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What is To Be Done? Irony, Estrangement and Truth-Telling in the Time of an Unhinged World

Event Label
Organisational Units
Art Theory and Cultural Studies
Location Address (1)
Schillerplatz 3
Location ZIP and/or City (1)
1010 Vienna
Location Room (1)

A two-day symposium with film screenings by Chto Delat, an internationally acclaimed collective of artists and researchers, founded in St Petersburg in 2003-2004. The event will be moderated and presented by the members of the collective with contributions from guest speakers.

Is it still possible today to make artworks based on the effects of irony, estrangement, and sarcasm? Is laughter possible in the midst of a catastrophe? What about truth-telling at a time when nobody is looking for the truth, as it is already there and sees nothing but itself – even if it does not fit into the obvious facts? And what is the obvious, by the way? How can Socratic irony enhance pedagogy and filmmaking?

Chto Delat [What is to be Done?] is an artistic, educational and research collective that addresses the post-socialist condition in the unhinged world of today. Founded in St Petersburg in 2003-2004, Chto Delat brought together artists, critics and philosophers, merging art, activism, and radical thought. During their 20 years of activity, Chto Delat have created a whole range of aesthetic and educational forms, working with various media, such as films, installations, murals, performances, public debates, learning practices, and publications.

Irony, the grotesque, and estrangement have been present in Chto Delat's work since the second half of the 2000s, when the collective began to practice a dialectical aesthetic inspired by Bertolt Brecht. Today, in a world torn apart by extremely polarised statements and attempts at ressentiment-driven mutual cancellations, the Socratic irony and the Brechtian estrangement are more urgent than ever. The Socratic irony and the Brechtian estrangement are indeed expressions of the hope for another world, not enslaved to the destructive antagonisms and the wars orchestrated by the cognitive machinery of contemporary capitalism. They express a desire for a change in the collective mind, turning it towards the real and looming catastrophe that threatens to destroy the whole planet.

The two-day event on 25-26 January moderated by members of Chto Delat will be a retrospective of selected films, theoretical vocabularies, and practices of the collective. The discussions with Chto Delat’s members (most of whom are in exile) will provide a unique point of reflection, retracing a vast spectrum of still-emergent trajectories that the collective has been developing for the past 20 years. Invited guest speakers will contribute to the broader framework of the discussion addressing specific elements and aspects of Chto Delat’s aesthetic and how their practice has changed over time, including how their work has responded to the recent catastrophic years marked by wars and political impasses.


25 January: Day One – Film Screening and Discussion with the members of Chto Delat

19 – 19:15 h Welcome by the Rector Johan Hartle and Prof. Sabeth Buchmann (on behalf of the Institute for Art Theory & Cultural Studies)

19:15 – 20 h An introductory discussion on the history and current work of Chto Delat (with members of the collective)

20 – 21 h Screening of a selection of short films by Chto Delat

26 January: Day Two – Panel discussions

11–11:30 h Introduction to Day Two (Alexei Penzin)

11:30 h Screening of the film The Lessons of Dis-Content (2011)

12 h Panel 1
Irony and the dialectic of equality in Action: truth-telling in the polarized world
Moderator: Alexei Penzin
Participants: Oxana Timofeeva, Artemy Magun, Gerald Raunig, Alexander Koch

14 h Lunch break

15 h Intermezzo 1: Video fragments from Chto Delat

15:15 h Panel 2
What is good art?
Moderators: Dmitry Vilensky and Olga Egorova-Tsaplya
Participants: Gluklya/Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya, Nikolay Oleynikov , Georg Schöllhammer, Maria Vilkovisky and Ruthia Jenrbekova

17 h Intermezzo 2: Video fragments from Chto Delat 

17:15 h Panel 3
Care, irony, and the pedagogies of emergency
Moderator: Nikolay Oleynikov 
Participants: Olga Schubert, Alessandra Pomarico, Elke Krasny, Nora Sternfeld, Marina Vishmidt, Olga Egorova-Tsaplya

19 h Intermezzo 3: Video fragments from Chto Delat 

19:15 – 20:30 h – Closing discussion

With kind support from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.

The symposium will be held in English.

Chto Delat would like to thank Nikolaus Perneczky for editing the German translation of the text.