The Struggle of Post-Soviet Leftist Art

Table of Contents

In this article, Yagi analyzes the goals of the St. Petersburg-based leftist art group “What is to be done?” (Что делать?) and the poet Pavel Arsenev, a central figure in Translit, a magazine of literature and criticism. Yagi does this from the perspective of building an alternative domain that is neither official nor private, but something that is in a way public.
The activities of the unofficial artists of the Soviet era serve as a basis for comparison. For example, the activities of the unofficial art group “Collective Actions” (Коллективные действия) and “The Foundation of Saint-Petersburg” action carried out by “What is to be done?” share the fact that they present the topos of the “suburb” as an unofficial domain. Yet, while the former does this by way of extending a private space built with friends and acquaintances who are participants in the action, we can say that the latter attempts to create a domain that is neither private nor official by entangling citizens through their action.
Furthermore, this trajectory is not simply aimed at the “suburbs.” Arsenev tears open alternative spaces within urban spaces dominated by global capitalism by reciting poetry in the streets or writing the poetry of Andrei Monastyrski, a central figure of “Collective Actions,” in graffiti form onto the cityscape. The significance of introducing poetry into the streets and creating something public becomes clearer when compared to Soviet-era perceptions of space and how these were confronted by unofficial artists. With this in mind, this article also ponders the significance these artists found in the large-scale anti-government demonstrations of 2011-2012.