Keti Chukrov, philosopher (Berlin/Moscow)

KetiNomadic Theatre of a Communist
(manifesto)

I recently became aware of the fact, that art can’t help being communistic. This doesn’t presuppose mere ideology. It is no doctrine either. It just all of a sudden became evident, that all art – from Ancient Greece up to nowadays, art that has overcome egoism and self-importance – contains a “communistic” potential. No matter whether it is pessimistic or optimistic, such art does not relate to contexts or social milieus but to all at once and each separately. It is not a propagandistic trick. It is what art achieves when it is not afraid of people. Very often art either fears to lose itself among the “mob”, or on the contrary tries to be artificially populist, or refers to a milieu of refined connoisseurs and experts.
When I say communistic, I don’t mean membership of a party, but something that is meant by the German word “Weltanschauung”, that is “world outlook”. It is this broadness, exceeding the borders of a state, a nation, a class, an art school, private or even spiritual interests of a concrete individual that preconditions the potentiality of “the communistic” in an artwork.
It means that the artist possesses strength and vigour to be many human beings and not just remain a single individual; that she/he has as well the capacity to reject the claim for the individual metaphysics and start not only observing life, but to becoming those living lives (and even the already non living ones) by means of art.
Such regime of art – when the artist can be the “many” – exists. Not all strive for it. But there are some who do or did. Dostoyevsky could be the many, Shakespeare. Beethoven, Vvedensky, Khlebnikov, Mozart, Mayakovsky, Platonov, Becket, Pasolini. The artistic regime I speak about is “theatre”. I certainly don’t mean theatre as genre or a repertoire theatre. 99 percent of it is just cultural entertainment. What I call “theatre” is a certain anthropological and political regime that emerges as the necessity to artistically perform the transformation that seems impossible.
For me the inevitable shift to theatre took place on the one hand as departure from poetry, and on the other a shift from contemporary art. In poetry the limiting factor is the soliloquy, inevitable affinity to lyricism, i.e. the preoccupation with one self, even when talking about the world. Contemporary art is in fact a complete opposite to poetry. It is not subjective or psychological. But it still keeps functioning according to the modernistic canon of reducing the world to its “languages” and methodologies.
The modernistic innovations have exhausted itself already in 70s, so that contemporary art was compelled to resort to either circulation of its own “languages”, concepts and commentaries or to the endless reproduction of the estranged spaces as the modalities of the optical unconscious. Anyway, even when contemporary art tries to approach the “event”, it has no chance to implement this effort; it itself immediately annuls it. Because the spaces of representation, exposition and commenting of the contemporary art are organized in a way that it is compelled in the very end to deal only with itself and its own borders.
Even performance (or action), despite its procedural character and its unfolding in real time, is in fact a concept installed in space and time. It is in the end a static exhibited art object. It is just forced to be such.
Theatre, on the contrary, is a dynamo. It enacts the experience of performing, not performance. In the regime of the becoming action it addresses something that may not exist yet – in society, life, art – but which might turn out to be. It not only lives through time, but performs time. That means, it is capable to deal with the present as if it could have been the future.
The exhibition spaces, even when they dwell on certain social or political issues, remain bound to the politics of things and spaces. Theatre presupposes the politicization beyond spaces, it shifts politics towards human beings, humanity. Its experience leaves things behind. A contemporary art performer a priori conceptualizes him- or herself as an artist. In theatre becoming an artist comes via a different means: a theatrical performer/actor is becoming a human being; he becomes an artist as he plays a human being and his destiny.
Thus theatre is the space of humans, not artists. Its paradox is that becoming a human should be performed , while the conceptual art-space of the performance should be physiologically inhabited by the artist, remaining an estranged individual. Theatre – even when it is a monologue – always starts from a shared experience, a dialogue, from number “2”.
Theatre is able to play out an idea without reducing it to its form or a concept. Idea in theatre unfolds as the materiality of relations – in the regime of unreduced multi-vocality and multi-humanity.
Vsevolod Meyerhold coined a term characterizing one of the most important traits of theatre: “cabotinage”. The cabotains is a “nomadic group of actors”, moving and acting at all places possible . Not fixed to premises, space or time, but creating both space and time by means of performing worlds, ideas, people…
Theatre is considered to be a public event, but very often its publicity is mistaken for the audience observing the spectacle. Meanwhile publicity of theatre doesn’t mean it is just something that should by all means be observed and contemplated. Publicity of theatre presupposes rather that it is not just a story about somebody, not the documentation of some thing, but in each singular case it is about how the world in its entirety belongs to every human being, and about how to behave if some are left without a world because of some reasons. Theatre arises from the presumption that it will not wait – for money, welfare, education, beauty, culture – but that it will turn the expectation itself into artistic action, as for example in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”.
The capacity of theatre to engage in politics surmounts the capacity of the “languages” of contemporary art, no matter how numerous and diverse they may be. It surmounts nowadays a poem and literature as a whole too, no matter how existentially profound and socially critical they may be. “The political” in theatre is not a theme or a problem; it gets revealed in the interaction between the people – when they are not just documented objects or observed characters, but speaking political subjects.
The essence of dramatization is not reduced to the representation of one idea, – but resides in many ideas clashing in conflict with each other, whose resolution, without being determined in advance, originates in the action itself.
The voices and speeches of theatre are not just sounds, opinions and narratives, habitual for many video-works and documentations of contemporary art. They are not interviews about suffering or accounts of the incidents either. Theatre deals with suffering not in the way mass-media, contemporary art or literature do. It includes in itself performing of such action by the sufferer himself, by the oppressed himself (an awful humiliating and victimizing definition), which could be an artistic performing of one’s own victory over circumstances.
This is how I see the aesthetic, political and communistic potentiality of theatre. To not only speak on behalf of oneself, but to speak instead of many others. One has to do that, to elucidate what happened and happens around us, in the country, in the state, in the world – and to understand how to be further in it. (Didn’t Hamlet launch his “theatre” for the same reasons?)
The most difficult thing is to envisage not only one’s own development, – even if it achieves a universal view, but to envisage the development and emancipation of others too. That means, to understand the universality dynamically as an action of the multiple – horizontally and diagonally, – and not just vertically, as an individual spiritual ascension.
Therefore, I rely on one presumption. The artistic achievements – as well as the search for the transcendental and the sublime – don’t count, if they don’t consider within their speculations the huge amount of people of the world, lacking time, place and conditions for elementary survival, lacking the zone of being when one may think, create, love, live. No personal strive for the sublime can count, if it doesn’t make clear that people – whoever they are at present – could potentially be artists, scientists, engineers, workers, philosophers, fellow-brothers, interlocutors, just humans; without them the plenitude of the world and of life is unattainable. And potentially they are capable to think likewise. That’s it. That is actually a communist presumption for kindergarten.
Actually there has never been any communism, but there is the project of communism. It can not help being as well as a human can not help being, until she/he exists, until people in their multitude just – are there. Of course there are moments when this word seems irresponsible, pathetic, helpless, even compensatory. Many resist “the communist” in themselves, in reality, in art, in history desperately. This rejection takes place because of fear for oneself, one’s welfare, power, one’s success, one’s education and culture acquired with diligent work. This fear seizes everybody with no exception. But it can be overcome. And such overcoming is based on the presumption that it is possible to think about oneself as if of the other, as if not of oneself. It is hard to do but, strangely, sweet at the same time; therefore such stances of thought are not permanent, are situational, artistic.
The nomadic theatre of a communist is in a sense a possibility to create temporarily (artistic time is temporary, but claims for the immortal) relations of political Eros with those means that are at disposal now. If there is no communism, we are able to get linked to “the communistic” artistically, are able to draw this artistic communist space into the existing surrounding, and act it up despite circumstances.
It is done by as many people as there are to do it now, in a place which they have found now. For those who are ready for such an encounter now.