Anastasia Ryabova Born in Moscow in 1985. Artist. Currently lives in Moscow.
What if we imagined a future where the end of the world has not yet arrived, but capitalism no longer exists? Banks have lost their function—and not only banks, but mints, stock markets, etc. The entire financial infrastructure is abandoned, since it is no longer needed.
Today it seems that a bank is the last place that could prove to be abandoned. I only saw banks like this twice in my life. The first time, in Paris, a few years ago. This was a huge nine-storey building from the 1980s, which had seemingly become an artist squat. Although, in reality, there was only one artist there—he was constantly painting something, and he showed us an exhibit organized by him and his friends in a deserted half-lit hallway. The inhabitants of this squat—young people from lower social strata, confined to one room of a huge building. All this was reminiscent of a commune, but not from a communist utopia, rather, from a post-apocalyptic future of sci-fi B movies. One big common table, common food provisions, common drugs, common problems and an unwelcome external world, outings to which allow the squatters to somewhat get by. Nearby, other banks stood, functioning according to the laws of the market—the same laws that drove these temporary inhabitants into the walls of this building. But at that moment, this bank was former. It lost its function and became a shelter for the homeless. Temporarily.
The second time that I saw an abandoned bank was in a year’s time. It was situated on the ground floor of a big mansion in downtown Moscow. The mansion itself—an old manor—is an architectural monument. It is only possible to infiltrate it through a window. The bank really was abandoned. Hurriedly abandoned. Traces of a former life were visible on the floor: paper, office supplies, electric cables and computer wires. But the premises themselves were empty. What could be the new form of using this space? You imagine that it could become someone’s home. The room behind a foot-wide cement door with a combination lock could be a bedroom, and the room with the window behind which at one time sat the teller, could be, for example, a bar. At one time, it was difficult to imagine that in the workshops of some factory or another, there would be exhibition halls and galleries. Banks, as well as exhibition grounds on the territory of gentrified factories, could become monuments to a strange epoch the name of which is capitalism.
Today, financial centres are pushing industry out into the periphery—to the countries of the third world, to the outskirts of big cities—and they become peculiar temples to flourishing capital cities, concentrating their financial elites around them, dragging behind themselves a whole sector of exclusive services (boutiques, expensive restaurants, contemporary art). The result—well-to-do minorities, an oasis, to life in which the remaining majority must aspire to.
In the summer of 2011, banks in Athens battered down their windows with steel shutters. This was evidence of the owners’ fear of demonstrators attacking the city. Athenian banks did not appear abandoned, they appeared as besieged fortresses in a city that has been long occupied by insurgents.
Recently in Moscow I visited the former Revolution Museum, which has now become the Museum of Contemporary Russian History. It is strange to view the revolution in a museum—the former revolution. Its century has passed before it could finish. This was not the revolution about which we dream, and this means there was no avant-garde yet.
Contemplating, I wander around the ruins of capitalism, the distinct silhouettes of which everyone already sees now. What awaits us behind that cement door, as wide as infinity? Having survived the financial apocalypse, the world will renew itself, and banks will lose their indisputable necessity. Or it could be that capitalism will become so complex, that banks as an institution will simply become outdated. They will be abolished as a redundant link in the chain of financial interactions. And then, as usual: millions of the unemployed—former bank employees.
For many, there is something unnatural in the declaration that contemporary art and capitalism are not only associated, but mutually dependent things. And yet, it is so. The attempt to ignore the problem of market relations in art demonstrates an unwillingness to understand the world that we live in. The world in which capitalism is the only reality. It could only get worse. Contemplating the future where this situation is overcome opens a whole spectrum of possible consequences before us. Fantasizing, I draw the end not only of the present economic system nearer, but also the death of art contemporary to us.
We live in an epoch when art is economics, and it is not important where this art is situated: on the street, or in a house, in a museum or a gallery, in the industrial workshops of a deserted factory, or in a corporate collection on the territory of a glass-and-concrete tower block inside a giant financial centre.
In the question on the interaction of art and financial economy, I find Brian Holmes’ position interesting. He believes that the perception of the present-day culture as a kind of mirror in which existing economic relations are reflected is incorrect. Culture could not be an outside observer, existing outside of capitalism and only reflecting that or another symptom of a social illness. It is obvious that it is incorporated into the production and maintenance of present-day economic relations in the same way that the latter are incorporated into the production of contemporary culture. The perception of culture as a field of deployment of certain symptoms makes it possible to relate to the situation from a distance, critically, but nothing more. Here, critical distance ties our hands and does not allow to intervene in the situation, and to influence it or change it in any way. At the same time, I am not sure whether art should become an instrument of the direct implementation of social transformations. More likely, it could be some kind of a disruption in the system, an inspiring practice, and not a direct weapon of struggle.
Considering how strongly art and capitalism are connected, it could be presumed that art, however we know it today, will become as outdated without capitalism, as banks would in a non-financial space. And these banks could become secure vaults for art, informal museums, bottomless storehouses. An abandoned bank filled with former contemporary art is an edifying artifact in the world, where life will be built around other social institutions and other values.