The results of a STATUS workshop


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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


Minsk, November 23, 2019

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

Masha Svyatogor:

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.


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.


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 Accessed 15 March 2019

    2008, p. 13

  13. More details on Marina Naprushkina works are available

  14. Wollan, Malia (2011). “Graffiti’s Cozy, Feminine Side” in the New York Times 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 Accessed 21 December, 2018


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, 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:

  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:

  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:

  8. Boris Svetlov’s interview to Zhanna Kotlerova “The year of culture will become a year of Belarusian art popularization”, URL:

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

  10. Tanya Artsimovich, 2016: MASTATSTVA, YAKOE ZVYARTAETSA U SUD, URL:

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

  12. The Ministry of Culture explained the procedure for issuing a professional certificate of a creative worker, URL:

  13. Anastasia Lukyanova. Kak hudozhniki stanoviatsia tuneyadsami (How artists become social parasites), URL:

  14. Op.cit.

  15. «Sheraga kardynala» belaruskago roku pryznazyli i namesniki ministra, URL:

  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:

  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:

  21. Comment by the Belarusian Union of Designers, URL:


Illustrations: Masha Svyatogor, 2019

This essay is a result of a micro research, which was conducted with the aim of describing and analyzing the status of a male and a female artist (hereinafter referred to as an artist1) in Belarus with respect to the social, economic, and emotional dimensions of this work. First of all, I was interested in artistic self-identification, their interpretations of art, their work environment, and their means of production, and what their expectations for the future are. For the analysis, I used the data, which I collected through an anonymous questionnaire2 and private, informal interviews with the selected artists from Belarus who perform their activities in the independent art sector. By “independent”, I mean spaces of art that are not connected to state institutions, but operate on a freelance contract. However, the “independence” might include different modalities of collaboration with the state sector: participation in exhibitions, curatorial initiatives, temporary or permanent positions in state institutions.3 In my thinking, I also turn to my own empirical work experience in the art field (as a curator and an art critic). Initially, apart from the aforementioned topics, for me it was important to emphasize the experience of women artists. But in the process of doing so, it became clear that this issue demands a separate research; therefore in the supplementary commentary to the main text, I’m going to point out only certain aspects of a female artist’s situation and her work environment.

In the first part of the essay, I will present a variety of topics and issues, which interested me, and by grouping them together I will analyze the results I found. In the second part, I will summarize my conclusions comparing local experiences with global perspectives. I want to point out straight away that the framework that I set for the research (my focus on the independent art sector) covers only a certain segment of the Belarusian art field and my aim in this text is to create a fragmentary, horizontal description of this context by selecting new research to produce a more comprehensive analysis in the future.

My idea is that, on the one hand, the frustration that is typical for the Belarusian independent art field in the last years and the loss of artistic status happened as a result of globalization and capitalism arriving here. As it turned out, the art field, which lacks an internal support system and, due to a particular political climate, lacks an external system support, was not ready for these factors. On the other hand, the processes of rethinking how art functions and the dialectics surrounding its distinctions (between art as work and non-work), which are present in Belarus, coincide with the changes happening in Western countries, which demonstrates how Belarusian artists are integrated (intuitively or deliberately) into the global context.

Artistic Self-Identification and One’s Work Environment

Artists’ interviewed explained their choices (why they chose art as their profession?), listed the outlook that they had (“it worked out well”). They explained their parents’ impact on their choice (they were sent to an Art School) and the influence of their family (artistic) environment. They explained that their desire to become an artist was based off the perception that an artist is free from social limitations (which has been constructed by stories of successful artists in global art history).4 For example, for one of the artists who was interviewed, in his youth, he had the choice between sports and art because he achieved equally good results in both activities. But when he realized his limit – “the peak” – in sports, he chose art, which promised him unlimited progress. Art opened the doors to the great world, it seemed to be a practice of self-development (“it’s important to find… and perceive yourself in the process”), a laboratory that allows one to explore topics of interest, and to demonstrate political will. Art is freedom, a challenge (“for one’s ego”), an instrument for communication with the world, a possibility for wholesome self-realization, “it’s a drug addiction… it’s euphoria”, and an artist is a superhuman, who manages to exist on the outskirts of any system – capitalism or authoritarianism. Less commonly, the choice [to pursue art] was made at a conscious age, during or after receiving education. “…Art is one of the most complex things in the world. Because in math and science… you are judged according to some clear scale – oh, look, this machine is working…while art works differently… it’s more difficult to achieve recognition. Getting into that zone of recognition means conquering the highest peak.”

None of the interviewed artists wondered how art would provide them with financial stability when they had to choose their life’s path (“then you shouldn’t be engaged in art”). This issue seemed to belong to the career field, which they were trying to slip out from, “I just wanted to do what I love… to find the joy in life”, “I’ve never wanted to just make a lot of money”, “an artist’s life is hard… In my youth, few people thought and cared about careers.” The same interviewees who came to the art field after already having a different profession and a stable income, knew that it was impossible to earn by art and viewed this activity as a philosophical practice. “…And I saw how the lack of financial security made people think about money more often and as often as about art… People become victims of this system, where it is difficult to make money and it is almost impossible not just to make money but to live. I did not experience that, but I saw it around me… how badly it affects relationships, competition, simple consumption, greed, like, let’s hang out with those guys because they have wine there.” Financial independence made it possible to avoid disappointment from the financial repercussions in the future or not expecting welfare from one’s creative activity from the beginning. Moreover, financial independence allowed one to invest one’s own funds in projects without being disappointed with the lack of financial dividends. But such stories are more the exception in my report.

Analyzing the situation today, the majority of the central figures of this article mention the crisis, in which they find themselves, and which is associated with the conflict between the imaginary concept about an artist’s position and the actual conditions and circumstances. For example, the artist who said art opened the door for to the great world now claims this preconception was a delusion. “There was some kind of an illusive chance. As I understand now, I never saw myself leaving. I could have calmed down even earlier. But somehow I did not realize… The first door closed, then the second, the third, and here you find yourself in a compact-compact world.” Besides, he lost his passion for art, which upsets him most of all, “I realized that art is not the most important thing in life… there’s something more to it… I wasn’t going to change the circumstances, but if they had formed, then perhaps I could abandon it [art].” And yet, there are those who are optimistic despite hardships, “I believe that you can make money by making art, we just don’t know yet how… but I’m close to this discovery.” Positive responses are most common among artists of a younger age, or among those who have regular earnings in specialties close to art (translation/interpretation or pedagogical activities), or those, as they note themselves, who are in a stable situation (in harmonious relations with partners, financial stability, opportunity for frequent traveling), “You caught me in the period when I had just came back [from a trip. – Author’s note]… I had a high there.”

Parents who have not taught their children to think about the mechanisms [of the art world – Editor’s note], and that the art education in Belarus, in which the art training was “romantic nonsense… not related to reality”, often considered to be responsible for their children’s unrealistic expectations. One artist notes that she was shocked when she faced the education system at a western European art university, “It was a whole different level compared to what we had. I think there is still a huge gap. There are some advances, but not enough… there was a whole separate block of disciplines where students were taught to write applications, make portfolios… how to get grants, get to the residency”. Nevertheless, nobody is going to change something radically in his or her activity at the moment. “I can’t imagine a different way of life… I require… some kind of constant self-development and development of the community in which I exist. The important thing is the financial situation, and I manage it somehow… but I have an understanding that in my early youth I missed out on something.”

One of the reasons for frustration is the lack of a market for art in Belarus, which over the years of discussions and real actions (projects, lectures, launched websites, attempts to build a dialogue with businesses) has not developed. “On the Belarusian market, a five [$5,000 – Author’s note] is the maximum with rare exceptions. Say, artist A. received a fifty [$50,000 – Author’s note], but there was a giant canvas. All the same, fifty is nothing! This is an absolute maximum, in the next hundred years, in my view, the situation will not change… A completely open playing field, starting from zero… With my ambitions, it’s nothing.” Apart from the fact that they fail to earn money, “covering holes just for a few months”, creative activity requires constant investments. Sometimes a sold piece of work covers only the expenses for the exhibition, the organization, and the production, which fall on the shoulders of an artist. Only a few of the interviewed artists noted that the earnings from their artistic activities cover their expenses fully. Generally, they have to put themselves on a budget, to have a side job or to make money on other jobs that are far from art.

The complexity of monetization of their own work, and the constant answers to the question, “Why does it cost that much?” also affect the perception of their status, including those who work in the field of conceptual art. “The financial situation is a part of my ideology. I profess anarchism, but it is also connected to the market… I am also confused – what is art, what is not, where are the boundaries… and the market is a part of this game… Hereby you confirm this status [of an artist – Author’s note]”.

Answering the question about how much their monthly income is would then allow them to feel that they are in a more or less stable situation. On average, artists specified the amount of 2,000-3,000 BYR ($1,000-1,500), but those who have families (husband/wife, children) indicate the amount twice as large. (Here, the real monthly earnings are two-three times less, it can be the same with rare exceptions, provided there is another job in the commercial sector.) Among the answers given by the artists from Sweden about the desired income, there was a suggestion that there should be some change in the economic system and no need for money.

This is not about some extra-income from your work, but rather about the average income for Belarus, which can provide a more or less comfortable, stable standard of living (to pay the bills, to have money for leisure and education, to afford traveling, to take part in family expenses). Practically everyone noted a rather modest standard of living that they would be comfortable with, “so unspoiled… the standards are minimal… just to feel human.” At the same time, to a lesser extent they talk about stable employment, they talk more about the requirement to estimate the price of their work. Because artistic practices (especially non-financial, such as curatorial or performative) in Belarus remain free labor or a symbolically paid job, to which artists agree due to almost complete fusion of their private life (identity) and work.

Certainly, the introduction of the Decree on Social Dependency influenced the perception of the status [of an artist]. According to it, a citizen of the Republic of Belarus who has no official place of work, is not an individual entrepreneur, not registered on a parental leave, or not a member of an official art union, is obliged to pay a tax in the amount of 20 base values (at the time of writing it is 510 BYR, or 210 euros. In 2018, due to severe public criticism, the Decree was “improved” and instead of a tax, they introduced a hundred percent payment of housing and social services for those who are in the database of “dependents”. Nevertheless, the practice of differentiating citizens into “working” and “not”, the way it is interpreted by the government, is still relevant). This Decree caused artists, including those who deliberately boycotted the Unions (as a protest gesture against state and culture policy), to apply to enter those Units.5 As an alternative, a certificate on the status of a creative worker can be obtained at the Ministry of Culture: a special committee examines a portfolio of an artist (musician, singer, author) and decides on the quality of works (if the artistic level of the works matches the professional level). This certificate exempts an artist from the status of a “dependent”. “I’ve never made myself do something about it when I had to confirm my status with the Ministry… but this thing [certificate] is valid for five years. And I know, time flies away before you know it. Last year I paid [a fine. – Author’s note]. They returned it back afterwards. I got a job, provided the paper, and they returned everything.” But later the artists who stated this entered the Union, “I’m under protection at the moment. I have my work record book at one office. I teach three hours a week, but I know that I won’t last long teaching at one place, and I wouldn’t like to run around again.”

Anxiety about their current position and the future is natural for almost all the respondents. Those who are not bound by any social and emotional obligations (care for children or relatives) think about it to a lesser extent. The lack of development prospects in the conditions in Belarus (opportunities for a career), unstable income, minimal social guarantees from the state (potential lack of pensions, sick or parental leave payments) cause anxiety. Some artists, for example, are already thinking about their security for retirement: monthly deposits in a bank will subsequently provide a pension. Some of them make payments into the Social Security Fund themselves, on account of qualifying (pensionable) period. In addition to the economic reasons, the reason for anxiety is a result of modernity as a whole, when stability is impossible due to “growing old faster than one consumes knowledge. What I know today will probably be useless in five years.”

If we talk about parents’ attitudes to creative work, most respondents note that their parents are satisfied, although the positive answer is often connected with the fact that an artist has a different job. Some respondents say that their parents are worried about the unstable existence in particular (“but I managed to convince her”), some [parents] do not care or are artists themselves and thus do not know the answer to this question themselves.

The disappointment also happened due to the value-based discrepancies within the art community,6 because coming into the field of art was connected precisely to the belief “in the art sector as some exception that it should be different there. After all, people there talk so much about values, about the formation of the community, and that attracted me… Criticism of capitalism, criticism of the system. And it seemed to me that maybe that’s how we build a brave new world… at some stage I realized that something was wrong… this code of honor was not sufficiently enforced.” Many artists noted the importance of the community in interviews and in questionnaires. The community appeared (appears) to be a place of power, a guarantor of social stability and confidence, a space of recognition and receiving of symbolic capital. However, the majority relies primarily on their own efforts.

Both in the survey data and in private conversations, women artists and female culture workers noted that their non-male gender influences their work environment, both negatively and positively. Moreover, in the questionnaire, it was often indicated that “no”, it does not influence, “it’s hard to say”, “I don’t know”, “it does not influence now.” The reason for negative influence is that the way of life of a woman artist does not correspond, for example, with the traditional notion of the role of a woman, who should be a mother and a wife, and that’s why they sometimes feel psychological pressure from their relatives (parents mostly). In some cases, the existing gender scenario plays a positive role: for example, a woman artist notes that relatives “are not stressed out that much that I have to make money at a normal job and build a career.” Women artists who have children (or if they had children) note that they have to (would have to) maneuver between art/career, household and children, care is mostly on them. One answer noted a gender wage gap.

Having children drastically changed the lives of female artists (“this is the most global change in my life”), first of all they had “less time for art… There was no depression… but it seemed like I was divided into two parts…Now I understand that I just didn’t have the experience to cope with it.” The reasons for internal worries were loss of mobility (traveling opportunities, including for the purposes of an art career), anxiety associated with an unstable financial situation (“now I had to plan my future and be confident in it”), a change in relations with a partner who wasn’t included in the process of care to the extent that a woman artist had expected. Often, it was already in the process when she had to defend her boundaries and insist on the distribution of time (“Saturday is completely mine, there are a few hours on Monday and on Wednesday”).

But a child also became the impetus for the inner “discovery of oneself” and the acquisition of “fundamental knowledge.” That’s what happened to him [to a child. – Author’s note]… I’m very happy. I draw valuable insights with him… We study outer space, for example, the structure of human skin, hair layers, and this all is applicable for work!” The female artist who stated this also says that she became creatively freer that her partner, who is also an artist, because she obtained new knowledge.

Entry into the space that collapsed?

In his essay, “The Paradox of Art and Work”, curator and art historian Lars Bang Larsen (Barcelona/Copenhagen) notes the dichotomy that is common for the contemporary, primarily Western, art field, and makes a simultaneous interpretation of art as work and non-work. On the one hand, he writes that art has now more than ever been introduced into the socioeconomic sphere (“aesthetic concepts being mobilized by the labor market <…> art has been put to work like never before, and work is fixed upon art”7), and it is natural as “art is an effort embedded in cultural and social space, and, in such a way, it should be considered work.”8 On the other hand, “art is not work because it is a refusal to take part in the production and reproduction of that what exists.”9 Thus, art criticizes capitalist system, which is based on production and market relations. Moreover, being described in terms of production and labor, not differing from other human activities, art “loses its specificity.”10 For Larsen, the understanding and the movement of art in two directions (as work and non-work) is an optimal way of existence of this field – a rhythm that allows articulating other existing oppositions (state and economy, right and left, citizen and consumer, etc.).11

Such dialectics are common for the Belarusian art sphere, although its origins and manifestations have their peculiarities. If in the western context, the inclusion of art in the economic relations (for example, the emergence of a creative cluster) is associated with the capitalist system, in Belarus, the articulation of art as a production practice has its traditions connected to the Soviet ideology. Thus, Soviet official artists seemed to be a special elite class serving the ruling ideology and having financial and social privileges. They worked for the welfare of the state.12 At the same time, Soviet art and popular literature described art as the highest humanistic practice, delegating to it the solution of philosophical problems, and leaving aside, for example, the economic dimension (state orders and procurement).13

For the Belarusian art field, the romanticization of art and its interpretation as beyond the categories of work and labor are relevant today, and this is due to the traditions of Soviet unofficial art, when artists did not work and thus resisted the instructions imposed by the Soviet ideology of an artist as a culture worker. It is fair to assume that the romanticism of the Soviet underground (non-conformism) intuitively or consciously influenced the choice of life scenarios of today’s artists (“my father studied in St. Petersburg, he loved art… he had a hobby: when he was on scholarship he used to buy an album on art and a cup of coffee at a luxurious hotel in St. Petersburg… and then run out of money, and he had to load wagons…”). Often, Soviet artistic non-conformism relied on the ideas of “left” art, but, as Lola Kantor-Kazovsky notes, such identification pointed to the Western orientation of the “left” artists, who “were essentially “Westerners”, and in the “historical” Russian avant-garde, it attracted them not least of all because of the successful model of relationship between Russian art and the international art process.”14 In other words, it was primarily about the construction of an imaginary art space (including an imaginary Western one) as a combination of models of material, implications and practices,15 which undermined the dominance of the socialist discourse by creating an alternative to it. But the difference is that, if for the Western artists, not working means resisting the total market, by contrast for the Belarusian artists, it is rather a way to resist the Soviet ideologization and the politicization of art. One can see this as one of the reasons for the fact that the introduction of concept of economic productivity (culture worker, practice, labor, etc.) into the Belarusian art field is slow. As the artists of the older generation note, this dictionary seems inappropriate precisely because it refers to the Soviet past, therefore “I am not a culture worker, I am an artist!”

In recent years, the discourse on art has been changing: discussions about art as non-financial labor arise in a fragmented way (“I work a lot, but I earn little”). To a big extent, this is linked to the arrival to the Belarusian art space of a new generation of artists for whom art was not originally determined by romantic expectations, but was seen, for example, as a field for artistic research and political activities. Unlike their senior colleagues, young artists are mostly focused on the global art context, they speak about their Eastern-European identity, they speak English, study at Western institutions, actively communicate with the foreign colleagues. This allows them to freely appeal to the paradox of art in the categories in which Lars Bang Larsen describes it, placing this paradox into the focus of their art practices. A vivid example is the collective self-organized platform WORK HARD! PLAY HARD! which studies issues of knowledge production, cooperation, work, and leisure. Every year, as a part of a week-long forum (since 2016), the platform brings together several dozens of artists to discuss these topics. Despite the fact that the example of this platform is a rather unique one for the Belarusian context, it indicates certain transition processes taking place within the art sphere.

This “transition” can be associated with the changes in the sociopolitical field in general. There is a transformation of the economic regime in the country (to a capitalist form of it), which “imposes” (including for the artists) certain consumption patterns and success clichés (unlike the Soviet times, to be an artist and work as a mover, for example, is no longer considered to be prestigious). However, these changes (for now) have little or no effect on the development of the field of contemporary art in the country, which exists outside the socioeconomic sphere, practically on its outskirts, if we don’t take into account its explicit commercial formats.

The state policy in the field of culture works for the marginalization of its sphere, while the state policy is still closed for the contemporary critical practices and support for artists. Some artistic professions have not been legitimized: for example, such position as curator is absent from the register, which means that a gallery or a cultural establishment cannot officially sign an employment agreement for the position of a curator and has to look for the positions that already exist (administrator, manager, or a research associate).16 The state’s attitude to art and culture is demonstrated by a series of statements by senior officials: they often articulate the requirements, for example, to write a “big” novel or make a “big” film (a reference to the Soviet understanding of art as an ideological practice), or the bewilderment about what art produces. One of the latest statements belongs to Irina Driga, former Deputy Minister of Culture, she stated that holding exhibitions “is not an intellectual activity”, it “is not classified as a creative activity”17, and therefore it is a commercial product and is subject to the corresponding taxes. Moreover, recently the privilege of the Soviet era for health services in the special state medical committee was abolished for the culture and art workers (National and Honored Artists, Writers, etc.). This privilege remained in force for the state officials of the top rank, former party workers. The adoption of the Decree on Social Dependence also played its role in the loss of the status by artists, as it made any free artwork illegal, placing it under control (certificate issue, compulsion to form legal entities, joining unions, or labeling as a “dependent”).18

The community was viewed as one of the instruments of resistance to the state and economic ideologies. And there was a period when it seemed that this tool really worked. For example, artists from the independent art sector in Minsk recall the period from the middle-“noughties” to 2012-13, when a discursive field began to form around the pARTisan magazine and then galleries emerged: first Podzemka, then Ў. This field appeared as a community of artists, curators, philosophers, historians, whose goal was to create an art space alternative to the state cultural institutions. The symbolic culmination of this movement was the exhibition Zero Radius. Art Ontology of The 00s., which seemed to change the situation, it was viewed as an actual condition for the transition from a weak form of the discursive field (an informal get-together) to a stronger one, the creation of real self-organized institutions which could act regularly to support the members of this field acting, as an alternative political power. As Paolo Virno notes, “Institutions are the rituals we use to heal and resolve the crisis of a community.”19

For various reasons, this [transition] did not happen, and the field, which seemed as cohesive, broke down into many groups – the activities of which were aimed towards the preservation of their micro-space. Those who actively participated in the creation of that community had a feeling that it collapsed completely. “This is one of the most important things. If it used to seem that there was some common field, now everything fell apart…there is a feeling that we are in 2010. We finished the same way as we started. We thought that we were moving somewhere, everything was evolving, everything was getting better, but then poof and it all collapsed… it seemed like there were more people, the youth came… but with them it is the same as with us…” This disappointment became as well the reason for the “legalization” of artists’ labor by joining official artistic unions, “I suddenly realized that all this time I had not been learning to live here. All this time I had been living with some kind of feeling… I don’t even know were I was going to go – to the moon or somewhere else. I was wondering who would visit me – Abramovich or Saatchi, I don’t know. All the time I was thinking about something else, bollocks to the local context, and suddenly I realize that I should learn to live here. Once the decision to stay here is made.”

On the one hand, it is possible that too much was expected from that community, including what it couldn’t handle. For example, the emergence of real institutions, for which there are not enough like-minded people and desire for them to be created, but institutions also need money to function. Those artists, who initially did not bet on the local community, see the local community rather as a get-together, and “the most valuable resource for them is time.” These artists point out their integration into the global art field (primarily due to their knowledge of the English language), gain recognition at international festivals, while actively participating in local projects. The lack of internal resources in the art field within the country for them is a part of an overall picture, and one community is not enough to change it. On a smaller scale, the resources works to create micro-movements (a vivid example is the “barn” exhibitions by artist Olga Maslovskaya in Brest), but for radical changes we need “radical changes within the country.”

On the other hand, the “collapse” of that community may signal a rethinking of the concept [of the community] itself, it began to be viewed in plural form. As Belarusian philosopher Olga Shparaga notes, the most important concept for the contemporary artistic practices is to create the conditions for the emergence of a situational community, the one that marks out situations here and now, sharpens the attention and brings the invisible into the light.20 Such community is also formed on the basis of solidarity, but has time limits. It can be assumed that exactly this kind of a situational community arose in the Belarusian art field at the moment of political and economic upheavals and marked the “transition” (or its prerequisites) to more diverse forms of these communities, “for which there are determinant factors such as the value and the practices of horizontal mutually respectful relations of the members of the communities, as well as the social inclusion based on those relations.”21 However, as the philosopher points out, to strengthen a community like that, it is also “important to search for forms of their adequate institutionalization,”22 which requires political will and support from above, at least at the level of the right to communities, which is difficult to imagine in the situation of modern Belarus.

Thus, despite the existing range of local peculiarities related to the sociopolitical situation and cultural traditions, the processes of rethinking of the art field and the role of an artist in the Belarusian context are synchronized in a lot of ways with the processes occurring in the Western discourse. In addition to the common causes for anxiety and vulnerability that has to do with how success within work is constructed and the subsequent lack of social security; artists in Belarus also articulate the fusion of personal and artistic identities, realizing that their work involves a high level of emotional inclusion and production through social communication (“it is not the work that you go to, it is something as close as possible to yourself… it is odd to imagine doing the work without getting involved with my entire soul”). Unlike the Western context, where unalienated, or using the terminology of Hardt and Negri, biopolitical labor is actively exploited and appropriated by the capitalist system, in Belarus this labor is mostly required within the art communities or sociopolitical organizations that have the funds, for example, to maintain their infrastructure, but with limited budgets and rare opportunities for royalties for artists.

At the same time, there comes an understanding of the exclusiveness of their position in the modern world, where unalienated labour becomes a luxury. As Alexandra Novozhenova, a Russian fine art expert and artist, noted, “to be an artist is the option, which (not without compensation) is presented by the society to those who cannot find the strength to retreat to other activities… the oppressed are those who have no power over their own lives, and entering an art school seems to be a way to get your life back.”23 Those artists in Belarus who remain in the art field, like their Western colleagues, say that in some way their anxiety is the price for the returned life, the example of which is a form of resistance and an attempt to implement another life scenario.

  1. As well as male and female culture workers (curators, art managers, critics), but further in the text I will be using the term artist to rather stand in for a concept of a culture worker, which has been hardy articulated within the art environment.

  2. An online questionnaire was distributed personally and posted in a special private group on Facebook. 38 people from the age of 25 to 60 took part in the questionnaire, and most of them specified their sex as female. Work experience in the field was specified from 4 to 35 years. Geographic location (original answers): Minsk, Mensk, Brest, Bobruysk, Minsk/Vienna, Minsk/Warsaw, Belarus, Planet Earth. Artists from Russia and Sweden also participated in the questionnaire, their experience is used for comparative analysis.

  3. The space for art in Belarusian is a diverse field, where many people from different sectors, such as the state and private sector communicate together, and private and collective initiatives are present. A detailed description of this field deserves a separate research. That’s why I’d like to note the formality of usage of term “independent” necessary for the simplification of narration. Moreover, this research fragmentarily gasps this field, analyzing the experience of one of the segments.

  4. The said stories of “success” are stories of male artists.

  5. They mention entering into the Belarusian Union of Artists or the Belarusian Union of Designers as a variation.

  6. By art community here we mean a field which was formed in an alternative art sector in the “noughties” around the pARTisan magazine, gallery Podzemka, and then gallery Ў. Within this field, a series of projects and initiatives have been realized for years, e.g. project On the Way to Contemporary Museum by Alla Vaysband, mediaproject Zero Radius. Art Ontology of The 00s. by pARTisan and Art Aktivist and many other projects. It’s important to note that the analysis and the description of this community requires a separate research.

  7. Larsen, Lars Bang. “The Paradox of Art and Work: An Irritating Note.” In Work, Work, Work. A Reader on art and labour. Sternberg Press, 2012. p.19.

  8. Ibid, 21.

  9. Ibid, 23.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Ibid, 27.

  12. The Soviet art field was not homogeneous. Thus, for example, K. Solovyov describes several strategies of artistic and intellectual activity: e.g., “ideologist-fundamentalist”, “careerist-functionary”, “neutral objector”, “independent specialists”, “dissentients”. See K. Solovyov, Artistic Culture and Power in the Post-Stalin Russia: Union and Fight (1953-1985). Nevertheless, the rhetoric of art unions, membership in which was necessary at least to have a studio, access to art materials and an opportunity for display, emphasized the labor character of a Soviet artist’s activity, opposing it to the bourgeois lifestyle, e.g. of modernist artists.

  13. In recent years, there’s more and more material – memoirs, publications, and books – where practices of privileges and the consumption of culture elite in the USSR are described. But in the Soviet era, this side of life was invisible in the public discourse supporting rather an image of artists’ activity as the most important element of socialism development.

  14. Kantor-Kazovsky, L. Grobman. New Literary Review, 2014. P. 14.

  15. Gapova, Elena. “’The Land Under the White Wings’: the Romantic Landscaping of Socialist Belarus.” In Rethinking Marxism, V. 29(1). Pp. 173-198. The concept of an “imaginary landscape” Elena Gapova uses to describe the emergence of a new class in the Soviet Belarus, writers intellectuals who created an alternative image of Belarus as a “country of castles.” In my opinion, this concept is also applicable for comprehension of other imaginary spaces that emerged in the

    Ssoviet art circles.

  16. See State Professions Register:

  17. Ministry of Culture: holding exhibitions is not a creative work. TUT.BY, January 2, 2019. See Accessed February 11, 2019.


  19. Penzin, Alexei. “The Soviets of the Multitude: On Collectivity and Collective Work: An Interview with Paolo Virno.” In Mediations 25.1 (Fall 2010) 81-92. See Accessed January 24, 2019.

  20. Shparaga, O. Community-after-Holocaust. On the Way to the Inclusion Society. Medisont, 2018. Pp. 316-317.

  21. Ibid, 29.

  22. Ibid, 234.

  23. Novozhenova, Alexandra. School Art. Colta, February 12, 2014. See Accessed February 7, 2019.


Institutional criticism in Belarus

Beginning in the second half of the 90s, institutional critique became an important part of practice and discourse in the field of contemporary Belarusian art. Just as in the western context, this type of criticism moved to dispel the myth that art institutions functioned as “art temple”, spiritual, metaphysical places. Through this criticism, art institutions were deconstructed as social institutions, which promoted the institutions specific ideological, political, economic interests

In the Western-European context, institutional criticism often analyzed art institutions, revealing their function within the art market, collector networks, and collecting with big capital; however, in Belarus, criticism focused primarily on criticizing state institutions foremost. One of the few examples is an exhibition Balance. Given the Circumstances that criticized private institutions in Belarus. According to the exhibition, which took place at gallery Ў in 2012, “Balance is an example of local criticism aimed at both the ideology and art institution.”1 However, this exhibition was designed to show the behind the scenes of gallery life and included bureaucratic and accounting analysis, rather than just criticizing private institutions and their function within the logic of capitalist relations.

The criticism coming from the Belarusian art scene has had a strict focus on state institutions because of several peculiarities within the local context. Firstly, there is no private infrastructure for contemporary art within the country. Additionally, there are no big private funds to support artists, no independent educational institutions that could train art critics, artists, curators, etc. At different times, there were several galleries for contemporary art; however, nowadays there are only two private institutions that are focused on contemporary art, those are gallery Ў in Minsk and gallery КХ in Brest. In light of this, any private initiative related to the creation of new platforms or art projects is perceived in a more positive or neutral way and is regarded as a form of resistance to the state institutions. As for the latter, state institutions economically and symbolically appear to be successors of the late Soviet governance system with some superficial updates. As Sergey Shabohin justly noted in his lecture:

[the] system of cultural politics in Belarus mechanically remained after the dissolution of the USSR having adopted all the key diseases: verticality of rule with the minister at the top, obeying directly the will of the state ideology, and administrative centralization with the distribution of budgets and instructions through the ministry. As a result, it generated super-bureaucracy and stagnation, censorship and punitive tools.2

The desire to appeal the status quo of the given art institution has been a necessary gesture for public display, a gesture that has arisen from the lack of cooperation between the artist and the state institution. One such paradigmatic example in the Belarusian art scene was a festival called the Academy of Arts, Academy of Life (1997) by Andrei Dureika. At the festival Texts organized by the Academy of Arts, Dureika, without permission, created a work where he wrote “Academy of Arts” on a wall of the Academy, and made a note “Academy of Life” on the dumpsters near that wall. As a comment to the work, the artist points out that “the contrast of a perfect text and the residual reality uncovers the existing drama.”3 However, at the same time this work can be considered a gesture symbolizing the refusal of cooperation with any state institutions of Belarus, a final breach.

A different gesture can be observed in the works And There is Nothing Left (2009) by Sergey Shabohin, where the artist makes a series of collages, virtually breaking and closing four central places in Minsk that are somehow connected to contemporary art. On the front of the Museum of Modern Fine Art in particular, a rent notice appears: “rents available rooms out for [private] offices and commercial fronts”. Thus, he shows how any cultural institution is vulnerable to economic pressures and addresses the fact that the state gives scaps, or leftovers rather than a real budget because of these pressures. It’s interesting that in 2019 a half of the Museum of Modern Fine Art was given away to become a wine shop/bar.

Though the series was shown publicly, Shabohin’s gesture remains a safe one because it stays in the domain of the imaginary.

The situation changed a bit in 2011-2012, primarily due to a peculiar activist revolution in the Belarusian art scene. In 2012, as a response to a “decorative” Triennial of contemporary art that was organized by the government, the group New Movement self-organizes and invades the exhibition itself to present a competing program. Its manifesto ultimately promulgates the division between contemporary art and state institutions. The manifesto presents such statements as “You, the bureaucrats of art, declared yourselves the only legitimate representatives of art!”4 or “Genuine politics and art are beyond [the] state program!”5, “We are against cooperation with authoritarian institutions! We don’t serve state demands!”6 Though New Movement’s action generated a lot of discussion within the art community, the state institution never responded to it. In this way, each of the systems – the contemporary art field and state institutions – holds its own.

It’s another thing when an artist creates demands (visibly or not) in which the state bureaucracy has to respond and reply to him or her and in the process, uncovering the conservative elements, nontransparent, and nonfunctioning rules of its organization. An example of such a process can be seen in Aliaxey Talstou’s legal proceedings in 2017, when he demanded that the Centre for Contemporary Arts provide the list and prices of all the artworks that the Centre had bought during the last three years and to reveal the committee team that made the choice. As it was an official letter, the state institution had to react. Unlike the previous examples, Talstou transformed the institution itself into a battlefield: he made a request that prompted an official, bureaucratic reaction. And this reaction revealed how the institution worked, thereby exposing its inherent logic.

To provoke such a reaction, an artist has two strategies. The first one – which was used by Aliaxey Talstou – is to address an institution not as an artist, but as a citizen of the Republic of Belarus. Though in their reply, the state institution wanted to frame Talstou’s request as an art action and therefore lower or reduce the magnitude of the request itself and to move the request into a manageable space. However, the request made by a citizen called for an insightful and specific answer. In other words, being an external agent, Talstou exercises his civil rights and forgoes what he knows or may assume about how an institution functions. And this position in particular, in a sense nominally-simple, gives him the opportunity not to just to create propositions for how the institution functions, but to allow it itself demonstrate and reveal the mechanisms of how it works.

The second strategy, which can force an institution to react would be to take a risk. An artist makes demands that can somehow endanger an institution’s stability. This is not about a specific threat, this threat is connected rather with the perspective of the employees of this institution. Such reactive (in terms of request for a response) example of institutional criticism can be a work by Kirill Diomchev, which he presented in February 2019 at Vitebsk Art Museum.

A classic example of institutional critique

The exhibition Nevidivizm by Kirill Diomchev, which he displayed in Vitebsk, Belarus, started as a classic example of Belarusian institutional critique. Kirill prepared the project after an internship in Sweden, and the Vitebsk exhibition was important to him for several reasons.

Firstly, the exhibition was an individual gesture that broke with pictoral and sculpture traditions and marked a transition to performative practices, which have always been present in Diomchev’s work in one way or another. For example, within the exhibition Names, Kirill presented a performance 135 Hours, where he was tied to bed for the whole period of the exhibition.

Secondly, the exhibition escaped the old ghosts of avant-garde artists who lived and worked in Vitebsk in the 1920s. Not without reason an addendum to the exhibition title is a phrase “Nevidivizm as the last stage of Suprematism development.” To understand why Kirill’s criticism is focused exactly on the avant-garde movement of Suprematism – relations of the state institutions to Suprematism to be precise – it is necessary to make a backwards journey into the history of contemporary art in Vitebsk. In the 1980s, the association “Square” appeared in Vitebsk. Its aim was to return to the avant-garde concepts and Malevich’s ideas – particularly within the field of Vitebsk art. Square followers accomplished great work by bringing back names from Art History related to Vitebsk of the 1920s: they worked in the archives, communicated with Malevich’s daughter Una, found Yehuda Pen’s grave [a major figure of the Jewish Renaissance in Russian and Belarusian art at the beginning of 20th century], reconstructed fronts of the buildings made by UNOVIS followers. In other words, they returned erased names to the history of the city. For the 1980-90s, it was truly significant work. Nevertheless, already in the 2000s this discourse is appropriated by state institutions, for which dissimilar artists like Chagall and Malevich turned out to be representatives of the same, consolidated history, and whose names are seen as merely stakes for state culture politics and nothing more. In other words, the bureaucrats are not interested in understanding the conceptual complexities of the artists of the 20s because for them the artists are just tourists attractors to the popular International Festival for the Arts in Vitebsk, “Slavianski Bazaar”. The pinnacle of state sanctioned appropriation of the Chagall-Malevich discourse is epitomized in the opening of the Museum of History of the Vitebsk People’s Art School. Within the art community it is known as the Museum of UNOVIS; it was first opened in 2016 just for bureaucrats from the capital of Minsk, but was closed the next day for restoration and only re-opened in 2018. The museum, which functions just as a decorative facade for the city and displays the interiors of the industrial and financial bourgeoisie of the city, Marc Chagall’s work, and the work of UNOVIS, an avant-garde initiative, at the same time functions as an exhibition space for the artists who follow the UNOVIS traditions. In that regard, Kirill’s exhibition is a criticism of the mummification of the avant-garde ideas, as well as a display of how this Chagall-Malevich discourse, existing in the domain of cultural bureaucracy, transforms into a facade that only decorates. In one of the conversations, Kirill says, “I wanted to show that there’s no need in over emphasizing Malevich or Chagall. If you really care about them, you have to make new art, and not to over emphasizing and build a big cemetery.”7

Thirdly, Kirill shows the affliction not only of a state institution, but of the Vitebsk art field in general that favors big names and famous works of art. Vitebsk museums don’t possess collections of masterpieces, and in the Museum of UNOVIS there’s not a single work by Malevich, El Lissitzky, or Vera Ermolaeva. This absence identifies universal nostalgia for the past and the lost legacy. Kirill Diomchev’s exhibition consisted mainly of invisible works: the exhibition was literally scattered with empty frames that were the only remnants of the works once exhibited at different times at the Vitebsk Regional Museum, but now were literally discarded because they were deemed useless. Among the discarded works were works from unknown artists and those who made it into the great canon of Soviet and Russian pictural art: e.g., a frame from Levitan’s work. In the corner Kirill placed an invisible work by Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, recreating its original display in the red corner on exhibition 0.10 in 1915-1916.

When regarding Kirill Diomchev’s gesture it is important not to take it as just an ironic comment. The thing is that Kirill gives us a binary image. At first, he shows how the Great Art Museum in Vitebsk is a place desirable for bureaucrats of culture and at the same time for the Vitebsk art field. He considers and critics both faces of the museum: firstly the museum as a tourist attraction and secondly as a place still for art professionals to enter into the art historical canon, thus gaining legitimation. Kirill presents an invisible plan of a perfect museum, which could work for both the bureaucrats and the art community; though this image is not in the reality: it appears dimly and, we imagine it.

Furthermore, the artist resets the space. On the day of the exhibition opening, Kirill approaches an “invisible Black Square” (the main symbol of art which everybody in Vitebsk desires to see) and stops in front of it. The next day he repeats the same procedure, but this time he is naked.

What does that mean? On the one hand, if you imagine that the Black Square is in this corner than Kirill is just a regular viewer who approaches it to take a good look at something that for Vitebsk can be described as the masterpiece of masterpieces. On the other hand, if you recall that there’s no Square in the corner, Kirill just stands in the corner. Kirill remembers this standing in the corner in this manner, “You stand there naked. Children used to be punished this way, when they had their trousers taken off and were put in a corner. Then guests come, and you stand there without any clothes in the corner. They used to do this back in the day. And it’s really humiliating.”8

In other words, he reveals the position of an artist, who is at the same time guilty and has to resign before the great affair, great masterpieces, and great names, before the institutions that allow the artist to display in that city. Kirill says, “I feel sorry for the artists, who cooperates with such institutions. Artists, especially those of the older generation, trust them [the institution], and bring their works. But they are just being used as a checkmark, and it doesn’t matter if an artist dies tomorrow, they’ll find another one – they don’t care.”9

Institutional criticism comes from the institution itself

It’s interesting that the exhibition – that started generally as an innocent statement, received its critical measure in the first place due to the actions of the institution itself. Kirill recorded himself naked standing before the imaginary Black Square. In under an hour, one by one the museum employees started to make phone calls to Kirill asking and requesting that these photos be deleted from social media.

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev: “Kirill, why are you posting pictures of yourself naked in our museum on social media?”10

The museum employees evaluated this gesture as a potential threat to their institution and within an hour phoned the artist five times. Among those who phoned where museum attendants, a research associate, and the superintendent of the museum. Thanks to this series of calls, we can trace how the pressure to save face and be conservative develops within the institution.

It is evident that the people phoning Kiril modulate between two poles. Each person who phoned him used the phrase, “I understand it all, but…” Each of them plays two roles: an educated, advanced, tolerant person, open to experimentation by the individual. The second role is a person speaking on behalf of the institution.

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev: “I am the sort of person who can comprehend both freedom of artistic expression and creativity.”11

Conversation between E. Krivenkaya, research associate, and Kirill Diomchev: “I don’t mind your actionism,12 but I work in a state establishment.”13

When the employees gave these responses, they both try to establish some type of friendship towards Kirill and show they are on his side. However, these introductory sentences eventually function to flout their responsibility by saying that “I’m not responsible for the existing order of things, I’m calling on behalf of the institution.” Inside the institution, they act according to a formal protocol. But such statements issued to Kirill reveal how the institution operates: practically each of the employees protects and conserves the museum from any threats and uncertainties, and by flouting their responsibility they claim that their comments are not evil or conservative. In reality, the employees see themselves as educated and open to any artistic statements, and rather see the performance of their roles as pure formality. They simultaneously think that their actions of censorship of exhibitions are intolerable, but they must do it for the sake of the institution, which, as they consider, is beyond their personal control. The institutional pushes back to maintain its stability, they seem to say.

This discourse around Kirill’s naked image also brings forth the figure of power. As Kirill justly notes, “They [the museum workers] all speak different languages.”14 Obviously, those who called Kirill occupy different positions within a distinct hierarchy of the state museum institution and express their competent power differently. The museum attendant, who is the most vulnerable, calls confused and uses a gentle form of begging for sympathy; the research associate frames the message as a favor: “I’m asking you decently.”15 Surely, the museum superintendent displays the figure of power in the most distinct way. It’s interesting that during the twenty-minute talk she does not ask a single question concerning the conceptual framework or ideas behind the work and any effort made by Kirill to try to explain what happened as an art gesture is blocked completely. Technically, the only faux pas Kirill committed is that he didn’t inform the administration before about his actions.

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev: “You’ve done this illegally – you’ve done it without my permission.”16

The logic of the institution here goes in two directions. Firstly, they make it clear for Kirill again and again that they did him a favor and he should be thankful.

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev: “I opened a gate for you to make your exhibition.”17

This brings us to the image of the artist standing in the corner, who should be grateful for any opportunity. The institution, whose main aim is to work with artists and exhibit works of art, moves itself to another level. And secondly, the logic of the institution brings us to another truism: it exists to reproduce itself. Whatever the tastes and ideological views the institution employees have, thanks to the procedure of dissociation, the splitting of the personal and the formal, the museum reproduces itself over and over. Put it another way, self-censorship, which the museum employees present in their comments, does not develop from “bad”, “demonic”, “illiterate” museum workers who stand against a “good” artist. It’s more like self-censorship is generated directly by the museum worker, thereby the procedure of censorship becomes for the employees painless, and the museum reproduces itself.

All of these things are well seen in the arguments presented by the employees who explain why a body cannot be naked in a museum. They use official discursive statements often printed in the media and generated without self-reflection. Such as:

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev:“ It’s a state museum, it’s not a picture gallery, it’s not Europe – it’s a classic art museum.”18

And again, as in situation with Aliaxey Talstou, who proceeds as if naively – Kirill acts and speaks as if he lives in another country, as if he has no idea how such institutions operate – forcing the employees of the museum react, reveal the mechanism of operation, their conservative bias, and censorship of the state institutions. Kirill himself comments on his position in such way, “At one point I already realized that it is a breach. But it was important to me to make this project. Although, of course, everyone knows how museums and the system of art institutions work in the country. But for me as for an artist it was important to reveal the operating mechanism of such institutions.”19

  1. The project Balance. Given the Circumstances. was organized by gallery management at gallery Ў

  2. S. Shabohin. “How Not to\Cooperate with Art Institutions in Belarus?”

  3. K. Stashkevich Andrei Dureika: Intervention Academy of Arts, Academy of Life, 1997.

  4. Open letter to group New Movement.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Interview with K. Diomchev. Personal files of Antonina Stebur, April 2019.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Conversation between O. Okunevich and K. Diomchev, February 9, 2019.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Note from the Editor: Actionism is a term used by O. Okunevich when referring to a specific form of artistic protest action

  13. Conversation between E. Krivenkaya and K. Diomchev, February 9, 2019.

  14. Interview with K. Diomchev. Personal files of Antonina Stebur, April 2019.

  15. Conversation between E. Krivenkaya and K. Diomchev, February 9, 2019.

  16. Conversation between O. Okunevich and K. Diomchev, February 9, 2019.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Interview with K. Diomchev. Personal files of Antonina Stebur, April 2019.


I am working on a series of pieces based on the idea of myself as an artist prepper, a ‘survivalist’. I use my artistic work to forecast the potential dark future we are facing. What do I need as a person to survive? How can I use my present work to help out in different future scenarios and, at the same time show the obvious damage we all participate in?

As I was working on this subject, I realized that it would be really hard to stand the absence of art and that all good artworks that have been created this far will disappear when a large part of the planet goes underwater. What is interesting to keep for the future; what do we want to pass on to our kids and to the eventual survivors?

As an artist, I have always been into DIY and been engaged in different artistic organisations. This becomes very natural living and working in Gothenburg, which sometimes can be experienced almost like a city with an anarchistic art society. Gothenburg has a strong scene of artist run galleries and artists that have chosen to live here to get away from the hierarchical and elitist art world that exists in many other cities around the world.

From the series Apocalypse Insurance – Keep family breathing by Linda Tedsdotter

When I started the Apocalypse Insurance series I did it with a large amount of criticism to the whole idea of “just make sure you and your family is safe” – which is the model that the insurance industry is based on and an idea that the ‘preppers’ are into. This is not so different to the contemporary art scene, which is often a very ego and selfish driven system.

Apocalypse Insurance / Waterproof. A Selection of Art History is an attempt to map out a more horizontal view of the arts and to get an alternative picture of what the history of artists and their practices will be like in the future. I see this work as an ongoing piece, hoping that every time I will exhibit it that more artists will choose to be part of the future and create a new heritage. When the apocalypse happens and if somebody survives, this person will probably have more important things to think about than art as it is conceived today, but I like to think that the selection of artist books might serve as a starting point to face a new surviving situation.

I like to preserve artist books – not only the well known ones. I am planning to collect artist books and vacuum package them and pile them on a floatable ‘Pallet’.

I need your help to collect all these artist books. Do you want to be part of it? What is important to save for the future? What do you think the future Art History shall include? Are you willing to give away one of your own artist books? I would be delighted and so thankful if you will help me with this piece. The books will be presented so that the backs are visible to the audience. I would be more than happy if you can send it to me:

Linda Tedsdotter

Konstepidemins väg 6

413 14 Göteborg




Not so long ago it was a challenge to get artistic practice recognized as ‘work’. Even today, art is sometimes treated as a kind of unwieldy force that just comes out of you, almost effortlessly, depending on if you have inspiration or talent. Artists could be seen as parasites or as idlers leading a bohemian lifestyle. In practice, however, today artists are rather precarious self-managers, multitasking with self-promotion and presentation, application writing, networking, and actual artistic production, often also having other ‘normal’ jobs to make a living. As most freelancers, they have neither stable income nor social benefits. In return for such a stressful and vulnerable life and working conditions, they are supposed to get their ‘artistic benefits’ – pleasure, fame, and etc., which in reality are rather substituted with nervous breakdowns, burn-outs, anxiety, and depression. At the same time there is an old idea that artists are meant to suffer – that’s how their artistic production happens. But in the modern world artists are expected to be not too crazy or depressed but just sane enough to keep it safe and convenient for management and networking; in other words artists should foster business relationships.

To cope with this situation there are several tools that normalize artistic production: the most common of which are artists’ unions or having a legal status as self-employed. The former in Eastern Europe nowadays unfortunately turned out to be mostly corrupt and has a conservative bureaucratic structure, while the latter does not eliminate all the struggles that go along with the precarity in the worker’s life mentioned above. If an artist becomes a worker, whom are they employed by: the state, society, curators, critics, or by themselves and other artists – aka within ‘the arts field’ itself?

So maybe we should move the opposite direction, or not move, but turn to the non-work in order to finally experience pleasure and joy as a political statement, practice radical idleness, and become unproductive and uncreative without any guilt, stress, or regret! The non-creative non-work of the artist. This idea is not so new but can be found within a political and artistic tradition. In 1883, Paul Lafargue wrote his The Right To Be Lazy where he claimed that the workers should not demand more work or improved working conditions but rather work less and demand the right to laziness and reap its pleasures.1 Marcel Duchamp stood for the refusal to work as a refusal to be an art producer or performer who has a social function and artistic identity.2 Given today’s obsession with self-performance and constant presence (this phenomena is well analyzed by Hito Steyerl in her lecture and essay “The Terror of Total Dasein”, 2015), this demand sounds particularly acute.3 Kazimir Malevich praised laziness and criticised both capitalism and communism for being labor-centered in his text “Laziness as the Truth of Mankind” (1921).4 Mladen Stilinović believed that “there is no art without laziness” and criticised the Western art tradition as a system of artistic production in his “In Praise of Laziness” (1993). He writes: “Artists in the West are not lazy and therefore not artists, but rather producers of something.”5 While artists in the East, he claimed, were deprived of that system and therefore “had time enough to concentrate on art and laziness. Even when they did produce art, they knew it was in vain, it was nothing.”6

Practicing laziness in our work-oriented society is however not so easy as it might seem. As Maurizio Lazzarato puts it:

Let us start with the socio-economic critique. Laziness is not simply a ‘non-action’ or a ‘minimal-action.’ It involves taking a position with respect to the conditions of existence under capitalism. First of all, it affirms a subjective refusal of (paid) work and of all the forms of conformist behavior capitalist society demands.7

Laziness, unproductivity, and non-work are not eccentric selfish deals, but collective political issues, which should be approached systematically and with complexity. Being lazy efficiently could become hard work in itself; it could be violent and painful. So a really important point is to keep the shared joy and pleasures of the non-work.


Olia, great! Thank you a lot for starting the conversation!

I just wanted to comment briefly that in the contemporary context of St. Petersburg there is a network of horizontal laboratories, which stands for a world without labor – n i i c h e g o d e l a t (Scientific Research Institute for doing nothing). ‘Employees’ of SRI for doing nothing want to undermine labor and attend to social behavior through inaction. They write that doing nothing can be or become the possibility of inventing new ways to coexist and live in alternative times: “The development of new labor relations and total laziness are necessary tensions that create a field for uniting workers and non-workers.”8 They are into the themes of time (burn out – acceleration, decay – stopping), connectivity of spaces (intimate interfaces); exploring the body and its ability to slow down and accelerate; and the role of the social parasite, procrastinator, precariat, and slacker. They often refer to UNI (universal basic income) + social assistance (such as free healthcare, education, vocational training, social services). On the 1st of May, LABOR DAY, they went out to the annual demonstration for solidarity with the working people and parasites. Here are some of their slogans and catchwords →


Thank you, Olia and Dzina, for touching on the issue of practicing non-work from the collective perspective! I want to share an example of an activity of n i i c h e g o d e l a t (SRI for doing nothing).9 It is a moving/movement performance-report “Temporal liquidity in revolving doors of ‘Galereya’ shopping mall in St. Petersburg” made by Marina Shamova as part of Symposium of SRI for doing nothing in ‘Galereya’ shopping mall (2017). Here is the link to video documentation.

And here are some screenshots if you don’t want to work for social-media-corporations and create accounts in their social networks:

Here are some theses on the reasons why I find the occupation of the revolving door important:

  • Transparent, anti spectacular activity.
  • Collective practice involving strangers.
  • It is an action of occupying already existing structures, cultural machines that produce division of modes of leisure/rest and work.
  • It is the production of a temporary zone without any claims to be sustainable (very problematic word that is co-opted by self-entrepreneur discourse).

Thank you Dzina and Kolya for bringing the practice of n i i c h e g o d e l a t to the discussion! I am also captivated by their performance in the revolving doors. The revolving doors of the mall are the transit space between the space of consumption – which today is often almost equal to the space of leisure – and the mundane everyday space ‘of work’. The performers refuse to pass from one space to the other. There is also something particular about the very circular movement of walking in the door, the loop and repetition, the reference to khorovod or kolo dance and carousel, but the structure of the door is made of segments, separating the passers by into temporary and accidental groups.


Dear all, thank you for bringing in actions with a political dimension into our effort of collective writing. The performance in the carousel reminds me of an international anti-capitalist project named Buy Nothing Day (on the 25 of November). A group of Swedish artists organized processions of empty shopping wagons in malls. They were told to stop their action by guards. This art-activism practice used to be seen and understood as a protest against consumerism, but the global ecological crisis has changed everything. The big issue today is the climate-crisis. A lot of people are working hard to destroy the ecology of our planet. On a global scale, big capital is made on the destruction of the fundamentals of life. It seems that all the dystopies produced by Hollywood will be real. Stopping dystopias from being real! should be the first argument for the non-work line. The second argument is that it takes a lot of work to keep up the non-work line, as Olia mentioned. We should create a sphere of luxurious laziness that opens up the mind and invites to joys and pleasures.

It could work for a lot of people because nowadays the technological and production level of humankind could provide for us all.

Back to art. I think it is important to defend art from the ideas and system of creative industries. The concept of creativity is dangerous. We are better off with the concept of non-creativity. The point when art says no. No. A big no-no.


Dear Nils,

I reread your thoughts in the doc. I was somehow caught by the slogan “Stopping dystopias from being real!” and as you also mentioned: luxurious laziness. That made me think about the utopian project that often refers to predictions about technology that can bring equality and freedom. Maybe even freedom of work as we see it in fully automated luxury communism that claims that new technologies will liberate us from work, providing the opportunity to build a society beyond both capitalism and scarcity. “Automation, rather than undermining an economy built on full employment, is instead the path to a world of liberty, luxury and happiness. For everyone.”


Hello again, I am trained as a practice based artistic researcher and received my Phd in 2017. The fundamentals of artistic research are radical because it gives the artist the right or duty to explain his/her work. It breaks up the division of labor between the artist as a producer and the curator, and the art critic /historian as the explainer. The concept of research also means that the artist/researcher has to work in a more open, non-mystical-way. Artistic research at its best creates a multi-disciplinary dialogue between different artistic and theoretical traditions and also acts as a bridge to other fields of research and innovation. The academic learning apparatus has severe problems to cope with it because the structure of higher education is not constructed to host practicing artists. We have the problem in Sweden to create an environment where art and research can thrive and bloom.

What we often get is an institutionalized art crippled by bureaucracy in sterile office like settings. (IKEA HELL)

For you people in Belarus this may sound like spoiled children complaining over nothing.




About creating labs and centers for artistic activity:

The publication is a collection of texts discussing ways to create an environment where art-research and education could meet and communicate.

Aaron Bastani explains Fully Automated Luxury Communism, a post-capitalist utopia. Screenshot taken from Novara Media youtube.

Nils, thank you for your contribution. What you say about instrumentalizing and bureaucratizing art really resonates with me. Not only in reference to the marriage of art & research in the academia, but also more generally. I think I tried to say something related to the above when I mentioned that artists today are expected be comfortable to work with: they can’t have depression or be too crazy. I also have a feeling that maybe today the text or research accompanying the artwork sort of proves that the artist really worked, as the artwork itself often does not look like some effort of production. Of course it’s not always the case.

We should also keep in mind a certain difference between the Belarusian and Swedish situation, as we are obviously not talking about just local or vice versa just universal issues here, and even within our ‘home’ contexts some of us have different positions. Actually, sometime as an artist from Belarus, I may feel a kind of gap, trying to balance in-between the western and post-socialist systems of arts production.


Yes, I also think that Swedish art context differs a lot from Belarusian context. As a rule, it’s not only impossible to live from one’s art in Minsk, but there are certain difficulties from the bureaucratic side. It is completely opposite to the Swedish situation. Here, I refer to the “law against social parasites” in Belarus that I am sure you are familiar with. This policy requires anyone who works for less than 183 days per year to pay 20 basic units (around 230 euro) for “lost taxes” to help fund welfare policies. Just so you know, it’s quite a lot – around a half-month’s wage. As the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection argues: it’s important to “stimulate” employment of the population.

As an artist, in order not to pay “tax” (actually the word “fine” works better here), you would need to show your art to the special commission that can give a professional certificate issued in accordance with the law (or they refuse to issue it if you do not have a classical education in the art sphere). So you know what it means for contemporary artists – almost no chance to get it.

The law was in use from April 2015 until very recently. On February 2017, there were series of street protests against the law and the economical situation in Belarus. The anti-parasite ‘tax’ and its reflection on the sphere of culture made the space between the market and the authoritarian control of the state evident.

On 1 December 2018, a database of the unemployed was compiled. We know already that the unemployed will have to pay “for the services determined by the Council of Ministers at prices and tariffs ensuring full recovery of the economically justified costs of providing them,” like medicine, education, a communal flat, public transport…


Hey all again!

How are things with you?

Dear Olia,

Just wanted to point out the importance of your thoughts for me about artists that are expected today to “be comfortable to work with,” “they can’t have depression or be too crazy.” I found myself in this situation when I was invited, for example, to a residency where everybody was very helpful and nice, but expecting and ‘looking forward to’ something – which is also ok if this ‘forward’ is not expecting the production of a comfortable situation for the visitors. I am like: why are they inviting me? Don’t they know what I am doing? Or a lecture where you need to present your artistic method that is sometimes treated as radical and can also provoke inconveniences or discomfort for some people. However, this is needed as a provocation and as a method to unlearn what you were learning or to deskill – how to use a tool in another way than it was programmed for in order to break the convenient, cozy, and familiar user-experience scenario. I often spoke about this with my friends from Night Movement who often struggle with the organizers of different events for being too crazy.

By the way, they made the Night Without Movement ( and the Night of Sleep ( that highly relates to the ideas that we’ve been discussing in Brest and online.

Concerning ‘pauses’, ‘stops’, and ‘resting moments’, me and Kolya recently made an online-conference about the useless concept of the ‘Traffic Loop’ that is basically an infinite loop of data going round-and-round. During the conference, people who were hired to perform a script had a 7-minutes break.

We are talking a lot here about non-work, cultivating, and growing it in ourselves, but also in a series of SWS – simultaneous work sessions – Kolya and I invited our friends and colleagues to join a work activity for an hour span of time:

This is a digital union of non-material workers, the virtual space of multi-user processing – so try not to distract each other – you can watch someone doing her cognitive work.

The synchronized sessions are designed to unify participants into one working mode. Being united by one of the online-communication tools, we will simply work and listen to each other’s work. Being silently present in the imaginary space.

Rationalized time management of production processes is the contrast to joint silent sessions: when we unite not to produce something together but rather to help each other to overcome the accelerating communication and production processes reinforced by online tools. Using the same tools against their primarily functions, we are constructing together the union of non-material workers.





Dear Olia,

This gap that you are mentioning could be a cave or a cathedral. The position of art in Belarus gives artists, curators, and other cultural workers a position to create something that could be ……………… (outstanding, depressing, new, or special).

Belarus is still outside of the international system of contemporary art. For you, the white cube has just started with Ў gallery around 10 years ago. I get the impression that the artists, curators, and cultural workers from Belarus gathering around the Status project are representing a strong new generation. You speak English, travel, study, and have internships in the US, Norway, Finland, Sweden, etc.

I think we as artists and cultural workers can and should take all possible opportunities to collaborate on an international scale, but we should also be conscious of the fact that we are also played with (or can be played with) by others. I think that we, in our collaborative process, should make it a priority to create examples. Making art with limited resources and discovering a system for critical reflection in our own process/project where everybody in the project contributes.


Olia Sosnovskaya Sunday, 25 nov., 19:30

to: Dzina, nicola, Nils.Claesson, tania.arcimovich, Nastya, maximsarychau

Hey dears!

I want to share with you today’s experience, which fits perfectly to our agenda. I was paid to do nothing for 2 hours (7.5 euro per hour) with four other art students. It was a performance by my friends, artist duo Martinka Bobrikova & Oscar de Carmen Non-logic Devices in Logic Processes. Though of course our ‘doing nothing’ had some protocols and instructions, which we had to follow: we were to either sit on the chairs holding a rope or stand by the tilted wall, and not communicate or make contact with anyone, including each other. That practice also felt a bit like meditation or hypnosis because at some point of immobility I could neither feel some parts of my body nor the time. I’ll attach the photo.

Olia Sosnovskaya performs in the Non-logic Devices in Logic Processes by Martinka Bobrikova & Oscar de Carmen. HotDock Project Space, Bratislava, November 2018. Photo by Aleksei Borisionok.


I’m so sorry for my late reply! As a ‘personal enterprise’ (I hope I’m kidding here) I am overwhelmed with the multiple tasks that I need to conduct. My everyday practice – the way I procrastinate in order not to write a completed text – is composed from words-findings and words-that-are-playful. So please let me invite you to my uncompleted never finished ‘procrastination machine’:

paradise politics

slow archipelagos

last resort



I am very much concerned about a less work-centered future. To put it more precisely, when I actually write ‘future’ I mean the present, following science-fiction that counts itself as “science-fiction of the present day,” imagining or speculating on the current state of society rather (or sometimes even if) writing about previously non-existing worlds at new planets hundreds of year from now. So read it as “a less work-centered present” that is imagined but not yet real. ↓↓↓signpost phrases↓↓↓signpost phrases↓↓↓signpost phrases (something like “From this I want to go deeper into the subjects identifying themselves as competitive” or posing a question might be good – “Is it possible to overcome the work ethic?” or smth).

efficient man

the figure of the enterprise

entrepreneurial subject

competitive man

personal enterprise

neo-liberal subject

the desiring being

investments in creativity

The apparatus of efficiency is a particular kind of subjective normalization from which the ‘efficient man’ was born. Viewing a human as an active subject who must participate fully, commit herself utterly, and engage completely in her professional activity. This is the subject of total self-involvement. And even more – this person is becoming the desiring being. As Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval in The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society put it:

The new techniques of ‘personal enterprise’ doubtless reach a peak of alienation in claiming to abolish any sense of alienation: following one’s desire and obeying the Other who speaks softly within the self are one and the same thing. In this sense, modern management is a ‘Lacanian government’: the desire of the subject is the desire of the Other.

↓↓↓ (something from my personal life – yesterday I was in the lecture of my friend Gleb Napreenko who was defining the Other as a constituent legitimation of one’s identity and what happens when you dismiss the Other…, or that sometimes a part of your own body can become the Other…) ↓↓↓ from this I can somehow go to the idea of parts of the body and their transformations that can break the logic of/transform the understanding of the Other ↓↓↓ or maybe that goes too far↓↓↓







sensing abilities


The word ‘cyborg’ comes from the words ‘cybernetic organism’ that is an organism that has bio-, or mechanical extensions in the body↓↓↓ Do we want to develop extensions at different levels?↓↓↓ A body works pharmacologically even when we are asleep↓↓↓ Maybe the word ‘work’ should be dissociated into thousands of meanings↓↓↓ How to raise new sensibilities within ourselves?↓↓↓


I want to get back to the fully automated luxury communism for everyone, brought by Dzina. I think it is important to mention that laziness and refusal to work, even in its radical form, can be a privilege. Who can afford to be lazy? Is it only those who are relatively safe in terms of their basic needs, like was Duchamp? Laziness is also often linked to white privilege, particularly in terms of being lazy to educate oneself about racism, for example. On the other hand, migrants and persons of color are often portrayed as lazy, as parasites, or Eastern Europeans are stereotyped as cheaters, avoiding work and study. I would like to problematize the list of male theorists and practitioners of non-work and laziness, which I referenced in the very first comment when I spoke about the history of the issue. It is the same old question about representation and access to resources. To put it in a bit of an exaggerated way: while the male artist is already refusing to work, the female artist is still working hard to get noticed and be acknowledged as an artist. Or, while in the exploitation of the working class, men were conscious of this, and they were organised enough to demand their ‘right to be lazy’ – the exploitation of women was mostly invisible, and took place in the separated (‘private’) spaces of homes. Kathi Weeks in her book The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries explores those intersections.10 I agree with Dzina that perhaps the word ‘work’ should have many more meanings, like non-work should not be neutral but always be nuanced and have particular social, political, gender, and racial biases.


Olia, thanks for commenting! Your comments are great!!!

The gendered aspect of the conceptions of ‘work’ should be a key part into building post-work imaginaries. Social reproduction and care – such as raising of children and domestic issues – still require a lot of the female dominated ‘private’ work.

As Silvia Federici puts it

while production has been restructured through a technological leap in key areas of the world economy, no technological leap has occurred in the sphere of domestic work significantly reducing the labour socially necessary for the reproduction of the workforce.11

See Red Women’s Workshop / Feminist Posters 1974-1990.

Jozi Stolet and Polina Shilkinite (St.Petersburg / Moscow) in their project world of work / world without work face invisible work of activists, artists, mothers, volunteers, and possible solutions in cooperation with machines:

Today I was also thinking about a collaboration between Uliana Bychenkova & Zhanna Dolgova Welcome To The Doll House! (Kyiv / St.-Petersburg) and the notion of play and procrastination that they find important in order to reclaim language and voice. They write:

Finally, our desire is to play. This wish connected to the lack of our meaning in the hegemonic discourses, to the blockage of non-normative types of pleasure of the weak – female, childish, any pleasure of the other. Playing, we can produce ludic commonality – in an attempt to install, to foster new ties (friendly, affective, sensible, somatic, ontological). We put search and affirmation of the most intimate and at the same time shared wishes and hopes into the form of play – commonality, which can be political.


Dear Dzina, thank you for introducing or reminding us of the institution of play. Play is a radical force that unites not only humans but also animals into non-productive, non-work activity. (In a collection of old fairy tales and myths from the Sami people one story is how the sami-children made a truce with the bear-mother to play with bear-cubs. I think this story goes from Scandinavia along the white sea all the way to Siberia).

Even a cat knows when it is time for play and not.

Takao Mumiyama. Calligraphy. From private archive of Nils.

This is a calligraphy made by Takao Mumiyama in summer 2018. I asked him write the term karoshi. It means death by overworking. Around 200 persons die that way every year in Japan. The signs have the same meaning in Chinese and Korean.

Date:Tue, 25 Dec 2018 17:05:11 +0300
From:nicola spesivcev
To:Dzina Zhuk, Olia Sosnovskaya, Nils Claesson, tania.arcimovich, Nastya Ranko, maximsarychau

Hey all!

Thank you Dzina and Olia for shattering our two pole system where only ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ exist. I think that nuancing neutral term of ‘non-work’ and elaboration on the notion of play and procrastination have a big potential to make our analysis more accurate. Your ideas pushed me to speculate about the situation that unfolds even before the division between ‘work’ and ‘non-work’. In desire to do so, I found myself in thoughts spinning around the notion of ‘activity’ and something similar to the word ‘activism’.

Last week I was in the discussion “Past and Present of Activist Art: Dialogue of Generations” (speakers: Oksana Vasyakina, Artem Loskutov, Pavlo Mitenko, Natalia Nikulenkova, Ekaterina Nenasheva, Make, Dasha) that was in frame of “Marathon of Activist Art”. A large part of the conversation was about different methods of juxtaposing art, actionism, and activism.

The term of activism was formulated there as _activity_ with political aims and _activity_ that goes beyond any forms of alienation.

Pavlo Mitenko during the discussion – and in his text “How to Act in the Public View (Moscow Actionism and the Community Politics)” (available here in Russian: – proposed some ideas that can be useful for our purposes as well.

Here I’d like to re-formulate several of his theses:

– because it’s a-sociality and socially dysfunctional, an action cannot be evaluated through the grid of institutional forms of art and politics.

– an action is an act/leap-of-faith. Therefore it’s a phenomenon that does not belong to divided spheres of labor, but to the tissue of unformalized relations, to immediate relations in other words.

Based on this, I want to bring to our discussion this very notion of the attempt to deal with relations before establishing any alienating forms of institualization, relations that belong to the activity understood as intensity of life.12

Maybe the marxist theory of establishing human subjectivity elaborated in late Soviet times by Evald Ilyenkov, for example, could be useful to unpack the relation between activity and various social and political grounded forms of work and non-work. But give me a bit more time to think about that.

At the end, I would like to share a bunch of issues of “Pervasive Labour Union Zine,” which I think is firmly connected with themes we’re discussing here. Here is the link:

And a small excerpt from an introduction to the issue #11 the entreprecariat:

The strategic colonization and commodification of relationships with

others and with the self is one of the predominant features of the

‘entreprecariat’ , which is the focus of this issue. The term emerged

from the realization that, while an array of diverse forms of precarity

(financial, professional, and even existential) is becoming the norm for

a growing number of people, so it is the necessity to tackle them

entrepreneurially. As witnessed by the emergence of terms like

‘entrepreneurism’, individuals as well as institutions are increasingly

urged to think of themselves as brands, companies or startups. Against a

backdrop characterized by relentless destabilization, entrepreneurship,

the practice of starting and managing a business through risk, turns

into entrepreneurialism, a universal doctrine with its own dogmas,

martyrs and plans of salvation.


  1. P. Lafargue, 1907. The Right to be Lazy and Other Studies, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company..
  2. M. Lazzarato, 2014. Marcel Duchamp and The Refusal of Work, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
  3. Steyerl, Hito, “The Terror of Total Dasein” Lecture, Public Editorial Meeting Former West, Art and Labor after the End of Work, Museum of Modern Art, 9 and 10 October, 2015, Warsaw, PL, [online video],, Accessed 31 December, 2018.
  4. Malevich, Kazimir (1921). “Laziness as the Truth of Mankind”.
  5. Stilinović, Mladen (1993). “In Praise of Laziness”, See Accessed 31 December 2018.
  6. Ibid.
  7. M. Lazzarato, 2014. Marcel Duchamp and The Refusal of Work, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), p. 9.
  8. From the unpublished correspondence with n i i c h e g o d e l a t (Scientific Research Institute for doing nothing) and the author.
  9. Here you can find some traces of activity of the collective:
  10. K. Weeks, 2011. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries, Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  11. Federici, Silvia, (2013). “A Feminist Critique of Marx” in The End of Capitalism See Accessed 28 December, 2018.
  12. Massumi, Brian, 2018. 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value. A Postcapitalist Manifesto. Minneapolis and London: UP Minnesota. See 


This catalogue is work in progress, where we propose to discuss the cases connected with the topic of Heritagization. Heritagization – heritage-making, the creation and re-creation of cultural, historical meaning, and identity – is done by different actors and at different levels, from institutions, museums, their visitors, to common people, and artists.

In our collective project, we focus on different forms of heritagization that emerge parallel and/or are in conflict with official and authorized forms of heritage making. In particular, we are interested in highlighting, enacting and performing alternative processes of heritage-making collectively, through art practice and activism in urban public spaces. The project is composed of different parts that dialogue and build on one another to explore how art and activism can make or reflect on heritage. We also plan to analyse the situation in Belarus and Sweden and will try to search for any similarities, patterns, or differences in our future work.

Belarusian Cases

Prepared by Alina Dzeravianka

Having worked for the last five years with heritage and contemporary art in Belarus, I proposed a number of cases that I think are relevant to the topic of heritage making or Heritagization. For me, it is a process when an artist, group of artists, or activists start to work on a certain topic connected to the past. Somehow their works can be connected with material or intangible heritage, and sometimes it is not yet perceived as heritage by the wider society. In such cases, the artist or a group becomes an occasional researcher or historian who works with heritage. In some cases, as in Brest stories guide projects or Artur Klinau’s City of the Sun, the artists emphasise the importance of historical memory or the value of monuments. In others, such as the work of VEHA project or artist Andrei Liankevich’s work Pagan,, artists focus on the tradition, personal stories, and local identity connected with the past. In Ruslan Vashkevich interventions in the museum, he questions what gets perceived as museum heritage nowadays, and who decides what it is.

Brest stories guide (audio guide-performance)

In 2016, the independent theatre group Kryly Khalopa began the project Brest Stories Guide. It is a series of documentary audio performances in the city space of Brest that one can download on a mobile app. The project is an audio guide – a tour around a ‘nonexistent’ Brest – and is based on materials from the archives, books, photos, and interviews with witnesses of the events related to the rise of anti-Semitism since 1937 and the Brest ghetto and the obliteration of the Jewish community in 1941-1942. In addition to the memories of surviving Jews and Brest citizens, they also used the unpublished reports of German officers from the archives. The play becomes a kind of investigation based on the sonic memory of witnesses to 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.1 For a long time it was almost impossible to see any remains or signs of the Jewish population in Brest, which used to make up 60% of the city in the 19th century; however, due to the Soviet ideology and Post-Soviet neglect of politics, this history is buried.

The mobile application consists of the audio guide and a city map, which allows the user to navigate freely on the map with key sites of Jewish heritage and historical events in Brest. Streets, buildings, and yards become a stage on which the voices from the past sound The Kryly Khalopa theatre offers the visitors to plunge into the history, and also see the outlines of a disappeared, old Brest appearing through the facade of today’s city2.

Brest Stories Guide is a project at the intersection of art, tourism, and cultural heritage preservation. It is the result of the co-work of about twenty people, including historians, experts from Jewish organizations, as well as the best actors of Brest theaters3. Brest Stories Guide is one of the heritagization processes in Belarus done by an independent theatre group who helps promote the untold, sometimes neglected history, but also promote the heritage of the city.

Horse in a coat exhibition by Ruslan Vashkevich

Horse in a coat is a unique project on borders and smuggling, which was created specifically for Brest by Belarusian contemporary artist Ruslan Vashkevich in October 2016.

The exhibition discussed how objects that were seized at the border, some of which were seen as smuggled objects, get framed as Art within the museum. The artist muses how these ‘Modern Art’ objects colonize the space of the local museum. The objects created by artist were supposed to mix their perception with their function in the museum. It was first planned to be exhibited in the Museum of Saved Values (Музей спасенных ценностей), but after museum professionals saw the objects, they refused to show it. So the artist has to find a new place in one day. Finally he found a place in the shopping center; so in the end, it was quite provocative and interesting at the same time.

From my point of view, Ruslan Vashkevich tried to reflect on how a museum object gets framed in the museum. The Museum of Saved Values is the only museum in Belarus where works of art and antiques are exhibited after being confiscated by Brest customs officers in an attempt to save them from being smuggled abroad. But the question is: how is the collection formed? What is the value of the smuggled objects? Why do they became museum objects?

I think that through Vashkevich’s objects created for the exhibition, he was able to reflect and critique the museum display and its collection. We see that most of the works he created turned out to be similar objects as the ones that are in the museum but with some added artistic value. From this point of view, it is questionable what has more heritage value: the confiscated objects or the objects created by artist Ruslan Vashkevich? He also had a number of interventions in the museum collections: the exhibition Go and See at Rumyantsev-Paskevich Palace, Gomel, Belarus and the exhibition Museum in 2011 at the National Art Museum.

Minsk. City of the Sun concept and book by Artur Klinau

Artur Klinau is a Belarusian writer, artist, and architect, based in Minsk. In 2000, he continued to work on the topic of Minsk’s Stalinist style architecture that he started already as a student. As a result he created a photo album City of the Sun (2005) and later on a novel Minsk. City of the Sun (2006).

In 2009 he initiated a public program City of the Sun-2 which aimed at Minsk’s transformation into a major tourist and cultural center of Europe and later the group of UNESCO experts were invited to study and collect a portfolio; the discussion on the inclusion of some parts of the central Minsk into UNESCO heritage (such as its Stalinist architecture is still ongoing.

Minsk. City of the Sun is an attempt at describing one of the main urban planning projects of the Stalin era. The text, with photographs of the author, combines historical and architectural analysis of the great Soviet utopia. The book was written in Belarusian in 2005, and then it was translated into German, Polish, Swedish, and Hungarian, and published in Russian for the first time in 2013.

Klinau studied and described in his book the political and social history of Minsk architecture. He analyzed how a Soviet utopia was realized in the architectural form that the Independence avenue and six main squares, created in 1950s, takes. All the elements, including parks and squares, had a special meaning and concept for the people.

Since the early 2000s, Artur Klinau has meditated on the significance of Stalinist architecture in Minsk. He created a new understanding of heritage and the value of Soviet utopia. Through the artists eyes, we saw a new meaning created for the objects, streets, squares, parks, and so on. I think the book and the public program have influenced a public opinion and contributed to the re-evaluation of historical value of the Stalinist architecture of Minsk.

The best side photo project by VEHA group

VEHA is the project dedicated to the preservation of archival photos of Belarus and the formation of family photo archives. In 2017, the group started a project The Nailepshy Bok / The Best Side and started to collect photos of Belarusians that would be placed on homemade, woven carpets from small villages and places. The collection The Nailepshy Bok / The Best Side shows the theme of photography as a social ritual. Woven carpets are a peculiar phenomenon in family, festive, and everyday photography of Belarusians and represent the best side of life to others, which means that a holistic impression of life can be made.4 The project was shown to a wider public during the Minsk Month of Photography in 2017 for the first time.

The result of the project was the publication of a book The Nailepshy Bok / The Best Side with images of the collection supplemented by expert articles in the field of ethnography and visual research.

The project is also related to the construction of family heritage because during Soviet and Post-Soviet times it was not that popular to collect family historical narration. Now the group is trying to renew and analyze this specific tradition. I would say it was even risky to know the history of the family, especially after Stalinist repressions: parents and grandparents didn’t talk much about their life or relatives, so somehow we lost the tradition and connection to our previous generation. I chose this project because it is about understanding the value of personal/family history. The projects pays attention to the personal archives, photos, family history, and tradition. It helps to create a family history and to get a better understanding of one’s identity, roots, and prehistory. I think it is quite important to stress the value of family history and to help people to learn how to work with it, how to find out the story, and how to create a story.

Paganstva/Pagan, photo project & book by Andrei Liankevich

Andrei Liankevich is a Belarusian photographer who was born 1981 in Grodno and is based in Minsk. In his book Pagan, he shows the pagan traditions and customs that still exist in Belarus. Most traditions disappear or have already disappeared in the 1960-70s. In some villages, only one, the oldest inhabitant, still remembers them. Liankevich traveled through the villages and talked with people to collect legends. Today we are living in the Christian tradition, and we do not always understand that it appeared after thousands of years of Pagan beliefs and taboos. And if you compare the age of Pagan beliefs and Christianity, the latter influenced civilization for only two thousand years. Paganism is present in the life of modern Belarusian society because, after all, who does not look in the mirror when one comes back for forgotten things or who does not think a few times if is it worth it to continue the journey after meeting a black cat? In the villages, this is more common, and still a lot of people follow superstitions.

This project is about questioning our current and past traditions; what is left, and what can be preserved as a heritage. I would say that this project is not giving answers but asks more questions.

Andrey says in one of the interview about the book Pagan

Many people who have seen the book and photos ask the question, what is paganism for me. Many people have an understanding of it: here is a cow, cut off the head, lay it down and dance, preferably at night under the moon. But for me it became clear that paganism is a huge world view, which Belarusians still live with. To the quiet Christians we are just slowly coming closer to Christianity…It is clear that this is a long process of transition. Now many of our holidays have a direct connection with paganism. I have village roots, and all these unforgettable summers, which I hated when I was a child, now turn into these photos….I have answered the questions of who the Belarusians are, what, why and how, who I am, who we are5

Swedish Cases

Prepared by Elina Vidarsson and Chiara Valli
Shoreline memorial

The Shoreline memorial is a raised stone with a plaque engraved with “Play Shoreline” (in swedish “Spela Shoreline”). The monument was put up in a large park (Slottsskogen) in Gothenburg, Sweden 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 official approval. But this got a huge social media response. Both the public and famous Swedes objected to its removal and argued for the value of the monument. A Facebook campaign was created to convince the city’s Park and Nature Administration that the public wanted the monument to stay. After two days, the campaign was joined by 5,000 people. And finally, the political board of the city’s Park and Nature Administration made a formal decision to let the monument stay in the park.

In the fall of 2018, the monument was part of an exhibition called Public Luxury at the museum ArkDes (Sweden’s National Centre for Architecture and Design) in Stockholm.

This case is very interesting because it is made by two artists that highlights the importance and relevance for the public. An anonymous creator writes:

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 people6

The monument is also a memory of the Swedish youth subculture Popare which is inspired by Brit-pop and pop art. Some also call (or rather called) themselves BD popare 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. It is also interesting that this monument has done a ‘class journey’. It came from the bottom, was challenged by the decision makers and was approved from the top. And later it became part of an exhibition in one of the finest museums in Sweden.


Fascinate is a graffiti painting created on the outside wall of an industrial building in Bromsten, Stockholm. The painting was made 1989 by the two artists, Circle and Weird (Tariq Saleh), with consent from the property owner and was then the largest graffiti painting in northern Europe.

Its preservation was under discussion for many years (in the mid 90s Stockholm city introduced a Zero Tolerance policy against graffiti inspired by New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani), but in 2015, it became the first officially protected graffiti work in Sweden with much thanks to the researcher Jacob Kimvall and author Tobias Barenthin Lindblad.

In 2007, Jacob Kimvall and Tobias Barenthin Lindblad sent an application to the county administration board of Stockholm with a request that four graffiti paintings in Stockholm should become officially protected. They argued for the importance of the art form and the need of protecting it for the future. And they described their worry for the loss of cultural values and loss of cultural heritage due to the city’s Zero Tolerance policy.

This case is interesting because there has been and still is low tolerance against this art form. Still many find it’s hard to see the difference between art and vandalism and most of the graffiti is removed within 48 hours. So there is rarely any time to fight for protection. However, Kimvall and Barenthin Lindblad have as activists worked for protection and succeeded. According to Jacob Kimvall, Fascinate is one of the world’s oldest protected graffiti paintings. And its preservation value is not only that it is old, but part of the identity of Bromsten and that it represents a subculture (in contrast to elite culture).7

The Library of Unborrowed Books

In 2012, the Stockholm-based artist Meriç Algün Ringborg had an exhibition in Stockholm Public Library called The Library of Unborrowed Books. This first section consisted of 600 books that had never been borrowed at Stockholm Public Library. The second section was presented in Art in General in New York the following year and consisted of 1001 books that had never been borrowed at Center for Fiction in New York.

Meriç Algün Ringborg writes,

There is a selection made of what books accompany us into the future. Within education, for instance, the establishment of a canon is clear – it is the venue for the particular echo that determines what books persevere, those that are to be kept in the loop and read again by the next generation. This comes natural, a selection is necessary, and it’s made in different instances either conscious or unconscious. Nevertheless, the books that are left behind — those deemed useless or for unknown reasons are abandoned — still exist in physical form, organized and systematized within the one institution representative of knowledge in all its forms, the library.

The Library of Unborrowed Books bases itself on the concept of the library as an institution manifesting language and knowledge, of the passing of awareness and the openness to all types of people and literature. This work, however, comprises all the books from a selected library that have never been borrowed. The framework in this instance hints at what has been disregarded, knowledge essentially unconsumed, and puts on display what has eluded us.

Why these books aren’t ‘chosen,’ why they are overlooked, will never be clear but whatever each book contains, en masse they become representative of the gaps and cracks of history, or the bureaucratic cataloging of the world, the ambivalent relationship between absence and presence. In this library their existence is validated simply by being borrowed, underlining their being as well as their content and form by putting them on display in an autonomous library dedicated to the books yet to have been revealed.8

The Daddy come home project

Around 2014 the Swedish professor and film producer Kalle Boman started to work with the film director Ruben Östlund on a project called the Square. The idea was to create a sanctuary in the form of a white marked box, a zone which represents trust and equality. As a first step, they designed an exhibition at the art and design museum Vandalarum in Värnamo, Sweden. The municipality of Värnamo immediately got interested in the project and installed a permanent Square in the marketplace Flanaden that was finished for the opening of the exhibition.

As part of the art project, Boman and Östlund also started the project Daddy come home”(in Swedish “Pappa kom hem”) in 2015. The idea was and still is that they want the equestrian statue (known as “Kopparmärra”) of the Swedish King Charles IX on a horse, located in a central square in Gothenburg, to be moved. And they want it moved to another square a few hundred meters away, where a statue of the son of Charles IX, King Gustav II Adolf stands. The idea is that both kings should be taken down from their pedestals and that the wife of Charles IX, Christina of Holstein-Gottorp, also should have a statue next to her husband and son. The place where Charles IX now stands should later be replaced by their Square.9

The city of Gothenburg will celebrate 400 years in 2021 and Boman and Östlund argue that the city should revalue its landmarks and show that it’s a progressive city. According to Ruben Östlund, the removal of the kings is connected to the bigger question of “what should the public room be – and for whom?”10


Yarn bombing, Lidköping, Sweden.

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.”11 Guerrilla-knitters have a feminist orientation and distance themselves from consumerism while giving new light to the hand-made, labor-intensive production.

Although this is an international movement (in the Global North, at least), it is widespread in Sweden also because of the zero-tolerance policy towards graffiti and street art.

This is as an example of alternative heritage making because it seeks to reinterpret the traditional handicrafts of knitting that has traditionally 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 super heroines.”12 This is a form of criticizing the male-dominated authorized heritage in Sweden through arts and crafts.


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 as an example of how well-intentioned processes of heritagization in urban spaces often become co-opted and become instruments for gentrification. There are several examples of course, but this is a striking one on the ambivalence and risks of heritagization.





  5. Interview of A. Liankevich for Znyata.

  6. Lindqvist, Johan (2014). “Konstnärerna bakom Shoreline-stenen talar ut” in Göteborgs Posten Accessed 30, December 2018




  10. Jofs, Stina (2015). “Rubens ruta” in Vi. . Accessed 11 January, 2019

  11. Wollan, Malia (2011). “Graffiti’s Cozy, Feminine Side” in The New York Times Accessed 21 December, 2018

  12. Rotschild, Nathalie (2009).“Sweden: Where graffiti is prohibited, urban knitters make a new street art” in the Christian Science Monitor Accessed 21 December, 2018