Issue: №1 2005

Section: Analysis

The Cultural Contradictions of the Tusovka

The Cultural Contradictions of the Tusovka

Victor Kasianov. As Usual. Event at Gallery on Trekhprudny street, Moscow, 1992

Viktor Misiano Born in 1957 in Moscow. Critic and curator. MAM chief-editor. Lives in Moscow.

This text was brought to life by a hypothesis: an occurrence, which has been given the name of tusovka in everyday speech, presents an original socio-cultural phenomenon without any historical analogies.

Tusovka does not occur within the contours of what is usually designated as official culture. It has come about as a direct result of the breakdown of official culture and its institutions. During the ten year of its existence, the tusovka has not found its place in the system of institutions sanctioned by the state, which does not want to recognize it as a possible means of representation. Tusovka is a form of the artistic milieu's self-organization, in a situation where other institutions and state protectionism are altogether lacking.

At the same time, the tusovka cannot be reduced to the underground, that typological alternative to official culture. Being alternative became the constitutional principle of the underground, which has, through positioning itself in relation to a larger culture, appropriated its disciplinary principles of consolidation. The tusovka, in contrast, is a form of the artistic milieu's self-organization that found itself without any kind of external repression, in a situation in which the principle of consolidation based on the ideological concord of opinions, the ethics of opposition, and "work in common" had already exhausted themselves.

Tusovka does not recognize itself in bohemianism, a phenomenon which appeared in the 19th century, and which has had its heyday in the art of the 1960s in the West, or in the work of so-called Left MOSKh in Russia. Bohemianism appeared as an answer of the artistic milieu to market pressure and social order, when the artistic elite organized its internal, symbolic market in opposition to the commercial one, where certain absolute values circulate. (P. Bourdieu). Tusovka is, on the contrary, hypothetically open to the market and to social commissions, and exists in the constant expectation of buyers and patrons.

A distinctive feature of the tusovka is that it brings together the totality of people originally consolidated not by means of concrete structures – institutional or ideological – but through the prospect of their gaining. Tusovka is a type of artistic association which considers itself as pure potentiality. Tusovka is an artistic social project.

some text
Visual Anthropology Workshop. Stills from the video documentation.
Contemporary Art Center, Moscow. 1993–1994

Tusovka as a serial community

What is necessary for the appearance of human society?
One must make people meet one another.

Louis Althusser

In fact, the tusovka developed as a spontaneous and free choice of some individuals. Nobody forced them, or persuaded them to come together; no institution or power instigated their consolidation. The tusovka developed as a meeting. What is more, since this meeting was not generated by institutional or governmental inductions, the tusovka remains on a rudimentary level of human community. The meeting is substantial to the tusovka, i.e. the tusovka exists as a result of meetings. Tusovka is a type of serial community. (F. Alberoni)

Arising on the ruins of institutional culture, the tusovka appeared as a free and open space in which people could meet, free from any obligations to the past, with all perspectives open wide. The tusovka is conducive towards the potentiality of those who meet and indifferent to their past. Therefore, it includes professional art historians and computer profiteers, heroes of the underground and ex-officials. In this sense, the tusovka denies tradition; it is post-historic.

Owing to the fact that meeting in tusovka lacks any kind of institutional or ideological mediation, it is rooted only in the sphere of interpersonal, face-to-face relations (E. Goffman). Just as the meeting is primary to the sphere of social relations, so is the principle of involvement to the tusovka: it is unprecedented in its openness and democracy. In order to enter a tusovka, you don't have to possess any virtues or characteristics, any social or professional status. The tusovka is not a gathering of nobles, nor is an academy of "immortals" or a mafia. In order to be in the tusovka, one just has to be there. Be in the right place at the right time – at the place where tusovka comes about. A successful tusovka participant is the one who manages to visit as many such places in the shortest time possible.

Tusovka is a syndrome that arises with the disintegration of disciplinary culture and social hierarchy. Having appeared as a substitute for disintegrating corporations, the tusovka is an utterly personalized type of association. Freed from institutions, it replaces them with personalized surrogates. Tusovka does not know museums, but it has man-museums; it does not know real periodicals, but it has man-journals; it does not have art criticism, but it has critics, there are no exhibition structures, but there is a curator; there is no reflection, but there is a philosopher; it does not receive state support, but it has its own minister. However, these surrogates have an absolutely performative status, lacking any and all verification of their productions. A man-journal does not need to confirm his status through regular periodical publications; it is enough simply to collect materials in his editorial portfolio; a curator is not obliged to organize exhibitions in order to confirm his status (and he is definitely not obliged to organize good exhibitions), and the only thing required from the minister is to show up at every exhibition opening, holding a glass in his hand. The tusovka does not verify activities and does not have adequate criteria to do so; it only demands meetings and nothing more. In this sense, the tusovka is a post-productive and purely simulative community.

The tusovka is also a post-rational type of social connection, rooted in visual intents. The tusovka only remembers what it sees and forgets it as soon as it is out of sight. It lacks moral imperatives and obligatory rituals; it does not know opposition or traits and cannot be deconstructed or shocked. It can be only ignored by escaping meetings. However, when returning after the long break, you will feel that you are in the right place at the right time once again; no-one will have noticed your absence.

Finally, the tusovka is a rudimentary form of market relations, substituting the non-existent art market and its institutionalized symbolic order. The leader of the tusovka, fussing from one group to another, rapaciously looking at everyone entering, realizes a form of market exchange: not only does he offer himself as a symbolic value (i.e. as a pure potentiality), but also probes needs and prices, checking supply and demand. Thus, in case a successful bargain is made, the only profit he gains is a suggestion to take part in some new activity of the tusovka. The capital of the tusovka guarantees nothing more than the intensification of meetings, i. e. the intensification of the tusovka

some text
Visual Anthropology Workshop. Stills from the video documentation.
Contemporary Art Center, Moscow. 1993–1994

The Tusovka's Structure

The structure of tusovka is far removed from rigid disciplinary culture: the internal laws of serial association have to be sought in the laws of reproduction of meetings. Owing to the fact that this association is formed neither through ideological solidarity nor through any production cycle, the structural stability of the tusovka is guaranteed primarily on a purely psychological level: people meet each one another because they want to be together. Through their mutual efforts, they form a kind of atmosphere, which is equally dear and necessary to them. The tusovka is connected to what in sociology is usually called reliance – mutual trust, agreement (M. Maffesoli).

On the other hand, what differentiates the tusovka from the majority of "emotional associations" (G. Lipovetsky), is that it does not exhaust itself in the task of constructing the present, but is oriented toward potentiality. The tusovka is an artistic social project, it is an association, a presumption, a belief that with time – and it will be very soon, it is almost here – it will obtain the recognition by the state, and will be included in monetary flows. After all, reliance – the general atmosphere surrounding tusovka – is (if not for all, than for many) an atmosphere of expectation, counting on it that the mere fact of being in a certain place at a certain time will, in time, be rewarded.

At the same time, as a primarily personalised association, the tusovka does not have, and cannot have, a common project, because in such a case it would turn out to be a project structured not by reliance, but by disciplinary norms or the ideology of a "common cause." The project quality of the tusovka is transmitted by means of concrete figures, which possess the necessary social temper and the required utopian imagination.

The qualities required of the leaders of such associations are different from the qualities necessary in a culture-bureaucrat, underground intellectual or bohemian leader. If a functionary offers access to resources, the bohemian leader is inspired by ideals of artistic freedom, while the underground intellectual is driven by the values of true knowledge; the leader of the tusovka, however, reproduces its expectations. The leader of the tusovka does not only construct the present, but also eroticizes the community through the hope of joyous, unbelievable perspectives, consolidated by the permanent readiness for yet another breakthrough. Thus, participation in an international exhibition is not merely an interesting project, but also the conquest of the West, and work on political elections is not only easy money, but the conquest of the political establishment and so forth.

Born in a situation, where there is no fully formed symbolic order, the projects of the tusovka do not have no external justification, no canonical norms that would have to be followed, no system of values that is to be realized, and no intellectual industry that would need to be fed. The origin of such projects lies in the troubled imagination of its authors. That is why the projects that develop in the tusovka are euphoric: they thrive on personal obsession.

Hence, the paradox of the situation that the possible participant of these projects finds himself in. All in all, on the one hand, an artist invited to participate in the project avoids complete connection with them: that would signify invading somebody else's personality, enslaved by somebody else's obsession (i. e. being derogatorily marked as "an artist of the gallery X" or an "artist of a curator Y" etc). On the other hand, the lack of symbolic order does not leave him enough space for maneuver: personal distancing from the obsessive project is possible only in the forms of some other obsessive project. A unique possible alternative in such a situation can be explained as follows: to participate in as many projects as possible, which are suggested by polar tusovka leaders.

That explains the functional identity of project participants – the second figure of that association, apart from the tusovka leader. If the leadership over tusovka is achieved by increasing banishment of euphoria and obsession, the effectiveness of participants is achieved by individual flexibility and openness towards the different. For a member of a corporate association, success lies in professional perfection; for the hero of bohemianism, it is a function of the meeting with the individual experience of the beautiful; for the member of the underground, it arises through finding one's place in the hierarchy of a secret Order; but for the member of the tusovka, success is determined by the intensity and originality of his manipulation of others' identities. A successful tusovka member is the one who shows an ever greater ability to interiorize somebody else's obsession, who manages to unify different and the contradictory. In such a manner, the functioning of tusovka is nothing but personalized production and redistribution of obsession.

So, contrary to hierarchical and disciplinary types of association, tusovka is a net community based on centers of energy and chaotic streams in between them. That is why the artistic epoch which was initiated at the same time as the tusovka, does not know artistic directions or schools, charismatic authorities and geniuses, a general system of values and conventional ethics. There is nothing more archaic or worn out for tusovka than the category of public opinion. Tusovka is the most visible symptom of post-ideological culture.

some text
Ilya Kitup, Vadim Kruglikov. Cabin. 1993. Installation.
Gallery on Trekhprudny street, Moscow

The Dynamics of the Tusovka

What is striking about the tusovka is that its dynamics are increased. If official culture, bohemianism and the underground are results of a stable society, then the tusovka is a symptom characteristic of society caught up in the dynamics of transformation. Therefore not only the structure, but also the social dynamics of the tusovka are direct reactions to a crisis of the symbolic order. It can be said that the tusovka, which was born out of the crisis of the symbolic order, was doomed to transfer any project into the project of a new symbolic order. This is why the tusovka's most natural state is the state of constant expansion.

Thus, the tusovka ignores the difference between the partial and the whole, a difference that is obvious in any fully formed culture: a project connected to something concrete is simultaneously a project of the whole. That is why a commercial gallery is also a museum, a publishing company, a magazine and so forth. When a non-commercial center is being established, it also strives to give birth to a magazine, a museum, an art restaurant, and a workshop for the production of hand-painted tea-cups.

The adepts of the tusovka feel discomfort within rigidly set corporate boundaries, and have an urge to disrupt the stability of its identities. This is why a gallery owner will attempt to become a curator, a theorist, and an ideologue, and a politician, and an image-maker. A newspaper critic wants to be a theorist, and a philosopher and a curator and so forth. A philosopher wants to be an artist, and a writer, an academic authority and a pop star. Commercial elements in the tusovka aim at the non-commercial, and ascetics celebrate their bestseller sales. The tusovka breaks down the boundaries of professional associations and conquers zones that used to be beyond the borders of art competence: members of artistic communities begin to function in the spheres of architecture, design, show business, politics, new technologies etc.

The situation of institutional and symbolic vacuum strips tusovka of the feeling of proportion: it is oriented toward overproduction. If a recurrent exhibition project is in planning, it is a "Moscow Biennale" at the very least; if an art institution is being founded, it is future Centre Pompidou as a minimum, and if someone starts up a magazine, it is no less that the Russian "Flash Art". By analogy, tusovka-initiatives are not turned towards internal articulation, but to permanent quantitative inflation. Any large-scale exhibition project needs to start with 10, and then achieve 50, 100, 150 and 1000 exhibitions etc. In the same way, a gallery owner attempts to define himself in terms of geometrically increasing quantity of artists, while a radical leader needs prove that his followers are constantly increasing.

Phantasmagoria and futile initiatives, as well as the qualitative vulnerability of final results only further inflame the tusovka's dynamics and instability. When a project remains unrealized or fails, it can only be rehabilitated or compensated for by another project, even more megalomaniac, and fantastic than its predecessor.

Finally, the instability of tusovka is guaranteed by its unavoidable internal confrontations. In a situation when any project effort inevitably becomes a project for a new symbolic order, the dialogue between those projects cannot avoid the form of mutual conflict. When an art center is established, it is supposed to replace another center that already exists. Therefore, if two philosophers are present in a tusovka, one of them is certainly genuine, and the other fake; of two curators, one is a personality, while the other is a rogue; there can only be one or two galleries, if absolutely necessary, five, but all others have no right to exist.

This expansion, characteristic for the tusovka, and the internal confrontation determines its functional difference from other art associations. For official culture, bohemianism and the underground, the system was formed through external confrontation, rather than internal oppositions: official culture was the opposite of amateurism; the underground was the opposite of the official culture. Opposition to the external marked the boundaries of these associations, making not only expansion but also internal articulation more significant. Official culture, bohemianism and the avant-garde all retained their corporate integrity. Tusovka, on the other hand, is a post-corporate type of artistic association.

some text
Yuri Shabelnikov. In a New Light. 1993. Installation.
Gallery on Trekhprudny street, Moscow

The Discourse of the Tusovka

The discourse of tusovka is a direct result of the crisis of disciplinary culture. The main characteristic of that discourse is that it is incapable of self-analysis. The tusovka cannot see itself objectively, from the outside; it is not self-reflective.

None of the figures of this community, which are rooted in the structure of tusovka, are capable of distancing themselves from it. Thus, the euphoric leader of the tusovka is incapable of reflection: he considers himself to be the bearer of its symbolic order, and consequently thinks that he is exonerated from self-analysis. The symbolic order is the origin of meaning; it is a pre-requisite for all possible expressions. In the symbolic order, self-realization is fraught with ending and disintegration. Therefore, speaking on the behalf of the symbolic order frees the leader of tusovka from the necessity of hiding the pre-requisites of his expression, defending it with arguments, to produce proofs. Reality is constituted at the moment of its expression. It is enough to announce that, after New York and Berlin, Moscow is the third capital of contemporary culture, and it becomes so, not only in the opinion of the speaker, but also in that of the artistic community.

The discourse of the participants of tusovka cannot wholly encompass the community – a real member of the tusovka is the product of other identities. He is not capable to view his surroundings, because his gaze is directed towards the tusovka's concrete characters. His discourse is doomed to toss and turn among these characters, comparing them, reproducing their opinions, grading their strong and weak points and so forth. Also, he is not capable of exposing the structural laws which they have in common, of giving them any kind of grade which is not connected with the tusovka. The curse of tusovka cannot be avoided without specifically mentioning the members of the tusovka community with all their weaknesses and sins. The tusovka "speaks the language of emotions" (A. Brener).

In exactly the same manner, the writing of the tusovka cannot escape the concrete fact or event – it cannot escape some general prerequisites of discourse, but can only be an answer and a reaction. In other words, writing becomes a part of a personalized interactive symbolic exchange, incapable of fleeing its territory. Therefore, in the ten years of its existence, the tusovka has not given birth to a "book", but only to a few articles in newspapers and magazines which could be collected in a single volume.

In accordance with this, the discourse of the tusovka is the product of the serial character of that association, resulting from its rooting in personal relations and meetings. Writing is, therefore, secondary in comparison with the spoken word. The legends and myths of the tusovka dominate the concrete phenomena, and the reputation of the tusovka is privileged over fates and work results. That is why the writing of the tusovka, which describes the work of an artist or the position of a curator, ignores his manifestos, theoretical texts, concepts, and published interviews. The tusovka looks down on the institutionalization of biography: that is why the artists in that community do not examine the necessities of having systematic files or published catalogues.

Finally, a line of specific points of the discourse of tusovka are a result of this community's post-corporate character: the communication practised in the tusovka differs greatly from the communication in other types of artistic communities. A text or a speech describing an artistic event does not only attempt to place that event against an existing horizon of meaning and views, supplying it with direction and justifications, but also strives to grasp its euphoric energy. Action consequently does not result in reflection, but in a new action – a textual action, even more euphoric and full of conflicts than the event that spurred it. Another, no less symptomatic type of writing can serve as a counterpoint to this, namely the text which is directed towards the internal articulation in a strictly self-sufficient format. In this case, the artwork does not only result in reflection, but in another textual object. Finally, when the text strives to reach the level of communicative transparency and availability, it finally collides with the lack of generally developed terminology and methodological instructions nevertheless. Therefore, the text can only be anchored by means of the personal I of the author. Hence, the partially personalized character of the expressions of tusovka, forced continually to invoke the authorial ego through rhetorical figures such as "I believe"..., "in my estimation"... etc. There is nothing more alien to the tusovka than the concept of the Other.

some text
Alexander Gormatuk, Vladimir Dubossarsky, Avdei Ter-Oganiyan. All Moscow. 1992. Event.
Gallery on Trekhprudny street, Moscow

The Poetics of the Tusovka

The founder of sociology, Emile Durkheim, concluded that social facts can be viewed as objects, while the tusovka concludes that a thing (or a work of art) can be nothing but a social phenomenon. The poetics of the tusovka is, in itself, a direct result of the dynamics of meetings which constitute the tusovka (which is social in character).

In other contexts, the meeting is rooted in the life of any community: for official culture, a meeting is an ideological ritual; for bohemianism, a meeting is a familiarization with the beautiful, and for the underground it is an approach to the truth. Thus, in any of these communities, the meeting is sanctioned by something external: it takes place against a transcendental background. This is why the poetics of bohemianism and official art is based on the idea of masterpiece (interpreted in different ways), while the poetics of the underground are founded on the idea of anti-masterpiece. Consequently, they all suggest a material exponent of the artistic experiment, namely a work of art. That is why a meeting is necessary, a meeting with the work of art. This transcendental background is sanctioned by museums, institutes of contemporary art, and the art market.

As far as the tusovka is concerned, it is deprived of an institutional and market context. As a consequence, it also lacks works of art: meetings are attended for the sake of meeting. There is nothing transcendental here: the most authentic art forms in the tusovka are those which master its substance, which consists of the chaos of interpersonal interactions. The time of the tusovka is not the temporality of a masterpiece, i.e. the time of museums, history, or the time of metaphysical troubles, but the time which is here and now. The products of the tusovka are exhausted when the meeting is dissolved.

Finally, in art which lacks a transcendental background, market prices, or artistic values, in art whose circulation is closed off by the boundaries of the tusovka, there can be only one meaning, namely to be a form of self-organization and self-fashioning. In other words, art in a closed community has no other goals but to consolidate the interactions within that community; as such, it does not recognize art forms apart from those that make those interactions aesthetic.

The self-organization and self-fashioning of the tusovka is only possible in three basic forms, which is why the tusovka recognizes no more than three basic types of poetics. The first of these is the poetics of attractive interaction. This means that the meeting is arranged in order to become familiar with some fixed consequence of events happening in the same place, the pulling apart of which is marked by an escalation of attractiveness and the temptation to participate. Such an interaction marks the temporal rhythm of tusovka, determines the regularity of its production, and supplies it with its everyday life (Example: activity of the Gallery on Trekhprudniy street).

The second poetics available to tusovka is the poetics of catastrophic interaction. In this version, a meeting is justified as the act of familiarization of an event which was not predicted and which is not customary, which happens in unexpected places, outside the points on which tusovka traditionally concentrates. Those events disrupt the everyday life of the tusovka; they are established on the catastrophic banishment of temporal rhythms; with its deviant and provocative character, they grow beyond the boundaries of the tusovka and its norms. The authentic function of this type of poetics is a constructive disruption of the tusovka's boundaries, with the aim of constituting them according to the rule of contradictions. The norm gains its normative status only after an encounter with something deviant; consolidation is only possible after an encounter with a catastrophe. (Example: "Moscow actionism").

In the end, the third possible poetics can be called the poetics of confidential interaction. It concerns the meetings arranged in an attempt to have interactions that are special, closed and intensive. Its temporal rhythm is decelerated and stripped of internal activity: this interaction ends in the result of willing a solution which breaks the flow of events. The goal of those meetings is the discussion of specific points of contemporary art, search for the meaning of the interactions occurring within the tusovka. In other words, confidential interaction is an effort of overcoming the tusovka in the act of its self-cognition. (Examples: the "Hamburg project" and the "Workshop for Visual Anthropology"). In such a manner, the poetics of the tusovka recognizes itself in the tasks of transforming, creating and reflecting on everyday life (Guy Debord).

Limits and Contradictions of the Tusovka

The limits and contradictions of the tusovka are defined by the very laws which govern it. Since it is a post-corporate association, tusovka is perfectly open: anybody can take part in its self-reproduction. Also, since it is rooted in the sphere of interpersonal relations, the tusovka is shackled with its informative possibilities, intellectual potential and social mobility; it is limited to the spoken word at the expense of writing; its horizon is closed to areas not reached by the individual gaze; it is capable of having a dialogue only with the local, and never with the global.

Dwelling in the state of continuous expansion, the tusovka is characterized by social aggression: its leaders announce that their goal is to take power. At the same time, since it is a post-disciplinary association, tusovka is not in the habit of taking power: it is full of internal conflicts and it is not consolidated: it is not capable of generating any system of political alliances or tactical unions. Moreover, even when the tusovka tries to seize power, it is incapable of retaining it; the community does not like routine and constancy. Power is the offspring of hierarchy, and the tusovka is a net community.

Since the tusovka is a post-corporate community, it considers as its main flaw the lack of institutionalization and relates the weakness of its social authority and the lack of international context to this deficiency. At the same time, since it is a community of the post-rational type, it does not pay attention to institutions which it inherited from previous artistic communities. The tusovka does not seem to understand that instead of trying to establish ten new museums at the same time, it would make more sense to reform the old ones, which already exist. That train of thought is alien to tusovka, because only an association which possesses institutionalized culture can recognize the value of an institution as such. This is why the tusovka announces that the establishment of new institutions should be preceded by the destruction of the old ones, as nothing can be done with them.

As a personalized type of association, the tusovka exalts individuality, and its demiurgic, creative potential. This association cultivates the idea that the heroic individuality forces its will on society, thus producing reality. It continually makes a list of those who make the situation: the reader is not the one who forms a literary circle, but the publisher; the audience does not define the point of view, but the gallery owner makes them look at what he considers important. The tusovka does not accept the existence of forms such as dialogue and partnership; in its concept, one is dominant and the others are subordinate. The curator makes the artist, and it is not their partnership which allows them both to bring to life their own artistic and authorial destiny. Tusovka does not accept any determination imposed by non-personal laws, and therefore it collides with social failures; when reality gets out of control, the explanation of what has happened mostly becomes personalized. The tusovka most often concludes that there is only one guilty party, and that is someone who is an "untalented", "drunk", or "submissive" character, who is guilty of his lack of perfection in associating with the community. The humiliating verdict given to such a person is that of a tusovshik (tusovka participant). 

The Tusovka's Self-preservation 

The tusovka attempts to ignore the presence of its contradictions, superseding them. Great maturity of the system, through which the projective machinery of tusovka apparently functions, inevitably shows the professional and social insolvency of the tusovka members who have not acquired discipline. Internationalization, constantly sought by the claustrophobic tusovka, will break down the tusovka's system of simulated reputations. At the same time, the formation of a contemporary art system, which the tusovka requires, demands a serious change of orientation in the entire poetics of interaction. The system inevitably gives birth to a new social subject – the audience, and understandably, this poetics is not oriented towards them.

Like any other association, tusovka guards its interests and therefore has a mechanism of self-protection. This mechanism is quite simple and is rooted in the very substance of the community itself. The effects of any real institutionalization are inevitably leveled out in the tusovka, and downgraded to individual projects (X's collection or Y's journal etc). Thus, the tusovka contradicts any attempts at critical reflection, public expression, or social positioning. It is sufficient should X polemically attack Y, and it is universally held that this conflict is mostly of personal nature.

As an example of emotional association, tusovka lives in constantly sublimated potentiality through the euphoric sublimation of promises. However, there is one flaw; this potential is quickly exhausted. However, this does not mean that tusovka has become destabilized: instead of expectations, the tusovka has found a new reliance, a new atmosphere surrounding it, the atmosphere of depression and frustration, caused by expectations that have not been fulfilled.

Moscow, May 1999 


Continue reading