Notes About Actionism and Activism

Members of Arkadiy Kots Band in Police Van After the Protest in Moscow, 2012


After so-called “chaos” of 1990-s, creative power of the artist has been transformed into the new discourse of the militant dissident (fighter for democracy and freedom).  In the post-shock society, public life is reduced to the consumption in the rich metropolis and surviving in the poor periphery, while politics understands as affirmative Brezhnev-style rituals of power and its representation in the faces of president, church and the police on TV. Only courageous individual can break the situation of silence and passivity and this individual is of course artist, the holy fool, who will tell the truth to the society about what is happening. This is why actionism became the main artistic movement in Russia and its scandalous nature is understandable if we think of post-Soviet conditions. The special status of the artist is the status of one who is able to fight, one who is brave enough to create the symmetric answer to the power - strong and charismatic personality. However, after the mass mobilization in Russia (2011–12), it seems that the epoch of scandals has to come to an end. Street activism or actionism?

Street activism is a collective action, where the certain individual has no value. I would say that on the street action you are out of yourself, because you are a part of a collective body and you can be arrested as many others. It is a difference between street activism and actionist. The main principle of the first is that singularity become a part of common assemblage, while actionism is no more then individual gesture, represented in various virtual forms. Allocation of the participants in the street actions begins only in the media reality and it is a one possible way to create event and its leaders.

However,  it is necessary to have history behind you, which can be told in a special way and recognized as a significant case. Cyberspace, in my view, is a tool to personalize all possible stories. Let's look for example, on the Facebook community, which is a new form of social striptease – everyone wants to be represented and exposed there. In this context, activism has been transformed into permanent hunting for “likes”: one has to decode political events into stamps of mass culture to collect this “likes”, create heroes, pop-Marxist theories and machine of subversive images. The connection between “virtual” and “physical” in actionism and activism might be seen as a complex system of translation and rearticulatin of what has happened or that this has happened. It is not clear what goes first – the idea of the image and its representation or action and the story that might be told about this action in form of art, text or media campaign. Is it an additional way to inform, mobilize, pay attention or independent form of activity, which has its own connection with offline reality? Unfortunately, we live in the reality, in which people travel not only physically, but in form of images and texts. if you are detached from the Internet network, you simply doesn’t exist. The focal point of the critique of actionism and its media representation should be an analysis of the images circulation under the conditions of global capitalism, the system of coding/ decoding images, the loss of meanings and the proliferation of new meanings dependent upon particular contexts.

  • 1. Image: Members of Arkadiy Kots Band in Police Van After the Protest in Moscow, 2012