Moscow -based young generation conceptual artist Arseniy Zhilyaev talks about his most recent participatory art project, which took place in the paper plant “October ” Moscow, over a period of four months. The artist applied for a work permit as a machine operator at the factory, have gotten friendly with the workers to learn about their popular songs, which sustain their spirits during long work days. After four months of sharing work duties, Zhilyaev who is in his mid-thirties, slim and nerdy looking recorded a collection of popular 1970s songs, dialogs with the workers, including excerpts from the poem Radio October by Mayakovsky (1929). He collated sound bites from their working machinery and radio noise and an audio installation titled Radio “October” was set up in the workers’ changing room.
In the hours after work, the artist learned from the seasoned workers who were in their late 50s about their resentment of the current market and about their longing for the past. Although, the workers’ response was rather reserved,as they were in their late 50th and have been formed by the Soviet work practices, for Zhyliaev it was a pilot project. He is planning to engage the younger workers at the Autozavod (Moscow automobile production plant) in another art project and he is hoping to achieve a better response.
Purposefully, the exhibition was open only after working hours, but one of the workers enjoyed a steady stream of the visitors who have been asked to play domino with him. Zhilyaev said that it was rewarding for him that during the “Radio October” exhibition opening people drank tea and talked to the worker for several hours.
Today artistic production is often linked to labor conditions, and its immaterial value is questioned on a par with its material worth. Current redefinition of artistic labor is central within economic instability and Zyilayev’s project brings parallels between the two on another level. Radio October coincides with the actions of the Precarious Workers Brigade that condemns free artistic labor and pleads for all education debts to be cancelled, through e-flux’s readers Are You Working Too Much?, Ross Perlin’s book Intern Nation, and an exhibition Workers, currently on view at MASSMoCA. But it is still rare when artists really work alongside industrial workers. The curators of “The Workers” claim that the exhibition narrows the gap between artists and workers who would otherwise eye each other suspiciously across a chasm of privilege, complicity, or purity of purpose. “ I can not see it this way.
Below Zyilayev explains what made him work alongside workers and engage in conversations about conditions of unemployment and exploitation that are evident now in as much as they were latent during the Soviet past.
Interview for Radio “October” Arseny Zhilyaev
My first encounter with the workers at the paper factory “October” took place in 2008. I participated in the exhibition “Politics in the Street”. Over the following years, I often went back to the factory with exhibition projects. During one of those return visits, while collecting materials for the exhibition “The Machine and Natasha”, I found out that during the Soviet era the factory used to have a radio station. In order to keep the workers’ spirits up and their energy level high, for dozens of years, from that room were broadcast the workers’ favorite Soviet pop songs by pop-singers such as Josif Kobzon, and Alla Pugacheva, etc.
That story stayed in my memory. I really wanted to bring back that radio for the workers who were still there. I decided to create a temporary radio station to become a radio show about the everyday of the factory workers!
Being an artist I have been thinking about how contemporary art is irrevocably acquiring the characteristics of a collective industrial production. The quality of the artistic teams with a clear division of labor is often clearly higher than the quality of one-man works. The only way to participate in such a system is to be on the side of the workers and turn their everyday routine into an artistic act. I figured out that I actually need to feature a criticism of contemporary art as a particular means of capitalist production.
Meantime I learned about the existence of a small play called “Radio ‘October’“, written by the revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky in 1926. The play is about a celebration of the ninth anniversary of the October Revolution at a time when the bankers and the government decide to enslave the workers all over again.
Radio “October” is a radio show recorded on several vinyl records and created from collated sound bites from workers of the paper factory “October” as they’re assembling special projects for the 4th Biennial of Contemporary Art in Moscow. The audio installation was mounted in the workers’ changing room. The access of viewers to the room will be approved by the workers and will be granted only with their permission.