LAZY SIMULATOR

Intro

As a response to today’s economic system of self-exploitation, precarious self-management, and overwork, a system also haunted by guilt and depression, we created a compilation of diverse exercises for practicing the pleasures of laziness, radical idleness, non-work und unproductivity. The manual was composed by the members of the (non)work group and invited experts.

List of exercises

How to become lazy on a long-term basis after durational & exhausting work performance with a series of multiple failures and breakdowns

Get a stipend, which does not depend on a regular production, but guarantees regular payments. According to its conditions you might need to produce something – but in the end. The further and less clear this end is – the better. The vagueness and openness of the timeline, along with the lack or absence of the intermediate deadlines and supervision will allow you to be in charge of your effort and time distribution ! Beware of the temptation to become the secretary, assistant, boss, and policemen of yourself !

There are 2 modes of practicing laziness. Advanced mode implies starting non-working on your ‘project’ as soon as you get the stipend. For extreme workaholics with high levels of responsibility and guilt inclinations, we suggest a soft mode, where one gradually reduces the time spent on their ‘project’. Starting with 8 hours of work a day, 5 days per week, one should work one hour less everyday, so in 1,5 half week you will get only 1 hour of work. Next step is to start working fewer days per week. One should either gradually reduce the number of working days per week or skip every second working day, gradually skipping more and more days. Finally, after extended days-off and continuous idleness, it would be harder and harder to get to the working routine. When you feel that you have completely internalised the laziness, you can get into practicing laziness independently, without a timeframe.

! Beware of getting overexcited by the amount of free time and falling into the trap of other production-oriented projects. Decline all other invitations and skip all the open-calls where you would need to work.

! Beware of the feeling of guilt that might haunt you at some point. Remember that ‘laziness’ as a negative phenomenon is a concept imposed by the exploitative capitalist and state systems. There is nothing either natural or normal in work. Constant work is unnecessary. Your body can self-regulate the regimes of activity, so trust it. Finally, think and reply to yourself honestly: has all the time and effort that you put into work over the years been rewarded fairly, if at all? So your idleness is just a belated reimbursement or an extended burnout rehabilitation.

! ! The recovering effects of the long-term laziness might be overruled, when / if the actual really final deadline arrives.

By Olia Sosnovskaya

Digital collage by Olia Sosnovskaya

Building a career in the dying world / Ambition in grief

Search online for ‘climate change’ and read related articles for 1 hour.

Remember the natural cataclysms which happened this year and are happening now. Look outside and think if the weather is normal for this place and time of the year. Since when have you started noticing these anomalies?

Relate the scientists’ predictions of the climate change affects forecast to your age: how old would you be when most of the glaciers melt? When half of the existing species are extinct? When some countries become uninhabited?

Reply to yourself honestly, how would you want to spend the years before the catastrophe?

By Olia Sosnovskaya

Digital collage by Olia Sosnovskaya

To make a black painting during three hours in a public square

Take an empty white canvas, an easel, black paint, and one brush into public space. The best is to choose a place that contains some black elements.

Paint the white canvas black over the course of three hours.

The rules for the performance is to be open to questions from people passing by – but never stop painting, using very slow and controlled movements.

Do not hesitate to transform the performance into a general discussion over the tradition of monochrome painting (Malevich etc), the nature of black color and painting as an activity.

This performance was performed in 2010 at Sergels Torg in Stockholm. More info here.

By Nils Claesson

To make a white painting on a white canvas in a black box

Take an empty white canvas, an easel, white paint and one brush into a black box space.

Paint the white canvas white during 20 minutes.

The rules for the performance is to be open for questions from the audience that will be sitting or standing in a circle around the artist.

Do not hesitate to answer questions about the tradition of monochrome painting and the nature of white. One reference in the discussion could be Malevich’s white paintings, another artist to mention could be Robert Ryman. The nature of the color white and the relation between white as a color and the black box as a space could also be a topic.

By Nils Claesson

Born but yet unnamed

Wait until your birthday has come. Invite all your friends to go for a long walk through the city. For my birthday I wrote a message:

2 мар 2019 г., 19:29

hi everyone! I invite everyone to take a walk on

Nagatinskaya-climb-up-a-hill-idle-around-picknicking-visit-local-cafes-and-slopes.

We meet TOMORROW (on Sunday) at 15:30 in KFC near Nagatinskaya metro station. Take food, drinks, friends, and what/whomever you want with you. well… and put on shoes, get ready for everything) see you soon! hugs to everyone!

You can propose your own route or ask for help from your friends.


Screenshot from Dzina Zhuk’s birthday chat with friends, 2019

During your walk, give yourself a treat: bring hooch from your friend’s father & drink it on the most beautiful high spot with a view over the city; do not hesitate to eat local food from kiosk & drink alcohol bought in a corner shop.

After this celebration you will find yourself in an alcoholic intoxication and you can even throw up collectively with your friends. After that, your body will tell you what to do: just lie in bed for 3 days, reschedule all your meetings, eat only healthy and light food, forget about all old ideas and doubts (your body won’t let you do that anyway). This period can be very productive in an unproductive way or unproductive in a very productive way.

By Dzina Zhuk

Comments

wanted to add as another sub-exercise

2) Get sick.

It could be a micro food poisoning or a cold – but be careful with the degree of sickness. Today the deadline-based timeframe and freelance / zero hours employment systems deprive us even of the luxury of getting a proper sick leave. However, as Dzina mentions, your body would not allow you to follow them. Just follow your body desires, un-abilities and aspirations – lie in bed, sleep; don’t look into the screens too much; don’t think, forget about your ambitions and anxieties.

yesss for intoxication! i think it is a really good tool. hangover, выхода. and it shows a complex relation between pleasure & frustration/pain in the work/non-work relations. also serving as a sort of response to the culture of stimulants and vitamins for better productivity

yes, for me it works as a kind of renewal (though it might sounds crazy), i see the things from a new sudden unexpected trajectory

Constraining activity

Please find something which works best for you as a splint. A cutting board, a notebook or an ergonomic part of furniture are all good choices! A bracing material is needed as well. Use something you have on hand. It could be a scarf, belt, a wire from the charger of your laptop or smartphone.

Write down on small pieces of paper those parts of your body that can be constrained. It is better to ask your friends to do the writing to avoid cognitive biases.

Close your eyes and take out one of the papers. Read the name of a chosen body part and constrain it using materials you prepared.

Here are some pictures for inspiration/deprivation:

Digital collage provided by Nicolay Spesivtsev

Do things you planned to accomplish today. Do them for 45 minutes, while staying constrained. Please focus on your feelings. What processes are emphasized? What are suppressed or slowed down? What are you focusing your attention on? What is outside of your range of view? Do you want to prolong? What part of your body do you want to have tightened next time?

Please stop your activity strictly after 45 minutes even though you want to prolong the exercise.

Take some pictures of you being tightened. Send them to us with the list of things you made during the exercise.

Repeat the exercise tomorrow.

It’s better to do the exercise collectively.

By Nicolay Spesivtsev

Comments

do you think the exercise would provoke you to give more effort or less?

I think the most interesting effect is to focus on different mechanisms of acceleration that are installed on psycho-somatic level within our bodies. So the aim of the exercise is not to produce more or less but to make new alliances between different parts of ourselves. Does it make sense?

yes! it makes a lot of sense )

A guided obsession

Think of a person you like or used to like recently. If you are in love with someone at the moment, that’s perfect too.

Think about this person for 5 minutes. How do they look like, what does their voice sound? Recall the times you were together. How did you meet the first time? Where did you go together after? What did you talk about? How have you touched each other? If you didn’t, remember how your bodies were positioned in relation to each other.

Imagine how you meet again and what you will do and say. What this person will do, how you would react. Be creative. You can use your previous meetings as inspiration and a template for your dreams.

Find this person’s social network profile. Stalk it for at least 30 minutes. Look at the pictures, read posts and comments, check the people who liked them. Look at the people from their contact list. Be attentive and detailed.

Optional: Write a message to this person, but do not send it. Wait a minute, then re-read it. Edit it. Write a few other messages. Choose one that you would like to send.

! Beware of obsessive working in case your affection becomes too strong and is not mutual.

By Olia Sosnovskaya

Comments

I’m thinking to myself if we should include this exercise at all. First of all, is it ethical to involve others in this kind of practice, even indirectly? Secondly, maybe it’s too foolish? What do you think?

I like the idea of suspended obsessions, practiced emotional potential which can or cannot expose itself in the future. The idea of preserved emotional labor. Coming back to your question, I think these people would be pleased to be remembered by a person who does this exercise amidst the mayhem of meaningless concerns, or even receive a text from them. We don’t get offended if we greet a happy birthday with a wave of a magic algorithmical wand of social networks, right?

Looking at great successful young artists you will never be

Go to the https://futuregenerationartprize.org/ or any other webpage of young artists’ prize, or check Documenta or Venice Biennale participant lists and look for people under 35 years old. Browse through the participant’s websites, gaze at glossy screenshots and splendid photos of displays. Scroll endless exhibition lists in their CVs. Check what kind of schools they went to. Calculate how much the education and life in that countries would cost you, including visa-related expenses and fees depending on your citizenship. If possible, check how diverse the graduate of those schools are in terms of ethnicity, gender, class, and origin.

If you happen to graduate from the same school, ask yourself why you are still not among those people yet? Look back at your life and analyse what has brought you to your current place. Dream about other options you might have had – would they make any difference? Given the experience of the past years, do you think your status would change drastically in the near future? Ask yourself if you put too much effort and stress in what you are not really in control of?

If you will never become a great successful young artist, just relax and do what you really really want and enjoy.

By Olia Sosnovskaya

Bodies at non-work (sleeping bodies – sick bodies – exhausted bodies – unskilled bodies)

Create a playlist with the music you can’t resist dancing to. If you have a good or loud enough sound system, the exercise would be more efficient, but using headphones is also possible. Set an alarm clock to any time during your working day. The exercise can be performed anywhere, the only requirement is the proximity to your workspace, so you can switch to the practice right from your work.

Start the exercise: turn on the music from your playlist and dance energetically, devotedly and passionately for at least 10 minutes. Repeat the training everyday, gradually increasing its duration by adding at least a minute each time.

As a result of this exercise your attention and overall bodily condition would be drastically switched from the working routine, with its flow interrupted. The effect of the exercise can last for over an hour after its fulfillment.

By Olia Sosnovskaya

Comments

Is dance non-productive or, on the contrary, does it train stamina and provide rehabilitation in order for the improved body to be useful and able to work again? Substituting overwork with another kind of exhaustion, which seems liberating and transcendent. Does it make your body disobedient to the logic of capitalism or rather train it to sustain long monotonous hours of activity.

For me it’s hard to think about any type of autonomous activity free from the logic that a body should incur value (in a form of creative potential as well). Everything that seemed autonomous and authentic yesterday, tomorrow could be a form of alienating work. So maybe we can talk not about places/time/states-of-our-bodies but about networks we can web/twine. My question is: what type of solidarity/empowerment can we establish through dance?

<3 for your last question !

To play computer games which don’t care if you play them or not

I’m grateful to Alexandra Anikina for inspiring these ideas.

Screenshot from video game Everything, developed by David OReilly, 2017

Mountain. It is a certain world, in which a separate autonomous mountain exists – an agent beyond all human relations. The mountain moves, and you can either approach it or distance yourself from it.

Screenshot from video game Everything, developed by David OReilly, 2017

A human has an observant role: one cannot control the insides of a computer game anymore. Most likely, it is the other way around: the mountain is evolving and living all by itself. For one dollar, you can only get access to the observation of subjectivity which holds a world on its own. Night and day change in a game, as well as conditions of existence, but as a user, you can only perform micro-actions which don’t influence anything. Sometimes you can even see the state of the mountain shown on a screen, or encounter an attempt to engage in dialogue (or just a question?).

Screenshot from video game Everything, developed by David OReilly, 2017

In Everything you can become one of the animals, insects, the Universe particles on a microlevel, or, let’s say, a comet on a macro-level. Along with that, your protagonist is able to time travel. Today I was a mammoth, and I got back into the Ice Age. To gain agency, you can get inside the avatars at different levels and become a ladybug or, if you spend enough time reaching a certain level, a molecule of this ladybug. If you could have ever imagined Universal Procrastination, this is it: you don’t have to do anything. If you give up, your avatar starts its own life walking and travelling around the planet, which is just like the Mountain – an (utopian?) island where various processes occur, and you can co-exist with them, plunge into them (or is plunging just a way of coexistence – a careful one?).

There are games which don’t need a viewer, games which are stripped off a viewer’s gaze, of an outsider’s gaze. Something is happening there while you’re not present, a world changes and evolves; and it is not loaded with ‘God’s’ sight, human’s sight. A human doesn’t rule anymore, doesn’t control an in-game universe. The bodies in the process of creation are being present there, not the bodies which have already been created.

By Dzina Zhuk

Screenshot from video game Everything, developed by David OReilly, 2017

Create a temporary recreation area

Invite guests via a local food delivery aggregator. After the first treats are served by the guests, invite them to join the table. Tell them that this picnic was initiated particularly for food couriers and is built up by their colleagues. That it is a temporary recreation room set to rest from the daily routine. That guests were invited to find some time for a break from their insane work schedules to attend a picnic for a while and to be together.

By eeefff

Comments

All in all, how is time scheduled for food delivery work? As I understand it, in Russia you cannot just take a break, it has to be allowed by a manager. And if you pause while treating it as an incomplete order, it may look like a delay, right? + other orders will be standing in the queue? Well, it will be interesting to think about how it is really possible to trick the system and its scheduling!

As far as I know, it’s quite a monstrous system, at least in Moscow. Yes, you cannot set your work rhythm yourself, it is regulated either by a manager or an algorithm which optimizes human resources. Only a year ago you could encounter Yandex food couriers idling in McDonalds or Burger King. But for now, something had changed in the algorithmical heads of managers and couriers who bum around, banished from the streets and cafes.

Instructions for unproductive daydreaming session

This exercise is to be performed around 2 p.m. in the middle of a working day. It is a dance meditation that interrupts the flow of your daily drag and forces your body to relax and forget about all its daily troubles. In order to perform the exercise, follow the instructions below: Download the audio from soundcloud onto your phone. Step out of your office and find a relaxing meadow in order to fall into a meditative state. A ‘Meadow’ is here to be considered as: “A flat surface where you are capable of laying down. It could be your bedroom floor, a city park or a sunny rooftop. It can be found anywhere where you are alone and feel comfortable and safe in a horizontal position.” Lie down. Relax. Put your headphones on. Press play.

This exercise is inspired by the project Neverendings by the choreographer Sergiu Matis, whom I closely collaborate with. The project is based on the research of Ernst Bloch’s Principle of Hope. Neverendings premiered in 2017 in Berlin. Soundscape is designed by Carl Perks.

By Mila Pavićević

How to upset a Father (An assault on the powerful through nasty means)

Exercises-stories for survival, on Hardships that conceal themselves and the Indolences of daughters

The Celebration of Disobedience of tactical amenities, the hardships of charms of a naive rebellion: the art of treat and gorge, of selection and offerings; tiny clandestine manipulations and a triple betrayal in the name of Elektra, Eclair, and Thunderbolt!

Car la poudre et la foudre c’est fait pour que les rats envahissent le monde! Because powder and lightning are made for rats to invade the world!

Adaptations:

A father-spoiled truffle paste, who cannot sneak into a splendid entrance hall of Gubin’s mansion — wallowed in luxury, there’s no passage below, he is forced to spy on the dance of plasterwork and marble through a window, to hit it with a sorrowful wing, with eye-hair-snake venom, with all his eight gut-pink fingers. My Venetian father, I bring an offering-feeling to your black vacuum, and a non consumable Italian paste-daughter. There’s no passage to you from below, but I know that here, beneath, the girls live; they cram their mouths with filth and take it out with lips, intuitive trackhounds searching for the complementary culinary ingredients for the Kitchen of Earthy Poison.

A father-strawberry Dirol — subtle scorching gum on, paint coming off in chunks, on husk, on squame (through straws) triggers saliva, foam at the mouth!

A father-blue Elektra. A message-question from a Blue Fire of Imperfection of a favorite Ellinistic heroine, one of the jewels of a Greek drama: How to disappoint a Father?

By Welcome to the Dollhouse!

Гиперактивное упражнение

Hyperactive exercise

Image provided by Aleksei Borisionok

Paradoxically, one way to do nothing is to engage oneself in bureaucracy, its solid, counterproductive power, and its substrate: archives, records, management, and documentation. If for the person on the receiving end, bureaucracy soon turns into a living hell, simulating the feeling that one is walking in a vicious circle, then for an employee within that bureaucracy, work can feel like an exercise in procrastination: the ultimate form of doing nothing – with its small pleasures – and wasting time. This laziness constitutes a specific type of pleasure located within the routine of everyday life, and this laziness interrupts work. Is it possible to use the anti-creative and non-productive power of bureaucracy and filing of papers for one’s own purposes? The following exercise, which combines archeology, psychogeography, and aimless strolling (flâneur), will help answer this question.

To complete the exercise, you will need an organizational system, which we will term an archive, of any kind, digital or physical: file cabinets, vernacular databases, repositories, various collections of information, preferably containing irrelevant data. Before starting the exercise, we follow Sven Speaker’s question: “Is there a part of the archive that escapes from the archivist’s control, a ‘beyond the archive’ that remains inaccessible to its finding tools?”1 There is no need to answer this question. We will look at the archive not as a language of discourse and power, but as a junction of various pieces of information that slip out of registers, cards, hashtags, and indexes.

The purpose of the exercise: aimlessly wandering around data sets

Instruction:

1. Find the archive or database. Since most likely you are behind a computer screen, it is most convenient to use a digital archive. It is possible to work with the material archive: it activates not only your eyes and fingers, but also the muscles of the arms and back. Databases generated with users-data are suitable for this exercise: social networks (vkontakte, odnoklassniki, last.fm, wikipedia, flickr, alibaba, youtube, etc.) Also a personal data set is suitable: for example, an old hard drive disk. Also you can use any psycho-data: bookmarks, contact list in social networks, notes.

2. Come up with a protocol that you will follow. The options are:

2. A) The chaotic way: based on intuition, wink, seduction. Click on any link that seems seductive, strange, interesting, attractive to you. Follow all the links, including the most dumb and containing conspiracies.

2. B) Method-protocol: some users, especially those with a tendency to commit and control, like to follow the protocol. Do not be afraid, come up with the strangest way to go from page to page – anyway, no one will know about it. For example, click on every fifth link, on every material related to a certain topic, a keyword or words that will determine your choice, etc.

N.B. Often, corporate methods will try to control your choices and give you the most obvious moves based on the analysis of your data. Do not be fooled! However, sometimes you should not avoid the logic of the proposed choice – it can lead you to a strange space of the digital unconscious.

3. Turn off all the devices of time measurement, do not let the course of time distract you from such an exciting and counterproductive activity. Perhaps you will learn something new, see special samples of web design, and even save something to your computer.

4. Do not stop!

5. Go from page to page, from video to video, from track to track, from profile to profile: make your aimless hyperactive reeling the most useless, strange, and amazing!

N.B. Psychologists often associate this exercise with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is so characteristic of our time.Do not be mistaken! Aimless hyperactive reeling can be performed with all the seriousness of procrastination and a high level of concentration and attention.

An example of hyperactive aimless scrolling on the database of sounds of the social network VKontakte based on the thematic search and related keywords on the topic of geology:

The Sound of the Underworld → Conspiracies of Natalya Stepanova, redone – Multiplication of mineral deposits → Unknown – The sound of the movement of tectonic plates → Viscous Sharab – Tectonic wedge → … → Ilgashevsky Textiles – ALH (atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrogen) → DJ AUTOMAT – TURNS ON MAGMA LEANED BACK 10 METERS BA$$ BOO$T

By Aleksei Borisionok

Anxiety is a place, a place is a destiny

Annotation

The manual for non-work and laziness from n i i c h e g o d e l a t accumulates a variety of approaches on the topic, which were developed by individual employees of n i i. Non-work with anxiety, with visual and poetic images, and with the body are the constituent parts of this manual; sometimes the routes proposed by researchers unexpectedly intersect, forming new nodes on the time/body/space map. Sometimes the routes exist autonomously. We sincerely hope that each of the users will be able to creatively apply our practices to their own lives.

Content

1) Non-action Algorithms

  • anxiety mapping
  • wet cleaning vs deadline
  • translate me into text
  • slow motion
  • deadline as a tool for procrastination

2) Possible problems and solutions
3) Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
4) Glossary
5) Subject Index
6) Where else to find information on the subject, contact information

  1. Non-action Algorithms
  • anxiety mapping

anxiety is a place, a place is a destiny
work on destiny, line your anxiety, prepare a map and a plan
here are the flashpoints of anxiety, it is a solitaire, travel through it as through a mine field
traveler is a possibility for a prosthetic, imagine yourself in a blaze
for example (*)
this autumn field, the islands of anxiety are smouldering under the yellow leaves,
recognizing anxiety is a code, the same code is sewed into your body somewhere
encounters, feel your future burns like if they have been always present
put on a bandage, put the plan on the map, rub these leaves with ointment

Image provided by n i i c h e g o d e l a t 

trace anxiety places on the body, paint them and decorate
you dressed yourself up, let’s work with this
how long have you been together
how long are you going to be together
answer politely and correctly
how did I meet you – I recognized you by the scent of leaves, you are my series of explosions,
let’s decorate these places and go to a party
hyperlinks and exilement, deport me to all the anxiety places, I follow right now oh now I cross
your page is on fire
I leave it a like
it gives me a wink
do you already know where to be on fire tonight?
would you drop me a link?
places want to be round as nests,
anxiety is also warping into a nest
over-scrolled pages as tiny nests on the fingertips

  • wet cleaning vs deadline

(*)

I lie and look at the floor. I can do no more in this state – just lie on the floor and look at the floor. I focus on a thin layer of dust with petals from a bouquet brought on the eighth of March. I look and feel how desire to remove it increases. At the moment this is my strongest desire, it is stronger than the desire to live.

Cleaning is what I want right now. Wet cleaning. I would even say full-scale cleaning. It is necessary to sort out the closet, remove the winter clothes, arrange the spices according to the flavor strength. This is very important, much more important than my deadline on a text, and even more than an unedited video.

Quite rarely, or rather quite briefly, we find ourselves in a state of insufficiently chewed affect when we do not know what we feel. Sensory recognition habits work smoothly, thus we quickly pack affects into a narrative. Anxiety is either a means of achievement, or a consequence of an affective broth, of the non-discrimination of emotions.

Anxiety involves the imagination: I want to imagine the contours and clear silhouettes of future errands, reports, projects – instead of this rattling and discrepancies within myself; the fever of emotions produces spoilers of the future, which can be returned to when resonances fade away.

  • translate me into text

***

verses on the way to a workplace
notes in the bathroom
how does inner jelly live
a jiggly subject
a magician of anxiety states, a teacher, a guru
dark knowledge from the other side
acts of despair
soulful practices
recognize me
then translate me into text
this is a deck of cards
face down
face up
I’m lying on the bed
ever accelerating deceleration
I see the traces of grief on my friends’ faces and the grief itself
here are its crinkles
and these chinks
and this inappropriate pause in a conversation
friend, we are seaming ourselves into a one soft cloth
we are waiting for ulysses
a table
there’s an old cup of morality
rattling on the table
while you are eating up your dinner with no taste of food
my dear, I’m ready to sweep open toward

  • slow motion

Find a quiet, secure place where no one can distract you from doing the practice. Do a little warm-up that will prepare the body for slow movement. Turn on quiet meditative music (Chinese bells suit perfectly). Set the timer for a specific time. It is recommended to start with 15 minutes of deceleration per day, gradually adding several minutes every time you do this exercise. Theoretically, it is possible to extend the practice to 24 hours a day, but for now, as far as we know, no one has been able to achieve this result. Start the slow movement from the fingertips, gradually outspreading it to the entire body. Try to include the entire possible range of body movement, while maintaining the slowest speed that you are capable of. Continue moving until the timer signal goes off. Smoothly exit the slowdown state.

  • deadline as a tool for procrastination

I exist only six months ahead.
One residence confirmed my participation,
which means that I won six more months of the future.

Postponed events form the horizon of the future, the future that does not exist in the post-truth world. These are the small horizons of upcoming events, projects, conferences, reports and trips. When they approach, they burst on the tongue like a fizzy candy, creating a spoiler of an event online. This is usually enough for the event to never happen.

Deadline, as the most accessible tool for procrastination, will allow you to postpone an event for as long as possible. When you have a deadline, you see this point on the map (also many see the line which is often called deadly), so you can start moving in different directions, leaving behind unnoticed bookmarks, ruins of chats and links that lead nowhere. This is a digital nomad strategy without a rigid structure and given rules for rambling on the Internet.

Try to reasonably approach the deadline and use it repeatedly, endlessly prolonging and postponing. As such an environmentally friendly example, the Biennale The World Without Work, which consisted of numerous open-call parties “before” and endlessly postponed events “after”, can be cited.

2) Possible problems and solutions

The main problem of procrastination is its usefulness. If I do not write the text I do the dishes; if I do not do the cleaning, I watch the movie; if I do not watch a movie, I wander on the Internet and learn something new. This paradox leads us to the fact that procrastination is the most productive, socially approved action. The vice of the 21st century is encrypted labor. Using simple actions, remove the stigma from procrastination, regain the right for laziness.

3) Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

What is the difference between laziness and procrastination?

Answer options:

– Laziness is sweet, procrastination is bitter.

– Procrastination is an intact and explicit process, it is uninterrupted even if discretely divided into parts by a different charge, but it is a single act, and it is positively charged; while laziness implies a stillbirth of the action, before its formation as an impulse, denying it beforehand and keeping the negative charge all over.

– In procrastination, there is a certain potential, a charge. It is like the rune Isa, the rune of freezing. It seems that nothing is supposedly happening on the external level, but juices accumulate inside, they circulate, prepare for Spring. And laziness is just a waste of time.

– Laziness as the saving of strength, the unwillingness to invest in something worthless, kinda good laziness, laziness of care, like: I am tired, I want to lie down – well, lie down; laziness as bliss, lazy noon, let’s go swimming after lunch – no, let’s lie down for a while in the shade, I’m lazy to go; laziness as the ability to relax, to contemplate, the ability to be at rest.

Laziness as an unwillingness to overcome difficulties because the meaning of this overcoming is not very clear, i.e. laziness is something (in a positive sense) healthy: why should I slave away and sweat for this? for what? Thus, laziness is also associated with motivation: something does not provoke laziness in me (personal examples) –even if this is a very tedious task, exhausting. Thus, it is either pleasure from the process, dedication, or strong motivation.

When I say: I’m lazy, – I confess that there is not much pleasure here, and I am not very passionate, and I have no particular motivation.

There is a big difference from procrastination – because it is unconscious, procrastination is precisely like inhibition, postponement, this is when the unconscious beats you, goes around from the rear, leads you somewhere, although you seem to be doing something.

And laziness, if you say: I am lazy, is an open position, an open non-recognition of all your “bonuses” for enduring the alleged difficulties. And that is why laziness is scourged as the mother of vices, because it is a scandal – you confess that there is no pleasure in what you are invited to do, you are not carried away with this, and this motivation does not work for you. And this is a reason to be excluded, because you kind of question some kind of a common game. When you say that you are too lazy to do something, you devalue this action, and thereby terribly offense those who value this business.

4) Glossary

n i i c h e g o d e l a t – liquid / fluid institution that explores and promotes topics and ideas related to post-labor society

a world without labor – a society which is free from the need to engage in alienated labor; possible on the condition of overcoming capitalism

basic income – the regular payment of a certain amount of money, providing a decent standard of living, to each member of society, regardless of their income level and without their need to perform any work

anti-praxis – a strategy aimed at breaking the cyclical nature of the development of capitalism; proposed by representatives of unconditional acceleration (U/ACC). “To accelerate the process, and to throw oneself into those flows, leaves behind the (already impossible) specter of collective intervention. This grander anti-praxis opens, in turn, the space for examining forms of praxis that break from the baggage of the past. We could count agorism and exit as forms impeccable to furthering the process, and cypherpolitics and related configurations arise on the far end of the development, as the arc bends towards molecularization of economic and social relations.” (Edmund Berger)

44 futures – a practical phase of n i i c h e g o d e l a t readings.

Bodily-vocal-graphic performance based on the books of Nick Srnicek / Alex Williams and Peter Frase, in which the authors describe possible types of future in automation

Nomadism – a movement characterized by the rejection of the idea of rigid structures based on binary oppositions and the idea of strict determinism. Nomadism means slipping through conceptual landscapes and a geographic matrix without setting any structural goal; not sharing and not attaching; hacking central control code and stable movement score. It is autonomy and independence from determined conditions.

5) Subject Index

Image provided by n i i c h e g o d e l a t 

6) Where else to find information on the subject, contact information:

https://vk.com/nii4egodelat
https://www.facebook.com/niichegodelat/

By n i i c h e g o d e l a t

Relaxation / relaxed tongue

Image provided by n i i c h e g o d e l a t 
Relaxation is at the heart of labor. Let’s try to find and preserve it.
  1. To achieve a state of relaxation, detach will from an organ.

ENVISIONING THE VIRTUAL

BRIAN MASSUMI

The word “virtual” came into everyday use in the 1900’s, as a rider on “reality.” The rider overrode: the connotation was unreality. In the phrase “virtual reality,” the adjective virtual stood as a synonym for artificial. Artificial, in this context, meant illusionary. The context, of course, was the dramatic registering in the popular imaginary that enormous changes were on the horizon with the dawning of the digital age. The first tentative steps toward the construction of interactive immersive environments had triggered hyperbolic worries – or hopes – that the fabled “cyberspace” of 1980s futurist fiction was on its way to supplanting “actual” reality. The world would be swallowed in its own artifice. Synthetic imagery, animated with simulated events, would morph into an all-encompassing virtual habitat, somnambulist Matrix of the illusion of life.

2. But an organ can dry out! // quote

Image provided by n i i c h e g o d e l a t 

Relaxed (Mt.4:24, Mt.9:2) – a disease that deprives a person of free movement, and thus the connection between the will and the body part affected by relaxation breaks. When the word is used in the New Testament, it can mean apoplexy or paralysis of the whole organism, paralysis of one side of the body, paralysis of muscle contraction, so that the body parts can neither be raised nor stretched, and then the affected parts of the body are soon made wither. This disease is still prevalent in the East. The parts of the body remain motionless in the very position in which they experienced a sudden seizure, and the suffering is sometimes so intense that soon after the seizure death occurs (Mt.8:6).

3. What do you replace the will with in order to protect an organ from drying out so it stays flexible and soft? You can moisten it with a vagina or, alike the creeping types of plants, cling to watered species, sing songs. You can also do a pleasant massage!

Image provided by n i i c h e g o d e l a t 

DON’T perform any movements with the tongue. Relaxed, wide, flat. These are the main three points. Your head will perform all the movements needed. When your head moves upwards, your tongue wouldn’t go anywhere: it will just follow your head.

Here it’s demonstrated of how to finish the upward movement of a tongue

Image provided by n i i c h e g o d e l a t 

Exercises to relax the muscles of organs of articulation. Self-massage of the tongue

We will make a useful massage to the tongue – so that our tongue becomes obedient, calm, relaxed, and it would easily pronounce various sounds. Your lips and teeth will help with that. They will stroke, pat, tap the tongue. And now carefully look at the pictures and try to remember them.

tongue-spatula

doing lip movements

doing teeth movements

stroking

clapping (tapping)

First you need to make your tongue in a shape of a spatula, and then do this:

We stroke our tongue with our lips affectionately

Algorithm: desire provokes relaxation; toss in some curiosity/attention/interest/dedication to detail, and the new 👅 of philosophy is ready!

Image provided by n i i c h e g o d e l a t 

THE END

By n i i c h e g o d e l a t


  1. Sven Spieker. The Big Archive. Art from Bureaucracy. Cambridge, London: The MIT Press, 2008. P.3.

CURATORS, LIBRARIANS, SOCIAL PARASITES: OUR LEGAL STATUS AS CLARIFIED BY A LAWYER

In Belarus the relations in the field of culture are regulated by a large number of normative legal acts, which differ in their legal force. The main document is the Culture Code that came into action in 2017. It is symbolic that the Code was signed a year earlier, in 2016, which was announced as the Year of Culture.

The Culture Code is considered to be a unique document which is unprecedented across the Post-Soviet states. 150 legal acts, regulating the cultural sector, were redrafted and united under one document. As stated by the representatives of government entities, the 200 page document is a product of culture legislation codification. According to Boris Svetlov, former Minister of Culture of the Republic of Belarus: “This, undoubtedly, is not some kind of mechanical unification of existing documents. All of them were adapted and systematized. And, of course, this document has been edited in accordance with today’s standards.” Thus, the purpose of the adoption of the Code was not only to put in good order a pile of cultural legislation documents and form a single document, but also to revise them, taking into account today’s standards.

Despite the positive aspects, the Code contains a number of ambiguous provisions that actually introduce censorship to the quality of cultural products. For instance, the Code contains a number of grounds for the prohibition of cultural activities in general. The state will intervene if the artist’s activity promotes war, violence, and cruelty, insults the president or other officials and may harm the morality of others. The grounds for the prohibition of cultural activities are formulated as broadly and vaguely as possible to ensure there are basically no restrictions on their use.

Apart from the restrictions on the content of creativity, the Code also directly establishes the bureaucratic control over issuing the title of creative worker. For example, a state commission may refuse a freelance artist, who is not a member of the Union of Artists, to issue him or her a special certificate of a creative worker, if it does not recognize the artistic value of the works.

The concept of cultural and creative workers

The legislation in Belarus separates such concepts as ‘cultural worker’ and ‘creative worker’.

Cultural workers are the citizens who create, restore, preserve and protect, study, spread and popularize cultural values and aesthetically educate citizens (organize cultural activities). At the same time, the position they take must be named according to the manual of professional positions in the cultural sector. In this manual you can find job responsibilities and qualifications for cultural workers. Cultural workers in Belarus are considered to be workers of museums, libraries, club institutions, zoos, theaters, circuses, film industry, etc.

A creative worker is as a citizen who executes creative activity independently, on the basis of an employment contract or a civil law contract or as a member of a creative union. A creative worker may work on a professional or amateur basis, individually or as part of a collective. The outcome of creative activity is the emergence of a new, previously non-existent outcome of the intellectual activity in the field of culture.

According to the General Classifier of Economic Activities, activities in the field of artistic creation include organization and holding of exhibitions. Moreover, the Code of Culture itself contains contradictions. According to the code, the activities of the above specialists are considered to be cultural activity, which is not the same as creative activity. At the same time, the correlation of cultural and creative activities, except for the inclusion of the latter into the cultural activity, is not clear. Based on this, there is an obvious need to regulate the status of many professional activities (curators, art managers, and others), which so far remain outside the code and its definition of ‘creative activity’.

Cultural worker status

Cultural workers in Belarus must comply with the qualification requirements specified by law, as well as be officially certified at least once every five years.

A cultural worker can upgrade his or her qualification category in order to receive a supplemental payment, have longer holidays or receive other bonuses provided by law or a collective agreement. To do this an artist needs to undergo special training in an educational institution.

The Culture Code separately establishes a possibility for cultural workers to go on training and internships outside of Belarus. However, such internships are strictly regulated by law. For example, a cultural worker can undergo an internship only in foreign organizations, approved by the Ministry of Culture of Belarus. A training cannot last more than three months per year, and an internship – no more than five months. The leaders of cultural organizations are personally responsible for sending cultural workers outside of Belarus reasonably. Moreover, if by any chance a cultural worker does not return by the end of the internship period or does not fulfill the plan, then he or she will have to fully refund the money spent by the state on that trip.

Creative worker status

In Belarus creative workers can join a creative union or work independently. In the first instance, the status of a creative worker is approved by the creative union itself. If a creative worker is independent, he or she will have to apply to the expert commission under the Ministry of Culture to receive a professional certificate.

Experts can be representatives of creative unions, higher education institutions or the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. The members of the expert commission remain unchanged throughout the years of its existence. Replacement of a member of the commission is accompanied by an order on behalf of the Ministry of Culture of Belarus. The frequency of the expert commission meetings depends on the number of applications. For example, from July 23, 2015 to March 31, 2016 ten meetings on confirming the status of a creative worker were held. The expert commission examined 47 applications and a professional certificate was issued to 26 applicants, who have confirmed the status of a creative worker. On the website of the Ministry of Culture there is neither open data on the current board of the commission nor statistics of incoming applications or decisions made about them. The up-to-date data is available only by a written request sent to the Ministry.

To get a certificate of a creative worker one must contact the expert commission and provide it with a statement drawn up in a special form and materials, approving the results of creative activity. Such materials may include works of literature and art, publications, reviews, etc. If a worker has been awarded with prizes or titles in the field of culture, he or she must provide the information about them. While examining the creative activity of a worker, the expert commission checks whether the works are new, previously non-existent and reach a high artistic level. It takes one month for a commision to make a decision. In case of a positive decision, you will receive a certificate free of charge valid for five years.

After receiving a certificate or joining a creative union, creative workers have a right to use a pseudonym, use the results of their practice and receive income from their activities. With the adoption of the decree “On the Prevention of Social Parasitism”, a creative worker, who has been admitted into a creative union or has received a certificate, cannot be considered a social parasite and is free from paying a parasitism tax.

Art collectives

Creative workers can unite not only into creative unions, but also into art collectives. Such groups can be professional, amateur (unprofessional) or authentic folklore. In the Culture Code you can find forms and genres according to which artists can create collectives. The following genres are accepted: theatre, decorative arts, applied art, design, visual arts and some others. The form can be: theater, orchestra, ensemble, studio or others. The legislation does not limit creative workers in their choice of genres and forms. Collectives themselves can be created in the form of a legal entity (its units) or club formations.

If a creative worker is a member of a professional art collective, he or she has to sign an employment or civil law contract. If a collective is amateur, a creative worker executes his or her activities on the basis of membership or admission.

Creative unions

Creative unions are public associations of creative workers and other citizens. The list of unions is set by the Ministry of Culture and can be found on the website of the Ministry of Culture. At the moment there are 16 creative unions. The field of fine arts in Belarus is represented by the Union of Artists. It organizes and holds exhibitions, plein-airs and other creative events.

A particular feature of creative unions is state participation. For example, state bodies provide certain benefits for unions and their members; place social and creative orders; purchase works of fiction and art by members of the creative unions; provide buildings, spaces, equipment and other property and services; spread information on the activity through state media and provide sponsorship assistance. The creative unions can submit proposals to state bodies concerning not only the cultural issues, but also the social protection of the creative workers.

For example, members of the Belarusian Union of Artists, among other things, have a right to exhibit their works at all exhibitions, including auctions and salons (without a selection process);1 use all types of creative material and legal assistance of the Union; work on the basis of an agreement and hand over the work to the customer without expert and artistic committee report; have a right for the artist studio.

Another advantage for an artist of participating in a creative union (Belarusian Union of Artists) can be an exemption from parasitism tax: artists who are members of unions and artists with certificates are considered employed in the economy.

The process of joining a creative union is governed by the statute of the union itself. For example, in order to enter the Belarusian Union of Artists, it is necessary to meet the following requirements: to reach the age of 18, have a higher professional art education, be an artist or art critic, create works of art or art history that have independent creative value. An artist without a degree who has proved professional significance and was recognized by the art community in exceptional cases can be accepted into the Belarusian Union of Artists.

To become a member of the Union, an artist must provide a chairman of the section or regional organization of the Union with the following documents:

1. written application

2. a copy of education certificate

2. CV

4. statement of residence

5. two color photos 3×4

6. a documented list of exhibitions (not less than 10), objects, publications, photographs of works with catalog data, a list of main works

7. recommendations given by at least three members of the Union with at least 5 years of membership

8. performance report and proof of employment (if an artist works)

The procedure does not finish with the submission of documents. If a section or regional organization of the Union recommends an artist for the membership, he or she will have to bring all the documents personally for consideration by a commission consisting of the Secretariat of the Union and members of the Revision Commission. After that the documents are reviewed by the Presidium and the Rada (Council) of the Union. An artist receives a membership card only after this multi-stage examination and only in case of a positive decision. By June 2019 the Belarusian Union of Artists had only 1019 members.

Registration and taxation of the activities of creative workers (artists)

If a creative worker acts independently without making a labor or civil law contract with an art collective, cultural organization or other entity, then he or she must register his or her activities and pay taxes independently as a craftsman or individual entrepreneur.

If an artist wants to work as a craftsman, then he or she:

1. must be registered in the tax office at the place of residence

2. must pay tax once a year (1 base value. By April 2019 – 25.5 rubles. Moreover, if the annual income is more than tax x100, a worker needs to pay 10% of the excess)

3. must use only personal labor (it is forbidden to hire other people)

4. can actualize the manufactured art objects only in order to satisfy the household needs of citizens in special places: markets, fairs, workshops, online or by mail / via courier delivery, as well as by concluding agreements with other legal entities or individual entrepreneurs

5. can teach other people for free (max. 3 people at a time) for 2 years on the basis of craft training agreements

If an artist prefers to register as an individual entrepreneur, he or she must go through state registration in a local government administration, which can be a city or district executive committee. To be registered as a private entrepreneur, an artist must bring his or her passport to the registration authority, an application, a 3×4 photo, a receipt of state fee payment, and a file for the documents. The next day after submitting the documents to the registration authority, an artist receives a certificate of state registration of an individual entrepreneur with a photo, address, and state number. After that, an artist should register in the tax office at the place of residence. As an artist in this case pays a single tax, he or she does not have to open a bank account or go through other formalities. A single tax is paid once a month, and it is necessary to submit reports to the tax office.

Registration of an individual entrepreneur can be beneficial if an artist is going to attract other people to his work on a contract basis, as well as if his annual income is substantial. While registering as an individual entrepreneur, there are no checks whether the activity is art or not, hence the main point is to comply with formalities and pay taxes in a timely manner.

Am I a Parasite? Illustration: Anna Karanevskaya


  1. The regulations for certain exhibitions, auctions, etc. may indicate that artists are admitted to them by decision of the jury. Thus, the work of members of the Union can participate without additional procedural delays.

IN SEARCH OF A STATUS

Letter 1

At the beginning of 2019 I received a short letter which started with the following lines:

“The Minsk Employment Service proposes assistance with the search for work at the department of public services No2.

For inclusion (exclusion, exemption from payment of services with reimbursement of expenses as a result of finding yourself in a difficult life situation) in the database of able-bodied citizens who are not employed in the economy, you must contact the permanent commission in charge of coordinating work to promote employment of the administration of … district of Minsk”.

I was aware that I fall under the law of ‘not employed in the economy.’

On the one hand, I have the opportunity to prove that I am a “cultural worker”: after graduating from the Academy of Arts I have been exhibiting periodically for the last four years. On the other hand, I think in great detail about what I should demonstrate and to whom: there is such a latent sensation of the futility of action itself and the inability to justify to my state the mere existence of what I am doing.

Step by step, I began to fill in a special portfolio for the Ministry of Culture. When I called the ministry to find out what documents I required, I was informed that the portfolio should include a maximum of ten works completed at a high professional level, which already sounded rather vague. Then I phoned the district administration and wrote a statement asking to grant me a respite for the period of three months in order to have time to collect all the documents.

The list of documents required for the session of the committee:

– Two reviews from artists, preferably from Belarusian Union of Artists. Articles about myself as an artist, catalogues, diplomas, mentions in mass media;

– Art university diploma (if there is one);

– Photos of ten artworks with a description. Original artworks should be brought to the session;

– Artist CV

Everything should be recorded on three DVD disks (it is not possible to send everything by email or bring on a USB stick). When I called the Ministry of Culture to specify what artworks can be demonstrated on photos, I was told that installation is not included in the list of works that can be shown, it is not art and cannot be considered by the committee. Apparently, they were confused by the document issued by the Ministry of Culture stating that curating is not a creative activity.

The process of collecting the documents was disrupted by work and an art residency, as well as by the lack of understanding why it was really needed: on paper it was clear, but the сollecting of documents and the rituality of the process were very frustrating.

This process itself reminds me of the difficulties in articulation of my art practice in Belarus. While the majority of artists in Belarus have problems with self-representation in the field of art, such administration requests – what are you doing exactly and how do you make your living – cause a brain freeze. The borderline state of contemporary art in Belarus turns artists into drifting subjects, avoiding (not always voluntarily) fixation and definition. This intention of the state to capture and pinpoint us, assign us an economical status (because it is initiated in order to figure out how we make our living), makes the procedure even more troubling.

The request to label myself, be assigned a name, be put in a list, and alongside with that to prove that I am useful or that I am actually an artist, although there is no existing governmental institution to support my work (for example a museum of contemporary art), causes deep controversies and raises numerous questions.

Since I am not the only one living in the apartment, I have to take into account the opinion of my family: according to the law, if I fail to provide the proof that I am involved in the economy, I will have to pay increased community charges.

I submitted documents on June 19. The law guarantees that the answer will be provided within a month, and during that time I will be invited to bring my artworks to a committee meeting.

The committee

On June 19, exactly one month later, I received a call. I was invited to the Ministry of Culture on June 21 at 12:00.

At 12:00 I was in the meeting room. I was the only one, although usually they gather several candidates for a cultural worker status. The committee consisted of 11 people. Only 8 came to my session while 9 votes are needed for a quorum. Luckily, one of the committee members who didn’t come to the session, got acquainted with my documents in absentia and rated them positively.

The secretary read out my brief biography, after which they gave the floor to me and asked to tell them about my art. Images of my ten artworks, which I recorded on a disk for my application, were projected on the screen. I think that my presentation lasted 8-10 minutes. I was asked only one question: where did I have solo shows. After my reply they said thank you and allowed me to leave.

The procedure seemed to be both official and nonsensical: it seemed that nobody really needed it. Despite the fact that the meeting went well, I still had a certain doubt: they seem to have ‘identified’ me, but at the same time there was a feeling that the committee itself did not fully understand the necessity of the entire procedure but everyone tried to function properly. Or rather that I was not the one whom the state was looking for to assign a role of a parasite.

Letter 2

On July 29 I found in my mailbox a letter stating that I am granted the status of a cultural worker for a period of five years.

Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus

On sending a certificate of a creative worker

Dear Uladzimir Uladzimiravich!
In accordance with the decision of the expert commission on confirming the status of a creative worker, the protocol of the meeting of the expert commission on confirming the status of a creative worker dated July 22, 2019 No. 1, the Ministry of Culture sends you a certificate of a creative worker.


Supplement: on 1 sheet in 1 copy

The head of the main department of state specialized and cultural events and professional art I.V.Driga”

“Professional certificate of a creative worker No. 1-2019

Date of issue: 07/22/2019


This certificate confirms that Uladzimir Uladzimiravich Hramovich, born on 05/29/1989, passport […] dated 03/12/2014, is a creative worker.

The head of the main department of state special and cultural events and professional art I.V.Driga

The term is valid from 07/22/2019 to 07/21/2024″

***

There are two optics, or ways of seeing this procedure, which I often used during that time. The first one is a blind following of the ritual and state protocols. By using this optics one can think less and perceive everything as an inevitable fact of life: exactly how the state would like us to think about it. Another optics is a constantly drifting gaze; a state of being when you don’t know where to look and why is it even necessary. Such neuroticism doesn’t boost self-confidence or provide tranquility but illustrates well the state in which the government apparatus puts you and, even more, wants to fit this process into the explanatory framework. Instead of the description which assigns a status of a cultural worker, it rather becomes a caption to the situation in which an artist or a person is put in this country.

Somehow it resembles a caption one can find at art exhibitions, which is there to direct a viewer or explain an artwork. Often these are meaningless words and phrases which lead nowhere and signify nothing. Therefore, I find that the right thing to do in this situation is to use my own gaze, appropriate this setting and self-mobilize.

Parasite tax took to the streets people who have not been previously seen by the state and by each other. Guest workers, who work outside of the country, artists, unemployed or self-employed stand shoulder to shoulder, appear in front of each other, become alive for each other.

For Arendt, according to Judith Bulter, political action becomes possible with the existence of a body: “I appear to others, and the others appear to me, which means that some space between us allows each to appear”. We don’t just see each other and don’t just talk to hear each other. Who we are bodily, is a way of being for the other. When we appear this way “we are made available, bodily, for another whose perspective we can neither fully anticipate nor control”.1

Thus, a kind of de-virtualization took place between me and other citizens who fell under the law and it is worth continuing the process of appearing in front of each other, and in front of myself. The description may become a starting point, and that is what I attempted here: articulating and giving voice to situations and issues across this territory is now one of the most important tasks for me. What has no voice must acquire it; what was not named should be named – and not delegated to a state which historically has not represented us for a long time.

Upon receiving the status of a cultural worker, in general, nothing has changed. There is only peace of mind that the maintenance bills will not be increased in the next five years – for the period the status is given. However, it’s worth noting that such documents and laws are an occasion to review how we exist in society and within the state and remember that everything can be reviewed, reassembled or even canceled, since the law does not perform any function but only discredits cultural workers, as well as many others.


  1. Butler, Judith, 2018. Notes toward a performative theory of assembly (pp. 76-77). Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press.

WHY I, AS AN ARTIST, LOVE TO COLLABORATE WITH RADICAL, SELF-ORGANIZED INITIATIVES

Sometimes, small-scale and artist-run initiatives are described as being the base of an ecosystem of the art world that enables artists and curators in the early stages of their careers to grow into professional and successful artists. However, this statement limits the value of those initiatives and organizations and sidelines them from the larger field of art that values individual, artistic success. To understand the political potential of small-scale art organizations and networks, we have to focus on other values than the ones that affirm the traditional hierarchy of the art world that celebrates individualism. At the same time, it might be true that small-scale, self-organized organizations and networks are important for artists when starting off their careers, it is also a field that is, or has the potential to be a field that offers other realities and roles than within the established cultural and economic capital systems. Many artist-run initiatives want to be radical places, well connected to local and global communities and discourse while at the same time creating alternative relationships and communal realities. The groups of engaged artists, curators, and cultural practitioners that run these initiatives work from a point of view and conviction that art is necessary, and these spaces support what they feel is urgent. Things are done simply because they are important. These spaces make it possible for art to exist outside of art market centers and to function within local communities, for change. These practitioners try and work hard, often without or with insufficient funds, dodging and warding off the limits and requirements that come along with the funding – with impressive creativity! Even if these practitioners sometimes fail to meet their radical intentions, at least this field is filled with people that really try creating other circumstances. And that is a valuable action.

Over the course of the art project Sauna for the unemployed (2014-ongoing) where I hire unemployed people to have a sauna bath together while sharing the knowledge and experiences one gets by being unemployed, I have collaborated with several small-scale, self-organized initiatives and artist-run spaces in Sweden and abroad. I was highly dependent on these local, self-organized Contemporary Art platforms in rural and urban places around the country, such as Extensions Hagen, Art Lab Gnesta, Galleri Syster, Not Quite, and Gylleboverket in Sweden, District in Berlin, Germany, and Studio 17 in Stavanger, Norway.

All of these organizations adapted to the nature of the project, supporting it with time, energy, connections, their position, and publics. I often came to them, sometimes with very short notice, and asked them to collaborate – not being invited as usual within the art field. The first and most intense year of the project I had my own funding through a public art project fund. After this first year, Sauna for the unemployed then became dependent on invitations from organizations that could cover costs for its production. Realising the project in this way proved to be harder than one could believe since funding often comes with the expectations of an exhibition, event, or other public invitation. Sauna for the unemployed is a social and process-based project that doesn’t necessarily fit into these forms (even though it can transform itself to work within these by exhibiting its own history). Being a project with its own funds, organized in collaboration with these self-organized organizations in a non-formal structure at the side of their planned production, the project was made possible without compromising its own logic. After completing the project with its designed framework for a year, I can now run the project or present parts of it within established norms of the ways art is shown and produced, while keeping the integrity of the project. I cannot emphasize enough all the engagement and time the practitioners of those self-organized institutions and organizations put into the project – these organizations were the link between the project and local communities, making almost anything possible, with very small economic resources, just because they felt the project was important even though it didn’t always fit into their financial forms and planning.

Background

Sauna for the unemployed is an art project that investigates the knowledge that is found in the gaps of a CV and the political potential of being outside while at the same time in the midst of the discussion on waged labor. It encourages unemployed people – a group that is not well organized and lacks a common voice in the debate regarding their rights and social position in society – to start a conversation about their philosophical, political, and social situation. Sauna for the unemployed asks for another reality, where the unemployed situation is not experienced as a personal failure, but seen as a structural consequence of a system that does not take responsibility for everyone.

The architecture of the project is modeled off of the structure of the labor system, which organizes labor through jobs. This structure is constructed yet creates a real situation in order to enact the structures of the workforce: the employer, the employee, and the unemployed. The job is to have a sauna bath together with a small group of other employed ‘unemployed’ people, talking about whatever concerns the group regarding their position and experiences of being unemployed. The conversation is recorded, the sweat is collected and their time, emotions, knowledge is bought for an hourly wage. The job ad that precedes the sauna bath is published in established job centers, and the content of this ad implies that there are specific experiences and knowledge gained through unemployment and that it is important for society as a whole to understand this situated knowledge. The project has also been presented in forms of publications, texts, installations with towels and sound, music and public talks.

Job ad for the project iteration in Malmö

WE ALL WORK TILL DEATH

How many artists do you know who are making a living from their art? I can hardly recall even the handful of prominent photographers who made their careers in the pre-digital era. This is not a coincidence: the project Artist Income calculated that, for example, 82.1% of artists in England make less than the official living wage. You find similar figures in Berlin, where half of the respondents generally earn less than 5,000 euros a year with their art.1

These numbers are humbling. Especially because the earning opportunities for artists and the number of art institutions in these cities and countries simply cannot be compared to the situation in Eastern Europe. The numbers show that those who are engaged in art are either the rich who do not need to earn a living or those who struggle for survival. In this article, I reflect on economics and exploitation in art and photojournalism, areas of my professional interest, which share many commonalities.

Perhaps it is worth indicating my professional attitude on the topics that will be discussed. In fact, I am in the state of an inner emigration within the local and Russian-speaking media market. Being a freelancer in photojournalism is basically a volunteer job, as it is in many other poorer countries. The inability to make a living only with photography led me to an economic scheme consisting of occasionally working for foreign media, working on my own art projects, and a stable job in the field of programming. With this balance, I am able to be inside the field of contemporary photography, but outside of the poor economy of the post-Soviet region.

Work for food

It turns out that 57% of engaged workers in the field of photojournalism/documentary photography earn less than 20,000 euros per year, according to World Press Photo. This is not much at all, given the more applied specifics of photojournalism (shooting for the mass media) compared to art. It is also not difficult to guess that geographically these photographers are located in countries with no rich media market and/or countries which do not attract regular attention from the global media outlets.

Maxim Sarychau, graphic version of the project Undercover Artists, 2019.
Text on the image is a quote from a video-interview with participating artists

When I tell my colleagues from Germany or Denmark about the fees for shooting for the most read Belarusian media⁠—$ 25 at TUT.BY portal, $ 35 at Onliner.BY, and even less in other periodicals as of the end of 2019⁠—they refuse to believe me. Yes, I myself do not understand how (and why?) to survive with this money. Doing 2-3 shoots a day in order to get $ 1,000 per month of work? This may be acceptable when I’m 20, but what should I do at 40 when my body begins to crumble because of this rapid pace and the dead weight of photographic equipment? Kasia Wolińska, a Polish dancer and choreographer based in Berlin, says2 that our generation works “till death,” meaning that none of us will receive a pension, and right now we often don’t even have enough money for regular medical care.

As long as we agree to work for humiliating fees that barely cover our costs of living, such exploitation will occur continuously. Why should editorial offices increase their expenses and reduce their profits, if there are already those ready to work for food? No one will pay us more if we do not declare our disagreement with such conditions.

Maxim Sarychau, graphic version of the project Undercover Artists, 2019.
Text on the image is a quote from a video-interview with participating artists

By accepting such job offers, I give an unambiguous signal that “everything is fine, it suits me.” But what kind of damage am I doing to the field by agreeing to work almost for free? We all need to learn to talk comfortably about money, to begin valuing our work, time, and ourselves. If someone is not ready to pay me adequately, then they do not appreciate my work and me as a professional. Is it really worth it to collaborate with such people, institutions, or mass media? And will anything change next time?

Learning to say no

I am told that the budget is limited and a periodical cannot pay more. But if we all refuse collectively, then with whom will they work? They will be forced to either distinctly downgrade the quality of their product⁠ — exhibition, publication, project ⁠— or to shut down because no one wants to work with them. But the field is constantly being revived: these institutions and publications will be replaced by those who can adapt to the new demands of the environment and the market, those who will be able to re-adjust and offer adequate compensation to their employees, creating the most important thing: the product.

We all understand the importance of the work that journalists do in bringing to light social problems, supporting the values ​​of a free society, and human rights. But can this justify low wages?

Maxim Sarychau, graphic version of the project Undercover Artists, 2019.
Text on the image is a quote from a video-interview with participating artists

For some reason, the conversation about exhibition fees in the post-Soviet region almost never takes place, be it the state or private institutions and festivals. I am excited to see the work of the American initiative WAGE, which gives institutions suggestions on how to pay royalties to artists depending on the annual cash flow and funding. Being a self-organized union and the voice of a cultural worker, WAGE also calls for a boycott of certain organizations which often turns out to be effective.

In Sweden, in 2009, the state entered into an MU agreement with unions of artists, artisans, designers, illustrators, and photographers, and set fixed fees for participation in exhibitions and an hourly fee for show preparations. The established fees should be paid by those institutions which receive funding from the state. In the Netherlands, there is a fee calculator, which since 2017, has been applied in practice by more than 100 institutions across the country. The logic is simple: institutions will not receive public money if they do not share it with the artists exhibited. In these and many other countries, the state intervenes in the uneven distribution of funds in the field of art and supports artists, understanding their economic vulnerability on the market.

Artist as free fuel

Being an emerging/mid-career artist, I also agree to free exhibitions and publications if I realize the immaterial benefits: for example, in the form of access to a closed professional audience or the importance of the institution’s presence in my portfolio. It happens that I see complete transparency in the work of a like-minded periodical or initiative, and I understand that everyone there works for free. But, more often than not, I can’t find an explanation for why the exhibition technician receives a salary, and the artist with a solo exhibition in the same space does not, as it happened once with the artist Simon Menner in one famous museum in Berlin.

Artists and cultural workers are in an endless cycle of filing applications (often even requiring entry fees) for numerous open-calls for projects, residences, competitions, and grants. Applications and correspondence are part of a large invisible communicative and emotional work, which is also not paid in any way.

Maxim Sarychau, graphic version of the project Undercover Artists, 2019.
Text on the image is a quote from a video-interview with participating artists

Do you include in your project budget the time required to think and create a concept, the maintenance of your equipment, the endless correspondence, the paid annual vacations, a nanny for your child, or a psychotherapist when dealing with a complex topic?

You cannot answer.

And if, at some point, you get tired of playing this strange, always vague, game of survival in the field of culture⁠—you head to where the rules (even if these are simply the rules of survival) exist: working in a cafe, restaurant, or office. The Swedish artist Eric Krikortz notes3 that a decent payment could attract young people from less privileged or financially insecure social groups to the field of art, which would make art more diverse and democratic.

“The artist is at the bottom of the food chain,” Ekaterina Anokhina, a photographer from Moscow, tells me.4 And it’s hard to argue with that when looking at endless contests, prizes, specialized festivals, and magazines with submission fees.

If you win, they promise visibility in the professional field, international recognition, publications. The problem is that neither exhibitions nor publications in photographic periodicals today will pay rent for an apartment or will cover the money spent on creating a project. The very few authors in Europe make sales at exhibitions or, at the least, have a paid project publication after it has been shown at a festival.

In most of the cases, we deal with a recursive exploitation cycle under the guise of good goals. In this cycle, we, artists, and cultural workers, find that we are free fuel. Menner, in his frustrated post, calculated that he received a fee only in 10% of the 160 exhibitions he participated in around the world. But how much exposure!5 The accumulated symbolic capital does not work: a long CV composed of exhibitions and publications does not guarantee financial stability, but rather causes emotional burnout.

It seems there are too many of us. Excessive amounts of free visual noise increased the competition and greatly simplified the work of intermediaries who are willing to make money on our desire to reach the viewer and/or gain recognition.

Why should GUP, FOAM, UNSEEN, LensCulture,6 and a hundred less well-known photo magazines pay photographers? Those who want to give their work for free line up for them. The editors will not even notify you if they refuse to publish your project. There are too many of us to even spend time on this.

Maxim Sarychau, graphic version of the project Undercover Artists, 2019.
Text on the image is a quote from a video-interview with participating artists

The FOAM award, initiated in Amsterdam, is one of the most important awards in contemporary photography and charges 30 Euros for the submission of the project. To the question of the Belarusian artist, Alexander Mikhalkovich, in their Q&A video⁠— “Why is it so much?”⁠—the slightly surprised editors are saying that “It’s just a little bit” (the video was made for the 2017 contest and was later deleted). By establishing the entry fee, FOAM, as most of the actors in the Western European field of photography, perform economic censorship of artists from entire regions and countries: Eastern Europe, Africa, India, South America.

Unlike the photo industry, film festivals have long had the practice of free entry (a fee waiver) or reduced entry costs for economically developing countries from the DAC List.

What can be done?

The right way may be to look for other, less obvious ways to operate and finance your work. For example, working directly with people and periodicals which understand the importance of photography and the photographer as an author: mutual respect is easy to see through monetary relations (e.g. the photo editor will always be on the side of a photographer in matters of fees), in communication (you will never have unanswered emails), and certainly it doesn’t have any entry fees.

In financing an exhibition or a book, it always makes sense to look for partners among those who may be potentially interested, taking into account the profile of their activities. It was the case for me in 2017, when the production of my exhibition project Stolen Days, dedicated to several cases of political imprisonment, was supported by the former KGB building in Vilnius. And in 2018, with the support of the Civic Society Belarus, my project Blind Spot on state violence was shown in Prague in an abandoned pool of the former military barracks.

Crowdfunding can also work if your project has significant social or historical value: as a book by Sergey Brushko about the turning point in the history of Belarus, a book by Arthur Bondar with found photographs of a military photographer Valery Faminsky, and a book by Maxim Dondyuk about the events of Maidan in Ukraine.

Maxim Sarychau, graphic version of the project Undercover Artists, 2019.
Text on the image is a quote from a video-interview with participating artists

It makes sense to search for money for the production of new projects in international cultural NGOs amongst small thematic local grants: on ecology, human rights, gender equality; preferably already in collaboration with a specialized NPO or a mass media organization. Usually, the competition among artists/photographers/videographers is dozens, if not hundreds, times less than for international photographic grants. But it is important to understand the specifics of the grant and the expectations from the results of your project. Probably just shooting a project will not be enough: you need to immediately think about the appropriate way to distribute it, be it an exhibition, book/magazine, online project, publication in the mass media.

Networking should become one of the main tools for a photographer, as Andrei Polikanov, the photo editor of a periodical Takie Dela, explains at his workshops. Networking implies building your own circle of people and friends who are interested in what, how, and why you are working. These are the people with whom you will share not only your passion but who will be also close to you ideologically and emotionally. They can become your supporters in crowdfunding campaigns, guides within photo festivals; or maybe they will even protest by the embassy of your country if suddenly you (I hope not) are detained on trumped-up charges.

Maxim Sarychau, graphic version of the project Undercover Artists, 2019.
Text on the image is a quote from a video-interview with participating artists

Self-organization and union (and beyond just the union) solidarity are extremely important in the conditions of our fragmentation, extreme individualism, and political and economic oppression. The mentioned above WAGE, the table of magazine fees transparency Who Pays Photographers? and Who pays writers?, Art Leaks project on censorship and exploitation, an open letter to the leadership of the VIII Moscow Biennale; the solidarity of journalists in Russia during the arrest of Ivan Golunov in 2019, the petition against the arrest of cultural workers and artists during the mass protests in Belarus in 2017; the PAIN public campaign for solving the opioid crisis in the United States, launched by photographer Nan Goldin⁠—these, and many others were examples of voicing our disagreement and anger with what was happening in the political, social, and institutional environments.

Let’s

Let’s create transparency tables for fees and salaries in the media and art⁠—it is beneficial for all of us: artists, journalists, photographers, managers, curators, teachers, assistants.

Let’s be interested in the domestic economy, mechanics, and ethics of projects in which we participate, and let’s talk about their problematic aspects. Today we are not competitors, we are part of a cultural community, of vulnerable and unprotected, precarious class.

Let’s talk loudly about censorship, sexism, ageism, homophobia, violence, discrimination, rudeness, and other savagery in our fields.

Let’s build up initiatives, unions, support groups, open letters and petitions, acts of solidarity, communities and any other collaborations that show our voice and make it heard so that it can change something in the current situation of opacity, exploitation, and oppression.

It seems that no state union or existing independent organization can defend our rights today. We all found ourselves in a crystal clear situation: self-organize or die.


  1. It was not possible to find relevant statistics related to the post-Soviet region, which once again indirectly indicates that the necessary attention is not paid to this problem. [ed.]

  2. In an interview for the video work by Maxim Sarychau Undercover Artists, 2019

  3. E. Krikortz, A. Triisberg, & M. Henriksson, 2015. Art workers: material conditions and labor struggles in contemporary art practice, p.19. Berlin: Minna Henriksson, Erik Krikortz & Airi Triisberg.

  4. In an interview for the video work by Maxim Sarychau Undercover Artists, 2019

  5. Exposure is an “imaginary currency” in which freelancers are paid, especially in the field of art. It appeared because of the employer’s faith that the promise to become famous due to participation in a project can replace the fee. Used when employers try to save money on other people’s work and/or believe that such a practice is socially acceptable. [ed.]

  6. According to photographers published in these magazines

DESIGNING THE PARALLEL SOCIETY IN BELARUS: ADDRESSING THE DICHOTOMY OF STABILITY AND UNCERTAINTY

The results of a STATUS workshop

Intro

This text responds to the results of the workshop of the STATUS project, Designing the Parallel Society, which was led by two Swedish artists John Huntington and Lars Noväng. The workshop took place in Minsk on 6th and 7th of June, 2019. The workshop used the artistic strategy of creating an imaginary, alternative institution. The coaches, Huntington and Noväng, used a game method called ‘reverse engineering’. This method is based on the idea that new, imaginary institutions exist even before they function as such. A team of two tutors and four participants spent two days developing various strategies for the alternative institutions in Belarus and discussing their political and artistic potential.

The following text is structured according to the flow of the workshop. We invite you to follow all the stages of designing a parallel society just as the participants did. In the first part of this text, we will elaborate on the idea of designing a parallel society and Huntington Noväng’s experience with the alternative institution they created several years ago in Sweden – Frihetsförmedlingen (Swedish Public Freedom Service). The next step would be to share with the reader the results of the brainstorming that was a part of the workshop. The aim of this brainstorming was to recognize the problematic aspects of public institutions in Belarus and to find a way to ‘mirror’ them by creating an imaginary institution. Our team focused on the Ministry of Culture and the KGB. We used these institutions as a framework to define a wider problem within Belarusian society – a society that is defined by President Lukashenka’s campaigning and ruling slogan of stability.1 Thus, the third part of the essay describes the concept of an alternative institution as developed within the workshop – the Ministry of Uncertainty. The Ministry of Uncertainty is a prototype for an imaginary institution, an institution that would balance the dichotomy of stability and uncertainty in Belarusian society.

Illustrations: Valentine Duduk
Designing the Parallel Society

Firstly, we have to elaborate on our inspiration. John Huntington and Lars Noväng are Swedish artists who were invited to make the workshop in Minsk within the STATUS program, as they run a project called Frihetsförmedlingen (Swedish Public Freedom Service). Frihetsförmedlingen is an alternative institution. This means that while it mirrors the functions of real state-authorities it aims to criticize the current order of things. This is how Noväng explains the idea behind their project:

We wanted to address a general obsession with work as the meaning of life, as well as a civic obligation. Because of this belief system, countless unnecessary jobs are being created today, while unemployed people are put in “correctional” programs, designed to both discipline and stigmatize them. This is both violent and unsustainable, and a fundamental cause for today’s sky-rocketing frequency of stress-related illnesses in the population. Frihetsförmedlingen is a critique of the society of labor. When we started the project we decided to fill a societal gap by initiating an institution that takes the notion of freedom just as seriously as the Swedish Public Employment Service takes the notion of work. Make freedom obligatory, so to speak.

An alternative institution, as well as the process of designing the parallel society, could be classified as an artistic practice or artistic activism. It works well, as it plays with the rigid mindsets of people. Huntington says:

Setting up something very different from everyday life, where the form is highly familiar but the content is replaced. A participant or an observer of such an alternative institution might become both confused and amused, but this is a starting point to reevaluate the existing institutions. When you experience an alternative institution, you are able to rethink the norm.

This approach perhaps is not the best, but it is a way to initiate social transformations. It’s beneficial, as it invites co-creation. It is not a mere discontent with one’s environment, it is an attempt to provoke critical thinking. “Tweaking mainstream reality enables us to detect hidden myths and ideologies that are embedded in our everyday behaviour,” says Noväng. “This is why I think this strategy makes room for more profound change, compared to if we criticize something and propose solutions, because then we also silently accept the prevailing paradigm.”

These ideas and experience of Frihetsförmedlingen have become a starting point for considering how we can apply the Swedish experience to the Belarusian reality. Our workshop team of John Huntington and Lars Noväng, Christin Wahlström Eriksson, Alina Dzeravianka, Elisabeth Kovtiak, and Sophia Sadovskaya came up with a concept of an alternative institution called the Ministry of Uncertainty. The subsequent parts of the text would unbox the idea.

The road to uncertainty: brainstorming to define problematic aspects

We started by brainstorming to detect faulty and problematic institutions. As in our working group, there were mostly artists and cultural managers; we placed our focus on public institutions that work in cultural and social domains. It’s very important to describe in the beginning of the text all the ideas that emerged from our discussion, as our final concept was the culmination of all of these ideas rather than a project that departed from them. Thus, it’s crucial to know all the problematic points we marked in order to understand properly the very idea of the Ministry of Uncertainty – the concept of an alternative institution we designed during the workshop.

When the tutors asked us to think about a problematic institution, the first thing that popped up in our heads was the Ministry of Culture. Among the participants were artists, curators, and cultural managers; it’s no wonder that our most traumatic professional experiences were connected to the Ministry of Culture. Oddly, it doesn’t matter whether you work for a state art institution or a private one — the Ministry of Culture is a nuisance for both sides. As the Ministry of Culture puts loads of restrictions on artists and curators, we thought of mirroring their activity by creating the Ministry of Unculture (Ministerstvo Beskulturia) to promote artistic vandalism, disobedience, and freedom of expression.

Furthermore, we drew our attention to a problem which is well-known both inside and outside the country: the KGB and its notorious activities. In Belarus, by the KGB we mean the same thing that existed in the USSR. Nowadays, the KGB has become a source of inspiration to exoticization and create nostalgia for Western popular culture. Whilst in all other post-Soviet countries where the former KGB exists under new names and declares itself more democratic and humane, the Belarusian Committee of State Security has kept the same name, structure, mission, and staff.

We wanted to design a parallel institution opposite to the KGB. How could one mirror an institution that keeps the secret files about basically everyone in the country and that also records conversations of citizens in order to exploit them later?2 Perhaps, by doing the same but to the government rather than its citizens and making the collected data available to the general public. Ironically, the transparency reminds us of a classical democracy, although in today’s Belarus this democracy might be considered a fantastic parallel reality: an art practice rather than a real political system.

Apart from it, we had an idea to work with manifestations of the KGB’s activity in the professional lives of Belarusians. The KGB interferes with both independent and state-owned structures. The first have so-called ‘curators’ that contact the leader of an NGO or a mass medium to influence their activities and prohibit certain forms of activity. State institutions are controlled from within, as each of them has ‘The First Department’3 which is a representative of the KGB in an organization. During the workshop, we discussed ways to support subversive regime activities by having ‘curators’4 that would empower freedom of speech and social change. The idea was to unite these so-called curators in a group called ‘The Last Department’. This may seem irrelevant to our final idea but certainly, from this point of view, the concept of the Ministry of Uncertainty started to define itself.

Defining the Ministry of Uncertainty started from the realization that designing a parallel society in Belarus has to address the idea of stability. The idea of safety and stability is the main point of president Lukashenka’s political agenda. Nevertheless, people are quite aware that the system and their welfare is not as stable as the government wants them to think. Thus, we started to play with the word ‘security’ in the name ‘The Committee of State Security’. So we came up with the Committee of State Insecurity. As much as we were fascinated by this idea, we were worried that the word ‘insecurity’ is ambiguous, as it deals both with vulnerability and exposure to danger. As this idea emerged, we realized that there is a bigger need than undermining the regime. It’s connected to living with a sense of insecurity in a place that emphasizes its security all the time. It started more as a joke when one of us said that this Committee of State Insecurity has to be a part of the Ministry of Uncertainty. And that was it — we came up with the Ministry of Uncertainty.

The Ministry of Uncertainty: its form and objectives

The discussion on the concept started as a joke that any ministry in Belarus could be a Ministry of Uncertainty, as often they avoid taking responsibility and fail to provide straightforward answers on public demand. Creating the Ministry of Uncertainty seemed to be a step towards institutional critique to emphasize the existing problems that exist within the executive power. But as soon it became clear that in this concept there is more than a mere exaggeration of the absurdity level of the existing system to demonstrate its faultiness, we started to explore uncertainty as a key concept for the whole country, as it could be opposed to stability. Moreover, in the pursuit of maintaining stability, these ministries refuse to take certain actions and responsibility.

The logo of the Ministry of Uncertainty with its main element – a tire swan. Designed by Valentine Duduk

The Ministry of Uncertainty is an alternative organization that replicates some technical characteristics of ministries. It will have a website, official agenda and visual identity just as any ministry. Why those? Basically, that is with what citizens can encounter once they are interested in a ministry’s activities. The real activities of ministries in Belarus are quite opaque: hidden behind the bureaucracy. Unlike the ‘real’ ministries, the Ministry of Uncertainty initiates and fosters public discussions that do not aim to come up with a certain solution. This alternative institution is both a criticism of the passivity of a bloated bureaucratic system and the unwillingness of public authorities to take responsibilities. Another function of the Ministry of Uncertainty is to create a meeting place for the citizens where they can discuss the facade stability and an uncertainty and anxiety that exist behind it.

Logos of the actual Belarusian ministries:
1. Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Belarus
2. Ministry of Taxes and Duties of the Republic of Belarus
3. Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade of the Republic of Belarus 
4. Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus

There are many goals and complexities such an alternative institution presents.Thus, let’s take a look at its objectives to give a bigger picture. (1) Decreasing self-censorship. The political regime of Belarus is often associated with the authoritarian rule of Lukashenka, but there is the whole system that restricts civil participation. This goes beyond official protocols, as people have ideas of how they are expected to behave while encountering officials. Not smiling to a policeman or a frontier guard could be an example, but these small gestures transform into a high level of self-censorship. Of course, there are authorities that serve this function but there is more to it. Those restrictions are embedded in people’s minds, and they apply self-censorship to their ideas and neglect their plans, as they often feel that it would be banned, prohibited, or lead to unwanted consequences. Thus, sometimes it’s the people that restrict themselves according to a nonexistent code of safe strategies — not the authorities that censor it. It is reasonable to be conscious about the consequences, but in many cases, this self-censorship leads to non-action when actions could be taken. This is how many opportunities for positive social changes are missed.

(2) To create a space for civic engagement in bureaucracy and decision-making. For decades, the Belarusian governing system has only allowed the general public to engage in public decision-making on a low level — time long enough for people to start forgetting that it is their right and obligation to be a part of these processes. Any attempt to interfere with the political (at any level) is associated with protests and opposition. For many, it’s too stressful and they do not want to put themselves in this vulnerable position. Therefore, the project team thought that the Ministry of Uncertainty could be a place (although not a physical one) to invite people in a civic discussion to empower them to be more active when it comes to actions in real-world society. However, the Ministry of Uncertainty is not designed to come up with actual solutions. It’s more of a space to train one’s ability to become an active member of society and to enjoy it. Therefore, the principles of these talks are non-violent Communication, the right not to choose, non-agreement, and non-obligation. The Ministry’s mission is about helping people get in contact with their voice and embrace their fears, rather than to take actions.

The Belarusian political and social system is indeed hyper-controlled. However, dealing with defined standards is a universal thing for those who are living in capitalist societies. One has to fit in the system, be certain about their career and life choices and to live according to a KPI5 and the achievement culture, although the conditions are constantly changing. In Belarus capitalist values merge with the Soviet legacy that leaves no room for any kind of uncertainty: one must choose, decide, and be certain about everything while following the prescribed lifepath (school, almost mandatory higher education, finding a job, getting married, having kids, (divorce and get married again), retire from the same job you found 30 years ago, die). This path seems unrealistic, as there is always an element of uncertainty.

Not embracing the uncertainty may lead to anxiety and blind obedience. Thus, a bit of uncertainty is needed to resist the governmental system and capitalist values. Or at least, to become a bit less serious about life choices. This ‘liberation’ from the rule of certainty changes the relationship between an individual and the system, that may further lead to more fundamental changes in the society. The Belarusian system aims to report to the public that everything is stable, safe and defined, whilst it’s obvious that stability is illusory. This rupture is a source of anxiety for people who are aware of this gap between the declared and reality. People cannot fully rely on the government, as they see these incoherences. However, they neither can take responsibility as they live in a hyper-controlled society. Thus, we need to embrace uncertainty to benefit from it.

What is the role of the Ministry of Uncertainty in this [stable] system? It’s about (3) balancing the declarations of the state about stability and security with real life experience. In cases when the certainty and stability are imposed, the function of the ministry is to reinforce the idea that it’s not healthy to be this sure about something. It is about mirroring and questioning the system and imposition of stability.

Changing authorities via artistic practices is perhaps not the most efficient way to complicate the status quo. However, artistic interventions have the potential in changing people’s opinions, which could result in the last objective of the project — (4) reducing the tension between the general public and authorities.

***

Designing a parallel society is a mental exercise as much as it is an artistic strategy. The paradox of this practice is that the whole idea is about mocking the reality, but before long you start to take that reality dead serious. It could be the spirit of bureaucracy’s influence, as bureaucracy dictates even the atmosphere of a free artistic discussion. Perhaps, this antagonism provides fruitful soil to think outside of the box. It seems that traditional methods of political transformation, such as protests and direct institutional critique, don’t work in Belarus due to low public engagement and fear of its consequences. The idea of designing a parallel society originates in Sweden where the political system is quite different from in Belarus. However, it seems that the approach developed by Huntington and Noväng is capable of empowering social transformation in Belarus. We believe it has a high potential for the empowering due to its seeming unseriousness that sets minds free. Its ‘harmfulness’ and ludic nature helps initiate the discussion and questioning on pressing issues, removing the fear that is always associated with these topics. Designing the parallel society brings together artists, activists, and, most importantly, the general public. Moreover, it could be applied to any society to address a variety of concerns: the dichotomy of stability and uncertainty is just one of them. However, this proves to be a good starting point.

***

We are hiring!

Unlike real ministries, the Ministry of Uncertainty has an unlimited and unregulated number of employees.

We invite everyone who feels inspired by the ideas described in the text to become an alternative employee of the Ministry of Uncertainty. To become one, all you have to do is to fill in your name in the ID’s template and insert a photo of you (or you can just draw a portrait of yourself). It can be your little secret or you can post it online with a hashtag #ministry_of_uncertainty if you feel like doing it.

The free and open source image editor Gimp is available for download here

  1. The idea of stability is central for the official discourse of Lukashenka’s regime, as it declares political continuity and economic stability. The official narrative in Belarusian media is based upon opposing stability of Belarus to chaos in other post-Soviet republics.

    The facade of Belarusian stability is a product of the domination of the ruling hierarchy by officials of the old regime, policy stasis on the essential importance of economic viability and the delayed development of Belarusian national identity (Marples 2013).

    This seeming stability is a typical trait of authoritarian regimes that ensure their continued endurance and survival not just by occasional responses to current political and social challenges, but by preemptive attacks that defeat threats before they appear (Silitski 2005).

  2. Lysenko, V.V. and Desouza, K.C., 2015. “The Use of Information and Communication Technologies by Protesters and the Authorities in the Attempts at Colour Revolutions in Belarus 2001–2010.” Europe-Asia Studies, 67(4), pp.624-651.

  3. The existence of the First Department seems to be an open secret. Many people know about it from the Soviet past or encountering it at their enterprises. However, little information on its activities or mission can be found in open access. Thus, one can find an almost empty page that features only the head of the First Department on the website of the Belarusian State University – the department is mentioned as a structural part but that is a maximum of information a citizen can find. Amusingly, if to google “первый отдел рб” (the First Department in Russian) one of the first links would be to the website of the KGB, although the content of the webpage is totally irrelevant. These days, the First Department could be also named Secrecy Department (Режимно-секретный отдел).

  4. Medvetsky, A., 2013. Security Agencies:‘Reformers’ gain a footing in new positions. Belorusskiy Ezhegodnik, (1 (eng)).

  5. KPI is a key performance indicator. In this context, the author means that a life in a modern society demands from an individual high level productivity of in all domains of life.

NOBODY SPEAKS WITH ME AS THOUGH I WAS A HUMAN BEING

I am a cultural worker. I speak a lot with people – this is a part of my work. I speak with my colleagues and friends who also work in the sphere of art. I speak with audiences, journalists, scholars, and students. I should speak, and mostly it is about art.

Often I am tired of speaking. I wish that this wasn’t the case. To find silence and to be silent. To escape from people, even from my close friends. Sometimes I guess they feel the same.

Once when I met with my friends and again we were discussing an important current topic, I realized that I knew them for a long time, and I did a lot of projects with some of them. We felt comfortable with each other; we had some funny drunk memories. I knew a lot about their artistic activities, about their political and civil positions, and about what values we shared or not. But I do not know anything more than that about them. Where do they live and with whom?  Is there anyone that they take care of? What about their mother, father, family, or about kids? Where do they earn money? What do they dream about, or what do they fear? Do they have any hobbies that are not connected with art? How are their working days and weekends organized? Are there any problems in their relationships with a partner or their family?

I’ve realized that we talk a lot about important issues, and we do great projects together. But we almost never speak with each other as though the other is a human being.  Mostly we present ourselves as successful people, but what is behind the success?

I started to collect private stories of people who do or manage art. The main frame of these stories is that we talk at her or his home or in any other place that is the most private space for the them. I decided to present these stories anonymously as chapters, which are transformed into a collective narrative. During the conversations, I made photos which represent my feeling about the place where we met. But it doesn’t matter who the photos belong to.

A DOG

As a part of my eco lifestyle, I take care of homeless animals. My friend calls me crazy, but I can’t stop doing it. It is very uncomfortable because you should forget about personal boundaries. But I feel that I must do it.

I had a dog. He didn’t have an eye, and he limped. I saw him on the roof of the house in a yard. I knew that it was dangerous for him to stay there because there was a guy who was hunting him. I could not sleep those nights until I took the dog home. My life was changed. He brought so many worries. I could not travel because the dog refused any care from other people. Every time he was waiting for me, I felt a strong responsibility. In the last years, I really could not go away anywhere even for a couple of days.

It was my birthday. He died. I guess he knew that I loved him, but I was so tired. It seemed that he died as a present for me.

PARENTS’ PLANS

I cannot say we have a close relationships.  And it has been this way since my childhood. As a man at his age, my father has a lot of stereotypes. He dreams that I will have a family, kids, a domestic life, and a good job. He thinks that a job not linked directly with money is rubbish. I guess he thinks that I made a mistake. And maybe he is right; maybe I lost something. But I live as I want. And I do not know how I can combine my desires with the typical expectations of my father.

But at the same time, he is proud that I am an artist because it was he who sent me to art school.  At the same time, he worries that I am outside of the social structure … I don’t have an employment record book, I do not have any stable future. And sometimes I think that, yes, probably it is wrong. I will not have a pension. And what if I am old and ill: how will I survive?

Honestly, I have an experience of, let’s say, a typical family where a woman plays the wife’s role. I was in a marriage for about 8 years, but I did not like it. Now I am trying to understand why I was in one. Why did I engage in these typical relationships? My husband liked that I was an artist. But from the very beginning, he wanted a typical family with kids, dreams about his own flat, sea vacations …

I guess I was going along with my parents’ scenario. I tried to play this role, but I could not. I have a feeling that I missed something.

A SWEATER

I have a friend. He lives abroad. We have known each other for a long time, but we meet rarely. Actually, we have never talked about private issues, and at the same time, I feel we trust each other. I love him. I know that he is gay, and I love him as a human being. I can’t explain this kind of love, and it is love. Once I was traveling and stayed at his for a couple of days. In the evening we were drinking and talking. Suddenly, he said: I should present you with something. What can I present you? – Oh, no, because I do not have anything for you. – Don’t worry. It is me who wants to give you a present… And he gave me his beloved sweater. I immediately put it on, and he laughed: Oh, now you look like a real lesbian.

It is my beloved sweater. When I dress in it, I feel that I am not alone.

INTEGRITY

Carrying, in my mind, is a kind of female practice that you do by default. Recently my partner and I had a conflict. At the moment of my crisis, he didn’t support me emotionally and this hurt my feelings. What if I did the same, I thought? I stopped asking him: how was your day, what happened, what bothered him. I occasionally greeted him, had dinner, and watched movies while I kept silent. So, I thought, he thinks that it comes naturally to me to worry – that it’s my job, too. To care means that I support the person who is close to me. With warmth or a conversation because I understand how much the other person needs it. We discussed this situation, and I said, “see, I also can be like you, it is not a basic desire of mine to worry about you. But I do it because I know, how much others need it.” He said, “all right, I understand. It is always a hard job to live together with others.”

When my family is full and I have a child, I will feel dependence, and it will probably be difficult. You are a mother all day long. All the time and always… for a long time. I read one particular joke in the paper. A husband and a wife are lying in bed and say almost simultaneously, “And we have to suffer this hell for another eighteen years!” And they start laughing. Of course, not many people make such a confession, like: what have we done? But when you say that outloud, you can also have a laugh. On the other hand… Once I was heading to work and was thinking, how can someone in their right mind plan a child? I put aside this decision. Because I don’t know if I want to have one. But it seems that people who consciously want children, in reality they crave warmth, love, in other words, feelings that they don’t receive from other places. But, on the other hand, I don’t think that I would have an abortion. I don’t know.

I remember how when I was younger and I was leaving for the USA and my mother was seeing me off. And here I am looking at her standing at the platform, she is waving at me – she doesn’t say anything like, where are you going, I’m worried, or I didn’t raise you for this – she smiles and almost cries. And suddenly I sensed how much I love my mother and how important this love is. This, apparently, is unconditional love. A connection through one’s DNA. So I might just as well consider having children as extending my life, if there’s such a wonderful thread beginning from the big bang… But I’m afraid to lose the time, the freedom, the mobility, the absence of responsibility. What if the relations with my partner sour?.. But then I thought that, if I think this way, then indeed it’s better not to give birth. If you are so worried about your integrity, don’t do it.

THE HERMITAGE MUSEUM

I had one episode in my life. To enter into a museum free of charge, I made a fake student ID, which was in an international format. And, so I arrived in St. Petersburg, and clearly, went to the Hermitage, and they didn’t let me in. I was so outraged: how’s that, fake! Though I had laminated it myself, I was very angry. I was shouting, “They let me in even to in the Louvre.” And I had never been to Paris. “And you just!..” In one word, the Hermitage turned out to be very snobbish. I didn’t like their attitude.

IT’S NO BIG DEAL, IF WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD YOU WANTED TO BE LIKE PICASSO!

They think I’m modest. Maybe, it seems like that on the outside, but I think of myself on the scale of a genius, no less. As a child, I oriented myself around one figure, Picasso. There’s only one path and no other! At that moment, I didn’t know other paths that I could take. Picasso was so outstanding in painting, exactly. Though, I had and still admire Filonov1, too. At one time, I even believed myself to be Filonov’s reincarnation. I thought, his analytical system matched my inner philosophy. But I’ve never wanted to be like Filonov. I can’t be like him. I’m a hedonist, I love being lazy, lying on a sofa and dreaming about or reflecting on something. To be in warmth, to have something to eat and drink. I can’t strictly limit myself. That’s why I chose Picasso, this lifestyle certainly fits me. If not because of this, then why else?

Just then I hit a wall. Disappointment came. First, because I suddenly realized that art is not the most important thing in life. There are more important things. It’s unlikely that I will change something myself, but if my career came to a stand still, I feel like I could abandon it all. It’s more about my philosophy. As art is egoism, pride… a whip, with which life beats you, and you just run forward like a jackass. Passion vanished. Say, you had an exhibition in Brussels or in London: it does not bring you joy. There’s nothing to talk about. And there’s financial disappointment on top of it all. I play football on weekends. Men of different social statuses come there. That’s where you see democracy as it is. I was once given a lift by one guy on a Land Cruiser that costs one hundred and twenty thousand dollars. He talked about how his friend laughed at him when the next year the car cost fifty thousand less… Jaw dropping sums for me! But I understand: for them it’s status: it’s a thing that you can show and no one call in questions its cost. But when you buy a work of contemporary art, you’ll have to explain to everyone that you have not been scammed because everyone will be thinking exactly that.

…A completely open playing field, having gone through almost half of my life, and still starting from zero. With my ambitions, it’s nothing. I’ll make more money by painting vines on walls!

VALUABLES

The most valuable resource that we have is time. And that’s why I hate to give my time for things, which often take a lot of energy. I had many wild nights. But I realized that I felt uncomfortable, because I never received enough information while communicating with people. There were some private stories all the time, relationships that I did not understand. This drained me psychologically, took my energy, time, and by the end of a conversation I didn’t even understand what we had been talking about. It was like an endless soap opera.

Communicating to an international art crowd gives me the feeling that I am supported by my peers and colleagues. To have fifty or a hundred mutual friends with some European curator is a normal thing for me. And last year, when I went to an art festival in Kassel, it turned out that I knew almost everybody. It was really important for me, to feel relevant and significant. That’s why I can say that my city is not Minsk, but the whole world.

When I think about the future… wait are you talking about your savings account for retirement ? Jokes aside, the fact that I was born in the Soviet Union, which taught me not to be afraid of big dreams, had a great impact on me. That’s why, surely, I want to go to Mars, but I was told that if you want to go on Mars, you have to prepare yourself somehow – already now actually. That’s true, because now everything changes very fast. Maybe in twenty years you will be able to go on Mars by local transport.

WORK

I have held jobs as an expert on the national costumes at the Palace of Culture, as a curator in the exhibition hall of Primitive Art at the Palace of Culture, as a decorator at the Museum of Regional Ethnography, and as a designer of gravestones. I was offered a job on television, but the salary was very low there, and you had to be there for the whole working day. I thought, no. Now I make advertising clips as a freelancer. That’s the best for now.

HOUSE

We were looking particularly for a single-family home. It had to be in the city center, but without an entrance in a lobby and with few neighbors. Maybe, it’s hard to call it a house, but I am used to it. When you have to appropriate others’ space over and over again for twenty years, you get used to it. Sometimes it even happens fast. There are no specific funds to do all the things that you want, as the apartments are rented. But in so many years I have developed good recycling skills. For example, oh dear, what an awful armchair, but I already know what I can do with it. Just living through one’s given circumstances forms a lot of practical skills for life. You should take what you have and work with it. I think in our situation in art it’s almost the same. We can’t change something drastically, and that’s why we have to work with the material we have. Naturally, it demands a lot of effort, imagination, inventiveness.

I’d like a house to become my permanent residence, for it to be somewhere where I can arrange my plates. But at the same time, I have developed conflicting feelings. I get attached too fast to the places I live in. But I change them very easily. Some feelings stay, but it’s not a problem to change house. I take a new place on quickly. Now, of course, an age-related issue is beginning to arise already. You get covered with stuff, books, clothes… a family, children… You become attached to a place, and it becomes harder to put it all into a bag and leave for another city. I can imagine my perfect place: a plot of land, a house painted with my favorite color. But life does not yield such comforts yet. So we have to make do with what we have.

Acquaintances, friends sometimes come and say, “That’s fantastic, you make art and have bare walls.” I reply, “I’ve had enough.” But I’m not ready to slow down. I have a wish to meet people less. Preferably, my home should be a place that keeps memories. Even if we’ll have to pay for it with comfort… My mother, in fact, is against it… Even if the house is a little deformed, it has history.

THE POSTCARD

At the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm I went to a gift shop: there was a great variety of postcards. A photo of a young woman caught my eye, it was a black and white portrait. I bought this postcard, I didn’t know who that woman was, I just liked her. In half a year, when I was already at home, I suddenly decided to check, who that was because her name was on the card. I started googling, and it turned out that she was from Belarus. She moved to Sweden in 1914, where she took up photography. She opened a portrait and dance studio in Stockholm in 1928. Her name was Anna Riwkin-Brick, her years of life – I read – were 1908-1970. Now this postcard is on my day planner. This can happen sometimes, right?

FESTINA LENTE

I love walking dogs, I even became a real expert in this field. Our walks last for about two hours now. Our route became more complicated. I even added swimming now. I take my daughter to kindergarten, and then we go.

I also love films and books, especially films. I watch different things, I’m omnivorous. I can look for a film to watch for an hour: I read reviews on forums; and then I watch it, and it turns out to be crap. You are such a dumbass, I tell myself. You had been looking for an hour, and what’s that? And then you watched for another hour… Two hours of your life you wasted on some garbage! That’s it, I will only watch Tarkovsky starting tomorrow! Or that’s it – no phone at work, turn it off and read books. That’s enough of this addiction, one is after all one’s own master, only books! But suddenly, it turns out that your phone is in your hand and you catch yourself watching some crap again. In addition to that, you indulge yourself in humor in the morning when you go through social media – this moron had an exhibition in Germany, he’s enjoying it… Anyway, I justify it to myself again. Just as with films, you drink coffee and watch some crap.

I look for other people’s opinions on Facebook. What if I find something? I recently realized that online you take the same routes over again. I noticed that on Instagram, it’s all the same, the same images. Not only am I unlucky enough to have been born in Belarus, I also love American art – full of optimism, sarcasm, anger, politics. But I think that Instagram kills art. As it’s impossible nowadays to talk about creating something new. In the morning, you post something on Instagram and at the same time someone from Japan posts the same thing. Who’s first? It’s all meaningless. But I keep on searching: and suddenly I come across someone who tells me something different.

I became a parasite through laziness. I was even too lazy to enter the Union2 online.

NOT ENOUGH

I grew up with my mother and sister. And I thought that we ate chicken gizzards so often because it was very healthy food. Later I realized why: my mother could not cook beef. She never bought it because she couldn’t afford it. And actually, until now, I am very simple with food and domestic life. Although I can buy everything I want… food, clothes, a new mobile phone, I can travel… But am I happy? I can’t say because I should work a lot. I do not complain, but my daily calendar is full. I can’t say I have enough time for myself.

My uncle works as a watchman. Earlier he had his own business. But now he works two times per week. He has little money, but he has a lifestyle that wealthy people would be eager to live for at least a week. He wakes up – birds are singing outside the window – he comes back from fishing, nowhere to hurry to. He enjoys every moment. And this is a question of a quality of life. I think that many people are unhappy because they identify themselves with their work – with its mechanics. But there is a possibility not to identify with it but just to earn money, but what then comes next – let me go to the sea! That is a good idea. But do we really like this idea? No, we continue to invest in our education, invest in stability, but isn’t it stable enough?

I read in one yogi’s book that even an ant can sustain its own existence independently. But it lives in a forest, and its brain is much smaller than ours. The example was meant to illustrate that a human being can do anything. But because of our hesitation … this fear that we have to earn money to provide our own and our families’ livelihood, achieving this means we can exist in the world. It limits our potential. It seems to me that we can approach this from another side, and suddenly it will appear that money is the least of our problems. But this idea came to me recently.

THE YARD

When I finish yet another project, I feel devastated and relieved at the same time. For a couple of days I am relieved from all the deadlines and concentrate on everyday things. Bring the shoes to get repairs, reply to a number of papers, clean the apartment, go through the old stuff, throw something away – I like to clear out the place. While strolling outside, I notice that my gaze changes, it’s aimed not inwards like it is during work. I peer into the surroundings, notice details and feel incredibly good. The rhythm of everyday life calms me. To think about myself, about household stuffs and needs.

I can’t recall the title of the film… In it, you know, there was a character looking out of a window, like in that film. I have something similar. My neighbor lives one floor below me. She’s so wonderful. She wears thick glasses, and she also has a bright blue, light overcoat. I noticed her face, because once I was walking, and she was walking towards me. She stopped and asked, “Could you, please, tell me, well, I had a text message that I won something, but I had to send them my card details. So I sent them…” “Oh, no,” I say, “those are swindlers. You shouldn’t have sent your card number.” “You think they are swindlers?” “Of course! You should freeze the card immediately.” She sighed, “Freeze it, you say? Right, I’ll go now and call the bank.” After this incident, I remembered her. I don’t know, maybe because she has terrible eyesight and such thick glasses, but she seems to be very forgetful. Every time when I recall this story with the prize, I’m afraid to ask, how it all ended, because I don’t want to just twist the knife in… Recently I was looking out of the window, she brought her houseplants outside, she was probably replanting them, taking ground from under a tree. On top of her dressing-gown she had some old-school coat. Her son, a teenager, was digging in a puddle with a stick. She lovingly finished each plant, topped them up with more ground, dumped out the old one. It seemed like she was completely happy with her Saturday. I envied her.

Moreover, all of my plants wilt. Maybe that’s because I forget about them?


  1. Pavel Nikolayevich Filonov was an avant-garde painter, art theorist, and poet – Ed.

  2. Note from the Editor: the Union means Belarusian Union of Artists

THE CONGRESS-PERFORMANCE OF CULTURAL WORKERS

Minsk, November 23, 2019

Lo-Fi Social club / (Kastrychnickaja 16/3)

Masha Svyatogor: https://mashasvyatogor.com/

November 23, 2019 in Minsk will host the Congress-performance of cultural workers initiated by the members and participants of the project “STATUS: The role of artists in changing society” (Belarus and Sweden).

During the one-day event, there will be discussions and conversations, workshops and performances, as well as presentations of the artworks related to the issues of working conditions and legal status of artists in Belarus and Sweden, defending rights, equality, gender and age. Congress invites professionals from the field of culture and arts, as well as anyone interested in the stated topics.

The purpose of the Congress — to discuss and draw attention to the legal status of the artists in the Belarusian and Swedish society, in order to direct the attention of state bodies to the legal aspects that require a change in the context of new forms of artistic production and precarious work.

STATUS is a collective research project that has been created by the joint coordination of Swedish and Belarusian partners: Konstepidemin in Gothenburg and KX Space gallery in Brest. The aim of the project is to bring together artists and cultural workers with a common goal to analyze the conditions of artistic practice and give visibility to the people who conduct it in today’s world. The  publication ‘Artistic Positions in Changing Society. Observations from Belarus and Sweden’ that contains texts and artworks documentation in terms of STATUS project will be presented at the event.

Organizers of the project: Konstepidemin (Sweden), KX Space gallery (Brest).

Project partners: The Swedish Institute, Swedish Union of Artists.

Idea and realisation: Aleksei Borisionok, Tania Arcimovich, Inha Lindarenka, Alina Dzeravianka, Mona Wallström, Denis Romanovski.

Artwork for the poster: Masha Svyatagor.

Poster design: Maria Kirilchik.

Art intervention into the space: Sergey Shabohin.

Partisipants: Almira Ousmanova, Jonatan Habib Engqvist, Aleksei Borisionok, Mona Wallstrom, Sofia de la Fuente, Stsiapan Stureika, Tania Arcimovich, Uladzimir Hramovich, Alena Aharelysheva, Volha Maslouskaya, Aliaxey Talstou, Linda Tedsdotter, Lizaveta Mikhalchuk, Mikhail Gulin, Olia Maslovskaya, Sergey Shabohin.

There will be simultaneous English/Russian translation during the congress.

PROGRAM

10:00 The opening of the Congress and the presentation of the publication ‘Artistic Positions in Changing Society. Observations from Belarus and Sweden”.

10:15 – 12:00  Post Work. A panel discussion on art and labour.

Partisipants: Almira Ousmanova (Belarus/Lithuania), Jonatan Habib Engqvist (Sweden).

Moderated by Aleksei Borisionok.

12:00 – 14:00  Legal Status of Artists. What is the future? Panel discussion.

Partisipants: Tania Arcimovich, Uladzimir Hramovich, Linda Tedsdotter.

Moderated by Aliaxey Talstou.

14:15 ‘A Social Role’, performance by Mikhail Gulin.

15:00 – 16:30 Artistic Unions: cases of Belarus and Sweden. Panel discussion.

Partisipants: Sofia de la Fuente (vice head of board of Swedish Art Association and also representative of Sweden for International Artist Association) and Gleb Otchyk, First Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Union of Artists.

Moderated by Mona Wallstrom.

16:30 – 18:00 Art, gender and age: support structures and invisible work. Art-talk.

Moderated by Alena Aharelysheva.

18:30 – 20:00 Session of collective reading and discussion of the Codex of Culture.

Moderated by Stsiapan Stureika.

20:30 Perfomance by Olia Maslouskaya.

21:00-23.00 Music and drinks.

Post Work. A panel discussion on art and labour.

In 2012, the seminal book “WORK WORK WORK. A reader on Art and Labour” was published by IASPIS, The International Artists Studio Program in Stockholm. In his essay from this publication, theorist and curator Lars Bang Larsen registers the paradoxical relations of art and work. On the one hand, art has now more than ever been introduced into the socioeconomic sphere, and therefore could be recognised as work. On the other hand, artistic practice breaks the rhythm of working regime, being “a refusal to take part in the production and reproduction of that what exists”, in Bang Larsen’s words. What do we understand by cultural work today? How it is inserted into the market-driven economy and labor system, capitalist exploitation and bureaucratic control? How cultural workers address those issues, what are the ways of organising? What are the differences in Northern and Eastern Europe?

25 minute statements from a philosopher Almira Ousmanova and a curator Jonatan Habib Engqvist will be followed by moderated discussion and questions from the audience.

Partisipants: Almira Ousmanova (Belarus/Lithuania), Jonatan Habib Engqvist (Sweden).

Moderated by Aleksei Borisionok.

Legal Status of artists. What is the future? Panel discussion.

A widely known stereotype of hungry yet inspired artists manifests itself in the Belarusian reality through the uncertainty of their legal status among other things. The same applies to critics, curators, art managers, and other cultural workers. Being in rather precarious conditions, working from exhibition to exhibition, hoping for a sale or a minimal fee, agreeing to project work, taking part-time work and at the same time trying to build a career, people from this area are rarely confident in their future. But how to determine their current status? Who are they on the labor market? Private individuals, entrepreneurs, staff members on the contract? Or do they officially register as craftspersons? Is their professional affiliation confirmed by a certificate issued by the Ministry of Culture? Are they employed on another ‘official’ work? Or maybe they ‘parasite’ on state social policy? There are many questions. During the discussion, we will try to cover some of them.

Partisipants: Tania Arcimovich, Uladzimir Hramovich, Linda Tedsdotter.

Moderated by Aliaxey Talstou.

Artistic Unions: cases of Belarus and Sweden. Panel discussion.

We invite the representatives from artistic unions of Sweden and Belarus to speak about the urgent issues of its members, views towards cultural politics of their governments, problems and concerns regarding the legal status of artist and how the membership in the organisation can help artists to fight for their rights? How the artistic unions from Belarus and Sweden react to the new forms of creativity, new forms of employment and precarity?

Moderated by Mona Wallstrom.

Art, gender and age: support structures and invisible work. Art talk.

The talk will be dedicated to a position of artist-mother in the field of artistic production, economy, and precarious labor. Besides that, the talk will also address the questions related to the age and ageing, and discuss the importance of social welfare in artists’ lives.

Moderated by Alena Aharelyshava

Session of collective reading and discussion of the Codex of Culture.

Session of collective reading and discussion of the Codex of Culture will be based on the short presentations, readings and analysis of selected abstracts from the document. As a main legal document – Codex of Culture – was hardly discussed in details. Thus, the invited experts in different areas of knowledge – heritage, organisation of cultural events, gender, art unions, etc.

Moderated by Stsiapan Stureika.

ART THAT MAKES HERITAGE. SWEDISH AND BELARUSIAN PERSPECTIVES ON ART AND HERITAGIZATION

By Chiara Valli, in collaboration with Alina Dzeravianka and Elina Vidarsson

What is the role of art in changing societies? This question, at the core of the STATUS project, has certainly been asked and answered numerous times before by artists, philosophers, and intellectuals in different fields. Often, the answers dealt with consciousness and awareness: through artistic sensibility and aesthetic expressions, artistic practices provide new, unexpected connections and perspectives on the world.

What could our contribution be, answering the most existential question in art history: what is the role of art in changing societies? As a multidisciplinary group of female cultural workers, artists, and social researchers, we chose to delve into the question in dialogue with one another, by experimenting with ways to work together across disciplines and our diverse epistemologies. We chose to leave the comfort zones of our individual research methodologies, and to embrace dialogue, connections, and togetherness to come up with answers that would reach out in breadth, rather than focusing on inward looking, in depth individual research. Instead of centering our investigation around the personality and condition of the artist herself, then, we instead started reflecting about our general consciousness and ways of knowing the world. How are our consciousness formed? What do we see when we experience the world and think of ourselves in it? What do we take for granted? How are our collective identities formed? And finally, how can art shape those perceptions and ways of knowing?

Our perceptions of the world as individuals cannot be discerned from our experiential baggage, from the contexts we come from, and from the representations of those contexts. All those legacies constitutes our heritage. Heritage, as a way of interpreting and knowing the world, is seldom questioned or challenged, but rather it is taken for granted as a backdrop for our actions and choices. If art is about challenging accepted knowledge and representations, and offering fresh perspectives on the world, then, how can art change society by changing our heritage? Ultimately, how can art change the future by changing our perceptions of the past?

These questions guided our collective investigation efforts, whose ongoing outputs are presented below.

Some conceptual points of departure

Heritage is a complex and controversial term, but a common broad definition is: “[a]ll inherited resources which people value for reasons beyond mere utility.”1 More specifically, cultural heritage can be defined as “[i]nherited assets which people identify and value as a reflection and expression of their evolving knowledge, beliefs and traditions, and of their understanding of the beliefs and traditions of others.”2

We adopt an approach to heritage that comes from the academic field of Critical Heritage Studies. In this tradition, ‘heritage’ is not conceptualized as a set of objects or given entities, but rather as a process; heritage is always made through social and cultural collective processes that are always political.3 The process through which objects, practices and places are attached with values and transformed into heritage (or objects of preservation, display, and exhibition) is called heritagization4.

Somewhat counter intuitively, heritage-making is much more about the present than it is about the past. By being a process and a practice, heritage is “constantly chosen, recreated and renegotiated in the present5, to the point that it has been defined as “a production of the past in the present.”6 The past is brought and made alive into the present “through historical contingency and strategic appropriations, deployments, redeployments, and creation of connections and reconnection.”7

There are important distinctions, hence, between “the past (what has happened), history (selective attempts to describe this), and heritage (a contemporary product shaped from history”8Heritage “is thus a product of the present, purposefully developed in response to current needs or demands for it, and shaped by those requirements”9.

Understanding how heritage is produced and negotiated, hence, is a way to understand the present power relations and conflicts over the affirmation of identities. Heritage is used “to construct, reconstruct and negotiate a range of identities and social and cultural values and meanings in the present.”10 Importantly, these processes of reconstruction and negotiation of identities are sociopolitical processes that reflect the power structures of the society they are embedded in. The negotiation of the meanings of heritage is “a struggle over power (…) because heritage is itself a political resource.”11

Still, what is commonly acknowledged as heritage, i.e. what is valued as an official expression of the culture of a nation and displayed in public space as monuments, museums objects, fine arts, and reliquaries is also accepted as of unquestionably valuable, its importance supported by historical self-evidence and as a testimony of a neutral, and often glorified past. This process of removal or cancellation of the political, dialectical, conflicting dimensions of heritage is problematic because it reproduces homogenized, hegemonic representations of society, excluding minority, conflicting, dissonant, and individual voices and identities.

In urban areas for instance, the architecture and the display of historical layers becomes a normalized backdrop for people’s daily activities, so that the political struggles that shaped and constituted our cities become “hidden in plain sight”. As urban heritage is uncritically accepted and normalized, it can become a tool for authority making, unconsciously reinforcing hegemonic powers.

Heritage, art and political action

“Aesthetic experience has a political effect to the extent that the loss of destination that it presupposes disturbs the way in which bodies fit their functions and destinations. What it produces is… a multiplication of connections and disconnections that reframe the relation between bodies, the world where they live and the way in which they are ‘equipped’ for fitting it. It is a multiplicity of folds and gaps in the fabric of common experience that change the cartography of the perceptible, the thinkable and the feasible. As such, it allows for new modes of political construction of common objects and new possibilities of collective enunciation”12

How can art contribute to challenge and revert authoritative ways of making heritage? How can art make more plural, inclusive, democratic present and futures, by working with history and the past?

If, as it is often stated, art is a tool for bringing up dissonance and dissensus, by using aesthetics to make the invisible power plays visible (Rancière), art can also destabilize the often taken-for-granted notions of the past, and make their conflicting political connotations visible. This goes, of course, also for those political conflicting layers that are “hidden in plain sight” in our streets, squares, parks, museums, and public spaces.

Based in two national contexts, Sweden and Belarus, we collected a selection of examples where the arts have explicitly worked to challenge typical notions of the past, helped unpack the normalized superficial notion of heritage, and revealed it is as a mosaic of dissonant, alternative histories which result from political struggles. Interested in the generative power of art beyond its critical capacities, we also included examples where art is used to actively make heritage. To this purpose, two artist members of our group, i.e. Ingrid Falk and Linda Tedsdotter, engaged their own artistic practices to perform heritage-making in participatory ways, and explored some distinctive ways in which some selected histories should be preserved for the future in order to become heritage.

The art and Heritage catalogue

Our collection of examples of art and heritage practices can be read according to different themes and interpretations. Here, we propose a transversal reading that follows three red threads that examine what art does with/for heritage. These three threads are 1) art contesting authorized heritage; 2) art making hidden heritage visible; 3) art making heritage. The distinctions are not clear-cut and two or more motivations can coexist in each project or actions.

1) Art contesting authorized heritage

Irony and sarcasm have long been used in art to provide social and political critique, challenge traditions, and sedimented representations. This is the case with the whole production of the Swedish artist Peter Johansson, who targets right-wing nationalism by semantically appropriating and distorting symbols of national Swedish tradition and identity, like the Swedish flag, traditional red and white wooden houses (“stuga”), the popular sausages kiosks.

In Belarus Marina Naprushkina (who now lives in Berlin) uses appropriation of style, symbolics and hollowness of the current regime ideology of Belarus to question the current issues and politics of the state. In 2007 Naprushkina created the “Büro für Anti-Propaganda”, i.e. a research and documentation project which investigates how manipulation and control are used in nation-state of Belarus.13

Moreover, artists and cultural producers have sometimes led protests and debates around controversial monumental heritage, especially when exhibited in public urban spaces. One example is the art project “Daddy come home”, which deals with the relocalization of Kopparmärra, an equestrian statue of King Karl IX in the city center of Gothenburg. The debate about the statue relocalization was initiated by the Swedish film director Ruben Östlund and Kalle Boman, film professor and film producer, who questioned the monument’s relevance and what it represented. The monument on Kopparmärra at Kungsportsplatsen depicts Karl IX, father of Gustaf II Adolf. Ruben Östlund proposed to move Karl IX statue next to his son Gustav’s statue on Gustaf Adolf’s square, outside the City Hall of Gothenburg but in a less central place. The statue, they argue, represents a history that should not be romanticized. Therefore the king should not stand on a pedestal and should be removed or at least moved to a less central square. They also proposed to add the statues of Gustav II Adolf’s mother, Kristina, and perhaps the daughter, Queen Kristina, in the name of gender equality.

On the spot where Kopparmärra now stands, Östlund wants to create an art installation connected to the art project “Rutan”, a white square in Värnamo and which is supposed to be a place where people help each other and take responsibility for common rights and obligations. In the square people should be able to ask for help but also leave some objects, without them disappearing. “The square is a symbolic place that resembles our shared responsibility and builds a common agreement. The square can become a new landmark in Gothenburg to agree on (…) because from this box we do not steal.” A building permit application has been submitted to the municipality and the question is currently being debated.

The value of art objects themselves and the artistic heritage exposed in museums can be questioned and challenged by artists. “Horse in a coat” is an art project on borders and contraband, which was created specifically for the Brest museum by the Belarusian contemporary artist Ruslan Vashkevich. Contrabanded objects of Modern Art confiscated by Brest customs officers had to play the role of an invader and colonizer of the museum space in order to mix the perception of familiar objects and their functional purpose.

The project was first planned to be shown in the museum, but after museum professionals saw the objects, they refused to go on with the exhibition. The artist had to find a new installation place in one day. He found a place in a shopping mall, which added extra provocative tone to the project. The Museum of saved values (Музей спасенных ценностей) is the only museum in Belarus where works of art and antiques confiscated by Brest customs officers in the attempt to be smuggled abroad are exhibited. The main questions are: how is a collection formed? What is the value of the smuggled objects? Why do they became a museum objects? Ruslan tried to put critical view on the exhibited museum objects. Most of the objects he collected for the exhibition are the same objects as in museum but with some added artistic value. Then, what has more heritage value? The confiscated art objects per se, or the objects created by artist Ruslan Vashkevich?

2) Making hidden heritage visible

Political actions about making heritage is often achieved by adding, bringing to light, highlighting, uncovering and telling stories and legacies that have been neglected or silenced in the authorized heritage discourse. Typically, it is the legacies of women, minority groups, dissident communities that are silenced, repressed and erased from our common memory. We found contemporary examples of art and craft projects that worked to make some hidden forms of heritage visible through aesthetic practices and community engagement.

Brest Stories Guide, by Kryly Halopa theatre (2017) is a project at the intersection of art, tourism, and cultural heritage preservation, the result of the co-work of about twenty people, including historians, Jewish organizations experts and Brest theaters actors.

The project consists of an audioplay about the the anti-Semitic manifestations since 1937, the Brest Jewish ghetto and the obliteration of the Jewish community in 1941-1942. This tour around a “nonexistent” Brest is based on materials from archives, books, photos, and interviews with survivors and other witnesses. Unpublished reports of German officers from the archives were also used. The play becomes a kind of investigation with the hearing of witnesses in the case of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in Brest in the 1930s and 1940s. Now Brest has a history told not by the authors of textbooks and the creators of heroic narratives, but by its inhabitants. The mobile application consists of an audioplay and a city map which allow the user to navigate freely on the map with key places of Jewish heritage and historical events. Streets, buildings, and yards become a stage on which the voices from the past sound. The “Kryly Khalopa” theatre offers the viewer/listener to plunge into the history, and also see the outlines of a disappeared Brest through the face of today’s city.

Photographic documentation can be a powerful tool for bringing to light hidden histories. In Belarus, pagan traditions are rapidly disappearing, also because of the affirmation of Christian cult and the influence it has had since the 1960s-70s in Belarusian society. The photobook Paganstva by Andrey Liankevich (2010) collects and shows some of the pagan traditions and customs that still exist in Belarus. The book came from the artist’s conviction that living in the Christian tradition, we do not always understand that these traditions only appeared after thousands of years of pagan beliefs and taboos. Traces of paganism and superstitions are still present in modern society, especially in rural areas. Liankevich’s book brings this popular cultural heritage back to attention and attends to its memory preservation, also by challenging the hegemony of Christianity as the main and only cultural reference for modern society.

Personal heritage is political heritage, too. During the Soviet and Post-Soviet times, collecting and treasuring family photo archives was not an encouraged or widespread practice in Belarus. The emphasis was put on collective social history rather than personal, family histories. The VEHA project, initiated by a collective of artists based in Minsk and the art director Lesya Pchelka, is dedicated to the preservation of family photos archives in Belarus and deals with the renewal, analysis and reconstruction of family archives. Through printed and digital archives, it helps creating value around family history and encourages to get a better understanding of one’s identity, roots, personal heritage.

Similarly, personal and private practices like handicraft, most often conducted by women in the private spaces of home, can become political acts and challenge male domination of public space and artistic expressions. A form of “craftivism”, Guerrilla-knitting “takes that most matronly craft (knitting) and that most maternal of gestures (wrapping something cold in a warm blanket) and transfers it to the concrete and steel wilds of the urban streetscape”14. Guerrilla-knitters have a feminist orientation, distance themselves from consumerism and give new light to the hand-made, labor-intensive production.

This is an international movement (in the Global North, at least), but it is a particularly widespread phenomenon in Sweden since the early 2010s. This is an example of alternative heritage making because it seeks to reinterpret the traditional handicrafts of knitting that historically has been performed by women in the private space of their homes, and bring them out to the streets. It also represents a soft and warm feminist critique to the heritage of the male-domination in the graffiti art subculture. In Sweden, it is particularly interesting because it also represents a way to get around the zero-tolerance policy against graffiti art. The guerrilla-knitting group Masquerade based in Stockholm states: “We often have political messages, but sometimes we don’t. Once, we decided to celebrate Sweden’s few female statues by dressing up four of them as superheroines.”15 This is a form of criticizing the male-dominated authorized heritage in Sweden through arts and crafts.

3) Art making new heritage

Finally, the generative power of art can not only make existing heritage and legacies visible, but can be active promoter of new forms of heritage, some to be actively made and preserved for the future generations. This is often rooted, of course, in existing traditions and history, and the fine line between preserving the existing heritage and making new one is difficult to draw. However, we collected here some examples where the arts have proactively contributed in generating heritage for the future by adding new values to existing objects, places, expressions, and hence revealed them as unedited forms of heritage.

The Shoreline memorial is a raised stone with a plaque engraved with “Spela Shoreline”. The monument was put up in a large park in Gothenburg (Slottsskogen) by two anonymous artists in 2014. The monument is dedicated to the memory of the Swedish alternative rock band “Broder Daniel” and placed on the site where the band had its final concert in 2008. However the city’s Park and Nature Administration wanted it removed because it was put up without legal approval. This provoked a huge social media response. Both the public and celebrities argued for its value. A Facebook campaign was created to convince the city´s Park and Nature Administration that the public wanted the monument to stay. Just after two days, the campaign was joined by 5000 people. After some time the political board of the city´s Park and Nature Administration made a formal decision to let the monument stay in the park. Four years later the rock is at a temporary exhibition called “Public Luxury” at the museum ArkDes (Sweden’s National Center for Architecture and Design) in Stockholm.

This case constitutes an interesting example of art making new heritage for several reasons: first, it elevated a piece of contemporary culture to the role of heritage through the traditional semiotic tool of the monumental object, yet it did it from a grassroots perspective, which managed to catalyze large grassroots popularity through contemporary social media. As one of its anonymous creators put it: “It is not a dusty sword bearer or sad bust of any Czech poet who no one read. It is contemporary history and speaks to the souls of Gothenburg´s people.”

It is a memory of the Swedish youth subculture “Panda Poppare” which is inspired by Brit-pop and pop art. Some also call (or rather called) themselves “BDpoppare” where BD stands for Broder Daniel, one of the most popular bands of the subculture. So it is interesting that a subculture that more or less died with the breakup of the band, is in a way materialized through this monument. From immaterial to material cultural heritage.

Finally, the case raises the question of the fetishization of art and the gentrification of grassroots artistic expressions. This monument, in fact, has done a “class journey”. It came from the bottom, was challenged by the decision makers and was approved from the top. And now it is on tour in the capital on one of the finest museums and part of the exhibition Public luxury.

The similar grassroot initiative exist in Minsk, Belarus – it is the wall of Tsoi. The wall of Tsoi is a monument dedicated to the famous rock musician Viktor Tsoi (music band Kino), and it was installed in the Lyakhovsky Park in Minsk. In 1990, after the death of Viktor Tsoi, the wall appeared on the concrete slabs of October Square in the heart of Minsk. There were different marks, writings, pictures of musician left by his fans. In 1997 the most of the plates were removed, but the remaining two were moved to Internatsionalnaya Street, that is still the centre of Minsk. In 2010 the wall was restored in the park near the Dynamo stadium close to the university dormitories. It is still a popular place to hang out for people from subculture around Tsoi and band Kino. However the Viktor Tsoi is often associated with the marginal subcultures. One of his songs about Change was once forbidden for public listenings and radio because of its revolutionary mood. So like with the case of Shoreline memorial, the wall panels of Tsoi were created by bottom-up initiative, but then preserved and still kept by the city authorities despite its controversial meaning.

Another example is Kulturtemplet, an old water reservoir at Gråberget in Sweden that was closed down for over 70 years until one day when a musician found this place. He walked inside and noticed that the reservoir had an amazing acoustic. Since that day he has been trying to turn the reservoir into a “contemporary temple to worship listening and emptiness.”

Finally, it is important to shed attention to how artistic practices and producers are involved in processes of urban valorization and heritagization that often result in the negative effects of gentrification. There are many examples of this, but we here mention the process of acknowledging the neighborhood of Haga, in Gothenburg, as protected heritage. Haga was planned to be demolished in the 1970s. Through protests that saw a large involvement of artists and cultural workers (in the late 1970s-1980s, it was the core of the punk music scene in Gothenburg), it became acknowledged as heritage and saved from demolition. Now it is one of the most gentrified areas in Gothenburg. This is an example of how well-intentioned processes of heritagization in urban spaces often become co-opted and become instruments for gentrification. There are several cases that could be brought up, but this is a striking one on the ambivalence and risks that heritagization processes can bring about, even when they start from grassroots initiatives.

A similar example in Minsk is the the Oktyabrskaya street and its development of former factory area into bars, creative spaces, and cultural consumption amenities. At the beginning of the 20th century it was the industrial outskirts of Minsk and place for the factory MZOR dealing with steel and factory machines. But by the 2010s, a process of revitalization had started there. First the photo gallery Znyata opened together with cafe NewTon. In 2012 a bar Huligan was opened, and the street became a lively place in the city life. In 2014 at Oktyabrskaya the street art festival Vulica Brasil was organized that created the first big murals on the walls of a former factory and an independent art venue, CECH, moved in. Nowadays part of the premises were bought by the bank for future development, more and more restaurants opened here, as well as hotels and offices. The destiny of local, small businesses and artistic spaces reflects a well-known path in cities around the world: priced out, they are swiftly displaced by more remunerative activities. Like in Haga in Gothenburg, the well intentioned process to revitalize the abandoned industrial area became a starting point for gentrification.

Our art practices: making heritage

Two artists in our group, Linda Tedsdotter and Ingrid Falk, created ad-hoc original artistic contribution to our common research on art and heritage-making.

Linda Tedsdotter in her project ‘Apocalypse Insurance-Waterproof–A Selection of Art History’ questions: what shall the future of art history include?

She offered other artists to send her their books and catalogues, to manifest what should be preserved as Art History. Linda also emphasizes that she works with a series of pieces based on the idea of herself as an artist prepper. She tries to use her artistic work to secure the potential dark future we are facing. In her works she tries to answer the question: What do I need as a person to survive, and how can I use my present work to help out in different future scenarios and at the same time express the obvious damage we all participate in.

For the exhibition in Gothenburg at Galleri 54, in March 2019, she collected artists books, vacuum packed them and piled them on a floatable “pallet”.

In this artwork Linda contributes to the topic of art, contesting authorized heritage. With this work we are forced to think about who should decide what Art History includes and how the present artists will be presented in the future.

Ingrid Falk uses a performative practice to work with the topic of heritagization. She goes public and uses questionnaires to gather audience reflections on the issue of heritagization and the role of cultural workers. In her practice, she takes on the twofold roles of the “research rabbit” and “cockroach-parasite”. A rabbit was chosen because it is a domesticated animal that is sometimes used for contributing to human activities, while a cockroach is a parasite, is not useful in any conventional ways and does not contribute to society in most cases.

Having these two roles on her, Ingrid wanted to question and reconsider what is meant by heritage now, and how society and smaller communities can contribute to the heritagization process.

In her questionnaires, she asked adults and small children the following questions:

1) What do you like doing most of all? Some activity? Something you do in company or would do if you had some others to join you? Is there anything you think you want to tell the children of the future about? Why? What is special about ‘doing’ ‘making’ ‘saying’ or ‘action/activity’?

2) Is there something (object) – a tool or a toy – that you are particular fond of? Is there an object you want to tell the children of the future about? Why?

3) Is there a place – around here – or somewhere else – that you are particularly fond of? Is that space or place or building important to save for the children of the future? Why?

4) What do you think heritagization can do? What is your proposal for a heritagization-process?

5) Do you have any idea what artists do today? What do you think artists should/could do today?

You can read more about the findings in Ingrid’s article. Maybe by reading these questions you can try to answer them for yourself and then think about the future we create, taking something from the past and present. What we see as a heritage should be a constant discussion and reflection.

Concluding remarks

The presented artistic interventions constitute moments of heritage politics, because they challenge in different ways hegemonic, authorized heritage discourse. They articulate alternative ways of interpreting collective memory and social imagination, and by doing so they make heritage more plural and inclusive. In this way, even when not explicitly, they commit to emancipatory heritage political actions. By making the invisible visible, by contesting what is taken for granted, and by creatively proposing alternative imaginaries for the future, artistic practices can impact our perceptions of reality and have a role in shaping how societies can change.


  1. English Heritage 2008:71

  2. English Heritage 2008:71

  3. Tunbridge, Ashworth 1996, Harvey 2001, Smith 2006

  4. Walsh 1992, Harrison 2013

  5. Rodney Harrison. Heritage. Critical Approaches. London: Routledge, 2013., p. 165

  6. Rodney Harrison: Heritage. Critical Approaches. London: Routledge, 2013., p. 32

  7. Silverman, Waterton, and Watson, 2017, p. 4

  8. Tunbridge, Ashworth 1996:20

  9. Tunbridge, Ashworth 1996:6

  10. Smith 2006, p. 3

  11. Smith 2006, p. 281

  12. Jacques Rancière. Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art. In Art & Research. Volume 2, # 1 Summer, 2008. See http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v2n1/ranciere.html#_ftn1 Accessed 15 March 2019

    2008, p. 13

  13. More details on Marina Naprushkina works are available http://marina-naprushkina.de/

  14. Wollan, Malia (2011). “Graffiti’s Cozy, Feminine Side” in the New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/fashion/creating-graffiti-with-yarn.html. Accessed 21 December, 2018

  15. Rotschild, Nathalie (2009).“Sweden: Where graffiti is prohibited, urban knitters make a new street art” in the Christian Science Monitor https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2009/0922/sweden-where-graffiti-is-prohibited-urban-knitters-make-a-new-street-art. Accessed 21 December, 2018

THE TRIAL. MINISTRY OF CULTURE AGAINST ART WORKERS

War of definitions

For art workers in Belarus, 2019 began with a scandal in terminology. On January 2, a scan of an official letter composed by the Ministry of Culture appeared on the Facebook page of the Belarusian Union of Designers (later referred to as BUD). Referring to the Culture Code of the Republic of Belarus, the letter stated that ‘exhibition activities’ can be considered neither intellectual, nor artistic.

This absurd piece of news about the Ministry of Culture’s claims that art curators do not perform creative work then left the professional community and appeared even on tut.by, the most popular web-portal of the Belarusian Internet, causing outrage and mockery.

Outraged comments to the original post on BUD Facebook page. Illustrations: Valentine Duduk

Numerous commentators joked about how the Ministry of Culture betrays its own name – be it a joke about laundry, referring to a soviet-time anecdote (Phone call: somebody calls to the laundromat but gets instead to the reception desk at the Ministry of Culture. The representative of the ministry reacts rudely, not ‘culturally’), or later jokes on the Ministry of High Physical Culture (opposing the ideas of ‘high culture’ with ‘brute physical force’) as well as a word play Ministry off Culture. Tellingly, in all these jokes the ministry remains a ministry.

Anecdotal at first, this verdict on the status of ‘exhibition activities’ shows, in fact, several forms of structural decay and tensions within current Belarusian culture politics: between the state cultural policy and Contemporary Art, official, and unofficial institutions, economic, and intellectual activities.

The Machinery of the Ministry of Culture

The modern Ministry of Culture of Belarus has functioned for the past 65 years and was established on May 8, 1953, a couple of months after Stalin’s death. In 1991, a striking year for the Soviet Union, the Office from the union-republic1 became republican2, and its structural subdivisions began to be called not departments, but soviets or councils (now they are again called departments). There were a few other changes, even the Minister of Culture remained the same.3 Moreover, the main document defining the activities of the ministry for a long time was the Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) signed on February 12, 1970 which was replaced only in 1996.4

The first task that the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus is to conduct public administration in the sphere of culture. The second task of the Ministry is to determine the overall strategy for the development of the cultural sphere. However, a contradiction lies in this sequence: action is either initiated with a strategy or otherwise the institution would carry out the decisions of other authorities. The second, third, fourth, and other tasks of the Ministry, including the eleventh, can only clarify the first one.5

Since the Republic of Belarus has existed as an independent country, the Ministry of Culture has been headed by 8 ministers (see Table 1). Following information about them, we can observe three main trends: the ministers are younger and they increased bureaucratic manageability and merger of the ministry with the Institute of Culture. Thus, men born around 1950 were replaced by men born around 1970, scholars were replaced by lawyers with a background in the Academy of Public Administration under the aegis of the President, and the last two ministers of culture got their positions from the position of rector of the Institute of Culture.

Table 1. The Ministers of Culture of the Republic of Belarus, 1991-2019

The first two tendencies can be observed in any modern ministry within the Republic of Belarus after 2008. In this year, at least a minimal modernization of the system was demanded in response to the global financial crisis, but the ministry’s fixation with culture, more precisely on a special understanding of culture assigned to the whole Institute and its personnel, is a rather recent phenomenon.

In the zone of special attention

2016 was the year when the government went for culture. The president announced 2016 to be the Year of Culture (with the goals of forming high culture of society, preserving cultural heritage and folk traditions, teaching citizens to love their motherland6) and the Parliament passed the Culture Code,7 the work on which had been ongoing for more than 5 years.

Why was so much attention paid to the field of culture? In October 2015, President Lukashenko was re-elected for his fifth presidential term. It was a new geopolitical circumstance when Russia gradually reduced economic and political support for the regime, significantly increased investment in the cultural sphere of the ‘Russian world’ and was ready for more aggressive actions against its neighboring countries. A special cultural sphere, separate from the ‘Russian world’ became for Lukashenko’s regime an important guarantor of preserving his own power. In 2016 the concept of ‘soft Belarusization’ started circulating in the media of Belarus, characterizing the expansion of opportunities in the use of Belarusian language and national symbols in public. Street signs with historical names appeared in the streets, that officially still bear the names of the BSSR; Belarusian language started to be more noticeably used by private business.

In parallel, more and more money was accumulated in the sphere of culture. According to the Minister of Culture of the time, Boris Svetlov: “in general private business strongly supports cultural projects and individual institutions. It is the sign of the times as well as the other: cultural institutions start earning themselves and the numbers are quite outstanding. In 2015 cultural institutions independently earned 4,3 times more than in 2011.”8 “Belgazprombank” was one of the key private players in this sphere (in 2016 among local banks it was placed sixth in terms of assets, seventh in terms of capital base, fourth in terms of profits).

The state’s stepping-in to the cultural sphere caused a certain resistance from independent artists. In the same time span of 2016, Ruslan Vashkevich, an artist not connected to official or state structures, tried to reclaim culture: in the beginning of the year, Vashkevich presented a personal exhibition, Culture channel, in the private gallery, Dom Kartin, and by the end of the year, organized a farewell carnival ceremony seeing ‘the Year of Culture’ off on its final journey in the form of a buffet at the recycling point at the foot of the “Severniy” landfill, the largest landfill in Belarus.9 Another example is Aliaxey Talstou’s appeal to the court. The artist filed a complaint about the impossibility to obtain information on the budget allocation for purchasing objects to the funds of the National Center for Contemporary Arts in Minsk. The case was dismissed.10

State and creativity

“This [2016] year (year of the Monkey) people within the cultural sphere were remarkably often receiving paper slaps from officials and bureaucrats,” said Ruslan Vashkevich, commenting on the adoption of the Culture Code.11 On the very first page of a normal document, you see quotations from the official explanation of the Ministry of Culture regarding the exhibition activities, which caused laughter and anger three years later:

1.14. Creative activity is a direction of cultural activity that includes artistic creativity and other intellectual activity that give rise to the emergence of a new previously non-existent result of intellectual activity in the cultural sphere.

1.7. Cultural activity is the activity of creation, restoration (revival), preservation, protection, study, use, distribution, and (or) popularization of cultural values; provision of cultural goods; aesthetic education of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign citizens and people without citizenship; organization of cultural recreation (leisure) for the population; methodological assistance to the actors of cultural activity.

These definitions do not mean anything and acquire their value only in specific situations – specifically to make decision about any creative activity that can cause a conflict. That is what we will see next. In the meantime, it is interesting to note the context in which these definitions are embedded – the most popular adjective in the text of the Culture Code is ‘state’. At the same time the adjective ‘contemporary’ can be found in the text 35 times less often, and there is not a word about Contemporary Art.

There is not one word on state policy in the definition of creative activity given in the Code although the document places creative activity in the cultural sector, which in turn is a state activity. From now on, the decision on what constitutes creative activity is made by the relevant government body.

The resolution of 1970, which determined the activities of the Ministry of Culture for almost half of its existence, stated that expert commissions should play an important role in the activities of the Ministry. This legacy is preserved, used and is propagated today.

Expert committee on exemption from tax on parasitism

The most noticeable commission of the Ministry of Culture in recent years has been the expert committee for confirming the status of a creative worker. The procedure for issuing a professional certificate was provided in 2010: however, only in 2015 did art workers become aware of the situation in which they found themselves after the Presidential Decree of April 2, 2015 № 3 “On the Prevention of Social Parasitism”. They began to apply for such a certificate, since only its presence could free creative workers without employment from the so-called ‘tax on parasitism’. In the first nine months after the adoption of the decree, 10 commission meetings took place; 47 applications were reviewed and 26 professional certificates were issued12 – i.e. the probability of obtaining a professional certificate and being exempt from tax on parasitism slightly exceeded 50%.

The applicant’s achievements are among the formal criteria that influences the commission’s decision: state awards, titles of laureate, diplomas on participating in international, republican, and regional cultural events and other forms of awards over the course of the last three years. The commission also evaluates the professional and artistic level of the works. Works must be published, performed publicly, or shared with others by other means at least twice a year in the past three years. Finally, one of the criteria in which the commission determines whether a person is assigned the status of a creative worker is the novelty of work, an independent result of intellectual activity.13 Thus, when the Ministry of Culture declared that ‘exhibition activities’ is not intellectual, it potentially attributed independent art curators to the category of social parasites.

Nevertheless, comments14 made by the members of the committee show that they relied much more on personal ideas on talent and compassion, rather than formal criteria:

  • For me talent is the result of work, when a person already has something to show. The certificate is issued on the basis of a specific material, not in advance. … Almost everything that I had seen before was not close to me personally, but I voted ‘for’, as sometimes you just feel pity for a person. Truth be told none of the applicants were worthy of receiving a certificate.
    (Rygor Sitnitsa, Chairman of the Union of Artists ).

  • In the commission there are all the top representatives of the Republican Creative Unions: to enter, which you need to have high qualifications and professional status. And these criteria cannot be applied to people for whom creativity, for example, is simply a spiritual need. According to the Civil Code of the Republic of Belarus, works of science, literature and art, regardless of the purpose, dignity and mode of expression, are protected by copyright. In this context, the ‘work’ as a result of creative activity is not an evaluative category.
    (Dmitry Sursky, Chairman of the Union of Designers ).

The expert commission consisted of 13 people: representatives of the ministries of culture and information, leaders of creative unions of Belarus. Until the end of 2018 the commission was headed by the First Deputy Minister of Culture, Irina Driga. The signature of Irina Driga stands under the letter on clarifying the status of exhibition activities. It is important to specify that this letter was made in response to a request from the chairman of the Union of Designers, Dmitry Sursky. Driga and Sursky are both members of the same commission that decides whether a creative worker is a creative worker and whether people engaged in creative work outside official institutions were supposed to be given an exemption from paying social parasitism tax.

Role of the individual in history

Irina Driga was born in 1970, graduated from the Institute of Culture with a degree in Library Science and Bibliography, worked in the Presidential Office in the department analyzing work of media, and she later worked in the Department for Ideological Affairs. By some accounts,15 she could be related to the creation of so-called black lists and banning of concerts of Belarusian musicians in 2004, 2010, and 2012. In 2014, Irina Driga was appointed the First Deputy Minister of Culture. At the end of October 2018, before the Listapad film festival began, it came to light that from that year onwards the organizers of the film festival would select films for the national competition and the final decision would belong to the commission formed of “film experts, film distributors and even philosophers and sociologists”16 and headed by the First Deputy Minister of Culture. This was perceived as an attempt of imposing censorship – such intervention could affect accreditation of Listapad in FIAPF. As a result, the creators of two films took their films from the festival, while film critic Andrei Rasinsky encouraged filmmakers not to let their films be shown at the festival unless Irina Driga was fired. A month later she lost her position17 but remained in the Ministry of Culture and now heads the Department of Culture and Analytical Work. This became known in an official explanation regarding exhibition activities that was signed by her. Perhaps it was the former deputy minister who cultivated a prohibitive style in the decision-making processes of the Ministry of Culture in general and special commissions in particular, but this cannot be said with certainty. It is known, however, that it was she who answered ‘no’ responding to the chairman of the Union of Designers on whether curators perform creative activities.

Translation of the scan of the official letter composed by the Ministry of Culture
Symbolic and real opposition

It is important that the request of the Belarusian Union of Designers was not entirely about exhibition activities, but more about whether charging admission fees to exhibitions of works made by members of the Creative Union is one of the types of commercial activities that creative union members can carry out without establishing commercial organizations or participating in them (Article 59 clause 7 of the Culture Code):

…Creative unions have the right to carry out the following types of business activities without establishing commercial organizations and (or) participating in them:

  • film and television production activities;
  • activities aimed towards the development of educational program for training courses … and improvement of the resources and abilities of the individual;
  • creative activities and entertainment.

Thus, an explanation when answering the question on whether exhibitions constitute commercial activities or not – depending on if there is an entrance fee to the exhibits – was interpreted by the art community, media, and the general public as a statement about the status of artistic activities.18 This turned into absurd news and became another proof of the Ministry’s anti-cultural position. It seems that the Ministry of Culture has hardly changed in all the years of its existence and undoubtedly its bureaucratic and ideological inertia is strong enough so that jokes about the laundry or “the Ministry of High Physical Culture” still remain relevant and therefore, the artistic community (as well as the wider interested public) believes that they alone are entitled to high culture and genuine creativity. The symbolic confrontation between the stagnant state cultural policy and the unofficial, alternative culture has once again been reproduced – a conceptual scheme familiar to Belarus since perestroika (‘restructuring’), when the state lost full control over the public sphere and, despite serious efforts, could not return it. 19

In this context, one state institution refused the second in special conditions of economic activity, after which the second brought the conflict into public. To compare, here is an example of what the institution is ready to permit: in 2014, Irina Driga signed a decree that changed the boundaries of the protective zone of the Kurapaty memorial, reducing its territory. This permitted a restaurant to be built there.20

It is likely that, if Irina Driga had responded positively to the request of Dmitry Sursky, no scandal on the status of exhibition activities would have appeared. To be specific the same scandal could have arisen at a future date, when some other actor within cultural policy would disagree with the Ministry of Culture on the economic status of their activities and would try to control the outcome of the correspondence by putting public pressure on the ministry. From the very beginning the economic conflict was presented by one of the parties (BUD) as an ideological one and that was easily picked up by the artistic community, as nothing was required for a symbolic victory: the Ministry of Culture receives a technical defeat simply due to non-appearance as it does not participate in ideological discussions, it simply puts forward state policy to manage culture. At the same time, although state authorities generally prefer to act using internal procedures, a wide public discussion of separate issues sometimes influences official decision-making.

Three weeks later a new official statement appeared on the same public page explaining that the National Center for Legislation and Legal Research under the Presidential Office is collecting information about gaps and ambiguous interpretations in the text of the Culture Code from all interested parties. This was perceived by the BUD as a result of the public opinion’s influence: “It is no coincidence that we noticed some contradictions in the Culture Code. Thanks to our efforts, it was not only we who noticed them.”21

The Ministry of Culture has already set for itself as one of the tasks for 2018 to analyze the practical application of the Code and to develop proposals for making amendments and additions to it. Another task was to intensify interactions with public associations in the field of culture while preparing draft regulations. Therefore, it is also quite possible that the Ministry of Culture continued to follow its procedures regardless of the public reaction.

With this course of events there is a danger for independent artists to turn to self-discipline: by asking the Ministry more and more clarifying questions, you can get more and more controlling, restrictive answers, since the Ministry of Culture can give such answers on the grounds of its real structure. At the same time there are other ways to appeal to the Ministry of Culture and other state bodies as to summon them to appear before court or externally problematise the very principles of state institution existence, as Alaixey Talstou did, or to undermine the Ministry’s monopoly on cultural activities from various sides following the example of Ruslan Vashkevich.

If the Ministry of Culture does not officially recognize art workers, all that is left to do for them is to publicly declare the Ministry of Culture as their enemy.


  1. Note from the Editor: Union-Republic refers to all the countries that were part of the Republics – sovereign socialist States – within the Soviet Union, which Belarus was one of. A ministry as being subordinate to the Union-Republic was under the power of the Union-Republics sovereign rule as opposed to just the central office in Moscow under the USSR.

  2. Note from the Editor: Republican here refers to an autonomous Belarus and its transition from BSSR to the Republic of Belarus.

  3. Vysshie organi gosudarstvennoi vlasti i centralnogo upravleniya Belorusskoy SSR (1965-1991)/R.P. Platonov, M.K. Bober, S.V. Jumar. — p. 3. — Mn.: BelNIIDAD, 2000. — pp. 54-58.

  4. Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus of August 9, 1996 № 525 “On the approval of the Regulations on the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus”, URL: http://pravo.levonevsky.org/bazaby09/sbor78/text78244.htm.

  5. Regulations on the Ministry of Culture under the resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus of 17.01.2017 № 40, URL: http://pravo.by/document/?guid=12551&p0=C21700040&p1=1.

  6. Presidential Decree of the Republic of Belarus № 522 of December 28, 2015

  7. The Culture Code of the Republic of Belarus of July 20, 2016, URL: http://etalonline.by/document/?regnum=Hk1600413#load_text_none_1_

  8. Boris Svetlov’s interview to Zhanna Kotlerova “The year of culture will become a year of Belarusian art popularization”, URL: https://www.belta.by/interview/view/god-kultury-stanet-godom-populjarizatsii-belorusskogo-iskusstva-4563/.

  9. Furshet na svalke. Gudozhniki i muzikanti provodili god kulturi (Reception at a landfill. Artists and musicians saw the year of culture off), URL: https://news.tut.by/culture/525676.html.

  10. Tanya Artsimovich, 2016: MASTATSTVA, YAKOE ZVYARTAETSA U SUD, URL: http://partisanmag.by/?p=16059.

  11. Furshet na svalke. Gudozhniki i muzikanti provodili god kulturi (Reception at a landfill. Artists and musicians saw the year of culture off), URL: https://news.tut.by/culture/525676.html.

  12. The Ministry of Culture explained the procedure for issuing a professional certificate of a creative worker, URL: https://www.belta.by/culture/view/minkultury-obnarodovalo-porjadok-vydachi-professionalnogo-sertifikata-tvorcheskogo-rabotnika-188484-2016.

  13. Anastasia Lukyanova. Kak hudozhniki stanoviatsia tuneyadsami (How artists become social parasites), URL: https://news.tut.by/society/495172.html?crnd=12563

  14. Op.cit.

  15. «Sheraga kardynala» belaruskago roku pryznazyli i namesniki ministra, URL: http://tuzinfm.by/zhamerun/838/seraha-kardynala-bielaruskaha-roku-pryznacyli-u.html.

  16. Denis Martibovich, Skandaly s Kuropatami i Listapadam. Chem zapomnilas Irina Driga (Scndals with Kurapaty and Listapad film festival. What is Irina Driga remembered for?), URL: https://news.tut.by/culture/615253.html.

  17. Op. cit.

  18. See the comment of the lawyer Vladimir Nesmashny in the discussion under discussed publication

  19. The birth of this conceptual scheme is described in the article by Alexey Bratochkin “Iskusstvo, publichnost i svoboda v epohu pozdnego socializma” (Art, publicity and freedom in the era of late socialism). See photo album “Minsk, Noncomformism-1980h, seryia Kalektsia pARTyzana, p. 23)

  20. Denis Martibovich, Skandaly s Kuropatami i Listapadam. Chem zapomnilas Irina Driga (Scndals with Kurapaty and Listapad film festival. What is Irina Driga remembered for), URL: https://news.tut.by/culture/615253.html.

  21. Comment by the Belarusian Union of Designers, URL: https://tinyurl.com/y2aw2khu.