Curated Pages

The New Collectives

Text by Christabel Stewart & AJ RS Hothi

The following pages are dedicated to artist collectives whose approach to the creation, documentation, distribution and exhibition of their works lies in what may be called “informational resource networking”. They are interested in sharing political, social and aesthetic information, both within the collective and with the wider public; reciprocal dialogue and participation are key. The forums they use include exhibitions, interventions, publication, performance and, most importantly, web and digital technologies. Still, the art they produce is not necessarily of high aesthetic value. In fact, in many cases it is not art as we are most familiar with it, but rather pamphlets, newspapers, online compilations, performances or seminars, staged in both the traditional art capitals of the West and smaller cities from Athens to Zagreb.

Since they sell work so irregularly, these collectives are more dependent than traditional artists on funding from private or public donors. “In the past, we have managed to continue work on our publications and online resources by raising money from art projects and production of art work,” Chto delat?, a St. Petersburg-based collective, says. “However, this does not always give us the necessary independence to match the urgency of local activist knowledge production.” The work each collective produces – and shares online, in galleries and in print – can be seen as a public service, an alternative to mainstream points of view. 

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From top, left: still from Builders/ Строители (2005). courtesy of Chto delat?. still from The Tower: A Songspiel (2010). courtesy of Sonya Akimova. still from Angry Sandwich people or in a Praise of Dialectic (2006).courtesy of Chto delat?. all realised by Tsaplya (Olga Egorova), Nikolay Oleinikov, Dmitry Vilensky


Chto Delat? was founded in St. Petersburg in 2003 with the goal of merging art, political theory and activism. It is guided by the principles of self-organisation, collectivism and solidarity, uniting artists, philosophers, social researchers and, as their mission statement explains, “all those whose aim is the collaborative realisation of critical and independent research, publication, artistic, educational and activist projects”, to produce work spanning interventions, exhibitions, films and videos, radio plays, performance, books and magazines, a library and a bilingual Russian/English newspaper. Chto delat? is unabashedly inspired by the Russia of the last century, sometimes subdividing itself into groups it calls “art soviets” and drawing upon Communist-era social realism for aesthetic inspiration. In its 2005 film The Builders, inspired by the 1959 painting Builders of Bratsk by Viktor Popkov, a series of still shots that recall Popkov’s builders overlays a voiceover discussing how Chto delat?, as a “yuppie” collective, relates to the painting.


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From top, left: artefacts from The Serving Library (2009). OCA, Oslo. compiled collection of books for The Serving Library (2010). Liveinyourhead, Geneva. courtesy The Serving Library. W.A.S.T.E. (2009). courtesy St. Louis Museum of Contemporary Art, St. Louis

Launched in Amsterdam and later moved to New York, Dexter Sinister was the alias used by artists Stuart Bailey and David Reinfurt, as well as the name of a workshop they ran that explored the production of the printed word. Bailey and Reinfurt edited and published the journal Dot Dot Dot; their Lower East Side basement was both an experimental project space and an “Occasional Bookstore”. For the 2009 edition of Performa, New York’s biennial performance-art festival, Dexter Sinister created the First/Last Newspaper: a fully functioning, open-to-the-public newsdesk publishing 3,000 copies, twice a week for three weeks, and handed out for free from a disused storefront on 8th Avenue at Port Authority, just opposite the New York Times building. It was hardly in competition with the Times – one headline read, “Large Hadron Collider Expected to Fail Due to Backwards Causation, Massive Elementary Particle Predicted Plus Standard Model and Colliding Beam Synchrotron Particle Accelerator Explained”. This March, Dexter Sinister dissolved into a new organisation, the Serving Library, which maintains an Occasional Bookstore on Ludlow Street.

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From top, left: invitation to the opening of Dexter Sinister with a founding statement of intent (2006). True Mirror Microfiche (2008). The Kitchen, New York. Black Whisky (2009). The Art of Exhibitions (2007). Store Gallery, London. Furniture/Props (2010). CAG, Vancouver. courtesy The Serving Library


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Bernadette Corporation, The Complete Poem (2011). courtesy Galerie Neu, Berlin, and Greene Naftali, New York. photography by Lepkowski Studios, Berlin
Bernadette Corporation is a long-running, anonymous collective united behind a brand-like identity. An early statement reads, “Mock incorporation is quick and easy, no registration or fees, simply choose a name (i.e., Booty Corporation, Bourgeois Corporation, Buns Corporation) and spend a lot of time together. Ideas will come later.” Bernadette’s ideas now include self-published magazines, novels, film, video, photography, exhibitions and a fashion label, all critiquing the late-capitalist, globalised world they inhabit. Its own description of its 2005 novel 
Reena Spaulings calls the book “writing for everybody, by nobody, an overcrowded literary graveyard whose zombie author is called Bernadette Corporation”. A 2010 exhibition at Berlin’s Galerie Neu featured Media Hot and Cold, a set of books made with the make-your-own book service Blurb. They were given grand and irreverent titles such as Moby Dick, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and How to Stop Smoking, while their texts were compilations of customer reviews taken from blogs and e-commerce and social networking sites. Bernadette claims the books heralded “the emergence of a sort of post- or para-literary practice within the global village – the unbridled communicative activity, and a space for exercising subjectivity, that happens in the pragmatic environment of consumer-to-consumer sharing”.


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Antonio G. Lauer a.k.a. Tomislav Gotovac, Showing the Elle Magazine (1962). Sljeme, Medvednica Mountain, performance and series of 6 photographs, Zagreb. courtesy Sarah Gotovac. photography by Ivica Hripko
Croatian collective What, How & for Whom (WHW) named the 2009 Istanbul Biennial, which it curated, from the Threepenny Opera song “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” – a furious rebuke of the upper classes for conceptualising poverty at the expense of basic social services. WHW, which was named for the three fundamental questions that govern every economic organisation, is accordingly interested in how art’s grand ideas can function in a socioeconomic realm. WHW directs Gallery Nova, a publicly owned space in Zagreb, and collaborates with artists, curators, publishers, museums and arts organisations on far-reaching radio and internet broadcasts, public performances, interventions and screenings. It has also curated the Croatian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, which features a collaborative theatre collective called BADco. or the Nameless Author’s Assoc, alongside the work of avant-garde film director and performer Tomislav Gotovac. The curators state that they have conceived of the installation at Venice as “theatre by other means”, and intend to “open a space for critical and transformative work of spectating”, which brings us rather neatly back to that pioneer of transformative theatre, Bertholt Brecht.


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From top, left: Seth Price, Title Variable (2010), Index of Potential (2010). Let’s Remake, Universe Generator (2010). Otto von Busch, Self Passage Methods (2010). Damon Zucconi,“At” Asserting its Object Status (2010). Dexter Sinister, Monument to Co-Operation (2010). courtesy Kernel
Between 1968 and 1972, American writer and Merry Prankster Stewart Brand published The Whole Earth Catalog, a fascinatingly thorough paper database that offered thousands of alternative tools and suggestions for improving one’s life. Steve Jobs has described it as the Bible of his generation and the closest thing that exists to a paper Google. Last year, Full/Operational/Toolbox, an exhibition inspired by The Whole Earth Catalog and organised by the collective Kernel, examined information distribution and management in contemporary art. Its starting point was the idea of “empowerment through access to knowledge”, and the way in which the internet has transformed that idea and enabled an enormous demand for it. Seth Price’s contribution, Title Variable, an ubuweb sound piece, looked at how digital technologies have affected music production over the last 30 years, via samplers, MIDI, cheap synthesizers, the compact disc, personal computers and the world wide web. The exhibition continues as Index of Potential, an online library of texts and titles related to the exhibition – including, of course, a link to the electronic archive of the paper catalogue that started it all.

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From top: Aleksandra Domanovic, Grobari., Index of Potential


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Stills from Unitednationsplaza archive

A vast online video archive was launched in January, the roundabout culmination of several years of work by Anton Vidokle, founder of the arts e-newsletter e-flux and organiser of the e-flux video rental library in New York. Vidokle set up Unitednationsplaza, a temporary, experimental “school” in Berlin, after proposing to do the same in Cyprus for Manifesta 6 before it was cancelled. Unitednationsplaza was a loose programme of seminars and residencies dedicated to the potential of “the exhibition as school.” Part of its individuality lay in its location in the former East Berlin, housed above a supermarket among the plattenbaus. Its seminars, with artists and writers including Liam Gillick, Walid Raad, Jalal Toufic, Nikolaus Hirsch, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Tirdad Zolghadr and Martha Rosler, were filmed and now make up a portion of the online archive. Other videos in the archive come from Nightschool, Unitednationsplaza’s travelling iteration that went to Mexico City in 2008 and New York’s New Museum in 2009; and from the Building, a multimedia arts-library project that took root in Unitednationsplaza’s Berlin building after its departure. According to Vidokle, the final act of the project that began as Unitednationsplaza was conceived as an audience-participation effort on a grand scale: “For the last programme, we wanted to try to motivate our audience to replace us as organisers.”


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Still from

Copenhagen Free University, established in 2001 by artists Henriette Heise and Jakob Jakobsen, was never a formally accredited institution of higher learning: it was established to explore methods of learning and understanding that Heise and Jakobsen described as “fleeting, fluid, schizophrenic, uncompromising, subjective, uneconomic, acapitalist”. Their statement reads, “Our primary aim was not to throw sand in the machinery, but to valorise the stammer, the poetry, the disgust, the schizophrenia, etc. For that purpose we needed a university. Even without any permanent internal structure, the Copenhagen Free University is […] an ever-changing formation characterised by many contexts, platforms, voices, actions, but also by inactivity, refusal, evacuation, withdrawal, exodus.” The CFU hosted discussions, conferences and screenings, and published small books and brochures, including a research paper titled “The Rise and Fall of the Situationists”, which documented the influence of the Situationist International, of which they considered themselves a living legacy, in Denmark. Heise and Jakobsen disbanded the CFU’s London home in 2006, but it lives on online in an archive of essays, lyrics, photographs, statements and the ABZ of the Copenhagen Free University, which discusses an alphabet of subjects from “mass intellectuality” to “self-institution”. §