that unlike imagination, the mind is still able to envisage and even incorporate the unimaginable and unthinkable, i. So the mind that knows about the negative and the unimaginable intersects with sensitive experience and compels the imagination to expand itself.

Possibly indeed, some writer on aesthetics has discovered that this state of intellectual bewilderment is a necessary condition when a great work of art is to achieve its greatest effects.

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It would only be with the greatest reluctance that I could bring myself to believe in any such necessity. In Aesthetics and its Discontents , he fiercely argues with Inaesthetics , in which Badiou posits that art is a procedure of truth that unfolds as the transmitting of the infinite into the finite, and where the goal is the infinite, the idea, the evental. The transcendentality of aesthetics is universal because it is shared by the community through the judgment of taste.

But what is clear is that art since then and especially since modernism had to question and doubt a sensus communis of society the claim of aesthetics and of the judgment of taste to the common and universal that was neither ethically nor economically common. And it was precisely social alienation that brought about the inability to claim as valid the notion of aesthetics as the dimension of the common and the general.

Whether alienation was aestheticized and brought to the extreme, as in modernism, or resisted via tools of de-alienation, as in the avant-garde, the dimension of aesthetics which Kant described as neither cognition nor desire was historically redundant for the art of modernity, compared to the many features constructing what the sublime could stand for: the idea, the uncanny, the transgressive, the subversive, the conceptual, and so on. So what art has lost in the long run of its modernist, postmodern, and contemporary stages is not aesthetics at all.


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Nor is it the direct force of transformation. Such a force belonged to the political avant-garde, i.


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  5. If we look back at art history, this self-rejection of aesthetics in favor of open eventualities and contingent intensities was always there. If anyone were to ask Adorno whether the classical Viennese music school was aesthetically more valid than the new Viennese music, he would never define pre-modernist music as more aesthetically viable.

    That is because for Adorno, any artwork was seen as a dialectical struggle with matter and the idea by the subject, whereas the aesthetic dimension is manifested instead in the perception of art or even its digestion, rather than conception and production. And if we refer back to aesthetics, we should have in mind that aesthetics is a discipline about perception. It does not unravel the genesis and genealogy of art production and the intentionalities of the creative process.

    Probably it was Nietzsche who most articulately showed the correlation between the realm of the sublime the tragic and the artistic aesthetic. And in this case, the sublime is not at all something elevated or pathetic, but rather the limit of human rational comprehensibility, of emotional endurance and social protection. Here, aesthetic play counteracts catharsis and physiological satisfaction for the audience, and is quite far from the Kantian understanding of aesthetics. If the avant-gardist sublation of art was in the name of something more important than art—something that therefore art should aspire to—today, this tradition has been transformed into the loosening of art in the name of its fusion with middle class creative activity—democratic, available, accessible.

    Art is as permissive as ever in its all-inclusive observations, comments, documents, experiences, forms of activism, and creativity.

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    In this case, democracy becomes synonymous with reducing the artistic dimension to the very flow of mundane needs, as if those who happen to be detached from culture do not posses the capacity to experience the dimension of the non-mundane, non-utilitarian, or to grasp the dimension of the general, the category which is as artistic as it is ethical and political. But strangely, while contemporary art practices tend to simplify or flatten many experiences that constitute the conditions of the existential which does not at all mean that they are dissolved into existence and identified with it empirically , the ethical, or the evental—contemporary art as institute—becomes on the contrary very complex, refined, and selective in terms of contextual, technological, and discursive packaging.

    This kind of education often deals with demonstrating the tools of criticality in the open social sphere, which is a noble goal, unless such activity is in the end still framed as artistic per se and absorbed into exhibiting practice as an artwork. But since I am an artist, what I do, even though it is not art, goes into an art archive that sublated itself in the name of social work and then commemorated such sublation in an art institution as an art piece.

    And society understands this non-art as the art that is being socially active and democratic.

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    Such an approach rests on the premise that the majority of people who do not make art are better suited for loose, quasi-creative practices, and hence for them that art should not demonstrate complexity and intensities they are not able to grasp. Complex art is considered bourgeois. It needs skills, connoisseurship, and culture that can only belong to the socially privileged. Therefore, when dealing with zones of the socially unprivileged, art should reject its artistic features: complexities, paradoxes, involvement.

    But it is here that the argument lies. If art is about refined aesthetic difference and taste, if it is reduced to skills needed for its perception, or skills acquired by long-term education to produce it, then such an argument has reasons. But if art is seen via existential, evental, and ethical dimensions, then it is not coincident with education, or dependent on social advantages or taste.

    On the False Democracy of Contemporary Art

    So when participatory or socially engaged projects denigrate art in the name of non-art—yet are looked upon as democratic art practice—they often ignore that those whom they integrate into education or participation might be able to think and act in terms of ethical, artistic, and general dimensions no less than any artist or thinker. Ignoring this point, they underestimate many capacities of human life that are not reduced to skills and education.

    Hence the paradox: the more democratic art tends to be, the less open it is to those who constitute the demos. Sergey Tretyakov, who visited numerous collective farms to write reports, preferred instead to become educated and learn from the workers what labor under the new social conditions meant. He would partake of the proletarian culture rather than teach the workers or document their being deprived of certain privileges—cultural or political, since the proletarians were considered to be the subject of history, its evental sourse.

    Therefore, the life and labor of proletarians could be associated with the revolution the sublime? Strangely, the disposition was the same with the Russian critical realism of nineteenth-century social democracy—to learn existential and ethical lessons from the socially unprivileged, rather than teach them, label them, and thrust them into the panopticon of social precariousness.

    Today, the problem facing many contemporary art practices—also due to their very close proximity to institutions and their commissioned framework of production—is that they have fallen out of classical aesthetics, as well as what stood for non- or post-aesthetic extremities the sphere of the sublime. Meanwhile, what has become so important in the highly institutionalized poetics of contemporary art are the languages of self-installing, self-instituting, self-historicizing in the frame of what constructs contemporary art as territory.

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    The context in this case is not historical, aesthetical, artistic, or even political, but is rather institutionally biased. This brings us to a strange condition. Today, art is predominantly an institute, and contemporary art is the embodiment of this condition of hyper-institutionalization, in which art practice itself is subsequent to the institution, while some time ago art practice anticipated in its contingency the institutional tools of recording it.

    Or it is a piece of art not being possible without first internalizing contemporary art as institute, implicitly posited as its principal and primary motivation for production. Click to start a discussion of the article above. But if these conditions of production and distribution have altered the intellectual landscape of art, this does not mean that what artists do is no different from what non-artists do. Artists may imitate and borrow from the skills and attributes of non-artists, but what artists might make of these skills and attributes is necessarily very different from non-artistic practices.

    For, if art is above all what opens itself up to infinite ideation Friedrich Schlegel , artistic practices necessarily set out from a place very different from non-artistic reason. Artistic autonomy was meant to separate art from the zone of daily routine—from mundane life, intentionality, utility, production, and instrumental reason—in order to distance it from rules of efficiency and social coercion.

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    It is based on revenues from natural resources mostly oil and natural gas and it is unilaterally controlled by the informal side of the regime. Dominant figure in both sides of the regime formal and informal is the president. His main task is to maintain balance between fractions, because the balance satisfies every one of the fractions zero-sum game is not worthwhile and it brings stability to the regime. This is happening on the public level with cessions and compensations to domestic population, e.

    Hybrid regimes are useful for studying transformations of political systems because through them, certain variables are becoming more visible and significant. Variables like economic environment, number of relevant players and the amount of their power in political arena, culture identity are crucial in process of transformation which, not so rarely, results in some sui generis democratic-authoritarian or authoritarian-democratic regime.

    I think that so called liberal democracies should be studied in a similar way. Financing and interests behind presidential campaigns in the USA may be a good start for such approach to liberal democracies. This website uses cookies to improve your experience while you navigate through the website.