ESR 3 Blog May 2021: Maria Mkrtycheva

As our programme moves on and the picture of my research zooms in, it becomes quite challenging to keep an eye on the overall framework with more and more details, references and nuances coming up. These details and nuances usually appear in the form of new items on my reading list. My reading ranges from the 1920s to 2010s, and there is a constant feeling of following someone’s footsteps. My silent conversation with the author is never between the two of us – there are always other scholars (or even generations of scholars), who have been responding to the initial concepts and to each other at different points in time. Sometimes I engage with the existing discussions, like, for example, the one between Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge and Jürgen Habermas, although in this particular case I’m not really a ‘speaker’ but more of a ‘listener’. And sometimes the discussions are imaginary, which also allows them to be rather naïve and clarifying. One of them recently brought Boris Arvatov together with Donna Haraway. (We) ‘spoke’ about the ideas of constructivism and their possibility today.

Arvatov was a member of INKhUK, the Moscow Institute of Artistic Culture, where Russian Constructivism started in the 1920s, and his “insistence of the transformative potential of everyday life” … gained him “a reputation of an uncompromising hard-line productivist who subordinated artistic creativity to the needs of production”[1]. He believed that “the factory was the natural home, the only home, of art”[2] and argued against art in a form of easel painting, and against understanding of art as a depiction, commodity or exotic ‘rarity’. In order to persuade against the latter he writes: “A towel embroidered à la russe, which is a source of pride for some Parisian lady, is no different socially to an Eskimo in a cage, exhibited for money in European zoological gardens”[3] (I’m sure Donna Haraway would have commented on this last part).

The “life-building” process was supposed to result in a “monist” culture (monos in greek means “one”). Monism accused dualism of being unable to answer the inevitable question of mutual influence between spirit and matter.[4] Based on unity and on the possibility of neutralization of the diversity of dual subject matters, it claimed for universality and thus for objectivity – of the world, of the speaking subject, their (self-)identity and power.

Donna Haraway contrasts objectivity with embodied specificity, and universality with partiality. In her essay “Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective” she is “insisting that we account for ‘who’ it is that speaks or organizes collectivity … demands a self-presence of that speaking subject and its identity—the same claim for self-presence which informs the rational subject’s capacity to stand back from the world in order to take measure of it…”[5].

Within the framework of feminist constructivist approach Donna Haraway proposes the concept of fractured identities and “affinity, not identity”, which could possibly reveal the socially constructed nature of equalities and diversities. It is self-identity, which she defines as a “bad visual system”[6] (and which can be understood as a narrow view due to its narcissistic nature), prevents the unity of individuals. On the contrary, what allows the unity is ‘partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves’ as forms of political affinity that do not presume to construct a ‘whole’[7].

Which of the constructivisms do public art institutions tend to apply to their organizational structure?

Although the institutions are trying to facilitating diversity and hospitality by various means, including socially engaged art, it seems like the campaigns for unity, conviviality, and engagement, that we are familiar with, are not ready to embrace the diversity with its privilege of a partial perspective. By offering pre-built (“constructed” in Arvatov’s sense) conditions and boundaries for unity, conviviality, and engagement, they cut off the possibilities for contingency of “being” and for the materialization of the boundaries of “objects” in their social interaction[8].

[1] Christina Kiaer, “Boris Arvatov’s Socialist Objects”, October, Volume 81, 1997, pp. 105-118

[2] John Roberts, “Productivism and Its Contradictions. A Short History of Productivism”, Chto Delat newspaper,

[3] Boris Arvatov, Art and Production, 2017, p. 23

[4] Georgy Plekhanov, The Development of the Monist View of History, 1895, p. 7

[5] Peta Hinton, “Situated Knowledges and New Materialism(s): Rethinking a Politics of Location”, Women: a Cultural Review, Volume 25, 2014

[6] Ibid, p. 585

[7] Donna Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto, 1985, p. 75

[8] Donna Haraway, “Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective”, Feminist Studies, Volume 14, 1988, p. 595


Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.